Pacific Coast Trail

Elizabeth “Grapefruit” Ketterer at the top of Forester Pass (13,200 feet) in California.

Words cannot describe the beauty of the Sierras in California. Every day on this section of the Pacific Crest Trail brings new beauty that mesmerizes my soul.

Endless grassy meadows with deer peacefully existing in their natural habitat. Marmots plodding along giant rocks and suddenly racing towards a deep hole in the sand as if they have a secret to share with friends. Chipmunks scurrying across the trail then up into one of the majestic, towering trees.

Even the birds entertain my days as they hover over the lakes catching bugs in the evening before sunset, gliding just above the water chasing each other in a playful manner.

A slower pace

Needless to say, in the Sierras I have been finding it difficult to keep up the same 20-mile daily average I hiked in the desert. I have been enjoying a slower pace and stopping to camp for the night depending on the allure of a picturesque spot instead of based on how many miles I have completed.

The altitude and constant change of elevation, hiking up and down mountain passes also contributes to my slower pace.

I have been surprised how the elevation has not only slowed my air supply when I hike up mountains, but has also affected my breathing when camping at elevation. I tire more easily and find myself craving more sleep and food. Yet it is all worth it when I wake up every morning to the sound of birds and unzip my door to see mountains surrounding me on all sides, waiting to be explored.

The perks

Streams and rivers are plentiful. I no longer have to ration water or plan my daily mileage based on water sources. While the water is icy cold in the lakes and streams, an afternoon dip is exhilarating and daily clean feet are a luxurious perk!

Even with the drought in California this year, snow and wet rainstorms have been a part of traveling through the Sierras this early in the season. Reading the sky and constant cloud movement are part of daily life, as nobody wants to get stuck on top of a 12,000 foot high pass in the middle of a thunder and lightening storm. Thankfully for me, my hiking buddy in the Sierras, “Plug,” is a seasoned surfer and reads weather clouds like an expert. I have avoided climbing two separate high passes right before nasty storms thanks to his cautious advice.

Despite the precautions hikers must take with high elevations and constantly changing mountain weather, there is no doubt that after traveling through the desert for the past six weeks, the Sierras feel like pure paradise with the abundance of wildlife, water and serene beauty.

Elizabeth Ketterer of Cle Elum is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the California-Mexico border to Canada.


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