#11 Pacer’s 2019 PCT Thru-Hike Update: The Final Leg

This is update #11. Chris “Pacer” Ford just completed his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He began on May 8, 2019 and finished on September 12, 2019. He kept us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

Pacer’s progress on the Pacific Crest Trail.

September 16, 2019

2,650 miles hiked from Mexico to Canada through CA, OR, and WA; 489,418 feet of elevation climbed…PCT thru hike is 100% complete!!!

“Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”
– Porky The Pig

A little over 4 months of hiking…every hiking day started with alarms at 5:00 am; first step at 6:00 am; and we usually stopped just before dark each night…typically 12-14 hours of hiking. It all came to an end at 9:52 am on September 12th when we arrived at the intersection of Bullfrog Lake Trail that leads over Kearsarge Pass…a common entry/exit into the Sierra. Back on June 17th we exited the Sierra at this same intersection, and we had just closed the loop…the “Endlessly Pacing Goat” accomplished a PCT Thru Hike in 2019…a brutal snow year!

Goat and Endless…I so much appreciate your friendship and thoroughly enjoyed the steps we walked together. We did it!!!

The “Endlessly Pacing Goat” atop Kearsarge Pass as we exited the Sierra…PCT Complete!

The Last Moments:
Our last night we made camp at Dollar Lake (10,200 feet) which sits at the top shoulder of Glen Pass’ northern approach…our last pass on the PCT. It’s a beautiful small lake…half surrounded by granite walls/shelves and the other half tightly wrapped in mature evergreens around its banks. Dollar Lake is the last lake on the northern shelf and is filled by an overflow outlet from Arrowhead Lake above. Above Arrowhead Lake, there’s a pocket of lakes, Rae Lakes, nestled at the base of Glen Pass that fills and flows into Arrowhead Lake. We set camp in the day’s fading light and ate our last Trail dinner in the dark with Big Mama. We woke at our usual time, requiring us to break down camp in the morning dark. Poetically, my headlamp batteries died just 5-10 minutes before I was done loading my pack…my original batteries.
We left Dollar Lake with just enough light to see the Trail. Those 2 short miles (the Rae Lakes section) on the shelf between Glen Pass’ approach and the pass itself is my favorite section on the entire PCT, and I got to soak it in the last day…it was magnificent. The morning quickly lit with Alpenglow on the western high peaks. All 3 of us kept stopping to take pictures of the glow because it was so bright and perfect. Alpenglow is not direct sun rays. At high elevations, the sun’s rays reflect off clouds or air particles and reflect on to the landscape with a reddish/yellow glow…it’s quite a sight and doesn’t last long. Our last morning, and we soaked in the perfect lighting, the Alpenglow, and the many views of the mountain reflections in the calm Rae Lakes.
I took a couple dozen reflection pics of the Rae Lakes before we climbed Glen Pass. A magnificent final day!

After many, many photos, we hiked around our last lake and started up the steep rocks of Glen Pass. We met 3 Germans at the top (dad and 2 daughters) that took our photos. We were now less than 3 miles from our completed thru hike at the bottom of the Glen Pass descent. Those miles went quickly, and I started calling off the marks:  2 miles left, 1 mile left. We were less than 1/4 mile from the end when I passed a hiker headed toward us. It was Bob, Goat’s friend, that was giving us a ride back to Goat’s house. He’s a strong hiker and trained with Goat for his PCT hike. He had hiked the 8 miles up and over Kearsarge Pass to meet us. He also had completed a 3-year PCT section hike in 2016.

When I completed my Appalachian Trail thru hike in 2015, it was a calm ending. I remember the last 1/2 mile very well. I walked the flat ending to the iconic Katahdin sign and quietly rested next to it…just starring at it…it was over. That’s not what happened when I approached the end of my PCT thru hike…it was an impromptu, animalistic release. As I approached the Bullfrog Lake Trail intersection, I saw 2 guys sitting nearby taking a rest break. I got to the sign, checked to make sure it said Bullfrog Lake; kissed the sign; and LOST IT!!! I looked back at Goat and Endless and let out a massive scream that was literally heard for miles (we later passed several hikers that heard the yell). The 4 months of physical and mental grind pushed through me into this uncharacteristic reaction and enormous finality. I’m sure I scared the crap out of the 2 guys resting 20 feet away, but they quickly understood the magnitude. They had never met a PCT thru hiker that finished; all of a sudden they’re witnessing 3 completions right in front of them. Goat and Endless were only 40 feet away and stopped in their tracks when I yelled. They got to the sign, and I went after them both with an awkward “man hug!” Man hugs are always weird, but even more weird with backpacks. We dropped packs and individually absorbed the moment. Bob broke out trail magic: grapes, muffins and BabyBel cheese. 30 minutes of rest, snacks, photos, and it was over…a 4 month thru hike complete…adrenaline became surreal became peaceful became free…this long, long Hike was over.

…But, we were still deep in the wilderness. We were done with the PCT, but had an 8 mile hike to get out of the Sierra…a climb up to Kearsarge Pass at 11,800 feet, then drop to the parking lot at around 10,000 feet. We hiked this same trail months earlier when it was deeply buried in snow. It was hard to recognize without snow. The snow covered all the downed trees where we hiked before; we walked on top of so many trees and rocks under us. Bullfrog and Kearsarge Lakes were now thawed…beautiful blue and green. A US Forest Service trail team of about 20 were cutting a new trail up to the pass. If you haven’t seen new trail being built, you wouldn’t believe how hard the work is. We thanked those we passed for their hard work. We got pics at the top of Keirsarge Pass, then kicked in town speed and rolled steeply and quickly to the bottom; we were flying with a light jog at times.

Bob drove us to Bishop for a mid-afternoon breakfast at Jacks…a hiker favorite. We were so hungry after carrying a minimal 5-day food carry; of course I went huge. It was the last Trail food fling…4 full plates for me. Here goes:  2 eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits & gravy, 2 pancakes, BLT, fries and 3 Cokes. I ate every last bite…crushed it!  We left Bishop for a 3 hour drive back to Goat’s house. Anna had desert waiting for us, and we chattered about the last 4 months. Distance hikes are very stressful for our loved ones…they know the dangers (most of them), but hold their breath while we hike down the miles. My Cookie Jar is the best…an amazing woman that let’s me go chase these crazy goals. I love you so much Jamie…Thank You! We did it Trail Boss!!! Umm…there might be 1 more very, very long Trail we need to talk about in a couple years.  😉

How This Last Leg Began:
After our last ZERO, Goat’s son, Jake, drove us back to Sonora Pass. With fully loaded packs, to include heavy bear cans, we climbed up Levitt Peak’s 10,800 feet; we were above tree line where the cool wind replaced all the trees. It was a beautiful clear day with Levitt Meadow far below. Goat told Endless and I the story of he, his dad, and brother scrambling up to the Peak from the Meadow when they were teenagers…he took a bunch of pics to show them. We had long views of the Trail below us to the north. Later that day we hiked into the most northern end of Yosemite National Park, hiking several miles along a stream that put us under mosquito attack again…annoying, but nothing like Oregon. We could see thunderstorms to the east; we luckily dodged those.

We were now in northern Yosemite and the climbs were all steep. We had 4 climbs all with 800+ ft/mile profiles…2 of which were passes, Seavey and Benson. The day started with a couple easy stream crossings that had to be forded…no rock hops. We hiked across a beautiful long Meadow and watched the clouds build above…thunder boomed around us. The first 2 climbs were behind us and we took a quick lunch #1 on the side of Seavey Pass’ climb…the rain started. For the next couple hours thunderstorms rolled over us dropping rain and “Dippin’ Dot” sized hail. At times it was hard enough to hide under trees…rain gear on, rain gear off. We made it to the base of Benson and decided to skip lunch #2 and just pound out the climb in the rain/sleet. Bad choice for me…no fuel in my reserve tank and I bonked hard…probably my hardest bonk ever. I had no power and could only hike 1/2 speed. I was angry; not at Goat or Endless…just absolutely pissed off. My Dr. Jeckle (logical) was getting pulverized by Mr. Hyde (mental and emotional). I had to just keep pressing forward and that’s what I did. I knew what was going on and have seen other hikers go through this experience…I did my best to hold it together and slowly made it to camp. Thankfully, the storms broke, and we caught a little sunshine on the shelf where we camped. We ate dinner and I ate all of lunch #2 as well…I started to feel better. I changed into sleep clothes and smelled ammonia/urine around my tent. Some of you already know where this is going. I sniffed my hiking clothes…it was me. When you don’t have fuel on board and there’s no more fat to burn, our bodies go after muscle to metabolize. The scent of ammonia/urine is an indication you’re burning muscle; anger is a symptom of the condition as well…a bad place to be.

It rained a little overnight. The next morning, I mentioned the muscle burn and Goat said he was also smelling that scent. We decided to shorten hiking days to around 25 miles and to really manage calorie intake. The morning started off beautiful and the rains charged the streams that flowed down long granite slabs. Seemed an unusual number of birds I didn’t recognize were warbling, whistling, and chirping. We finished Benson Pass’ climb and could see Twin Peaks and Matterhorn to the north…wow!

Blue sky between the rain showers. We got a view of Twin Peaks with Matterhorn in the distant left.

Again, storms rolled in during lunch #1, but we crammed our calories in. Same cycle as day before with rain coming and going. We made our way to Tuolumne Falls and climbed Trail next to the many cascades and falls.

An Assisted Rescue:

Near the top, we saw a trail maintenance crew working on the Trail. Then, a thru hiker named Pa-Pa  was jogging back toward us and said he needed help with another hiker who had just fallen…sounded like a separated shoulder. Allister, 67 years old, was still in the granite puddle he fell in when we got to him. The lead trail maintainer didn’t have a radio, but was offering first aid advice. We were able to sling his arm and shoulder with a shirt after we made a better assessment. It took about 30 minutes to figure out if he could walk; I really didn’t think he would be able to walk due to the amount of pain he was in. If not able to walk, his wife, Gale, was going to use her GPS InReach for SOS. Gale and Allister have significant distance hiking experience…they have both thru hiked the PCT (2,650 miles) and the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles) about 15 years ago. Without radio or comms with the Yosemite Park Service, Goat messaged his friend named Kirk who was meeting us in Tuolumne Meadows for a resupply…just 5 miles ahead. Kirk replied that he would inform the ranger station; we also sent Endless to run ahead to try to coordinate help and to try to find Kirk.  We got Allister on his feet to see if he could walk…it looked possible.  Goat, Pa-Pa, and I divided up Allister’s pack/gear and started slowly escorting he and Gale toward Tuolumne Meadows. Allister is a tough old bird and knew his best chance was to walk out. He winced in pain and hiked out those 5 miles. Endless did find Kirk…they both said Park Service would not assist unless a helicopter was required.  As long as Allister was ambulatory, they didn’t get involved…very disappointing, and frankly, stunned me. They wouldn’t even open a gate that would have made his walk about .5 miles shorter. We were all upset with zero park service support, but we were focused on getting Allister out. We found out that all medical services were closed in the area…Kirk agreed to drive Gale and Allister 3 hours back to Sonora’s emergency room. We were all very hungry to include Allister. The hamburger stand was still open; Gale bought everyone’s food that was involved with the rescue. Allister ate a hamburger as well, then Kirk drove them to Sonora. Kirk said they were at the emergency room until 2:00 am (about 12 hours since accident) to reset his separated shoulder. He then drove them to a hotel for a very, very much needed rest. It all ended well, but everyone was stunned by zero park service involvement, leaving hikers to fend for ourselves…we got it done!

Back To The Hike:

We ate all our burgers, reset our packs, and pitched tents behind the general store in the backpacker camp. It was a long, long day, and of course, it rained overnight. Thankfully, it stopped raining before we broke camp. We started the morning hike with a long 10 mile flat hike through the meadow between 2 ridges that led to the approach of Donohue Pass. Along the way, we saw several animals as the morning lit:  a black bear paused for a photo about 50 yards away; a doe and her spotted fawns watched us walk by only 20 feet away as they grazed; and a bunch of curious prairie dogs watched us as well. None of the animals were afraid…nice that we could just “be” with them. We climbed steeply up Donohue Pass and had great views. We took a brief break up top where Yosemite ended and the Ansel Adams Wilderness begins. We dropped and climbed again over Island Pass. Through the drops and climbs, we would see Aspens around 9,000 feet. Their leaves flicker in the wind and blend with all the evergreens.

The next day, we made it to Red’s Meadow for our last resupply. The usual:  breakfast, showers, laundry, resupply for 5 days, and lunch before heading back out. While we there, we saw an 85 year old woman lather up with sunblock and head out with her big Osprey pack…Animal! Red’s Meadow was a difficult resupply because their stock was so depleted. We gathered up what we could, but we had minimal calories for our last leg. Red’s was also, by far, the most expensive on Trail; they wanted $17 for a standard Mountain House meal and $10.10 for a milkshake. I didn’t need the Mountain House, but I did NEED the milkshake…it was ok, but nothing special. Our day in and out of Red’s was our easiest day in the Sierra.

Goat got a message that a cooling trend was moving in…and boy did it. We woke to mid-30s temps and started our day. We made it up and over Silver Pass and camped along side Bear Creek. Cold temperatures moved in and the rain moved out…we were getting the full range of weather.

The next morning was even colder…low 30s and our water was a little icy. The morning breeze with cold temperatures cut right through us. We crossed Bear Creek first thing and luckily found a sketchy fallen tree that we scrambled across…most of the way. The final maneuver required a long “dyno” jump that demanded commitment. None of us wanted to be wet that cold morning…we all made it across and stayed dry!  Next, we went up and over Seldon Pass as the sun hit us and we started to warm…in fact, it got hot…mid 80s. Temps went up 50+ degrees that day as we climbed the approach to Muir Pass in Kings Canyon National Park. At the end of the day, we also had to ford Evolution Creek…it was only shin deep. Bear and Evolution Creeks are widely regarded as the 2 most dangerous crossings during high snow years.  Normal years during peak melt, these are forded with water up to average sized men’s chests…as I’ve read.  This year was a very high snow and melt…we were told by those that pressed through the Sierra that both of these had to be swam across. Imagine swimming literally in ice melt in mid 30 degree temps. Those that swam across said they built fires on the banks to immediately warm and dry clothes…no thank you! At the Evolution Creek crossing, a young girl who looked about 17-18 years old was trail running with a tiny runner’s pack. This was deep in back country. She said she was running a 53 mile loop. She definitely wasn’t equipped for an overnight given the size of her pack and it was going to get even colder that night. She ran past us. None of us knew a quick way out. Where was she going?

Again, low 30s overnight and we were climbing Muir Pass where the iconic John Muir Hut sits at 12,000 feet. The hut was even more impressive in person; it’s all rock and was built in 1931 by the Sierra Club and the US Forest Service. It was clean, well maintained, and looked like it was built last year. The ceiling is spiraled rock all the way to the top. It has a fire place that has been bricked over recently. It sits way above tree line so only horses would carry wood that far anyway. It still serves as an emergency shelter for hikers.

The iconic John Muir Hut…all rock and mortar. The ceiling is entirely built from spiraled granite. My pack and poles near the door.

While we were there, we talked to Drifter who said the he passed the teenage runner the day before and that she bonked. We all hoped she made it out that night because that would have been a hard night to survive without the right gear. This was a big and chilly day…we dropped a long 4,000 feet. Then, climbed the 2,400 feet of the Golden Staircase up Mather Pass’ approach. We got there before dark and it was already very cold. Temps fell into the low 20s overnight. Our tents were iced over inside and out when we woke. We started up Mather Pass and we were freezing. We had every bit of clothes on we had with us except our sleep clothes…puffy jackets under rain jackets. In a couple hours, the sun topped the mountains and gave warm relief. When we hit the shady spots, it was like a restaurant freezer…this was supposed to still be summer! We had also heard about a fire in the Taboose area, but it wouldn’t impact our hike…it was far east of us. We went up and over Mather Pass headed for Pinchot Pass. Pudgy marmots were scurrying all around us that day…they’d run in front of us; dart behind us; and usually stop about 20 feet away to watch us. We took a lunch break at the bottom of the Mather descent and dried our wet tents/gear. As we began the Pinchot approach, there was a Forest Service ranger posted at the Taboose Trail intersection to prevent anyone from entering Taboose due to the fire…he was also checking permits. Up and over Pinchot Pass, we made the steep rocky descent. At the bottom, we crossed a 200 ft suspension bridge, and worked our way up the Glen Pass approach to Dollar Lake where we made our last camp just before dark. See top of update for events of the last day on Trail.

Trail Tale:

Short but powerful last trail tale…it was for all 3 of us. We just started our descent off Donohue Pass. We were maybe 1/4 mile off the top. Descending hikers give right of way to climbers as courtesy so they can keep up momentum. I pulled to the side as a struggling solo hiker rounded a corner. At first sight, I thought he was a wounded warrior with a prosthetic right leg, but as he limped closer, I could see I was mistaken. His right leg was braced and about 1/2 size compared to his left. He was also wearing knee pads. He thanked us for pulling to the side, and we had a short conversation. He appeared to be late 50s and said he had suffered a stroke in 1997. Simple words he spoke with a big smile, “Every day is a gift.” Here was a guy with most of the right side of his body paralyzed; knee pads to protect his many falls to the right side; bloodied from those falls; pulling himself up steep Sierra passes. His effort and exertion to make forward progress was monumental. His positive outlook and physical ability were at opposite extremes. I was overwhelmed with emotion…what inspiration. I didn’t get his name; I have no idea how far he had come; but his pack looked like a long haul hike. I think of him as a “Spirit Hiker” because he embodied the attitude to succeed where others don’t even attempt. He looked Trail weary like the rest of us, but had a cheery disposition that humbled me. When I’m having a pity party on Trail or in Life, I’m bringing in my Spirit Hiker to help pound down my Mr. Hyde! I could have used him on Benson Pass.

2019 PCT Favorites:

The Ale House, Cascade Locks, OR, or Red’s Meadow, CA
Base Camp Pizza, South Lake Tahoe, CA, or Mod Pizza, Medford, OR
Sweet treat:
Huckleberry Roll in Trout Lake, WA, or Cinnamon Roll in Stehekin, WA
Bob’s Ranch House, Etna, CA
Stehekin Bakery, WA
Zero meals:
Anna’s Lasagna and Steve & Cindy’s TriTip
Best Coffee:
Crater Lake Lodge, OR
Crater Lake Lodge, OR
Town meal:
Beef Stroganoff in Big Bear, CA
Gastrognome (steak), Idyllwild, CA
Best Western Plus, Sonora, CA 
Trail town:
Idyllwild, CA, or Etna, CA
Best Western Plus, Three Sisters, OR
Big Bear Hostel, Big Bear, CA
Etna Inn, Etna, CA
Hiking Section:
Sierra Mountains
Hardest Section:

Sierra Mountains

To everyone that followed my progress…I hope you enjoyed the journey and that you felt a little like you were along side with us at times. I deeply appreciate the many prayers and well wishes that came our way over these 4 months. Many have asked if/when I’ll attempt the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles…Mexico to Canada through NM, CO, WY, and MT). At this moment, I do have intentions to thru hike the CDT; I already have other hiking projects planned for the 2020 season so 2021 would the soonest I’m considering a CDT attempt. The CDT follows the Rocky Mountain Range…high elevations, cold, snow, etc…and yes, grizzly bears! As such, I’m going to wait for a mild snow year before I take my shot.

Great Miami Outfitters is blogging my 2019 PCT hike. All PCT19 and AT15 Trail updates are located at this link:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s