We avoided the worst of the bugs by moving quickly, but as we passed multiple swampy meadows and moved through the cool damp forest, I soon tired of swatting mosquitoes from my head, neck, and shoulders. Admitting defeat, I swung my pack off and pulled out the DEET. Sierra, wrapped in her head net and protective long sleeves, hiked on.
I was still slathering mosquito repellant on my arms when I recognized a familiar face smiling at me from beneath a head net: Honeybear! Closely followed by our friends Spud and then Oasis. We hadn't seen each other since Kennedy Meadows, over 400 miles ago!
We were still catching up as we hiked down the trail when someone called out "Bear!". I strained to see past then, but saw nothing. We inched down the trail and then I saw him, a small honey colored bear cub sitting on a log. The young bear watched us watch him for a moment. Then, in a display of nerves, he leaped from the log to a nearby tree trunk. He clung by his claws, then hopped back down to the log. Climbing was clearly too much work.
After lunch we shared tread with the Tahoe Rim Trail, enjoying views of rocky volcanic outcroppings coveted with colorful orange and green lichen, meadows filled with yellow flowering mule ears and other wildflowers, and, off in the distance, Lake Tahoe, shimmering like a jewel.
Reaching a flat saddle beneath Ward Peak, I felt a shock of recognition. We looked down on chairlifts rising from a familiar grassy meadow: Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. Spotting a lone snow patch on the steep hillside, I turned to Sierra. "Want to ski at Alpine?". In a flash, we removed our packs and headed down the slippery, muddy hillside to the snow. Steep, soft, and fast, we enjoyed two "boot skiing" runs before climbing back up to the snow.
Descending through the forest, we reached Five Lakes Creek, where we stopped for water before continuing on. We hoped to find camp another mile or so down the trail, but two miles later we found ourselves on a steep hillside, no camp in sight. Climbing up the hill, I noticed the scent of campfire smoke in the air. Looking up the trail, the trail seemed to flatten out in a grove of trees before continuing up the hill. Camping!
The five PCT hikers sharing the campfire invited me to join them. Just as I was setting my pack down, Sierra hiked up. "Are you Monkey and Mama Bear?" a young hiker asked.
It was 13 year old Chili and his father Pepper, who previously hiked the Appalachian Trail together. We had heard about them from other hikers for hundreds of miles, and were excited to finally meet then. We cooked around the campfire (our third on this trip), enjoying the company of the other hikers. It was well after hiker midnight (9:00 p.m.) when we finally crawled into bed.