Dollar Lake to Pinchot Pass to Lake Marjorie, 14.2 miles
We wake up at 5 am to get an early start on what we already know will be a challenging day. We are on the trail before 7, but we start off the day with a big descent on our way to the Suspension Bridge at Woods Creek. Over the next 4.1 miles, we drop nearly 1700’, and our legs are not happy about it. I feel really awkward as we move along, and it occurs to me that it’s because we are starting with a downhill right out of the gate. Going uphill is definitely a nicer way to warm up the muscles in my book, but that’s not the plan on this day.
As we move into the lower elevations, there are a lot of pretty, showy plants in bloom, and we stop often to take photos of the tiger lily, monkshood, wild onion that are on display.
And the trees are pretty incredible, too. They are gargantuan, and Matt is in love with the enormous pine cones that we see spread out on the ground all around them. One of my most dreaded childhood chores was having to pick up all the sticks and pine cones in the yard around our house, so the affection isn’t quite there for me. Even so, it’s hard not to be impressed by these guys!
We finally make it to the suspension bridge where we find Team Alabama chilling out, and we decide to take a long break, too. We follow Greg and Will’s lead and take off our boots to let our feet air out a bit. It appears that I am developing three separate blisters on my right foot. Each step is becoming more and more painful, but that doesn’t stop me from photographing the cool bridge from every possible angle.
Now that the big downhill is done, we are facing almost eight miles of up and a 3600’ elevation gain. It sounds pretty daunting, but I am hopeful that the change in direction will help minimize the pain in my feet. Shortly after setting off, we pass an 800 mile marker made by PCTers to signify their distance from their starting point at the Mexican border, and it reminds me that I have no right to complain.
The next section of trail from the bridge to the junction with the Sawmill Pass trail is brutal. There is virtually no shade, and the only real distraction is the occasional waterfall along Woods Creek, which the trail follows pretty faithfully. It is hot and sunny. We walk an hour and then rest for a while before continuing on. There is a creek near the junction, and we take off our boots to soak our swollen, tired feet. We sit there for a good 15 minutes, and the cold water feels heavenly. Later on, we stop for a short break in the shade, and Matt practically falls asleep sitting upright on a log!
We still have 3.8 miles of uphill until we reach Pinchot Pass, and this section of trail is a little more exciting. We are feeling a bit cooler now, and we have fantastic views of the many mountain peaks all around us.
As we get closer to the pass, we finally begin ascending in earnest, but it is still a long way before we reach the rock fortress that separates us from the next valley. Once there, we climb the switchbacks and pass small, colorful bouquets of flowers that seem to be thriving in these harsh conditions.
Matt is ahead of me and keeps disappearing out of sight after each switchback. It’s hard to see where the path will take us. It is late in the day now (after 6 pm) that the sunlight is turning golden. The wind has completely died. When we finally reach the top, we celebrate with a few pictures, but go down the other side pretty quickly. It is already 7, and we still have 1.7 miles to go to Lake Marjorie where we hope to camp.
Down we go, into a new bowl of mountains. Everything looks so beautiful with the early evening sun’s glow on it.
We eventually find a campsite close enough to water that is overlooking Lake Marjorie. We decide we are too tired to hike down any closer to the lake, especially since there is no guarantee that we will find any available sites this late in the evening.
Today was our most difficult day yet, and we are relieved it is finally over—at least the walking part that is!