Day 119: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

14.8 miles (2390.6 to 2405.4)

Jeremy and Tawnya deliver me to the trail at 10am. I face a climb of several thousand feet – several climbs, actually. Today is going to be tough. This is Labor Day Weekend; the trail is stuffed with hikers: day hikers, weekenders, section hikers, thru hikers. I can’t go three minutes without passing someone. 

When I enter Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I’m greeted by a sign declaring that much of the wilderness is closed due to the Jolly Mountain Fire. The PCT remains open (for now).

Smoke from the Norse Ridge Fire.

After several hours of climbing I reach Ridge Lake. This seems to be the main attraction for day hikers and backpackers out for the weekend. I eat lunch, then continue. After the lake, the crowd all but vanishes. I climb again, reach a ridge, then drop toward the uninspiringly named Joe Lake. I can see several miles of PCT from here as it wraps around the basin and exits over the far ridge. 

Alaska Lake
Joe Lake, with PCT traversing the mountain in the background.

This is going to be a beautiful hike. I haven’t yet seen the High Sierra. Most of Goat Rocks was hidden in a smokey haze. Alpine Lakes Wilderness is the most beautiful section of PCT I’ve set foot on. The trail repeatedly turns to loose rock, making walking difficult, but I don’t care. This may be my favorite section of trail. I love it at least as much as I loved Three Fingered Jack. I’m thrilled to make the long, exposed, ankle-twisting traverse across the basin. This is gorgeous country. 

Mount Rainier in the far distance.

At last I crest the ridge and drop into the next basin. There’s another lake here, framed by more spectacular mountains. There’s also the Jolly Mountain Fire. Huge clouds of smoke billow up in the not so distant distance. Thankfully the wind is blowing such that the air here remains mostly clear. I hope my luck holds. 

Smoke from Jolly Mountain Fire on far left.

I scout for a campsite as I hike. The sites I pass are occupied by backpacks and tent footprints. I assume this means the sites have been claimed. It looks like I’ll have to hike for a few more miles, until I spot a flat spot off the trail on a little knoll. Perfect. As evening progresses, more hikers arrive. I hear voices from every direction. The area is swarming with people, possibly because there’s a pond nearby and not much else in the way of water. I’m practically in a campground. 

With only 250 miles until Canada, I’ve suddenly developed my first case of truly painful chafe. The small chafe spots I had before were mild compared to the burning red mess across my low back. I have no idea why this happened now, so far into my journey, when I haven’t changed a thing. I hope it’ll be gone by morning. 

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