Hiking California: Sonora Pass to Agnew Meadows

September 23 – September 27, 2014

Total mileage: 1745.4

“Oh jeez,” I sigh deep when I see the bear canister. I pick it up. Empty it weights already 2 pounds or so. I need to carry this canister all the way down to Kennedy Meadows, more than 300 miles through the High Sierras. It’s mandatory to take it with me so I do it. Bears are more used to people in this area and they are after your food, especially in a dry year like this. Sealing food in the canister prevents them smelling it. So I start putting all my food for the next stretch in it. And my toiletries. And my cooking utensils. And my garbage. It takes a little time to get it right. To make it fit. But I make it work somehow.


Stuffing food into the canister at Sonora Pass trail head.

I hike out quite late, at around 9 am. The trail ascends steeply and soon the sun burns me out of my puffy. It’s awesome to see how the landscape is changing with every step I take. I hike up to a ridge and I get rewarded with a stunning view over 4 lakes. A new horizon shows itself to me. And I’m tearing up experiencing the beauty of this land in front of me. I feel like I’m on the moon.


Walking on the moon.

Later that day, I reach an interesting marker: “1000”. Only 1000 miles left to the Mexican border! It also means that I have hiked 1660 miles! Totally awesome! I hike alone today so there is nobody to celebrate it with. Oh well. What can you do. I take some pictures and hike on. Mexico here I come!


1000 marker and a proud ‘selfie’. 

That night, I camp at stunning Dorothy Lake. This is the northernmost trail entrance to Yosemite National Park. After a good night sleep, I hike out at 6 am. It’s freezing cold and I wear everything I have. It’s beautiful to see the frost on the branches and the leaves.


But soon the sun rises and melts the frost away. The hike is pleasant today and leads me deeper into Yosemite National Park. There are no other hikers on the trail. In the evening, after hiking around 24 miles, I look for a flat spot to pitch my tent near Benson Lake. Then my heart skips a beat. A young black bear, right in front of me on the trail! It sees me too. I make noise to scare it away but the bear is not at all impressed. “Go bear, go!”, I yell. I blow my whistle again and again. Finally it takes off, and jumps into the bushes. Whoa. I sigh deep. It’s getting dark already and I’m a bit worried about pitching my tent in this area but I do it anyway. Hopefully the bear isn’t too hungry… That night I don’t sleep well, for all the obvious reasons.

Another day arrives. It’s still dark when I hike out at 6 am. Today I’ve got some big climbs ahead of me. Yes, the High Sierras are here to kick my ass for sure. The sun comes up and the colors in the sky are just amazing. What a gift!


Sunrise when climbing Benson Pass (10094 ft)

When I arrive at Benson Pass, my first ‘real’ High Sierra pass which exceeds 10000 feet, I’m a bit disappointed. After all that hard work, there’s no sign, no applause, no nothing! Oh well. Onwards to the next pass. I hike through stunning landscapes full of lakes and meadows which blow my mind with their beauty. The lakes with their pristine waters, the alpine meadows full of color and light.


The views are getting better and better.

After a little stop at Tuolumne Meadows, where I buy breakfast and then a lunch, where I make some phone calls and where I get to meet two sweet northbound hikers, I start hiking towards Donohue Pass, at 11031 feet elevation and which marks the southernmost entrance of Yosemite National Park. The daylight start fading on me. I have set a goal for myself today and that is getting up and over Donohue Pass. But I’m not going to make that goal. I hike as far as I can, and find a very small bivy spot, just a half mile below the pass, on a very exposed site next to the trail. I know this is not the best place to pitch for tonight but there’s no other option. I don’t want to hike down the pass in the dark. I look at the ominous clouds above me. I don’t like the look of it at all.

That night, the wind picks up and my tent is shaking. The winds keeps me up until the morning. I’m deadly tired when my alarm goes off at 5 am. When I open my tent, I wake up to a white world. I have been camping in the middle of a snow storm last night and this storm dumped a few inches of snow on me. Quickly I pack everything in my bag and start hiking fast to keep warm. It’s in the low 30’s. Soon I’m on top of Donohue Pass where I have cell reception. I take a few pictures, I post an update on Facebook and I send out a few texts. That day, I just keep on hiking to stay warm and never stop. I pass beautiful Thousand Island Lake, and the majestic Mount Davis behind it.


It snows and it keeps snowing until I get to Agnew Meadow trailhead, where I meet two friendly day hikers who give me a ride down to Mammoth Lakes. There, I find a nice hotel and the first thing I do is turn on the shower and stand under the hot water for a long time. I dive under the clean sheets and close my eyes. Finally I can sleep and rest after this epic 104 mile stretch. Tomorrow is a new day.


  1. Wow, Viola! Wat een moed, wat een doorzettingsvermogen! En wat een prachtige verhalen en foto’s! Superleuk ook om op deze manier met je mee te reizen.

  2. I hope you are through the Sierra by now, Arctic Fox! And also that you enjoyed that section. I’m enjoying your posts now that I am back at home. Great photos, nice to see the trail in a different season. In the desert, think twice (or even three times!) before passing up on any water source, no matter how bad it looks.

    1. Hey Kevin!! Great hearing from you! I arrived at the US/Mexican border 2 days ago!!! What an awesome trip this has been. 4.5 months, amazing! Hope you are doing great!

  3. Wow, congratulations on finishing Viola! I’m glad you were able to make it all the way to the Mexican border. Rob and I were wondering how you were getting along. All good here, but it took about 6 weeks for my feet to recover. Kevin/Early B.

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