We have officially entered the High Sierras, and it is a great feeling. 700 odd miles of desert culminated in our stay at the Kennedy meadows general store. Many burgers and ice cream sandwiches later, we started back up the trail towards the mountains.
The first day, we left mid afternoon after watching the US vs. Germany game. It wasn’t long before we started to notice real changes in our surroundings – mountains, for one, and cooler air. Less than 5 miles in, we got our official confirmation with a sign marking the south sierras.
That night we ascended to a beautiful alpine meadow at around 8100 feet. We ignored the campsite under the nearby trees and pitched in a nice flat right in the middle of the grass. It was great… Until we woke up in the morning and everything was frozen. Actually frozen – our water bottles, clothes we left outside, the outside of our bear bags, and even the condensation on the inside of our rain fly had turned to icicles. We spent the morning thawing out, which turned out to be a pretty nice way to spend the morning, and headed out around 930.
The next day we started with our biggest ascent yet to 10500′ or so. The trail wound through beautiful meadows, complete with grazing cows, until it headed up the 4 mile climb. We felt great at the top and resolved to push on to the charmingly named Death Canyon Creek at mile 731. We barreled down the mountain we had just climbed at over 3mph, hell bent on making camp by dark.
It is now that I must inform you that there are Mosquitos in the sierras in breathtaking, prodigious quantities. Once we reached the valley floor, they were everywhere. The only way to hold them off was to move quickly and swat often – at one point, I looked down at my left arm and saw 4 of the little bastards landing simultaneously for dinner. While I did get bitten – a lot – the scenery was truly beautiful, and my curses reached a level of creativity I take real pride in.
We passed death canyon creek and several hikers early the next morning. It wasn’t desert early (4am) but we were moving before the rest of our comrades so I feel good calling it early. We stopped to chat and get water from a nearby spring, and started going up and up. By the time we got to our destination, chicken spring lake, it was dark. We set up camp by headlamp and hunkered down for the night, not knowing where we really were. When we woke up, it turns out we were truly in the sierras. We had camped next to a beautiful alpine lake butted up against an exposed granite peak.
It’s hard to walk away from places like that, so we didn’t. Not right away anyway – eventually we started going up again. That day we spent trying to guess which peak was Whitney as we made our way to the base where we would summit the next day.
Whitney was indeed spectacular and a great hike. I felt proud of both of us getting up as quickly as we did, and without altitude issues! At the top, the ranger told us we’d better not hang around too long due to weather, so we got down again pretty fast.
From there we went over forester pass after spending the night at Tyndall creek, met a new hiking companion (Billy), drank the best water I’ve ever had from a perfect turquoise tarn (my geology vocabulary is getting healthier by the day), and dropped into kings canyon – which is utterly spectacular.
We left the sierras over kearsarge pass, headed for independence, CA. This we were very excited by, as we got clued in to some pretty awesome festivities by some fellow hikers. And it did not disappoint – details next time!
Happy Independence Day! From Independence CA! We made it here from Kennedy Meadows, into the Sierras, over Mt Whitney (tallest mountain in the lower 48 at 14,505 ft), past enchanting lakes and whimsical forests, over Forester Pass, over Kearsage Pass, to the Onion Lake trailhead, and down to the Courthouse Motel here in little Independence. And yes, we are going to walk in the parade today along with the other hikers in town (Billy, Honey Buzz, Emily, and Sneaky Elf).
We spent two nights at KMGS – and had our fill of burgers, ice cream sandwiches, and V8 – before pushing off into the Sierras, and our longest stretch yet without access the the “outside” world. We left KMGS after Happy Feet, Swimmer, Hans, Leandra, Herro, Howle, the Bard, and Don Creosote, but before the others. Oh, and while we were there The Mayor arrived! We’d been hearing stories about this character since day 1 – that he had hiked the AT, that he was from NH, that he was doing 10 mile days, and that he had started a fire under a bridge and been caught. Turns out he hitched ahead and we were able to cross paths. Anyhow, we set out from KMGS and hiked 10 afternoon miles before setting up camp in a sweet meadow just past the Haiwee Trail Junction…
And woke up to a serious frost! Man it must have been our coldest night yet, our gear and tent were encrusted with an icy layer that we allowed to thaw before forging ahead. We filled water at a nice trough/spring, chatted with Sprinkler (the last we’d see of him for a while), and leapfrogged with The Bard and Don Creosote, before reaching our highest point yet – over 10,500 ft – where we ate a tasty dinner of curry chicken and rice. We heard these strange hollow noises all afternoon (only later discovering they were the sounds of buck calls) as we descended to camp (a 17-18 mile day) just before Death Canyon Creek (not nearly as treacherous as it sounds, unless you consider it death by mosquito…)
We woke slowly and made that last half mile down to the Creek where we found the crew – Herro, Howle, The Bard, and Don Creosote – breaking camp. We hiked hard to Diaz Canyon where we ate an afternoon dinner with the crew, then hiked on to Chicken Spring Lake (over 11k!) to round out a 21 mile day – one of the places that people say is the beginning of the “real Sierras” – a beautiful tarn under an equally beautiful peak. Only Howle had made it there that night – The Bard, Don Creosote, and Herro had fallen behind.
We woke slowly (again. It’s so hard to get an early start in the serene sierras after a demanding day of hiking.) at Chicken Spring and hiked 19 miles to the base of Mt Whitney. It was slow plodding through sand for the first few miles, an easy walk to Rock Creek, then a steep climb and quick hiking to Crabtree Meadows, which can be described in one word…magical (thank you Joanne, for introducing this word into my vocabulary). Crabtree Meadows was lush, green, beautiful, and serene – complete with doe and buck relaxing in the meadow while a handful of marmots busily scurried about. We tried to book it up to guitar lake, but the altitude and exhaustion got the best of me and we camped a mile short, just north of Timberline Lake. Oh, we also passed Howle and Leandra setting up camp near the rangers station. A headache and altitude sluggishness slowed me down, but I eventually found some restful sleep before our day up Whitney.
Whitney day! We made it. No altitude issues. A reasonably tough climb up 13 switchbacks then across the ridge, and spectacular views. Not technically on the PCT, but 8 miles off, we went for the detour. We reached the summit just before noon – as thunderheads gathered…so we hurried down safely, felt a few drops at the base, hiked a bit with Rogue, passed Feather and Grenade (a physicist), and passed JMT (John Muir Trail) hikers from NH and co owners of Earth Eagle Brewings – Butch and KK. We hightailed it back to our campsite as soon as we heard thunder and relocated a few miles down. A short day.
The day after Whitney was another short day – 8 miles. After reassessing our food (we had plenty) and steering clear of Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT at 13+k) due to looming thunderheads, we decided to take it easy. We spent half of the day at one of the Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds merely relaxing and waiting out the clouds. I can’t get over how beautiful the Sierras are. After walking 700 miles through the desert, they stand out as even more spectacular. And every guidebook or hiker tells us “just wait until you get to Chicken Spring Lake…Crabtree Meadows…over Forester Pass…to Muir Pass…” etc.
And the next day we hiked over Forester Pass, which was gradual yet steep, and afforded amazing views. We met up with another PCT hiker, Billy, and hiked with him for a while. Descending into Kings Canyon down from Forester was the most spectacular part of the trail yet – a huge glacially scoured u-shaped valley, complete with steep granite mountain walls, cirques with snow or glaciers at the head walls, the landscape dotted with sparkling blue tarns (including one that was crystal clear and looked like blue gatorade – we drank from this one of course). We walked down into the valley, passing many JMT hikers going in the opposite direction (Whitney was the end for them), and then up the side of the valley to the Bullfrog Lake Trail which would lead us up and over Kearsarge Pass (named for a ship which was named for the mountain in NH) into Independence (7.8 miles of steep off-trail walking for a resupply). We camped at the Kearsarge Lakes – lovely spot with a few mosquitos.
The next day we were up and over that last steep mile, then down down down from 12k+ to 9k ish where we waited for a ride Billy had set up – which we missed – and instead got a ride the 13 miles down into town (elevation below 4k, temperature 100 degrees) from an awesome couple who was dropping off Howle to get back on the trail. Howle told us about a hostel in town – part of the Couthouse Motel – which was great and consisted of 2 large rooms with 6 beds, a common area, shower, and fridge. We met Sneaky Elf, also from Seattle, staying at the hostel too. I got new shoes – Brooks Cascadias – the exact same model and color. The new shoes are so shiny and new and intact that the old ones are barely recognizable (the pics are so funny – see below). Jared, me, and Billy ate burgers at the expensive but delicious french Still Life Cafe, then ran into Honey Buzz and Emily opting to camp in the campground. Sound sleep in a bed.
Today – July 4th! Pancake breakfast, parade, walking tour, pie eating contest, BBQ, and fireworks await!