Kern River Canyon-PCT Loop Trip
July 11-19, 2008
I picked Deniece up at the Tahoe-Reno Airport on July 10 at 8:30PM or so. We rented a room at the "Grand Sierra Resort" - the old MGM Grand Hotel. The fires in California had put out so much smoke the mountains at the west edge of town were almost invisible. The smoke was so thick in Reno I could taste it, and had a scratchy throat til we got up to the trailhead. I'd been with my friend Rob Johnson up north in the Sonora Pass area for a weekend camping trip on the 21st of June, the saturday the lightening strikes hit, and all the hundreds of fires began. That was almost three weeks ago and California and western Nevada were smoked in, big time.
We didn't do anything that night but dink around and catch up, and got up early on the 11th, stopped for coffee at the Starbucks in the lobby, and hit the road. We stopped for breakfast at Heidi's in Carson City, and were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. On the way back we had breakfast there again. Five ours after leaving the hotel, we arrived at the Ranger Village south of Lone Pine, stopping to get a wilderness permit.
I'd spent hours researching where and where not bear canisters were required. I didn't want to carry a bear canister. I'm 60 pounds overweight, and while I can do this trip, I wanted to give myself the best chance to have fun and not hurt myself. Carrying an extra two pounds of canister rankled my adolescent resentment against authority, chapped my hide at the intrusion of rules into the backcountry. Deniece and I don't cook where sleep, cooking our main meal at noon. At any rate, I'd planned the trip so we wouldn't be required to carry a canister.
We got to the trailhead six hours after leaving Reno. To get to the trailhead you get to Lone Pine, turn west on the Whitney Portal Road, and then four or five miles up, turn left and drive another 20 miles up a very steep and narrow and winding road that has few barriers to huge, steep drops. Neither of us spent much time looking down into the valley. I know I'd get a little nauseous if I looked over the edge. We couldn't see anything anyway due to the smoke. There were no 12,000' range of mountains across Owens Valley that day.
We got to the Horseshoe Meadows Trailhead about 2PM, and started hiking around 3PM. We ran into an intern ranger who told us we had to go back to the permit ranger center and get bear canisters. I refused and we spent 10 minutes engaging in heated conversation. When Deniece said that we had a permit, and not carrying bear canisters was ok, he finally backed off. I apologized for getting emotional, and he said he loved bears, and walked away with tears in his eyes. The problem he had was he made up regulations - like the only people who didn't need to carry bear canisters had to be hiking 250 miles or more. Grrrr.. His passion for bears, a 22 year old's passion, was misplaced. He had no sense of the larger picture, of the passage of time, that not everyone was an idiot!!! Here is Deniece and our packs.
We headed out over the Meadows and up to Trail Pass. I think it took an hour and a half or so. We then dropped down fairly steeply to Mulkey Meadows. We hit the junction, stayed right, and in an eighth of a mile or so, got to a flowing creek and walked north up it for a couple hundred yards to a little rise with trees just above the meadow. We'd dropped 1300', from 10,800 to 9500' over 2.3 miles and were ready to enjoy a warm, beautiful evening. Camp was ideal, with a view over the meadow. I was willing to sleep with our food, but Deniece was pretty insistent we hang it. So we did the rope-tied-to-a-rock and throw it over a good limb exercise, laughing and enjoying ourselves. We had a couple ounces of bourbon and settled back into our eight days in the high country.
We heard coyotes twice during the night, and around dawn, the lowing of cattle, serious, stressed out lowing. We woke up and there were 50 or 60 of them walking with good pace along the trail, through the meadow.
Probably the most important part of our morning was coffee. When I hike alone I don't bring a stove, and hence, no coffee. I can't tell the withdrawal pain of not having caffeine from the pain of having walked x number of miles. No big deal. Deniece and I, starting back when Dave Shavel accompanied us, really, really enjoy having a cup of strong coffee in the morning. Well, I like strong coffee. Deniece is satisfied to have the second half of the grounds.
We started hiking around 8AM and trod across the meadow. I had to throw a rock in the general direction of a giant bull to get him to move away - he was a menacing presence. We wound our way through trees, in a gentle downward tack, coming to Tunnel Meadow with the South Fork of the Kern running through it. The hiking was incredibly pretty and easy. What a way to break your body into eight hours a day of hiking - downhill, gently, through warm, beautiful forest...
We passed a big corral and a building with one open side. We reached a little meadow and it was time to cook dinner. We were tired and hot and I soaked my feet in the burbling brook of Golden Trout Creek. We found a tree with shade and had to choose between a number of mountain house dinners. Mountain house dinners simply require a cup and a half of boiling water. You pour the water into the bag, let it sit for 10 minutes, and eat it. Can't get much simpler. I like Chili Mac, and always have, since 1971 when I headed out to hike the John Muir Trail with 17 of them, and 22 pounds of granola.
The weather was building, and lunch was cut short as the sky began to spit at us. We hustled to the edge of the forest and stood for 45 minutes as the sky just opened up.
We figured the storm would pass and we'd just continue our hike. 45 minutes is a long time to stand in the lee of a tree while rain and hail and thunder and lightening are happening. But that's what we did, just stand there. We both changed trees a couple times to find more sheltered spaces. We didn't do that again. When it rained during the day, which didn't happen til the 5th day, this being the 2nd, we just put on our rain gear and walked through it. This was a thunderstorm. The rain that came intermittently over the next week came from actual storm fronts moving through the mountains, not thunderstorms. .
The storm passed and we continued hiking, looking forward to camp. This was about an 11 mile day, and even though it was all flat or gently downhill, I was tired. We passed the "Whitney Cow Camp," a little used set of fences in the forest, and waded the now 20' wide river, and began searching for a home for the night. It wasn't ideal, but we stopped next to the river and set up camp in the trees, fully anticipating it would rain that evening, which it did. We nibbled our dinners and had our three ounces of bourbon, and laughed and joked and just spent time hanging out enjoying each other. One of the nice things about hiking and hanging with Deniece is that we are "hiking buddies." No artifice, no hidden agendas or weird trips. I think this is an important insight - I don't have many "hiking buddies" to hang with, men or women. So I treasure walking with Deniece, dining with her, setting up camp, and going through "stuff."
I slept with our food that night - there not being many, if any, suitable trees for hanging the food. Deniece's food bag made for a perfect pillow, and helped me have my best night of sleep for the whole trip.
On Day 3 our hike consisted of dropping down Golden Trout Creek into the Kern River Canyon, turning right, and gently heading up the Canyon to Rattlesnake Creek - 11 miles or so. We would spend the next two and a half days and 25 miles in Kern Canyon, climbing from 6300' to 12,000'.
Ready to go we hit the trail and in in an hour or so got to "Natural Bridge," a volcanic arch over Golden Trout Creek. It was kind of impressive. We headed down the trail and gained a view of a falls/cascades of the creek as it blasted over the edge down to the canyon floor. The canyon is way down, out of the picture. The trail down the canyon wall was rocky and steep. I tentatively picked my way down as Deniece with young 41 year old legs and knees strode through the rock litter.
As we approached the floor, we heard the incredibly intrusive and loud sound of a helicopter approaching.
It landed on a grassy flat area demarcated with what seemed like white boxes, idled for a couple minutes as people scurried to unload, then lifted off and disappeared. It seemed ironic that we were in a wilderness area, and just across the river is Sequoia National Park, and it was ok to land a helicopter there, but not where we were. Hmmm...
We got to the Canyon floor. It was flat and sandy and covered with manzanita-like bushes. At 6300', 4500' down from our high point at Trail Pass, there were supposed to be rattlesnakes. Of course this means that there is one for every 100 square feet, and we're going to be trodding on them non-stop, or so it seems from home when planning the trip. We were going to be in rattlesnake land for 15 miles or so. It took only an hour for any anticipatory fear to go away and a modicum of awareness maintained for snakes on or near the trail. We never did see or hear a rattlesnake. Bummer...
We crossed the flat, sandy, bushy area, we knew was filled with hidden, nine foot angry rattlesnakes, heading south. The map had us heading south, but it seemed like we were spending an awful lot of time heading that direction. After checking the map and just accepting the trail was going where it was going to go, we got to the big bridge crossing the Kern.
The river at this point is 60' across and an average of what seemed like 5' deep. We would have had to swim across it, being dragged downstream for a 100 yards or so to cross it had the bridge not existed. At one point Dave and I were thinking of hiking for 300 miles in the New Zealand's Southern Alps. There were a couple rivers that had to be crossed - no bridges - that required swimming. Deniece and I could have done it, but it would have been a completely different kind of trip. It would have taken a couple hours to find a spot where the 100 yards downstream wasn't sprinkled with big boulders and holes and such.
The picture doesn't capture the power, almost fury of the river. Over the next 25 miles it dropped almost 6000' from its headwaters at Lake South America and the other little tarns/lakes in the headwaters basin. The Kern Canyon is a giant trench as some of the following pictures show. Canyon walls are consistently 1500' to 3000'. There are numerous creeks that cascade down the canyon walls, a pretty spectacular sight.
We hiked past the ranger compound for a half hour until we found a bend in the river with shade where we could eat lunch. There are backcountry rangers and over the 35 years I've met them in the backcountry, they've always been friendly. Now, with the whole bear canister ethos, backcountry rangers are cops, authority, to be avoided if possible. This is too bad as I've met a number of them and enjoyed their company. The future was cast though - bear canisters will be required for all in Sequoia National Park next year. Grrr...
We had another five miles to hike before camp, and so we walked up canyon, almost flat, mostly away from the river. We often wondered where we were. The hiking was sandy for the most part, going up and down through rock fields, big avalanche falls, forest, rocks, and forest... Always, views opened up to the cliffs above us, some of them looming, way beyond the angle of repose.
We got to Rattlesnake Creek, crossed it on a bridge
and found a campsite on the river for the night. Note the food bags hanging 18' up in the air, 10' from the tree. We thought there would be a bear box here, but there wasn't. The weather was threatening and so we made sure our camp was tidy before going to bed. It rained for a while, a couple times, during the night.
The next day the walking was much like hiking in Washington State, lots of wet ferns, thick, boggy swampy areas, with lots of mosquitoes. Weird. I heard a sound at one point, looked to my left, and there was the flying form of a medium sized, cinnamon brown bear. I saw it only for a tenth of a second, but it was awesome...
We passed the junction where our trail became part of the High Sierra Trail, crossed the Kern on another bridge, luckily as it was still a big, mature, massively flowing, 40' wide river. Views down canyon got more and more spectacular as we made the relatively steep climb up to Junction Meadow, where we spent the fourth night.
We crossed numerous creeks coming off the canyon walls. Our first real crossing was that of Whitney Creek, and it was flowing out of its banks, covering 75' of trail. It was flowing fast enough to make my hiking poles quiver. Deniece had a couple seconds where she thought it was going to knock her over, but powered her way through the danger.
We made it to Junction Meadow which turned out to be an old growth forest flat with no underbrush and big views at its edges. It rained again as we set up camp, and that night. I went to be early and there was no socializing that evening... For some reason neither of us had pictures of this camp. I have a hard time remembering much of it, other than there was a bear box, the river, tall trees, and my tent. I took some pictures at the edge of the forest, staring north, up canyon in the morning when the weather was clear. There was a 12,000' peak looming high above. It was an odd feeling, humbling really, to know we'd be walking parallel to its top in under eight hours, 4000' above. This was going to be a big day...
The clouds were absent as we started hiking on Day 5. We left Junction Meadow and immediately began climbing back up into the alpine country.
We crossed Tyndall Creek, (which we would also cross the next morning, but 2500 feet up the canyon) which was also over its banks, and got higher and higher and higher. The Kern River just below the lip of the basin was about 10' wide, and beautiful.
We had lunch at the edge of a beautiful little lake that served as gateway to the real high country, about 10,700' or so. We were pretty beat at this point, having negotiated a trail through a ferned forest that existed more by feel than sight. At one point I started calling out for Deniece to make sure we were on the trail, and I heard her voice from on high, above me. The switchbacks up the final 400' ridge were killers, the trail hard to see and follow. Unless you've hiked up a set of steep switchbacks after having climbed 2500' already, you don't have a sense of what being really present and tired means. I knew we weren't too far from the lip of the high country, but every step was hard, and I'd rest every 200' of hiking or so.
We left the idyll of our lunch spot and immediately lost the trail. Over the next 3.5 miles we started walking up granite slabs, walking a trail that would disappear, and then appear, sometimes 20' away, sometimes a couple hundred feet. The weather was closing in, and it felt "portentous." The five pictures below are the only ones we took of this section as the rain closed in, the wind picked up, and the hiking got a little more intensive as the trail tended to disappear and we had to constantly be visually ranging ahead for likely places to find it.
We met two fellows who were dying to tell us where they were from - the first actual non-ranger, non-intern hikers we'd seen on the whole trip - but we didn't ask. They were debating taking the cut-off route that bypassed the high, high-country around Lake South America. Not being used to the wilds of the Sierra alpine lands they were tending towards the cut-off. Deniece and I nonchalantly said we were going the long way, doing the loop. We said it with such lack of emotion or trepidation the two fellows decided that since they might never be here again, that they too would head to Lake South America and camp. We were heading to Tyndall creek on the PCT. They were going to spend the night at 12,000. Later I figured there was a huge difference between their camp and ours at 11,200'.
We had a choice to head up and over to the Pacific Crest Trail, and avoid the really high country around Lake South America, or do the 5.4 mile loop taking us to a five minute walk to the lake at nearly 12,000'. It was obvious it was going to rain. I wanted to hike to the heights and camp there, and Deniece, although not enthusiastic, agreed to go the longer, more beauteous route. We walked up slabs and little vales of meadow, up defiles to another granite bench, getting higher and higher. The views would have opened up had the clouds not been descending. The rain beat down harder and the wind gusted from different directions, sometimes swirling from all directions it seemed.
We realized that we'd started that morning at 8000', and we were now approaching 12,000. From old-growth forest to weather twisted and tortured four foot trees, tiny, precious bunches of flowers, little rills and pristine tiny meadows. From the relative protection of the forest to the exposed reaches of the land of rock, water, sky and snow. Combine that with rain and wind and sweating from the constant work of climbing steep, sometimes non-existent trail, and conditions were ripe for hypothermia.
Deniece was fine, a bit disgruntled, but relatively comfortable. I'd put on my poncho in a hurry and hadn't made sure it was properly placed about my body and over the next couple hours got wet from the rain and sweat so that I knew my core temperature was dropping - not quickly, but dropping nonetheless. I am usually good down to 50 degrees or so when hiking. But I was wet.
The hike was stressful because there was only a faint trace of trail now and then. We got pretty good at picking it out and guessing where we'd find it when we lost it. Up and up and up it seemed. We were nearing the top of our 4000' vertical climb over 9 miles. That is serious elevation gain. The only other time I remember having walked that many vertical feet was from the San Joaquin River to the top of Muir Pass on the John Muir Trail. And that was over 14 miles. Or Maybe walking up Mt. Si in Washington, 3200' over 4.5 miles.
The terrain changed from meadows and granite to pulverized granite and smaller rocks, gentler slopes, and a more obvious trail. We reached the Lake South America junction and kept on walking, heading for the bear boxes at Tyndall Creek. I kept thinking of the two guys heading to the lake to camp, and what they would find, a sand bar with a rock backdrop, wind and rain, no shelter other than their tents. Part of me was glad to be walking away and part of me longed to hang out in the wildlands.
The last two hundred vertical feet took us to the top of the 12,000' pass. One foot in front of the other in wet, unstable sand/rocky trail. You couldn't just stride up to the pass. You had to place each foot and then move to place the other. One foot after the other - we were really tired. The wind was blowing the rain and the clouds had dropped to our elevation, or we'd climbed to theirs. I've spent years looking at topo maps of the headwaters of the Kern, the Lake South America basin and surrounding tarns. It was "just over the top" from the JMT/PCT. But I'd never made the time to visit it, to hang out in it, to "grok" it with my backpacker's soul. For the last 15 years I've focused on taking trips that enabled me to hike 20 to 25 miles a day. I think this time is over, except for the "one last trip" on the CDT before I'm too old and my body won't let me. But for the most part, now I think I want to hike into these high sierra basins, set up a base camp and explore. There is a starkness in the high Sierra tempered by usually good weather that acts as a siren's call - I just want to soak it in - to gaze across a 11,800 basin at sunset and sunrise, or to watch Deniece put up her tent with that as a backdrop. It's not asking too much of life now, is it...
The pass doesn't have a name that I knew of. When we got to the top, the southeast facing side was an almost straight drop down across 100' of snow. Oh great.
Deniece, who walks faster and with more stamina than I, had moved to a gentler part of the snowbank, thinking that if she fell, she wouldn't slide at speed into boulders at the snow bank's bottom. I saw it was filled with two and three foot deep suncups and just strode down onto it, trying to land on one lip after another. I fell once, but the snow was so soft, and suncups so deep, there was no danger of sliding anywhere.
We reached the trail below the snow, now saturated with water and unstable and steep, and upped our pace to three miles an hour, camp only 3 miles away. The trail leveled out and we hiked hard. I had been staving off hypothermia by hiking as hard as I could uphill, up and up and up and up. I was soaked. From sock to shorts to shirt to hair - I was wet. Now, even hiking as hard as I could, I could feel the creeping presence of hypothermia. My hands were now cold - they hadn't been on the other side of the pass. I could feel my shoulders, and shivered when I did. I shivered and stopped shivering, the amplitudes growing larger, the shivering stronger, the times I wasn't shivering really obvious because I wasn't. My feet were soaked. I didn't try and miss the puddles on the trail. They actually were welcome because I could feel the cold water flow over my feet, colder than my feet. My feet could still feel!!! I knew that the danger zone was present when I wouldn't be able to feel any difference. Luckily I never got there.
Deniece just walked. Her pack, a good 15 or 20 pounds heavier than mine, was the ballast that moved her down the trail. Her gear worked better than mine this time, and while she was wet and chilly, she never got "cold." "COLD."
Finally, we reached the Kern Cut-off trail we could have taken, and in a couple minutes, the John Muir Trail. Five minutes later we arrived at Tyndall Creek, a bunch of camps, bear boxes, and about 15 or 20 people. We cast about for a place to pitch our tents and a woman from the nearest camper group wandered over. She was dressed "affectatiously" in argyle knee socks, kulots of some sort, an old 60/40 coat and a matching scarf and hat. Her long underwear - tops and bottoms - were affectatiously visible. In an east coast nasal diffident voice she asked how I was. I said, "COLD." "Do you know of a flat spot to put a couple tents??" She demurred, not looking me in the eye, and wandered away in the same, diffident way she'd approached. Diffident...
Over the previous five days we'd seen a group of interns doing trail clearing, a volunteer with a saw clearing blowdowns, and an old guy camped at Kern Hot Spring. That was it. It was the longest, relatively peopleless stretch - 50 miles - of hiking I've ever done. Pretty Cool. Deniece had been more together than me, and was actively searching for a decent camp, and found a couple flat spots 100' or so up from the bear box, and 150' away from, and above, all the rest of the campers. I had to get water and felt like I was intruding on the two 20 sopmething guys fishing the 15 mph flow of the creek. Idiots I thought as I achingly filled the water bottles. We made camp and went to bed.
Deniece, who normally gets out of bed at 5:30 in her regular life, was awake early and read for an hour. She got up and broke her camp, and finally, called out to me. I was lying in my warm quilt, listening to the rain fall on my tent. I didn't want to get up. I didn't want to hike in the rain. I flat out didn't want to do anything but hibernate til the sun came out. I was three years old and pouting. I refused to get up, saying we could leave at noon, as we only had seven miles to hike. Deniece didn't say anything. Ten minutes later the rain stopped, and I realized I needed to get up. Deniece was already packed and 25 minutes later we were crossing the creek and heading up to Bighorn Plateau. One of the things I do well is get up and go...
I have a desktop image downloaded from the net that has graced my myriad computers for a couple years. I knew the picture so well I stopped within 10' of where the photo was taken and took a couple myself.
We hiked to the top of the ridge and found ourselves on Bighorn Plateau.
This is just an amazing place. If I go back to this area, I want to explore the Wrights Lake Basin behind the plateau, The Wallace Lakes Basin below Mt. Whitney and Mt Hale and Mt. Young, and Miter Basin, the headwaters of Rock Creek. Three base camps, with three days to explore each, or two days and a zero day to lounge and kick back and just marvel. I really should go back to the headwaters of the Kern, but that would make it too long a trip. Three big basins with lots of elevation gain within them to get to vistas and lakes and such. Nine days. That's the next trip... Or two of them, and seven days...
From the Plateau, Mt. Whitney above the Wallace Lakes basin was visible.
The trail dropped off the Plateau down to Wright Creek, up and down to Wallace Creek, and then up over the shoulder of Mt. Young. We ate lunch at Wright Creek and relaxed for an hour. It didn't look like rain was imminent. Thank God!!!
It wasn't a long hike to Lower Crabtree Meadow where we headed 100 yards downstream from the trail and made camp. Be sure to open the center of the three pictures below. It is probably the best of this bunch.
When we went to put our food in the bear box we met four hikers who were taking 30 days to hike the John Muir Trail. Two of them, men in their late 50s or early 60s, had met on the internet. The young couple met one of the men in New Zealand and spent four days together in a van. The couple were rock climbers hiking long distance for the first time. We stood and talked for 45 minutes, laughing almost constantly, before the cold and mosquitoes got to us. I have a feeling we'll communicate with at these people again - the time we spent together was that powerful.
We got up the next morning and began hiking. We climbed up, having to walk through a gate on the trail that had no fence. Weird. Here are two pictures of happy hikers - no clouds, no rain!!! Greet the day!!! Carpe Diem...!
We walked through old growth, high alpine forest and marveled. It was about as beautiful hiking as you can imagine. The trail was up and down, not steep, in sand with few granite boulders or stones. Dry, very dry.
We crossed Guyot Flat and climbed to Guyot Pass on the shoulder of Mt. Guyot. The trail immediately began a steep descent into the wooded canyon of Rock Creek.
As we descended the clouds moved in. The ground showed that it had rained hard the night before, maybe two or three inches. It was humid and the trail showed it often served as a funnel for rivulets heading to the creek. We met three women who we surmised were from the east coast. We stepped off the the trail for the last of them, and she looked up at us and snarled, "What are you laughing at." East coast women's bonding experience - whoa...
Lunch is our dinner - we cook in the middle of the day. We don't cook where we sleep. We cooked our dinner and instead of lounging around and reading or napping or joking, we put on our rain gear and began the long walk up and out of the canyon in forest that totally befuddled me. An hour into the walk I realized, with Deniece's help, we were heading east, not west. I got nauseous for a couple seconds, and reoriented. The clouds and rain had helped me lose my always present sense of direction.
The rain let up slowly as we hiked on the top of the ridge, above 11,000. The Miter Basin to the east loomed menacingly in the distance. Some signs let us know where we were, and where we were going...
The trail flattened out and we got into a good pace. When we reached junction signalled by the second sign above, the clouds had begun to thin, and rain to stop. We shed our rain gear, put our heads down, and hiked. We got to the border of Sequoia National Park and knew we had only a mile or so to go.
The hiking was absolutely stunning.
We got to a point where we looked down into a meadow before Siberian Outpost and lo and behold, there was a tree on fire.
Deniece though it was cool enough to immortalize her reaction.
This was pretty exciting actually, safe because we could see that there wasn't much else to burn, exciting because it was FIRE!!! Lightening had struck within the previous hour.
This part of the Sierra is dry. It's sandy and has big trees with tight limbs, and a sense that what water there is is quickly absorbed and then evaporates. Walking through this land, 11,000'+, is just awesome. From the first days of my hiking when a teenage in the 60s, the high country has always held me in its sway. Walking through the southern sierra reinvigorated my attachment. I will be back, even though I was saying good-bye to the vistas and trail as we walked. I will visit the Wright Basin, the Wallace Lakes basin, and Miter Basin on my next big trip - nine days, with bear canister...
As we hiked beyond the park's border, back in the Golden Trout Wilderness. the sky was clearing. Camp was only a mile away. We were happy...
We gently climbed/traversed along the western flanks of Cirque Peak and came to a gentle defile that held a hidden lake 200 vertical feet above. We climbed wearily up, and there it was, our home for the night...
The cirque and lake were stupendous, pristine, calm, rock and water and sky. The view to the west was just as powerful. The sky slowly cleared of clouds and we found ourselves in the warming sun. It was going down behind the wall behind us, and we watched it sink with vocal lack of inhibition, railing at the beauty and nature and our last night on the trail. This was our seventh night, and the premier camp of the trip. We were blessed.
The next morning we awoke and as we broke camp the sun peaked above the wall to our east and bathed our camp with invigorating warmth. We headed out, another 9 miles to hike, wanting to be done, to complete our trip, to shower, to sleep in a bed.
One of the odd threads to this trip was the whole carry-a-bear-canister/not-carry-a-bear-canister ethos. Rangers were our enemy. We were illegals for two of our seven nights, breaking the law by not having canisters or sleeping near a bear box. We concocted stories about where we slept, should we meet a ranger, and made sure we were on the same page should we be separated and interrogated. It was the most unpleasant part of our experience. To be sure I am culpable. Times are changing - there are too many idiots out there, and have been for too many years - bears are "being put to sleep" because of the idiots. The ranger intern would say I was a prime example of the idiots, and this is part of why this whole bear box, canister, camping where you eat stuff gets really muddy.
Because we weren't carrying bear canisters we couldn't go out over Cottonwood Pass, which would have shortened our trip by three or four miles. For some reason we held to this part of the bear idiocy and hiked the extra miles. The trail was flinchingly beautiful.
The second picture peers down into the Kern Canyon, where we'd been four days before. Awesome... The hiking was wonderful. My pack was down to about 15 pounds, so I was essentially carrying a heavy daypack. Up or down - didn't matter. It was slogging now - heading to the end of the trip, appreciating the beauty we were walking through, but ready to be done.
We stopped for a break. We laughed and enjoyed and anticipated the end of the trip.
We finally rounded Trail Peak and reached the junction of the trail to Horseshoe Meadow and the PCT. We'd been hiking a lot of up, a lot more than I would have thought of based on how I saw the trail/map. I'm not a good map reader. I see in the knarly twist of the trail on the topo map what I want to see. And it's way too often wrong. Not in the big stuff - the 2000' climbs, but in the little stuff, the 400' climbs that sap the soul and steal the energy. We turned left and headed down a horse created dusty trail. This was the worst part of the 75 miles of trail, fine dust that included lots of pounded horse poop. It was hot, the car and the end so near... The meadow below was so close, but still an hour or so away.
We hiked now with hot feet and burning thighs, braking with each step as we switchbacked down the ridge to the meadow. We met a fellow who was lost and directed him to the parking lot. He followed us in. I looked back and took one last picture of Cottonwood Pass, and the high country. I'd had the feeling I wouldn't be back when talking with the other hikers at Lower Crabtree Meadows two nights before. Looking back, I knew I'd be back to explore Miter Basin, Wallace Lakes Basin, Wright Basin. But we were done. Deniece was sunny as we pulled into the parking lot. We were done...
We put on car clothes and balled up our sweaty, stinky hiking clothes, and headed down the winding, narrow, scary road. We drove as far as Carson City where we got a motel room. There was a high class bar/restaurant only a couple blocks away, and we spent a couple hours post-shower drinking and eating and exploring our lives. I dropped Deniece off the next morning at nine, almost four hours before her flight left, and drove to my folks.
It was a simply wonderful trip...
Jeffrey Olson, July 31, 2008