DAY 49: KENNEDY MEADOWS (702.2) TO CAMPSITE (709.5)
Last day at KM, said bye to Festus and Francis who left really early this morning. Again had breakfast at Grumpy’s with Sara and Eric-couldn’t finish the pancake this morning either. Picked up a mosquito head net at Yogis and went back to KM to hang around. To avoid a trip to Lone Pine, Sara and I ordered microspikes from REI via a girl driving from San Diego to meet up with her boyfriend here, so we’re waiting for the spikes all day.
Getting anxious to leave but did laundry and mail and packing. Played casino with Cy and Lukas-good game, lost by a point. Hoping to hike with these guys and Jade in the Sierras. Joe, Chad and the Canadian girls all left yesterday and I’m not sure we’ll catch them with our late exit today.
Finally we got the spikes around 5:30 and they seem to fit fine. Fiiiiinally packed up and hit the trail with Sara and we convinced Tony to leave with us. We only did 7 miles out of KM until it started to get dark, bag felt so much heavier with bear canister and extra clothes and it’s harder to pack. At least we don't have to carry much more than a litre of water at a time.
DAY 50: CAMPSITE (709.5) TO DEATH CANYON CREEK (730.8)
21.3 miles. Why called Death Canyon??
Packed my bag a little differently this morning to try and balance the bear can weight. Tent and quilt at the bottom, with the bear can wrapped in my extra clothing. Snacks and lunch for the day need to come out before I start hiking, otherwise it’s annoying to unlock the canister. Kind of regretting not going with the standard, screw top BV500.
About an hour into hiking, came into a beautiful green meadow with snow capped mountains in the distance. It literally stopped me in my tracks when I rounded the corner, it’s so foreign from the desert landscape I’ve lived in for the past month and a half and this day has felt like a brand new hike. I loved the desert, much more than I anticipated I would, but the Sara’s excitement about the Sierra section has been contagious and I just want to get into the mountains!
There’s water everywhere, I’m not carrying any more than a litre at a time which is great to offset the extra gear weight. I had a snack break beside a small stream that crossed the meadow, Sara caught up to me just as pumped about the beauty as I was. A couple small airplanes were showing off for us, flying low over the fields, dad would love it.
Carried on through the meadows and crossed the South Fork of the Kern River via a wooden bridge. Very tempted to stop for a swim but pushed on through more hilly meadow. Had a big 2000ft climb, slow going but the new scenery made it much more fun than I normally have on the uphill. Near the top a hiker had altitude sickness, talked with his buddy for a bit to make sure everything was okay and carried on. I feel alright but definitely had to take more breathers and the highest I went today was about 10,600ft so I’ll need to be ready to go a lot higher in the coming weeks. A fire nearby was causing a little bit of smokiness, unfortunately obscuring the views but the hazy light made the sunset extra beautiful.
Dropped back down to Gomez Meadow, bugs are starting to get annoying and I’m happy that I invested in the headnet from Yogi’s.
Current campsite with Sara (where’s Tony?) is next to a stream and the bugs came out in full force after the sun set, so had to put up my tent for the first time in ages. Hopefully the bugs calm down after sunup tomorrow. New shoes I got in KM fit well, no sign of blisters. Arch of foot has been aching the past week.
DAY 51: DEATH CANYON CREEK (730.8) TO CHICKEN SPRING LAKE (750.8)
Got cold as heck last night, put on all my layers and I was still chilly. I adore the quality and feel of my quilt but 30F is NOT the temperature rating I need in my life right now. Neither Sara or myself wanted to get out of our warm bags, so we said that we’d wait in bed until Tony showed up and of course he rolled in two minutes later. Layered up, packed and hit the trail, it was too cold to stay still, so breakfast on the go.
Started with uphill so moving pretty slow. Legs and back were stiff, either from the cold night or from getting used to the much less comfortable foam sleeping pad. Elevation again went up to about 10600ft. Very rocky and exposed at the top of the climb and I had a great view down to Owen’s valley. I was feeling lightheaded at the top of the climb, not sure if it was the altitude but eating more food seemed to help and after a quick break the dizziness went away.
Went a quarter mile off trail to get water and then took a break for lunch and nap. Felt very dazed and sleepy after waking up during the next three or four miles. Met hikers Reptar and Hiccup who I’ve been following on Instagram since before I started, it was cool to meet them in person. Had double coffee mixed with hot chocolate and that was a game changer, didn’t feel hazy anymore and crushed miles on a gradual uphill to Cottonwood pass. Sara had arrived there before me and to my surprise we’ve also caught up with a few familiar faces-Cy, Lukas, Tank (Jade) as well as some new ones-Austrian hiker Puff, Ty and Connor (Two cups? Two cones?)
Had delicious dehydrated noodles with chicken while enjoying the lake at sunset. It’s one of the most scenic places I’ve ever camped, the lake is circled by sheer granite cliffs covered in snow, it would be a great spot for an on-trail zero. Only thing is that there are tons and tons of mosquitos, but cowboy camping anyways. Moon is really bright on the bowl that surrounds the lake right now and I don’t need a headlamp to see what I’m doing.
This is my first “oh shit here we go” moment in regards to hiking through the Sierra range in a high snow year and I’m having trouble sleeping tonight. A little nervous about tackling Whitney and Forester pass, we’re only at 11,000 feet and there's already been lots of snow on trail. Despite living in a city that’s covered in snow half the year I barely have any experience with it in a mountain environment, and the actual danger isn’t even the snow, but the stream and river crossings from all the extra melt water. Fortunately the plan is for Sara and I to team up with the hikers camped with us now and we’ll all do Whitney as a bigger group for safety. A lot of hikers ahead of us have skipped ahead to Northern California to come back when the rivers are less swollen and the passes are less snowy. People have died in the Sierra this year and I’ve promised to myself (and to my parents) that if I ever feel uncomfortable with trail conditions I’ll leave this section for later, safety first.
DAY 52: CHICKEN SPRING LAKE (750.8) TO CRABTREE RANGER JUNCTION (767.0 +0.8)
Didn't sleep well due to mosquitos last night (stubborn me, set up your gd tent next time) but got to sleep in since we’re only planning to get to the Whitney trail junction today. Made breakfast with the new crew-I had a package of mountain house eggs and despite loving everything else I’ve eaten from MH so far, their consistency is pretty gross, hot or cold. Solution was to drown them in hot sauce and that was a considerable improvement. Tony got to camp before we left and told us he was going to Lone Pine today but hopefully will catch up tonight/tomorrow morning at the Whitney junction. Six Toes, Chia and Sage/Greg also came into camp early and had breakfast with us, I think we’ve all merged into a Whitney superfam.
Left Chicken Spring lake around 9am with Sara after a quick snowball fight started by Jade. Felt really good physically and pulled ahead for the morning, mostly downhill (probably why I was feeling good). Hiking in the woods is a new novelty after the desert and the shade was much appreciated. Met Chia and Six Toes at a steam around 1, had lunch while everyone else caught up. The rest of the Chicken Spring crew arrived in a convoy and we all had lunch together. I really enjoy hiking alone but it’s nice to have a big group to have break and camp with, makes the day much more fun. Almost everyone I’m with lives on the West Coast (minus Puff who’s Austrian and Chia and Six Toes who’re from Connecticut).
Was first to leave after lunch, a bit more downhill to fast moving Rock Creek. It was my first water crossing and I was trying to figure out how best to handle it, when I saw Lukas standing on opposite bank, he pointed out a log a ways back on trail that I’d completely missed, nice one Jack. No issue crossing.
After that the trail went STRAIGHT UPHILL and gained 2000ft in about 2.5 miles, a lot of which was large rock steps that were exhausting on the legs. I was getting wiped, probably the most physically challenged I’ve been so far this summer. Didn’t see anyone else which is probably good because I was alternating between bending over to catch my breath and muttering swears just about every step. I’m going to have to suck up my dislike of elevation gain because gonna be doing it every day for the next month. Fortunately I think it was one of the steepest climbs I’ll face.
Nearer to the top, things flattened out and got my wind back. Ran into Eowyn who we hiked the LA aqueduct with! She was coming the other way, turning back to go to Lone Pine after finding Whitney to be too snowy. Uh oh, that’s not a good sign for what’s to come. I did get really lucky with timing, despite the misery of hiking through the heat advisory in the days after Tehachapi, it made an impact here too and we’re missing the peak height of snowmelt by about a week. We’ll see if that was enough to make me feel comfortable enough to get through the next 400 miles safely, there have been many, many hikers I follow on social media up ahead that have skipped this section after finding the conditions too dangerous.
After the rough uphill, the downhill was also hard on the knees (lol fuck me what am I doing here) but excellent scenery. I’m already in love with the mountain views. The snow offers great contrast with the blue sky and granite, and I saw my first couple of marmots, they look like really fat, football sized prairie dogs.
Caught up with Lukas taking a break at a creek and we made our way up the Whitney trail junction to an open flat spot near Crabtree ranger station. The crew had planned to camp at Guitar Lake this morning, but there was tons of space with river access so we decided to make camp there instead. Saw Eric and Bloody Smooches who summited Whitney today no problem. They’re not staying here tonight so hopefully can catch them in Bishop.
Made dinner as everyone arrived in camp. There’s plenty of space without being crowded, even though there are many hikers here tonight. It was nice getting to know our new friends a little better, everyone sat in a circle on our bear cans (the only good thing about them so far) and got way too entertained throwing a lighter around on the backs of our hands. Trail has not improved my dexterity. Yves and Francis passed through, they also summited today no problem.
Whitney crew: Sara, Jade, Lukas, Cy, Puff, Chia, Six Toes, Greg, Connor. Ty is somewhere just ahead of us, probably guitar lake. Tony will arrive tomorrow morning hopefully.
DAY 53: WHITNEY!
Slept amazing last night but still feeling groggy this morning. Made my new coffee/hot chocolate combo and had almonds, nothing else seemed appealing. Left the tents up and packed our bags lightly for Whitney with food and warm clothes and left about 8:30am.
Couldn’t stop taking photos straight out of camp, the scenery is incredible. Feet got wet early in the morning crossing stream after stream and stayed wet though the day. The trail wasn’t clearly defined on the way up and there was a ton of snow so it was sometimes difficult to follow but we stayed in a pretty tight group.
When we got to established trail, switchbacks took us up steeply. Passed guitar lake which is still covered in ice around the edges. I started getting tired really quickly due to the altitude and uphill, slowed way down and had to stop often to breathe, and sometimes needed to sit down from how dizzy I was getting. Fortunately the small breaks gave me plenty of time to get some photos of the cliffs and peaks surrounding the mountain. Sometimes it was a little scary to look down, but nothing that posed a serious threat. The only sketchy time part of the climb was a snowfield that was crossed by switchbacks twice. It was very steep and slippery but I took it slow and as long as you didn’t look down, it was the same as regular old Winnipeg winter walking.
It was slow going for me but finally the summit hut was in view and I gave it everything to push to the top. Felt really good to get up there, everyone was on their phone taking pictures and calling home, somehow had service for the first time in days. I had lunch and water which really helped with the dizziness, felt fine on the way down.
We passed a JMT hiker that had altitude sickness in a bad way and was probably going to need a heli vac out, we took her pack for her and agreed to leave it at Guitar Lake for her friend to pick up later. Jade ended up carrying most of the extra weight.
On the sketchy snow crossing from earlier, the sun had warmed it up and made the snow much more slushy and slippery. When I got to it, the guys were doing a rock scramble down rather than walk across the snow, but Jade, Sara and I decided to give it a shot and stuck close together. Sara had a misstep and slid about 50 feet down, managed to stop herself with her poles, but then slid again while trying to get back to the trail, stopped herself a second time. My heart was in my throat but she handled it well and we met her a little ways down the trail. She’s really living up to her trail name, Tough Stuff, she didn’t even seem phased in the least.
Back at Guitar Lake, decided to jump in. The lake had mostly been frozen that morning and it was ICY, way colder than LOTW in spring. Couldn’t get words out while I was in the water, it knocked the wind right out of me. So of course I jumped in a second time.
Returned to our camp, had dinner with everyone, joined by Aaron and Kim from the early desert days, haven’t seen them in ages. They’re still hiking with Larry and Charlie and planning to summit Whitney tomorrow. Tony also showed up after the trip to Lone Pine with Joe, Kaylyn and Kristen. Which means everyone I know is pretty much within a three day span, it’s crazy how close we’ve all stuck together since Campo.
The climb wiped me out and giving it my all to stay awake and write. Tomorrow we hit Forester pass-highest point on the PCT so it’s not like I get a break from the elevation. Took almost 200 pictures, WHAT A GREAT DAY, I'm in love with this place already,
DAY 54: WHITNEY JUNCTION (767.0) TO BUBBS CREEK CAMPSITE (785.4)
18.4 miles. Forester pass
Probably my favourite day on trail so far.
Woke up not feeling well, tired and a bad headache. Like yesterday morning, nothing seemed appealing so skipped breakfast, which I know is not a smart move with how physically grueling the elevation changes are.
We all left camp together-Sara, Jade, Cy, Lukas Puff, Greg, Connor and Ty, plus Chia and Six Toes up ahead of us. We slowly split into two smaller groups. Despite liking to hike alone, there are some major water crossings today and it’s safer to do it with others so I sucked it up and stuck close with Jade, Cy and Lukas. Gradual gravelly uphill was exhausting after doing Whitney yesterday, the grade wasn’t extremely steep but it was relentless enough that my legs never felt like they got a break. A couple cold morning stream crossings, just walked on through and accepted that feet will probably be soaked through for the next couple weeks. Picked up a section hiker Squirrel.
Then came my first real experience with strong river crossings. The current was so strong, every time I lifted a foot, it felt like I was about to be swept away. The toughest part is trying not to rush because the water is so cold, and often there are tons of mosquitos, but you have to ignore all that and just focus on where you place your next step. Everything in my pack should be okay if I fall since it’s lined with a trash compacter bag, but phone definitely goes into a ziplock every time. The worst crossing was done with Jade Cy and Lukas in a diamond formation with the boys slightly up current, got across slowly but made it without incident. We had gone so far downstream trying to find a good place to get across the river we lost the rest of the group. Stopped on the bank for a lunch break and enjoyed the bit of sun we got through the clouds to try and dry off.
Back on trail, got above the tree line and hit a mile-long flat plateau of snow. A hiker who had been ahead of us took a great shot of our whole crew in a long string across the snowfield and was kind enough to air drop it while having a snack break, thanks friend!
Looking up at Forester pass from the bottom was pretty intimidating, it was a steep face of loose rock and most of the trail was still snow covered. I put on my microspikes but I actually found pretty quickly that I prefer the familiar feeling of the snow without them. They’re also slippy when on bare rock, not sure I’ll use them as much as expected. For being so steep, I really had fun getting up Forester, the last bit of the pass was almost a straight scramble up loose rock to the top, but it made things kind of fun, more mountaineering than hiking.
Got to the top and stopped for a quick picture with Jade and Ty, then we had a great time glissading down the north face of the pass. Getting better at holding my shorts so that my legs and ass don’t get cut to ribbons on the snow during the slides down.
We came across a hiker with a tiny backpack in the middle of nowhere at the top of the pass, climbing towards us with two dogs in tow. It was Jade’s husband Q who I met at KM, he’s following her with a truck and their dogs, and hikes out of town to meet Jade and hike back in with her. I like him a lot, he’s funny and seems down to earth. (Selfish reason to stick with them-it would mean a lot less hitchhiking from trailheads to town…)
The sun reflection off the snow coming down the pass absolutely fried my face, I haven’t used sunscreen since the early desert and figured I was done with sunburn. NOPE. After we got down past the worst of the snow, we found a beautiful campsite next to a river. Had a great view of mountains in the back and the bugs weren’t bad at all. Set up tents since it looked like rain and that was a good plan as we got sprinkled on during dinner and we all scrambled to get inside and ate in our tents. After the rain cleared up everyone sat in a circle trying to dry our socks and shoes and enjoyed the sunset across the river.
It’s so strange how quickly bonds are formed, I’ve only been hiking with this group (minus Sara) for a couple days, but already feels like I’ve known them for ages. The last two days have been exhausting, but feels really good at the end of the day looking back at what we accomplished. Great day, great night.
DAY 55: BUBBS CREEK (785.4) TO ONION VALLEY TRAILHEAD/BISHOP (MILE 788.5)
3 Miles. Plus an extra six(?) up and down Kearsarge pass and get to the parking lot at Onion Valley.
Long uphill out of camp, feeling tired on switchbacks and low energy, legs were not having it today. Terrain wasn’t that bad, but probably the worst my lungs/legs have felt, maybe just overworked from the last two days. Getting over Kearsarge pass took a long time, I was going so slowly but couldn’t force myself to move any quicker. Was at the back of the pack and took a break for a triple coffee and that helped to push me up the rest of the pass.
We had a couple options to get over Kearsarge, took the Bullfrog lakes trail which was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, highly recommend coming back, future me.
Downhill past gorgeous lake after gorgeous lake. Stopped for a couple pictures, but town was calling. While heading down towards the visible but distant parking lot, passed lots of day hikers and PCT hikers going back to trail. When we got down to the campground and parking lot, Cody picked us up in Q’s truck, I’m waiting here now with Q and the dogs while the rest were driven to Independence. They’ll hitch from there and meet us in Bishop. Q started the trail with Jade, but didn’t like the long hiking so picked up their truck and dogs and meets her close to town.
Cody came back to pick us up and we went to Bishop, Greg and Squirrel also caught a ride. It was weird driving down the mountain, we lost all the elevation we had gained hiking and got way hotter and back to desert scenery. Stopped at the hostel in Bishop to meet up with everyone-saw One 11! It's been a while. The hostel was full so checked in at red roof inn with Sara, Cy and Lukas-had a few beers, a shower and then went for Mexican with the rest of the gang. Went to the brewery after for more beers, every one I tried was great, could be better than Bir Bear which has been #1 brewery up to now. Loving Bishop so far, and we’re planning to take a zero tomorrow, possibly two.
Definitely a little drunk, wtf trail tolerance.
DAY 56 & 57 & 58: TRIPLE ZERO IN BISHOP, WHOOPS
Zero in Bishop I: Woke up hungover as shit in hotel bed. Didn’t drink nearly as much last night as I would a regular weekend night at home but my metabolism is completely different and it only takes a few beers to get tipsy. Hopefully that goes away after trail, but in the meantime can definitely party for cheaper. Squad went for bakery breakfast, and had a relax day in the hotel, I think my body really needs it after all the new elevation changes. Iced my bad knee most of the day, it’s really been bothering me when there are long downhills. An early night tonight and another zero tomorrow for chores.
Zero in Bishop II: Chores day… laundromat, Vons for resupply. Q let us use his truck which makes town chores a million times easier. Saw the Canadian girls and Joe and Tony! Went to the bowling alley, rented a cheap room with Sara, Cy and Lukas while Q and Jade had a couples night. Not much to report but it’s been nice to have a break, back to trail tomorrow afternoon.
Bishop to Onion Valley trailhead. No trail miles, so technically Bishop zero III, jfc: Woke up before Cy, Lukas and Sara so I walked to Schat’s bakery to pick up pastries for breakfast. (I think the Schat family owns all of Bishop, the name is everywhere.) The bakery was a little overwhelming, it was a tourist trap and crazy busy. Despite all that the cinnamon buns were delicious, also got a much needed coffee for myself at McDs.
Went to the hostel to wait for Q to get a ride back to trail, we weren’t sure how easy it would be to hitch. Saw Chad, much of the desert fam has rolled through lately! Napped on the lawn for an hour. I think everyone was anxious to get out of town, although it was getting so late we discussed just staying at the trailhead instead of tackling Kearsarge pass after sunset. Finally got picked up at 4:45 and crammed into truck with Cy, Lukas, Sara, Six toes and chia. We saw Tony walking down a road literally in the middle of nowhere and managed to fit him in too somehow. Cowboy camped. Hit the trail tomorrow to rejoin PCT. Going to be shitty with heavy pack and long climb back up.