Kennedy Meadows to Bishop

Day 45: Kennedy Meadows (702.2) to Campsite (709.5)

May 24 // 7.3 miles

Nero hanging around Kennedy Meadows today, posted up on the porch for most of the morning meeting new hikers and having two rounds of blueberry pancakes. Eli and Honeybee were staying all day waiting on a package, I had been planning on staying as well but as soon as I woke up I recognized the antsy, time to get back to the trail feeling.

We went back to Grumpy’s again for lunch (pizza), and the crew surprised me by ordering a belated birthday banana split for me. I was singing along with the entire cafe before I realized they were singing for me...oops.

It took a long time for the shuttle to arrive and I didn’t get back to the general store until 4pm. Franky, Dodo and Bagels had already left earlier in the day, I was so impatient to get going but spent an hour waffling on should I stay or should I go. I finally decided to try and catch them, or at least do a few miles out for an early start tomorrow. Said goodbye to Eli and Honeybee, they’re fast as heck so I knew they would catch up down trail. Packed up and started the road walk back to trail at 6...Sierras here I come.

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2 miles out I met up with Firesocks, Moth, Mermaid and Janky (brother sister duo from Texas that Franky and I had actually met long ago at the bottom of Jacinto) stopped at a campground for the night. I unpacked and ate the leftover pizza from lunch but 2 miles was not enough to satisfy the antsiness so repacked everything again and hiked on...wasted so much time today on indecision.

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Followed the river for a few miles, crossed a wooden bridge as the sun was setting. Hit a few miles of uphill as it got dark and I didn’t see any other hikers. The moon was out so no need for a headlamp tonight.

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About a mile out of my planned campsite, ran into a group of men from Lancaster out camping for the weekend, they invited me to hang out for a snack break. Occurred to me while I was down there how trusting we are on trail, being around a group of strangers at night in the middle of nowhere would be something that sounds completely irrational and a little bit stupid as a young woman alone, but out here didn’t really think twice about it and it was nice to have company. It also felt a little badass to answer their questions...yes I’ve walked all the way from Mexico, yes I’m doing it alone, yes I’m going to keep hiking on through the night.

Knocked out another mile and a half to a large open campsite under sparse pines trees. Too tired to bother with setting up the tent. I was going to watch a horror movie yesterday about campers lost in the woods and very glad I didn’t, definitely would’ve been a jumpy night alone.

Right now I’m caught in between two familiar groups of hikers so I’m sure I’ll run into others eventually, but for this evening it was nice to do my own thing, it’s a different mindset and I feel more independent.

Hopefully won’t go below freezing tonight, it’s chilly as heck and weather forecasts were calling for snow in the next few days.

 

Day 46: Campsite (709.5) to Death Canyon Creek (730.8)

May 25 // 21.3 miles

Woke up at 6, much easier to get going when cowboy camping. Finished the uphill from last night, climbed to the beautiful meadow that offers the first real view of the snowy mountaintops in the distance. In a great mood this morning.

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Down to the south fork of the Kern river, caught up with Bagels from Seattle who’s carrying a fishing rod through this section...he had fresh trout last night for dinner, I’ll be hanging around him for sure. Hadn’t planned to stay long at the river but it was so nice out I ended up watching the swallows swoop around the footbridge and napping on the bank for about two hours while Bagels fished. I wasn’t brave enough to jump in with how cold the air was but had a nice little sponge bath with my bandana. Met another hiker named Rat who I’ve been following on instagram for some time, it’s always cool to meet familiar faces in real life.

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A 3000ft uphill after the break, one of the biggest climbs so far on trail but had a pretty okay time of it. The afternoon passed quickly and I camped at Death Canyon Creek, cowboy camping again so praying for no rain or snow. Dinner was a winning combo of refried beans, cool ranch Doritos, rice and hot sauce. Time to go full cook every night now that I’m back in the Sierras, it’s a comforting ritual to go through at the end of the day, plus I need the extra calories.

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Weather is getting crazy cold as soon as the sun sets, my sleeping bag seems up to the job so far but I sleep so cold it might be a good idea to pick up a silk liner in Bishop. Also considering the switch back to an inflatable sleeping pad now that I’m out of the desert, the foam Z-Lite isn’t half as warm (or comfortable).

20 miles tomorrow to Chicken Spring Lake which feels like the real start of the Sierra, I think I’ll catch Franky and Dodo there. It’s strange hiking this section alone when last year it’s where I formed the strongest bonds on trail. Not a bad thing, just a different experience.  

Day 47: Death Canyon Creek (730.8) to Chicken Spring Lake (750.8)

May 26 // 20 miles

Cold last night and because I camped so close to the creek my bag was covered in condensation and frost this morning. Early start to get to the lake this afternoon as early as possible so packed up everything wet and had a complete cookie for breakfast on the go. (400 calories, high protein, and fast becoming a favourite staple).

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Still working on packing my bag with the addition of the bear canister, my pack is so narrow it’s hard to make everything fit properly...putting the canister in last seems to be the best option, plus easier access to snacks. It’s weird carrying the majority of weight on the top of the pack but it’s better than having the metal edge of the canister jab into my lower back, I’ve developed tender bruises at the base of my spine since leaving Kennedy Meadows. I’ll keep experimenting.

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Cold all day today, warmth was entirely dependent on the sun being out, in the shade I had to keep moving or freeze. Can’t get the clothing layers right, I’m always adding when too cold and then taking away right after when I start sweating. 

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5 mile climb up over 10000ft, the top had a nice view over Owens valley. I had a touch of elevation sickness here last year but felt fine today. The climb was a series of three steep uphills and drops, was really feeling it in my calve muscles. 

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Around noon dark clouds were rolling in and sure enough, little snowy ice pellets started to fall. The consistency reminded me of dippin’ dots and they piled up very quickly on the ground, everything was lightly dusted in white within about ten minutes. 

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It was beautiful in the pine forest but also cold cold cold, I didn’t want to stop for lunch so powered through the 20 miles with only a few five minute breaks for water. Strange weather phenomenon where the sun came back out but snow was still falling. 

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Saw absolutely no one most of today, my tracks were the only ones on the snowy trail. Just before Chicken Spring Lake, caught up with Franky and Dodo! Very nice to see familiar faces after two days of being mostly alone.

Finished the last half mile to the lake with the guys, it’s as beautiful as I remember. The lake is set at the bottom of Cirque peak, which wraps all the way around the water, creating a kind of pseudo half caldera. Far less snow on the ground this year and the lake was completely ice-free even though I’m here a full month and a half earlier than last year. 

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Thankfully the sun made some quick reappearances around 3pm, layed out my quilt and clothing to dry. Set up the tent in case of more snow and destroyed a huge dinner of rice and chicken after skipping lunch today.

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Dodo brought out his game of Liar’s Dice, the three of us used the bear canisters as a playing surface and played four rounds until it was too cold to be outside. Simple things are so entertaining when you have no cell service and not a whole lot else to do out here once camp is set up.

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Going to be very cold tonight, this is the highest elevation I’ve camped at so far and by six it was too cold to be outside the quilt so I guess six is my new bedtime. 

Might take off a few extra days in Bishop, the next section has still been getting blasted with snow. First I still need to get over Mt. Whitney and Forester pass, two of the most physically challenging days on the PCT (technically Whitney is a side trip but still) back to back. Hoping that the rest of the group catches up tonight or tomorrow so we can do Whitney together.

 

Day 48: Chicken Spring Lake (750.8) to Crabtree Meadow (767.0 + 1.0)

May 27 // ~17 miles

Slept in because it got so cold last night, the quilt was okay but any part of me that was touching the sleeping pad felt like it was lying on ice. Switching to an inflatable pad in Bishop for sure. It snowed a bit last night, and there was frost on my tent, quilt and water bottles. Got a couple extra hours of sleep while the sun came out to warm things, sat in camp until 10 to let all my gear dry properly before packing up.

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Long downhill which I usually enjoy but couldn’t really get in the groove today, put on music to get me through. Got to the bottom and crossed Rock creek, had lunch with Franky and Dodo, had to force myself to eat, had a headache, had no appetite.

It was warm in the sun but clouds came in after lunch, seems to be a weather pattern out here. Layered up. After the creek was the steep uphill that I remember as being one of the worst climbs last year. I was hoping that maybe I’d have an easier time this year since I seem to be in better shape but nope, it was still the bane of my existence. The trail is cut into man made steps out of rock and logs since the grade is so steep...very large steps up, exhausting on my prairie-raised legs.

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After about a mile of the climb the clouds above were black and just as I reached the top came the storm-more of the sticky dippin’ dots snow but falling with much more intensity and with thunder and lightning. The flashes of lightning were followed immediately by thunder, the top of the ridge was not a good place to be so I ran most of the next couple miles.

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Again, within minutes of the snow starting, everything was under a layer of white-the trail was completely covered and impossible to see, but I know it’s curves and tendencies so well by now I had no problem following where it would go around the rocks and trees.

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Had to go slower for the downhill bit since it was extra slippery on the slick rocks, but the snow finally let up a bit and was already melting at the bottom of the drop. Crossed a creek to get to the side trail that leads to Mt. Whitney, I’ll be summiting tomorrow only if the weather is clear.

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1 mile to the meadow that will act as base camp for Whitney, on the way I saw a coyote fishing in the stream, leaping around until it emerged successfully with a trout.

Shoes and socks are soaked from the creek crossings and melting snow, they’re going to be frozen solid tomorrow morning which will be miserable. More snow while I was setting up camp, pretty much everything I own is wet. Thankfully the sun made a slight appearance around 5, just enough to dry the sleeping pad and quilt.

Still feeling a little off today, I could barely eat dinner which is very strange considering how ravenous I’ve been lately and the fact I didn’t eat much at lunch. Whitney is going to be a game time decision tomorrow, it’s going to be extra snowy after the storms today and I don’t have the equipment that most do-crampons and an ice axe. The rest of the group still hasn’t caught Franky and I, although I’m guessing they should arrive later tonight, hopefully we can all summit together. Much warmer in my quilt compared to the last few sleeps, I’m toasty and warm.

 

Day 49: Mt. Whitney!

May 28

Franky woke me up at six to get an early start at Whitney. The weather looked perfect, not a cloud in the sky, so at least attempting to summit is a go.

Just rolled out of bed and started without breakfast, changing or peeing, I planned to worry about all that once I was warm and moving. Shoes were frozen solid but with dry socks it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, just had to slide them on since the laces were stuck tight in their icy knots.

One thing I didn’t think through was that since my tent was set up, I didn’t have my poles easily accessible for hiking. Could’ve taken down the tent but my lazy self opted to go without and hope that my balance was on point enough to get through today without an axe or spikes or poles. Bad decision making! But I’m confident on snow and had no problem turning back if conditions were dangerous. Set out with a light pack..lunch, a half litre of water and wearing most of my clothing.

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Tiring to start, the total mileage is about 8 each way and I predicted going up would take me at least four hours. Uphill started straight away but it’s so beautiful here I didn’t mind at all. Lots of snow on the ground and the trail was covered in a thin layer of ice up to guitar lake-had to be very careful placing steps. Crossed paths with three hikers coming down after unsuccessful sunrise summit attempts, one due to altitude sickness and the others were uncomfortable on the icy snow traverses across the mountain face after one had to self arrest with his axe. Not a good sign but figured the snow would be softer later in the morning, I’d continue on and make the call for myself if things got too sketchy. 

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Once the sun came peeking over the mountain it warmed up enough that I was able to hike in only my base layer. Lots of marmots around guitar lake- I missed their fat little bodies and funny run.

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After the lake hit the steep switchbacks for the next couple miles. Moving slow, probably about 1.5 miles an hour, the air was getting thin and I was feeling low energy from not eating breakfast. Choking down a frozen clif bar helped with the hunger and started passing lots of day hikers after the trail merged with another route that comes up from Lone Pine. Almost everyone I saw had crampons and an ice axe, but I really don’t think I’d have needed them. There were a few sketchy crossings of snow chutes but the footsteps were well carved in from previous hikers and I had no slips or close calls. 

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Physically exhausted and definitely feeling the dizzying breathlessness of altitude but thankfully after the switchbacks the trail got easier and the views made everything so worth it. Passed dozens and dozens of people but I was still moving much slower than my normal speed.

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A mile from the top I ran into the missing group members on their way down-Honeybee, Bagels, Eli and Max, they’d passed by our campsite at three a.m. to get an early summit. Happy to see them again!

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Knocked out the last gruelling mile and caught Franky and Dodo at the summit. It felt amazing to get up to the top, can’t believe I was considering skipping this. Views were incredible, sun was warm and of course, I had cell service.

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 summit photos are exhausting

summit photos are exhausting

 views from the top

views from the top

Hung around for about an hour eating lunch and taking photos and headed back down around noon. The sun had melted a lot of the fresh snow and the trail was slushy. Could feel myself getting sunburned from the snow reflection and made a quick descent, much easier than going up. 

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 First glissade to shorten the descent!

First glissade to shorten the descent!

Back down at the lake I stopped to sit and it was warm enough that I figured it was time to reinstate the swim everyday policy. No one was around so went for a very quick nude dip, the water had been lightly frozen around the edges this morning and it was i c y. Warmed up in the sun feeling very refreshed and happy and continued back down to camp. The weather variation today has been insane, freezing temperatures and snow early in the morning, swimming and suntanning in the afternoon.

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Back at camp the crew had dinner together in a bear canister circle. We were all in bed by seven. Everyone else had camped across the river from Franky and I which is why we didn’t see them last night, but we grabbed our dinner and crossed over on a log so we could eat with everyone. The others had planned to hike to the base of Forester tonight but everyone was wiped from today and it was easy to convince them to stay.

 Calves, Eli, Phoenix, Honeybee, Bagels & Calves in a bear can circle

Calves, Eli, Phoenix, Honeybee, Bagels & Calves in a bear can circle

I’m definitely sunburned and probably dehydrated, didn’t drink much today. The chilly weather makes it difficult to drink enough, but I need to get better at keeping on top of it. Forester pass tomorrow, the highest point on the PCT so no breaks from the high elevation. Really great day.

 

Day 50: Whitney Junction (767.0) to Bubb’s Creek Site (784.3)

May 29 // 17.3 miles // Forester Pass

Warm weather last night finally. Woke up around 10pm with one of the most severe headaches I’ve ever had, I was worried it was something serious from altitude/dehydration and it’s been the only time so far this year being actually scared. Drank an entire litre of water and fell back asleep, next time I woke up the headache was gone. I need to be more careful about water consumption.

In the morning I was last out of camp as per usual, and saw no one. I’m so happy to be back in the Sierra section. Unlike the desert I remember every day and every part of the trail almost exactly.

Flat terrain is a thing of the past now, the trail is now always going uphill or downhill. Started off with a steep climb to rejoin the PCT and then even more uphill to Bighorn Plateau. Stellar views of the mountains in the distance and the marmots were ambling about freely. A majestic animal, the marmot.

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 Bighorn Plateau

Bighorn Plateau

A few creek crossings with much less water than last year and they posed no issue, except for wet socks. At Tyndall creek caught up with Franky and Eli for lunch and then started the approach towards Forester. The snow started about three miles out and it was intimidating looking up at the tiny notch in the wall of mountain that I’d be climbing through.

 Forester pass is the tiny nook in the rock dead centre

Forester pass is the tiny nook in the rock dead centre

Snow was soft and slushy and feet remained wet. At the bottom of the climb the switchbacks were hidden under snow so just went climbing straight up the mountain. Very tiring and had to be careful, a lot of the rocks were unstable and loose.

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Reached switchbacks that were snow free near the top and had a relatively easy time up the rest of the pass. Crossing the notorious snow chute right at the top was fine so long as I didn’t look down, like on Whitney the steps were established and I had the extra security of having poles today.

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On the North side, the long glissade path from last year wasn’t there so had to make a long slog down the ridge by foot instead of by bum. The snow was thick and soft and almost every step was a posthole, where you break through the hard top layer and sink into the soft snow below, my shins and calves got a little scraped up.

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I followed a set of footsteps that went slightly off trail and that resulted in having to make an annoyingly steep rock scramble back down to the path when I found myself at the top of a steep drop and navigating around it which tacked on at least a half hour. Everything was still snow covered and there was no point trying to follow the trail, just went in the general direction of down.

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Camp wasn’t far but it took forever with the postholing. When the trail was snow-free, it was covered in running water, so begins the stretch of constant wet socks. Views were fantastic.

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Finally reached the camp at my favourite spot from last year right beside Bubb’s Creek with Eli. Honeybee, Franky, Bagels, Dodo and a few other hikers were there as well. The sun made an appearance and everyone was lounging on the rocks and drying gear.

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Went through the comfort of camp set up routine-change into base layer, send GPS location to mom, set up tent, add sleeping pad and quilt, make dinner, brush teeth, organize gear so that everything is in it’s place around my head or feet.

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Dinner was mac & cheese and I stole a few spoonfuls of mountain house chili to add to the bag. Resulting meal was one of my best on trail so far.

Sun was out on and off and we set up around the fire ring to play liar’s dice. During round two, we noticed a huge wall of hail moving towards us across the river, everyone made a mad scramble to grab the drying gear and get into the tents before it reached us. The hail came down hard, but my tent stood up to it and after about twenty minutes it let up and the sun came out again. I got back out to check on the fire and one by one the other hiker heads poked out of their tents to make sure it wouldn’t start raining again. Strange weather here.

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Exhausted from two huge days, I’m going to sleep well tonight. I’m finding that the most physically challenging days end up being my favourites (endorphins?), and by far the most memorable. Whitney and Forester have been best days so far and back to back. Hitting Bishop tomorrow after one more rough morning up and over Kearsarge pass.

 

Day 51: Bubb’s Creek (784.3) to Bishop 

May 30 // 12ish miles // Kearsarge Pass 

Didn’t rain or snow again last night but yesterday’s hail storm kept the tents soaking wet all night plus condensation on the inside in the morning.  Slept in far past the plan that would’ve gotten us to Bishop in time for breakfast, instead I waited for it to warm up and hit the trail last around seven.

Downhill for a few miles, the trail was still either partially snow covered or under a couple inches of water. I put a lot of effort into keeping my feet dry but it was all futile in the end-had a river crossing just before the side trail that would take us over Kearsarge pass to Bishop.

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Very steep uphill to Bullfrog lake trail before passing beautiful green lakes set in front of the snowy mountains. One of my favourite spots on trail, even though it’s not technically the PCT.

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An even steeper uphill over Kearsarge. I could see the rest of the group as tiny little dots at the top of the pass watching me finish the climb and tried to be consistent in my hiking instead of the usual bend over and gasp for breath at the end of each switchback. One of the best views on trail so I used taking pictures as an excuse to take breathers...win win.

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Eventually made it over the ridge and then it was all downhill to town. Could see the desert floor down in front of us and dropped a few thousand feet to get to Onion Valley trailhead. Passed by more lakes on the descent, a lot of PCT-ers complain about having to go so far out of the way to get to town but it’s a gorgeous side trip.

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 Kearsarge with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels

Kearsarge with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels

At the trailhead, got an easy ride to Bishop which is a great town about a half hour drive from trail. Very strange to get down to the desert again, when we got out of the air conditioned van the heat was almost a shock.

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Hadn’t eaten anything except half a snickers when I woke up and I was ravenous during the drive down to town to the point of nausea. Straight to Denny’s for a double breakfast with the crew. After that did the usual town circuit of checking into a hotel, getting beer from the supermarket, showers, more food, bar. Planning to double zero so lots of time for chores tomorrow.

Days 52/53/54: Triple Zero in Bishop 

Annnnnd I’m finally living up to my trail name with the first triple zero on trail, but it’s my favourite town and I needed the downtime. Not a whole lot to report from the last three days, it’s been a blur of town food, jumping from hotel room to hotel room, and a whole lot of epic laziness. Some highlights include a trip to the bowling alley (I literally never play and somehow managed to get seven strikes in one game, carried our team to a very decisive victory) and a visit to Schat’s bakery where I spent four hours and too much money on coffee and fresh bread and pastries and cookies shaped like trout. The gang is all in town, we’re working hotel rooms to max capacity. My group of Franky, Eli and Honeybee has merged with another group including Bagels, Max (now called Pants), Pincushion, Phoenix, the Siblings, DS, Raven and Calves. We don’t all hike together but overlap often in town. Add in another few familiar hikers we see on and off and we have a bit of a town supergroup.

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Finally got out of town today, checkout was at eleven and we dispersed to try and hitch back the long ride to the trailhead. Waited on the hot pavement with Bagels for almost two hours, I can’t help but take it personally when hundreds of cars pass me by. We finally were picked up by Excel-the British mom from British mom squad. She’s finished her long ass section hike from Campo and is touring around with her husband. Hoping to still see the rest of them soon, it’s fun spending time with an all-girls group on trail.

Excel took us to Independence, a tiny highway town halfway between Bishop and the trailhead, met up there with Eli, Honeybee, Calves and PC and posted up on the small road to get back to trail

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There was literally zero traffic going back up the dusty old road to the trailhead late on a Sunday afternoon, and after three hours with no cars, we were about to give up and get a motel room in Independence when an older man offered to drive us up in exchange for a half tank of gas. Piled everyone in and made the long winding drive up from the desert floor.

 A pro hitching technique demonstrated by Calves & Bagels

A pro hitching technique demonstrated by Calves & Bagels

I’m not exactly sure why it hit me so hard tonight but the sudden altitude change knocked me around a bit. At the trailhead campground I was sitting and eating dinner (packed out leftover barbecue from lunch, A+) and when I stood up just got so dizzy, to the point where I couldn’t see anything and had no sense of balance. I couldn’t make words come out to ask someone for help. Felt my way to the base of a large tree just outside of camp and lay there for a few minutes which helped enough for me to regain vision and balance, but I crashed hard in my quilt about ten minutes later. Kind of scary, I can’t imagine how people deal with it when they get altitude sickness somewhere like Whitney where there’s a narrow path and nowhere to lie down and recover. Other than that it feels good to be back outside after the long stretch in town.

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