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Temperature down, elevation up: Kennedy Meadows to Kearsarge Pass

Day 1

Woke up with the sun again to head down to the Grumpy Bear’s deck to plug in and figure out the permit situation. Based on Yogi’s advice, I finally found the correct web page and starting registering a permit. They gave me 20 minutes to guess where I would be spending the night each night for the next three weeks, so I flicked through the map making wild guesses. But I got it submitted and paid for. Promptly at 8, I called the forest service agency and got the verbal rundown of all the rules, after which my permits were emailed. I forwarded them to Yogi, hoping she notice the email and print them before she came to open the store.

Then it was breakfast time. I got the breakfast burrito this time. A much better choice. And it came with another beach Frisbee-sized pancake, and this time I made the wise decision to eat only the one. Taylor ate there too, but the Midnight Crew were too busy packing up to leave to arrive before 10, when the kitchen closed to prepare lunch. They were extremely disgruntled about missing breakfast, and decided to stay there in the restaurant until lunch was being served. So we all sat together at the window bar, plugged in. I finished and published the last blog post and downloaded some podcasts.

At 10, I left to see if Yogi had brought my permits. She had. Which meant I could leave that day. I started packing and purchased a couple more items I had just learned I would need.

All packed, I went back to Grumpy Bear’s for a strawberry syrup topped mini sundae, and Taylor and I arranged a ride to the trail together.

And then I realized the season finale of a show I was following had released, so I pushed back our departure a half hour.

Finally, Wayne (again) drove Taylor and I to the trail in the van to start about 2pm. Putting my pack on, I realized I couldn’t find the belt I’ve been using as a substitute sternum strap. So Taylor hiked out and I rode back to Grumpy Bear’s to search around there and TCO again (and we picked up a new arrival on the way). No luck. Yogi wasn’t selling anything I could use as replacement either. Tore my shirt while searching. Gave up and rode back to the trail.

The hike started through more flat sandy desert scrubland. Lost the trail for a bit. Saw tons of car campers all over including right next to the trail. On the other side of KM campground, the trail followed the Kern River to a bridge. Yogi had suggested I acquire my water here, so I stopped. There was also a swimming hole that looked just like the kind of thing a water park would try to emulate, with a cave and a waterfall to stand under. There was a group of four young hikers and a very skittish dog camping here and I sat with them while filtering water. One offered me whiskey. I declined.

At the same time, MC showed up again. They had hiked out an hour or so before me, but I had passed them while they were swimming in a different hole. They stopped to collect water here also, and we would end up hiking close together the rest of the day. Of course, I was usually chasing them because they hike much faster, but they would stop and I would pass them.

They decided to pass up the campsite 2 miles in and put in an extra 3 to the next area. So I went along. Bad idea. The next three were extremely rough, climbing straight up the side of a creek lined with what I can only describe as rough grit sandpaper bushes. They soon stopped and I past them, keeping well ahead by following the trail in spite of the dying twilight. We were nearly at the campsite before I stopped to get out my headlamp and they caught up.

We made camp nearby one another, and after cooking and doing all the things one must do before going to bed, it was nearly midnight. The Midnight Crew strikes again.

Also, when I unpacked to make camp, I found the missing belt. Woo-hoo.

Total distance: 11 miles

Grumpy Bear’s Retreat
A nice swimming hole on the Kern

Day 2

MC and I left camp together but they stopped soon after and I didn’t stop until I reached the swallow bridge over the South Fork Kern River. There were lots of golden trout here. I had a snack and got some water and talked to a lot of people hiking by. Eventually, Taylor, who had stayed not too far from our camp, caught up to me. I went ahead and left him there.

Taylor passed me when I stopped to cool off in a creek later, but I caught up to him at the top of a long annoying hill climb, where he had had to stop to led a herd of cattle pass. They had really chewed up that section of trail, but it improved a little ahead. We walked roughly together to the top of the hill before I stopped to get some water and lunch. We saw our first marmots in the meadow there. MC also caught up to us.

I passed them making camp together later that evening, but hiked on another three miles to a nice protected campsite near Gomez Meadow. The last mile I was about to collapse and had to really struggle through it.

Total distance: 17 miles

There is a blurry marmot on that rock

Day 3

The look of the trail was clearly different at this point, but it looked basically the same all day. More up than down, lots of sand. Nothing really exciting. I stayed just ahead of Taylor and MC all day, then called it quits when I reached the campsite near Dutch Meadow around 6pm. I had eaten and was ready for bed by the time they rolled in and set up nearby.

Total distance: 14 miles

Day 4

MC left camp first by waking up earlier. I slept in a bit.

The highlight of the day was Chicken Spring Lake, our first alpine lake, just before entering Sequoia National Park. I ate lunch on a rock in the middle of it. Taylor took a nap on a rock next to it.

I caught up to MC in the campsite next to Rock Creek. We camped there. A park ranger was there suggesting things for another man to do (and clearing trash out of the bear box). Said fellow planned to be out in the woods without resupply for weeks just rambling around and checking things out. He made a campfire and we spent some time near it before I turned in just after 9. MC stayed up late by the fire, as expected.

Total distance: 17 miles

The view from my campsite with Benroy packing up

Day 5

As a result, I woke up first. Even so, I saw a guy cruise through camp at top speed while I was getting ready. I saw him instantly find a way to cross Rock Creek without getting his feet wet as if he’d been there before. There was a lot bridging the creek just downstream of the trail crossing.

I was ready to leave by the time MC was awake. I informed them of the golden trout in the creek and where the log was and told them I still didn’t have the food to spend a day climbing Mt. Whitney then set off without them.

By the time I reached Whitney Creek and Lower Crabtree Meadows for a late lunch (having spent an hour or more earlier doing various things around Guyot Creek), I had a crazy idea that I could summit Whitney that evening before sunset. I told MC and Taylor so when they caught me up there. So I hiked up to the PCT/JMT junction and made camp, left my pack there, and took my day pack full of snacks and water as fast as I could up the Whitney trail. Soon after I started, I was assaulted by a squirrel vaulting off my legs like I was a stunt actor in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I passed another ranger who clearly wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to try to summit Whitney at night. I assured her I wouldn’t.

I was getting winded from the altitude as I climbed the 3 miles up to Guitar Lake. By the time I reached it, I looked up at Whitney and saw the 4 miles of climbing I had ahead of me and decided I wasn’t interested in it anymore. I met some guys by the lake who had just come down and jumped into the lake myself, then followed them back down to Crabtree Meadows chatting the whole way.

I couldn’t find MC or Taylor camped anywhere in the meadow even though they intended to summit Whitney the next day. I figured I had seen the last of them and went back to my campsite. Along the way, I found Kaleidoscope setting up camp. An annoyingly optimistic type who didn’t stop for anyone or anything. We had chased him down from having summitted Whitney that day also. I’m pretty sure he was the same guy who had sped through camp that morning on a mission. Another PCT thru-hiker.

It was dark by the time I had finished supper and got to bed, but it would have been after midnight if I had gone ahead with climbing Whitney. I ended up being glad I saved my strength.

Total hiking distance: 13.5 miles

Total trail miles: 6.5

Brown trout in its own demesne

Day 6

Started real early this time. Out of camp by 6:30. Kaleidoscope passed early on and I expressed excitement about some of the things we would see that day. After another creek crossing where he pointed out the best path, I would never see him again. He did not slow down ever.

There were a couple of early ascents and descents that morning, including crossing the Big Horn Plateau, but the big deal of the day was the miles of climbing I would do that afternoon with no shade approaching Forester Pass. I took way too many pictures of the approach. When I stopped for lunch, I was accosted by a way-too-friendly marmot looking for handouts.

It was late afternoon by the time I was coming down the other side of the pass, and there were places where I had to slide to snowfields and circumnavigate 10 foot snow banks to find the trail. Apparently the north side of Forester is almost never clear of snow.

With all the climbing, it had taken me 12 hours to do 12 miles when I stopped to chat to some fellow travelers about options for getting to town. I walked on another mile and pitched my tent in a little site just beside the trail.

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 7

Time to get off and resupply. Up early to find a layer of frost on my pack, but luckily my Sawyer filter was still wet. Not frozen. Phew.

Easy 5 miles down to Bullfrog Lake Trail. Stopped for lunch at the small lake below Bullfrog Lake, walking all the way around it and then jumping off the rock. Two hours of relaxation before the steep climb up to Kearsarge Pass.

Just over the pass, was accosted by a day hiker needing matches for his picnic. I tossed him my lighter and walked on. He shouldn’t be out without a lighter anyway and I could get a new one for 50 cents in town.

Further down from the pass, a man stepped into the trail moving quickly, so I started talking to him. He was sleeping on his truck each night and hiking up the trail to random lakes to fish, catching his limit each day. Also, he was a Marine squadron leader on July 4 break. His name was (Connor?) Stanley. I screenshotted his picture from the official marines Instagram below.

At his truck in the parking lot at the bottom, traded my last lime for a shot of a very nice Canadian whiskey. Then, he agreed to take me to the Lone Pine grocery store in exchange for filling up his gas tank. He actually went to the grocery store first and followed me around before taking me to the gas station and then the historic Dow Villa Hotel.

I went out looking for a barbecue that was supposed to be happening in town that day but couldn’t find it. So I took a pizza from the place across the street to my room. It would serve as dinner and breakfast.

A long bath, a beer, and a phone call ended the day.

Total hiking distance: 14 miles

Total trail miles: 5

I have it on good authority that the cameraman heard at this exact moment “Stop being such a vagina!”
Mt. Whitney
A city so grounded in filming western movies, it named a street after Gene Autry
An historic hotel room

2 replies on “Temperature down, elevation up: Kennedy Meadows to Kearsarge Pass”

You’ve got some great scenery shots and inviting water hole videos but my favorite is the too friendly marmot. He’s a mess! He has definitely been hand fed before. Glad you are healthy and safe.

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