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Passes and Failures: Kearsarge Pass to Red’s Meadow

Day 0

Breakfast was leftover pizza. Still had some gear to buy but the main goal was laundry. After figuring out how to withdraw some cash, I washed my clothes while I finished the shopping and then dried them while I had lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe next door.

A ride back to the trail was solved by the outfitter when I called Mark, a former shuttle driver that hadn’t been seen around. He’d been working full time as a mechanic but had the 4th of July off, so he took me to Onion Valley that afternoon for the cost of filling his truck with gas.

I realized that one of my sun gloves was gone. Eaten by the laundromat.

Had to hike the first half a mile twice because I had to run back down to the toilet at the bottom. Always go before you leave, kids.

Halfway up, I encountered Stanley running back down from his last fishing day, headed to his truck to get wasted.

The climb up the pass is about 5 miles long, and late in the day, with a fully loaded pack, I didn’t make it to the top before nightfall. I stopped a mile or so short of the pass and made camp. Propane ran out just as the water boiled.

Total distance: 4 miles

Trail miles: 0

Day 1

The German couple that shared my camp area agreed to hike out my empty propane can. Made it to the top of the pass just in time to encounter the Midnight Crew ready to head into town for a zero. Taylor came up right behind, and we had a bit of a pass party before we went our separate ways for the last time.

Took a different trail that avoided Bullfrog Lake and came over Glen Pass into the Rae Lakes area, where I, of course, had a bit of a swim. There were gobs of trout, bigger than I’d seen elsewhere.

Hiked down to Arrowhead Lake to make camp. Mosquitos were bad enough, I had to eat inside my tent so I could take off my head net unmolested.

Total distance: 11 miles

Trail miles: 6

Day 2

Made it to Woods Creek Waterslide by lunch time. All the falls and carved of alcoves of swimming holes were like a playground begging me to spend some time in it. So I spent several hours there. Long enough without my shirt I would end up with a sunburn.

Although I’d lost several hours of daylight, I still absolutely intended to get over Pinchot Pass before I slept. 7 miles, all uphill, with a still pretty heavy pack. It was 10pm when I was coming over the pass. The moon was coming up.

The next few tentsites after the pass were occupied, so I had to walk another mile or two before I stopped, but I was still in high spirits the whole way. Didn’t get to bed until after midnight though…

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 3

…And still woke up by 6am. But the minimal amount of sleep did affect me. The whole day I felt sluggish and lazy and unwilling to hike hard. So I ended up taking long breaks to chat with people or just sit and eat snacks.

But I still wanted to get over Mather Pass that day, so I ended up crossing the pass late as sun set and rolling into camp as twilight was ending. Again, several miles past the pass because the first several tentsites were taken. But this time I was asleep well before midnight.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 4

Started the morning with a marmot coming to lick up my morning urine, digging into the gravel to get the last of that salty soil up. I guess salt is hard to come by in the High Sierra.

With more sleep, I felt a little better and had an easy downhill day along the creek. In the afternoon, I met a thru hiker who had injured her quadriceps and had hiked miles in severe pain and was looking to leave the trail. Luckily, another man had taken on the weight of her bear canister and was watching over her, so I hiked on.

I found a nice spot far back from the trail with a small meadow and a creek nearby. Mosquitos were not that bad, especially after dark, but I still needed to cover up and use a head net. Ants were crazy though, and anything that touched the ground or a log instantly had at least one ant on it.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 5

Starting the morning with a mule deer doe doing as the marmot had done the previous morning. I left her there with my urine salt lick while I went down to the nearby creek and came back to find my head net completely covered in deer saliva and the doe gone. I guess it was salty too? So I went right back to the creek to wash it out.

The morning was spent on a long climb up to Muir Pass. A lot of people and a little bit of snow on this section, but it was still an easier climb than any pass so far. Going from south to north, every pass is lower and easier than the last. I reached the top early afternoon and spent some few minutes snacking in the hut on top, leaving my name in the register there.

I passed up Wanda Lake (and I think this is where I first met the couple hiking thru with their cat) and Sapphire Lake to end my day in a site at the outlet of Evolution Lake, a short walk from the top of a high cliff/falls with a great view of Evolution Valley and the sunset (and a couple of eager photographers of same). Soon after I arrived in camp, a small weasel-like predator whose species I’ve not been able to confirm walked by carrying a mouse it had caught and killed back to its nest. I was too enthralled looking at it to get my camera out in time.

The mosquitos here were again not too bad but still annoying enough to keep me on the move during dinner and water collection.

Total distance: 12 miles

Monstro the rock!

Day 6

The day started with a sudden descent into Evolution Valley, a long staircase that I was glad to be going down instead of up. Indeed, it was to be an easy downhill day all the way and a good day overall.

I soon found myself chasing the cat couple here, but let them go ahead when I spotted two old men stopping by a nice swimming hole in Evolution Creek. A trail bath/laundry was on my agenda for the day already, so I stopped too.

I don’t remember their names anymore, but those two old men were not shy about going skinny dipping in front of a stranger. They were nice enough not to appear in the pictures they took of me in the creek though. They had been wandering the Ionian Basin, way off trail, and had connected up with the JMT at Muir Pass, and so were on their way out.

I left them there and hiked down to the first mandatory creek ford on the trail. Evolution Creek had to be crossed and there was no rock hopping or fallen tree route available. So I changed into my Sockwas and went across, then set them in the sun to dry while I had lunch. Then I packed up and started walking down the hill into the San Joaquin River Valley.

A mile later, a short conversation with a woman taking a break beside the trail reminded me that I left my Sockwas at the crossing a mile back. A bit of calculus told me it was worth hiking an extra two miles for them, so I stashed my pack behind a tree and started back up the hill. I passed the woman I’d spoken to and the two old men. My shoes were where I left them, and I passed everyone again on the way back down. After a thirty minute detour, I was back at my pack, and by the time I had repacked and had a snack, the old men had caught up again. We walked the rest of the way down to the river together talking before I stopped for lunch riverside.

Down in the valley, the mosquitos were still annoying, so my headnet went back up. But once I started walking again they went away, so I pushed it up onto my head for some cool air.

Soon, I realized my headnet was gone, fallen off my head and my pack without my realizing it. Luckily, it was in the trail only a quarter mile back. I only lost ten minutes retrieving it.

The plan was to spend the night at Blayney Hot Springs behind Muir Trail Ranch, so I turned off on the appropriate side trail after just another mile or two, still relatively early in the afternoon.

Below me, I saw some folks setting up camp on the side of the hill. I stopped and turned to greet the one closest, but thought better of it because he was in the middle of brushing his teeth. I turned to continue but impaled the side of my shoe on a pointy broken root coming up out of the trail. It was like trying to drive over those one way tire piercing speed bumps the wrong way. Not only did it tear a whole in the side of my two-week-old shoe, it prevented me from taking a step or putting my foot down to keep my balance. My trekking pole bent to slow my fall, but down I went anyway, starting to slide off the edge of the hill. I cut my leg open, releasing fresh blood and its scent just as I was entering mosquito country. How annoying.

But the campsite wasn’t too much farther. I had to wade across the San Joaquin and wander around a meadow crossed by barbed wire fences before I found the campsites ensconced in a jumble of tall boulders in the woods, but there was a couple already there sharing a tent who had been there before to explain things to me. I could camp anywhere around, and the small pools I had passed in the meadow were in fact the hot springs.

While I made dinner and camp, those two went for a soak and around four more folks showed up to camp there. One ended up coming to join me when I was finally ready for a soak (as the couple was already getting dressed to go back to camp by the time I was arriving).

I discovered that the grassy muddy path leading from the back of the pool I chose led to a small but very deep pond that was swimming pool temperature (as compared to the ice bath temperature more prevalent in the alpine lakes). I could have floated in it for hours if there were that long left in the day. But it was much more fun to walk barefoot back and forth between the pond and hot pool over and over.

It should be noted that the meadow was home to a myriad mosquitos, and so I did my soaking with my headnet on. My second trip to the pond, I noticed a large rock at the back above the deepest part of the pond. I swam back there and stood naked atop that rock, visible clear to the river if anyone had cared to look, gave a shout and launched myself into the pond.

But I should have tightened the net around my neck. I had submerged with it on several times without incident so it never occurred to me to do so. But at speed, the surface of the water tore it from my head and it promptly sank into the invisible murky depths.

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t going to keep soaking without the net, and it was getting dark anyway. I headed back to camp and to sleep.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 7

I started the day with a photo shoot of the pools and pond, finished packing, and waded across the river in my Sockwas. I kept them on as I went up to MTR to investigate reports of a stockpile of unwanted shoes. That was a bust. It had nothing over a size 10, but it was worth a shot. On the bright side they had headnets and repellent for sale, so I left once again mosquito resistant.

What followed was a long, annoying, three mile climb in the sun. Nothing worth seeing on that hillside. But it was only a couple more miles to some of the most beautiful lakes yet. But they were too crowded, so I went on up to Heart Lake for a quick dip. It was a strange lake, where half was shallow and only cold, but once you walked out to the end of the “continental shelf,” it rapidly dropped into a deep, painfully frigid “ocean.”

Dip achieved (and trout chased out of the shallows) and lunch eaten, it was only a few more minutes before I was at the top of Selden Pass and hiking downhill.

The view got a bit less beautiful and the mosquitos more aggressive as I came down, especially when I stopped to collect water. Nonetheless, I made it down far enough to be within striking distance of Vermilion Valley Ranch for a bit of resupply before dark.

Total distance: 12 miles

Trail miles: 11

I estimate all these pools to be about 100F
The most fairy tale like hot sorting, where the hot water flows in from behind a rock instead of up from the bottom
This repair would not make it to Red’s Meadow, even though it’s “extra sticky”
Above the second mandatory creek ford at Bear Creek

Day 8

3.5 miles to the Bear Ridge Trail, the beginning of a 5 mile side trail to VVR. Part of it was road walk, but a nice family in a pickup did exactly that to me to save me the last mile. Came in around 1pm.

A lot of hikers there, some with tents up. Jeff, the dangerously skinny fellow from Kennedy Meadows was there, as was the cat couple.

I had a steak salad and a cherry pie a la mode, resupplied from the hiker box and the store, bought a trip on the ferry, then repacked in time for the 4pm ferry out. With no wifi available, there was no reason to spend the night. There was just enough time, though, to use a real toilet. The total cost of my three hour stay was $81.18.

On the other side of the nearly empty watershed Lake Edison, I refilled water from the creek (having forgotten to refill at the resort) and hiked on another two miles, past where every other nobo seemed to be stopping, before making camp.

Total distance: 10.5 miles

Trail miles: 5.5 hiked and 4.5 skipped=10

Day 9

Now that I had a few more days of food, I just needed to get to Red’s Meadow within three days, where a bus, I was told, could take me into Mammoth Lakes.

First thing was a quick and easy climb over Silver Pass, but it was a crowded section, and several people wanted to chat. There was also a bit of snow to walk across on the way up, but no real trouble.

Coming down the other side, I stopped to chat about audiobooks with the cat couple, then hiked on past Lake Virginia (where I met a nice man with a new puppy in training who gave me some trail mix and a long conversation) and Purple Lake (where I met a lady while collecting water whose means was actually, no joke, Judy Judy) and around the next hill (where I passed a strange man pushing a bicycle down the trail who seemed excited to see me and unconcerned about the fact that bicycles aren’t allowed on the PCT, possibly a bit crazy?) to a dry site nestled among some boulders just shy of the Duck Lake outlet. The sun was already nearly finished setting by the time I arrived, so I made camp by headlamp light.

Total distance: 15 miles

It’s not a pika, it’s a Belding’s Ground Squirrel (“picket post”).

Day 10

The section from there to Red’s Meadow was relatively easy but not very interesting. A lot of walking near creeks, but I was in too much of a hurry to take a dip. The last couple of miles was an exposed, ugly, bushy area full of dead trees that seemed to have been victim of a burn.

But still I rolled into the resort not too late in the afternoon and bought myself a sandwich and a salad and several drinks, but I couldn’t finish that enormous salad. Too sad considering how expensive it was.

I was lied to about the bus. I had to hitch into Mammoth Lakes. But Lorenzo and Lindsey graciously took me all the way to the Motel 6, where I booked a premium room overlooking the empty pool and got my first real shower in more than a week.

And then I walked to the outfitter to buy some new shoes and a few other small items, dropped them off in my room, and walked up to Mammoth Brewing Company’s biergarden where I slowly drank samples of every brew they had on tap there (including a root beer!) over a burger, fries, and mountain slaw. Then back to hotel to sleep after dark.

The resort’s official truck
I think he wanted to steal our food

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