Wingman from the Roadside:
Kearsarge Pass is well known to PCT hikers. It is a last exit before going into the deep Sierras so hikers often come out here to resupply, or in many cases, to get off the trail because conditions in the Sierras may be unfavorable due to storms, snow, high river crossings, or they do not have the gear for dealing with the conditions at the time. The next easily accessible spot is Mammoth Lakes in 116 miles.
Gave up on trying to sleep about 0145, made coffee and a thermos of coffee for Runningbird, put my pack with all her resupply gear in the truck and headed for Independence and on up to the Onion Valley Trailhead. It was pitch black with no moon and it was a bit eerie in the parking lot in the early hours. I put on my turbo headlight and was on the trail by 0400. It was going to be a long hike and the 4.5 mile trek up to Kearsarge Pass was very steep and often hard to follow in the snow. Runningbird is the Mountaineer, not me. Every time I thought it rough going I remembered that she was usually doing twice this total mileage or more, every day and carrying more weight.
My progress was actually going fairly well and periodically I would do a quick scan with the headlamp to make sure I wasn’t about to get slammed by a mountain lion. The very first eke of morning light was showing on the horizon to the east. I raised the beam of light a bit ahead and saw a pair of eyes reflecting back about 100 feet ahead. I won’t go through the list of kill-crazed beasts I imagined it to be. It was a large, beautiful buck resting beside the trail. (Stag sounds so much more eloquent – is there a difference?). Soon the light came and along with it all the beauty and majesty of the surrounding peaks, waterfalls, and mountains that went on for miles. There were curious marmot, grouse hanging in the trees, and playful ground squirrels busy about their day. Finally I reached Kearsarge Pass and my legs could still move. It was 6:30 and I was doing much better than I had expected. I still had 2.2 miles to go and it was mostly downhill. There were three trails to choose from that led down to the PCT, all close to the same distance. The danger of avalanche on the high trail was nonexistent and it would put me more at the elevation and location of the mile marker Runningbird and I had agreed on. While the lower Bullfrog Lake Trail is the most southerly route, and therefore more heavily travelled by thru-hikers, it might have more river crossings for me to navigate. I chose well. The upper trail had beautiful views over Bullfrog Lake, the entire lower valley, and the truly majestic peaks of Kings Canyon National Park. It gave me just a glimpse of the beauty that hikers see all along this section of the PCT. The photos do not do it any justice but maybe you’ll get the idea. The trail weaved along the cliffs of the high northern side and the little snow left was manageable.
I arrived at the intersection of the PCT at about 8:30 and set my cargo on a flat rock near a pond where I could see the PCT coming down the hill from the south. I took stock of my body parts and everything seemed to still be functional. I was carrying just a part of the load Runningbird would be carrying for the next week and my joints were not pleased with me. It wasn’t too long before Runningbird came trekking down the trail with a big smile on her face and gave me a giant hug and I could tell she was holding back tears. The last couple days had held new difficulties for her with the first trials of river crossings and going over the highest pass (Forester) on the PCT. There would be another high pass the next day and even more after that, along with more river crossings. I knew she wanted to hike back out with me and skip ahead but she wouldn’t. While she enjoyed the thermos of coffee and Subway Veggie Delight sandwich I had picked up the day before, we transferred her food supplies, garbage, and gear. We talked about what might be going on at home, the earthquake that she didn’t know we had, and how she and Lonestar had done on the pass crossing. A few other hikers that had been camping at the nearby lakes stopped and visited briefly and were on their way. While Runningbird and I helped each other hoist on our packs, I was thinking of all the weight I had just added to her load and how light my pack now was. We sadly said our goodbyes and she was off headed north towards Glenn Pass.
With a much lighter pack I headed back up the high trail and moved along quickly. Along the way I met a man carrying a paraglider in his pack who had gotten turned around, and ran out of food. I did my best to explain where we were and gave him my only Cliff bar and moved on. I met several hikers on my way out including day hikers Kathy and Brian from Temecula, CA. They were just out exploring and are avid trail runners and were actually in North Bend, WA last July and ran the Jack & Jill marathon. Really nice folks. As I crossed back over the pass I came across a lot more hikers, backpackers, and families hiking, many asking how much further to the top; after all, it was the day after the 4th of July.
I got back to the trailhead about 3:00 PM hungry and totally exhausted. I even entertained the thought of a couple of cheeseburgers and a milkshakes at the McDs (favorite of “most” thru-hikers) back in Lone Pine but I was spent and wanted to get back to camp. Getting back to the trailer the friends I had made here invited me for fresh crawdads (which I love) and I was very appreciative but I felt like a zombie and declined. I had what was left of a salad, slid off my boots, put my head on the pillow, and that was that.
The next morning I received texts about the earthquake (7.1) we had during the night that I never noticed.
05:15 A.M. in the Onion Valley hiking up to Kearsarge Pass, Inyo National Forest.
05:45 A.M. The trail up to Kearsarge Pass.
Big Pothole Lake near Kearsarge Pass.
Kearsarge Pass and the Kearsarge Pinnacles.
The decent down from Kearsarge Pass onto the high trail with Bullfrog Lake in the distance, Kearsarge Pinncacles.
The peaks of Kings Canyon National Park from the “High Trail” (properly “Onion Valley Trail” Or Kearsarge Trail) with Bullfrog Lake below.
Bullfrog Lake and Kearsarge Pinnacles, John Muir Wilderness.