Pacific Crest Trail: The Sierra | pt.1

From: Kennedy Meadows

To: Bishop

Whitney Summit: Yes

Down Kearsarge and out to Town: Yes

Miles Per Day: 22 (ish)

Days with Snow: 2

Entrance to the Sierra:

Now where did we leave off? Oh, that’s right, I had just gotten out of the Desert and arrived to Kennedy Meadows, the promise land for hikers out here on the PCT. While I was there, I enjoyed a few days of rest, and by a few I mean exactly one and a half days. We drank beer, ate our weight in burgers, fries, breakfast and more, and enjoyed ourselves and the time we were allowing for pleasure rather than miles.

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After a movie night at the General Store, we hit the sack, ready for sleep and the following day of hiking. Our plan was to wake up at 5:30 and be out be 7. If I were to tell you that we got out by 7 I’d be lying to you. After yet another pancake breakfast, we decided it was at last, finally time to enter the Sierra.

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Day 1:

We got a ride from one of the locals, and before I knew it we were back on the PCT with a gorgeous Meadow in front of us, the sun shining down its golden, warm rays, and nothing but good thoughts for the day ahead.

If I’m being honest, I felt sick to my stomach. It’s not the fact that the Sierra are yes, indeed covered with snow, it’s the fact that I’ve never spent time in the Sierra. I’m comfortable on snow at this point without a doubt, but how comfortable, I found myself asking my subconscious. Everything that you think you know goes right out of the window when you think too much about a situation. Before I knew it, I had psyched myself out.

The hiking resumed as normal just as I thought, and within an hour I was back in my comfort zone. Something I’ve noticed out here up to this point is that zero days, and town days specifically, require a lot of energy output. Some days I feel as if being in a social setting, even around hikers, is overwhelming for me. Being with a close group of friends, which is what I have out here, is much more comforting.

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The first few miles took a little bit longer than we all expected. We left late, the sun was beating down, and all of a sudden I found myself dreaming of cooler temperatures. We had quite a bit of elevation to gain before days end, so we pushed on, and as we climbed, the clouds, wind, and entire atmosphere shifted. All of a sudden there we black storm clouds billowing in the distance, just in the direction we were headed over the initial pass. The brisk breeze added a significant chill to the late spring air, and soon enough we found ourselves picking up the pace while simultaneously putting our rain gear on. We got to the campsite with moments to spare, contemplated the situation, and as we set up and got our gear organized, the rain began to fall and we all receded to our tents.

The pitter patter of the rain fell into rhythm. I unpacked my burdensome bear canister, made my ramen, ate a few snacks, and rolled a spliff, something I enjoy more-so than ever. I sometimes find that a low mile day paired with a rainstorm is exactly what I need. We called it quits after only 14.8 miles and at only 4:00 PM. The rain and thunderstorm kept strong for roughly an hour and a half, only to continue moving east towards Bishop eventually. The light eventually began to protrude into my tent, giving me a sense of warmth and life all at the same time. I peered beneath the wall and was shown a bursting light shining through the pines, refracting particles from the constant rain falling. The blue skies behind the Peak gave a contrast so intense I hopped out of my tent and howled like I’ve only done a few times in my life. The night ended up with a beautiful campfire, and an even more prolific sunset atop the boulders. One of my favorite nights, and transitions of weather I’ve ever witnessed.

At elevation, everything is intensified. Rain storms become a chance for an electricity storm. I’ve been there already and don’t plan to experience it again.

Day 2:

We awoke the following morning with plans to leave by 5, but with the entire valley entirely socked in a cloud, we decided to sleep in an extra hour. We ended up meandering across the bridge into some of the more profound light I’ve seen out here. The moisture was rising rapidly from the valley floor as the sun began to burn the excess off, creating an ethereal glow within the trees. The first few miles were slow. Every so often I would stop to shed a layer, then re pack my backpack with my canister wasting valuable time. I hiked with Duckie for awhile today, an insanely genuine girl from Holland. I was able to talk with her extensively over the last few days. I ended up parting ways with her at one of the first big views of Whitney. I would love to reconnect with her at some point.

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The water sources were aplenty, and with the longest carry of the day being 12 miles, I was ecstatic. We kicked up the pace and put it into high gear. All of a sudden we had 15 miles done and lunch was in order. We all demolished our food and packed up, making for an efficient break. The sun was shining, the trees were everywhere in sight, and to be honest, it was exactly what I imagined the Sierra to be. I had always envisioned this wonderful trail that snaked and switchbacked through massive pine forests, and that’s exactly what we got.

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With only 11 or so more miles remaining on the day, we didn’t really mind taking our time. Every so often we would pull over for a Smokebreak or just to enjoy the view. There’s nothing like some of the views out here. Entirely encompassing peaks make up the background while dense forests make up the foreground.

Combine the mileage and the weather, we legitimately had a perfect day. Not a bit of precipitation or even a scare for that matter, and the perfect hiking temperature all day rounded out the evening. We pulled into our campsite of choice at around 6:15. Plenty of time to get an awesome campfire going before bed. Beehive and I both wanted to have as many fires here in the Sierra as possible, and throw Scooter in the mix and it’s almost too much. There’s not much we love more than being toasty next to a fire while we all devour our dinner.

I’m now laying under my tarp yet again, absolutely filled with bliss. The night is just about over and my eyes are beginning to get heavy. I’m excited for the days to come. We have plans to camp at guitar lake tomorrow night with a sunrise summit of Mt. Whitney on the hopeful list the following day. I’ll keep ya updated.

Day 3:

We woke up with a goal of 27 Miles, putting us within 5 miles of the Summit of Mt. Whitney. Our tents compressed into our packs while we shoved the beat canister inside. Tree Bear got a fire going at around 5:30, giving all of us plenty of motivation to hit the trail. After we doused the fire, our legs started cranking away, pushing towards our first stop, Chicken Spring Lake. With 8 miles to go and a beautiful morning to start, I felt good, almost too good. I moved past the 4 mile marker with ease and filled my smart bottle up along the way. Having so much access to delicious run off out here makes carrying the gear a little easier. Eventually, Beehive and I cruised into the lake for a quick bite and smoke. Our first alpine lake of the Sierra was upon us. A little too early in the day to swim, we finished up and pushed on. Cottonwood Pass was behind us and it finally felt like we were in the High Sierra, something I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

Even early on in the day, we could see a set of clouds slowly making its way towards the trail and Whitney.

At some point at around 15 miles in for the day, it felt like we all simultaneously hit a wall. We stopped at a beautiful meadow for a Smokebreak, only to be sucked into a lunch break minutes later. As all breaks go, we guzzled the food down our gullet and got ready to hit the trail. I was refreshed, ready to go. We only had around 11 ish more miles to go, making it an easy rest of the day, minus the altitude and steep climbs ahead.

No big deal.

Switchback after switchback led up a few smaller passes, and before I knew it, afternoon was turning to evening and we were approaching the junction to Whitney. The only downside of this beautiful day was the fact that two separate storm systems had moved in from opposing sides, making our decision to push on hesitant. Soon, single rain droplets turned to clusters, appearing out of nowhere then disappearing. The clouds began to appear as dark as the shadows on the granite, getting ready to collide at any moment. Beehive and I debated on whether to set up a tent, and as he did his, I grabbed my poncho and decided to wait it out. Scooter and Tree Beard followed suit and got the rain gear out. We huddled under a tree while Beehive was in his tent, ready for what was about to be thrown at us.

The sky flashed and the heavens roared.

Rain fell ferociously from the sky, quickly freezing and turning to hail as the temperatures fluctuated. Soon enough there was a layer of hail, creating the scene of snow on a late winter day in the Sierra.

It continued for another 45 minutes.

My poncho had kept me dry as I huddled, but I was cold. I hadn’t bothered to change layers at all, so my legs especially were covered with goosebumps. At one point while it was still raining, we decided to head out and find a flat spot. Beehive was already dry and ready for bed, so he opted to stay. We hiked for another mile or so, eventually finding a enormous pine waiting for us. We ran under the tree with bricks as feet due to the ice that had already built up. My feet were numb and frigid after only a mere 20 minutes hiking through the fresh slush. We set up our tents as quickly as possible under the gorgeous, life saving tree.

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I crawled out of my tent and the skies immediately opened up, allowing us a view of epic proportions as the Sierra landscape lay frozen with hail and snow. I couldn’t believe how drastically everything changed. Within an hour, the weather turned from Summer to Winter. These mountains create their own weather pattern, but with a little patience and observation, it’s fairly easy to figure out their patterns. 

My feet were finally dry. I changed socks, got into bed, and ate my typical dinner, a ramen and instant mashed potatoes.

This trail, and especially the Sierra, is unbelievable and extremely unpredictable and volatile. The weather changes out here within an instant. The trail changes almost a hair quicker. We still haven’t seen nearly half of what it has to offer.

Tomorrow is a hopeful summit bid for Whitney. I’m not sure if my head space is there, or the food in my canister. The weather is quite iffy obviously, especially now that we add another layer of icy mix to it. Im going to go to bed.

Day 4:

“Hey Puma, I’m gonna go ahead and get going, I’ll probably see you in Bishop.”, Tree Beard yelled across the valley this morning around 5:30. I was in such a deep sleep that when he woke me up, I could barely understand where I was, let alone what time it was. I had slept amazingly, and for a good amount of time as well.

At first I was apprehensive to get up out of the tent and start walking, let alone summit Mt. Whitney, but with a little added motivation from Scooter, we all got up and started heading towards the Whitney junction. Within a few minutes, I already felt better and was excited for the days adventure. Climbing Mt. Whitney would be a true test of my ability at altitude. It’s the highest point in the contiguous US, so I guess that rings true for most people.

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We set our tents back up, put our canisters inside, and unloaded a few more pounds before stepping onto the side trail. Our gear was wet from the night before anyways, so it was nice to be able dry everything out.

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The first few miles up to Guitar Lake weren’t so bad. With only about 1,000’ of gain, it was a nice warm up for the next 5 miles up to the Summit. We arrived at the lake without Beehive, he had camped a mile or so before us, and with the views we were beholding, we felt bad that Beehive wasn’t there to experience it with us. Not a moment later, he rounded the bend and met us at the lake. We rejoiced and soon enough, the rest of our crew made an appearance after their morning summit push for Whitney.

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After a brief moment of happiness between all after not seeing each other for a few days, we knew we had miles to get and it was time to roll.

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The next 5 miles contained about 3,500’ of gain with several snow traverses. It was time.

Minutes later I was out of breath, a mere few hundred feet above the lake. I knew it was going to be a long, long day.

The granite lay on the trail surrounded by snow, ice and water. We hopped across the boulders, splashed in the puddles, and crunched our way across the snow. Eventually, it was micro-spike time. We pulled them over our shoes to gain more traction for the traverses. Soon enough, they appeared. Kicked in steps lay across the snow, sometimes paralleled by a line where someone may have slipped.

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With each successful traverse, our confidence in our steps grew. Soon enough we broke the ridge line, only to be absolutely blown away by the pillars of granite towering over everything. Our view to the North, West and South was all encompassing. We were climbing the tallest peak in the High Sierra. I couldn’t believe I was finally there.

The Sierra are so incredibly reminiscent of the Winds in Wyoming that I couldn’t help but to make comparisons.

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Soon enough, we looked at Guthooks and only had 1.2 miles remaining. We kicked it into the highest gear we could and picked up the pace. The last few hundred feet of elevation took everything I had, and before I knew it, the Hut was in sight and I couldn’t control the emotions. I was straining every muscle in my body, and my mind was even more stretched for energy.

I lost it and tears began to flow as I howled and screamed at the top of my lungs.

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We were on top. On top of the US, more or less. We stopped at the top and enjoyed the views. We did our usual. Took photos, checked for service, and smoked some weed. We were actually there.

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Soon enough we came to the realization that the hard part was yet to come. Passing all of those snow traverses while the snow was slushy and melting wasn’t going to be ideal, let alone safe. Our spikes were sliding already and we hadn’t even begun the descent.

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We signed the log book and started speed walking. Well, jogging to be exact. It was breezy on the way down, requiring each of us to put on a layer. The first traverse showed up, and we crossed no problem. That actually was the MO for the rest of the day. We made quick haste of the descent, getting down in under half the time and actually being able to enjoy the view.

Guitar Lake popped back up in the distance, and when we got to the last snow field, we all glissaded. When we got to the bottom, we made Mio Energy snow cones and trudged on. The last three miles back to our campsite was almost in sight.

Two miles left.

One mile.

My tent appeared. We shoveled food into our mouths and let our sigh after sigh due to the aching in our legs. Although we had only done 18 miles up to that point, we had done about 10k worth of elevation change. I was exhausted. I wanted nothing more to stay there, but with miles to cover the next day up and over Forrester and Kearsarge to get to town, we had to push on. We set our sights on a creek campsite around 3 miles away. 

We pushed up the hill, then down. Eventually getting to the river crossing and doing a Little Rock hopping to make sure our shoes stayed dry before bed. 

Another Day was in the books. We set up, and within a few minutes I could hear everyone chowing down. The only problem? My stomach wasn’t feeling great. I figured with the elevation and altitude, I was being affected pretty heavy, but I shoved some food down and called it a night. I was a little uneasy about my stomach. 

Day 5:

I awoke out of a deep sleep at 11:49, not 4 hours after I went to sleep. My stomach was in knots, something I haven’t felt in a long time. My insides felt like they were being twisted by the grip of a rock climber. I heaved out of my tent, but nothing. I eventually fell back asleep after convincing myself that it was nothing to concern myself with.

I awoke again at our scheduled time for a wake up, around 4:45. I by no means wanted to wake up that morning, actually I didn’t want to hike even. What I thought was nothing was soon turning into a debilitating stomach pain. I figured I’d start hiking and see what happened.  

Soon enough, the miles started coming, and with them cane blurry vision, a headache, and the nauasea that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I stopped over and over in the midst of the first few miles. We eventually got to Tyndall Creek, and I had to make a decision. At the time, altitude sickness was my major concern. The blurred vision is dangerous when crossing snow traverses and chutes, so I wasn’t too keen on going over Forrester. Beehive ran down to the ranger station to check for me, but no luck. 

Eventually, I said fuck it. We hopped across Tyndall on probably one of the more sketchy rocks, started our trek up Forrester.  

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If you’re not familiar, Forrester Pass is the highest point along the PCT, and contains probably the most dangerous traverse and chute on the entire trail, especially the Sierra. 

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Eventually, the trail turned into snow fields, requiring my sunglasses to stay aware and not get snow blindness. Beehive led the way and I traversed through his tracks, made my own routes, and eventually found myself in one of the most magnificent areas I’ve ever seen. Granite towers stand tall all around while frozen lakes sit still, nearly motionless if it wasn’t for the wind.  

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We all reconvened at the base of the last push. With only 600 vertical feet, and 1 mile of hiking standing between us and the top of the Pass, we decided it was time. The microspikes clicked on, and we slugged our Packs onto our back once again. Immediately we started traversing left, then right, then left again. The spikes came in handy for about the first 200’ of gain, then we found trail. We cruised on the rock, thankful there wasn’t much snow on this part. As the switch backs ran out, we found ourselves at the chute. 

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Not just any chute. By far the steepest and most exposed chute I’ve ever traversed. We all just kind of looked at each other, and one by one, kicked steps and got across. We let loose howl after howl at the sky, adrenaline pumping through my veins as I clipped the last step. We had all made it relatively easily across, but that didn’t stop us from feeling on top of the world about it. 

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We got over the Pass after one more ladder section of ice. The PCT made itself very clear as it ran alongside the mountain, seeming to be completely engulfed with snow. We were a tad late getting across the chute, so we figured the snow on the north side would be soft, and boy oh boy were we right. We began postholing shortly after the first ridge, and didn’t stop until we got below tree line. Postholing is exhausting, so eventually post holes turned to glissades and skiing down the mountain. Wet feet took over, and soon we found ourselves drying our feet out and attempting to eat as many calories as possible, for me at least, they had no trouble with that part.  

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Cool, we got down the mountain. Funny thing was, we still had another pass to get up and over before we could finally rest our weary eyes. Kearsarge Pass isn’t technically on the PCT, but we had to get up and over it to get to Bishop, CA, our next resupply stop. 

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We took the side trail to Bullfrog Lake, which would lead us 2.2 miles up the base of Kearsarge, where we would ascend another 600’ to the top. We huffed, puffed, and stopped quite often, but eventually we got up to the top. The wind was whipping ferociously, almost knocking us off on the way up. We clipped the Summit and literally began running towards the bottom. I had been tired in the past, but after the clear lack of calories, and some of the longest days of my life, we were ready for town. We accurately placed our feet down the switchbacks, and within an hour and a half, we found ourselves at the campground where we would try and hitch. 

I’m in Bishop now after getting a hitch last night relatively quickly. I was prepared to sleep in the bathroom, but glad I got a bed instead.

Its quite hard to process exactly what’s happened over the last 5 days, and to be exact, I’m not sure I’ll be able to any time soon.  

The Sierra hold a certain sense of mystery to them. They have secrets that no one will ever know. The mountains themselves tower over literally anything around them. When you enter the Sierra, you feel different. Or at least I did. 

Im ecstatic for what’s to come, but I’ll say, it was a LONG five days. A tough, brutal, almost belittling five days. It took everything I had to get to Bishop yesterday.  

Sorry for the long post, it’s been a crazy few days, but it’s only gonna get more insane. 

Stay tuned.