mile 774.3-788.9 plus 7.5 miles to get over Kearsarge Pass
I had no need to get up super early because it was Friday and the post office in Lone Pine was closed on Saturdays. There was no way that I could possibly get there by 4 this afternoon, so I would be forced to wait until Monday morning when it opened again at 9:30 am. Neither Bambi nor Jug, who was suffering from swollen eyes, were in a rush to get going, either. Bambi didn’t hike Mt. Whitney because he said he didn’t have enough food to do so. He told me that he had already completely run out of food at one point on the hike and ended up eating 50 fish oil pills in one day for energy, as that is all he had left! Disgusting! I asked him why he didn’t allocate his food and he said that he didn’t know how much food he needed each day and ended up eating it all much faster than he anticipated. I was glad that I was good at planning and rationing and that I always had extra food in my pack by the time I got into town.
I told Bambi about my giardia and he said that he was carrying antibiotics with him and asked if I wanted some! Yes! He is a nurse and was carrying two doses of flagyl with him. I was very perplexed as to why he didn’t offer them to me back at Kennedy Meadows. He was there with me as I complained about my inflamed stomach and the pain I was in. I guess he didn’t realize it was from giardia, when everyone else was suggesting it was likely stemming from a host of other things. He told me that it was one dose, which made me happy, and handed me two pills. “I should take these both at the same time?”.
“Yes,” he said.
I held them in my palm until I was ready to eat breakfast, went through my food bag and offered some of my extra food to Bambi in exchange for the antibiotics. The boys packed up and Bambi said he would see me on top of Forrester. “But I’m not ready to leave yet!” I said. I was hoping to be around someone that could take my picture at the top. He said he was planning on taking a long break up there and would most likely still be there when I arrived. I still had to finish eating, find a place to go to the bathroom, and pack up. I headed out about twenty minutes later and soon came to the creek that I had advised everyone to wait until morning to cross. I was amused to see that it was actually no big deal to cross. (I was still anticipating the freezing cold, thigh or chest high waters I had heard so much about!). The morning hours were pleasant and I moved through a landscape of Sierra trees and grass that shifted into open spaces between huge granite mountains.
I stopped to take off a layer and spotted two deer in the distance and watched them for several minutes. I liked being alone with the animals. As I climbed into the more desolate rocky environment with ice encrusted ponds, I looked ahead to see if I could figure out where Forrester Pass was. In a snow packed year, I strongly doubted that I would ever be able to find the trail. It was only because I had seen a few pictures of Forrester that I was able to vaguely figure out where I was headed.
I saw a hiker ahead of me who I had never seen before and guessed that he must be hiking the John Muir Trail (from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite). He seemed to be hiking pretty slow. I took a break and looked up at the Pass, where I could make out a figure at the top. I still had a long way to get up there and hoped they would still be there! I moved on, taking many pictures of the incredible views around me.
The altitude was not allowing me to move as quickly as I wanted and I had to keep telling myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I passed by a plaque that was dedicated to a young man that had died in an accident while building this trail. Pretty alpine flowers poked out from the rocks lining the trail and gave me an excuse to pause and catch my breath for a moment before it was taken away again with the next few steps.
I finally reached the snow-encrusted cornice that in some years is extremely treacherous to cross. This year, it was no problem at all, especially after Ned Tibbets chopped out steps for us to cross it! It was only a few more minutes until I made it to the official high point of the PCT and found Bambi and Jug still there!
Bambi had cut some of his foam sleeping pad off to help Jug make some temporary “sunglasses” by cutting slits into them. For some reason, Jug had decided not to hike the PCT with sunglasses and now seemed to be suffering from the symptoms of being snowblinded, although we hadn’t yet come across much snow at all. The north side of Forrester pass was a different story, though. The sun had not yet had a chance to melt a good deal of snow on that side of the mountain!
I asked Bambi if he could take some pictures of me. We watched Jug wobble down the mountain with his funny blue glasses and gallon jug of liquid in one hand. Bambi imagined his encounters with section hikers as he walked like this and how crazy they would assume we all were! Jug looked like he was having a tough time getting through the snow and it made me wonder how I was going to get through it, myself! The slower man reached the top and quickly started the descent. He was clearly much faster on the downhills! Bambi informed me that he was actually trying to thru-hike the PCT. I decided it was time for me to get going and Bambi followed behind until I worried about slowing him down and let him go ahead.
We stepped in ankle high snow patches that would later become calf high, knee-high, and even mid-thigh level. I watched Bambi fall into the holes and then I would fall onto my butt, as well. It was kind of fun, although very slow going!
Bambi got farther and farther ahead and I fell back into my own space, looking around in wonder at the scenery around me. It seemed as if the views were getting better with every few steps I was taking!
I walked along a ridge and then headed down into a new valley with water cascading in clear streams. It was time to start releasing my worry about where I would find my next water source and learn to start carrying less water on me. I stopped to collect water from one of the streams and continued on as my stomach pain arose again. Bambi had planned on making it over Kearsarge Pass this evening, but I didn’t have a plan, yet. I would see how the day went. I got a late start and was slowed down by all of the snow we had to get through. I walked out of the granite expanse and back into trees and grass and flowers and sat down exhausted. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t know if I could keep doing this. As tears filled my eyes, I looked around and realized that as much as I was hurting, I was here, in California, in the Sierras. I had known for so long that I wanted to be here, and finally, I here I was. I felt proud of all the decisions and effort I had made to get myself here. More tears fell. I ate a snack, put my pack back on, and continued to walk.
The trail entered the forest and the views disappeared. My stomach was hurting even more. I made it across another creek and stood on the other side with a distressed look on my face, and my hand over my stomach, wondering how I was going to be able to keep walking. Then, I saw a man sitting under a tree, looking at me. I found it very disturbing that he didn’t let me know that he was there! I moved on and soon after, found Bambi sitting under a tree with his mosquito head net on. I turned on my phone to check our location. The signal was poor and it was taking forever. Bambi was still planning on getting over Kearsarge today. Once I confirmed the mile we were at, I felt like it might be possible for me to as well, but I would have to keep a strong and steady pace in order to get there before it got dark, and I was feeling pretty bad. I moved on, following a creek down towards a camping area in the woods. I stopped to collect more water and go to the bathroom and Bambi and the other man came along. I kept up and told Bambi that I might go with him after all.
We had one long and very steep climb ahead of us, after which I thought it was all downhill to Onion Valley. We hopped across rocks to make it over another creek and then started the climb. I stopped to take a break about half way up and asked the other man how far he planned on going today. He said he was going to stop at Bullfrog Lakes. I continued the climb and found Bambi being swarmed with mosquitoes as he tried to collect water. I helped swat some of them off his back and pushed on. Finally, I reached the top of the climb! I took the path toward Bullfrog Lakes and was surprised that the trail was still climbing! I thought it was supposed to start descending! The other man came along and was dismayed to find the no camping signs. Mosquitoes were attacking us and I decided I had to keep going and get over Kearsarge tonight! The man wanted me to check my guidebook and tell him what it said about camping here, but I felt like I was under immense time pressure. I still had seven and a half miles to hike and it was already well after 4:00! He let me go on.
The trail continued to climb… Bambi caught up to me and stayed just ahead. I discovered that my camera battery had died and the only way I could now take pictures was with my iphone. We made it around the lake and up to a point where we could see a couple of hikers making their way UP Keararge Pass. “That’s the trail? Are you kidding me?! Are you sure it isn’t THIS way?” I said. I was out of energy and wanted no more climbing. How on earth was I going to make it up that? I told Bambi that if I had known the trail continued to climb, there was no way I would have agreed to do this! The mosquitoes swarmed us. Even at nearly 12,000 feet, we could get no respite from these relentless attackers. I took out an insect wipe and offered one to Bambi before wiping it on my exposed skin. “At least this will make me smell a little better!” I said.
We started the climb. Up, up, up we hiked as the minutes ticked by. We would not be descending to a highway, but a trail head parking lot, where the chances of getting a ride grew slim in the evening hours. I kept my mind focused on moving forward. Just before I arrived at the top of the Pass, I heard Bambi talking to someone. Maybe he is on the phone, trying to get us a ride! I had heard that there was cell reception at the top of the Pass, but it turned out that neither of us had any. Bambi was just talking to a curious marmot, trying to complement him so that it would come close enough that he could pet it! It never came that close.
We headed down the mountain, intent on catching up to the hikers we had seen climbing ahead of us, in hopes of getting a ride into town with them. Then, we saw that the people ahead of us were actually coming up the mountain! What? Our spirits sank. We asked them if there was anyone ahead of us or any cars in the parking lot. They said there were a few people well ahead of us hiking out, but that we had to move fast to catch them. We thanked them and hurried on. We can do this! We’re thru-hikers! I told Bambi that this is where a young thru-hiker slipped off the trail a couple of years ago in a high snow year and went sliding down the mountain until he hit a rock that broke his leg. Luckily, Ned Tibetts happened to be in the area and another hiker rushed back to tell him. After he activated his SPOT button, Ned made his way down to the teen-ager, helped stabilized the bleeding, and helped keep him calm until the helicopter arrived 12 hours later. Again, Bambi commented on what a super-hero Ned was- chopping in steps for us to walk on and coming to rescue hiker after hiker!
Bambi started asking me questions about my family and even asked me if I was worried about turning into my mother! Thankfully, I said no, I wasn’t.
As we continued to descend, I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to climb back up this same path with 8 days of food in my pack! That was more food than I had ever carried before in my life! I told myself I would be okay after a little rest. I noticed that my fingernails were an incredible pink color and became fascinated with the contrast of this color that I had never seen them before and my tanned, dirty hands.
I needed to take a break and told Bambi to go on ahead. I was hoping he would hike fast and catch us a ride! I emerged out of the rocks to find three deer in the grass and watched them for several minutes. I felt lucky to have seen them. I could see Bambi on the switchbacks ahead of me, and kept hoping he would hike faster! The road came into view and soon, I saw a car head out. Nooo!! I hopelessly reached out my arm. I continued down the switchbacks as a line of parked cars came into view. Surely, someone would be there to take us into town!
I saw Hooligan waiting at the bottom and waved to him, wondering what he was doing there. It was now about 7:40pm. There were no people around the cars, so I suggested that we walk up to the other area I had seen people head toward. Bambi said that was the campground was and that those people were spending the night there. Hooligan had come back from town and decided that he was going to crash the campsite that U-turn had paid for with his girlfriend. Cowboy and Birdman were apparently there as well. Hooligan said we should join them, but I didn’t want to impose. It was getting late and I just wanted to get into town. Hooligan said there was a motel in Independence that offered rides from the trailhead, so Bambi called them up. It turned out that they charged $40 for the ride in addition to the night’s stay at the motel! He told them we would think about it and call them back. I saw a man heading to his car and asked if he was going into town. “Not until tomorrow morning,” he said. Bambi called the motel a second time to make sure that it was going to cost an additional $40. Yes, it was. He hung up and we thought about what to do. Hooligan headed over to find the guys and said he would tell them I was coming, too. Bambi and I finally decided to pay the money and called the motel for a third time. I told him I better go say hi to the guys or they would think I was rude. Cowboy and Birdman were friendly enough, but no one offered me any of the food they were enjoying or invited me to camp with them. I told them I was headed into town with Bambi and that I probably wouldn’t be seeing them as I was going to be stuck waiting for the post office to open on Monday in Lone Pine. Birdman agreed, “Yeah, we’ll probably never see you again.” I hung my head and frowned and then waved goodbye and ran back to the parking lot. A car pulled up and we headed towards it, but it turned out not to be the person from the motel. Finally, the owner, Doug, did arrive and we loaded our packs into the truck. We drove down, down, down the mountain and watched the digital thermometer rise by about 20 degrees as we descended! We had been hearing about the heat wave in the valley for the past couple of days. It was supposed to get up to 106 degrees the next day! I didn’t realize that the valleys surrounding the Sierras were still desert! In fact, we weren’t so far from Death Valley, itself!
Doug mentioned seeing a roadrunner one time along the highway we were driving on. I stared at him with wide eyes. There is actually such a thing as a roadrunner? I told him that I thought that was something from a cartoon!
I then asked him about the kind of rabbits that lived in the Sierras and told him that I had seen a jackeloupe the other day. He smiled. (It wasn’t until later that Bambi informed me that a jackeloupe is an imaginary creature comprised of half rabbit, half anteloup, and that is why the guy was smiling! What I had meant was a jack rabbit!)
We arrived in Independence and I asked if anything was still open for dinner. Doug said the Subway was our only option this late at night. We pulled into the motel and he asked if we would be sharing a room. I said if it had two beds, we could. He said the only room they had available had just one bed, but that he would double check with his wife. He came back and said that one of the units had a futon as well as a bed, so I agreed. I told Bambi that I could take the futon. It was brand new and the mattress was too stiff to flatten. I asked Bambi if I could jump in the shower first and he said he would go get us some subs. I tried to scrub the dirt off my body as fast as I could, but it was not a quick process! The tub had a ring of dirt around it when I got out, so I had to spend additional time cleaning it! When I returned to the living room, Bambi was sitting outside sipping a beer. “Bad news, Wendy.” The Subway was closed when I got there. I saw a lady inside and banged on the door, but she just shook her head. I got us some apples from the 7-11.”
We were left in our exhausted states to pick through our food bags for snacks and although we were glad to be in town, we went to bed with a feeling of emptiness in our bellies.
Hi Wendy: I found your photos of this piece of the PCT intoxicating! he things you chose to photograph so perfectly captured your experience for us readers! Faced with barely-marked snow trails I doubt I would have found the courage to go on alone! (and with Giardia? NO WAY!) You are amazing!