Beginning the Sierras (May 30-31)
On this day, after doing some preparation things at Kennedy Meadows General Store (charging my devices, laundry, shower, eating breakfast), I packed everything up, relished a final soda, and headed out into the hot sun. I hiked through open desert for a while, then took a break at a campground and picnic table a few miles north.
For the first time, I pulled out the obligatory bear canister that all hikers are carrying now. We are required to store our food in an approved bear canister for the next couple hundred miles, definitely a change that most of us groan about. It’s an adjustment- a typical canister weighs about 2 lbs, I have a tough time opening mine without using a knife for leverage, and they obviously are not flexible. Bulky, plus, it’s more of a time commitment now to sit down and pull out some snacks to eat.
But it will get better, and it’s worth it, to protect the wildlife and the hikers. I’ve seen there are different ways of adjusting, like tying canisters to the top of your pack, or on the outside somewhere.
Because all food should fit inside the canister, it has required some extra preparation efforts. Now I unwrap most of my food after buying it and repackage it in bulk, in plastic baggies. You want to stuff that canister as full as you can, especially for long stretches of trail ahead before the next resupply spot.
As I was sitting there snacking and resting, three older men approached me and asked if I would take their picture, their “happy at the start of a backpacking trip” picture. They seemed to be having a high old time already, ribbing one another about pack weight and the challenges ahead. I kept running into them the rest of that day, and they were so fascinated that I was this independent female thru hiker, and so complimentary towards me. I answered their questions about hiking and enjoyed their attention and questions because they seemed so curious and amazed. One man said, “I know why your trail name is Old Soul, you’re doing it right, you take the time to answer questions, instead of head down, plow ahead.” That really lifted my spirits and made me laugh. I really enjoy sharing about the experience with interested hikers I meet out here, but if I’m hot or tired, they might not get as much pure enthusiasm as these three did on that day.
I ran into them four different times because I kept taking a lot of breaks! They would see me and say, with such surprise, “Is that Old Soul again?!” when they saw me. It made me laugh throughout the day. When I passed them the final time, they had apparently chosen their campsite, because they had their tents set up and were starting to cook their camp dinners. I think they were surprised to see me continuing to hike, into the dusky evening. It was a neat feeling to realize that I’m pretty at home out here now, seeing it through their eyes.
The trail had followed the Kern River again for a bit (as it had prior to Kennedy Meadows) and it was so beautiful to be near that water flowing strong. I wasn’t in a hurry and was feeling ready for excuses to take breaks. I sat and cooked a really good brand-name dehydrated meal by the river, even though I had only hiked a few miles so far. It was so nice just to sit and eat and listen to the water rushing by.
As I hiked, I also kept getting whiffs of my freshly laundered shirt, and it smelled so wonderful. Such a small thing, but that was a real mood booster too.
As I hiked into the evening, I ascended to where I could start to see granite mountains and expansive meadows, scenes so iconic to the Sierra section of the PCT, but unlike anything I had seen thus far. So beautiful. The Sierras are a range of granite mountains that stretch 400 miles by 30-50 miles—a vast, wild area of mountains and valleys, a larger expanse of wild than anything I’ve experienced before.
I set my tent up on some sand in a pretty and expansive meadow area, ate again, and listened to coyote howls, and then their echoes, in the fading evening light. After that, it was silent, with not a sound to be heard all over that meadow. Truth be told, I kind of wished I had friends there, the scenery was so vast and different from what I’d seen thus far. I felt more alone in a strange new world than I had in a while. I kind of wished for some levity or even some complaints (haha) from someone else to make the scene more human for me.
But it wasn’t a terrible loneliness, more just a feeling I had and accepted, knowing that I have some friends a few miles behind, and I can always decide to take some time to wait for them if that seems right.
The stars were bright and beautiful that night, as they often are out here. It truly was a good first day in the Sierras.
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