First week of the Sierras

Sierras. Wow. What a mind blowing experience. It’s difficult to describe in words, but I shall try.

My friend from home, Tricia, met me in Kennedy Meadows to hike this section of the trail. I’m going to go ahead and say it, she is a badass. Coming from sea level to hiking at 10,000+ ft and keeping up with a group that has been hiking for 700 miles is no small feat. The hike out of Kennedy Meadows is the exact moment where the trail drastically switches from desert to Sierras. We meandered late in the evening through the meadow with mountains all around. What is all this green stuff on the ground? Grass? I haven’t seen this much green in 6 weeks. Where’s the frisbee when you need one? We met up with the rest of the tramily and camped above the meadow.

The next morning we awoke and hiked about a mile so that we could eat breakfast next to the Kern River bridge amongst fluttering sparrows (African or European? (That joke was for my dad hehe)). Again, I was just in awe of the green grass all around. After a warm cooked meal, we set off and the trail gradually became steeper and steeper. We have to get up in those mountains somehow, I suppose. As the altitude increased, the air became thinner and thinner and breathing became harder and harder. Tricia and I began singing “No Air” by Jordan Sparks which probably didn’t help with catching our breath. The trail turned into granite rocks and tall fir trees all around. We passed through meadows and crossed many streams and creeks. Coming from the desert, it was luxurious to come across so much water. Views of bigger and taller mountains appeared ahead. That evening at camp, the girls all sat on the boulders looking off into the distance trying to guess which peak was Mt. Whitney as the sun slowly set over the horizon of the Sierras. Little did we know we couldn’t even see it yet.

The next couple of days continued to bring views of granite rocks, fir trees, meadows, and streams. We saw our first alpine lake, the biggest body of water we had seen in 6 weeks. We quickly jumped in and even more quickly ran out as the water was freezing cold. But hey, at least we were clean(er).

As we continued on, the anticipation of climbing Mt. Whitney continued to build inside all of us. At 14,508ft, this mountain is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. It is not technically on the PCT but an 8 mile side trail to the top. What’s 16 more miles when you’re already set to hike 2,653? We stumbled into camp at the Crabtree ranger station Monday afternoon and made a plan to begin hiking at 1am in order to summit Whitney by sunrise. That evening we all went to bed around 6pm full of excitement. I can’t believe this is finally happening!

I woke up at 12:30am, stuffed my face with Cliff bars, donned my headlamp and set off up the mountain. The climb was hard, but I was full of adrenaline. Switchbacks upon switchbacks. I would look up and see an army of headlamps up above me. I would look down and see even more headlamps below me. We are just tiny ants with headlamps climbing a mountain. We made it to the top before sunrise and boy was it worth it! Watching the sun rise on the highest peak in the continental country was the best feeling in the world. Looking all around me, every single hiker had a smile on their face. We did it. I couldn’t help but shed a tear. What a dream come true. We sat on the top, drank hot tea, snuggled in our sleeping bags, and enjoyed the moment. During the hike down we were able to enjoy the views that we had missed during our night ascent. Oh, I didn’t realize there was a ledge there before with nothing but a drop off. Oh well. The hike down was beautiful. Steep, jagged rocks encircled me. As we descended, the rocks turned into grass. The girls decided to eat brunch next to Guitar Lake. As we ate, a family of marmots popped up all around us, hoping that we would leave behind some crumbs.

We got back to camp and all climbed back into our tents to nap. The week was not over. Tomorrow we were set to climb Forester Pass. At 13,120ft, it is the highest pass on the PCT. The next morning we woke up, tired and sore. The trail steadily climbed for about 5 miles. We passed through meadows with little streams of melted snow crossing over the path. The higher we climbed, the less plant life we saw. Only the strong survive. As we approached the mountain range, snow appeared on the path and the lakes became frozen over. The last mile brought steep, steep switchbacks up the mountain to get over the pass. I thought this trail was graded for a horse? This seems too steep for a horse, I thought as I sat at a switchback out of breath. Eventually, we made it to the top of the pass. 360 views of snow covered mountains and frozen lakes all around us. The trail switches from Sequoia National Park to Kings Canyon National Park at this moment. We enjoyed a moment at the top before we donned our microspikes, ready for the snowy descent down the mountain. Let me just say, I am a southern gal and I do NOT like hiking in the snow. Every step is a risk. My foot may or may not post hole through the knee high thick snow. I am thankful that this is a low snow year for the Sierras (however, I am sad for the state of California!). After about a quarter mile, we were able to doff the spikes and enjoy the rocky path.

The descent from Forester Pass was breathtaking. The mountains were so grand. I could not believe that I was still in America, let alone Earth. We took our time coming off the mountain, enjoying every view the trail had to offer. We sat next to a frozen lake to enjoy a snack. As I ate my chocolate bar, I looked up and saw snow capped mountains all around me. Is this real life? Someone pinch me. We continued on our journey and camped at the bottom of the valley next to a creek. The tramily conversed about the beauty of the day over our dehydrated dinners.

The next morning was another hard, steep day as we climbed over Kearsarge Pass, a side trail to get to town. This trail passed many beautiful lakes with views of the mountain range all around. Hungry and ready to reach town after 7 days in the wilderness, we hiked quickly down this trail. We got an easy hitch, booked a hotel room, and stuffed our faces at the local taco truck. We’re enjoying our time in town. We went bowling, hung out at the hotel pool, and planning on going to the movies later. This week has been the best week of my life. I can’t wait to get back on trail let another week steal that title.

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Comments 13

  • Ty Sigmann : Jun 5th

    Love the enthusiasm! Great pics. Made my day reading this as I recover from partial knee replacement. Back on trail in 4 months!
    Thank you!

  • Heidi Hall : Jun 6th

    You know how we can tell the tourists from the natives? You put an “s” on the end of “SIERRA”.

    • Sean : Jun 6th

      She’s from Alabamas, give her a break 😉

      Glad you enjoyed the hike, Emily!

  • Ralph : Jun 6th

    Hey Emily!

    Great pics and posts. I eagerly wait for the next posts as I continue to follow you. I’m inspired more than you know. Thanks for allowing me to follow along.

  • Leonie Lazarus : Jun 6th

    Incredible views and what must feel like magical moments! Enjoy each minute and thanks for sharing your journey, I always look forward to your posts

  • Dale Hartesveldt : Jun 7th

    A pet peeve of my father’s, who was a college professor and scientist who studied the giant sequoia of the Sierra Nevada, was people referring to the “Sierras”. There is only one Sierra Nevada in the United States, check the map, but within it are many lessor ranges. Sorry to nit pick, but if you are publishing, you may as well get it right.

  • Rrmmdd : Jun 8th

    It’s not Sierras, there’s only one, so Sierra.

  • Jim : Jun 8th

    You should be commended, not reprimanded for a slight pronunciation error
    Amazing journey. Inspirational . Thank you for sharing!!!!!!!

    • Alison : Jun 9th

      To those of us that have been backpacking, hiking and skiing the Sierra for our whole lives that isn’t a slight pronunciation error… It’s simply calling it the wrong name all together.

  • Alison : Jun 9th

    Just FYI…. it’s not pronounced “Sierras” it’s simply The Sierra.

  • Mike : Jun 14th

    Excellent writing and pictures.
    Thank you.


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