Kennedy Meadows to Lone Pine
Cowboy camping on the General Store porch, I wake at 6:00 as the first footsteps start creaking the deck boards in search of coffee. We intend to leave around 7:30, but one more pancake breakfast is too tempting so it ends up being a 9am departure. Before heading out, I pick up the guitar and we serenade Sheriff (who has to remain a week to rest his knee) with “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” We all hug a tearful goodbye and we are off.
See you down the trail, Sheriff.
I walk alone, leapfrogging Journey Man, Mantis (I sometimes call these two “JourneyMantis”), Dash, Android and Switchback. A few miles in, I cross a bridge over Kern River, which is raging just a few feet below like nothing I’ve ever seen. Having heard reports of a bridge or two out a couple hundred miles north, I wonder if this one could be next. Maybe I should get off of this bridge right about now.
High water on the Kern.
Eventually I fall into sync with JourneyMantis and Dash. Just before lunch, we come into a sprawling meadow with a view of the peaks that elicits several “whoop” exclamations from the group. We meager creatures are approaching the famed Sierra.
We get into our base camp around 6pm. Mini Chimi and Head Start are already there, as is Tough. Deciding on a 4am start the next day, we immediately set to making dinner and getting ready for bed.
Around 7:30, Dart comes in. He and Chopper were going to camp a few miles back, having also started late this morning. “Have you seen Chopper?” He asks. Apparently he had waited for her for a while and thought she must have gotten ahead. Which she hadn’t.
We all felt bad for their separation, but we are used to figuring that whoever is missing is okay and it will be resolved the next day. Somberly, we all get into bed. Dart decides to Cowboy Camp.
Around 8:30 a headlamp lights the tents and we call out, “Chopper?” She has made it. The cheers are short-lived, however, as rain begins falling and Dart and Chopper scramble to make camp at the end of an already long and grueling day.
At 4am, nine of us gather. The band consists of Journey Man, Mantis, Dash, Mini Chimi, Head Start, Android, Switchback, Tough and Myself. We talk in whispers, in consideration of Dart and Chopper who got to bed so late, but they were surely woken by our breaking of camp.
A quarter mile in, we have to leap across a rushing creek. Some people comment that the associated adrenaline is a good substitute for a cup of coffee. Emboldened, we start the climb from 9100 feet to 10,600.
Who needs coffee?
This climb consists of a vast snow field, so we are able to mostly go straight up the hill. We pause to rest three times in the two hours as the dawn breaks. I happen to be at the front as we come to the crest, and the sight takes my breath away. Across the expanse of valleys thousands of feet below, we can clearly see the peaks of the Sierra rising higher than we stand, all majestically lined up in the light of the rising sun.
After a long appreciative pause, we begin the real work of the day: slogging along one step at a time across snow-covered traverses, around tree wells, and up and down hillsides.
Around 1:30, we arrive at a knee-deep creek crossing. We are in a meadow back down around 9000 feet, and there is more bare ground than snow here. We make camp after fording the creek.
Today we begin at 3am, wanting to reach the next summit four miles ahead by sunrise. We time it perfectly and are rewarded with a heavenly view of Owens Valley at daybreak.
Taking in the Sunrise
Again, this early reward is followed by a day of monotonous trudging in the beauty of the winter wonderland.
A little monotony, anyone?
We arrive exhausted at Dutch Meadow around 1:30. It is covered in snow, but we find dry ground in the tree wells. I set up my tent, and can see just the heads of the others as they go about their business in their respective tree well islands.
With this separation, it’s an afternoon of relative solitude broken by occasional discussions from hole to hole. Some of the group are so distant that we have to relay messages through a middle-man.
“What time do we want to leave tomorrow?” I call to Dash and JourneyMantis, who are in adjacent tree wells.
We settle on 5am. It’s only five miles of snow before the eleven mile road walk to where the road closure begins. We can get a ride from a trail angel there.
“How about the others?” And Dash relays the discussion onward into the snowy forest.
A Firey Welcome
Earlier at Dutch Meadow, Head Start was camping on the snow and already making dinner when Journey Man walked in 45 minutes later. I was waving hello from my hole 100 yards away when a ball of fire came flying out of Head Start’s tent toward Journey Man’s feet.
Her stove had sprung a leak and caught on fire.
She burst barefoot out of her tent behind the flame and together they started flinging snow onto it. Extinguishing it didn’t work, as the gas pressure kept the flame alive.
Now it started hailing.
After a frantic 30 seconds of fire fighting and hail pelting, Journey Man was able to scoop up the apparatus with his ice axe and dangle it in just a way that he could reach under the flame and turn the gas off.
Welcome to camp, Journey Man. Good job not getting blown up.
Instant Amature Mountaineers After All
Before leaving Kennedy Meadows, we were pretty sure that we would flip north after Lone Pine. We just wanted to get a taste, and that would be good enough.
But oh, it tasted so good. The days were hard, but the vista views and satisfaction of accomplishment have been too rewarding to resist another go.
Here’s an idea, let’s go walk over those mountains.
Tomorrow, I am leaving Lone Pine and heading back into the snowy Sierra. With me are Journey Man, Mantis, Dash, Mini Chimi and Head Start. Tough, Dart and Chopper continued without stopping in Lone Pine, having packed enough food to Kearsarge. Android and Dash are going back down to Jacinto and Baden-Powell then flipping.
While we enjoyed the first few days, we have trepidation about what’s next. It reminds me of the feeling I had the day before I started in Campo. Between here and our next exit lies 13,200 foot Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail.
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