PCT Week 7: Finishing the desert section
We finally escape the desert to get into the high country, reaching the gateway to the High Sierra at Kennedy Meadows. It’s like reaching the promised land after all these weeks in the barren desert. 700 miles are behind us and it’s time to celebrate the end of the first big section. We spend an amazing zero day before we start tackling the Sierra.
PCT Day 37: Starting the last push to the Sierra
Walker Pass (mile 652.1) to mile 672.8
33.5km (20.8mi) / 8.25h / elevation gain of 1,466m (4,809ft)
Conrad drives us back to the trailhead in the morning. At Walker Pass temperatures are way more pleasant than in the hot desert town of Ridgecrest and there is a gentle wind blowing. We start with some switchbacks that lead us gently uphill. Soon we have some killer views into the valley below us. The ascent flattens a bit and we are going around Mount Jenkins to the highest point of 2,200m (7,217ft), where we do a lunch break after 11km (6.8mi).
We then go downhill again, knowing we have to go back up again all of that. There are some craggy rocks around us and we continue down to the valley with sparsely forested hills. We do another break down there in the shade before we go on the next, shorter climb. It’s quite hazy today and it’s getting worse as there are two fires going on at the moment, which are evidence of the extreme drought this year. For the PCT this climb is unusually steep. I almost choke on a bug that flies into my mouth.
We continue downhill again and reach a little river, which is the first water source today. We take a little break but fill up our water 2km (1.2mi) later at the same river as there is another climb ahead of us and we don’t want to carry more than necessary. It goes up for over 500m (1,640ft), but gentler this time. Shortly before the highest point, we look for a place for the night. We do cowboy camping for the 5th night in a row now, I’m back to it after the horrible third night on the trail. Meanwhile, it’s much warmer than at the beginning of the PCT and it saves a lot of time as you don’t have to pitch and pack your tent. Unfortunately, we don’t have a really good view as it got very hazy, even if we are quite high up.
PCT Day 38: Getting closer to the promised land
Mile 672.8 to Manter Creek (mile 693.5)
33.5km (20.8mi) / 7.5h / elevation gain of 942m (3,090ft)
In the early morning, we tackle the rest of the ascent and have a great view from the top. We go down to the next water source at Chimney Creek, where we take a break after 13km. It goes straight up again after that, this time to over 2,400m (7,874ft). But the ascent is mellow and there is another water source after the first third of it so we don’t need to carry it all up the mountain.
On half of the climb, we do a lunch break and I try cold-soaking for the first time. I eat my soaked ramen out of an ice cream jar. It’s actually not that bad. I think I will switch the tortillas for cold-soaked ramen for lunch from now on. But in the evening I will still cook a warm meal as it’s always something to look forward to. The best thing about cold soaking is that the food is ready to eat as soon as you sit down and you don’t have to wait until you can stuff your face.
The further ascent is gentle and spreads out to a lot of miles. It’s the last big ascent on the way to Kennedy Meadows. Anyways, I’m glad when we reach the top and there are just 10km (6.2mi) going downhill to the campsite. The entire landscape here is somehow a mixture of desert and pine forest. We are already in the transition zone to the Sierra and it’s just a stone’s throw away to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the High Sierra.
We are hiking through a burn area down into a valley with a small river, where there are a lot of camp spots. But it’s also ant city here and that’s why we pitch our tents tonight instead of cowboy camping. There are a lot of hikers gathering here and I know a lot of them from the last weeks. We enjoy the evening by socializing and dreaming about the food we are gonna have in Kennedy Meadows.
PCT Day 39: Reaching Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierra
Manter Creek (mile 693.5) to Kennedy Meadows (mile 702.2)
15km (9.3mi) / 3.25h / elevation gain of 325m (1,066ft)
The trail meanders through low hills and mounds of boulders, hemmed by craggy mountains. We meet the Kern River, where there is suddenly an abundance of water like not seen in the last hundreds of miles on the trail. There are some good swimming spots but it’s way too cold in the morning to even think about that. The trail follows the river for the rest of the way to Kennedy Meadows. We arrive at the 700 mile-marker. Wow, what a way it was to get here. We are super stoked. The trail goes through a valley with brushes and finally reached the road where we walk for 1km (0.6mi) to the General Store where we get warm applause which is a tradition here. It feels so good. We are here now, I can’t believe it.
The gateway to the Sierra, the promised land after all these weeks through the dusty desert. After 700 miles it’s time for a change. Every hiker has two goals: Making it to Kennedy Meadows and to Canada. And here we are. After hanging out at the General Store we take a ride to Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, a restaurant, and there is an outfitter close by. I get my packages with new shoes and my old sleeping pad and go to Triple Crown Outfitter to get my bear canister and a new hat. Nice to have all this shiny new gear. But how on earth am I supposed to fit the bear can in my pack?
We hang out at Grumpy’s for the rest of the day, have a shower and a big burger for dinner. We leave a little late as we want to camp at the General Store because there is not much space at Grumpy’s and it’s quite cramped. Somehow, we missed all the shuttles back but we start walking on the road and get a hitch instantly. It turns out that it’s Smokes, a Trail Angel, that gave The Italian Trail Magic a long time ago, and he takes us to a little secluded spot right next to a creek where we spend the night cowboy camping. He even makes us grilled cheese sandwiches. In the morning our sleeping pads have frost on them, but it actually wasn’t that cold. I need to remember to take my water filter and electronics inside my sleeping back from now on.
How to master the art of zeroing
On the next day, we go to Grumpy’s for breakfast and get the biggest pancake I’ve ever seen together with hashbrowns, sausage, and eggs. Then Smokes invites us to come with him to Kernville to spend the day by the river. We do a quick resupply in the local supermarket and then go to the Kern River and chill there for a couple of hours in the sun, having some food and drinks. Later in the afternoon, we are floating down the rapids on a freaking mattress. Smokes drags us into the rapids with his packraft and then we roll with it. It’s the perfect day.
Also, it’s the first zero where I actually relax and not just run around all the time doing chores and writing. It’s good to remember that this is needed sometimes. Just having a good time. We get some burgers in town and then drive back to Kennedy Meadows where we camp by the river once more. Thank you Smokes, for this epic adventure.
PCT Day 40: Vortexed in Kennedy Meadows
Kennedy Meadows bis Kennedy Meadows Camp (mile 704.6)
5.14km (3mi) / 1h / elevation gain of 63m (206ft)
Actually, we just wanted to get breakfast at Grumpy’s as well as some supplies and then head out. But one thing led to another and somehow we are still there in the afternoon. We then take the shuttle to the General Store where we got vortexed again. Having food and drinks, meeting a lot of people from the past weeks. There is Rabbit, who I hiked with for a couple of days, Highlights, who loves fantasy books, Moxie, who I cooked a big pot of Spaghetti with, Sparkles and Refill, who I met quite in the beginning and we keep meeting each other all the time, Chris and Amy, a nice couple from UK, Dan, who gave us lemons he found in a parking lot, Tim who I met before I even got to the USA, Unicorn Scat, who gave me my trail name, and many more.
We finally leave in the evening and do the shortest hiking day ever with just 5km. The trail leads through a flat and sandy sagebrush area close to the river. At least we pass the campsite of the last two nights and get up to Kennedy Meadows Camp. I appreciate the rather short hike today as I caught a cold. I have a sore throat, cough, and congested nose. On the hike here I really didn’t feel well, even breathing hurt. Hope to get better soon. It’s always something: Maybe your back, blisters, sore feet, tendons or a simple cold. I figured out how to put the bear can into my backpack, but it’s really heavy with it and six days worth of food.
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It is The Sierra, not Sierras.
Does not matter how many mountains are in the range, ask any ranger or person of knowledge.