The One Where We Entered the Sierras
The two nights spent in Kennedy Meadows were filled by chores, planning for the Sierras, and eating pancakes. We drank, smoked, and sang karaoke at night and got to bed way too late. There were a lot of goodbyes and a lot of new faces. In some ways, it almost felt like it was the end because people were flipping up, skipping the section, or simply getting off trail, and we didn’t know if we would ever meet again. It felt like both the end and the beginning of something.
In Kennedy Meadows we formed what we called the Fellowship of the Sierras. It consisted of me and Golden – who I had hiked with more or less from the start. Simon from Czech Republic who we had done both San Jacinto and Baden Powell with. Bear from Germany who we had met for the first time in Tehachapi. And Spliffy, also from the Czech Republic. Bear made us all necklaces from floss and a beer cap, and we joked that the Sierras were our Mordor. I couldn’t have wished for a better group.
We set off in the morning of the 4th of June. Our packs weighing about 50 pounds (22kg), with about 12 days worth of food and equipped with crampons, ice axes, and bear canisters. The load was heavy, but our hearts light. I saw a marmot that first day and a thunder rolled in at night that made my entire body tremble.
We started hiking again under the full moon with the Milky Way still bright above us. We ate breakfast to the sunrise, still shivering the cold from the night off our bodies. Our spirits were high and the day beautiful. My pack was so heavy that my entire body ached and the high elevation made the slightest uphill a struggle. We fought like animals and put our crampons on when reaching snow. In the afternoon when we finally reached the campground, we swam in a river that was ice cold from the snowmelt from the mountains. More exhausted than I’ve ever been in my entire life, I passed out before 6:00 p.m.
Our alarms set off at 2:00 a.m. and we started hiking into the night. We reached the summit of a mountain right before sunrise and the wind howled, and so did we. I was so, so cold and I wore all of my layers when we had our oatmeal in the protection of a big rock. We found some dirt patches in the snow where we pitched our tents for the night. Completely wiped out from the long day.
When we awoke small snowflakes fell from the night sky. First it made us happy, but the excitement soon disappeared when the snow increased. After just one hour it was snowing so heavy that the boot tracks in front of us were invisible and we were navigating in the blind.
We had three more hours before sunrise and those hours in the darkness were some of the toughest so far on trail. My trekking pole snapped during one of the many falls I took and we struggled to attach my crampons. Our hands were so cold from our wet gloves that tying the crampons to my shoes almost seemed impossible. But we still kept our spirits high. And I felt so safe and happy having the guys with me. They grabbed my pack every time I fell over and couldn’t get up, lent me their microspikes and trekking poles, and made me laugh. In the middle of the snowstorm, we were playing rock/paper/scissor about who had to carry The rock of punishment. It was a rock we picked up upon entering the Sierras and the person who was late had to carry the rock in the morning. The weather was dire, but we still managed to fuck around and have a good time.
When we reached a junction at the trail called Cotton Wood Pass, we all voted and took the hard decision to bail out. We made a steep descent down the mountain range and built a snowman when we reached lower ground.
We came upon a campground and crammed ourselves into one pit toilet to get warm and have some food. We all sat on the floor and ate our lunch and the foul smell from the bathroom soon disappeared.
The hike down on the closed, desolate road felt hard and much longer than the 13 miles (20km) it actually was. We finally reached the road closure right before sunset, 18 hours after we first started hiking. By pure luck and chance a businessman in a Mustang came by and we begged him to drive us to town. He discreetly rolled down the window when we all squeezed into his tiny car with all of our smelly gear and sweaty bodies. After getting dropped off in Lone Pine, we hugged and smoked a cigarette of celebration. We devoured a pizza before passing out in our shared motel room.
In the morning my feet hurt so much and I had breakfast in bed in the form of leftover pizza and beer. We all sat down and went through our options. None of us wanted to flip up further north but we also couldn’t enter the Sierras for another ten days because of the ongoing snowstorm. So we decided to rent a car. Take a road trip and see more of the US. When shopping for some clothes in a thrift store, we met a Swedish guy that told us that groups in front of us had to press the SOS because of the storm. And hearing that made us even more sure that we made the right decision.
◦ Night’s cowboy camping: 41
◦ Clif bars devoured: 141
◦ Blisters: 4
◦ Beers: 65
◦ Zero days: 10
Miles 702-751 (1129-1208km)
Three things I’m grateful for:
Entering the Sierras.
Our hitch to Lone Pine.
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