Sunday, May 24, 2015

Struggling into Kennedy Meadows

After a nero day in Lake Isabella, it was time to hit the trail for the last two days up to Kennedy Meadows.  Sue dropped me off at Walker Pass shortly after 6 and the big climb began.

 The terrain here is mostly rolling hills, but there are several ridges, requiring big climbs that must be dealt with.  This first day started with a 2300 foot climb, followed by a 2000+ descent, a 1000 ft ascent, a 1000 ft descent, a 2000 ft ascent and finally a 1000 ft descent.  And that was just the first day.  Fortunately the climbs were generally not steep, but they were long and steady.  By days end I was whooped.

From near the top of the first climb I could look out and see highway 395 below, along with some of the businesses along the way.  This jagged peak, and a similar ridge were also prominent.

It took me a moment when I ran across this in the trail, just before the day's second climb.   But apparently it marks the quarter way point for thru hikers.  The first quarter has been mostly dry.  The next quarter will be up high and much wetter.  The folks I have been generally traveling with will be in the snow in a couple of days.

We have been in the Sierra range since leaving Tehachapi, although it is generally hard for me to tell the difference from the other ranges we have been in.  There does seem to be more of these unusual rock formations though.  Erosion has left many unusual stacks and piles of rocks that give the appearance of being sculpted and placed.

Toward the end of the first day out I discovered this dinosaur skull fossil setting alongside the trail.  Based on the teeth it was obviously a giant herbivore, indicating the climate was not always as dry as it is not.

I saw formations like this several times, with the row of little blocks sandwiched between larger layers of stone.  Not being a geologist, it appears to be different layers of sediment laid down, then uplifted and finally exposed and eroded.

The last day started with a climb up over 8000 ft and then began a long descent through a burn.  There seemed to be little beyond sage that was growing, for miles and miles as the trail slowly wound down through an endless valley. This descent lasted for several hours and I finally plugged in some music to pass the time.

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the effort that goes into building a trail. For the most part it seems like it is built just by the tromp of countless feet.  And then you come on a place where the trail is clinging to a cliff and you can begin to appreciate the effort that goes into making a trail like this possible.

Once the valley traversal is at an end, the trail comes out onto a mostly barren plain.  There was still about 8 miles left to Kennedy Meadows, and I found that I was shot.  No energy and no motivation.  I was ready to just sit down and quit.  Problem was that if I sat down I would still be there; no bus was coming by.  I finally realized that part of my problem was that I was not eating enough (a common trail problem for me), so I ate a bag of granola and pushed ahead, eventually gaining a certain measure of strength and determination.

The last three or so miles follows the south fork of the Kern River.  As rivers go, it is not very impressive.  But apart from Silverwood Lake and the California Aqueduct, it was the biggest body of water I remember following.

Kennedy Meadows is at 702 miles, so this pile of rocks at the side of the trail was a welcome sight.  700 miles from the Mexican border, nearly 500 of them on this trip.

 For some reason I had envisioned Kennedy Meadows as a backcountry resort/outfitter.  I was surprised to see that it was actually a small town.  Apart from a few houses and a store I did not see anything there to build a town around, but there it was.

The store in Kennedy Meadows is where its at as far as thru hikers are concerned.  When I arrived there were 4 guys in the parking lot playing with a Frisbee, and cheering everyone in came in.  I never went into the store, but the porch was crowded with 2-3 dozen hikers who were going through packages, repacking, eating and just visiting.

From here the trail quickly ascends high into the Sierra.  Within a day of leaving here you are over 10,000 feet high, and, when I finished, likely up into the recent snow.

Puff Puff, upper left; Growler, upper right; and Cool Breeze, left; were a group of hikers that had come together early in the hike.  I encountered them periodically along the way, including here at Kennedy Meadows.  They are likely in the snow now.
Michael and Marcus, the 'Swiss Army' were two young Swiss men who were hiking the PCT.  I ran into them several times as well.

Marvin was one of the few I encountered older than I was.  We hiked together part of one day and ran into each other frequently over the last week.

After 30 days and just shy of 500 miles, I have finished the southern California section of the PCT that I started last year.  It has been a challenging month, both physically and mentally.  But it has been a good trip and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to experience it.  And especially fortunate that my wife, Sue, has been willing to devote the past month providing support for me along the way.

After 6 years on the trail, I have completed about 2000 miles of the trail with only the southern piece of Washington and the high Sierra left to complete.  Next year should see it finished.

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