12 Jun Charging The High Sierras
Kearsarge and Glen – Day 1
Birdman and I, were dropped off Sunday the 9th around 10am at Onion Valley Trailhead near Independence, CA. We hit the ground running.
We charged up to Kearsarge pass on our way back to the PCT. There, looking West towards the beautiful Bullfrog Lake, we finished our town food leftovers: Breakfast burritos and pizza. While we snacked we chatted with some other hikers heading to town, Frodo and Strider. We first met these guys and their friend, Catch-up, when we rejoined the trail after our LA stop. These young guns from Jacksonville, FL travel at a good clip and I expect they’ll pass us at some point.
We exchanged the necessaries and discussed the recent trail. Small hiker talk done, we went our separate ways. Seven miles from the trailhead we finally rejoined the PCT at mile 789. With one pass already behind us that day, we set our sights on the next: Glen Pass.
Glen Pass was a steady 3 mi up. At the top we were treated with gorgeous views of lakes below. First, though, we had to navigate some difficult steep downhill snow. In the afternoon sun, our sneaker adorned feet sunk deep in the snow to find jagged rocks beneath. I slipped straight on my ass at least twice. Of the passes, this was by far the most dangerous descent in my opinion. With the soft shallow and steep snow bank, it seemed as if we were always one posthole away from a broken ankle. Yet, we carried on carefully and descended unscathed to solid ground.
We were greeted by gorgeous Rae Lakes where watched trout jump from the water. We meandered furrher and continued to Lake Arrowhead as the sun set. Deciding to camp, we set up tents quickly as mosquitoes swarmed to any exposed skin.
Pinchot and Mather – Day 2
We got on the trail at 6:30am and had 12 miles to top Pinchot Pass. For some reason, we both were dragging ass up that pass. It was a struggle of a climb with little energy and it felt like it took us forever. As we neared the top, the clouds darkened and a strong wind began blowing. Flurries of snow started falling around us. With possible lightening and thunder in the weather report it was a risky place to be. We were totally exposed but turning back would be at least a mile to good cover. We never really considered it. We pushed harder up the mountain, rejuvenated somehow by the now dark blustery day.
Flurries of snow followed us up and over Pinchot. We stormed down the other side the weather not letting up. It got wet as we descended and we put on our rain gear. The plan had been to stop near the base of Mather Pass – just 6 miles from Pinchot. We discussed waiting out the now rain but laughed at the thought. We knew we’d stay warmer walking and our gear was staying dry in our packs. So we’d press on at a good clip to keep the blood moving.
We quickly began to climb. Into view came the tree line and the exposed mountain side above. As we continued to walk, the clouds continued to threaten. Birdman, in his calm manner said “Well, I’m no expert but I feel like if this storm was gonna get worse it would have already. I’m feeling pretty good. What do you think of getting up this?” I responded with “She’ll clear up. Let’s charge this Mother” or something like that. “Yeah, we’ll be alright,” said Birdman.
Moments after our epic dialogue, rays of sun began to burn through the clouds in spots. We could see the wind and the sun begin to break apart the cover and push the clouds away. We hooted and hollered as we charged harder up past the treeline, through the exposed lakes and creeks and up the switchbacks to Mather Pass. It would stay a bit gloomy and cold but with the clouds separated we felt good enjoying the views on both sides of this gorgeous pass.
With the sun again setting quickly on us, we’d head down and make camp overlooking Palisade Lakes, high enough the mosquitoes didn’t dare attack. With 24 miles on the day, we planned to take it easy the next day.
Spectacular Muir Pass – Day 3
I was in a Disney movie forest. Probably Bambi. At the beginning, though, before it gets scary. Squirrels watched me stroll slowly down the trail. Thrice deer looked at me calmly before trotting a few feet off the trail to munch on willow plants. Birds chirped, the sun shone bright. The trail was an easy meandering of pine groves with babbling brooks broken only by beautiful meadows. This was our lazy day. I left camp early and walked alone through this little paradise. Around noon, I forded a river and used it as an excuse to take a proper dip. It didn’t last long as I was chased by mosquitoes up the hillside to a sunny rock. On my rock, I lunched and napped.
Birdman arrived having enjoyed his own lazy day and we were faced with a predicament. We both felt good. We had a pass, THE Muir Pass, staring down at us, taunting us. It was now about 1300 and the pass lay about 9 miles North. We decided to walk and discuss the options. At about 13:45, we reached the Bishop Pass trail junction and had made up our minds. We were charging it.
First we had to let our dew and condensation soaked gear dry in the sun. If we were gonna hike late we didn’t want to be getting into wet sleeping bags. We hydrated and snacked as the gear dried, telling ourselves what a great plan we had.
And so, around 1400 we charged. It was the most gorgeous ascent I’ve ever seen. Small plateau after plateau of bright green grass. Pink, purple and yellow wild flowers lined the edges where boulders pushed out of the earth. Snow melt creeks and waterfalls were at every turn snaking down the flats. We climbed and each flat got a bit more rocky with a bit more snow. No less beautiful. Finally, above the treeline, we reached crystal clear lakes surrounded by jagged rock and snow.
We enjoyed the view as we looked for signs of the trail through the snow and for cairns across rivers of snowmelt. If was slow going and we raced the sun to the top. Reaching the pass, a stone shelter sat perfectly silhouetted against the low orange ball of fire. It was a great moment reaching the top and an amazing feeling. We snapped the requisite pictures but really just enjoyed the view and silence. Maybe one yeehaw was shouted down the valley.
Not long though and we were off on our way down the North side in search of camp. The sun set quick on us and we raced the dimming light downhill. The ground was wet or rock or snow for miles. It was dark and we stumbled down the dim outline of trail. Switching to headlamps we carried on at a stagger for a bit and finally found some flat rock to camp on.
Out of energy, I ate peanut butter and ketchup in a tortilla for dinner before laying down my head. It wasn’t half bad.
I wish I could capture better for my own memory the emotion some of this scenery evokes. That and the feeling of accomplishment as you look back at the Sierra valleys and ridges you’ve climbed through and over. The enormousness of the rock pushed up to sawtooth ridges or epic peaks. All the little falls of crystal clear water pouring over rock. What an amazing few days it was.