Days 39 – 46 of Yeti’s Pacific Crest Trail PCT blog 2017: From Kennedy Meadows to Kearsarge Pass exit
The high sierra adventure begins: raging rivers, treacherous passes and summiting the highest peak in the contiguous US.
14 June 2017 – zero day
Busy day of chores but I found time to get back to Grumpy Bears for a huge breakfast! I devoured a plate of eggs, bacon and potato hash then another plate with a giant pancake about an inch thick and at least 12 inches in diameter.
Laundry and other chores done. I also spent a while checking maps and recent weather and trail condition reports. I jammed about 6 days worth of food in the bear canister and 2 days outside which I’ll need to hang in a tree at night. The official requirement to carry a bear canister doesn’t start until Mile 740 so hopefully everything will fit by then.
After a couple more beers, I had an early night hoping to get away at a reasonable time tomorrow. There’s 15 of us who are tackling this first stretch of the Sierra Nevada as a group.
15 June – Mile 702 to 722
After some early morning packing, I managed to leave Kennedy Meadows at about 7:40am with a very overloaded pack.
It was a stunning day, with the scenery as magnificent as I had hoped. We hiked up to 10,000 feet through meadows and streams. There was some snow around but not too much yet…
The weather was super hot today, with the heatwave predicted to continue for the next few days. This will make the upcoming river crossings interesting. Hopefully it’ll also speed up the snow-melt in the next stretch, where there’s a lot more snow. Fingers crossed that a few of the more treacherous rivers will have peaked then dropped by the time I get to them.
All 15 of us caught up to camp for the night. We camped near a rocky outcrop with perfect sunset views.
16 June – Mile 722 to 743
Beautiful day in the mountains, with views of snow covered passes. The uphill trekking felt much tougher than I expected. Hopefully it was mainly due to the altitude.
I got complacent with refilling water as there’d been so much around. But we went through a dry section, so I was very glad to find water just as I’d run out. Some people were resorting to melting snow.
There’ll be some river crossings tomorrow which could be a little interesting given the hot weather over the last few days.
17 June – Mile 743 to 766
Big day of climbing ahead, so I got away early. I took a break on a pass overlooking a lake, with views out to the rest of the Sierra Nevada.
I trekked across Cottonwood Pass. There was heaps of snow, but no real dramas. I made it to Rock Creek which is normally easily crossed, but recent reports said it was raging rapids. I was able to get across over a log, which worked out pretty well. There were a couple more creek crossings, so I had wet feet all day.
Made it to camp but found out that none of the rest of the group were going to make it here tonight.
Mt Whitney summit
Left at 4.30am, aiming to trek across the snow while it’s still hard. I put my spikes on my shoes to provide extra grip and reduce slippage across the suncups, which are the mini craters in the snow.
Absolutely stunning scenery all day.
After a long section of snow heading up the switch backs, I really started to feel the altitude and started struggling.
It took me 5 hours to reach the summit, but then I just couldn’t leave. Stayed up there 2.5 hours taking it all in. Plenty of other hikers started to filter in while I waited.
I started heading back down but still struggled, partly due to dehydration but mainly due to the altitude. The snow and ice had turned to slush making it hard going. En route down, I passed a few of the group who were still heading up.
At the bottom, I got applause from the rest of the group who’d had a nice easy day and were planning to head up tomorrow.
Early night before another early start with three river crossings tomorrow, then setting up for crossing Forester Pass.
19 June – Mile 766 to 777
I headed off towards Wallace Creek. I ran into ‘Silver Fox’ – it was great to have company navigating across the snow. The descent to Wallace Creek got steep so we put on our spikes and used ice axes. We were able to cross Wallace Creek at the normal spot. It was flowing pretty fast and about mid-thigh height. We waited for a few others who weren’t far behind. It was great to head out as a group.
Wright Creek was raging a bit harder than expected. I made it across but it took all my strength to stay upright. We’d picked a good spot – if I’d fallen I would’ve been swept onto an easy bank to get out on.
Next up was Tyndall Creek, which we’d heard bad reports about. However, we hiked further upstream to where it split into 3 and we crossed without too much drama.
All the creeks were freezing cold and it took a while to warm up afterwards.
It was obvious we wouldn’t make it over Forester Pass that afternoon. So two miles out we found a dry gravel area to set up camp.
It looked like a storm was about to hit but luckily it passed quickly.
20 June – Mile 777 to 788
Crossing Forester Pass
So much snow as we headed up towards Forester Pass.
The switch backs were still snow-covered so we trekked straight up the slope. A group of about 20 people were ahead and were starting to cross the Pass.
We used crampons and ice axes to traverse across Forester Pass. I had watched so many videos of the final traverse across the snow chute. But it turned out to be not too bad as the group ahead had formed a good path across.
Once on top, there were incredible views in all directions. At 13,200 feet / 4,000 meters, it’s the highest point on the official PCT. While Mt Whitney is higher, it’s considered a side trip. It’s just amazing to think that they built a path up and over Forester Pass.
Two massive glissades – sliding down the mountain with an ice axe as a brake – meant we got down quickly, but it gave me a wet butt.
The rest of the way was slow, through deep snow and over lots of fallen trees. Some navigation was required to ensure we were going in the right direction.
After a final creek crossing over a log, we made it to Bullfrog pass. We camped beside the half frozen Bullfrog Lake in a beautiful spot.
21 June – Mile 788 – exit over Kearsarge Pass
It was so cold during the night. I awoke to frozen condensation on the tent. The edge of Bullfrog Lake had refrozen. We trekked through more snow, carefully navigating up switchbacks to Kearsarge Pass at 11,700 feet / 3,566 meters. We managed to get over pretty quickly. We hiked down to the Onion Valley trail head car park, where we’d planned to meet Sam’s dad. This is the only exit point in this area, and we’d planned to get lifts into the town of Bishop to re-supply.
However, there were reports of a road closure further down due to flooding from the snow-melt. So we hiked 7 miles along the road. Sam’s dad, Doug, was waiting at the bottom with chicken, potato salad and beer. Santa’s Helper, a trail angel, had also come to help us out. I’m so grateful for the support we’re receiving. We had 9 people, so we split up between Doug’s car and Santa’s Helper’s van for the ride into Bishop, where we’ll spend a couple of days relaxing and deciding whether the next section of the trail will be passable.
My day started with sub-freezing temperature and finished with 40 degree Celsius, in the desert town of Bishop.
Huge thank you to Chris “ Whole roast chicken” for taking some of the snow photos.
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