May 31, 2017
Total miles: 13.8 miles
Start: mile 689.1
End: Ridgecrest/Kennedy Meadows (mile 702.2)
Total elevation gain/loss: 1253.6/2348.8 ft
Today was special for two reasons. First, it marks our nine-year wedding anniversary (this is actually the second year in a row that we’ve been on a long hike during our anniversary)! Second, today was the day the we’d be hiking into Kennedy Meadows — the gateway to the High Sierra segment of the PCT.
We were up early and ready to continue down the mountain. The race to get to Kennedy Meadows was on! We were in yet another burn area, so we had clear views of the mountains flanking the valley ahead. At the bottom of the mountain, we stopped quickly to pump water and then it was time to enjoy the meadow.
The views in the meadow were expansive. The surrounding mountains are now jagged and white, not the smooth brown and green ones we saw south of here.
We are also suddenly surrounded by water. Our last several miles paralleled the Kern River. The water looks powerful and brown with silt. I know that we will have the luxury of a bridge crossing when we finally cross the Kern, and I’m glad. It looks like it would be a challenging start to our upcoming river crossings in the Sierra.
Walking through the valley, I couldn’t help but think about the accomplishment that reaching Kennedy Meadows represents. I’ve now hiked more than 700 miles of the PCT. That’s more than 25%! I’m done with the Southern Californian desert. It’s now time for the Sierra!
I walked the 0.7 miles off trail to the Kennedy Meadows General Store alone — Michael was walking behind and we’d agreed we’d meet at the store. The road was devoid of traffic, making it easy to think. I’ve done it! I’m doing it!
I got to the store and I have to admit I was a little disappointed. PCT lore is that the hikers already at the store cheer and clap for each arriving hiker. There were a couple dozen people out in the patio area when I arrived, but no one clapped. Maybe there are too many hikers arriving each day for this tradition to survive? I didn’t see any familiar faces at first. Another side effect of not going into town at Walker Pass.
I set my bag down and went into the store. It was about 11am — time for some ice cream. I bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and sat in the porch just in time for Michael to arrive. Several hikers cheered. I guess the tradition isn’t dead (just sporadic). We enjoyed our anniversary ice cream and then took advantage of the hot showers in outdoor stalls behind the building. Clean at last!
We missed the noon shuttle to Grumpy Bear’s Restaurant by about 20 minutes, but lucked out when a couple locals drove by and gave us a hitch. It turns out they were also on their way to Grumpy Bear’s! Lunch seemed to take forever to arrive because we showed up after the PCT hiker shuttle. It was nice to finally have a fresh salad though after days of shelf-stable food.
We sent a message to my parents via our InReach (there is no cell signal in Kennedy Meadows) and learned that they wouldn’t arrive until 4pm. This wouldn’t give us much time with them, especially since we had to organize our resupply. The cold weather in Kennedy Meadows also made a hotel room seem really nice. We arranged I have them pick us up and take us down the mountain with them and then back again in the morning. Since they had a full car with tools for their next stop, they ended up stopping at their Ridgecrest hotel first to make room for us.
We were especially grateful to be going down to Ridgecrest when it started to rain. We waited for my parents at Grumpy Bear’s (with its super slow wifi and no cell signal). At about 4:30 they showed up and we were heading down the mountain in no time! It was great to see them and fill them in on what we’ve been up to. It didn’t hurt that they showed up with a plate of brownies either 😉
Resupply for this next section is tough. Along with our Sierra gear and new shoes, my parents brought our resupply boxes for this section and the next one. It was a lot of stuff!
This next section seems to be all about strategy, and that affects our resupply. Our strategy for this next section is as follows:
- Hike from Kennedy Meadows (mile 702) to the Kearsarge Pass trail junction (mile 788) and exit down to Independence.
- Reports indicate that snow coverage starts at mile 735. We plan to hike from mile 702 to 735 our first two days (leaving mid-day tomorrow), and then start tackling the snow on day three.
- Once we are in the snow we are planning on hiking 10 mile days. We’ll get up super early (~4am), hike in the hard morning snow, and then finish hiking before we start postholing at around 2pm. From what we’ve heard, this is a doable (but still exhausting) mileage goal.
- The simple math says we should be able to do this section in 8 days using the figures above. We’ve packed 9 days of food in case we hit a storm or other obstacle.
- We’ve added gear, including microspikes, whippets, a fleece for me and extra top layer for Michael, running tights we picked up in Tehachapi, extra trash compactor bags (for river crossings), an extra pair of warm gloves each, and of course bear cans (legally required). We’ve also dropped some extraneous gear for weight savings like our umbrellas, extra 2L platypus, and extra shorts and top for Michael.
We ended up raiding food from our next resupply box in order to have enough for this next section (since we originally thought it would go faster). We can pick up more as needed in Bishop when we get our box.
We did a bit of laundry in the hotel sink (my parents were impressed/disgusted by the resulting color) and tried on new shoes. Then it was off for a great Mediterranean dinner with my parents. After dinner, my parents pulled out a surprise anniversary treat from Michael’s mom: home made apple pie. It was delicious!! We opened another bottle of wine and continued to celebrate: by organizing gear. So fun! Not really.
We’re exhausted and a bit anxious about the upcoming section. It’s nice to have access to wifi here, but there’s so much to do and so little time. Everyone has their own opinion about Sierra strategy, but this is the one that we’re most comfortable with at this time. I’m excited to see the Sierra covered in snow, whatever other challenges it may throw at us.