We sleep near the Kennedy Canyon Creek. Last night I fell in while getting some water, just as the sun went down. It was unfortunate, but today is a new day, and my clothes are likely dry now as they hang from a tree branch outside our tent. The rain fly was off last night so I can see them.
My alarm goes off at 4:30 am. Lupine and I were ambitious when we agreed on that time last night. But we are excited to get to Kennedy Meadows North today, because it’s supposed to have good food, and we’ve heard only good things. This is also our first chance to get rid of our bear canisters, the large plastic cylinders that have plagued our backpacks since entering the Sierras 300 miles ago in Kennedy Meadows South. They’re required to keep your food safe from bears, but they are bulky and heavy, thus won’t be missed. Sure, they’re only about 2 lbs or so which doesn’t sound like much, but when your hiking 15-20 miles per day or more you really really want every pound to count. Suffice to say, we can’t wait to lose this 2 lbs today.
Despite our excitement, my hand automatically hits snooze when the alarm chimes. It’s still dark, and the air is cool. It’s not compelling me to crawl from my down quilt. We’ve been told that you need to arrive early to get a bunk at Kennedy Meadows, and we would like to, but our beds are so comfy here in the forest. My eyes close, and Lupine doesn’t budge. The alarm goes off several more times, and we ignore it. The birds are chirping away in the dark. They know it’s morning. So do I. But unlike the birds I’m choosing to ignore it.
Eventually, we agree to get up at about 5:20 am, slightly less than an hour beyond our original intention. Lupine rolls over and looks at me, her eyes big, even just with waking up, “I don’t feel like walking today”.
Yesterday was a fairly long day of walking amongst mosquitoes. Neither of us our keen to repeat that. We also have a long hill ahead of us. But, today’s hike is only 11 miles. Motivated by a short day, a fresh meal, and maybe even a bed we pry ourselves from our tent and I pack it up to prevent us from sliding backwards. We cook breakfast and coffee to help motivate our muscles. Our food stores are light. I shake the last of the Muesli into our pot, and I portion out the last few bars for our hike out.
Once my legs are moving, it’s not so bad. My bag is light and the air is nice and cool. I always find hiking to be more effortless in the cool air. I quite like hiking in the early morning once I finally pry myself from bed. We go upward, stopping at a stream to fill out water bottle, then we enter into some woods. Behind us the sun rises higher peaking over the distant mountains to try east, shedding light onto our packs.
We emerge from the trees moving upward into a wasteland of stone and rubble. The trail follows long switchbacks across the hillside, where no trees grow. We pass a few but soon they are far below us. The trail consists of loose rubble. Getting hot we delayer our long sleeve shirts, and jackets. Then upward again we go.
The trail is wide like we’re walking up a road of mountain rubble. As we climb higher we can see further south into the Sierras. We look in awe at the mountains from which we’ve journeyed and reminisce in our heads of the past few weeks.
At the top of our current climb, the trail splits, heading North. A sign points out the PCT heading north. We stand and look to the south. I feel as if this is the last view we will have looking into the heart of the Sierras. Yesterday we said goodbye to Yosemite. Now it feels as if we are closing a chapter on the trail. We technically aren’t done with the Sierras, but we are stepping outside the heart of it.
The last few weeks have been relentless. Many miles have been painful for me, demanding mental and physical endurance. From here the passes get lower and less demanding. I’m grateful for that, but it’s hard to walk away from something so special, despite the pain and endurance it may require. I have a reverence and respect for the Sierras because they demand it. But also because they deserve it. The beauty has been seemingly endless. It’s been like living in a fantasy world. Rivers and trees, and mountains. I’m just a tourist walking through. I take comfort in that. These mountains will be here when I turn my back. I hope we may cherish these wild areas forever. If I could can and spoon feed to the masses what I’ve seen in the past 300 miles, I would.
I wish I could share the grandiosity, the tranquility, the force, the fragility and peace I’ve found here in the Sierras. I want people to fall in love with nature the way that I have in this 300 mile love affair. There’s peace a simplicity here away from what we’ve built.
Alas we cannot stay. We will not flip on our feet and walk south through the passes and the meadows we have come. We must go North.
We wind along a seemingly endless ridge. My feet grow fickle with the tilted trail as I’m spoiled to an ongoing panoramic view of snowy peaks. We walk above a deep valley, green so far below. A river snakes along the valley floor paralleling my path along the ridge line, thousands of feet above it. The trail continues to tease us, climbing upward when we thought we were done. It winds around corners, crosses over high points, as we stumble across melting snow fields then rise upward again. Finally we cross a saddle and we can see the highway below, crossing Sonora Pass. It’s a long windy trail to the bottom but eventually we make it.
At the bottom we meet a man who asks us questions about the trail. He walks with us a little further down the road, so curious to learn about our experience. When he learns we’re heading to Kennedy Meadows he offers to give us a ride, and we happily accept. On our drive downward he asks more questions about the trail. His name is Steve and he’s a massage therapist. He’s incredibly kind and curious. I like him.
When we finally arrived to Kennedy Meadows, it is bustling. It’s like a small mountains outpost with cabins, a store and a restaurant. The word is there’s also a saloon. Steve drops us off and we thank him.
There are no beds for the night, but we pay for a shower and laundry, then are shown to the hiker area, a small area behind the lodge with picnic tables and a canvas awning to provide shade. I’m overwhelmed by the people, noise and bustle. Yet it’s nice at the same time. The hiker area reeks of burning marijuana. It seems that many hikers run on it.
We enjoy a fresh lunch then pick up our food resupply and shower. Before we know it it’s time for dinner. We join two hikers at a table. There’s Pacman and Tanuka. They are friendly and we have conversations about the trail, the environment, and human behavior. I eat the special, prime rib with a baked potato, and corn. There’s a salad and soup as a starter. Bread pudding is for desert. Lupine has the trout. It’s an amazing meal that leaves us satisfied. Afterwards I am exhausted. I must get to a bed.
Lupine and I walk to the campground down the road and pitch our tent under a giant cedar. It’s beautiful like most things in this land. We talk to the camp host, who says this is his fist year here. He’s loving it. He grew up about 70 miles from here but said he’d never been here. He usually lives in Bakersfield. He’s in his 70s and says he’d like to do this for another 20 years. He points out the bark on the giant tree, which is rippled into a wavy texture. “It’s the wind that does that” he says, explaining how the wind causes the bark to spiral as the tree grows. After a brief and pleasant conversation we bid him goodnight.
We then crawl into our tent, nestled at the foot of the giant cedar. Goodnight friend. I am exhausted. Tomorrow is another day on trail.