High Sierra Trail

Selections from Jonathan’s Trail Journal

A few months ago TSH friend, Kathie (Fort Lonesome) contacted Jonathan: “Do you want to hike the High Sierra Trail? Jonathan didn’t know exactly what that was but was a fan of the High Sierra so he said yes. It turns out the trail starts in Sequoia National Park, eventually meets up with the John Muir trail and continues to the top of Mount Whitney. In early August, Kathie from Austin Texas, Nurse Jim from Pacific Grove, California and Jonathan from Boise, Idaho headed out to the wilderness. What follows are excerpts from Jonathan’s trail journal.

Day 1

Crescent Meadow. Hit the trail by 10:00 am, moments after Jim had fallen in love with the ranger who issued our hiking permit. Saw a bear in the first 15 minutes of the hike. Kathie fell in love with the bear. We camped at a deer infested campground appropriately called Bearpaw Meadow. We had heard that there would be beer for sale at this camp spot. It seemed impossible until later in the evening we heard cheering and laughter just upslope a bit. It turned out there was a High Sierra Camp, also called Bearpaw Meadow, and that was where the beer was. Kathie said the camp should be called Beer-paw Meadow, because she was thirsty. If it hadn’t been day one of our hike we would have hiked the mile or less to the potential beer but as it was, we were happy to go to sleep. (For those who know me and know I don’t drink beer; there were other mouths to feed and the other mouths love beer so much). I thought I would do laundry every day:

Day 2

Left Bearpaw Meadow between 7 and 8 am. Deer were heard walking around my tent during the night. I slept in short bits. But that’s ok because I was also awake for short bits. In an attempt to follow ultra-light hiking practices I had brought a tiny sleeping pad (a Barbie camping pad)– about 30 inches long. And way to thin (like Barbie). The jerks that I hiked with both brought cushy inflatable pads. One problem with not being as comfy as your hiking mates is that you’re awake to hear them snore.

We climbed (walked) over Kaweah Gap. Precipice Lake (made famous by the late Ansel Adams) is along this part of the trail:

This is where I run into the difficulty of using words to describe things. Words are what people use for hyperbole and for lies. So if I say that climbing (walking) Kaweah Gap was stunningly beautiful you would be forgiven for assuming that by “stunningly” I mean “really” or maybe “pretty” as in “pretty beautiful.” In truth “stunningly” isn’t a strong enough word. Kaweah Gap is equaled only by the other most beautiful places on earth. On this hike we saw some of the others. We passed glass-calm Hamilton Lakes, and wove our way up the slope, lousy with wildflowers and crystal clear streams. Strangely, we found a bobcat that looked to have died near the trail.

Normally, when we encounter a dead animal, a car was the cause of death. A car was not complicit in this poor cat’s demise. It rained a little.

Camped at Big Arroyo. A Boy Scout troop (Troop 291) beat us to the best spot. The Arroyo was not dry as the name implied. There were many fish visible in the water. Jim was planning to fish but unfortunately broke his fishing pole before his first attempt.

Lost my knife.

Day 3

Found my knife.

Lost my lighter. Hiked into the Kern River Valley. Stumbled upon wild raspberries. Found a note warning us that a rattlesnake (this valley was below 7000 feet after being over 11000 ft earlier that day) “at the head of the trail.” We didn’t see that or any other rattlesnakes. We camped at Kern River Hot Springs. The hot spring pool turned cloudy upon contact with our dirty skin. Luckily it is easy to empty and refill.

Day 4

We hit the John Muir Trail and camped at Wallace Creek. Jim exhibited a talent for balancing rocks. I was impressed. These rocks were still balancing on their pointy ends the next morning. Hikers walked by and stopped dead in their tracks to look at these magical rocks. We were impressed that no one knocked them over.

Day 5

Guitar Lake and Whitney base camp.

Extremely beautiful spot but crowded with Whitney hikers. Overheard conversation of young soon to be Whitney hikers: “Jill and I were talking about this. This sucks. I just want to be in bed with a Cheeseburger watching Netflix.” The next morning we saw these same youngsters (20 something) on their way down from Whitney while we were on our way up at about 7 am. They looked pretty happy.
Found my lighter. Here’s my kitchen:

Day 6

We rose at 4 and started hiking up Whitney about 4:45. The early morning is the best way to see of what the switchbacks up Whitney look like. There is a constellation of headlamps winding its way up the mountain. Walking up the nation’s (if you don’t count Alaska) highest mountain as the sun rises is a good idea. I recommend it and I hope to do it again.

At the summit a proud hiker lit a ten-inch cigar (exactly ten inches) then proceeded to take selfies. Lots of selfies. The gentleman must have assumed his summit celebration was worthy of sharing with everyone because there was nowhere to go but down to escape the smell. We stayed anyway and enjoyed the view, and it was a good one.

After the summit we went back to Guitar Lake, packed up and headed north on the John Muir Trail (JMT). We camped at junction Meadow where we saw either an untraditional couple with three llamas or maybe it was a father/daughter with three llamas or, hopefully, a grandfather/granddaughter with three llamas. Seeing the llamas made me seriously contemplate training our youngest alpacas to be pack animals. Alpacas cannot carry much but neither can I. Maybe they could carry camera gear. I brought a dearth of camera power on this hike; an iPhone and a point and shoot Pentax. Neither was enough.
We crossed Big Horn Plateau. A vast, barren plateau with stands of Foxtail pines. We were told to look for “rocks with legs.” Those are bighorn sheep. We saw many rocks but no legs. A couple of the dead trees were host to about 12 ravens until suddenly a prairie falcon started dive-bombing them. The ravens put up with the onslaught for a while then took off en mass for a safer, falcon-free perch to the north.

Day 7

Started our ascent of Forester Pass.

A few miles at a gentle rise then the assault on the summit, a set of switchbacks. We thought of the tough, brave people who built this trail and then passed a plaque commemorating one who died during the process. I think a rock hit him. I was too busy trying to be the first one up the pass to read. Yep, I am a jerk. At the summit there were a couple of dudes doing the JMT in a week? Less than a week? Let’s just say they were doing it in a hurry. There were also White-throated swallows that sounded like miniature jets as they whizzed past our ears. The descent lasted the rest of the trip, all the way to Road’s End, King’s Canyon National Park.

Day 8

More hiking. Rocks. Trees. Smoke (from forest fires).

Day 9

See “Day 8.”

Day 10

Bear. Good bear, ate pinecones and raspberries.

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