The day started perfectly – it was warm, sunny and the section of the trail until Kennedy Meadows was to be easy. We packed up and got going around 8am and in less than two hours reached the Kennedy Meadows road. As there was no phone signal we walked up to the General Store, which was less than a mile away. As we were about to enter we got talking to these two Dutch guys who were out car camping for the weekend. We told them about the PCT and they told us about their lives and the dog, Max. They ended up helping us by giving us a ride to the Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, which is where our packages were waiting.
Grumpy Bear’s Retreat is a really nice family-run business right across the road from the gear store Triple Crown Outfitter. Hikers can camp here for free, do laundry and have a shower for a small fee, receive their packages for free and most importantly – get a good meal in good company!
As we arrived we met up with Amanita, Space Jam and Calculus – it’s so cool how we keep leapfrogging each other and seeing these great people over again. We got our four packages – two with food for six days and two with winter clothing for the upcoming Sierra section.
We had quick showers and then set our laundry going. By using the slow internet Kristians found out that the shoes he had ordered (and that were supposed to arrive today) will not, in fact, arrive until the 8th so he was pretty upset as he had been very excited to get into shoes where his toes wouldn’t stick out from. He sent an angry letter to Amazon and got some store credit, though.
Everything besides the shoe issue seemed to go smooth so we continued to the gear store. The Triple Crown Outfitters is run by the famous double-triple crown hiker Yogi and her triple crown hiker boyfriend. This location is ideal for such a store because, depending on their starting time, lots of hikers will be needing winter equipment as they enter the Sierras and also a bear canister, which is compulsory.
So we managed to find everything we needed – ice axes, crampons, dry bag, gaiters, some food, shoelaces, etc. We needed to adjust our shoes to the crampons, however, as the back part was for narrow shoes. So we marked the shoes and then made small cuts into the soles. So now, we thought, we were done, but as we started to pay the troubles only began. Neither of us could use our cards (we called the customer service – apparently some issue with contacting the bank), paypal didn’t work and we didn’t have cash either. So all we could do, really, was to go back, have a pizza and beer and hope that the card issue would be solved in a few hours. This of course meant that our plan of leaving Kennedy Meadows in the early afternoon and hike 10 more kilometers (6 miles) would be questionable.
Anyway – after some hours of waiting, stressing and eating we returned to the store to see if our luck had turned. Kristians had successfully paid for a beer with the card so we assumed it was working. So we tried to pay at the gear shop and guess what? It finally worked, after three hours of waiting! We were so happy – we could now finish packing and get going.
Calculus left about 1,5 hours before us and Amanita & Space Jam were to depart the next morning. We got a ride to the trailhead and only hiked about 5 kilometers, to the Kennedy Meadows campsite. Unfortunately we didn’t catch up with Calculus, he was about a mile ahead, as it turned out later.
We didn’t have any alarm as we decided we’re not in any rush, so it was great to sleep until 7. So we took it easy and only set off at about 8:20.
The day ahead was pretty rough: 38km/25 miles and 1600 meters of ascent. Luckily it has been very hot recently so we knew that the first 40 miles were supposedly snow-free. That’s why we decided to push more miles as we had a “date” with Sylvan in Bishop on the 12th (because we knew the snow section might slow us down to about 13 miles a day).
An added bonus of difficulty for the upcoming Sierra section was the extra weight of the bear canister, ice axe and crampons. It was indeed a tough day but the nice thing about it was not having to carry more than a liter of water at a time – there are so many streams everywhere. We climbed the first 800m ascent and made it to a nice valley and crossed the Southfork Kern river. The scenery became more and more alpine and we could see all the snowcapped peaks around.
We didn’t see anyone but three day hikers the whole day – it really was getting wild. And we had a new strategy – because the day was so long we decided to eat our dinner already in the middle of the second ascent and then keep hiking on. This way we could get more energy for the final push and then go straight to sleep when we reached the campsite.
By late afternoon we reached the top of the second ascent and started to slowly descend towards our goal for the day – a stream with some tentsites. We were really hoping that our buddy Calculus would be there but we couldn’t be sure – he had to fill his 22-miles-a-day goal – but we also knew that he was carrying an insanely heavy pack because he didn’t plan to resupply before the Vermillion Valley Resort.
As we were ascending we started to hear this weird low sound – at first I thought it was a factory in a distance or something shaking in my pack but as we continued we suddenly realized what it was – we saw a wild turkey! It was all black, pretty small and kept hopping around – not sure whether it was his mating call or a way to scare away the prefators. But – a pretty cool sight and we even got it on video.
My feet were giving me a bit of trouble during the downhill – in Kennedy Meadows I had switched my wrecked Altras for the lightweight boots I had posted for myself – the shoes I had loved in the jungle and when hiking in Norway. Even though those boots had previously been very spacious it turned out that my feet had swollen considerably and so were a bit tight.
Anyway, when we reached camp we instantly saw Calculus! As he had also just gotten there we set up our tents and then made a fire. We sat around the heatsource for a couple of hours and enjoyed each other’s company. We talked about gay sports, ginger presidents, fiance’s and cool hiking trails.
We again woke up as we felt, around 7. Calculus had already woken about an hour before us but as he is super slow at getting ready (his insane bag takes forever to pack) we still ended up leaving camp before him. Nevertheless he caught up with us before the first water source and we hanged out a bit. But because he currently hikes slower due to his pack we had to split up – we hoped he’d manage to hike until the same campsite as we were planning to, Chicken Spring Lake.
It was another day of perfect weather – clear skies and no winds. We walked on the hillsides, in pine forests and across large meadows with amazing views. We managed to get to the top of the big climb of the day – there we had a nice lunch and then a water refill at the Diaz Creek. I also had to tape my feet here as the boots were really beginning to trouble me.
We still had a long ways to go after the lunch so we decided to do as we did the day before – have lunch and hike on. About 8 kilometers before our final destination the snowpatches on the trail got long and deep – it wasn’t really possible to avoid them by going around so we went across. As it was a warm afternoon and our packs heavy we easily fell through the snow and postholed for about an our. Due to the slushy snow our shoes were completely soaked, our legs hurt from the sharp snow. We were tired and annoyed so we decided to go down to the meadow for the stream and to have our dinner.
After dinner we put on our long pants and were ready for some more snow. Luckily, as we returned to the trail, the snow amount decreased and we had just a little ways to go until camp. So we pushed and enjoyed the sunset views of the surrounding peaks. We reached the lakeside stream just as it was about to get dark. We quickly walked up to to the lake to see it before it got totally dark.
But then it was time to put up the tent, we tried not to wake up another hiker who was camping there but then later four more hikers arrived – they are a bunch of young guys, people on trail call them the Millenials. Anyway – we got out of our wet shoes and into warm clothes and the sleeping bags. It was time to rest after this long day.
We had a shorter day ahead – the plan was to hike to the “base” of Mt Whitney, 28 kilometers/17miles away. That base is actually a ranger station with camping sites that’s 8 miles from the Whitney peak. We had been pushing hard on the previous days in order to make it to Bishop by the 12th and because we didn’t know what the snow conditions were going to be further ahead (could be we would be slowed down considerably).
The highlight of the day (besides some postholing right after where we camped) would be the first bigger river crossing. Kristians of course used his crocs but I went barefoot, as did three other hikers that had gotten there at the same time. The water was super cold – we were in pain for a minute after the crossing, just from the sheer shock. The stream itself was manageable, up to around knees and the riverbed pretty ok regarding rocks.
After the crossing we had lunch right by the riverbank, we took it nice and easy because we weren’t in a hurry. Next up: a 500m ascent; always lovely with a full stomach. But surprisingly it went fast, we walked through some meadows and pine forests and could enjoy the views of the Sierra Nevada snowy peaks. The only peak we still couldn’t see until the very end was Mt Whitney itself.
Most of the trail was snow-free so it was relatively easy-going except for the last very steep switchback-descent to the Whitney trailhead. But, as Kristians said, we negotiated ourselves down that, too. We crossed a big meadow and two streams (via fallen trees) and walked the 1.2 miles to the Crabtree Meadows and Ranger Station. At this huge meadow we set up our tent and met some other hikers who had just gotten back from ascending Whitney.
We made friends with Baywatch aka Nick. Turns out we’re all engineers and climbers and hikers and that he, too, will be spending some upcoming days in Bishop to climb and boulder. It’s insane how the trail just brings people together! We exchanged phone numbers and then chatted for a while until we had dinner.
Later, when it was pretty much already almost dark, Calculus arrived. We also found out that Amanita and Space Jam were camping just 1 mile before and that they too would be doing Whitney the next day. It was so nice to catch up with him again but we couldn’t chill out too much because of the next day – the plan was to wake up at 3 so that we could walk out at 4 with just our winter gear, some water and snacks. And so it was that it was time for a short sleep.