Today was going to be the day we got back to the trail and hike 800m ascent over 20 kilometers, however, we still pretty much slept as long as we liked (so until around 8). We then packed all of our billion kilos (25-30kg) of belongigs and food and continued to the kitchen. We ate SO MUCH for breakfast (because we had of course bought too much food) that we didn’t really get hungry for the rest of the day.
We left the hostel around 10 and nearly walked all the way out of Bishop before we got a ride. We met Blake who lives in Mammoth and who used to be a skibum and do lots of hiking and climbing but because life happened he is now working at an oil platform close to LA. An intereting point he shared was that he moved to Mammoth only for a couple seasons to ski, but then he discovered that there is a lifetime of things to do around here so he decided to make it his home and we could totally understand that just from being less than a week in these amazing mountains We talked a lot about his job and Mammoth and bears one of them even managed to get in to his car last night but luckily it didn’t do any damage. Even though we only hoped to get to Independence and then get another hitch up to the trail head which was another 15 miles of lonley mountain road, Blake was an awesome guy and decided to drive us all the way to the trailhead which was amazing, thanks Blake! This ride was definitely worth the wait and we hope to meet Blake again in Mammoth.
Our backpacks were the heaviest they’ve ever been – 9 days worth of food, ice axes, crampons and bear canisters. At least the water carry is not an issue anymore. Ahead of us was the long ascent to the Kearsarge Pass and then back to the PCT. We planned to camp as close as possible to Glen Pass so that it’d be easy in the morning when the snow was crunchy.
A decent amount of snow had melted away since we had gone off trail – that made us hopeful and less tired, too. The ascent up to Kearsarge was hard but somehow went fast and without troubles – much less snow & postholing than when we had gone down, despite it being midday. The skies were cloudy but it was pretty warm and there wasn’t much wind. After the long descent, again with much less snow, we stopped for lunch right before we hit the PCT. Because we weren’t really hungry due to the massive breakfast so we just forced down the heavy two bananas and an orange that we hadn’t managed to eat while in town.
We then continued up towards Glen Pass and met a few other hikers camping alongside the trail spread over a mile or so. The tentsite we had been aiming for was occupied and because of the large amounts of snow all around we were forced to keep hiking until we found something. The trail was now pretty much all snow-covered so the only place we managed to find was on top of a big boulder in the middle of a snowfield. It was a bit lopsided and we couldn’t use the stakes but as it was a very calm evening we deemed it ok – we were tired and it was already almost eight in the evening. So we set up camp but didn’t do a real dinner as we usually do because we were still not very hungry. Instead, we set our alarms for four o’clock and went to sleep – clouds far below us in the valley.
After pressing snooze two times we finally managed to wake our sorry asses up and make breakfast. The sky turned from starry-black to morning blue as we packed up our tent and set off towards the Glen Pass. The snow was nice and crispy so it was easy to walk. It took us about two hours to climb the pass, with our super heavy packs.
The weather was calm and clear as we reached the pass and we could see the steep “trail” (footprints in the snow) going downhill so we put on our crampons and set off. We could see that two other hikers had just reached the bottom of the slope. We moved quickly downhill and over the snowy fields, slowly descending towards the lakes and rivers on the valley floor. When the snow turned patchy we removed the crampons and continued, crossing streams, mud and icy rocks. Mistaking ice for wetness Kristians slipped two times on ice and consequently broke the hip belt buckle of his Osprey backpack- now he just ties the pack on with the adjustment straps. He also hit his hand pretty bad a tought that he had broken some fingers, but it ended up all good, I guess the backpack took the biggest impact.
At around 9-10 the snow turned soft and we started to posthole – but luckily we had just reached the end of the snow. We had a quick lunch and chatted briefly with another hiker who passed us – a girl that had also stayed at the hostel in Bishop.
The trail then continued alongside a big river and crossed forests and streams and wetlands. Some river crossings later we reached an impressive suspension bridge and again met the girl that had passed us before – we had another break as we were not in a hurry, it was going to be a short day as we just wanted to reach the last campsite prior to the next pass.
Now the trail continued up but as we were traversing a south-facing slope it was nice and snow-free, even summer-like. We reached the campsite in the forest before five in the afternoon and found two other hikers already there, having a campfire. As we were just settling in and resting, the girl from the hostel again passed us – she planned to cross the next pass the same evening, if possible (it was 7km and 750 meters of ascent ahead). We wished her luck and then had our dinner.
We decided to go to sleep already at seven in order to wake up at three the following morning. It was strange to try to sleep with daylight but it helps if you slide the hat over the eyes. The sky was clear as we zipped up the tent doors – a good sign for the next day’s weather.
It wasn’t too cold to wake up at 3am but nevertheless it was unpleasant. This, however, was how it was going to be for most of the Sierras as we need to cross the snowfields early in the morning when the snow is still crispy and holds the bodyweight.
After breakfast and packing up we set off in the darkness. We had 750 meters of ascent and 7 kilometers untill the Pinchot pass. After about a kilometer we stood in front of a descent size stream and as we didn’t want to get our feet wet we lifted a big log over the water and threw in some rocks to stabilize it – it worked we had built a bridge!
The snow started very soon as we reached an upper plateau. As it started to get brighter a cold breeze also set in but as we were ascending it didn’t matter much it just kept us from sweating while going up. When we neared the final steep climb we put on our crampons. We reached the pass at around 7 am and could enjoy sunshine, clear skies and gorgeous views in both directions if the pass.
The downhill was not as steep as some of the previous passes have been but the length of the snowpack surely made up for it. We also crossed many a river but luckily they all had either a snowbridge or some other method of crossing without getting our feet wet. The snow finally ended just as we started to posthole and we reached the lowest point of the day’s hike – a big river. This river wasn’t too fast or deep but sure was wide. After changing shoes and pants for Crocs and shorts we crossed the river – because it was pretty wide and very very cold midway through the pain going through the feet of forzen nerve ends was so intense that it almost made me scream. As we emerged on the other side we just stood there in pain for some minutes until it went away.
As it was a nice spot and there was a lovely big rock there we decided to have our lunchbreak. Besides filling in water and eating we also ended up having a short nap. The super early wake-up had slightly messed up our sleep schedule.
After that unusually long lunchbreak the trail started to ascend again and it wasn’t long until we were waist deep in wet snow, postholing. It took us a few hours to walk just a few kilometers. Moving forward was tough but we really wanted to reach the South Fork Kings River in order to cross it and get it out of our minds – this was where a girl had been swept away and died last year. When we finally, after hours of postholing, reached the river we looked at the map and decided to walk upstream along the river because that’s what the trail was doing on the other side anyway. We ended up finding a place where the stream split into two and where we could use a snowbridge to cross.
We planned to find a campsite as soon as possible but there was literally nothing! A couple of rocks and trees here and there but everything else was fully snowcovered. No other choice – we kept going forwards. Luckily, as this area was a huge plateau, somehow the snowpack had been melting enough to become very packed and so, even though it was fully daytime and we should’ve been postholing, we managed to hike for many kilometers with only going down in to snow holes a few times. Our shoes were of course soaked and feet wet and cold so when we finally found a place we quickly set them out to dry – there was still 3 hours of daylight left and the sky was clear.
Our tentsite was one of the best we’ve had so far: about a kilometer from the climb to the pass, overlooking the whole valley and numerous peaks – a frozen lake was our neighbour 20m away. We boiled the snow in order to get water for tea and cooking.
As the evening progressed, however, some clouds started to roll in, the wind rose and later on it even snowed for a bit. The wind did eventually calm down, however, and we had a calm night.
We awoke to a calm and clear morning, albeit still completely dark and very very cold the coldest so far. Somehow we managed to cook breakfast and pack up the camp by 4:20. We put our crampons on immediately as we were surrounded by snow and nothing else – the steep ascent started about 500 meters from us.
We decided to cut a bit and zig-zagged directly up the steep face of the mountain rather than going around gradually (as the trail actually does). It was very tough and slow going and it felt like my ankles were twisting from side to side as I made my way up. As slipping on that slope could easily be lethal we had our ice-axes ready to do self-arrest if needed. As we were about to reach the top we also saw two other hikers just about to start the climb – it was the German hikers, Tom and Red Flower. The view from the top was just as amazing as expected but it was a little bit windy so we didn’t stay for long. Besides – we still had a lot of snow to cross before the sun makes it soft.
The descent was pretty much just as steep as the ascent had been but of course went much faster. We quickly made our way towards the valley floor and treeline, around lakes and rock outcrops. The weather was clear and getting warmer. Eventually the Germans also caught up with us and we chatted for a bit and as they seemed to be going faster we let them ahead. The hike turned from snow fields to more rocky and steep switchbacks. We were pretty much descending a cliff with a waterfall on our left. We passed another hiker who was still in his tent even though it was already past 8:00 o’clock. He had set up his tent on a very small edge almost on the trail we greeted him and continued the descent. Once we got down we passed Germans again as we reached the forest – they were having their breakfast.
The hike through the forest was magnificent – it was so warm and summery, besides the views of snowy mountains you wouldn’t know it was still spring here. We also passed a magnificent wide meadow with gorgeous views. After a few previous very snowy days it felt really great to be in a place like that. After a few hours of hike through the valley we reached the end or rather an intersection of it where it split in to two other valleys one going up to our right and another going down to our left. That’s where we found a place to have lunch, dry our stuff (our tent cover still had ice and snow in it from the morning even though we had already hiked for about 7 hours. And as per usual these days we also had a little nap.
We decided to hike 8 more kilometers, starting the ascent towards the next objective: Muir Pass. The ascent was very gradual and and the valley was not less amazing than the previous and the weather remained good for the mist of it. Despite our tempo having been very slow during the last days due to our heavy packs (and the terrain, of course) we somehow managed this distance and 400 meters of ascent in our usual time: 2 hours and 10 minutes. Looking back down to the valley we just came up from the mountains on the right side looked like giant faces coming out of ground looking towards the sky. The clouds had now started to roll in and we felt a few raindrops falling on us.
As it was still plenty of daylight and we had some energy left we decided to hike just a bit more – until we hit the snowline. That’d make our morning hike easier as we’d be closer to the Pass. After some snowpatches we hit one big snowfield but as Kristians insisted there was a tentside on the other side of it we bushwacked (literally) above the snow to reach the possible camp. We didn’t want to go through the snow so that our shoes would be dry in the morning.
We were lucky and found a nice tentsite just on the other side of the snow field. As we set up the tent it started to rain harder and so our music for the evening was the sound of rain on the raincover and the roar of the river just 20 meters from us.