Thursday, May 18 — day 53

14 Non-PCT miles to exit the Sierra Nevada

It was a cold night! I had to pull my down jacket into my sleeping bag to keep warm. In the morning I found the tent stakes and my hiking poles frozen hard to the ground.

I knew before I started this adventure that the Horseshoe Meadows Road was closed due to rock slides but had been hoping it would be cleared and open by the time I arrived so I could thumb a ride down to Lone Pine. No such luck… it looks like I’m hiking out of the Sierras.

I have two options: hike down the road or hike down the Cottonwood Creek trail.  I soon came upon Cottonwood Creek and it was roaring!  I had talked with the rangers office before I left and learned the trail is unmaintained, steep and “a bit rough”.  I checked the map and noted four or five river crossings.  I quickly decided there was just too much water to even consider one crossing.

So, the road it will be…
The cold morning allowed me to capture some nice ice crystals on the banks of the creek

I climbed up Out of the Horseshoe Meadows basin and got one last look at Trail Pass

And Cottonwood Creek far below now

I rounded the corner and found what was the last remaining boulders to be removed

And then got a good view of what I will be walking down– about 7,000 feet down over a 10 mile set of switchbacks 

That’s the Alabama Hills on the left with Lone Pine adjacent and the Owens Lake on the right.

I passed a pair of PCTers hiking up the road- they had hiked out during the storm earlier in the week in whiteout conditions and heavy snow.  They knew they would not be able to make it over Forester Pass and to Onion Valley in these conditions.  Now that the storm had passed they were returning to continue their through hike.  They pointed out that the work crews showed little interest in offering rides.  That turned out to be my experience as well, but at least I was heading downhill.

I decided to make the most of it and captured a few more of the local blooms

Where the mountain and alluvial fan meet I crossed the gate across the road.  

There was a horse ranch here that I was hoping would have some vehicle traffic and spare me the remaining 9 miles to Lone Pine.  A dog came running up from the ranch and started bounding through the sagebrush next to the road.  He seemed to delight in zigging and zagging around and jumping over the sages.  I kept trying to get him to return home but whenever I stopped, he would stop and look longingly at me to continue.  About a mile past the ranch an SUV pulled up and the passenger called out “We love PCT hikers!  Climb in!”  Yay!!!  He then called to his dog to also get in.  I learned the dog is well known to wander up to 30 miles away and either return or get picked up and returned by a Good Samaritan.

I was dropped off in downtown Lone Pine

My trip is now officially done.  My Los Gatos friend and neighbor Steve Schaniel will be collecting me on Friday to take me to June Lake for the weekend and then home.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 17 — day 52

PCT miles 745.29 to 750.83

Today my goal is to get to Chicken Springs Lake then exit the PCT to Horseshoe Meadow.  I got up early while the snow was still hard and donned my Microspikes to start the ridge traverse.  The entire trip will be on snow

I was able to get a good View of Horseshoe Meadows

After a few miles I finally reached my trips goal: Chicken Spring Lake 

I was so excited!  Fifty two days and 751 miles of walking had finally brought me to this point!  

I celebrated with a lunch of salami, cheese, cookies and candies.  I then headed back before the snow got too soft.

I said goodbye to all the PCT through hikers that continued on to Rock Creek and points north — I wish I could join you!

I returned to Trail Pass and headed down to Horseshoe Meadows.  I was careful in crossing the meadow because the streams were eroding the snow

I was careful to cross the ice bridges over the steams at their thickest points

Along the way I encountered pink snow – an algae that grows on snow

After crossing the meadow I arrived at the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead where two years ago I had started my extended John Muir Trail hike.  

With my trip last year from Tuolumne Meadows to Lake Tahoe, this now means that I have hiked from Mexico to Lake Tahoe, I have completed the first 1,110.99 miles of the PCT!

I set up camp at the walk in campsite for Cottonwood Lakes.  Due to the road closure I had the entire area to myself.  I started a small campfire in an attempt to fro my shoes, but the wood was awfully wet and preferred to smoke rather than burn.

I think I only succeed in giving them a nice smoky smell!

I went to sleep feeling both excited that I had reached my hiking goal and sad that my journey is almost over.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 16 — day 51

PCT miles 730.00 to 745.29

I awoke early and read from the latest weather report that that things were looking better – overcast, but no more snow.  When I exited the tent I noticed My tent had been visited by a mouse/rat overnight

The snowstorm dumped between 2-3 inches of snow everywhere.  I was worried at first that it would be hard to track the trail, 

But was able to see the faint trace of the trail under the fresh snow

I only had to check my GPS a few times, which made travel a bit faster.  I did not see anybody this day, but did see tracks that were headed higher than the PCT and did not see them return.  Not sure what that meant, but perhaps he had an other goal in mind

The new snow was a bit sticky and would regularly clump up under my Microspikes making me feel I had growing platform shoes.

I saw tracks of mice, chipmunks and coyotes 

After traversing several miles I came to Trail Pass where I set up camp.  I had a great view of Big Whitney Meadow 

I was glad to have weathered the storm well and get back on track to complete my goal.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 15 — day 50

PCT miles 719.18 to 730.00

It was a chilly morning, but I was still excited about being so close to my goal! As I hiked further up trail I started finding more and more snow.  
And the streams have cool ice sculptures 

The weather report I pulled from my satellite texting system said there was a 60% chance of rain this morning. The clouds continued to build as I hiked, but it was great to be hiking in the Sierras!

At this higher elevation the forest consists of Foxtail and Lodgepole Pines – here are their cones:

When I reached Big Dry Meadow in the ominously named Death Canyon I started seeing snow flurries and decided the storm was here to stay and that was I should stop for the day. As I worked on setting up my tent the snowfall intensified. I laid out the footprint and before I could lay out the tent base it was covered in a fine layer of snow. Same thing before I could get the poles attached and rain fly in place. I stuffed my pack into the vestibule, climbed in (trying to carry in as little snow as I can). I changed into my long wool top and bottom and into my sleeping bag because pretty much the only way I fit in my tent is laying down. It was only 2 pm and I was worrying about how sore my body might become and how stir crazy I may grow by lying down for the next 18 hours.

After just an hour or so I peeked outside the tent and saw how transformed the landscape has become

I obtained another weather report and confirmed that the snowstorm should abate overnight. I received texts from my wife Liz, with input from Steve Schaniel, suggesting alternate exit options out of the Sierras should I need them. I have maps and GPS waypoints to get me to Trail Pass/Cottonwood Pass, 14 miles to the north, or 25 miles back to Kennedy Meadows to the south. The alternate exits are back the way I came and then East over trails that are buried in snow. I saw no trace of them as I walked to here. Going back also means going to higher elevation. I decided to wait for the morning’s weather report…

To my delight I found I was able to sleep for a long time without pain or anxiety.
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 14 — day 49

PCT miles 704.66 to 719.18

Piyush and I awoke around 5:30 and started making breakfast: coffee, pancakes and chickpea/cilantro patties. He is spoiling me with all this food. He even taught me how to open those small cups of creamer without spraying it everywhere!

He started his long drive home and I hit the trail. I am really enjoying hiking this section of the trail – it is a gradual uphill next to streams through a pretty valley.  

In the sandy areas just off the trail I found a cluster of ant lions. These insects create steep sided pits and wait at the base with pincers ready to grab any unfortunate ant that slips in.

I was informed by Tom(?) At the Kennedy Meadows Market that the trail north of is an excellent place to find arrowheads and other Native American artifacts. It was not long before I saw these morteros with pestols 

Tom informed me to check out the area around rock outcroppings for evidence of arrowhead shaping- flecks of obsidian. Sure enough, I did find a few chips of obsidian.

I was told obsidian is not native to this area but was brought here by Native Americans.  

The Kern is flowing very strong and luckily I did not have to ford it thanks to the bridge!

The last bit of uphill was through yet another burn area 

And then I crested the Pass and was overwhelmed by the view– I could see a beautiful Sierra meadow (Clover Meadow) and Cirque Peak (left) and Mt. Langley (right)! I was a more than a bit overwhelmed with emotions at the sight since my PCT end point is at Chicken Spring Lake near Cirque Peak. I hiked along side and above the meadow, thankfully, since it was quite marshy down there.

At the north end of the meadow the trail once again crossed the Kern River (again thankful for a strong bridge). On the flood banks across the bridge, in Monache Meadow,

I found an arrowhead, albeit slightly beat up by being washed around in the river.

The trail followed Cow Creek up a ravine and set up camp.

It did not snow, but it was chilly.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 13 — day 48

PCT miles 702.23 to 704.66
Today is a Nero day (Near-Zero miles)- Piyush from work is driving out to camp with me! I tried to sleep in but my badder had other ideas so I got up and found a seat in the rising sun. I caught a ride to the local restaurant called Grumpy Bear’s, known for their unlimited, huge pancakes and weak internet signal.

I could not finish my meal. I returned to the Market, packed up my camp site and moved to the deck area to sort my resupply. I really have no idea how many days it will take me to get to Cottonwood Pass. I know I will hit snow and that will slow me down, also the weather could go bad. I’m guessing I’ll need 5 days. I stared down every food item and came up with five days and created a return box for Piyush to take back.

Piyush arrived at 11ish and we drove to the official Kennedy Meadows Campground and selected a spot near the Kern River. The water flow is strong here too so there was no place to wade. We decided to hike up and back to where I left the PCT to get to the Market to log those 2 and 1/2 miles, and possibly see a rattlesnake and/or a Horned Lizard. All we came up with was a Leopard lizard.  Sorry, no photo of the lizard, but here is Piyush

Piyush wanted to be my personal Trail Angel and he cooked me Kal Dosa’s for lunch and Nan with two different Curries for dinner. I was stuffed! 


We started a campfire once we were certain the wind had calmed and chatted about events in the office over the last few months.  

There were no clouds and the moon was not yet up so we were able to see lots of stars and four satellites. I fell asleep as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag.  A great Nero!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 12 — day 47

PCT miles 683.10 to 702.23

Today I will hike back down these mountains to the South Fork of the Kern River and follow it up to Kennedy Meadows.  

I got up late, found my sleeping bag dewed again, and set it out to dry in the sun while I ate breakfast and studied the map and water report. That is when I noticed that the Market in Kennedy Meadows closes at 4pm. I started wondering if I could hike 20 miles in 8 hours in order to get a hamburger and soda for lunch. (it turns out I can)

I looked back to where I had come from yesterday and saw much of the area covered in clouds. I hope that helps the people hiking up through the tree Falls today!

After just a bit more up, most of the trail is down and through another burned area.

I found this cool plant I had seen a few time earlier. It’s flowers are always pointed down and so are hard to photograph, so I carefully lifted a branch and got a good shot.

When I let go of the branch, I saw this on my fingers…

The trail dropped down into a wide valley that has the South Fork of the Kern River running through it.  

Here’s a wide angle view…

I’m seeing more and more granite as I get closer to the Sierras

And I came across rattlesnake number ten

The trail met up with the Kern River at a small gorge. The snow melt has the river running fast and carrying a lot of sediment.  

It looks like recently the trail was under water due to the snow melt. I found a bobcat footprint next to the trail

I hiked up the gorge into Kennedy Meadows– this is generally considered the Southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I’m so excited to be here! I was greeted by one more Horned Lizard 

And this milestone 

Woo hoo!  700 miles!!!

The PCT hikers camp and hang out at the Kennedy Meadows Market just a half mile off the trail. I hiked up, got my burger and ran into Peter and Dave both of whom stayed with Frodo and Scout with me in San Diego. They are heading out tomorrow to get to Onion Valley, about 8 days away.   

I had set resupply packages to Kennedy Meadows, food and my microspikes I forwarded from Agua Dulce, but was surprised to have a third package from my coworkers. They sent me a bottle of wine, a flask of bourbon and a Cuban cigar!  

I have decided to pace myself and have the wine with dinner – a Friday night locals potluck that PCTers are invited to. It was great of turkey sloppy-joes, chips, cheese and olives in balsamic and chicken wings.

Just before bed I joined the PCTers campfire. “Frosty” was drinking wine from a glass she fashioned from a water bottle.

At about 8pm, just as it was getting dark, “Knots” arrived. He started at Campo and has been hiking 34 mile days, from 4am to 9pm, which is amazing! And get this: his PCT hike was training for what he is about to do: set an unsupported speed record for the Appalachian Trail starting soon! Wow, and people thought I was nuts!

Thanks for reading!