PCT 2019: Day 122, Carson River to Kennedy Canyon Creek

I see my freedom from across the way

As Bluejay and I prepared to leave this morning, we were still processing Sunkist's sudden departure. Nevertheless, we intended to move on. There is a lot of hiking yet to be done.

Our plan is set and we only need to complete it. The difference now is we'll complete it without one of our partners.

DateThursday, September 5, 2019
WeatherIncreasing cloudiness and a threat of thunderstorms, but only a few sprinkles; high temperature in the upper 60s
Trail ConditionsLong climbs reaching above 10,500 feet, some gravel sections of trail
Today's Miles20.2
Trip Miles1818.0

Today was the day we had scheduled to pick up our food and bear canisters, which were being delivered to us at Sonora Pass.

We will be required to carry bear canisters in Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic national parks, as well as parts of other national parks and national forests that are ahead of us.

For all practical purposes, that means we must carry them from Sonora Pass until we reach the south end of the Sierra.

I left our campsite at my usual time, about 30 minutes after Bluejay. The trail followed the East Fork of Carson River, going gradually upstream through a canyon.

The canyon was flanked by White Mountain to the east and Stanislaus Peak to the west.

On the way up the river, the trail crossed several small streams. These were part of the river's headwaters. Eventually, this water will flow more than 200 miles into the Nevada desert and empty in an endorheic (drainage with no outlet) basin called Carson Sink.

When I reached the end of the canyon, the trail began a long climb to a ridge that extended from Sonora Peak.

Part of the way up the climb, I looked back to see the canyon I was leaving. In the distance, Highland Peak and Silver Peak were getting some rain.

In fact, dark clouds were beginning to form all around.

Once I reached the top of the climb, I could see Sonora Pass and a range of mountains ahead of me. Many of the peaks stood above 10,000 feet. This was where the High Sierra gets real.

On the way down to the pass, light rain fell a couple of times, but each shower was brief, lasting less than a minute.

A little more concerning, though, was the rumble coming from distant clouds. It appeared that stormy weather was heading our way.

The possibility of a storm wasn't going to keep me from taking photos of wildflowers, however. The bright purple of brewer's fleabane caught my eye and I had to stop.

When I reached the road at Sonora Pass, I made my way over to a parking lot and picnic area. Bluejay was already there.

We thought we might find Sunkist there, but she had picked up her resupply delivery and left by the time Bluejay arrived.

Casey, the owner of Sonora Pass Resupply, gave me the box Kim had sent to him. It contained food and a bear canister, so I was set to go for the next five days.

Casey offered us coffee and fried zucchini, which we enjoyed while repacking our food and strapping on our bear canisters.

Before we left, Bluejay and I wanted to assess the weather. The next section of the trail would be risky to walk in threatening weather. It was climbing well over 10,000 feet, with long stretches above the treeline.

Casey suggested we might be able to get a cell signal if we walked over to a ledge overlooking the highway.

The signal wasn't ideal, but I was able to get a radar image on my phone and it showed a storm was coming up from Yosemite. As best as I could tell, it was passing to the east. If it stayed on that track, we would avoid the worst of the weather.

By now, the clouds near us appeared to be a little less threatening, so we decided to get going. Just to be safe, I suggested a bail out option in case we needed to stop early.

The trail crossed California Highway 108, where we met some motorcyclists and day hikers. They offered encouragement, knowing we were about to enter some high and exposed mountains in iffy weather.

From the road, the trail immediately began a 1,300-foot climb in 2.5 miles.

Initially, there were more wildflowers to look at on the way up, including orange sneezeweed. This variety is at home at high elevations.

Farther up the trail, I saw some white mountain buckwheat.

Another charming wildflower, rockfringe willowherb, was nearby. It thrives on rocky mountainsides.

Within a few minutes, the trail left the treeline as it climbed the west side of a ridge. Soon there were no more wildflowers and almost no vegetation at all.

After crossing to the east side of the ridge, the terrain wasn't as barren. I could also see more of the storm and was glad to confirm it was moving away from the direction we were taking.

Forty minutes later, the sky turned darker and I could see heavy rainfall beyond a distant ridge. The storm was still tracking away from the trail, but I thought for sure I'd get at least a little wet.

I was wrong. The storm stayed to the east and I remained dry.

The trail moved back to the other side of the ridge and entered Emigrant Wilderness. The PCT would remain in this wilderness area until it crossed into Yosemite National Park.

Ahead, I could see Leavitt Peak, a massive mountain of dark volcanic rock standing 11,569 feet above sea level.

As I crossed this barren section, my bear canister came loose from the strap holding it to the top of my pack. This was the first time I had carried a bear canister, and apparently, I failed to secure the strap snugly enough.

When the bear canister fell, it hit the trail and began to roll. I managed to stick a foot in front of the canister, preventing it from rolling more than a thousand feet down the ridge. There was nothing to stop it from rolling out of sight.

It should be no surprise I breathed a sigh of relief. I then shuddered at the thought of watching five days of food tumble down the mountain.

After securing the bear canister again on my pack, I continued up the trail. It crossed a narrow pass near the summit of Leavitt Peak. Standing at 10,790 feet, I could see Latopie Lake below me, and beyond it, a glorious view of the High Sierra.

Far in the distance, I could see Tower Peak. The snow-covered mountain stood more than 14 miles away at the northern border of Yosemite.

More importantly, I saw that the clouds were beginning to break up to the south, the direction I was heading. There were even a couple of encouraging gaps of blue sky.

As the trail descended on the east side of the ridge, more mountain lakes came into view. I could also make out some trails, but it was a little difficult to determine which one was the PCT.

On the way down, the trail not only passed the lakes but also traversed a large, icy snowbank.

I didn't slip on the snow, but I slipped and fell later on gravel. I immediately scrambled to make sure my bear canister didn't fall again. It stayed secure this time.

The trail continued to descend on a gravel ridge. With no trees to block my view, I could see far ahead to where the trail made big switchbacks.

The only noteworthy things to happen the rest of the way down were a brief sighting of a marmot and a short conversation with a northbound section hiker. Otherwise, the descent was uneventful and my bear canister didn't come loose again.

At 6:30 p.m. a forest came into view and I knew I was getting near Kennedy Canyon Creek. I arrived at the campsite 30 minutes later. Bluejay was there waiting for me.

Our first day together as a two-person team was successful. It was the day we entered one of the most revered sections of the PCT. Tomorrow and for many days to come, breathtaking scenery awaits us.

When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free
Makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love

And it seems like and it feels like
And it seems like, yes it feels like
A brand new day
A brand new day, yeah, yeah, yeah

From "Brand New Day" by Van Morrison


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.