PCT 2019: Day 123, Kennedy Canyon Creek to Wilma Lake

Some folks drive the bears out of the wilderness

Bluejay and I were heading into Yosemite National Park today. The PCT doesn't go through the famous Yosemite Valley, where millions of tourists flock each year to see iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls. Still, the next few days will not lack beautiful scenery.

DateSaturday, September 7, 2019
WeatherPartly cloudy with a high temperature in the mid 60s, windy at upper elevations
Trail ConditionsAlternating between rocks and smooth path, some muddy sections and one stream ford
Today's Miles19.0
Trip Miles1837.0

The park is the start of where bear canisters are required for all backpackers. Additionally, bear-proof food lockers are provided in drive-thru campgrounds and some backcountry sites.

Yosemite is said to be where bear-proof food lockers and bear canisters were invented.

Bear protection is serious business here, but that wasn't always the case. Until the 1940s, bleachers were set up for tourists to watch bears feed on garbage dumps. The dumps weren't closed until 1970.

Before measures were enforced to protect food, too many hikers were injured and too many bears became pests. Enforcing the use of canisters and food lockers has reduced the problem but not entirely. There are reports that one bear learned how to drop a canister off a cliff to crack it open.

I left camp a little after 7 a.m. The sun was just beginning to rise above the upper rim of Kennedy Creek Canyon.

The trail followed Kennedy Creek east and downstream 1.5 miles to the West Fork of West Walker River, then turned south.

Kennedy Creek is not to be confused with Kennedy Meadows, which is a name confusing enough on its own. That's because there are two Kennedy Meadows in the Sierra.

One is often called Kennedy Meadows North and is located about ten miles west of Sonora Pass. Some thru-hikers go there to resupply, but we skipped it by having our food dropped off at the pass.

The other Kennedy Meadows is the one I walked to at the end of the desert section on Day 54. When I finish the Sierra, I will arrive at the southern Kennedy Meadows again.

After turning south, the trail followed the general direction of the West Fork of West Walker River, though it didn't stay close to the riverbank.

In the middle of this section was Walker Meadows, and from this wide-open space, Hawksbeak Peak came into view. In a straight line, the mountain would be about seven miles away. The national park's boundary crosses the summit.

The 2.5 miles of trail that followed the river were easy.

Looking up, I saw some clouds building high above me. I wondered if another storm was forming. I had already managed to miss heavy rain the last two days in a row but wasn't sure if I would be so lucky today.

After crossing the river, the trail began a 5.3-mile climb, going up nearly 1,200 feet on the way to Dorothy Lake Pass. Initially, this was an easy ascent, though the trail was sometimes rocky.

On this section of trail, I passed a point that was 1000 miles from the Mexican border. If there was a marker here written in sticks or rocks that noted that, as hikers usually leave, I didn't see it.

Of course, for me, this point was mostly meaningless because I wasn't hiking to the border to finish the trail. I had started from there.

As it was, I realized I was in a gap of almost no thru-hikers. By now, nearly all hikers on a continuous northbound path had passed through the Sierra long ago. Most hikers going southbound from the Canadian border hadn't reached this spot yet unless they had skipped a section, as Bluejay and I did.

Still, I know we're not the only thru-hikers in the Sierra. This is an unusual weather year, with many hikers jumping from one section to another to avoid dangerous snow conditions.

Continuing on the climb up to Dorothy Lake Pass, the trail passed Cascade Creek. Small cascades made refilling water bottles easy.

A clump of Sierra beardtongue flowers was nearby. From its name, there's no surprise this wildflower is native to the mountain ranges of California and western Nevada.

A little farther up the trail, I passed Lake Harriet. On the other side of the lake, I could see a gap in the ridge and hoped that wasn't where the trail was heading. The clouds in that direction looked dark and seemed likely to produce rain.

The remainder of the climb to Dorothy Lake Pass was rocky and steep, but it didn't go toward the dark clouds. The sky above the pass was much brighter.

The top of the pass was at 9,526 feet in elevation and the highest point of today's hike. It was also the boundary of the national park.

On the other side of the pass, I could see Dorothy Lake. It was a large, glacial lake. The trail followed its north shore for about seven-tenths of a mile.

About halfway along that distance, I saw a large boulder that looked like a good spot to sit and eat my lunch while enjoying the view of the lake, so I stopped there.

Dorothy Lake was named for the daughter of Major William W. Forsyth, who served as acting superintendent of Yosemite National Park from 1909 to 1912.

One of the issues Major Forsyth grappled with while at Yosemite was what to do about the bear population. Just as today, bears and tourists had trouble coexisting in the wilderness. Although Forsyth was unwilling to exterminate bears, he asked for authority to force them out of the park by allowing rangers to shoot them with small buckshot.

The practice was abandoned within two years because rangers were unable to distinguish between aggressive bears and bears reacting in self-defense. Eight to ten bears were killed before the control effort was stopped.

Leaving the lake, the trail followed Falls Creek for nine miles through Jack Main Canyon. The whole distance was one long and gradual descent, dropping 1,500 feet in elevation from beginning to end.

Considering how the Sierra Nevada is known for climbs over high-altitude mountain passes, this stretch of trail was surprisingly easy. It was also surprisingly uncrowded. I only saw one hiker all afternoon.

There weren't many notable sights along the way. And because I was hesitant to risk running down my phone's battery, I decided to not listen to music or a podcast. I just put my head down and walked.

I arrived at Wilma Lake at 5 p.m. Not seeing Bluejay at the first campsite I found, I continued to the far end of the lake. When I found her there, she told me she had considered stopping at the first campsite but saw a large pile of bear scat and didn't want to risk a bear encounter tonight.

After setting up my tent, I sent a text message using my Garmin InReach to wish Kim a happy birthday. I celebrated her birthday by eating a birthday cake cookie she had included in my food shipment.

Later in the evening, Bluejay and I were joined in camp by a section hiker named Randy.

An intruder might have also joined us after dark, but I can't say for sure. As I was falling asleep, I heard a large crash nearby. It sounded like a bear had fallen while climbing a tree, but after that, all was quiet.

Some folks say there ain't no bears in Arkansas
Some folks never seen a bear at all
Some folks say that bears go around eating babies raw
Some folks got a bear across the hall

Some folks say that bears go around smelling bad
Others say that a bear is honey sweet
Some folks say this bear's the best I ever had
Some folks got a bear beneath their feet

Some folks drive the bears out of the wilderness
Some to see a bear would pay a fee
Me I just bear up my bewildered best
And some folks even see the bear in me

From "Bears" by Steven Fromholtz


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