PCT 2019: Day 137, Independence to Bubbs Creek

I've got friends in low places

A mule deer looks up

Bluejay and I are now in our fourth week of hiking in the Sierra. We expect to finish this section in five days.

I should feel as though I'm near the end, but I don't. There are many miles still to be hiked, and I'm taking each day at a time.

DateFriday, September 20, 2019
WeatherClear with a high temperature in the low 60s
Trail ConditionsExcept for a couple short, steep downhill sections, mostly easy trail
Today's Miles4.8
Trip Miles2039.6

At least I felt well-prepared for today as I packed to leave. My phone was loaded with several podcasts and three audiobooks. I also had a lot more food than I usually carry. After learning my lesson several days ago, I was no longer going to let a lack of calories slow me down.

That said, I knew the extra weight of my food would likely slow me down. I had collected so many more snacks I couldn't fit them all in my bear canister.

The national park regulations say I have to carry a bear canister. They don't say I have to keep all of my food in it.

Mt. Williamson Motel and Basecamp, Independence, Calif.

Mt. Williamson Motel was a pleasant place to stay, and I was glad Sunkist had recommended it.

After eating breakfast prepared by the owner, Bluejay and I bought new fuel canisters. Then after shoving them into our packs, we were ready to go.

Gravity with Mt. Williamson in the distance

While we waited for our shuttle driver to pick us up, the owner took our photos with Mt. Williamson standing behind us.

There were so many hikers leaving this morning, two cars were needed. We were picked up at 8 a.m. and were on the trail shortly after 8:30.

Bluejay and I suggested to Pathfinder last night that he ask about getting a ride with us, but he said he thought he would be able to hitch a ride.

Climbing to Kearsarge Pass

I didn't have to hike far before confirming what I had dreaded. My heavy pack was making me walk slower than usual. Still, I managed the extra weight better than I thought I would.

I credit some of that to my pack. It is designed to handle weight better than the one I carried on most of the AT. Of course, it didn't hurt that I had now hiked more than 2,000 miles, so I was in much better shape than a few months ago.

A view from Kearsarge Pass

When I reached the top of Kearsarge Pass, three hikers were sitting there taking a break. They were a new audience for me to recycle my lame mountain pass joke.

"Is this Forester Pass?" I asked.

They responded with light chuckles.

Switchbacks with loose gravel and sand

When I reached the switchbacks on the other side of the pass, I remembered they were covered with loose gravel. Because of my heavy pack, I made sure to take slow, careful steps.

Below the switchbacks, the trail was easy the rest of the way down to the bottom.

A trail junction

About four-tenths of a mile down from the pass was a trail junction. When I hiked to the pass yesterday, I had taken the upper trail. This time, I took the lower trail that dropped into the valley.

This choice wasn't just for a change of scenery. The lower trail passed Bullfrog Lake and a couple of ponds, which offered spots to get water.

The lower trail also cut four-tenths of a mile off the PCT. A thru-hiking purist wouldn't skip that much trail, but I overlooked it. The way I figured it, I was adding about 15 miles to my hike by going to the trailhead at Onion Valley and back. This seemed like a more-than-fair exchange.

As I had done yesterday, I only counted PCT miles in my daily total.

Ice on the trail

Although the time was now past noon, I was surprised to find some ice on the descending trail. It was only a small patch, and because the day was warming nicely, it probably melted soon after I passed it.

Bullfrog Lake

I stopped for lunch on the shore of Bullfrog Lake. From there, I could see Mt. Brewer, which stood 6.4 miles away.

A little less than three miles away was West Vidette. This mountain rose from a valley of the same name.

East Vidette was on the opposite side of that valley, but I couldn't see it from my lunch spot. Their names are a mis-spelling of "vedette," a military term used for an outpost or sentry standing guard and watching for troop movements.

Two small ponds

After finishing my lunch, I followed the trail past two small ponds. It then continued through a narrow passage to reach the PCT.

Grazing mule deer

Just before getting back to the PCT, a family of mule deer showed little interest in me as I walked by. They weren't bothered by my presence.

The PCT on the descent to Lower Vidette Meadow

Near the junction of the PCT, I met a hiker who seemed confused about what to do. He told me he was meeting a friend who was carrying his resupply of food over Kearsarge Pass.

Then he told me his friend was an inexperienced hiker and lived at sea level. He wondered if maybe his friend was struggling with the altitude.

Getting a friend to haul food over an 11,700-foot mountain pass seemed like a lot to ask. Asking a friend who wasn't used to hiking at a high altitude seemed like a bad idea.

Instead of pointing that out, however, I suggested he might want to hike up the trail and meet his friend. The hiker just fidgeted without a response, so I wished him luck and left.

East Vidette and Lower Vidette Meadow

The PCT continued down a series of switchbacks to reach Lower Vidette Meadow. Then at the bottom, the trail turned and went past East Vidette.

This valley was narrower than most in the Sierra. Bubbs Creek ran through the middle, and the trail followed it upstream.

When I crossed a small stream feeding into the creek, I stopped to filter some water.

A short distance farther, I met another hiker. He told me he was lost and he was trying to meet a friend at a trail junction.

Though it would have been a weird and unlikely coincidence, I checked to make sure he wasn't trying to meet the last hiker I saw. He wasn't. After figuring out where he wanted to go, I showed him our location on my Guthooks app and pointed him in the right direction.

The PCT climbs along Bubbs Creek

For the remainder of the day, the trail continued to gradually climb. From the lowest spot, it would go up 900 feet in about 3.4 miles. I was glad there were no more steep climbs for today.

Fable and Tumbleweed

I met more hikers at 3:30 p.m., and this time, they didn't need any help. They were Fable and Tumbleweed, hikers I first met in Washington on Day 74.

I last saw them briefly in Trout Lake.

Tumbleweed and Fable told me they had flipped to hike the Sierra before the weather turned colder. This was much like my decision, except they were hiking northbound.

Compass and Blender, who had been hiking with Fable and Tumbleweed when I first saw them, were now on their own because they wanted to go faster.

Bubbs Creek and Center Peak

There were several potential campsites along Bubbs Creek where Bluejay might have stopped, so I slowed down to look for her.

A mule deer

I didn't see her right away, but I saw another mule deer. It stared at me for several seconds before scampering away.

Soon after, Pathfinder caught up to me. We continued together while keeping an eye out for Bluejay.

We located her at 4:50 p.m.

Tina and Bluejay

A JMT southbound hiker joined us at the campsite. Her name was Tina, and she was from Bozeman, Mt.

I tried to eat an extra-big dinner tonight. I wanted to pare down the weight of my pack a little. I figured I needed all the help I could get to climb Forester Pass tomorrow. It is the highest point on the PCT.

'Cause I've got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away
And I'll be okay
I'm not big on social graces
Think I'll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I've got friends in low places


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