From the start, today felt like an ending.
And in one sense, it should have felt that way. This was the last day of hiking the Sierra section of the PCT.
Another 550 miles are still left to hike in Northern California. Bluejay and I will soon drive north to complete that, which is what we skipped when we flipped down to Truckee.
|Date||Tuesday, September 24, 2019|
|Weather||Mostly clear with a temperature rising to near 80|
|Trail Conditions||Mostly easy with a gradual descent and a few sections where trail maintenance was needed |
There was another reason why today felt like an ending. I was returning to Kennedy Meadows, which is where I finished the desert section four months ago.
There were some differences now, however. The first time I came to Kennedy Meadows, I arrived with the Woohoo Crew. I was hiking in today with Bluejay, Yayy, and Jaws.
When I was here the last time, spring had just arrived and it snowed a little that day. Signs of fall are now beginning to appear and the temperature rose to around 80 F.
Most notably, there are much fewer hikers on the trail today.
I left camp this morning after Bluejay but before Yayy and Jaws. Our campsite near Cow Creek was surrounded by trees.
After a short level section along the creek, the trail left the trees and began a long descent to the South Fork of Kern River.
The trail entered a wider part of Cow Canyon as it continued to follow the creek. Along the way, the trail crossed the stream a couple of times.
The morning air remained chilly until I walked out of the shade and into an open field. Then I stopped to remove my insulated jacket.
After about two miles, the canyon broadened more, and the trail split from the creek. This wider area was part of Monache Meadow. It was filled with sagebrush and low grasses, and was surrounded by pinyon pines.
With a smooth trail, I was able to cruise downhill across the meadow. If I went fast enough, I thought, there was a chance I could get to Triple Crown Outfitters at Kennedy Meadows before closing time at 3 p.m.
I hoped to purchase an inflatable sleeping pad and replacement tips for my trekking poles. If I didn't get to the store in time, however, there would be a chance later for Bluejay and me to find an outfitter store on our trip north.
An unusual sight stood out in the middle of the meadow. It was a large boulder, which looked out of place in this spot.
Indeed, it was out of place because it was a glacial erratic. That's a geologic term for a rock that has been moved by a glacier. It is left behind when the glacier melts.
Livestock herders started bringing their animals to graze in this meadow during the summer in the late 1800s.
Much of Monache Meadow is now part of South Sierra Wilderness. The U.S Forest Service still grants permits for grazing, which is why I saw some cattle here today.
From our campsite to the South Fork of Kern River, the trail had dropped 1,200 feet in four miles. The elevation was now below 8,000 feet above sea level.
Just before I reached the river, Jaws and Yayy had caught up to me.
The only climb of the day came immediately after a footbridge that crossed the river. The trail went up less than 600 feet on a slope of Deer Mountain.
Jaws and Yayy soon left me behind on the ascent.
As the trail rounded the mountain, it entered Beck Meadow. It then followed Crag Creek to Clover Meadow.
The meadow was filled with stumps of burnt trees. They were burned in a wildfire that was started by lightning in 2008.
The trail reached the South Fork of Kern River a second time, where it crossed another bridge. I stopped there for water and a short rest break.
While I was stopped, I took a look at the map to see how much farther I had to go. About 4.4 miles remained to reach the road into Kennedy Meadows.
Seeing this, I realized the only possibility of getting to the outfitter store by 3 p.m. was if someone picked me up soon after I got to the road. That happened the last time I was there.
The trail to the road followed the river for much of the way. Where it split from the river, it crossed another large meadow.
By now, the temperature was becoming much warmer. Worst than that, gnats began to swarm around my head and within inches of my face. I draped my bandana over my head, which helped some by shielding my neck and ears.
These unpleasant conditions, as well as tall sagebrush along the trail that scratched my legs, tested my enthusiasm for being nearly done.
I reached the road into Kennedy Meadows at 2:30 p.m. This was the same spot I got off the trail on May 16.
From here, the trail went on another 702 miles to the Mexican border. I had already walked all of that, so I turned to go down the road.
Another 3.5 miles remained to reach Grumpy Bears Retreat and the outfitter store next door. By now, I hadn't just given up hope of getting to the store by 3 p.m. I was quickly giving up hope I would get a ride. There were no cars on the road today.
Still, there were reasons to be happy. I had just finished another big and challenging section of the trail. I was also finally rid of the horrid gnats that followed me for the last few miles.
Better still, I knew I would soon be eating a burger and drinking a beer at Grumpy Bears.
With less than a mile to go to reach Grumpy Bears, I saw the building ahead. Just then, a small car came up the road from the opposite direction. The driver stopped and rolled down the window.
"I know you don't have much farther to go, but do you want a ride anyway?" she asked.
I accepted without hesitation.
I didn't realize who the driver was until after we arrived at Grumpy Bears. She was Yogi.
Her real name is Jackie McDonnell. She and her partner, Matt "Worldwide" Signore, are owners of Triple Crown Outfitters. She has hiked all three of the Triple Crown trails twice, plus the PCT another 1.5 times.
Later, after I finished my much-anticipated burger and beer, I set up my tent next to the metal shipping container that served as the building for the outfitter store.
Yogi returned around 5:30 p.m. to open the store for Bluejay and me. She didn't have the type of sleeping pad I wanted, but I bought replacement tips for my trekking poles and a couple more small items. I also sold back to her my bear canister, which I had bought from Worldwide when I was here before.
Around the same time, Pathfinder arrived. He had hiked the same strenuous section we had just hiked, plus climbed to the summit of Mt. Whitney. I was impressed.
Two more hikers arrived a short time later. They were Mad Max and Waldo, the father and son I met on Selden Pass.
The staff at Grumpy Bears had warned us ahead of time they would not be serving dinner tonight because they were hosting all of the area firefighters. The bar was open, however, so Jaws, Yayy, Pathfinder, and I went back for a drink.
Bluejay chose to go to bed early. Pathfinder was understandably worn out from the extra miles he had hiked, so he didn't last long.
Jaws and I stayed, and we were treated to a slice of birthday cake. It had been prepared for one of the firefighters. This was an enjoyable and fitting way to finish a challenging and rewarding section of the trail.
Still, I had only completed one more part of the PCT. It was too soon to feel like I was near the end.