Date: Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Start: Camped by the trail next to Vidette Creek at Mile 787.0, 9560 ft
Finish: Left the PCT at Mile 788.5
Daily Miles: 1.5 PCT, + 7.6 to Onion Valley Trailhead over Kearsarge Pass
Total PCT Miles: 788.5
Weather: Cool at first, but warm and sunny later
Accommodation: El Rancho Motel, Bishop
Dinner: “The Big Tostada”
Aches: Fell again on some slippery snow where it met the earthen trail, not so badly, but some more cuts and abrasions.
Highlight: Hopefully, seeing my last “snowcup”.
Lowlight: Feeling a bit chastened by my decision to skip the rest of the High Sierras until maybe September. I wanted to hike the contiguous PCT, but have realised in the last four days that the effort and risks are more than I’m prepared to endure to see the spectacular sights of the snow-covered High Sierras. A more practical reason is that the necessary slow pace of travel for the remaining 200+ miles of snow-covered high country would mean that my adventure would finish well into October, later than I want.
Pictures: Click here
Map: Click here for Google Map
I had told both Brandon, and the American couple, Matt and Sara, that I intended to leave camp around 6:30am for the hike out of the Sierras over Kearsarge Pass. Brandon duly turned up at my tent at 6:30am and Matt and Sara were also ready to go when we passed their nearby campsite. We only had about 9 miles to go, but knew there would be some solid climbs and plenty of snow.
We started by climbing steeply away from Vidette Creek up to the Bullfrog Lake Track in another higher valley at nearly 11000 ft. It was a beautiful morning and the surrounding mountains and various blue, partially ice-covered, lakes were at their best. The scenery was magnificent, but we all had had enough of the snow hiking, be it the scary water crossings and high passes, or the energy-sapping snowcups and forest moguls. The climb up to Kearsarge Pass (11771 ft) had one reasonably steep traverse and required crampons and the ice axe for possibly the last time, and the descent on very soft snow under a blazing sun on the other side of the Pass also had some scary moments, though less likely to yield serious injury.
Brandon, who was always well ahead (despite regular stops for a puff of pot), said his farewell at the Pass and raced away after being promised a lift to Bishop by a ranger. Matt and Sara could have gone faster, but stayed with me all the way to the Onion Valley Trailhead which we reached about 2:00pm. As we neared the Trailhead, Sara called a number given to us by another hiker returning to the PCT of a volunteer willing to give lifts down to Independence for a small donation. He said he was some way away (Lone Pine) but would be there as soon as he could. We were surprised when he (at least we thought it was him) turned up half an hour later in a van and expressed a willingness to drive us to Bishop, about 60 miles away, via Independence where we both had packages to pick up. We jumped in and it was only later that we learned that our driver was a “Trail Angel” who had simply driven up to the Trailhead to see if any hikers needed a lift. We felt bad for the other guy, who texted Sara to find out where we were, but it was unintentional.
While we were waiting at the trailhead we saw a family with some quite young kids (maybe 11yo) heading up into the High Sierras and we wondered whether they had any idea of the dangers to which their kids would be exposed. I, personally, had been full of admiration for the five or six PCT hikers we met returning to continue through the mountains. But I believe most PCT hikers who braved this first section of the High Sierras will skip ahead like we are planning to, having personally experienced the challenges and dangers. It is said that some of the creek crossings further on are considerably worse and almost impassable.
We duly got our packages in Independence and had a pleasant trip to Bishop, a town much larger than former, with more shopping, accommodation and transport options. En route, we booked rooms at a reasonable motel close to town and were there soon after 4:00pm. After checking in and a shower, I visited the local laundromat and did all my washing so I have something to wear, and then had a latish dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant.
My decision has been made and I will be skipping ahead to somewhere on the PCT with less snow and then returning to hike the remainder of the High Sierras, probably in September. I’ve booked my motel room for four nights, and feel the need for my body to have some recovery time while I work out where I will skip to and the logistics of getting there. I also need to replace some gear and clothing showing too much wear and tear. My next post will be in a few days once the plan has been worked out.