the days and hills keep rolling on by as we walk and wander these southern california lands. we returned to the trail after the break in berkeley to find snow in the san gabriel mountains. a foot had fallen over 7000 feet and we sloshed through climbing to the summit of 9399 foot mt. baden powell. up into the clear alpine air and ancient old limber pines cragged and grown with the wind. clouds rolling through us atop the peak appearing and disappearing the mountains to the west. we walked westward through the san gabriel before dropping into the desert town of agua dulce. incredible hospitality continued as we stayed with the legendary saufley's at "hiker heaven" (www.hikerheaven.com). a couple who have been housing, cleaning, and resting pct hikers for over 10 years. their entire yard set up as a camp with canvas tents, trailers, coolers, free boxes, firepit, and a fleet of bicycles for trips to town. we stayed a night before walking through the heat to meet another set of legendary trail hosts, the anderson's, for an entirely different experience. we camped in the manzanita grove just beyond the tarped oil-wresting pit for two days of beer drinking, frisbee golfing, taco salad-filled debauchery. eventually made it out alive and the contrasts continued as we set back out into the heat and brush wilderness. that day while searching a dry stream for water i met white buffalo and marshall who were out for 5 days for a rite of passage inipi ceremony. our paths had brought us together and after speaking for a few minutes white buffalo invited us to join them for a sweat lodge. with that we were preparing for the sweat, serena, mark, and i gathering pine and cedar branches for the lodge, building a stone fire pit and cutting kindling. the wind hurtling by we carefully started a fire and began heating the stones. the sweat lasted well into the night, a beautiful experience to be a part of out on this walk.
the next day we dropped out of the oak forests atop liebre mountain and into the controversial route throught the mojave desert and antelope valley. cracking autos rusting in the fields, grass pushing through shattered computer monitors and sun-baked electronics on a stretch of trail that traverses private plots and yards and through the gnarled joshua tree forests that line the cemented l.a. aqueduct. we spent the day in howling wind and flying sands crossing this valley where the trail skirts the edges of the expansive tejon ranch. this 75 mile length of trail from the antelope valley to the tehachapi mountains and the southern sierra is mired in troubling land issues. conservation easements are slim and numerous signs warn walkers not to deviate from the trail tread under penalty of prosecution. these are some of the threatened spaces that we hope to help protect through our partnership with the pacifc crest trail association for the hike.
on we've walked through the long waterless stretches and the last of the desert country to reach the southern sierra range. steep scaping peaks, pinyon pine, old juniper, sage, hillsides of lupine returning health to burn sites, and eventually dropping into the valley of the south fork kern river. we find ourselves now in the settlement of kennedy meadows, 40-50 off the grid residents, most more grizzled than the hikers, solar panels, generators, a general store, and this silver cyber trailer where i'm typing. a great place to spend some before venturing out into the high country...with cold rivers, snow, and towering old mt. whitney looming ahead.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Today I find myself sitting in the quaint little town of Kennedy Meadows, it consists of a general store with a small diner restaurant attached to the store, surrounded by rising mountain peaks, though nothing compared to the mountains we are about to enter. Kennedy Meadows is the official end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra mountains. We have traveled 700 miles to get here, walking the entire way through the hot, dry, water deprived and at times incredibly windy desert.
Today we set off, heading for the high country and beginning a new chapter of this journey. Soon we will be fording ice cold mountain rivers, swimming in glacial lakes surrounded by alpine forests and hiking the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney, standing at 14,505 ft. As excited as I am to be entering the mountains I have loved being in the desert. Yes, there were time when it was so hot that the thought of walking made me sweat and all I could do was lay under the tiny piece of shade we found under a Joshua tree. All is all we were incredibly lucky with the whether, there were only a handful of days that I remember being too hot to walk, it could have been a lot worse. There were even days when it was cold.
When we returned to the trail after taking a short break in Berkeley we learned that there had been a large snow storm (for May) and Mt. Baden-Powell, the mountain we were to climb next was still covered in it. A little reluctantly we made our way to the top and it wasn't until we were half a mile from the summit that the trail disappeared completely and all I could see were footprints where people had scrambled straight up the mountain side. With some work and being very grateful that I had my trekking poles we made it to the top. The view was spectacular. Snowy peaks showing through the thick layers of clouds flying by. It was well worth the climb and not nearly as treacherous as I thought it would be.
Perhaps that was a little taste of what the Sierra's will be like, though I doubt there will be any fresh snow we will be breaking trail through as so many people have come before us.
Entering the Sierra's we also leave behind the desert wildlife, most notably rattlesnakes. We have encountered more than I can count. The last one we saw just the other day as we were walking past a small creek with barley a puddle of water in it. I stopped, thinking that perhaps this was where we needed to get water (one can never be too careful or picky when it comes to finding water in the desert) and upon closer inspection Jeramy noticed a large rattlesnake laid out over rocks and sticks with its head in the pool of water, drinking. It didn't notice us and so we slowly moved closer (still staying a safe distance away). We were able to watch it for over five minutes before it finally noticed us, curled up and began rattling. It seemed more irritated that we had disturbed its drinking of such a precious resource than the fact that we were so near to it and as soon as we backed away it went right back to drinking, as if it hadn't seen us at all.
I know rattlesnakes are not the only poisonous snake out there, but the only one that gives you ample warning when you are encroaching on its territory. This should be seen as a good thing, however I am still more jumpy around rattlers than I am around other snakes that don't make a sound but could very well be just as poisonous as a rattler. But this fact is easily forgotten when I hear that distinct sound.
The day we arrived in Kennedy Meadows we finally hit a major river, the Kern, the first body of water we have seen in weeks. Not being able to pass up the opportunity to take a dip we found a nice spot to stop and swim. The water felt cold at first but after getting in it was incredibly refreshing, especially after not having showered in a week. Afterwards we were sitting on the rocks relaxing and I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Not more than three feet from me was the most colorful snake I have seen to date. It had bright bands of black, red and yellow and was about two and a half feet long. It was not a rattler so naturally I was not as concerned, though we didn't know if it was poisonous or not. We're still not sure what kind of snake it was but most likely it was a King snake, which is not poisonous. Either way it wasn't bothered by us gawking, it just went on its way trying to find shade from the hot sun.
While I am sure we are not out of snake country yet we are getting close (though rattlesnakes can live at around 7,000 ft and have been seen, albeit rarely, at 11,000 ft) and we have already seen signs of the wildlife to come. The other day, while coming down off a mountain through a forest of Pinyon Pine trees we saw bear tracks on the trail. Jeramy stopped and pointed them out to me. At first I wasn't sure what they were, I though maybe it was a person with really wide feet walking barefoot. It was the first time I had seen bear tracks before, they were large, and in strange way they did look like a human footprint. We stopped and looked around but there were no other signs of a bear. I was slightly relieved, though there is a part of me that is excited to see one (as long as it's not too close)!
And so today we head for the hills, with a little more gear than before (ice ax, bear canister and mosquito net) ready to experience all the magic, beauty and challenges that lie ahead.