Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kearsarge Pass

Day 60-June 12th
Destination: Bishop, CA
Miles: 10

The rest after yesterdays climb was much needed, but we still stayed up later than usual around the campfire. We knew that plans were changing around that campfire. We knew that some of us had seen the Sierras in their magnificence, had experienced serious fords, and teetered on more than necessary danger. We knew that today when we hiked out of the Sierras, it was feasible that not all of us would be returning for the next leg. As such, we spent extra time chatting around the campfire.

When the sun rose in the morning, we lingered in our bags, hoping to stay warm a little longer. Before long, we heard the crackle of a campfire. Uncle Tom had built a morning fire. Moments later we were out of our tent, cooking up a warm breakfast and drying our boots and socks a little more before the climb out.

With only 10 miles to do, we were not in much of a rush to get moving. Yet on the flip side, we needed to start to avoid any late day post holing, should there be more snow on the east side of Kearsarge pass. Yet on the flip side, we had a warm camp fire to talk by. Eventually we had to go. Around 9am we began walking, our latest start yet.

Immediately, we were met with a stream crossing. Fortunately, with a little exploration we found a few logs and rocks that enabled us to hop across without getting too wet. After tackling that small obstacle, we began our climb to Kearsarge Pass, close to 11,800 feet. We were required to get off the PCT, to take a side trail out to Independence, our resupply town. With two possible trails, one more scenic and slightly shorter than the other, we, naturally, took that one.

Climbing up from Bubbs Creek, we hit the side trail to Bullfrog Lake and Kearsarge pass. We took the trail, and were quickly greeted with snow. Fortunately, there was footprints to follow to guide us out. Without footprints it would not have been difficult, as the trail skirts a couple small lakes, and the pass was fairly visible once we were out of tree cover.

We passed by the frozen Bullfrog lake which offered a stunning view to the rocky pointed Kearsarge Pinnacles, just west of the trail. The snow we crossed had the deepest sun cups yet, which we stumbled across before making the initial climb up the pass. Fortunately, the pass was 1500 feet lower than Forester Pass, as well as south facing, and on the eastern side of the sierras. As such, the last stretch of the climb was snowless.

We did not know what awaited us on the other side of the pass, but when we reached the top, we could tell that it would not be too difficult to handle. From the top, we saw two day hikers climbing towards us. Once they arrived, they gave us the low down on the trail out to Onion Valley. We put our packs on, grabbed our ice axes, and crossed a long simple snow field.

Seven of us (General Lee, Axilla, Psycho, Apricots, Uncle Tom, Wizard, and Train) marched down in train fashion. Step by step, we followed G. Lee down the hill. Once across the field, we reconnected with the trail which made countless switchbacks out to Onion Valley.

Halfway down, Psycho noticed a sudden drop in temperature. He looked up and saw a lake and realized he walked into a micro-climate created by the large body of water. We took our packs off and sat on a rock, staring out at the large fish swimming in the lake.

It wasn't long before the call of town pulled us away from the lake, and the rest of the way down. Once at the trail head, we all shed our wet boots and began working out a plan to get to town. We found a motel to stay at in Bishop, CA. Now we just needed a ride. Suddenly, a couple driving a truck came up and asked if we all needed a ride. The seven of us piled ourselves and our packs into the bed of the truck, and rolled slowly off the mountain.

Seventeen miles later, the couple dropped us off in Independence. Five minutes later, we were enjoying big sandwiches and beer. By this time is was getting a little late, so we walked out to the highway, and hitched the remaining 42 miles north to Bishop.

Tomorrow we will take a zero day. Apricots and Psycho will discuss our potential re-routing plans.
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