Return to the Pacific Crest Trail
Beginning Elevation = 9,600 (off PCT)
Ending Elevation = 10,800
Elevation Range = 9,600 – 11,760
Weather: Sunny with some clouds, hot in flat lands, super nice!
Some of you may know that the small town of Bishop, California has a special place in our hearts. Last year, I ended up seeking refuge here from the tough Sierra Nevada trail about three different times I believe. The Hostel California is great and there are lots of good, fun shops and restaurants. We didn’t feel the hostel was such a great option during pandemic times, so sadly didn’t stay there this time, but we couldn’t pass up a trip to one of our favorites, the Loony Bean Coffee Shop. I may have also gotten up early specifically to take a morning walk to pick up some Erick Schat’s Bakkery donuts!
This morning I got to meet Cheer’s parents! They had driven about five hours from SoCal with Cheer to meet us and kindly bring us up to the Onion Valley Trailhead. Being on trail together and spending so much time with one another, Cheer, Calzone, and I have gotten to know each other pretty well and so it was pretty special to meet part of her family that we’d heard so much about! We cruised up the winding mountain road together with bountiful conversation and lots of laughter, our excitement growing with every turn…
The section that we were setting out to conquer would be about 125 miles:
- 8 miles entering over Kearsarge Pass to PCT junction
- 114 PCT miles (789.1 -903.3)
- 3 miles exiting over Mammoth Pass to Horseshoe Lake/Mammoth Lakes, CA
We didn’t exactly give ourselves an easy stretch of trail to start off on! In fact, we would be repeating the last section that I hiked in 2019, except in reverse, and it was one of, if not thee longest mileage sections that I hiked during my entire 2019 journey. On top of that, the trail ambles over 7 high elevation passes ranging from 10,780 – 12,120 feet elevation. It’s arguably one of the most difficult sections!
So…no big deal, right?
Well, do not fear…I’m happy to report that I remembered my customary healthy power-boosting banana and Vitamin water. After snacking on that, struggling to get my well-worn trekking poles functioning back at their proper height, and pulling on my holey Dirty Girl gaiters, I was ready. We took some joyous pictures before setting out, the three of us together looking all clean and smiley before the brutal 2,000 feet climb ahead of us.
It was about 12:45pm when we started hiking; a less than ideal start time being later in the day and the threat of storms increasing in the afternoon, but it mattered not to us. We were just thrilled to be on trail again. The extreme heat that existed down in Bishop didn’t exist up here at the trailhead. We were smiling, joking around with one another, and soaking in the stunning surroundings. Equally present however, was the unmistakably real struggle of going from the flatlands to 9,600 feet and then hiking straight up to above 11,000 feet. I think all of us felt it in our breathing and energy levels, it was draining.
We moved nice and slow with lots and lots of breaks.
The trail leading up to Kearsarge Pass is gorgeous! You find yourself winding past a series of five lakes: Little Pothole, Gilbert, Flower, Heart, and Big Pothole all the while being surrounded by the classic jagged spires of the Sierra Nevada mountains…
The struggle was real…
For you avid readers out there (hahaha), you’ll probably recognize some of these views. This would be my fourth time crossing over Kearsarge Pass using this trail!
Finally, just after 6:00pm, we made it to the divide of Kearsarge Pass!
We rested at the top and chatted with a few other backpackers for a bit. Our goal for today was to make our way to the actual PCT itself, so still another few miles to go. We were pumped that it would mostly be downhill though. There are two routes we could take: the Bullfrog Lake Trail or the higher-up Kearsarge Pass Trail. We opted for the latter, which Calzone and Cheer hadn’t gotten to experience yet.
Already, I was noticing that things were going to be much more green this time compared to when I’d last strolled through the previous October…
Hiking so late in the day during the golden hour of sunlight did have its perks!
Not too shabby of a welcome back to the Sierra Nevada!
We reached the Pacific Crest Trail junction at 8:06pm. We were beat. I certainly was fatigued, to the point that I didn’t even have an appetite for dinner, something that never happens with me when hiking (or ever, who am I kidding).
We had really been banking on some flat spots being near this junction where we could set up our tents. There was plenty of open gravelly space, unfortunately the whole area seemed to have a steady slant. As darkness fell upon us, we managed to each find some decent spots, spread out a ways from each other. All of us had packed so much food for the long stretch that not all of it could fit in our bear cans, thus, we had to spend some time hanging our remaining foods and smelly items. Being out of practice, this took some time. After all that, we gathered briefly in the dark for dinner before crashing. What a day!