5/28/27 20 miles +2.0 miles to horseshoe Meadows PCT mile 744.5
Last night we reached the apex of our climb late in the day with the sun setting fast behind the hills. We decided to camp at the top of the climb over 10,000ft. Despite snowy patches all around us we found some dry flat ground. We camped near a group of 6 other campers who were all sitting around talking and laughing and having a good time. “Weren’t they cold?” I asked. I wondered why and how they were making the most of their evening when it was so cold out. We quickly set up our tent, climbed in and tried to warm up while eating our cold dinners. Sleep was difficult and came in fits due to the cold night, quite possibly the coldest night we’ve had on trail so far. I would wake up from the cold; flip to my side to stay warm, which just resulted in a massive amount of drool on my arm and pillow. Eventually morning came and we slowly got up and packed up our tent and hit the snow. We decided to not bail from the trail at Kennedy Meadows in part to test our gear and tent to see if it was suitable for snow camping. It was a good litmus test and we now have a better idea of what additional items we need.
The first mile or so of the trail was completely covered in snow. We had our microspikes on and the snow was hard so walking was relatively easy. The hardest part is staying somewhat in the vicinity of the trail. This is also pretty easy with the apps on our phone but they drain your batteries quickly so we try not to use them unless we need to.
We finally descended far enough to be back on solid ground. The trail was finally starting to get really beautiful, with views of the valley below, meadows, and glimpses of the Sierra MT’s, which kept getting closer.
We had a fair amount of climbing today but not worse than yesterday so it wasn’t bad. I even felt good, for like the first time in a really long time. I’m not sure if I was excited that this could potentially be our last night on trail for a week, or maybe I’m finally starting to feel strong. Matt was lagging a bit mostly up the hills as the elevation affects him a bit more than me.
Just as I was thinking about how good I felt a hiker named Strider from Sweden whom we had never met before charged up the hill passed us and yelled, “we are almost to the top.” He didn’t seem tired and seemed to merely yell to benefit us. Once we were at the top to the west we could see back down to the desert floor at Owens Valley. We could see the valley that once contained the Owens Lake that is now empty, but contains arsenic, cadmium, and nickel that was once at the bottom of the lake. Now that the lake is dry these chemicals are exposed in the dirt and are blown around the desert floor. We later learned that the valley is kept moist to prevent the chemicals from dispersing. The resulting colors are what’s left from the lake being drained to supply water to L.A. were quite pretty. Striker remarked, “I thought I would never have to see the desert again, I’ve been waiting so long to get to the Sierra Mountains.” “In time”I said.
We were hoping to get to horseshoe meadows and potentially get a ride out to Lone Pine with some day hikers. So we wasted no time and only took short breaks here and there. We would need to hike 20 miles today and then take a short side trail 2 miles to the road on the other side of horseshoe meadows. The last 2~3 miles was partially covered in snow so this slowed us down considerably. After coming to a steep slope we put our spikes on and then 200 yards later removed them. Eventually, we came to the trail that would lead us away from the PCT and down Mulkey Pass. The trail descended quickly and was covered in snow. We know we had to go down so we did. A large creek was flowing and was partially covered in snow so we stayed as far away from it as we could. When we got to the meadow the sun was beginning to set and we were still surrounded by patchy areas of snow. It soon became clear that we were going to have to cross a creek before exiting the meadow. The creek was moving fast and I even saw snow floating in it. We found what we thought was an acceptable spot to cross where we could jump the creek and not have to take our shoes off. Matt poked his pole at some shrub brush and said, “this looks like solid ground.” He took a few steps back ran and jumped. He landed on the shrub and immediately fell through up to his waist in ice-cold water. I yelled at him to get out and take all his wet clothes off and change into dry clothes. He had his iPhone in his pocket but luckily we got water resistant Iphone’s so it was fine. After seeing Matt fall in I was left to find another option. A few feet down I could see both banks and if I took my shoes off I could make it. I successfully crossed the creek without getting soaked like Matt. Now that we were on the other side we saw yet another large creek we would have to cross. As it was getting late and Matt’s hiking clothes were soaked we decided to set up camp in the meadow and deal with the creek in the morning. The meadow between the two creeks was extremely marshy but we found a decent spot. I knew this spot wasn’t great as our tent was sure to be covered in condensation the following morning, but we were basically out of options.