Day 25, Landers Meadow to Bird Springs Pass, mile 0608 to 0631
Distance; 23 miles, Time; 6:41, 3.4 mph average, minimum elevation 4567, maximum elevation 6690, total ascent 3494, total descent 4320. Total miles traveled 608
I was sorry to leave Landers Meadow, Janis maybe not so much, but that is a story for her to share. Given time I think this is an area I might want to explore further some day. The ride to Bird Springs Canyon Rd was 23 waterless miles. There was a spring 14 miles into the trip; however it was a mile and a half off trail with a loss of 1000 feet in elevation. So we filled up two gallons of water jugs to give Mercedes a mid ride sip and hit the trail.
What a beautiful morning it was. Riding through a Ponderosa Pine forest up a gently sloping hill, with plenty of land on both sides of the trail was a very pleasant change of pace. Add to that general sense of well being, an appreciation of a sun that rather than being a harbinger of high temperatures was a sun that spread a little warmth on my back on a cool morning. With ears perked forward Mercedes eagerly gaited down the trail, smoothly anticipating my cues. After the heat of the open desert the coolness and shade of forest was much appreciated by both of us.
The forest did give way to another burned area which in turn gave way to more desert. The gently sloping hill turned into yet another steep side hill and another mountain to climb. Eight miles into the day the trail crossed Kelso Valley Rd. From over a mile away I could see a truck and trailer parked at the crossing, I reasoned that it might be Phyllis and Bryce Keller. Phyllis is riding the PCT and Bryce is her crew. They are employing much the same methods as Janis and I. Mercedes thought it was Janis and BG; she was destined to be disappointed. The Kellers had started 10 days before us but were taking more zero days as Phyllis’s horse, Georgie, was carrying most of the load. Her back-up horse, Mattie, is mostly used on shorter days. I thought we must be getting closer as I occasionally saw hoof prints ahead of me on the trail. Hoof prints that hadn’t been erased by the many hiker footprints.
Sure enough, it was Bryce who was taking his time getting ready to move to his next camp after Phyllis had left on the trail. I had talked to Phyllis on the phone a few days prior, but had never met or spoken to Bryce. Bryce generously provided a couple buckets of water and a basket of hay for Mercedes while we got to know each other a bit, falling into an easy friendship. As it turned out our schedules were going to line up for a few days and we would be able to camp together. I looked forward to sharing camps; it is always nice to meet new people, especially when they have similar interests and goals.
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, more high desert, more rock ledges, more steep side hills and finally the first view of our rig from on high a couple miles distant.
I need to work on my timing for announcing myself to hikers as approach from behind them. Normally if they haven’t sensed my presence by the time I close within 50 feet I’ll start with an outside voice “Good Morning”. If that doesn’t work when I get to about 25 feet I will try “How’s your day going?” Usually if that doesn’t work it is because they are wearing ear buds and listening to Lead Zeppelin. So I will follow, keeping pace with them about 10 feet back. If I hear a pause in the music I will try again with some pertinent comment such as “doesn’t that look like a rock?” Today I startled a couple of hikers, getting to the third greeting before they heard me. The first was a young man who just had a “WHOA” reaction. The second was late in the day in a particularly strenuous big rock section. A young woman, who was obviously about done for the day, plodding slowly, so tired she wasn’t even swinging her arms in time with her steps, wearily stepping 12 inches ups onto a rock that projected over the cliff, suddenly saw Mercedes’ head and nearly jumped off the side. I felt bad I had scared her so; I apologized as I went by, and even so I earned a look from her hiking partner.
At Bird Springs Pass there were several hikers taking shelter in the shade of Joshua trees waiting out the heat of the day, and enjoying the water from a large trail angel cache, before tackling the next few miles of trail which included a 2000 foot climb to over 7000 feet on Skinner Peak. Among the resting hikers were an Australian, Rattler, and a German, Mozart, to whom I had offered a cold beer, several days before, if they passed by our camp. They took advantage of the offer as we sat in the shade of our camper and visited a bit. They like the rest of the hikers left singly or in pairs scattered out over a couple of hours wanting to top the hill before making camp for the night. Most hikers hike alone, but tend to gather together in the evening or at rest spots during the day. There are a few that are partnered one way or another, couples, father/daughter, mother/daughter and the like that hike together, but even they can get separated by a mile or more during the course of a day.
Later in the day Janis and I were joined by Milwaukee Bob and Cherry Pie. Bob is from Wisconsin and has been doing a solo hike up to this point, his daughter plans to join him for a couple weeks soon. Cherry Pie, or Dave, is a section hiker from Portland who teaches at Portland State. I find the individual stories of how we ended up in the same place and time interesting, which at least partly explains the lateness of this note.
Day 26 Bird Springs Pass to Walker Pass, Mile 0631 to 0651
Distance; 19.9 miles, minimum elevation 5051, maximum elevation 6981, total ascent 4684, total descent 4994, somehow I lost my track information, these numbers are from Halfmile’s data
It was cool in the morning at Bird Springs. It is hard to dress for the day when you get up as it is at least two sweatshirts cold first thing in the morning and depending upon the altitude tee-shirt warm between 9 & 12:00. I should amend that, it is tee-shirt warm on the leeward side of the hill. On the windward side it can stay at the two sweatshirt level. Early in the trip I wore a long sleeved cotton shirt to protect from the sun but it just wasn’t warm enough after the Anza-Borrego. Most mornings now I start out with a tee-shirt under a zip-up hoody under a pull over hoody. Along about what I have come to know as geck-O-clock, that time of day when it warms up enough the geckos start to scurry about, I tie the pull over onto the back of my saddle. From that point on I adjust with the zip up. From zipper and hood up on the windy side of the hill, to unzipped, hood down, Shady Brady on in the full sun and no wind. The last couple of days I have been so brave as to ride with my arms exposed in the afternoon.
I thought I might be riding into a more forested area again as we approach the Sierras, but alas, it is more high desert. What trees I do see are pretty scattered and consist of mostly Juniper, Live Oak (these are the ones I didn’t think were really oaks because of the leaf shape) with the occasional scrub pine thrown in. That isn’t to say the drier landscapes aren’t striking in their own right, panoramas without trees to block the view have a lot going for them. I like to try and spot where the trail is going to go in the distance. Sometimes I can see a hint of trail four or five miles away. I like looking at rock formations, like cloud watching, scenes and figures can be spotted among the ever changing scenery.
It was a short day on the trail so it was still early afternoon when I rode into the campground at Walker Pass. I was greeted by Phyllis and Bryce Keller as well as Janis and Rose. There were also two young ladies from Portland Oregon offering trail magic. Walker Pass Campground has two car camping sites with corrals, hitching rails and picnic tables under permanent sun shade structures. In addition to the car sites there are several walk in tent sites. One of the car sites was blocked by three 12 passenger vans, but no people. With a little creative parking, the Kellers, Peggs and trail angels shared the other camp spot.
The trail angels had planned on thru hiking the PCT but after the first couple of brutal days down by the border decided that hiking wasn’t their cup of tea. Rather than give up all together they thought they would get their PCT experience by providing trail magic at Walker Pass. This was their tenth day of providing the most comprehensive offering I have seen to date. As we were all either sitting at the picnic table or on chairs gathered close, to take advantage of the shade, I got a first hand, close up and personal view of hikers reactions to what these girls were providing; fresh bread, deli meats, cheeses, fruit, condiments, chips, salsa, beer, soft drinks, water, even hard liquor. The girls also provided rides to the two towns relatively nearby, Lake Isabella, 39 miles west and Ridgecrest, 25 miles east. They even gave the two Toms from Belgium a ride to Bakersfield, a five hour round trip.
For hikers who have been expending large amounts of energy and subsisting on minimal diets this was a smorgasbord not to be passed up. Throughout the afternoon and into the evening hikers came and went. Most had planned to hike further before turning in for the night, however once their bellies got full and they’d had a drink, some of them decided to stay the night and visit awhile. It was nice to have a chance to interact with this diverse group of people. There were people from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Wisconsin, Oregon, California, Nevada and I don’t remember where all. They ranged in age from their late teens to mid-seventies. Academics and professionals sat next to tradesmen and farm laborers sharing food, drink and stories. Besides the obvious link of the PCT, It was somehow satisfying to discover we had more commonalities than differences.
Walker Pass to Chimney Creek, Mile 0651 to 0672
Distance; 32 miles, 11:48, 2.7 mph average, minimum elevation 3949, maximum elevation 7299, total ascent 6017, total descent 7118
The day started out with some iffy looking clouds to the west. They were bunching up obscuring views of the mountain we would be crossing that day. The trail climbed right from the beginning to over 7000 feet. The first part was on the east side of the ridge, while still in the sun the strong wind made it seem cool. On the east side the trail clung to the face of a rocky precipice where retaining wall had to be made in order to make the footing trail wide. On the west side the side hill was less abrupt and covered with trees, the trail less rocky.
As I came to where I would cross over to the west side I stopped and put my raingear on which helped with the wind chill. Crossing over we were in the clouds, visibility dropping to a couple hundred feet. Then we would cross over to the west side again and be in the sun, back to the east and in the clouds. Finally around 10:00 the clouds lifted, the wind died somewhat and I was able to remove the raingear and one of my sweatshirts.
From time to time on this trip we have set out to ride a portion of the trail identified in the trail reports as impassable for horses. In each of the earlier cases I found the hazard overstated or corrected by the time I came to it. At first I had had the advantage of following Phyllis, who was followed by Trent with me bringing up the rear. Admittedly I had been the beneficiary of their limb and tree cutting up to this point. On this day I would be the first out on the trail, “Be sure to have all the trees cut before I get there” Phyllis called to me as I left camp.
The worm turned, I-Beam noted in the water report; “A trail crew has been through there and cleared all of the downed trees. However, it looks like they stopped at Mile 669.4. From 669.4 to Chimney Creek, mile 680.8, there are over 100 trees across the trail. You can get around or over them, but it really slows you down and is exhausting. I don’t think a horse could make it through.” That would basically be the last 11 miles of today’s 32 mile ride. As a general rule, hikers are not very accurate in accessing a horse’s abilities. It isn’t that they don’t mean well, they just aren’t familiar with a horse’s capabilities. In this case, I-Beam nailed it. For the first two miles after where the trail crew had been I was able to go around, over or under the downed trees. Sometimes I had to cut some branches, sometimes I was able to muscle the tree over the side, nevertheless go arounds were doable. At a little over two miles, the trail sides turned from steep sandy slopes to sheer rock walls. Go arounds were no longer possible; to get past the tree had to be removed.
The new Silky Katanaboy and Big Boy saws worked great. I cut one tree after another, each time thinking I’ll be able to get on my horse and ride a bit when I get past this one. It wasn’t even worth getting on the horse; within yards there would be another sizeable tree to cut. It took me 4 hours to go half a mile, it was 3:30 there were ten miles to go and who knows how many more trees to cut. I knew I didn’t want to be on that narrow trail at 7000 feet elevation after dark, it’s bad enough during the day when you can see what is going to kill you, so I made the decision to turn around.
I had seen a ranch road across a valley three or four miles back. I thought I could cut across country to pick up the road which would then lead me Chimney Creek Rd where I could meet Janis another four miles away. The other option was to ride back 22 miles to Walker Pass and I wasn’t going to get there before dark either and only then after backtracking over some pretty hairy trail. I texted Janis the plan and started back down the mountain.
Shortly I met Phyllis coming the other way. I explained that a horse couldn’t get through and if we wanted to get out before dark I thought the ranch road was our best option. With so much time and effort invested in getting to where we were Phyllis needed to look at the trail ahead before turning around, she wanted to try getting through as she really didn’t want to go back over the past two miles of tough trail again. I said that I would walk back down the trail until she caught up or not if she should be able to get through.
Going down that ugly two miles of fallen trees wasn’t quite as bad as the going up, gravity was working for us somewhat, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Getting back to the cleared trail was like getting on the freeway, nothing but clear sailing. I kept going back on the trail until I realized I was putting more gulleys, steeper hillsides and trashier bottoms between where I was and where the ranch road should be. We stopped at a creek crossing to let Mercedes tank up on water and get a few mouthfuls of grass, then turning around once more we headed back up the hill searching for a way to the distant road. Eventually we got back high enough that I thought there was only one small draw that wasn’t too brushy between Mercedes and I and the ridge I believed the ranch road was on. By then it had been nearly an hour and a half since I had seen Phyllis, more than enough time for her to get to where I had turned around and back to where I was now. With only a couple hours of light left and an uncertain path ahead of me I opted to strike out for the road rather than wait any longer for Phyllis who might not be coming anyway.
Luck was with me as within 50 yards of where I dropped down into the draw I picked up a trail that took me around the ridge and to the beginning of the ranch road. Heading down the road I soon began to see lots of horse and cow sign. Mercedes gave quite a start when we came around a corner and face to face with a pair of big ol’ well fed stock horses. It would have taken two of Mercedes to make either one of them, Mercedes was nervous, they were curious. We continued down the trail, now a three horse convoy the back two tailgating closely, Mercedes was really picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down, a tempo that carried us down the valley, past the ranch and out to a waiting Janis in no time flat.
Unluckily, I had not checked my inReach for messages since starting down off the mountain. If I had I would have seen the one that said wait for Phyllis. (note to self, figure out how to make the inReaches ring when a message comes in as well as goes out!) In the meantime she had tracked me down to where I had watered Mercedes before turning around and going back up the hill, naturally my downward tracks disappeared at that point. We texted her directions on how to find my trail. I say texted very loosely, inReaches are meant to be paired with a smart phone using the smart phone’s keyboard and software and the inReaches satellite capabilities. Neither Bryce, Janis nor I use smart phones, so we had to use the four directional arrows to highlight each letter on the screen, a tedious process at best I wasn’t convinced my directions were clear, so I headed back up the hill to give what help I could. Between Phyllis and a couple of hikers they were able to decipher my code, thus, I met her coming down the ranch road, boy was I glad to see her.
Bryce knew of a good camping spot right alongside Lake Isabella, where we could spend the night. It didn’t take us long to set up camp and pour adult beverages all around. Janis and I decided to end the first part of our PCT journey right there. I passed mile 665, just barely, which is the quarter mark to Canada. Initially we wanted to make it to Horseshoe Meadow, but that road was washed out. We backed our goal back 50 miles to Kennedy Meadow but got stopped by the trees 35 miles short of there. It isn’t the end of the world, when we come back we will tack those 35 miles on to the beginning or end of the Sierra section.
Chapter 5 – Notes from the sidelines
We are home now for a few weeks rest, horses are out enjoying green grass and their pasture buddies. At the request of a few, here is chapter 5 of my “sidelines” stories, describing the last few days of our PCT Adventure, phase 1.
Leaving Landers Meadow, I drove back down Piute Mtn Rd and was pleased to see that the road crew had finished the road grading project, making my drive easier than I anticipated. Rose, BG and I drove to the Lake Isabella KOA to refill our water tanks and proceeded to Lake Isabella to fuel up and find a pair of hind shoes for BG. I also stopped to buy a few pre-mixed salads and a pre-cooked chicken breast. A cold salad for dinner on a hot day was a real treat for us.
Our destination was Bird Spring Pass. Before we left home for this trip, the truck routes had been loaded in the Garmin Nuvi. Unfortunately, once we were on the road, the routes disappeared so I spent quite a bit of time studying maps. Backing up on narrow dirt roads was something I wanted to avoid. We drove 5 mph for over an hour, finally reaching our parking spot for the night. The top of Bird Spring Pass which was not set up for trailers and I needed to turn around. I started to maneuver the trailer when a voice from the shadows called out and asked if I needed a spotter. I looked up the hill and saw 6-8 hikers huddled under a Joshua Tree, resting in the shade. I laughed and said “oh good, an audience” which brought laughter and encouragement. I got the trailer turned around and parked in just the right place with minimal effort and received a round of applause for my efforts.
Next morning the hikers that camped with us were up early, ready to tackle the long steep climb they faced that morning. Gary and BG started up the trail as Mercedes, Rose and I drove down to the next camp, Walker Pass, an easy paved drive. We pulled in and saw another horse trailer parked, which I parked alongside. The driver was Bryce, the other rider’s husband and crew. We exchanged introductions and after I got my horse taken care of, we sat with the trail angels who had set up an amazing selection of beverages and food for the hikers. The look on each hikers face when they saw the food was priceless. We saw the hikers who had left Bird Spring Pass that morning, among them “Milwaukee Bob” who talked about home and his daughter, who he hoped could join him soon. Gary and Phyllis, the other rider, arrived and at one point there were quite of few of us huddled around the picnic table and “trail magic”, all talking and laughing at the same time. It was an especially nice day with the abundance of hikers that came and went… such a variety of people from all over the world and of all ages.
The drive to our next camp, Chimney Creek Campground was long but much of it was along a highway. I parked in a great spot only to have someone in a US Government truck tell me the campground was closed so I moved to a wide spot on the gravel road, 500’ from the PCT trail crossing. I didn’t unpack because Gary was unsure if he could actually make it to camp. We knew a trail crew had cleared trees up to mile 668 or 669 but we weren’t sure Gary could ride the next 12 miles – dozens of trees were reportedly down and getting past them with a horse would be challenging. I waited a few hours and just when I started to unpack, Gary texted and gave me a location to meet him. Bryce was parked at the trail crossing and was walking up to ask me if I had heard anything. I told him Gary was turning back and found the location we needed to be on the laptop maps, then on the Nuvi and plotted a course. It was 3 miles as the crow flies, but 8 miles on a steep windy road. Bryce had been warned that this road included a massive boulder that had come down and the forest ranger was not sure we could make it past that boulder. We set out for the bottom of the hill, several thousand feet down. We finally saw the boulder on the road and were able to get by with about a foot to spare – piece of cake!
We reached the location Gary had mentioned and within 20 minutes I saw him riding toward us. After texts were received from Phyllis, Gary went back up the trail to help her find her way out to where we waited. Bryce and I had decided it was time for a large adult beverage, and after Gary and Phyllis both arrived, we all drove to a quiet spot along Lake Isabella to camp for the night, took care of the horses then sat in our trailer talking about the day’s ride and the frustration of having to turn back. Gary and I planned to head for home to give the horses a rest and wait for the snow to melt while Phyllis and Bryce stayed to ponder their next move.
Sunday evening, we arrived home to rain. I hadn’t seen rain other than a few sprinkles, since I left home 30 days earlier! It took me a day to adjust to no travel. I’ve had just enough time to get all the laundry done, repack clothing in the trailer, make the bed and prepare a shopping list for our resupply. The trailer will soon be ready for phase 2. Now we need the weather to cooperate. Hard to imagine the snow all melting when it is still snowing in places. Stay tuned… more in a month!
Day 90 Chimney Creek to Spanish Needle Creek & back, Mile 0681-0672-0681
Back on the Trail again!
Distance; 18.9, trail time; 5:20, average speed; 3.5, minimum elevation; 5525, maximum elevation; 7013, total ascent; 3136, total descent; 3099
I am posting out of chronological order starting with this days ride. It is my hope that someone may use my experience to plan their own. To that end; I am going to post as if I was able to do the trail south to north in one continuous ride. The majority of the text is from my original blog, with some additions that time and memory has allowed me to add.
It is now late September and Janis and I have returned to Southern California to pick up riding from where we were forced to abandon the trail in early May. The weather has cooled considerably, from the high nineties to low seventies during the day. Today was the first day of the Sierra segment of the trip. Actually it was the first day of the preSierra portion. Janis rode BG and I took Mercedes, accompanied by our faithful dog Rose who was going for her first real trail ride, we rode south from Chimney Creek campground to where I was frustrated by downed trees last May and forced to turn around. I had been told by hikers that we camped with at Walker Pass, and who I shared a camp with at the Canadian Border that had I only gone another half mile the trail would have been clear for me last spring. I think that in the last half mile we passed four good sized logs I would have had to cut out and several more that would have been challenging go arounds. Perhaps I could have made it through, or perhaps I could have fallen off the cliff in the dark, given what I knew then I still think I made the right choice.
Good trail most of the way today, sandy through huge boulder fields and hillsides. There were some rocky ledges to go over but even they were in the “not so bad” class. It is kind of nice to ride some trails where you are only going to fall a couple hundred feet instead of a thousand. We noticed the sun was different here than in the North Cascades, it seems more intense, the air is definitely drier. I thought we might get away from the smoke but a fire northwest of us is making a slight haze that obscures distant ridges. Tomorrow we resume our trek north.
Day 91 Chimney Creek to Kennedy Meadows, miles 0681-0704
Distance; 23.9, Time; 6.22, average speed; 3.7, minimum elevation; 5643, maximum elevation; 7991, total ascent; 3904, total descent; 3562
Today BG and I started back north. Yesterday we were in the Owens Peak Wilderness, crossing the road where we were camped we entered the Chimney Peak Wilderness. For the first seven miles the trail was heavily forested, heavy by Southern California standards. We climbed to 8000 feet over a ridge where we entered the Domeland Wilderness.
I thought as we were climbing to the top of the ridge that we would be getting a panorama of the Sierras but it wasn’t to be. From the top of the ridge what we saw were more burnt trees and more dry ridges. We dropped down the other side into the high desert landscape of Rockhouse Basin. Skirting the east side of the basin we intercepted and then followed the south fork of the Kern River. The trail itself was good, mostly sandy tread; it did get soft and deep in spots. The grades were steady but gentle and the pure rock ledges rare.
I was anxious to reach Kennedy Meadows. Meadows would be a loose term, high desert flat is more accurate, except for a narrow strip along the Kern River which is thick with willows and grass. Though I was arriving four months later than I’d planned the name still holds a mystical quality for the thru hiker or rider.
Every thru hiker knows Kennedy Meadows. Kennedy Meadows is also a remote hamlet reached by 25 miles of narrow, STEEP, twisty road. Kennedy Meadows offers the last on trail resupply for the next couple hundred miles. There is a small general store and an internet café, both of which offer meals, camping, showers and laundry to the hikers. In the spring the businesses are awash with hikers waiting for the snow to melt in the Sierras.
We had stopped at the store a few years ago, in late May, on one of our scouting missions. At that time there must have been twenty or more hikers lounging about the steps, porch and yard. The sheer number of hikers had put a strain on the store’s resources, to the point a cup of coffee was hard to come by. This late in the fall the store had an abandoned feel, though the shelves were well stocked. Janis and I were the only ones camping in the dispersed camping areas in the three miles between the store and the campground, which was empty as well. Tonight we are camped along the South Fork of the Kern River which is a high mountain stream at this point. The horses are enjoying the running water and even got baths while the sun was still hot.