This year it was difficult for me to write anything at all. I just had the feeling that nothing was interesting enough to be worth reading for anyone. I struggled to think of anyway to write this story down but I decided instead of doing each day and posts of 20 days at a time like last year I will do a story of each week and keep it a bit more basic. I don't know when or how much time will pass between each updated week but here is the first.
June 1st 2012, a number, a designation for a calendar, just another year down the cosmic lengths of the 4th dimension. Flowing down the filthy freeway of highway 99 in the oppressive summer heat zipping by countless people with their own stories I stared at the range of mountains rising from the valley floor. That is of course what I could see of them through the disgusting muck of what is called human "progress". It had only been 8 months since I had returned from my last big journey in the great hills rising before me yet my soul felt heavily fatigued. 8 months was more then enough to continue the degradation that was occurring within me. I had spent the last 8 months back in a life that offered me nothing but took everything. Even the ambitions only a year before that had the potential to spark new life within me no longer held any drive. The only thing that made sense to me any more was to continue one desire that held within my heart which was further exploration of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Since the summer of 2009 I had spent more then 200 days roaming the great range and it had done little to satisfy my need to see more so I had spent the last many months working out logistics of a hike that for most people would be the ultimate life journey. For me on the other hand it was just a continuation of what no longer seemed to be anything other then what I could call my real life. The mountains where the only real home I knew and I soon would be back within their warm embrace. WEEK 1 MAP
Winding and bouncing up the old Mineral King road the temperature slowly dropped while we climbed away from the valley below. If all went well I would not be dropping below 7,000 feet more then a few times in the next 140 days of Sierra travel. It wasn't until the sight of Oak trees were replaced with beautiful healthy species of Pine that I was able to have any real emotions about what was about to transpire. Like my other trips of this nature the over all scope of what lay before me was so immense that my mind could not take it in. I could not feel excited until I stepped out of the Jeep as cool fresh air and the sweet smell of pine hit my nose. The sound of fresh running water and the long happy call of the Douglas Squirrel sounded near by. It was then that I knew I was home.
I had never reserved a permit before and like every other year it was time to go pick it up. I was afraid it would be a very long process since I was starting within Sequoia National Park. The Mineral King Ranger Station turned out to be far more primitive and they did not have a computer system. When I informed the Ranger of my 140 day plan he gave me a piece of paper to write every day down. This clearly was going to take some time only made worse by the fact that many lakes I was going to camp at had no name. I had only got about 5 locations into it when I decided on a better solution. I had my entire itinerary printed out in my pack. I got that and the Ranger was able to photo copy it making the process painless. As for any reaction to my huge trip he seemed largely complacent.
I got a site at the Cold Springs Campground and my ride headed on home. I got set up
and relaxed. Almost every item I had this year had been replaced and I had at least one item I had never carried before in the back country and that was a Samsung Galaxy 5. As I sat and considered this it suddenly hit me hard that I had forgotten the USB cord to charge the damn thing. I also had a separate small MP3 player that I had forgot the cord also. I hadn't even hit the trail yet and I was already planning for things to be brought to me. Not such a good start.
Strapping on my pack for the first time was a heavy burden with 14 days worth of food which was more then I had ever carried. I had on the other hand got my base weight down to about 20 pounds so it was not the heaviest pack I had carried. I began up the road to the trail head that was about a mile away. Before too long I was breathing quite heavily as the sweat came on. I was a heavy 245 pounds and had done even less this year around to train which was a common theme for me. Since I have never driven before I didn't have the luxury of driving to a near by trail or general good hill to climb and simply walking out the door and going for a walk is far less appealing. The end result is weeks of really hard work before I get back into decent shape.
Making my way up the steep road and into Mineral King Valley
I was in an extremely good mood to be back in the Sierra. What could possibly lay ahead was anyones guess. My first point of interest was Franklin Creek.
I was anxious to see what it was going to throw at me. Last year I had crossed it on July 5th and it was the most dangerous crossing of my 2011 trip. Reaching it I was delighted to see that it was an easy ford or even not one at all as while I put my shoes back on two other hikers came along and hoped across without getting wet. I just didn't take the time to even look close enough to see it could be done. I then began leap frogging with these two hikers as we both had trouble tackling the constant up hill
battle. The Mineral King Valley
was not the lush green paradise it had been the year before. The winters death grip was still clinging to the area. A Bald Eagle soared over head as I slowly made my way up the hill. By the time I was closing in on Franklin Lakes I was beat. I normally never wear sun glasses in the Sierra unless I am on snow and it seemed unusually bright outside. Oppressed by blinding light and completely depleted of energy I got my first good look
at the lakes. I had already been given advise as to where better camping is on Franklin so I pushed beyond the dam area to mid lake. The down side of this was that there were no bear boxes. For some reason they had been located below the dam in a viewless campsite. So I had a whole crap load of food that was not in my bear barrel and no where to store it. I began to set up my tent and to my dismay I had left my tent stakes in the campground below. I now had no tent for the next two weeks until I could have some more brought to me with my cords. A large population of Marmots was patrolling
the area but I did not think anything of it yet. I had spent some time talking to other hikers when I went back to my camp to notice one of my new water shoes I had left on the ground like I always do was completely gone. OH YOU LITTLE BASTARDS! I exclaimed! I began the hunt and finally saw my shoe under a huge rock. I crawled underneath it and got my shoe back to find it was chewed up.
For the next many hours I was under constant assault. I had to guard every piece of gear I had. I felt completely helpless laying out in the open with no protection from the Marmots. Finally I pulled out my garlic salt and dumped a great deal of it on the ground which the Marmots
happily fought over leaving most of my stuff alone. One of the other hikers had the Marmots chewing up his sleeping bag while he was in it trying to sleep! This year I made an attempt to cut weight in allot of ways. One of them was to replace my 6 gallon kitchen sink system that weighed 11 ounces with a 10 liter bucket that was 2.8 ounces. My first trip down to the water which left me out of breath when I set the bucket down at camp it immediately dumped over. This just isn't going to work I thought so another piece of gear put on the list of things I need to replace. The night was frigid and I was not able to stay warm very well.
Waking up the next morning I was covered in a good layer of condensation. I began the now new again routine of the daily pack up. One of the other hikers I had talked to came over and offered his tent stakes to me so I wouldn't be completely exposed out here which I later would be quite grateful for! I began up Franklin Pass
and picked apart the trail in typical trail worker fashion. Closing in
on the top I was already beat. The last couple of years I had not gone straight to high altitude and I could certainly feel the lack of oxygen. Once I had puffed my way to the top
I had my first sections of snow to cross for the year. Nothing challenging though and before I knew it I was making my way down
admiring the aesthetic rock formations
littering the sandy slopes. A cold breeze was blowing which little did I know would be the theme for this entire hike. Maybe it was my own jinx as they call it since after my previous years hike I thought how I hardly had had any wind at all in 2010 and 2011 which I thought was odd considering it was the mountains. This year looking back I cannot recall a day that I did not have wind. Although the distance from Franklin Lakes to Forester Lake was only 5 miles by the time I was climbing the last gentle slopes to the lake I was completely out of energy. At this point I was glad I had played it smart and only planned 5 miles a day to begin this hike. Reaching the lake
I found a couple wonderful camp sites in wide open forest areas. An orange hue had long covered the sky from a fire raging in the direction of Golden Trout Wilderness. Little flakes of ashes rained down as I got set up in the quiet solitude. I had left the people behind at Franklin Lakes and I would not see another human again for 6 days. I stripped down and actually jumped all the way into the lake which to my delight was quite warm in Sierra lakes standards. Generally I am a cold water wimp and getting all the way into the water happens perhaps twice in a 3 month period on the trail. Doing so on day two left me hoping that this may be a theme for the year. Looking back... ha ha! yeah right...
Leaving the area it was a quick hop over the hill and down to Little Claire Lake.
This lake had me a bit intrigued because the regulation page attached to my permit said no camping within a 100 feet of Little Claire Lake. But wait? Your not allowed to camp within 100 feet of any body of water if the terrain allows for it. No closer then 25 feet period. As I stood at the lake it was clear that the terrain was not an issue. I suppose the violations were just so bad that a special notation needed to be added...
Dropping down the first switchback I began to leave the trail. I was on my way to Amphitheater Lake and I thought I would do a bit of a lake tour by moving West to Lake 10,569 and then North East past a smaller lake and on up to Amphitheater. However I didn't get very far before a mix of cliffs stood in my way offering fine views
of the canyon. I scanned carefully but trees obscured any solid promises of a doable route. I was so green on this 3rd day of hiking that I did not feel like meandering around these cliffs looking for a route so I went back to the trail and on down. Before I had switched to the bottom I bailed off and began up Soda Creek. Navigating up this canyon was a major mix of terrain ranging from difficult creek hoping to slightly bush whacking to steep tiring hills. Plenty of beautiful cascades kept things interesting as I pushed on up. The closer I got the more snow that was scattered on the ground making things a bit more difficult as I climbed through the nasty half dead black stained willows that as you rub on them they leave you covered in crap. I was in bit of a pessimistic mood being so worn out by the time I reached a level area that was strikingly beautiful
in it's simplicity. It served to rejuvenate me for the final steep push
for Amphitheater. As I climbed
clouds began swarming in at high rates. In about 20 minutes blue skies gave way to grey cloud cover. I reached the lake
to find it almost completely frozen over. Freezing winds were blowing as I began looking for a place to set up. There were very few locations but I managed to find a flat spot.
I sat for some time staring at my next goal which was Crystal Pass. It did not look good. I used my monocular to carefully study every piece of it. I could not see a single approach that would not put me on very steep snow slopes intermixed with steep smooth slabs. Before long I could no longer consider it though when the clouds completely engulfed the area. It was freezing so I got in my tent and tried to stay warm. The winds picked up more and more and before I knew it snow began ripping down. It was becoming a full blown blizzard out as I laughed to myself about losing my tent stakes. Without the ones that nice hiker had given me I would of only had the choice to pull out my tent and climb in it like a bivy. For the next many hours the storm showed no signs of letting up as the winds ripped around 40mph. I only had a 32 degree bag and tonight was supposed to be about 19F without counting wind chill factor. It clearly was a matter of survival mode at this point as I put on every shirt I had and wrapped the rest of my clothes around my feet. All night long the winds never let up. Several times my trekking pole fell down and the tent collapsed. After 3 or 4 times I gave up and thought it was probably better for the sake of my tents survival to leave it down. Other then my sleeping bag being 32 degrees it also was too small. At one point I tried to zip it up but after an hour or so I realized that the lack of loft from my body smashing into it was worse then just using it quilt style. But even quilt style it was not large enough to completely close off over my head so I always had a draft. Any rolling over also required me to adjust it behind my back.
After a long cold night the sun rose but the winds were still ripping. I climbed out of my tent into absolutely freezing winds and examined the scene
around me. A good layer of new snow was on all the surrounding peaks and my camp. Every single creek that had been flowing down from the surrounding peaks was now frozen in time. My water bottles and the lake were also frozen solid. I needed water bad so I went down
with my ice axe and beat through the ice which had frozen over about an inch thick. Looking again at Crystal Pass
I decided it was too dangerous to proceed. My only choice at this point would be to cut foot holds in solid ice as I made my way up. I briefly considered climbing the Eastern ridge of Sawtooth Peak but I decided turning around and going back down Soda Creek and around on the trail was the better choice. I very slowly packed up my gear as things were slowing down with the onset of hypothermia. Once I got off of this plateau the winds weren't a problem as I made my way down Soda Creek and back to the trail. It was a rather uneventful hike down canyon in the cold air. Seeing all the iron filled spring ponds I knew now why it was called Soda Creek. After passing a difficult downed tree and nearing the junction I set up in a basic camp and considered my route ahead. Once I had finished this jaunt around Mineral King I would be heading out to Kaweah Basin and I knew all the lakes were still going to be frozen. After the episode at Amphitheater and considering I am a person that likes to do laundry and bathe every other day the thought of frozen lakes for days on end was not appealing at all. So ultimately I decided the best thing would be to burn my extra food right now and then proceed with my next section early and then do a trip to Kaweah Basin. So even though I had lugged it for the last 4 days 6 days of food was thrown on top of my camp fire.
Other then down trees these trails were uneventful. Passing Lost Canyon Creek I checked the bear box. Hmm, Fuel, Camelback, food, crap. Nothing unusual there. Up over and down the hill I went as I got my first glance at Red Kaweah
from this prospective. What an awesome peak to be on I thought. After passing the lowest Big Five Lakes
I took lunch as the icy wind blew on me. Cold...always cold. Cold at night, cold all day. Just a cold world around me.
Passing the second lake
and then to the largest
the trail took me straight into a camp site. I considered it heavily but decided that there was just no good location to set up my tent so I began making my way around the Northern shore.
Nothing... Then it was back onto what was left of the trail and on to the upper lake.
I was certainly not going any further then this lake so I began major scan mode for any place at all to set up a tent. Nothing... I went up and then back down as I made my way around the lake. Not a single F**king place to set up I exclaimed. Not even a place to just lay your body with no tent! Finally I found a flat enough spot with over grown grass buds that I began hacking out with my ice axe. Sometimes you simply have to make your own camp. As the sun set I sat on a rock and thought heavily about what these regulations mean. I always thought that Sequoia like Kings Canyon had a blanket 10,000 fire elevation rule but that wasn't true. The paper said that Kern River drainage areas were 10,400 feet. Was this one of them? This whole area does drain into the Kern. But wait it says that Big arroyo areas are 10,000. This does drain into the Big Arroyo before the Kern... I sat and tried to understand the wording of the regulations and debated on making a fire since I was at 10,240 and it was cold. I went back and forth until I finally decided to have one.
I left directly out of my camp and began up the slope
of what I am calling 5 Lakes Pass. The slope was highly intermixed with small shelves, talus fields and grass ramps. After lots of heavy breathing I was on top. The over all view
was fantastic. I went left off the top into a choke point that was a single class 3 move and delivered me out on easy snow slopes to the bottom
. I went between the 2 upper lakes so I could see the Kaweahs from the South Western shore.
I then instead of picking up the trail followed the shore line almost to the outlet and went out on the Eastern slopes to get a view down
which was well worth the effort. Once I had taken the trail down to the lower lake
I went around to the Ranger hut
hoping to say hello but it was too early in the year for a Ranger. After making my way back I went past the last lake
of the area and on down to where it was time to leave the trail again. Making my way up this nameless creek was at first easy as I picked up a decent use trail but before long I lost it and continued up the creek which led me into a narrow choke point and forced me higher up
the rock faces. After a few difficult creek crossings I was closing in
on my destination of Lake 10,410. Now before getting here I debated on making a fire. That damn 10 feet was killing me. 10 feet! But 10 feet below the lake was a sign marking no fires above this point. This was both a let down and a nice thing to see as this meant that the fire I made the night before was not illegal and this area was indeed 10,400 feet.
Since the outlet
of the lake would have to be forded and I was on the South Side I made my way around that side of the lake. My initial surprise was that I had been told this lake was completely boring and not worth visiting. I however thought it was easily the nicest out of the Little Five Lakes.
Despite enjoying the views once again I could not locate a place to camp. I climbed way up the South Eastern slopes of the lake to find nothing. I kept going around the lake without luck until I was almost on it's western shore where I began dangerous post holing through SUV size rocks. The only positive side was that this shore offered nice views
of the Kaweahs. Once on the West side I was back in the trees yet still nothing. I did find an illegal fire ring but there was not a single place to lay your body around it! About half way around the Northern shore I found lots of nice camping after over an hour of searching. While sitting in the cold I stared up at Red Kaweah as it completely called to me. I needed to summit! I had the fever and I was going to add it to the list while heading for Kaweah Basin. I went for a waist deep dip in the lake which was cold on an industrial scale.