Into the Sierra Nevadas on a six day backpacking hike!
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
When one seeks a real adventure ..
Where you challenge your body and mind ..
A place of rugged beauty ..
To get away from it all ..
Where no one tells you what to do ..
Where you live and suffer from your own decisions ..
Permits: You get a $20 camping permit at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232077 for the Onion Valley Campground to stay over for the night before the hike
You get a backpacking permit at https://www.recreation.gov/permits/ eventually to be picked up the day before your hike at the visitor center. The visitor center is located 2 miles south of Lone Pine, CA 93545, at the junction of Highway 395 and Stare Route 136 and you can call them at 760-876-6200.
Now you must plan and prepare and practice for your backpacking adventure...
Plan: My friend Randy Simpson who has been to Sierra Nevadas every year for so many years planned my itinerary. He knew this was a first for me: first solo trip, first backpacking trip in decades, first trip in that area ... He chose Onion Valley Campground as starting point at 9000 ft elevation and then going through 12000 ft elevation Kearsarge and Glen passes to Rae Lakes and then return by essentially the same route. A six day trip had an overnight at a lake along along the way ... well for most of the days! I was able to locate and download this trail on my iPhone through the ALLTRAILS gps app (see two map pictures in the gallery of photos). I also located it on my Garmin satellite phone.
Getting the Gear: The recent heart troubles with an emergency room visit followed by two day hospital stay and multiple tests and then wearing a heart monitor daily for 24 hrs. All this happened only a few weeks before the backpacking trip. My son and wife were against this foolish adventure. But my heart was set and the mind said I must have the best and lightest gear, I must prepare for all eventualities as best as I can. So here's what I bought/obtained:
Ultra light tent with groundsheet and bag (Tarpent Moment) 34+7 oz $450+
Light sleeping bag (Coop Radiant) 19) 39 oz $200
Backpack (Deuter aircontact lite 50+10) 5.5 oz $200
Backpack cover (REI Duck's Back 60L Rain Cover) 5.5 oz $20
Sleeping Pad (ThermaRest Pro-Lite Plus) 16 oz $70
Water filter (Katadyn) 3 liter 3.5 oz $70
Bladder and hose (Osprey) 2.5 liter 5.9 oz $20
Water bucket collapsible (platypus) 3 liter 3 oz $20
Stove (Jetboil zip cooking) 12 oz $80
Fuel (Jetboil Jetpower) 3 x 2 oz $40
Trekking poles $50
Bear Cannister (BearValult BV 450 food container) 33 oz $50
Jacket downie (Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer) 7.4 oz $200+
Other clothes: Rain Jacket, Hiking pants (2), Hiking shirts (2), Hiking boots, Socks (2 pairs), Long underwear top and bottom (1), Wool cap and hiking cap, gloves; already had most of the clothes so the cost was just $100+
Hardcopy maps in plastic
Medicines: Steroids and Tylenol for migraine
Toiletries: light towel, mirror, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, soap, toilet paper, shovel
Misc: flashlights, BIC lighters, ziplock bags, first aid box, titanium cup, spoon, fork
Breakfast food: oatmeal packets, scrambled eggs (Mountain House)
Lunch: high energy snacks and nuts
Dinner: freeze dried packs of lasagna, curry and korma, Lasagna, chicken and dutmplings (Mountain House or Good-to-Go) $ 7.50 each pack; Half the food I couldn't eat due to lack of time or was just too much!
Most important: satellite phone for emergency and limited contact was $450 plus $100 for setup and monthly charges
All of the equipment had to be tested to avoid unpleasant surprises on the trail! It all cost much thought and an arm and a leg!
Day -1, Scottsdale, AZ to Lone Pine, CA
Drove 600+ miles from home to the Town of Lone Pine stopping in LA to visit an elderly lady friend in an assisted care facility. Very heartened/impressed with the personal care in a changed/improved facility. The wife of the owner hand fed my elderly friend, A tough visit, Spent an hour plus having a light cheery conversation. Stayed overnight at Dow Villa .. an original over 100 yr hotel .. my second stay here!
Day 0, Lone Pine, CA and Onion Valley Campground
Today was a disaster and I almost gave up on the whole backpacking idea.
The day actually started quite well with a sumptuous breakfast at the favorite Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery. Met Art G. who had already done a 8 day backpacking trip elsewhere in the Sierra Nevadas and was killing a free day before flying back to Pennsylvania. When I told him about the plan to stay overnight at Onion Valley Campground he wanted to visit and do a hike up to Kearsarge Pass and back.
After picking up my backpacking permit at the Inyo Forest visitor center I headed towards the Onion Valley Campground, Reaching the campground I found my tent site and soon Art joined me. I just wanted to get a feel for the upcoming hike. We walked together for a while, stopping to chat with other hikers and sharing experiences,
As it was getting late in the afternoon I let him go further and came back to pitch the tent. Now it was cold, very cold, The wind was howling. Later on I found out that it was 70 mph and that most other people had slept in their cars or gone back to town. I would try to set the stakes at four corners and sit down on the tent but to no avail. Everything was flying away, Spent more than an hour struggling, The afternoon had now turned to evening and I was no close to getting the tent setup. I finally gave up. Packing everything away I discovered that one metal framing rod was missing, Tried to find it but couldn't.
Drove back to Lone Pine very dejected, If I can't even set up a tent in a campground how the heck could I set it up every night after a long tiring day of hiking at those high altitudes? First stop back was the hiking store where we improvised another framing strut after cutting a rod with a hacksaw. We practiced putting up the tent at the back of the store,
Finally I went back to Dow Villa and invited Art G for dinner, We had a good tender steak. Art suggested that I may consider a change of plans and hike in a different area where the elements (wind/cold) would not be this brutal, I wasn't so keen. My heart was dejected but still set on Kearsarge Pass and the Rae Lakes. Finally we looked at the weather forecast. Tomorrow the winds would subside, I decided to go back to Onion Valley Campground in the morning.
Day 1, Onion Valley Campground to Gilbert Lake
Hiked 2 mi, Climbed from 9000 -10500 ft elevation
A hard first day!
Last minute cramming of extra rechargeable battery, more food .. backpack probably weights 40+ lb and feels like 100 lb .. do you remember Reese Witherspoon in the movie WILD as she struggled to put on her backpack before embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail? I felt exactly like her ... dumbfounded and incredulous .. what the heck am I doing?
Anyways I get it all on and start walking (see first solo photo with backpack) .. I am committed .. one step and then another and another and I am on my way! And it feels good!
Multiple stops to admire waterfalls, lakes and snow capped peaks and catch my breath :)
Finally at Gilbert Lake .. my destination for night camp .. the lake is beautiful .. you can see many fish swimming in the crystal clear water .. but there's no time to dally .. must prepare for the night
Mike, the lone camper at this site, helps with setting the tent .. it has to be 100 ft from the lake
I share my chicken and mashed potatoes meal .. he offers the most delicious rice and beans
We sit late and admire the beauty of the night sky with billions of bright stars and cosmic dust.
Next day at the crack of dawn we have oatmeal breakfast ... he goes down and I climb up Two of my initial photos are with him (see photo gallery below)
Day 2, Gilbert Lake to Kearsarge Pass to Charlotte Lake
Hiked 6 mi, 10,500 - 12,000 - 10,800 ft elev
On the trail I immediately meet a John Muir Trail hiker and he shows me how to extract nuts to have a breakfast (see photo with a bearded person in a hat in photo gallery below)
After hiking past a few more spectacular lakes one is above the tree line on a narrow screed path
The air gets more rarefied and difficult to breathe
Finally at Kearsarge Pass (see selfie solo photo at the Kearsarge Pass sign)
It’s cold and the wind howls
View on other side with trees, grass and string of lakes is amazing
But it’s uncomfortable and I don’t even stop to send the final text by iPhone to family/friends .. There's no phone connection after this
Half mile from Charlotte Lake .. it’s getting dark
I meet John who tells me to stay above the lake and in the trees away from the cold winds
I pitch camp near John's tent .. on the hill above the lake and boil oatmeal for dinner .. too tired to cook anything more substantive
Day 3, To Charlotte lake Ranger Station to Pacific Crest Trail towards Glen Pass
Hiked 2 mi, 10800 ft to 10400 ft to 11300 ft
The actual goal was Glen Pass and then 3 miles beyond to the lower Rae Lakes
But I couldn’t do it
After a late start, I finally make it to Charlotte Lake and cook a good breakfast after taking/filtering lake water, boiling water and frozen scrambled eggs on the jetboil stove.
A mule train passes by .. I follow it to the Ranger station by the lake and am told there is an old unmaintained and overgrown trail at the back that should connect with the Pacific Crest Trail so that I do not have to retrace my steps
So I go forth, bushwhacking through a steep mountain with boulders and slippery/sliding slopes and rain and snow .. I take multiple breaks .. the views across are spectacular (see first photo below) .. it is late afternoon when I come upon the Pacific Crest/John Muir Trail .. what a relief!
Finally, at 11000 ft elevation, I make it to a lake below Glen Pass (see photo with pink sky over dark mountains) and pitch camp before dark.
I spent a strange night all alone: water froze, frost over tent, strangeness in toes (after 3 months they are still numb), weird dreams about an uncle's funeral with mom arranging all the rites and neighbors in buildings on both sides of a narrow street looking down .. weird!
Glad to see dawn and feel the sun’s warmth!
Day 4, to Glen Pass and Rae Lakes (destination)
Hiked 4 mi, 11300 ft to 12100 ft to 10500 ft
Glen Pass is the highest point on this journey so it is a tough climb through steep switchbacks
Today I meet Fabio from Portugal .. he is hiking the entire 3000 mile Pacific Crest Trail .. Started in Canada on July 4 and will finish a month later at the Mexico border .. we chat for quite a while .. he is a travel guide, a photographer and an author as well .. been to Iran, Kurdistan, Indian, Australia and many more countries in Europe and Asia! We promised to stay touch and we do .. At the end of his PCT hike he comes to Arizona and we show off the Grand Canyon State
On the way up to Glen Pass I also meet Ki and Lee (see if you can figure out our photo below .. all of us have backpacks, Ki has a light grey cap and Lee is with a green cap that covers his ears). I am 63, Ki is 64 and Lee is 65. We laugh and joke. They invite me to visit them in Monterey, California.
Finally I am at Glen Pass where I meet hiking buddies Jesus and Jean (see young man with dark grey jacket and hat and girl in middle between us in photo below) and we identify the many peaks around us .. Jesus has been to Mt Everest base camp and says altitude does not bother him
Descent, even with the backpack, is easier and the views are just stupendous!
I dally .. chat with an Australian couple (see me with man in shades and woman with hat in photo below) who had completed half of their 15 day hike .. they invite me to visit them at their home in Brisbane .. maybe I will next year!
At Rae lakes I think I got the best real estate/camping spot with a view of the entire southern lake and an island and snow covered peaks beyond! There are tents and people all around but I stay to myself .. cook a good meal .. maybe it was spicy korma and vegetables and tuck myself in for the night.
The next morning I wake up before dawn .. fully intending to begin hiking early .. Steve, a JMT hiker (in the photo below he is wearing a red jacket and a white hat) just had to stop and take in the views and we chatted for quite a while .. he tells me the difference between Pacific Crest Trail (3000 mi) and John Muir Trail (214 mi) hikers: PCT hikers are leaner with smaller backpacks .. he himself is a JMT hiker and has a ukelele that he plays in the evenings!
Day 5, Return to Glen Pass and Bullfrog Creek
Hiked 6 mi, 10500 ft to 12100 ft to 10600 ft elev
What took me 4 days to get to I have 2 days to return .. Can I?
The 2000 ft climb back to Glen Pass is not easy .. I can now climb without as many breaks .. at one stop I meet 3 Japanese folks: Chika, Taro from Nagoya and Teddy (see photo in gallery below) .. Teddy tells us how he stole his wife of 40 years from Bruce Lee's karate class into his own school .. Taro suggested if I am ever in Japan to look him up and we can hike to Mt Fuji!
Up at the top at Glen Pass there’s a young man in great pain with nausea, headache and stomach ache .. symptoms of altitude sickness .. he is with a group of young people, mostly women who are having a great time (see selfie photo with 6 people with their necks inclined including me) .. they decide to continue onwards/downward to Rae Lakes
Its late afternoon .. and I am almost out of water .. no creek in sight .. soon it will be dark.
I stop at the Pacific Crest Trail/Charlotte Lake/Kearsarge Pass Trail fork where there’s a flat spot to pitch tent.
Choice: use water to cleanup or to cook food? I prepare and eat chicken lasagna!
Day 6, To any flowing creek for water and then Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley Campground
Hiked 7+ mi, 10600 ft to 11900 ft to 9000 ft elev
First I must find water!
Hallelujah! A mile into the hike I come upon a herd of deer drinking water from a creek crossing the trail
My first bucket spills but then I overload the bladder and bottle with 3 liters after filtering
Today I finally learn how to hike uphill in slow motion without stopping
So up Kearsarge Pass at 2 pm! Jubilation!
Get applauded by a group of young men! (see photo below with a line of men applauding); I also meet a Russian woman who resides in Washington DC (see photo below)
Its all downhill now to the trailhead where I started this hike 6 days ago
Tonight will be a hot shower and a warm bed!
At 6 pm I happily stroll to the onion valley campground trailhead! Hike over! (see my last photo below)
All your extra reserves are drawn .. at these high altitudes (10000 - 12000 ft) and with over 40 lbs weighing you down its a difficult walk .. I tire easily .. out of breath and panting .. I stop every few minutes; as evening approaches .. you have done many miles and you are tired and alone .. the water has to be collected from the lake or creek and has to be filtered .. the meal to be cooked ,, the tent to be put up .. backpack to be unpacked .. clothes to be changed .. so where do you get the energy and motivation? you find its 70% mental and 30% physical .. this is a rough guess .. You just have to pull yourself up and go
Improvise .. surprises await you at every turn .. some are not so pleasant .. you must improvise and roll with the punches .. I lost my only spoon which was also used to open the bear canister .. I used the tent stake to eat; I couldn't make it to a lower elevation so I had to pitch the tent high up in the mountain at 11000 ft; I have almost no water .. should I clean myself or should I use it to prepare food? so much to think, so many decisions to make .. you just have to grin or grit and do what needs to be done .. there's no help .. its all unto you!
Solitude .. hours and hours .. you toss and turn at night .. how did you lead your life? what did you do wrong .. can you mitigate ... what do you do with people who misunderstood you, wronged you, insulted you .. the answer from Fabio, the Portuguese Pacific Crest Trail hiker was that one must be good to all people .. maybe people who hurt you are hurting themselves .. that they know no better .. that you must be good even to those people who have offended you
Fortunate and Blessed .. I do have reasonable health and wealth .. there is family .. there are true long term friends and soulmates who have your back .. you can call them anytime and pour your heart out .. your innermost secrets .. your deepest personal pain .. I make new friends fairly easily .. the old and new friends continue to rejuvenate me and make life more understandable and bearable!
The Great Outdoors .. I must keep coming back to the outdoors as that's where I am the happiest and where I see the most incredible sights and meets the most wonderful people!
You think of the past, present and future .. how should one lead one's remaining life? I must continue to be me .. continue to acquire knowledge and truth .. wear my heart on my sleeves .. espouse and participate in all the right causes even if they are unpopular.. bring happiness and succor to the unfortunate, the elderly .. continue mentoring the young .. continue to be open, friendly and supportive to all!
#perspective #outlook #newlife