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The Desert

The High Sierras


My pack ready for a new adventure! Crampons and whippet new additions.

Day 46

Finally heading off into the unknown! Me and Nic did the trail the first two miles, but Emi and Russ who had accidentally walked it a couple of days before when they arrived at KM, decided to walk the road instead. We met up at the campground that was the last checkpoint before going straight into the wild. There was a trail angel guy there giving out mango and interviewing us for a book. And our rivaling team, Yard Sale, Bandit, Metric, and Crusher also showed up just after us. If your memory isn't as good as mine I can tell you that I met them the day out of Mojave, approximately a week before this (see day 38). The trail angel guy asked me in his interview: "What are your biggest fears taking on The Sierras?". The answer came to me easy. I was afraid I couldn't do it.

Goodbye KM, it was kind of nice to leave you. I was way to bored, and way to anxious to start our new adventure!

Hummingbird looking real sneaky.

Russ ready to take on the Sierras as we were leaving the KM campground. And now we walk, into the wild.

So we headed out, no snow this day. The terrain had shifted a bit with more trees, but the ground was still as sandy as ever. The trail continued to follow the South Fork of the Kern River for two more miles before it crossed over a large footbridge and turned due north-west. We kept climbing through a large burn area and stopped for lunch near a really nice creek, with a small waterfall. Nic played the Harry Potter theme song on his flute that he had just picked up at Kennedy Meadows. I, unfortunately, left my titanium knife here, that I used for spreading peanut butter on my tortillas. After that, I was forced to gain the skill of spreading peanut butter with my spork.

The terrain quickly shifting towards denser forest covering the landscape.

Nic and Emi excited for what's to come!

The South Fork of the Kern River raging below us.

The others making sure we document our journey properly, entering such an important phase in our hike.

Nic at our lunchspot, with a nice waterfall on the side.

After lunch, the trail left the burn area and entered a huge meadow. This was what I had envisioned from the Sierras, and it felt like stepping over the threshold to a new world. Now, finally, we at last in the Sierras. My struggles started shortly after, due to my pack weight being way too heavy, and I was soon lagging behind the others. The trail climbed up through a pine forest, and down again to the South Fork of the Kern River, flowing slowly through the large meadow. We stopped and took a break, together with rivaling team. I filled my bottle for the first time without treating the water. I had sent my water filter north to South Lake Tahoe in the hopes that I wouldn't need to filter my water during the Sierra section. More on that later...

Entering the huge meadow, the snow covered tops in the distance.

A weather worn sign marking the trail.

The South Fork of the Kern River for the last time.

The river snaking its way through the large meadow.

After the break, I switched backpack with Russ. He said mine was lighter, but I don't think he could really have meant it. Because walking with his was a breeze in comparison. We kept climbing up, higher and higher, into the mountains. The terrain becoming more alpine for each mile we passed. When we hit snow we decided to set up camp. We found a really nice looking, flattish surface and enjoyed the sunset at the first Sierra camp together. Nic looked at my pack and discovered my frame wasn't inserted into my hip belt the right way, so he fixed it. Which turned out to be a huge deal the following day, which was a breeze compared to this one! Good to have a smart guy in the team...

A toad showing of the new fauna in the sierras.

Nic playing the Harry Potter theme on his flute.

Glorious sunset!

Day 47

This days biggest excitement was the idea that we might hit the first snow. And as it turned out, we did not have to wait long for that. Just after an hour or so a large wall of snow buried the trail. But it was easy walking. It was nice and solid, and my new shoes had a great grip with their large rubber spikes that dug into the frozen surface. We walked through some forest where the trail sometimes popped out underneath the layer and pointed us in the right direction. After a while, the trail started to drop again and the snow was gone as quickly as it had arrived. We had some beautiful Sierra trail through the forests, cliffs protruding all around, the trail zig-zagging in between. Large meadows could be seen in the bottom of the valleys in between the mountains. With the first spring flowers just popping up from the ground.

Our first stream crossing.


Nic enjoying the view!

Nic hiking in snow.

We dropped down and the snow disappeared.

Flowers everywhere!

We had lunch near a large-ish stream, the clouds now forming in the sky. And during the climb shortly after the temperatures were definitely dropping. We had glorious views down into the desert even further below us now than it had previously been. In another world, it seemed. We met our rivaling team, also admiring the views, from a cliff with a huge drop, probably thousands of meters down, or at least that's what it felt like. The snow started falling as we hiked on, stubbornly I tried to ignore it and increased my pace to keep warm. But soon I had to listen to my better judgment and pull my rain gear on. It was actually very nice, and I immediately felt warmer.

Emi and Russ.

Sierra views.

Sierra trail.

After hiking on through the forest for a bit the weather changed, in an instant. The clouds dispersed and the sun licked the sides of the mountains. We took a break just three miles before camp to enjoy the last warmth of the day and the last bit was easy downhill after that. We found a great meadow with a large stream nearby to pitch our tents. The area had probably been flooded not long ago because the dried up ground had the signs of having been a smaller lake. But it was a nice place to pitch the tents, the stakes digging in easily. We didn't stay up too long, because the temperatures were dropping fast as soon as the sun showed its last glimpse over the mountaintop on the opposite side of us. We were really happy to be finished with the day and planned an early start for the following day. To be able to tackle potential snow during its frozen state. I fell asleep in my warm sleeping bag, very happy I had it!

Before the clouds dispersed.

More beautiful trail through the forest.

Good night Sierras!

Day 48

The warmth accumulated in my sleeping bag was very cozy to wake up to. But less cozy to get out of. This was the first taste of a real Sierra morning, it was suddenly a crisp autumn morning, the fact that it was actually June long forgotten. The frost glittered in the morning light. After struggling with my willpower for a while I finally managed to crawl out of my tent and found the others also fighting an equally hard struggle. It's good to not be alone!

Frost on the tent, cold beauty!

Aaahhh Sierra mornings!

First rays of sunlight kissing my face.

Heading out of camp with most of my clothes on we soon got our heat up. Me and Nic were lagging behind photographing everything, while Emi and Russ seemed eager to get going. We stopped for a mandatory coffee and bathroom break, enjoying the first rays of sun that had finally peered out between the mountains, instantly making it ten times warmer. The California sun is something special!

Pretty happy to be in the sierras!

I climbed a rock.

The whole morning went by on nice dry trail, the first ten miles went in almost an instant. Then we hit snow again. We had now climbed up to an elevation over 3000 meters, and the transition was clear, we hit that wall of snow again. Navigating through the forest wasn't the easiest, and we soon gave up on trying to follow the trail, and instead just navigated over the large features around us. The sun now beating down on us the temperature in the sun was probably over 30 degrees Celsius, even though the air temperature was most likely around 15. It was nice hiking in the snow wearing nothing but shorts and short sleeved. Sunglasses were a necessity the sun reflecting in the snow amplifying the intensity a hundred times.

Not the easiest to follow the trail through a sloping forest.

The snow sure was beautiful, and I enjoyed it fully!

Crossing a larger meadow just before Cottonwood Pass.

Struggling up the slopes, Emi seems pretty unperturbed though.

We took a break at the first pass, Cottonwood pass. Well, it's not really a pass for us, since we came traversing from the side of it and didn't really go over it. Chipmunks were desperately trying to steal our food as we dried our tents and rested our legs before tackling the snow, the last part of the day. After lunchtime, the sun had definitely taken its beating on the snow. What had in the morning been frozen and stable was now a mushy slush, exhausting to walk through. The wet snow soaking our shoes. We climbed up past the frozen solid Chicken Spring Lake, traversed along a mountainside, tensing our muscles in our calves for every step we took, to keep stable in the snow. We looked for the sign that tells you that you now are in Sequoia National Park, but it was probably buried down underneath.

Nics shoes did not have too good of traction, but he still kept his spirit up :)

Emi and Nic, after the pass the trail traversed the side of a mountain, the snow now becoming slushier.

We took a shortcut through a meadow.

Just stop here for a while, and enjoy the view with me. And then imagine being here yourself.

In the end of the day the trail said hello to us again. For about 10 meters.

After 17 miles we decided to make camp, the sun starting to dip, and before the coldest of cold came creeping up on us we pitched our tents, got water from a thawing stream and cooked dinner. I started to patch my shirt that had started to wear. I was actually surprised at my sowing. Well, it wasn't good, it was shit for sure. But I actually managed to patch the hole, and that was, I guess, the goal of the task. So with that, I could with good conscience go to sleep feeling I had accomplished something this day too!

Our tents on a small patch of dry ground in between the snow.

Don't judge my sewing skills...

Day 49

We decided to wake up earlier today and started hiking around 5 o'clock. Walking during dawn was my favorite part of the day. The sun rising, the sky turning a gradient color of purple mixed with pink, mixed with orange. The trail was long gone now, underneath the two meters of snow we were walking on. The only means of navigation we were using were the paper maps I was carrying. Luckily I'm quite an experienced orienteerer. I was in my essence, reading the contour lines, using them as my own trail. We descended down towards our first big ford, Rock Creek. A real adventure descending the steep slopes, with minor self-arrests involved. Down in the bottom of the valley, the snow was melting and we saw some green in the patches between the snow, the smell of wet grass reminding me of spring at home.

A frozen lake, some mountains, and the sun rising. What else do you need in your life?

Hiking through the forest.

We forded Rock Creek upstreams of this waterfall, where it was flowing calmly through a meadow.

The ford was easy, and even though I wanted to cross it in style, Russ convinced me to walk on a fallen log. It was probably the easiest though. We forded a bit upstream of the actual PCT crossing, so we had to walk on the side of the slope until we found the trail again. Snow free for a short half a mile or so during the climb up on the other side of the valley. It was a quite long and steep climb up through the snow, crossing the switchbacks that were sometimes peaking out from under the snow where the sun had been reaching down through the trees. At the top, we stopped for our lunch break, the temperature very nice, with grand views of snow covered mountain tops all around us. The deeper into the Sierras we were pushing, the more dramatic the landscape became.

Climbing up to the pass where we had lunch.

Russ was tired after the climb.

The trail kept going through the snow, first down onto a plateau-like area and then traversing along a forest on the side of the mountains towards the large valley that cuts through the mountains and slowly climbs up towards Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous states. The descent down into the valley was steep but magnificent. The views were absolutely breathtaking with ragged steep mountainsides funneling the landscape, up to the large wall of the tallest mountain itself, a sentinel over the surroundings. Down in the valley, we got off the PCT and headed up the Whitney trail, to find a good campsite and get up early tomorrow and scale the peak.

Walking through the meadow.

I'm enjoying the sun in the snow.

Emi walking towards the valley near Mt Whitney.

We found a nice dry area where we could pitch our tents. It was only about 14.00 and the sun was already shining. So we just relaxed for two hours. Our rivaling group showed up and after a heated discussion, they decided to stay there with us. We headed to bed early, to rest up before the planned sunrise hike up to the summit. The atmosphere in the camp was quite special and we were all very excited and a bit nervous about the climb up. We didn't know how the conditions would be if there would be any dangerous parts and so on. But I was really tired, so I fell asleep relatively fast. And I slept like a log!

Thought this sign was pretty fun.

A small log ford again, not to bad, but also a bit scary in the end where the log was pretty high over the ground.

Day 50

Suiting that this should be day 50 on the trail. Or rather off the trail as this day was. Since it was a detour off the PCT. We set the alarm for 0.00 and got up to start hiking a good 45 minutes after that or so. The dark pressing around us we started hiking with our headlamps through the forest in the bottom of the valley. It was very hard to navigate, but with some GPS help, it was manageable. The snow hadn't really started to freeze at this point since it was in the middle of the night, and the coldest hours were, I presume, just before sunrise. After hiking for about an hour we had left the forest and we were now walking on large fields of snow the huge mountain walls around us barely visible as contours in the night.

Hiking through the dark.

It was a very special feeling, hiking through the night, our ice-axes and whippets in our hands. Just the headtorch guiding us up the snow, climbing all the way. The stars covering the sky, keeping us company, reassuring us to keep going. After another hour the slope suddenly increased significantly. We cheated and used our high technology tools to try to find the switchbacks climbing up the steep mountainside at the end of the valley. At first, we were met by a rock wall. But the evidence seemed to point at the trail being just above the obstacle, so we pulled out our best rock climbing skills and sure enough soon we found the dry beautiful trail, cutting through the rocks in the middle of the steep slope.

After we got to the trail we had to traverse some snow in between the dry parts.

Hiking on, the moon was now gone, leaving us in pitch dark. The dry trail was the only thing leading us upwards. But after only a little bit of hiking the trail was gone and the snow back, in a steep slope disappearing in a void of darkness, just a couple of meters below us. After carefully crossing, making sure we had traction for every step, we continued the climb. And so it continued for about an hour, dry trail mixed with snow and rock scramble. At the last snowslide, we decided to just climb up on the rocks to the section of switchbacks above us. This was very sketchy. The rocks lose making it a slow progression. But after a while of fumbling, we made it to the safety of the trail again. And we could now continue up to the end of the switchbacks.

After a while the dark started to lift. You can see headlamps far down in the valley as small dots.

The trail now turned northwards towards the peak and started to traverse the mountainside. The dark now lifting slightly we could start seeing contours of the landscape around us. Far down near guitar lake where we started our climb we could see headlamps from other hikers, flickering over the landscape, twinkling at us as they lifted their gaze towards the top. We crossed a gap in the side which gave us an eastwards view over the sun rising finally teaching me the meaning of crimson red. I shed a tear as I reflected on the beauty, something I'd never seen before. The only way I can somehow give you an idea of how it was is through these pictures.

A gap through the mountainside gave us the first glimpse of the sunrise. Also there's more people with headlamps far down.

Russ and Nic looking through the gap

The first view of the sun rising. One of the most beautiful views of my life.

Russ and Nic is enjoying the hike up.

And Emi is also happy!

Russ hiking on the snow the last part up

Emi and Russ on the last steep section of snow.

At the top, we enjoyed the sunrise, the world stretching out around us. To the north, the Sierras, vast with its snow-covered peaks. I think this was the first time I realizing the endeavor we had in front of us. It seemed to never end. It filled me with that kind of nervous excitement that you can only get from meeting an unknown challenge. Looking back now I know that I could do it, and I know that I could do it again. But being there and then, I didn't know that, and that was what made the difference. The fear of failure before me.

Northwest towards... mountains...

Me on the top!

Endless Sierras to the north.

Looking south, we realized we are just in the southernmost part of the snow.

The northward view again, because I couldn't resist

When we started to get cold we decided to go down again. the daylight now providing a completely different experience, with magnificent views down into the valley. The steep slopes now actually apparent instead of that unknown threat in the darkness. The snow was softer than ever, and the hiking got tougher through the huge fields of slushy snow. Nic looked like a zombie in the end. When we finally got back to our tents around lunchtime, we were very tired but very happy with the day.

The view down in the daylight!

Nic walking on dry trail, enjoying life.

Nic walking over the snowfields, cool rainbow in the sky.

Nic enjoying the views back up towards the switchbacks.

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