It was pretty easy to find the trail, though it required some tracking of old melted footprints on a big snow patch/little snowfield, we would never have found it in the dark. Since we had cowboy-camped, I didn't have to deal with waiting for Microburst to wake up or breaking down the tent, and I rolled out first. It was nice to be ahead of the others for once, since I'm ALWAYS lagging behind these days. I didn't get to revel in the false sense of accomplishment though, the bugs were really annoying.
Slowly, the granite and alpine meadow-forest turned to big tall pine forest in a canyon, and our occasional views of the surrounding mountains were filled with volcanic-rock mountains, with cool shapes and no vegetation. We could also see the switchbacks through the snow on the mountain ahead: we would actually be on a jeep road, that snow would be no problem! Well actually it would, but we didn't know it yet.
We ate lunch at the last creeklet on the foothill before we started climbing above treeline. Two really cute guys who worked for the forest service out surveying campsight impacts stopped and talked to us for a while, as we ogled their muscles, big tools, and Carhartts. We don't see men like that on the trail!
Even though I was worried about the supposed 10 mile waterless stretch ahead, I was pretty sure I saw a stream crossing a switchback near the top, and figured I'd camel up and fill my liter there. Nope. As soon as we hit the solid snow on the jeep-road switchbacks, we could see that all previous hikers before us had taken a social trail below most of the snow that met up with the jeep road at the top. If we took the official trail along the jeep road, we'd be breaking trail the whole way up. Microburst's conscience for cutting switchbacks, erosion, and tearing up vegetation nearly convinced us all to do the right thing, but my laziness coupled with Sweet 16's won out in the end.
Top of ridge:
High Sierra of the past
Low Sierra of the future
Unfortunately, that meant we skipped the water too. No problem, we were above snowline and there's crazy melt-off right now, right? Wrong. We ended up following the very dry side of a ridge for a while, then when there were snow patches, the melt off soaked up directly into the very well-draining volcanic rock gravel. I started worrying. Eventually I did see runoff, but it was such a shallow trickle, I convinced myself that there would be something easier to collect later. A few miles later, I ended up dipping water from other melt-off with my cap, but I felt a whole lot better with some water in me and on my pack.
We had some crazy terrain first. Not hard, just very alien to us. Long, LONG traverses across snow on completely barren, red-black slopes, up through a notch between solid, tall rock walls, and later walking around the rim of what I had to guess was a caldera, based on the steepness of the slopes down to the teeny tiny lake at the bottom, the roundness of the whole affair, but mostly how it looked exactly like the volcanoes the I used to make of paper-maiché for baking soda and vinegar experiments we did in elementary school.
At one point, we had a gorgeous view down into a lush, green valley with a road running through it. "That's 108, we're only four easy-cheesy miles from hitching or camping!" Wrong valley. We went up and over a saddle, along some more ridgeline, and then were staring at a big snowy, shadowy bowl with ski and snowboard tracks carved from the top to the bottom, and hiker tracks carved from our side clear across to the other side where it picked the trail up again.
Sweet 16 hates glissading, probably based on her lack of rain pants and winter sports in Santa Cruz. So she set off, kick step by painful kickstep, traversing the snowy bowl. Microburst and I, however, were already drooling over the ski tracks, and spied the trail way down the valley back on our side of the drainage. I decided to try my luck just going straight down the snow until the trail crossed again. Micro seperately decided to head at a diagonal and hopefully pick up the trail off-snow. We glissaded together, though, so we made our own somewhat helter-skelter trail down, diagonal, this way and that. But we were having a great time, trying to boot ski, sliding our way down the snow. At one point, Microburst traversed across a steep chute to a rock outcropping so she could avoid going down the steep. I decided that traversing across a steep chute and then scrambling down rocks was probably not as safe as simply sledding straight down the rock-free middle of the steep chute, to the gently-sloped runout zone. I took some deep breaths and did it, which I am quite proud of. Even though it felt scarier, I think it was the wiser choice.
We giddily made our way down to where the trail crossed the snow-covered creek in the middle of the drainage, beating Sweet-16 there despite our numerous breaks. From there, we traipsed down to where hwy 108 goes over Sonora Pass, and ran into Nonstop and Maybelline taking a trailhead-zero day. Though it was good to chat with them, we decided to try our luck hitching despite the lateness of the evening before we gave in to hanging with trail-buddies for the night.
It took a little longer for Microburst to pack her bag back up, so Sweet 16 and I stepped onto the road. She wore her dayglo pink skirt with no long johns, revealing her long legs, and I unbraided my hair and unzipped my fleece jacket, wearing my spandex hiking shorts. I love our all-girls team. There was hardly any traffic, but we got a ride (the second vehicle we saw) before Micro was finished packing up. And what a ride it was: Scott the professional bike racer pulled up in a Toyota Tacoma after a weekend mountaineering trip in Yosemite, blasting classical cello. Microburst and I were swooning (Sweet 16 was rolling her eyes at us). It was a crazy, steep, windy ride down from the pass, it seemed like a rollercoaster ride with no anticipation time to Sweet 16 and I who were sitting in the back: "Oh, we're going down now, oh, we just turned a corner!"
Once we got to Kennedy Meadows Resort, the "other" or "northern" Kennedy Meadows, we found ourselves immediately talking to an impressed RV family, who invited us to camp in their site if we couldn't find any other (free-er?) spot. First, we had some hunger to attend to. It was a mile walk to the resort, but it was worth it: good burgers, good fries, and free bread pudding.
- Typoed on my iPhone.