Gettin’ in the Groove

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Storm brewing over the Sierras

It has been an eventful and awesome week or two. I now have a signal for a quick moment to tell you about it. I am officially out of Southern California!

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First Sunset in the Sierras

I started my hike at Walker Pass and it was an immediate and unrelenting climb for the day. I was nervous camping alone because I was reading about bear problems in the area. Luckily, each night, I’ve been able to camp with someone. The water sources here taste infinitely better than in Southern California. The weather is more intense, though.

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Beginning the Climb from Walker Pass

I haven’t been feeling all that well, and of course I’m worried that it’s giardia or something equally unpleasant. On my absolute worst day feeling sick, I was about to make another 1000 ft climb in the afternoon but I couldn’t get my body to do it. Whatever the sickness was, sapped my energy and made me nauseated. The wind was insane and I was about to camp for the night. One of the hikers, stopped to talk to me and then was nice enough to come back and check on me once I set up camp. Between the sickness, exhaustion, and wind, I was going to have a panic attack. And I did. Not my proudest moment on the trail.

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Celebrating with an Eclair Cake 

The next day, I made my way back down the trail, down a hill, across a creek, through some bushes while crawling uphill, then to a small dirt road I had seen the day before. That is where my family met me for my birthday. I turned 31 on Sunday, the 11th, and my whole family showed up to celebrate! It was awesome! I just wish I were feeling better. My mom made me the best cake ever and I blew out candles in the tent. My parents got me a new cell phone (that I’m way too excited about) so that I’m able to update my blog and everything else, they also got me new trekking poles.

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Fancy Waters

My brother cracked me up by buying every type of fancy water on the shelf. Other hikers kept commenting on them which made me smile more. He also got me fancy hiking shoes.

That weekend, we were able to get solid answers from a very helpful and wonderful ranger about the snow and water conditions in the Sierras. It isn’t looking good. So my parents met me again to drive me farther. Another section I will have to complete later. I’m a hiker, not a mountaineer, and I don’t possess the skills necessary to do the high Sierras right now. What really worries me are the dangerous river crossings.

When my family left, I bonded with a few other hikers around a fire then went to bed. The next day was more climbing, followed by an incredible view of several of the stow-covered peaks of the Sierras, followed by 5 miles of downhill. Everything was absolutely gorgeous. On the way down, I ran into Scott, the hiker that checked on me a few days earlier, and we hiked together to the next water source, where we were both planning on camping. Other hikers had the same idea and soon, several of us were sitting in a round, eating dinner.

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Bear Just Before Kennedy Meadows

One hiker walked away to do something and we all heard him casually say, “Oh hey, bear.” We all thought he was talking to a friend or just messing with us until he said, “No, really. There’s a bear over there and I think he’s stealing someone’s food.” We all jumped up to see. I got a blurry picture of the bear running off with a food bag. There were 6-8 of us and the guys were all shouting and trying to scare him off. It didn’t work. The bear gave a “yeah, right” look, sat down on the other side of the creek (about 40-50 feet from my tent) and happily ate until morning. “Double,” the hiker whose bag was stolen, was distraught so we all gave him food, but he stored the food in my and Scott’s bear canisters. Several of the other hikers continued on, not wanting to be bear meat, but 4 of us stayed and diligently went through our packs to rid them of anything scented. I slept surprisingly well.

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700 Mark. This was 500 miles for me.

The 4 of us ate breakfast and made the shortish walk to the Kennedy Meadows General Store. When we arrived, all the other hikers clapped and cheered. This is one of my favorite customs of the trail. At this store, everyone claps for hikers that walk up, because it means you officially made it through the desert portion of the trail. For me, it meant I completed 500 miles! I’ve been waiting over a year for that moment. We celebrated by going out to dinner and eating more than was necessary or smart. I didn’t need breakfast or lunch the next day.

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South Fork Kern River After Kennedy Meadows

The majority of people hit Kennedy Meadows and quit before the Sierras, others are jumping ship to flip flop (start farther up the trail and come back when the rivers aren’t so dangerous), and the minority (tough Europeans) are going to try to traverse the Sierras. I am a flip-flopper. But I did do the 4000+ foot climb up to Cottonwood Pass, and I was glad I did.

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Gorgeous Meadow at 8,000 ft 

The 45 miles from Kennedy Meadows was exactly the reason I wanted to do this trail. Where every moment is inspiring. I got to the top of a pass, and the trees opened up into an enormous meadow surrounded by tree-covered mountains. Streams and rivers cut through the meadow, fed by the snow on the top of the hills. It was a perfect scene. It was a perfect day.

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Another View of the Meadow 

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Steel Bridge over Kern

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Kern River

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Perfect Platform for my Tent 

The next two days were filled with streams, rivers, snow, marmots, deer, grouse, wildflowers of every shape and color. I was practically floating, I was so happy. Then I came upon a “though European.” He told me he was quitting. I asked why. He told me he went to the top of the peak I was climbing, took pictures, and turned around. He replied, “One peak? Okay. Two peak? Eh. Okay. Three peak? Pfff. Snow, too much.” I told him I’m going around and lot of hikers are too. He said, “This I know. My feet are walking, but my mind, not. I have longing for home.” I completely understood. We wished each other luck on our journeys.

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Showing off my lovely legs at the end of the day

An hour later, at 10,000 feet, I was walking over piles of snow, some 8 feet deep. I postholed (fell through the snow) and banged my knee hard against the edge of a log. I cursed more in that moment than I did the entire previous two weeks, and hobbled my way out and over to a rock to assess the damage. I’m going to live. Just bruised and really stiff every time I start moving again.

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Green Hills Next to Spring

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Mountain Spring

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Being Stared Down by a Yellow Belly Marmot

My parents met me on the trail and we took adorable backpacking selfies after camping. I was glad they got to see how amazing it is up here. And I’m glad we got to do something fun for Father’s Day.

We hiked back to the car, up hills, through meadows, taking shoes off and crossing flowing creeks. Then we talked to another ranger about where to start and they suggested Tahoe. So here I am at lovely South Lake Tahoe. I’m glad we jumped off the trail when we did. A huge storm brewed in the afternoon and we would have been stuck in it. Upon being here, we talked to another ranger that said the trail is still too difficult. I am now just going to follow trails along the lake so I can at least make miles adjacent to the PCT.

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Walking through snow at 10,000 feet

Parting with my parents was tough because this was the last time I will see them until August when they come up to Oregon for the eclipse. I was feeling pretty down, but I’m feeling excited and nervous about tackling this on my own. The adventure continues.

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Backpacking Selfie 

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Dad carrying our little, old dog 

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Crossing Slimy Creeks

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Horseshoe Meadows and Cottonwood Pass

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The first time I’ve seen snow on the Sierras from Hwy 395 in summer 

3 thoughts on “Gettin’ in the Groove

  1. Brenda Murray

    Tawny, so very proud of how far you’ve come. We talk about and wait for your updates. Beautiful writing and photos!

    Like

    Reply

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