Since there’s not much in the way of restaurants in Independence, I bought a single-serving container of oatmeal and a yogurt cup, a banana, and some blueberries at the grocery store when I was in Lone Pine. This morning, around 6, I ate them all sitting at the small table in my motel room, among the anonymity of the floral print bed spread and the nameless framed vistas on the walls while the coffee maker percolated and hissed. I took my cup of coffee outside to feel the cool morning air on my skin after being indoors all night, and greeted the folks from the room next door, a father and grown son, putting bags in their car. They had a hikerly look, and I asked if they were headed up to the Onion Valley Trailhead. They were, they said, and would give me a ride. I quickly packed up, grateful to again be saved the wait of hitching, and we arrived at the trailhead back some five thousand feet higher in mountains by 7am. I bid them goodbye as they headed up the trail, and ended up spending forty minutes talking to some climbers in the parking lot who were preparing to hike in and climb Charlotte’s Dome, a dramatic granite horn that I would be passing later in the day. They gave me a cup of espresso with milk, and I was very pleased to have it because I find climbing a big hill with a full backpack is much faster and easier when I’m well-caffeinated.
Finally, around 8, I shouldered my pack with its roughly 8.5 days of food and began the hike upward. It felt much faster than when I came down the same trail the day before yesterday, perhaps a byproduct of feeling eager to get somewhere in particular (when hiking out, that somewhere in particular is to town, and when hiking in the eagerness is more general and diffuse). Before long I was standing again on Kearsarge Pass, notably my last time crossing the Sierra Crest on this trip. From there, I would be spending the next nine or so days exploring more westward.
As I hiked up the many switchbacks to Kearsarge Pass, I began to feel hungry, gut-rumbling like the thunder overhead kind of hungry, not just conceptually hungry, and then I began to worry that I am short on food. I’ve become more and more hungry in the last week, finding I could easily eat an entire day’s rations by noon, and already I am carrying slightly less out of Independence than I would eat in 8.5 days, figuring I could go a little hungrier on the last day. But my breakfast this morning was paltry, and the subsequent hunger substantial. I was hoping I hadn’t overly miscalculated when packing food for this section, but my stomach was clearly concerned. When I got to the pass, two guys were there just beginning a week-long hike on the John Muir Trail, and one of them mentioned they had way to much food, just said casually, off-handed. I pounced like a predator would. If you’re serious, I said, I’ll take some of it. So I picked up three tuna packets and a power bar, which will help cover some of the calorie deficit I am running. The trail provides, as they say. Provides views, elation, and tuna fish.
Kearsarge Pass, my last time on the crest of the Sierras.
From the pass, I followed a couple miles of trails down from the crest, across the JMT, and along Charlotte Lake. It was easy travel, and I saw far fewer people than I thought I would, following all these trails and passing Charlotte Lake which is lovely and supposed to be quite popular. I did decide to make a quick stop at the ranger station there and ask the backcountry ranger stationed in the homey little one room hut if he had heard anything about the conditions on King Col, figuring he might have crossed paths with someone who crossed paths with it.
Bullfrog Lake from the upper Kearsarge Pass Trail
King Col is tomorrow’s main objective, and as happens when a difficult crossing looms on my mountainous horizon, I am anxious about executing a successful passage. King Col is supposed to be treacherous in normal conditions. I think, with all the snow enduring in the high country, it may be impassable right now. It is a very steep, north facing chute between vertical rock walls, and the likelihood that it’s choked up with snow is high. I have heard two pieces of current (this year) information about it: one, from a guy I encountered below Mather Pass a few weeks ago who had just come off it, said it was terrible, dangerous, lots of snow and a waterfall to boot, and the fall risk was enormous; the other, in an email from some other hikers, who said it was impassable and that they chose an alternate way to cross the long ridge coming west off Mt Clarence King. That is the trick of this pass, that it gives a way from Gardiner Basin north to Woods Creek across this ridge. It may be the best option if conditions are right, but there are some alternatives, with their own drawbacks to consider.
In any case, the ranger had no information about it. I don’t think it’s used much at all. Indeed, it seems to have a have a bad reputation in the online climbing forums. We had a nice chat anyway, and then I left and continued west past the end of Charlotte Lake, past too the end of the maintained trail. The rest of the day would be the ambiguity of an unmaintained and largely abandoned trail for me.
I descended along Charlotte Creek for a few miles following this trail, well-cairned and easy to keep because climbers use it to access Charlotte Dome. After a few miles of winding between pines and then manzanita shrubs, I left the easy-to-follow climbers trail and cut up the steep hillside to Gardiner Pass. Ostensibly I could follow the old and abandoned Gardiner Pass trail over the pass and down into Gardiner Basin, and I found that in fact worked ok. For the rest of the day, I was sometimes on it and sometimes not, but often near it because I would stumble upon it and follow it until I’d lose it again.
The climb up to Gardiner Pass was steep and slow, and thunderheads built up and spoke out to the south and to the west. I was lightly rained on from time to time as I reached the top and began the descent. It was easy travel.
After some time, as I passed by one of many lovely lakes surrounded by marsh grass, I saw a black bear near the shore, puttering about in that way that black bears do who don’t know that humans are nearby. I watched for a time as the bear rounded the shore and then cut east in the direction I was headed. I waited to give it a chance to make some distance between us, then followed. Not too long later I startled it and it ran off. Shortly after that, I startled either it or another bear, this a mother with a little cub, and they also ran off.
Shortly after that, I hemmed and hawed before deciding to make camp at a nearby lake. I cooked dinner far away from my tent, and will hope for an incident free night.
Rain over Gardiner Basin
The lake I camped at
I’m aware of the ‘lastness’ of this section, that I’m walking to the end of this journey. That I’m flying along on the arrow of time. If I do my part, putting one foot in front of the other, time will do its part, and before long I will be standing on the road at Road’s End a bit stunned, like a bird flying into an invisible window pane.
Keeping the bears away