From Kennedy Meadows to Independence (Mile 790)

So, I’m going to get to a quick run down of all the hiking in this last section, but first …

You guys.

We’re engaged!!

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Newly engaged! Can’t hide those smiles.

We summited Mt. Whitney on Wednesday morning ( 5 minutes after sunrise, but it was still ridiculously beautiful) and got engaged the same day. So really, best day ever.

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Almost sunrise atop Mt. Whitney

We have lots of photos of the summit and tons of stories to tell from the last section, but I am currently updating this from my cell phone in a coffee bar because the local library and internet cafe apparently don’t have normal weekend hours. I didn’t imagine we’d have this much trouble getting access to a computer along the trail. I need a sherpa to carry my laptop. And while he’s at it, he can carry our packs, too. :) My phone seems incapable of playing nicely with this blog, but we’ll see what we can do.

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Amazing view from Mt. Whitney

Its amazing what a difference getting to the Sierras made. We went from sleeping in shorts and a tank top with our bags half zipped to literally wearing every layer we own at night including pulling the bag over our faces to keep from freezing solid. The elevation certainly contributes to this, but even at one of our lowest camps (Bubbs Creek, under 10,000 feet), the still ponds froze overnight. So you won’t hear us complaining about the heat for a while!

The climbs have been killer (which we were expecting) but the views have been incredibly rewarding. The morning we summited Mt. Whitney we woke up at a little after 2 am. We had only slept for about 4 hours so we nearly scrapped the sunrise idea but decided to soldier on. We left our camp at Guitar Lake at 2:45 and started the climb. It was strange hiking by headlamp but I think it helped – you couldn’t see far enough in front of you to know what kind of torture was coming. About 2/3 of the way up, the wind began to blow in earnest. It was so cold we couldn’t stop to rest without starting to freeze. When we reached the summit at 5:30, we managed to take a couple photos and one quick video before calling uncle. There is a small shelter at the summit that was fortunately open, so we quickly found ourselves in there trying desperately to get warm. We made use of an emergency blanket and some foam padding left there by previous hikers who presumably tried to vamp at the summit and insulated ourselves the best that we could. I’m sure I’ve been that cold at another point in my life but I really can’t remember when.
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Before too long, we were joined by another two thru-hikers also seeking shelter. They mentioned that there was another girl headed up who was in pretty poor shape who would be need to be warmed up pretty quickly. By that point, we’d shrugged off the emergency blanket and were both thawing out, so it was all set for her. When she hadn’t shown up within the next 10 minutes, the other two went back to make sure she was OK. They found her laying on the trail in her sleeping bag, having decided that she couldn’t make it to the top and that it would be best to wait and warm up. She was definitely in the initial stages of hypothermia, so once they got her into the shelter, there were jackets, aleeping bags, and the emergency blanket all employed to warm her up. She is totally fine now, and lucky she had hiking buddies who knew something was wrong when she hadn’t arrived. We ended up spending several hours in the shelter waiting for the wind to lie down a bit and for the sun to fully rise. It was miserably cold but ended up being a fun bonding experience with yhe other hikers in the same boat as us. All part of the adventure I guess! At any rate, the weather put a damper on E’s plans to propose at the summit, but he popped the question back at base camp and it was perfect. I am a lucky, lucky girl.
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Since then, we’ve been enjoying the amazing scenery around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Kings Canyon is Edwin’s favorite and it’s easy to see why – it is absolutely stunning in a way I can’t begin to describe. I will have a lot more pictures as soon as I can get our camera hooked up to a computer. I’m hoping for better luck at Vermillion Valley Resort in about 4 days. We’re wrapping up two nights of rest and celebrating with yummy champagne, wine, and sweets mailed to us by our amazing parents. We’re moving a little sluggishly on out way back to the trail today but we’ll get there! :) Thanks for reading and putting up with the limited pictures and typos. Fingers crossed for better computer access soon!
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From Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (Mile 703)

* For some reason, I am not having any luck getting ANY photos to upload on this computer, so I will have to go back and add photos to this post at our next stop late next week. Sorry for anyone who is mostly here for the pictures – “what’s with all the words?!” Thanks to everyone for reading – to say we’ve had a spotty internet connection is putting it generously, so we haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone, but we are so excited to have people following along!*

After enjoying a restful “zero day” (no PCT miles hiked) in Tehachapi, we set out at about 4 in the afternoon when Edwin’s mom dropped us off at the trailhead. We made it about a mile in, decided it was still way too hot to hike (our phone reported a temperature of 105 degrees), and took another half hour break under a Joshua tree. The heat was oppressive and the Mojave Desert landscape offered little shade. We knew we had a few very long stretches between water sources coming up in the next couple of days, so we were a bit worried about how we were going to get the miles done. Several hikers through this section do primarily night hiking, but the idea of hiking through the night and trying to sleep through the brutal heat of the day didn’t sound all that appealing to us. We made it a little over 7 miles the first afternoon before setting up camp for the night, deciding we’d do the remaining 9 miles to the first water early the next morning.

That system ended up being the one we employed for most of this section. We’d get to a water source by about 10 am and then just post up there for the better part of the afternoon when it finally felt cool enough to move again. Then we’d do about 10 miles before knocking off for the day, trying not to leave more than 9 miles or so to water for the next morning.

Our longest stretch without water had the possibility of being 44 miles. We go through about a liter every 5 miles (not including water for overnight or cooking) so this was a bit problematic. At one point, Edwin was carrying 10 liters of water (20 pounds!) and I was carrying 7 (14 pounds). The most we’d carried prior to that was 6 liters each, so we really felt the extra weight. Luckily, each of the possible sources that we’d been told not to count on ended up having water, so we “cameled up” at each source and made it through just fine. We are extremely excited to have made it to the Sierras, though – it will be so nice to see water more frequently than at 20+ mile intervals! The extra weight out of our packs will not be missed.

We passed both the 600 and 700 mile markers in this section, the latter being just 3 miles before we rolled into Kennedy Meadows. We hadn’t originally planned to make it to Kennedy Meadows on Thursday night. We woke up Thursday morning with 30 miles to go, made a light remark about possibly just pushing all the way in that day, and both looked at each other and laughed. Our biggest mileage day to that point had been 26 miles and we felt every inch of those miles the next day. But then we hiked our first 6 miles in less than 2 hours and started to run into more hikers all pushing to make it into Kennedy Meadows that day as well. What started as a joke became a sort of obsession – we were pounding the miles, knowing we wouldn’t make it before the General Store closed for the evening but determined to wake up in town the next morning.

We limped into Kennedy Meadows at about 9:45 pm Thursday night, so just under 14 miles from when we started that morning. Every step of the last few miles was tough, but when we heard a bear roaring nearby just after the 700 mile marker, it made us extra motivated to get those last 3 miles done. We threw on the headlamps, cranked up the music, and finally found ourselves at Tom’s Place. Tom is the owner of the Kennedy Meadows General Store and has set up an amazing oasis for hikers on his property. He allows hikers to pitch their tents there, does food runs to the local restaurant, shows nightly movies in a makeshift amphitheater, and just generally makes everyone feel welcome and rested before they head back out on the trail. It’s easy to see why many thru-hikers get held up here for multiple zero days, but we’re heading back out this afternoon after just one.

We’ll be climbing Mt. Whitney before we hit our next resupply location of Independence, so we should have some pretty amazing photos in the next update. We’re planning to hike up there in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise – fingers crossed we don’t oversleep!

From Wrightwood to Agua Dulce (Mile 454.5)

We knew coming out here that not every day was going to be fun. That some days would be just putting one foot in front of the other and getting it done. This section was our first taste of that.

Heading out of Wrightwood

Heading out of Wrightwood

Only 2277 miles to go!

Only 2277 miles to go!

Getting out of Wrightwood proved to be more difficult than we had expected. Our sore feet and swollen knees just didn’t seem to want to budge. A few other hikers had shown up at the Methodist Camp where we stayed the night before, and staying to enjoy their company and a few beers was an enticing idea. But we eventually got ourselves around, figuring that even if we only made it a couple miles out of town that afternoon, at least when we woke the next morning we’d already be on the trail and wouldn’t have the possibility of a delicious cafe breakfast to delay our hiking. We got a ride to the trailhead at about 5:30 pm but then stood around chatting with the couple who drove us out for about a half hour. We ended the day with a total of four miles hiked but at least we were back out on the trail.

Such a roomy home we're rocking these days

Such a roomy home we’re rocking these days

Quick stop for breakfast on the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell

Quick stop for breakfast on the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell

The next day brought an early morning summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, the highest point of elevation we’ve seen so far (9399 feet). It was beautiful and a perfect time to make the climb, before the heat got out of hand. We spent the rest of the day up and down in elevation, stopping at Little Jimmy Spring for lunch where we parked right on the trail in the only shade we could find. While chowing down, I thought I heard a rattle from behind me but it was gone quickly and I didn’t spot anything behind me so I dismissed it. I thought I heard it again but once again let it go, thinking maybe it was my imagination or the cicadas we hear out here from time to time. A few minutes later, Edwin’s eyes widened a bit while looking beyond me. “Sh-t, there’s a rattlesnake behind you.” But he failed to mention how far. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so fast. Turns out it was about three feet behind me, headed across the trail and not the least bit interested in us. It just didn’t want to be stepped on. But I think Edwin may resort to using that same tactic to get me moving quicker in the morning from now on.

Edwin at the Mt. Baden-Powell summit monument

Edwin at the Mt. Baden-Powell summit monument

Before our rattlesnake encounter at Little Jimmy Spring

Before our rattlesnake encounter at Little Jimmy Spring

Taking a turn for a road-walk stint as part of an official Endangered Species Detour, we ran into a group of runners we had seen earlier on the trail, now recovering in the parking lot. We learned that they are ultra-marathoners who were out training for a 100-mile race coming up in a few months. And they thought we were crazy for what we’re trying to do. If I tried to run 10 miles at a time, I’d probably die, let along 100. They gave us each a beer and we spent a while swapping stories and laughing there in the parking lot. We hiked away happy and refreshed and ended up sharing a campsite with a fellow thru-hiker at a nearby campground complete with soap! trashcans! and water! Perfect end to a long day.

Truthfully, we're probably all a little crazy

Truthfully, we’re probably all a little crazy

Water break at Cooper Canyon

Water break at Cooper Canyon

We passed mile marker 400!

We passed mile marker 400!

The next day had less fun in store. Ever heard of Poodle Dog Bush? It’s only found in Southern California, and only pretty recently cropped up, so not a lot of people have. It’s a very pretty, very nasty plant that can cause severe oozing sores after coming into contact with it – like poison oak, only worse. We learned about Poodle Dog Bush before we hit the trail and knew that we would see some of it along the Southern California desert as it’s found in recent burn areas and unfortunately this area has a lot of them. What we didn’t expect was just how much we would encounter literally lining the trails, in many areas impossible to avoid. For two days we cursed and sweated in our long sleeves and long pants, playing the world’s least fun game of High-Stakes-Twister as we tried to avoid contact as much as possible. We found ourselves dangling off of cliff edges, jumping from rock to rock, and carrying our packs on our shoulders at times (to be honest, Edwin did that with his and then had to come back and do mine) to keep from getting it all over our skin, clothes, and bags. There weren’t a lot of fun moments to be had, and both of us were about at the end of our rope. When, on the second day, the trail intersected with a Jeep road that was closed to traffic, we finally decided we’d had it and decided to make a detour to further up the trail in the hopes that there was less Poodle Dog Bush to be found there. On our road walk, we came upon a monument honoring two fireman who lost their lives in the Station Fire of 2009.

See that pretty purple flowering bush to the right? That's Poodle Dog Bush in full bloom. So pretty. So hurt-y. And this got much, much closer to the trail as it went on.

See that pretty purple flowering bush to the right? That’s Poodle Dog Bush in full bloom. So pretty. So hurt-y. And this got much, much closer to the trail as it went on.

Still some pretty killer views, Poodle Dog Bush or no

Still some pretty killer views, Poodle Dog Bush or no

 

The Station Fire monument. I lost it here. Trying to hike while sniffling and softly sobbing is not a good combo.

The Station Fire monument. I lost it here. Trying to hike while sniffling and softly sobbing is not a good combo.

Perspective. That’s what I’d been missing. These two men gave their lives attempting to put that fire out, and there I was whining about being inconvenienced by the resulting insurgence of a plant that may or may not give us a bad rash. I won’t say I found the Poodle Dog Bush any more charming when we hit the trail again, but I tried to remember why it was there. I figure it’s the earth’s way of saying, “Please stop setting me on fire.”

The last day our trip into Agua Dulce more than made up for any frustration we felt the previous days. About 8 miles into the day, we came upon an RV campground who offered up the use of their shower and pool for free. We only had 10 miles left to go before hitting Hiker Heaven (the home of well-known trail angels in Agua Dulce), but we couldn’t pass up the chance to pass a few hours in the pool. We convinced another hiker to hang out there as well, and all agreed it was one of the best stops on the trail so far. Leaving there, we got to hike through the incredibly cool Vasquez Rocks area. We made it into Agua Dulce at about 7 pm that night – it was great to sleep in a bed, hang out with the other hikers holed up there, and just be off the trail for a bit.

Amazing rock formations at Vasquez Rocks

Amazing rock formations at Vasquez Rocks

All smiles after pool time on our hike through Vasquez Rocks

All smiles after pool time on our hike through Vasquez Rocks

 

Enjoying some company at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce

Enjoying some company at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce

The Powerhouse fire near San Francisquito Canyon is still burning, and a large section of the PCT is closed between Agua Dulce and Tehachapi which was to be our next leg. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is re-routing hikers through the Mojave Desert along the LA Aqueduct but we’ve decided to skip forward to Tehachapi and come back and do the 104 miles from Agua Dulce to Tehachapi once the trail is reopened and safe to travel on (after we’ve made it back from Canada). Neither of us are particularly interested in the detour – we want to see the trail. And completing it at a later date has the added bonus of allowing us to do it when the temperatures are cooler. If we didn’t live so close, we would likely have no choice but to do the detour, but thanks again to both of us having very patient parents (all sets of whom have spent several hours driving to various locations along the trail for drop-offs, pick-ups, or both), we have been shuttled forward to Tehachapi and spent the last 24 hours or so being bumps on a hotel room bed, lazily resting our feet and spending several lovely hours visiting with Edwin’s mom. We’re headed out this afternoon to begin a very hot and dry section – our last in the desert for now before hitting the southernmost point of the Sierras sometime late next week. Wish us luck!

From Big Bear (Mile 278) to Wrightwood (Mile 369)*

It’s been a pretty amazing week.

We were picked up last Saturday at the campground in Idyllwild and whisked away to Green Valley Lake (near Big Bear) for a  ridiculously fun and refreshing weekend of hanging out with family and stuffing our faces. We were treated to all sorts of goodies – treats to take with us on the trail, new pieces of gear to replace ones that weren’t working properly, showers (with real soap and razors!), laundry, and a very comfortable bed for two nights, but by far the best part was getting in so much family time. It had only been two weeks since we’d seen them but having everyone make the trip up to come hang out meant so much to us. Sadly, I don’t have ANY photos from the weekend on my camera, so I don’t have any to post here right now, but trust me when I saw we were all smiles.

View of Big Bear Lake while hiking away

View of Big Bear Lake while hiking away

Eddie filling up at Holcomb Creek

Eddie filling up at Holcomb Creek

 

Hiking away from Big Bear when we were dropped off at the trail on Monday afternoon seemed harder than when we originally left, because this time felt as though we were hiking away from family with the next date we’d see anyone still uncertain. It was also harder because we’d stuffed ourselves thoroughly and being back out on the trail and not on the comfort of a couch was a bit of a shock to our systems. But the terrain leaving Big Bear was pretty easy – relatively flat with little elevation change and cooler temps than we had seen on the way into Idyllwild. The second day of this leg was the favorite, with a nice stop at the how-did-we-not-know-this-place-existed-so-close-to-home Deep Creek Hot Springs. It’s clothing-optional but we both opted for clothing and (much to Edwin’s disappointment, I’m sure) so did all but one of the females there. We didn’t snap too many photos so as not to catch any of those more free-spirited than us unaware, but it gives a little glimpse of how pretty this place was. If every trail section had a natural hot springs in it, we’d probably be moving through the miles a little quicker.

Passing trail mile 300 (our 200th mile). I told him to give me an excited face - this was his best effort of two takes.

Passing trail mile 300 (our 200th mile). I told him to give me an excited face – this was his best effort of two takes.

Deep Creek Hot Springs - hidden gem

Deep Creek Hot Springs – hidden gem

Relatively clean after a dip in the hot springs - nice change of pace

Relatively clean after a dip in the hot springs – nice change of pace

The next day ended at Silverwood Lake which was a tease since the lake is a reservoir and doesn’t allow for swimming, but it was still a wonderful place to (probably illegally) camp in their picnic area. The terrain remained pretty easy through the next day’s descent towards the Cajon Pass, where we happened upon the most exciting sign we’ve seen so far on the PCT. One guess as to which direction we went. I’ve never in my adult life been so excited by the prospect of McDonald’s food, and likely never will again. But it provided the fuel we needed to sluggishly begin the climb towards Wrightwood.

Silverwood Lake - all that water but no swimming for two perpetually dirty hikers

Silverwood Lake – all that water but no swimming for two perpetually dirty hikers

A better attempt at an excited face. We hiked 18 miles the previous day. Knowing there was a McDonald's coming up, we hiked 14 miles before lunch on this day. It's easy to see what motivates us.

A better attempt at an excited face. We hiked 18 miles the previous day. Knowing there was a McDonald’s coming up, we hiked 14 miles before lunch on this day. It’s easy to see what motivates us.

At 24 miles for the day, we were exhausted and in desperate need of a flat spot to set up our tent. When we came upon a Jeep road at the top of a ridge, we set up camp quickly in the dark despite the possibility of a sleepless night if the wind picked up while we were in such an exposed location. When we woke yesterday morning, though, we were treated to one of the most amazing views from a campsite that we’ve had this whole trip.

Beautiful view from our hastily made camp

Beautiful view from our hastily made camp

It was a good start to our last day, but we quickly grew a bit cranky during the last 18 mile stretch into town. We were running low on quick food options (a hungry hiker is an angry hiker), the temperature had risen again, and despite the climb seeming much easier than the one into Idyllwild, we were still climbing fairly quickly. We dragged ourselves through the last few miles, managed a quick hitch into town when the trail crossed Highway 2, and were making for our resupply package at the post office when I spotted some familiar faces.

Mountain High looks a little different without all the snow.

Mountain High looks a little different without all the snow.

 

I was smelly and so dirty, but they didn't care. :)

I was smelly and so dirty, but they didn’t care. :)

Knowing we were expecting to make it to town that day, my grandparents came to surprise us – and you should have seen the smiles on our faces when they did. We hadn’t been sure when we would next see family, and to be surprised with a visit was a pretty incredible thing. After some visiting, a good meal, and lots of hugs, we felt like we could have hiked on for another 20 miles. We didn’t, of course. With some information we had received from the PCT directory at the hardware store, we got set up with the Wrightwood Methodist Church Camp who allows PCT hikers to stay at their lodge for free. Bunk beds and hot showers – we were sold. We’re hunkering down in town right now hiding from the heat but plan to hike out this afternoon and do about 12 miles towards our next stop in Agua Dulce.

*Keep in mind that we skipped 100 miles from Idyllwild from Big Bear and will be doing them at the end. For uniformity and so as not to confuse anyone following along with the maps, we will still be using the actual mile markers from the trail info, but our total mileage will be 100 miles behind until we go back and do that section. For example, right now we have hiked to mile 369 but our actual mileage is 269.

One last thing – we have heard word about a PCT closure up the road – miles 466 through 518 are currently closed due to the Powerhouse Fire near San Francisquito Canyon. I understand that there is a detour along the LA Aqueduct, but we don’t know the specifics at this point and we’ve got 100 miles to go before we have to worry about it anyway. We will find out more information when we get to Agua Dulce and update everyone then.