Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pacific Crest Trail Hike 20

Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows – June 5th – 8th, 2006 51.6 miles.

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On June 5th we left Walker Pass Trailhead after 2:00PM. These hikes are getting more difficult to get to. We had Dollar rent-a-car pick us up in Kennedy Meadows and drop us off. It was 91 degrees. A few minutes into the walk a fighter jet flew west through the canyon below us. It was very quiet. At first Ray thought it was a big rig. In five miles we got a big view of Inyokern, China Lake and Ridgecrest and plenty of budding Pinyon Trees. We still haven't eaten from them yet. There is a memorial plaque here to Jim Jenkins who helped the PCT a lot before he left this world early at the age of 28. Lots of footsteps from the through hikers here. This is the season. I have mixed feelings about the through hikers. I want to see them and talk to them but we have the trail to ourselves, at least so far, for most of the year. We met 10 hikers in 50 miles. I can't imagine why I think this might be important. It was a joy to see all 10 of them.

We got in 8 miles that first day and climbed several thousand feet to the Owens and Jenkins Mountains saddle. Its big shadow is projected on the Mojave Desert at dusk. Met the Mad Scientists, Amy and Mike. She is a botanist; he is a wildlife expert. They have done California before and this time they are using the trip to gather information for their graduate thesis on determining what kind of wildlife exists based on the vegetation in an area. They both attend UC Davis. Great couple. We slept well and had good views east and west.

The next day we got our water at the seasonal creek before Joshua Springs spur trail (the water source at Joshua Springs has traces of uranium in it, and though not serious is worth missing) before going down Spanish Needle Creek. We saw Nolina Plants (Parry's Nolina) which are related to the Yucca but with an incredible lantern of small yellow blossoms that are firm like a leaf. At a Spanish Needle Creek tributary we had lunch in cool shade and filled up on water for our steepest climb of the trip. Along the way, we spooked two families of Mountain Quail with cute tiny chicks running around. The moms aren't as nervous around us when they have kids and spend their time rounding them up. It is funny to watch. Fortunately out first two
afternoons were cloudy and cool. Trainman had just gone through this section with his hiking partner a few days before and had a tougher time of it, I suppose because of the heat. The saddle above Spanish Needle near Lamont Peak provided a nice view and break. Soon we got another great view of the Mojave. The trail is in good shape here. We arrived tired after a 20 mile day. We bumped into Tadpole at a creek before Chimney Creek Camp and were barely civil. We apologized later. We walked up Canebrake road to the camp and met Moondancer and his son Prickly Pear at the campground. This kid is precocious and quite a climber. Talking to Moondancer later, he says, "Are your Dana Law?" Turns out he had called me several months
earlier about information on a previous section. He is a professor at Boise State University. Birds of a feather hike together! Thirty million people in California but if you have a niche interest you will probably meet someone who shares it. Three other hikers came into camp, two young men and a lady. Her name was Twisted Sister. You gotta love trail names. The three left early the next morning and we didn't see them again. A good camp and pleasant dinner, though my alcohol stove is getting sooty. I think my fuel has been contaminated.

On June 7th, we had big climb but over many miles. We saw a lone Sequoia far south of its usual habitat. Passed Fox Mill Springs and entered into the 14 mile burned section. Did some magic tricks for Prickly Pear on the trail. He has money in his ears! Crossed the highest point on the trip, over 8000 feet. Not much to look at because of the burn but got a beautiful view of the Dome Lands National Park. It looks like a climber's paradise. Also a great view again of the snow-capped Sierras. Bill could pick out Mount Langley which hides Mount Whitney nearby. We had a long descent into Woodpecker Meadow crossing many diorite rivers of rock down to Rockhouse
Basin. Long two-hour lunch with hot food under a giant burned out tree. Good stream here. I washed just about everything. We arrived at the first true river in 700 miles, the Kern. Even though Whitewater River was big last year because of the record rains, The Kern is a true river. For some reason I thought we had to cross the thing but that was not the case. Ray said, "I am not crossing any rivers!" and I felt the same. We won't have that luxury further up the Sierras. We camped with Sonny and Tadpole at Pine Creek before it runs into the Kern River. They had seen a big bear on the trail that day. Tadpole is as nice as she can be, and Sonny is the same with the addition that he is a total gear head and loves learning about every aspect of hiking. I wish when I was that age I asked as many questions. He was picking up a ULA pack in Kennedy Meadows that we didn't get to see. I gave him my pack of salmon I wouldn't have been able to eat, and he filtered my water at the creek. We had some thunder and a bit of rain that made us put our rainflys on but they came off for a night of a nearly-full moon and bright stars. It cooled off and chilled our water for the last day's segment.

June 8th: We walked about seven miles into Kennedy Meadows, a pretty area. The Kennedy Store looks just as a mountain store should. We had drinks and snacks with Tadpole and Sonny. We ran into the famous Lawn Ornament (famous to me for her trail name). The trail ahead is the most challenging because we will have to make much longer sections during a limited time of the year. We will go again for as long as we can in August. Hiking is outdoor therapy.