Miles: PCT 0; Kearsarge Pass over and back 11
Total: Just before 788
Early risers eager for town, up, packed and walking fast by 6am. We are hikingover Kearsarge Pass and down to Onion Valley for resupply. I hope it goes well, others have planned this at my suggestion though it will be my first actual time with the execution. Despite the hustle, morning reflections on still lakes in Kearsarge basin stop me in my tracks, camera at the ready. This short foray off the PCT through Inyo National Forest has me wondering how many other beautiful places are just over other ridges we never cross, up side trails we fly by with barely a glance.
After the pass, the trail switchbacks its descent back down toward the desert, the dry slopes of the Inyo mountains in the distance, Death Valley on the other side. The whole way down I imagine coming back up, fully loaded with food and fuel. Each step I take must be repeated in reverse in the too near future.
At the parking lot hikers lounge around, hoping for rides. A park ranger drives by, truck heaped with black garbage bags.. He stops to apologize for not being permitted to take us down while on duty, despite having space. I try to convince him to take us hikertrash out with the campground trash, arguing that no one would know the difference.
Though scavenging for rides is not yet successful, it does turn up food: a container full of cherry tomatoes, only slightly overripe, sitting on top of a trash can. Seeing our hunger, two weekend hikers, trip shortened by knee injury, offer up the contents of their still full bear cans. We descend like birds of prey, stuffing candy, fruit leather, bars, everything into our mouths.
In the meantime, a section hiker, just two weeks on trail, shows us his horrendous blisters. Massive welts of fluid like we have not seen since the early days of the desert when feet were still soft. Shenanigans leads him in blister draining 101, as the rest of us variously watch or turn away in horror.
Finally, a dude with a pickup truck dropping others at the trailhead offers to take us down for $5 a head. Four of us squish in the cab, another three lay hidden in the bed for the long winding ride down. “Even the road has switchbacks” observes Shenanigans.
Independence, all the way down in the brown dry valley is incredibly hot today. It’s over 100 degrees, an otherworldly contrast to waking up to near freezeing temperatures. I hiked out of camp wearing gloves and a toque this morning, and now sit sweating despite air conditioning chugging away.
There’s not much in this tiny town. A post office, where unfortunately my new shoes are no (the delivery was rejected because they were not mailed USPS; online ordering is hard). Power Thighs box, the one with his food, is missing too. Across the street we spend the heat of the day at Subway and the adjacent Chevron station. I pay seven dollars for a wonderfully hot shower in the horrible surroundings of a backed up toilet, buzzing flies and grimy floor.
But first, I eat at footlong veggie sub with avocado (and later, 6 inches more) and more vegetables that fit in the bun. Finally, six weeks in, I am hungry enough to go for food over a shower, though neither employees or locals seem the slightest bit phased by our dirt and packs taking over booths inside and out.
I am clean, fed, and just about to start worrying about how to get back to the trail, when Erin, who I just met yesterday before Forrester Pass gives me the number for a local trail angel who gives rides back to the trailhead. Many thanks to trail angel Kevin, who went completely out of his way to drive us to the end of 13 miles of twisted road.
Even at the car campground the air is fresh and cool, no longer heavy with desert dust. We decide to hike part way back up to a lake, to camp for free and to break up the climb. But we are feeling good, and keep going. With some kind of subway or long break energy, we make it all the way up and over the pass, setting up tents in the on bumpy slanted ground that looked flat in the darkness.
We sit beside our cluster of tents in the shelter of small trees cooking (second) dinner in the last of the light. In town, someone gave Power Thighs ingredients for s’mores to help make up for the missing resupply box. The valley heat melted the marshmallows into giant sticky clump, but what is carried up must be eaten. We dig at the goo with sticks, roasting the mess over a tiny stove and devouring the results as the stars grow brighter.