Kennedy Meadows- Independence, Trail mile 789: Sierra Snows

So we made it through our first leg in the snow covered peaks and over Forester and Kearsarge Pass, and there were many many lessons, in both humility and empowerment, sometimes in the same moment. It was beautiful and intense, scary at times, and challenging. More mental than physical, that maxim of a thru-hike being 80% mental and 20% physical seems to hold true. We have our trail legs now, but the mental valley’s that we have to slog through are just as, if not more, difficult, than the snow slog in the afternoon.

We decided to get out of KM last Saturday afternoon. The hardest part was taking those first few steps, but it really felt good when we did. All the fears washed away, and it felt freeing to be back on the trail, ready to deal with what came. We left with Snowcone and Buffalo, with plans to meet the French Team along the way. About 5 miles in, another hiker, Doc, joined us, so there were 5 of us camping the first night, with a light sprinkle/snow easing us into the transition. It was snow free on the ground the first two days, so our spirits were high, and we were joking about the weather forecast, how wrong it had been. How nice it was to be released from the fear vortex.

And then there were nine. Zombie Feet and Ryan caught up to us the 2nd day, and the French Team made it to the campsite that night. Seems everyone was in need for a little company, what with the uncertainty of what was ahead.

That first day in a group was challenging. Rhythms are highly individual, and everyone has a methodology that works specifically for their needs. Well, those needs weren’t voiced ahead of time, and we’d end up stopping every 20 minutes or so for someone to go off behind a tree, or for someone to get food, or for a rest break. People’s paces are all different, and in a group some have to slow down, while others feel pushed. In this system, people may behave differently then they would alone. It was a tough transition, and we didn’t quite know what everyone’s needs were, and what everyone wanted out of this “team”. What were the expectations, was it okay to break off during the day? Were we all going to plan on camping together? Were we going to climb Mt Whitney? Unanswered questions blanketed the uncertain path ahead.  The parameters of the system weren’t discussed, and what hinged the group together were the peaks and valleys surrounding us.

We hit patchy snow at around 9,500 feet, and were in compacted full on snow fields after Trail Pass. Stephane of the French Team suggested we discuss what our strategy would be, if we were going to continue on as a team, so we had what would become the first of many “team meetings” along the way. That turned out to be a crucial step in making the system reach an equilibrium. People fell into comfortable roles, some would focus on the navigation and leading the group, others provided mental and emotional support, still others came in with comic relief when needed. As in a marriage, a team, or any sort of partnership, it’s hard to find out when to give up the individual autonomy for the betterment of the group, and when to take care of the self. With 9 people, in an intense outdoor experience, it’s even harder to find this balance. But I feel like this particular group managed to strike it. “Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.” I don’t remember who said it, but it fits. Over some of the more scary traverses and the chute on Forrester Pass, it was nice to have people around you going through the same thing. The highs were high, and the low slog of the afternoon slush and postholing were low. But we did it together. And that felt good.

Daily Itinerary for Kennedy Meadows to Independence:

Saturday: KM mile 702 to mile 711

Sunday: mile 711 to 731, camped at Death Canyon Creek

Monday: mile 731 to 750 camped at a dry spot we could find in the snow

Tuesday: mile 750 to mile 766 camped at Crabtree Meadows

Wednesday: mile 766 to mile 775, camped at Shepard Pass Trail

Thursday: Forester Pass: mile 775 to mile 787 camped at Bullfrog Lake

Friday: Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley and hitched into Independence.

Saturday: Zero in Independence

Sunday: Head back to Onion Valley early, get over Kearsarge Pass and back to PCT Monday.

Lessons:

  • Snow going is slow going: patience is a virtue, and rhythms need to be adjusted to fit the elements
  • “I get by with a little help from my friends”
  • Morning snow is easier to walk on with microspikes, and afternoon snow is a slog, but we hiked with Doc who didn’t have spikes, but had an ice axe and trekking poles and managed. With the warmer high pressure fronts moving in, the time the slog starts is earlier and earlier. We are thinking of getting up earlier in the morning to get miles in.
  • Glad to have the ice axe on the more scary and exposed traverses and ridges. Jacob has a little mountaineering experience, but all my snow experience has been horizontal, growing up in Minnesota. It was definitely a learning curve in the vertical, but I get more comfortable every day, more careful with steps, and more aware about what type of snow I’m walking on, and what the hazards are. If I slipped, could I dig my feet and hands in? Are there rocks and trees visible below? How far would I fall? Does the ice axe go in far enough to self belay should I slip? And I’m usually mentally preparing myself for getting into self-arrest.
  • There were only a few sketchy snow crossings where I felt pushed well beyond my comfort zone. On the chute coming up over Forester, the steps were cut deep, and we made an early ascent, so the steps weren’t slushy or slippery. But going up to the chute was scary, we ended up going straight up the side of the mountain on steps that were cut, avoiding switchbacks. I didn’t look down and thought of baking bread.
  • Glissading, the “technical” way of saying sliding on your butt,  is a jolly good time. We cut out a lot of miles of trail and a couple thousand feet after Forester by sliding down on our butts. Definitely the highlight of the last week.
  • Self care is the key to staying happy and healthy and enjoying the trail. This is different for everyone. For us, we took a day in Independence, are laying low, showering, and resting up, and will head back tomorrow.

We decided not to do Whitney, with the pace we were moving at, and Jacob and I had to get to Independence before the Post Office closed on Friday at 4. I don’t feel bad about skipping out on Whitney, as J said, it’s like a 50 yard sprint for an ice cream cone in the middle of a marathon. We’re focusing on the marathon.

If we get a ride tomorrow, we’ll be back out there, learning more and growing more.

Love and Peace to friends and family!

-Chinchilla

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Kennedy Meadows- Independence, Trail mile 789: Sierra Snows

  1. You guys made the right decision heading out from KM. The snow in the high country looks awesome! And very cold! The predictions say Tioga Road will open around June 17-20, but you may have Yosemite pretty much to yourselves once you get past VVR.

    Have fun!

  2. Okay…first of all your photos are simply stunning! I am smiling from ear to ear. Second…thank you for the very useful report of the current conditions in Southern Sierras. Third…you guys are amazing and inspirational! Fourth…you should send your pics to PCTA NOW, on Facebook they are asking for them. Lastly…I have questions (so sorry) What will work for glissading pants? What gear are you changing up for the next leg? Are you camping on snow? Would snow stakes be helpful?

    Safe journey to all of your team members.
    Rockin’

    Oh and glad the Neo Air is fixed. 🙂

    • Hey Rockin! Don’t have a lot of time on here, but some things I want to pass on……I used rain pants for glissading, but other times I just used my regular pants. It doesn’t take long for them to dry out…microspikes and an ice axe have been integral. Especially over some of the more scary/sketchy passes, which in my experience were Glen and Mather. Mather was the scariest because of the rock/snow combination, late season avalanches, and afternoon melt. We had originally planned on doing Pinchot and Mather in one day, but got to Mather and it was freakin scary slushy, there is a cornice at the top that makes it difficult to maneaver around, so we ended up camping out on the rocks right before the pass and went up around 6am. My biggest recommendation would be to time the passes so you do them early in the morning, so the snow is hard enough to get traction. The conditions will probably be different for you so you may not have to worry about it…..the next biggest concern has been “creek” crossings where there aren’t usually creeks, or in a different year, where they aren’t a big deal. They are a big deal this year. There is one that you come across right after Glen that is pretty fast, not wide, but we linked arms to get across. With the snow melting, there will be more. Jacob and I are carrying two 3mm, 50ft cords that we have used to cross. In one case it prevented me from being eaten by the raging river, even though I got a good dunking. We’ve managed not to have to camp on snow, so I don’t think you’ll have a problem with that, so no need for snow stakes.
      I’ve definitely been pushed past my comfort zone a number of times a day the last 5 days, go slow, be patient, and don’t be afraid to stop and wait if you feel it’s not safe. We came over Bishop Pass to resupply because we planned to go more miles than we were able, so perhaps give yourself more time when preparing. We had thought we could do 17 miles a day, and are averaging around 12 or 13…..
      Ok, be safe, have fun, and I look forward to hearing as you start!! Hugs, Kit

  3. Love love loved reading this entry in particular. You guys are seriously an inspiration! And good call on skipping Whitney. Ian hiked it last summer and he said the miles of switchbacks on the way up is boring and lame so I don’t think you guys missed out on much! Especially with snow still being around up there. Can’t wait to hear how the next leg of your trip goes! Lots of love and hugs to you guys =)

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