16.2 miles (704.6 to 720.8)
The foot of my sleeping bag is coated with sap. How? An examination reveals a glob of sap on the foot of my tent. My sleeping bag obviously rubbed against that most of the night. Good grief. I use a few alcohol pads to remove the sap. Thankfully that works. Then I pack up my things and renew the “which jacket should I bring” debate. Yesterday I’d decided to take my lightweight Arcteryx Cerium into the Sierra. Now I’m leaning toward the warmer and bulkier Montbell Mirage, even though this is probably overkill. I stuff the bigger jacket into the stuff sack I got from Yogi and manage to fit it into my pack on top of the bear can. It might get cold at night above 10,000 feet. I keep saying it might get cold; at some point it actually might. I decide to take the bigger jacket. I hope I don’t regret this the way I regret carrying my 10 degree sleeping bag through the desert.
Just Mike finishes breakfast and takes off up the trail. Cucumber arrives and eats his breakfast at the picnic table while Dad finishes packing everything into his car. Then Dad’s ready to leave. He has a long drive ahead. We hug and say goodbye. He drives away. It’s a strange moment. This time, he’s really leaving. I won’t see him again for weeks or more.
Cucumber and I sign the trail register and hike out of the campground. He’s already done over three miles this morning. I need to keep that in mind when I think about how far I want to go today. We hike through pine forest into the South Sierra Wilderness. We’re really in the Sierra!
We cross the South Fork of the Kern on a bridge. Soon after, we enter a burned area where a few live pines linger. My pack is heavy and uncomfortable. I want to take this beast off of my back and cram my fleece hoody between the bear can and the back of my pack to relieve some of the pressure the metal cylinder is putting on my spine. Cucumber is happy to stop, too, so we walk down to a campsite shaded by tall Jeffrey pines. I get my pack off and turn around – and there’s a huge rattlesnake not far away. This one is pale relative to the others I’ve seen; it’s a beautiful snake. It’s already moving away when I start recording:
After our snack break and pack readjustment, we continue on through the burned area, hiking uphill. The grade is mild, and even though we’re in full sun the climb isn’t terrible. We’re in the Sierra! We’re both excited to be here. Back in live trees, Cucumber suggests a lunch stop, so we do, and then we check our position in the PCT apps. Neither of us realized we’re already at 8,000 feet. It doesn’t feel like we climbed that high.
Back on the trail, we enter the edge of a large meadow where there’s a long view out to snowy peaks. This is so beautiful. And it’s only going to get prettier. We pass Just Mike napping in the shade. He sure picked a great spot. We should have stopped here for lunch instead of a quarter mile back. Too soon, we climb out of the meadow and back into pine forest. This is followed by another descent to the South Fork of the Kern.
“Isn’t this the last water before the big climb?” we ask each other. Yes. But. It’s only 2.5 miles to the next water at Cow Creek! I’ll need less than a liter. Even so, I can’t allow myself to walk away carrying less than a liter. Eventually I’ll retrain myself, but not today. Today I’m still thinking like a desert survivor. I dip my Platypus bladder into the river and collect a little more water. I treat my water using an in-line filter in my Platypus hose. I got a new filter cartridge at Kennedy Meadows, and now my water flows like it’s coming from a fire hose. In every way, I no longer have to work for a drink. I’m loving the Sierra!
From the river, we cross a sage meadow and head back into pine-juniper forest. Just before the first crossing of Cow Creek, Cucumber spots a buck near the trail. It’s the first buck I’ve seen on this trip. At Cow Creek, we stop for another break. We both feel like we should be doing more miles while the trail is relatively easy, but it’s our first day with the bear cans and huge amounts of food, as well our first day at higher elevations, and already we’re both tired. We’re both really feeling the weight of our packs. I feel it in my shoulders and between my shoulder blades. The hard cylinder in the pack creates a new rub spot near my spine. I think I’m already getting some kind of lump there.
My stomach has been feeling a little out of sorts for the last mile or so, and after I eat a snack at the creek I need to run up the hill and dig a hole. I stay up there for awhile. Yuck. This doesn’t feel good. I finally return and we hike on, revising our day’s mileage goal downward. My stomach churns as I hike, warning me that I may have to run up the hill again at any moment. I manage to last for a mile and a half, until our final crossing of Cow Creek, where we stop to get water in case we end up at a dry campsite. I run across the creek and around the hill and stay there until my stomach settles enough to return. This sucks.
By now we’re both looking out for a campsite. If my stomach wasn’t so upset, I’d prefer to walk for a few more miles. As it is, I just want to stop at a comfortable spot and rest and not have to crouch over a hole in the ground all night. Cucumber spots a potential campsite down off the trail near the creek. We walk down to it. We can fit two tents here. Let’s stop.
We eat dinner. Afterward, my stomach seems ok. We set up our tents. We’re in our tents by 8pm, camped at just over 9,000 feet. It may get cold enough tonight to really use my sleeping bag. I close my eyes and listen to the creek. Water. Flowing. All night.