Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tehachapi to Mt. Whitney

As I write this blog entry, hail is pelting our REI Quarter Dome Tent as we are camped on the side of Mt. Whitney. Hopefully, the weather will improve by tomorrow morning so we can hike to the summit with our friends from Boston, Sean and Carla. Mt. Whitney, while not on the PCT, is a worthwhile detour because it's the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,491 feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself !

Tehachapi marks the start of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We've been hearing about the breathtaking vistas and rushing mountain streams for about 558 miles. However, these rugged mountains scenes were still a long way off. We left this train-crazy town 2 weeks ago under purple-gray skies. The rain almost made us spend another night in the hotel, but we persevered and were rewarded with clearer skies by evening after only 5 miles.

With 7 days of food, our packs were heavy but we're definitely getting our "trail legs" and were able to hike 20 - 25 miles each day subsequently. Some of the highlights - or low lights - along the 145 miles between Tehachapi Pass and Kennedy Meadows include:

  • The tormented skies coming out of Tehachapi made for some spectacular vistas over the desert. The contrast between the rain clouds and white wind turbines was very dramatic.

  • Hiking through another dry section with Joshua trees we saw lots of evidence of off road vehicles. One night while camped in a stand of these spiky trees, a truck rolled up after dark. We were nervous that the locals might harass the hippy hikers after one guy said, "Look, there's a tent!" But they left us alone...phew!

  • Chris forgot a pair of socks and liners drying in a tree one night. We didn't notice until we did laundry at Kennedy Meadows.

  • With food stores running low, we had amazing good fortune to get some hand outs from some high school group. One of the counselors asked us if we needed food -yes, always! -and proceeded to give us a bag of sliced salami and another of cheese. Delish!

  • Hiking into Kennedy Meadows was quite surreal. This "town" is the unofficial gateway to the High Sierra 703 miles into the PCT. We were excited for a couple of days off and the arrival of our dear friends from home, Sean and Carla.

Kennedy Meadows is indeed a unique place. The hub of this community is the general store that had been picked over by hikers already. We picked up our bear canisters and resupply box with our ice axes and food (after a slight scare, the box arrived the afternoon we hiked in). Beers and hamburgers on the porch, cards with our friends, Neil and Andrew, a bizarre breakfast at a local restaurant where it took 3 hours to get a plate of French Toast, and camping in an old amphitheater that played movies on Saturday night.

Sean and Carla arrived after a marathon travel day and we dragged them to a so-so restaurant 1 hour away. Chris and I were excited about town food. We borrowed their rental car and went to Ridgecrest to hit up an outfitter's because our water filter was failing - no luck. The store was vacant. To make matters worse, Chris got pulled over, but he got off. We salvaged the trip by a successful run to the Post Office and a yummy diner breakfast.

Back on the trail, this time with Sean and Carla, we are definitely getting into some serious mountains. Sean and Carla are amazing with their ability to hit the ground running despite the elevation - over 11,000 feet at some points - and rough terrain reminiscent of New England. We all covered 67 miles in 5 days under gray skies and some of the coldest temperatures we've seen so far. Some mornings there was frost on our gear!

Now we find ourselves above the tree line amid clouds at 11,600 feet waiting to see what happens with the weather. Chris and I have decided that if the mountains are still socked in with clouds in the morning, we'll forgo the summit. That means we'll have say good-bye to our friends who are heading back to Jamaica Plain. We have much to look forward to: birthdays, anniversaries, visits with Clare in Mammoth, CA and hopefully, better weather. But we both still want to climb. We are definitely at the mercy of Mother Nature, and isn't that all part of this crazy adventure?

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