The trail rises gently out of Mosquito Flat. In contrast to the scorching hot week in Loma Linda, the air, scented with pine needles and sagebrush, is cool. I tell the kids a story about hiking in Kings Canyon to distract them from the mild uphill. Just before the trail junction to Ruby Lake and Mono Pass, everyone takes a break by some shaded boulders.
Having successfully camped for two nights and hiked at high altitude, we figured it was safe to go backpacking. This will be Daphney’s first trip into the backcountry wilderness. We spend the first night at Gray’s Meadow to acclimatize. Situated just below Kearsarge Pass, the campground gives us perfect night…
We wake up to warm dry conditions on the last day. The clouds have completely left, and everything except for the ground cloth is bone dry. Mark discovers that his tent has fallen apart, the plastic window in the rainfly detached from the vestibule’s awning. He sticks his head out like a turtle. It’s time for a new tent.
It is sometime in the early morning when I awaken. Peering outside, I see bright stars. The clouds have rolled back, and I figure it is safe to open up the rain fly. My shoes are still wet, but everything else stayed dry through the night of rain. I would later find out that it was not so with Brad and Grant, whose tent leaked with the incessant drip, drip, drip that soaked much of what was inside their tent. The morning is beautiful, though, with bright warm sunlight drying up the shoreline. Here, we dry out our gear.
Into the Woods. That’s what this first stretch of trail reminds me of, and it reminds Yan of that same movie we watched in the plane while on our honeymoon. Lee Ridge Trailhead begins as a small inconspicuous orange flag trail marker a half mile south of Canada. I would have missed it had it not for Ms. Ranger’s directions. Stepping off Chief Mountain Highway through the border of brush alongside the road, the trail emerges. Little did we know that this trail would transport us to a trip that will challenge our gear and push their limits.
Backpacking gear normally lasts for years—the same sleeping bag, clothes, stove, backpack, and all the little miscellaneous stuff. With much of the gear list the same, packing for this trip was relatively easy. I had pulled out my list, updated it with the new tent and cook set, and checked everything off. Yan just followed my list and added her gear. Except for the sleeping bag and backpack, she had pretty much everything from before, ready to go. Working with the list and a small kitchen scale, we had gotten each of our pack’s base weight to less than 20 lbs.
This has been a phenomenal hiking season. Starting with summiting one of the most prominent mountains of Southern California—Mt. San Jacinto, the peakbagging list includes Mauna Kea, Mount Whitney, and now Mount Washington. I’ve read about Washington many times. Visiting Boston for the American Society for Surgery of the Hand…
Hikers bidding for the summit trudge by our campsite. Even though it’s barely light outside, I see their headlamps and hear their voices. Then, I hear Mickey. He and Wayne are off early as well. They are going to hike down to Whitney Portal first, where they will unload and clean up, thus avoiding the second morning of wag bag use. Mark is also out of the tent. He’s gone for quite some time. I get myself out of the sleeping bag and do some preliminary packing.
The alpenglow foreshadows the glorious day this will be. Hovering above the Great Western Divide, just before sunrise, the band of orange sky washes the entire landscape in a warm hue, in absolute contrast to the nippy cold air. The color of the meadow’s grass looks a bit strange. Of my group, I’m the first to get up. Soon, the rest are up as well, and we have a quick breakfast. I lean on the backrest rock that Mark picked out—he has an obsession about finding good backrests—and have the usual morning French press coffee while watching the sky turn from orange to blue.
Like the other mornings, the routine is pretty much the same—hot breakfast, clean up, pack, and head out. We quickly gain elevation on this climb out of the Upper Kern Canyon. Before long, we are looking back down the canyon that is open to the clear blue sky. Then, we join Wallace Creek and hike alongside it. Along the trail, Wayne and I share stories of the meaning of the Sabbath and of relationship. Mark hikes ahead and loses the group. Near the campsite where Mark originally wanted to stay, just before the flat section, we step around a huge pile of bear droppings, bright red from the meal of ripe berries.
We’ve been looking forward to this mid-trip breakfast. Even though the powdered eggs turn rubbery when overcooked, the vegetarian bacon bits add enough flavor to the dish of scrambled eggs and hash browns. The little packets of ketchup make all the difference. Along with two rounds of French press coffee, this turns out to be our favorite breakfast.
I’m the first one up on this short rest day. The sky is clear, and I emerge from my tent in time to catch the first light on the distant mountains, painting the tops a fiery orange. Moraine Lake is a perfect mirror. I step onto the lakeshore to take pictures, tiptoeing between bear tracks that Mark pointed out to me the day before. Again, we have French press coffee.
It’s a lazy morning. We’ve had a tough second day, and to reward ourselves, we decide to not rush it. Mickey had slept under the stars, and that must have been beautiful. Wayne, seated on a smooth boulder, reads his devotional. I take pictures of the stark above-treeline views. Mark pulls out his fishing rod, attaches lures, and heads to the lakeshore. In his first cast, he gets a bite.
This would be our hardest day, stumbling into camp around sunset, completely exhausted. But, the start of the day is great. We set off early, climbing through thick forest along the gentle trail covered with soft forest litter. Soon, we arrive at Bearpaw Meadow. The luxury of staying there for $350 per night doesn’t seem worth the price. Mark gets water while Wayne and Mickey check out the restaurant. The chef is willing to make us pancakes. From the restaurant porch, we catch a glimpse of Kaweah Gap. We will be hiking over this pass, gaining 5,000 feet over 3 short miles. From here, it looks towering and daunting.