Friday, May 28, 2010

True Grit

Hi everybody, I'm here in Kennedy Meadows at last, the gateway to the Sierras! I say at last, though, in reality, I've been trying my hardest not to run here over the past weeks. Since I last wrote in Tehachapi, we've been through about everything the mountains ofSouthern California has to offer, a little farewell before heading into the the next big section of the hike.

I left town on Thursday in horrid, foggy conditions. Tehachapi is on a high plain surrounded by hills with a pass to the east that drops down to the Mojave desert below. The sea humid sea air coming from the west collides with the drier atmosphere and creates near constant winds, and in this case, a cloud that enveloped the area, putting visibility in town at about 100 feet. Fortunately the trail winds its way amongst the hills overlooking the desert, resulting in thick clouds on one side of path, and clear views on the other. Naturally, one gets used to hiking amidst giant windmills through this area. I put in a half day's walk out of town, and set up camp in a small forest of oaks and pine trees to screen against the wind, with a view down to Mojave and the airforce base situated in the desert.

I got a late start the next day and managed to find the trail crew I had agreed to work for. Named the "Trail Gorillas", it consisted of Jerry, Pete, Lye, Ron and Gordy, who had driven up to the path where it intersected a dirt road, and we were later joined by Handyman, whom I had been hiking with previously. We set up a camp and quickly got to work clearing bushes. Two people worked the brush saws (imagine a circular saw blade on the end of a 4 foot pole attached to an engine with wide handle grips) while the rest of us tossed the downed branches off the trail, clipped back smaller twigs, and leveled the trail grade. Le me just say these guys are pretty awsome. Most are not hikers themselves. I was the youngest person there by a few decades (Pete is in his 80s and was the only one allowed to work the chainsaw. Oh, and he did some 250 days of trail work last year. Pretty tough). They come out and work for the comraderie, the chance to put in a hard days work and have something to show for it. And the don't ask for anything in return but the appreciation of the hikers passing by. Crazy awsome and mad props. Did I mention it was snowing and windy while this was going on?

Anyway, several days of brush clearing and 2 tired arms later, Handyman and I headed out, along with several other hikers who happened to be passing through (Yellowbird, Salty and Caveman, whom I had met before at Islip Saddle.) My legs were more than a little anxious to get moving, helped along by the fact that many hikers had passed by while we were working. I booked it onwards, passed more windmills and down to calmer climes. I ended near Landers Creek amongst shady pines and near the remenants of an old mining cabin, complete with a caved-in shaft and hundreds of rusted tin cans and spam boxes. A good 30 mile day to get the blood going.

When the sun came up the next day, my water was frozen. Always a good feeling to wake up to. I got going early to warm up, and in true Southern Cali fashion, the woods gave way to sandstone hills then rolling desert. 15 miles of sandy, shifting uphill climbs in full sun is not fun, so naturally I just pushed on through, anticipating the cooler mountains in the distance. They are never as close as the look, by the way. Upon reaching the foothills, I planned to take a nice long nap and fill up on water. Instead, I encountered 2 rattlesnakes. Time to keep walking! Fortunately the climb was relatively easy, the weather cool and the views were improving; the snow covered Sierras started rearing up in the distance. The day seemed to fly by, and with time on my side I pushed on, covering 40 miles to end at McIver's Spring, accompanied by several of the hikers who passed by a few days before.

The next day was a descent into Walker Pass and the true, geological start of the Sierras at Owen's Peak. The landscape changed into granite cliffs and domes, huge massiffs rising above the clouds with jagged peaks and fingers breaking the sky. The terrain has been up and down, in and out of valleys, and through huge burns for the last few days. The hike into Kennedy Meadows has been especially amazing, crossing a wide plateau which is cut by the Kern River and surrounded by peaks. KM is an quirky community, not really a town but a cluster of houses serviced by a single general store. A trail angel named Tom lives here with a fleet of random, beat up trailers (and thankfully an internet connection) that he lets hikers rest at before starting the next challenge. For the moment I am waiting here for Handyman to catch up, and may take a few days off; Ron, his friend from the Trail Gorillas Crew, offered to put us up for a few days. For now, the weather is good though the snow farther on is still hanging around at the higher elevations. I'm content with waiting for the moment, but rest assured, once I get going the miles are going to fly by. Moutains will be transformed to grit beneath my boots, ice or no. I should be in conact for the next few days, but beyond KM is hundred of miles of glorious isolation. I'll try to stay in touch!

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