From Rae Lakes to Onion Valley (Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass)
Miles: 12.3 mi
Elevation Gain: 2719 ft
The last day about killed me. I estimated it would take me 10 hours to hike out over two passes (Glen and Kearsarge), and I was off by only about half an hour due to slow going and lots of breaks. The night before I thought about setting an alarm and leaving early. Let's see, if I left at 4am, I'd get there at 2pm. But you have to wake up earlier than you actually leave. Hmm. I wanted to get down the mountain in time to get back to Bishop while the Toyota place that was fixing my car was still open. I'd have to hitch a ride down the mountain and to Bishop. It would take at least an hour to get to Bishop. And I wanted to get at least one of the two passes done before the weather got hot. In the end, I decided to set my alarm for 5am.
When the alarm went off, I was still exhausted from the previous day's 13 mile hike. I was almost out of food, and worried about having enough calories to get back to civilization. I decided to sleep in. The least I could do was get enough sleep.
I woke up at 8:15, ate my last Babybel cheese, and put one of my two last bars in my pocket to eat as a morning snack. I skipped cooking breakfast (oatmeal and coffee). If I got stuck on the mountain that night, I'd have the oatmeal for dinner. And I got started packing.
My Japanese friend, Emiko, came hiking by, and she stopped and hung out with me while I packed. She was also exhausted from the day before, and she wanted to do a short day. Just maybe over the pass and as little as possible after that. We talked about her trip to Alaska and how she climbed Denali. Then we got going.
I told Emiko to go ahead of me before long. I was really dragging. And I'm already slow even when I'm feeling well.
I stopped to fill my water with exactly one liter from a spring and I was too lazy to treat it. I was going home. If this water made me sick, it wouldn't do so til I was back to the Land of Flush Toilets. I only got a liter because I did not want to carry one single ounce of extra weight up Glen Fucking Pass.
It's personal between me and Glen Pass. I'd hiked up that thing twice already - once going north, and once going south. I've done it. I don't want to do it again. I didn't want to do it again. I kind of resent it for standing in between me and Rae Lakes, and between me and the Eastern Sierras. The alternative would be to hike out Woods Creek, to the western side of the Sierras. That's 15 miles all down hill, nice and easy... but I'd end up far from my car. So I had to go over Glen Pass a third time.
At some point, I pulled the bar out of my pocket and ate it. God, it was disgusting. It was so sweet, sickeningly sweet.
A few hundred feet from the top, I began to experience visual disturbances. That wasn't good. Was it an aura, like for migraines? I get migraines, but I've never had an aura. Or was I about to pass out? I sat down and told some NOBO hikers who were passing me that I didn't feel well. They insisted on helping, and I put up only a small fight before giving in. They had just resupplied in Independence and their packs were full of food. But as much as they didn't like carrying such heavy packs now, and as much as they felt like they had plenty, they would probably need all that food before they reached MTR. I'd prefer to take extra food off of hikers who came in through Kearsarge just for a few days with loads to eat. JMTers need their food.
But the truth was that I was in bad shape, so I shut up and accepted their very kind and generous help. One of them gave me half a bag of Peanut M&Ms, which I ate quickly, dropping two for some lucky marmot by accident. Another one gave me a package of Ritz crackers and fake cheese. Processed, horrible goodness. It was probably exactly what I needed at the moment, give or take the preservatives and artificial food dyes. The salt and calories would go straight into my blood stream.
Just then Sandy, the woman from Idaho, came along. Her husband Jim was waiting at the top of the pass. He'd apparently asked NOBO hikers to look for his wife, and one had asked me if I was Sandy. I replied that Sandy was taking her time, taking photos, and probably filling her water bladder with her favorite luxury - snow. She loves ice water. And if Jim knows his wife, he would know that, because I'd known her for just a day, and I knew it.
I asked Sandy if she could keep an eye on me til I reached the top of the pass, and told her my situation. At first she thought it was vertigo and fear of heights, but I told her I thought it was lack of electrolytes. With the heat, we'd all been drinking and drinking and sweating and sweating, and the food I packed just wasn't that salty. She offered me two electrolyte pills, and I accepted them. I felt better before long.
Then Sandy revealed where she'd been. Not only had she filled up on snow and taken pictures - she'd gone for a swim! One of the beautiful blue pools along the pass was just too irresistible to her. I knew she'd love the ones on the other side of the pass even more.
At last, we reached the top. I won't lie. There were tears. Mine, not hers. I looked like hell when I got up there. Emiko and Jim were waiting for us. I was touched that Emiko had waited for me. Jim put a camera in my face for a "summit picture" and I told him no way. I looked like hell. I shoveled jelly beans in my mouth, all of the flavors at once - bubblegum, and buttered popcorn, and I don't even know what else. It was disgusting. I just wanted to give my body what it needed to get me down Glen Pass and up and down Kearsarge.
On the way down, I filled up with 2 liters of water, enough to get me over Kearsarge Pass and perhaps to the end of the trail. A few guys who were doing a three-day trip offered me a candy bar, and I accepted. The clouds covered the sun, providing some relief from the heat and better light for photographing flowers. I was finally feeling better enough to snap a few shots.
Then I looked and saw beautiful concentric ripples in one of the aqua pools. Emiko was swimming, and Jim was with her. I walked closer, and Emiko got out, and Sandy reached them and got in.
On the rock where they sat, there was a stone shaped like a heart:
As I got down the pass, I remembered hiking down this portion a year before with two friends, and hiking up it prior to that with a hiker from Vegas I'd met named Ernesto. A butterfly landed and stayed still while I got closer and took a photo:
It's amazing how, even in your worst moments on the trail, there is beauty that takes you by surprise and pulls you out of your pain.
At the junction where the trail splits off leading east over Kearsarge Pass, Sandy, Jim, Emiko, and I said our goodbyes. "Come to Japan!" Emiko said. I feel like I was not attentive or kind enough to her as we said goodbye. She's so nice and wonderful, and it took me by surprise, that someone could be so kind to me. That someone would be interested enough in being my friend to sit with me as I packed for half an hour that morning, and waited for another half an hour on top of the pass, and that she cared about saying goodbye instead of just heading off to get on with her hike. It's not what I expect from others, and again and again I am surprised by the kindness of those I meet on the trail.
Then I set off on the dry 2.8 miles of trail to the pass. Heading out Kearsarge means elevation gain of less than 1000 feet. That was a relief, because I'm not sure I could have done more anyway. The land was arid and dry. Where was the meadow-like environment with purple gentian growing I remembered from this part of the trail? I finally reached where I could look down on Bullfrog Lake. The views grew beautiful, as I'd remembered. But I also remembered streams and water.
I amused myself by taking photos of the cute furry things that crossed my path. This little guy was digging something up in the trail and ran off when I approached:
This one, a Chickaree, scolded me loudly when I sat down to rest too close by:
Ultimately, I reached the streams and gentian that I remembered on the trail as I made it toward the pass. The water wasn't much - it certainly was not meadow-like as I'd remembered it - but I hadn't imagined the gentian. Or the water.
Finally, I reached the switchbacks that lead up to the pass. I saw some Sky Pilot that was no longer in bloom, but took a photo just because. Just because this plant only grows at high altitudes, and seeing it is an accomplishment, and I wanted to document that I'd done it.
There was no one at the top of the pass like there would have been earlier in the day. I was alone. I unceremoniously stepped across it without stopping to begin the 4.7 mile trek down about 2600 feet to the Onion Valley trailhead.
As I went down the other side, I saw several people coming up. There were a few JMTers who had resupplied, and a couple who had parked their car on the eastern side of the Sierras and were hiking to the western side to begin the High Sierra Route. And then there was a huge extended family that I assumed were Mormon (based on a religious T-shirt one wore) who came up leading three llamas:
The last photo I took was of Mountain Pride Penstemon. The light was almost gone, and I'd been waiting to get a good shot of it from the first day on the trip but the light hadn't been good. It grows all over the Sierras, but a lot of the plants I'd seen in the last few days had already wilted.
The end of my trip was not pretty. At first, I counted down the lakes as I descended Kearsarge Pass: Big Pothole, Heart, Flower, Gilbert, and Little Pothole. Then I could see the parking lot, and the campground. I was going to finish at almost 8pm. The car dealership was closed. Nobody else was coming down the mountain because it was late. The only definite food option in Independence was Subway, and if I didn't get down there soon, it would probably close. There were hotels, but those would close too. And how would I get a ride?
I panicked. I was a wreck. I reached the bottom and walked into the campground, calling for someone who could help. A man in pajamas came out of a tent, and I told him my situation. He offered to drive me to Subway. I figured I could get some food and take it from there, somehow.
That's when things took a turn for the better. As he dropped me at Subway, I looked across the street and saw Still Life Cafe, the French place, and it was open! I hobbled across the street - I could barely walk now and my hiking boots hurt so bad - and asked if they were still serving. The man said no. I got up and muttered that I'd wanted to eat there for a week. He said he'd see if they could serve me. He came back and seated me at a table and handed me a menu.
A family at the table next to me asked where I'd been hiking. I told them, and we got into a conversation. They asked how I would get back to my car in Bishop. I said I'd hitch, and they offered me a ride the next morning. One said she was staying at Ray's Den. "That's where I plan to look for a room," I said. She said it was full. Another woman said she was at the Winnedumah and they had rooms.
I ordered salad nicoise, and texted a friend who I'd asked to call Search and Rescue if I didn't turn up on time with the words "Not Dead." She wrote back, asking where I was, and where I was staying that night. I said I had to find a room, and she offered to call around. My phone does not have internet, so I suggested she try the Winnedumah. She texted back that they were holding a room for me, and they were just a block away.
After my meal, I walked over there. It's beautiful and old fashioned, with a kind woman who runs it. My room had a bathtub. I filled it with an inch of water, washed off as much dirt as I could, and drained it. Then I filled it with more water, to soak. Last, I turned on the shower and washed my hair. It felt great.
I finished the trip without blisters, but I was covered with scabs and mosquito bites and chafing where my pack was on my back and all along some sensitive areas down below. I slept naked, since every article of clothing I had except for my running shorts was filthy and smelly.
It was good to be done, at last.