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Day 41 – May 14, 2022

Mile 676.2 to 702.2 (Kennedy Meadows, CA)

26.0 trail miles | 26.2 tracked miles | 3,707 ft elevation gain | 82.4 F / 28 °C

Today, the first chapter of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike closed. I completed the South California section of the PCT and reached Kennedy Meadows, CA, the gateway to the High Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Joe, Michael, and I left camp at 6:30am this morning, uncertain of our destination for the day. Kennedy Meadows was still 26 miles away.

The descent towards Chimney Creek was swift and easy, and we were able to refill our water bottles at the muddy, albeit still flowing stream. Then we tackled the only major ascent of the day, towards Chimney Peak.

Nothing seemed to indicate that we were getting any closer to the Sierra Nevada, California’s so called “frozen reservoir.” The parched and almost-monochrome landscapes echoed the scenery that we became used to over the last 40 days.

At the conclusion of the descent from Chimney Peak, the trail veered straight up north and the path became virtually flat. Kennedy Meadows was just 10 miles away. The promise of a gargantuan hot meal fueled us and we picked up speed, despite the scalding 99 F temperature.

Shortly after lunch, nature suddenly opened a gateway to heaven, revealing a completely different landscape. Water was flowing. Trees were gracing me with welcome shade. Rugged mountain peaks called for new adventures.

The trail followed the South Fork Kern River for a few miles. It was pure bliss. A few hikers were relaxing and swimming and I was tempted to join them, but I was eager to reach Kennedy Meadows, and I figured there would be plenty of opportunities to swim in the next few days. Besides, Joe was slightly ahead of me and we had agreed to meet at the road that marked the end of this section.

While hiking along the river, I passed the 700 mile marker, but my feeling of elation was eclipsed by the much bigger milestone that laid just ahead.

The last stretch was a bit odd. The PCT bordered private property, and ominous signs were warning hikers to stay away. Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, one of the two restaurants at Kennedy Meadows, had plastered the trail with signs advertising their services, giving me a first taste of the intense competition between Grumpy Bear’s and the General Store, the only other outlet in this tiny township.

Shortly before 4pm, Joe and I reunited at Sherman Pass Road, the USFS road to Kennedy Meadows.

Joe and I celebrating our arrival in Kennedy Meadows

Standing at the deserted trailhead, I felt overwhelmed with joy.

Reaching Kennedy Meadows on time is widely hailed as a major milestone on the PCT, one that can potentially determine the fate of the entire adventure. Months ago, as I was sifting through blogs, videos, and online forums, arriving at Kennedy Meadows was merely a dream or a possibility. I did it.

There were thrilling days in SoCal; there were challenging days, and there were frustrating days. But overall, I can’t imagine a smoother journey or better experience.

You’ve been pretty gentle, SoCal. You’re awfully dry, but you blessed me with mild weather, good conditions all around, and hundreds of miles of incredible vistas that will be forever etched in my memory. I was fortunate not to get injured and never once felt like quitting

According to the locals, there are actually no more than 70 residents at Kennedy Meadows, CA

I satellite messaged Grumpy Bear’s for a ride, and they promptly responded. If you’ve watched the movie Wild, you’ve seen hikers arriving at Kennedy Meadows to the cheers of fellow PCTers. That famous scene takes place at the General Store, but Grumpy’s is a more recent alternative; they hold packages for free and offer complimentary rides to the trailhead. I shipped my snow gear and other necessities to Grumpy’s prior to leaving Seattle.

Kennedy Meadows, CA (also known as “Kennedy Meadows South” on the PCT, since the High Sierra section ends at another Kennedy Meadows), is a tiny village with 70 permanent residents. The town isn’t connected to the power grid (locals use generators), and no cell phone service.

Grumpy Bear’s is a dive bar and restaurant that offers services for hikers, including package shipping and receiving, outdoor showers, laundry, and camping facilities. All services are complimentary except for Wi-Fi, which is quite expensive. While basic, the facilities are definitely a major step above what I experienced at Hikertown, and I look forward to taking a zero or two.

I added my name to the package pickup log and wrote a short thank you note for the hospitality. The employee who delivered my packages mentioned that my comment made her day. I have a sense that the staff is extremely overworked.

For dinner, I enjoyed the Triple Crown Burger, a local delicacy which comes with three beef patties, three slices of cheese, three massive fried onion rings, as well as bacon and eggs. It hit the spot. Then I had a milkshake, for good measure, as well as a salad (since, despite appearances, I’m actually very careful about my diet.)

Grumpy Bear’s legendary Triple Crown Burger

Next on the agenda is a zero or two in Kennedy Meadows. I’ll resupply, swap my desert gear for snow gear, and plan a rough itinerary for the Sierras. But the first priority tomorrow morning is the Hiker Breakfast with all-you-can-eat pancakes. Challenge accepted.

The Big Picture

3D path
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