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Day 43 – May 16, 2022

702.2 (Kennedy Meadows, CA) to 716.5 (Kern River/Monache Meadow)

14.3 trail miles | 13.2 tracked miles | 2,538 ft elevation gain | 87.8 F / 31 °C

Breakfast “service” at the Kennedy Meadows General Store was on par with dinner: slow and disorganized. While Grumpy’s churns out huge breakfasts from their professional kitchen like clockwork, the General Store employs a single staff member who cooks on a tiny grill. The “all-you-can-eat” offer also turned out to be a scam, since the “kitchen” ran out of batter by the time everyone was served.

On a positive note, my blueberry pancakes, when they finally arrived, were delicious. I foresee adding blueberries to my breakfasts when I get home…

To pass time, other hikers weighed their fully-loaded backpack (with snow gear and bear canister) on the store’s scale. The results were scary. I didn’t weigh mine, on the ground that ignorance is bliss.

Waiting for breakfast at the Kennedy Meadows general store

I took advantage of the long wait to figure out how to attach my bear canister to my backpack. That’s something I should ideally have done at home, but the straps were a last-minute purchase that I received literally a day before flying to San Diego. It proved to be quite puzzling, and and I’m grateful to the other hikers who helped me.

The purpose of a bear canister is to prevent bears from accessing human food and scented items. The use of bear canisters is required in the Sierras for overnight camping and anytime a hiker is away from their camp site. This prevents bears from becoming habituated to human presence and food, and protects both bears and humans.

My bear canister is a carbon fiber container, which is lighter (though significantly more expensive) than plastic models. In order to keep the center of gravity of my pack as low as possible, I will continue to store my food in my backpack, with the empty canister riding on top. Every night, I will store all food, trash, toiletries, and other scented items in the canister, and place it 100 feet away from my tent.

My bear canister will stay with me through the Sierras

It was close to 10am by the time everybody in my new extended group—including Joe’s friend and his companions—had breakfast and was ready to leave. We hopped on the shuttle to the trail, which miraculously was about to depart. The driver was smoking a joint and already visibly high. The evening shuttle must be an interesting experience.

Departing Kennedy Meadows

As soon as we left Kennedy Meadows, we knew that South California was behind us. The landscapes were already dramatically different from the desert scenery that we had become accustomed to.

North of Kennedy Meadows, the Pacific Crest Trail followed the South Fork Kern River (which rises in a small meadow near the PCT), then the Crag Creek, prior to rejoining the South Fork Kern River. The trail gradually gained elevation, and we had ample access to water throughout the day.

South Fork Kern River

The day was hot, and I was sweating in my cold weather pants. We took a dip in a refreshing stream to cool down.

Starting the Sierra Nevada section feels like a reboot. We started at a moderate pace in the desert prior to picking up speed. Now, It’s time to reset our mileage expectations: we have heavy packs, there is still snow ahead, and the terrain will soon be significantly more challenging. Besides, the scenery is calling for a more relaxed and leisurely pace.

We crossed a large burn area littered with blowdowns, but soon we reached Beck Meadow, the first dramatic meadow of the South Sierra Wilderness.

Meadow north of Kennedy Meadows, CA

Today’s hike covered a distance of only 14 miles, partially due to our late departure, but also because we could not pass up the opportunity to sleep at Monache Meadows. At the Kern River, the PCT crosses over a wooden bridge, providing access to a beach with wind protection and ample shade.

I felt like I was in paradise. I spent fifteen minutes aimlessly walking around taking photos, in awe of the scenery, and enjoying the gentle side of nature that we’ve been so deprived of in the desert. I then took a refreshing dip. The stream is probably just two feet deep, and the bridge looks oddly out of place, but the water temperature was perfect and I was able to lie down and enjoy the gentle caress of Mother Nature.

Several other hikers that we met in Kennedy Meadows joined us for the night, and we had dinner together.

It felt both luxurious and slightly awkward to wash my pot without worrying about conserving every drop of water. In the desert, I would clean my pot and then drink the water used for washing.

Soon, I will drift off to sleep, lulled by the soothing sounds of the nearby stream.

Camping by the South Fork Kern River

The Big Picture

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