23 September 2014

Golden Trout Wilderness tour: Kern Peak

Inyo National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7 | DAY 8

(Day 4 of 8) The early morning comes with burning eyes and a stuffed nose and allergy medicine only partly helps it. It is a very poor sleep after not particularly good sleeps. My start is late, but I am not in much of a hurry. I have a 5.6 mile climb along trail to get to the top of Kern Peak and an even shorter way down, hopefully partly on trail, to get down again. Once packed up and supplied with a bit over 2L of water, it is time to climb slightly and find the faint, but clear trail along the top of the slight hill I was sleeping on. It seems to take random turns as it wanders through the trees past yellow painted tin can tops nailed to the trees. Sometimes another, even fainter, old route can be seen beside the current route. The trail drifts up to a saddle this way, then splits. A "Kern Peak" sign nailed to a short stump points downhill steeply, while the other trail initially follows an old piece of single line telephone wire and probably heads over to Ramshaw Meadows.

small sign on small stump
Not the typical sign post.

The trail crosses one creek, then follows the Kern Peak Stringer up for a while crossing it a couple times. I had figured I would have no access to water once I left camp, but there is good flow in the stringer. It smells of cow as the trail makes the last crossing at the bottom of a small meadow. It is odd because the lower meadows have not had any cows for long enough that the stink has left them. It might be easy to miss the trail climbing up just inside the trees near the meadow instead of continuing to follow the stringer along some use trail. Once it starts climbing, the trail seems serious about getting higher and the views start to open up.

scruffy high meadow
Looking back at the high meadow that the trail clips the bottom of.

blaze carved into a splintered trunk
An interesting trail blaze.

Kaweah Basin area mountains
Views of the mountains somewhat north from the trail.

The climb ends suddenly as the trail levels out on a wide saddle. This may be a sensible place to leave heavy items not needed for a day hike, but I do not know that yet and keep climbing with everything. The climb is very easy for a while and even drops some before beginning a second earnest climb up the north face. My body is acting like it is climbing to 13500 rather than 11500 and I have to admit, as I try to find a little bit more space to blow my nose on the thin cotton fashion scarf I carry as a huge bandanna, that my red burning eyes are not from allergies. Someone gave me a disease just before I left and it is hitting as I try to climb a mountain. The trail peters out as I finally reach a small saddle to the south side of the mountain. Cairns mark a way, but start to go down so do not seem quite my way. I can see the remains of the lookout that once sat on top of this peak, so finally drop my pack and clamber up the rocks the short way to the peak. There is a little trail past a collapsed out building up to one boulder, then a worrisome wooden walkway the short distance to the peak.

some old outbuilding
It seems the shed has seen better days.

the top building collapsed
The lookout is has not fared any better.

Shortly before the top, I spot a fire far off to the southeast. It is a couple major valleys away, so even though that is my direction tomorrow, I am not worried. At the top, there should be another benchmark from 1905 or earlier. There is also one from 1962 that is "unstamped" and describes a then pre-existing elevation marker as reference mark 2. It does not take long to find these two benchmarks.

USGS marker stamped with the elevation
The USGS elevation marker described as reference mark 2 for the marker set in 1962. Similar to the previous benchmark, but not stamped with a date.

USGS marker left unstamped
The unstamped station marker from 1962 has darkened drastically and looks older.

distant fire
Wildfire out by Kennedy Meadows. It looks big enough, but it did not get very big.

From Kern Peak, I can see for many miles in all directions. The northern mountains are, of course, much more impressive. Langley is the southernmost of the 14ers, so it is all downhill from there heading south.

bald mountains rising gently
Langley and Pickering and their neighbors rising far above the treeline.

more big mountains
Mountains around the Kaweah Basin and their vaguely pink peaks.

The mountains to the south are shrouded in some mist and murk and are much shorter.

bumps rising in the blue mists
There seem to be peaks out there in the blue distance.

south and somewhat east, the fire at the very edge
Mountains southwest of the fire, which is at the far left side.

Once done with the top, I need to find my pack again and then make my way down toward Templeton, my next goal.

cinder cone
Templeton is a cinder cone in the middle of the meadows directly east.

Finding my pack is not that hard, but getting off the very top of the mountain is. I end up following the ridge to the south for a bit before climbing down the steep side of the mountain toward a bowl. When things are level enough, there seems to be a line that I can follow around the edge of the bowl to a flat area of boulders at the north side of it. Heading east over these boulders gets me to the trees and dirt and quite a bit of easy, flat travel. I would like to hit the trail between Redrock and Templeton Meadows on its way down from Toowa Ridge, but not enough to leave the easy traveling direction.

northeast ridge
View down the northeast ridge from the top to the flat, treed area where it may have been a good idea to leave the heavy stuff. The steep eastern edge continues to the south.

I am lower on water than I would like to be. My shadow points the way a little north of where I want to be, but I am mostly following it. Crossing a dry stream bed does not help this. Eventually, the terrain is starting to get a bit more rugged and there is a deep cut with a trickle of water running through it. It is tempting to try to get water here, but I do not want to stop if there is no place to sleep, so continue on over a small saddle. Briefly, I can see Templeton through the trees easily, then the land drops on a long and steep dirt slide. Finally at the bottom, travel is not quite so easy as it was above, but it is not hard. Gradually, I am dropping into a stream bed again and then I can hear water again. It is more than before and below a meadow I can see a flat spot to sleep as well.

I can get to both the flat spot and the water and decide to go for it. I am far more exhausted than I expected to be, likely due to the cold. The water is much colder than the air as I squeeze it through the filter, and I am feeling like at any moment I will fall asleep sitting up and drop all the water I have worked so hard at getting. I drink a little as I go, but the very cold water does not sit well in my stomach. My fears are unfounded and I have the water I want for making supper without incident, but as I look at the pot and the made up bed, I only want sleep. Every cell in my body is shouting for sleep. It seems like even the my stomach is shouting for sleep. I few brain cells point out I will probably feel sick with hunger by morning, but even they do not have the energy for a strong argument. Off come the shoes and I am quickly dead to the world under my quilt.

Continue reading: day 5

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 3 October 2014

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