Greetings from Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the High Sierra! We're about 702 miles north of Mexico, just over a quarter of the way to Canada. This is the place PCT hikers look forward to: the end of the desert and the beginning of the big mountains! Soon we'll climb Mt. Whitney at 14,000 ft. We will stay above 8,000 ft for much of the next 500 miles or so.
There isn't much here in Kennedy Meadows. It is a community of about 35 residents, all off the grid. The hikers are gathered at the general store and camped in the adjacent property. The store is open from 9 until 6. Since hikers tend to wake with the sun, there is quite a line at the store doors in the morning! We'd all been up since about 6am! The store generator is turned off at 6pm when the store closes, which is fine since we are all generally in our sleeping bags by 9. Thru-hiker season is the crowded season in Kennedy Meadows -- the general store received over 200 hiker packages of food, ice axes and crampons, new shoes, bear canisters, etc the day before we arrived! We all spent a good part of the afternoon employing various methods of cramming our food into the bear canisters that we are required to have to enter the High Sierra. Layering, as opposed to stacking, seems to work best. Also a good idea is layering breakfasts, lunches and dinners to as to avoid the repacking process again and again.
A bear canister, by the way, is a big shatter-proof plastic jar. It is designed such that it is too large for a bear to bite. The canisters require fine-tuned dexterity to open, so the bears can only bat them around. I had to practice opening mine so that it was not Cruiser-proof as well! Bears in this neck of the woods have become habituated to humans and their attendant food to the point that they teach their cubs to jump from tree limbs onto hanging food bags. Consequently, the practice of bear-bagging (hanging a food bag on a strong limb 15 ft above the ground and away from the tree trunk is no longer allowed. Though the canister makes our life a bit easier, the canister itself weighs just over two pounds. Luckily, we will not have to carry as much water once we leave the desert. We will have to be careful not to keep any food or toothpaste, etc, with us when we sleep. We will also plan to cook dinner before we reach our camping spot so as not to permeate our sleeping quarters with the smell of food.
Other obstacles in the High Sierra are early, swollen stream crossings and snow. However, this year seems to be a low snow year. Hopefully we will not have too much trouble, though I am a bit nervous. I'm also a little concerned about the cold. The PCT has been quite cold at night. Already I have spent many nights in all of my clothing, including my rain coat and pants, inside my 15 degree down sleeping bag. Reason and I acquired a full tent not too long ago, which will add about 8 degrees of warmth, not to mention the benefit of bug netting!
We've had a few adventures since my last email. We left the Saufley's in Agua Dulce and found ourselves in Green Valley at the Anderson's Casa de Luna 25 miles later. Terrie and Joe Anderson have for the last nine years opened their home to hikers. While the Saufley's have just about every amenity a hiker could need, the Anderson's always have a cooler full of cold beer and cokes, taco salad dinners and pancake breakfasts, not to mention excellent company and great stories. Joe works in props on the set of a television show and takes advantage of the TV season hiatus to hang with hikers. The recent Hollywood writers' strike has changed his schedule a bit this year, but we were lucky to get to meet him and spend some time in the Lunatic Lounge, a congregation of chairs and sofas around the cooler under the shade of oak trees. Again, there is no charge for this hospitality. Reason and I shared the love by contributing some beer and leaving some green in the donation jar.
After a great time at Casa de Luna, on we hiked. The weather was becoming extremely hot, and the hiking seemed hard. Poor Reason felt terrible and ended up being sick all night with something that seemed like giardia, a water borne protozoa. It was clear that he needed to get off the trail. Looking at our maps, we figured out how to hike down to a road. We happened to have the Anderson's number, so I called to say that we needed help. Not long afterwards, Terrie Anderson arrived with a smile on her face. "The Lunatic Lounge is always open," she said, "that's what we're here for!"
And so, we spent four days at Casa de Luna. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be able to call on the Andersons when we needed help so far from home! I was worried that Terrie would not be so keen to have a sick person at her house, but she told us right away that that very morning she had also picked up Frankosaurus who was also ill. Reason and Frankosaurus slept on parallel couches in the living room for an entire day. The next day, they seemed to sit up more than they slept. The third day, they were both ambulatory again, pitching in with chores for the Lunatic Lounge. For my part, I did as many dishes as I could and helped put the food away each night.
As the temperatures under the Anderson's oak trees neared 100 degrees, Terrie asked me and Rapunzel if we'd like to go to the store with her. Of course! So off we drove down San Fracisquito Canyon Road towards Santa Clarita. Terrie told us the history of this canyon where LA water superintendent Mulholland found his ruin when the dam that had been erected here broke in the 1920's. On we drove, arriving at the set of the television show to meet Joe just in time for a delicious catered lunch of mahi-mahi tacos! Just as Joe had described, there was a table full of food - anything a regular person might want - and a hiker's dream come true! Rapunzel and I managed to maintain our composure in the face of all of that delicious, fresh food, however! After lunch, Joe took us on a tour of the set. We checked out the TV forensics lab and the autopsy room. Rapunzel climbed up on the autopsy table for a picture, but we both declined to try the sliding cold-storage drawers - too creepy! Next, we headed to the store where we loaded three giant shopping carts full of taco salad fixings and beer and water for the cache the Andersons stock 15 miles south of their house. Just to make the others jealous, we of course treated ourselves to extra-large smoothies for the drive home!
By the time Reason was ready for a second round of frisbee golf in Green Valley, I knew it was time to hike on. Wonderful Terrie drove us back to the road where she picked us up so that we did not have to hike the same 15 miles over again. What Trail Magic!
Our next stop was Hiker Town, a curious collection of trailers with Old West themed facades. We planned to stop there to wait out the hot mid-day, but caretaker Bob informed us that 45 mph winds with 60 mph gusts were expected for that afternoon. Since our next 16 miles were through the Mojave desert along the top of the enclosed LA aqueduct, we decided to stay put. By 5pm, we couldn't see anything in the surrounding landscape, and the delightful LA news was full of stories about the wind in our vicinity accompanied by some very wind-blown reporters. The next day, what is usually a horridly hot 16 miles through the desert was a balmy, breezy 60 degree stroll! What luck!
Our luck was not to last, though, as the next day we found ourselves in a 30 degree hail storm! The pea-sized hail was an inch thick on the trail by the time we reached the road to the town of Mojave. And to prove the kindness of strangers, a very nice special education teacher picked us up unsolicited - and in spite of our sopping wet packs and clothes - to take us to town! Motel 6 may lack amenities, but the tap never seemed to run out of hot water!
On to higher elevations! I don't know when we'll next have internet access, but we'll send updates as we can. Now that we have left the clutches of Los Angeles, I think our tales will relate a bit more to nature in the future.
Our love to all,