Prep/Logistics: As a last hoorah backpacking trip for this year, my friend Jennifer (trail name: Grey Gardens), invited me to finish up the JMT with her. We would come in from Onion Valley, over Kearsarge Pass, then over Forester Pass, and exit at Mt. Whitney portal in about 6 days. Grey Gardens had done most of the trail last year with her mom, but unfortunately they had to exit at Onion Valley, and she wanted to finish it up this year. I, of course, jumped at the chance to go! I have been obsessing over the JMT for years and am hoping to do the whole trail in the next year or two! So we luckily snagged permits and planned our trip over many pizza dinners and greasy diner breakfasts. I love making lists and logistics plans, it’s just about as fun as the hiking for me, so this was a very enjoyable time. Weird but true facts. 🤓
Our permits were to hike in on September 6th, perfect timing since it’s after the holiday, and when folks head back to school. We drove down and around the Sierras from the Bay Area, Ca on the 5th to pick up our permits at the Eastern Sierra Visitors Center, and to stay at Onion Valley Campground to adjust to the elevation a little bit. The Onion Valley campground is fantastic! It’s super beautiful, clean, has picnic tables, and BBQ/ fire pits! Since Grey Gardens friend kindly drove here with us, and would be taking Grey Gardens car back to the Bay, we got to pack extra luxury items like sausages and veggies to grill for dinner (so spoiled!) Plus she had a tiny cute chihuahua who I convinced to sit in my lap most of the evening, winning.
We spent the evening gorging on our last non trail foods, drinking a last cold beer, and watching the stars come out to sparkle above the peaks. We all retreated into our tents when it got too cold and I desperately tried to calm my pre-trip anxiety with reading…spoiler alert it did not really help and I spent most of the night awake going over all the “what if’s” on repeat in my lame brain, like the classic hits of “Did I bring that thing?!?” or… “Did I bring enough food!?” And don’t forget the fan favorite… “Did I bring enough clothes or too many clothes, or the right clothes?!?” 🤷🏻♂️
September 6th, 2017
Fauna seen: 3 Pikas, 5 deer, 1 marmot, 1 Coopers Hawk, Grey Mocking birds, chipmunks, grey squirrels, 1 black bear
I slept pretty well despite all the brain jibber-jabber and we we were up early, successfully packed (with hopefully all the right things) and on the trail by 6:30am. The sunrise was dreamy af and I was already enjoying the amazing scenery on the climb up to Kearsarge Pass. We immediately saw a group of dear meandering down a gully, multiple waterfalls, and wildflowers galore. Oh Sierra you showing off and I like it!
After huffing, puffing, and blowing our internal houses down, we made it to the top of Kearsarge Pass at 9:30am, not too shabby! Especially considering that our bags weigh the heaviest, being filled with 6 days of food in a bear can, and that we climbed from around 9,000ft to over 11,700ft! We enjoyed the views at the top of the Pass for a while, eating some salty snacks, chatting with a few other hikers, taking their photos, having them take ours, until it got too cold, and it was time to hike on. We decided to take the lower Kearsarge trail, which takes you down into the gorgeous lake filled valley below.
We passed several lakes on the way in and didn’t see another soul after we left the pass. We had lunch at Bullfrog Lake around 11am (no camping allowed) and it is wicked pretty! We both took our shoes off for a bit and watched as the sky started to darken and ominous clouds rolled in. All too quickly the whole sky is gray and we hear a little rumble of thunder, uh oh, Time to go! We pack up fast and jam past another lake after Bullfrog, we are hoping to get to camp before the skies opens up so we can stay moderately dry.
We walk past another few small lakes on the way up to the JMT junction and the sprinkles start as soon as we turn South onto the JMT. We debate for a while stopping to get our ponchos on, the weather doesn’t seem to have made up its mind, does it want to dump water on us or just playfully sprinkle… It finally chooses the dump on us option. I motion to Gray Gardens and we pull over under some trees and each pull out the others poncho from the handy back pocket. Packs and bodies mostly covered, we ease on down the road. The views are amazing, even with the sour weather, and my Frogg Toggs poncho is working great, so dry, so cozy! So it’s still a very pleasant walk and everything is awesome.
We meandered down some switch backs into the next valley, that cradles our campsite for the night at Lower Vidette Meadow. We find a great little site near the meadow around 12:30pm, and luckily enjoy a break in the rain to set up our tents and boil some water to eat hot things. The rain comes again for a while and we retreat to our matching Tarptents, because we are those kind of dorks, to wait it out. A little before 5pm it halts again and our stomachs want more feeding, so we boil more water, and sit on some logs facing the meadow, shoving food inside us.
I’m face down staring into my ziploc, of who knows what freeze-dried things, when Grey Gardens bumps my elbow… “Bennnnnn” She whispers at me. I’m just about to playfully whisper back louder, “Pooooooooo”, when I look up and see a young black bear has wandered into the meadow just a few hundred yards from us. I am momentarily rendered speechless. We watch it sniff its way across the meadow slowly, raising its head to catch something on the wind, never looking our way, and then it glides away into the trees on the other side, like a G.D. ghost bear. We do not see it reappear and we are more than careful to stow all our food and smelly stuff into our bear cans for the night. The rain starts again right after the ghost bear magic and we pee once more before getting into our tents. I keep one door flap open, half hoping, half not, to see the bear again. It doesn’t come back into my view, but I watch two adult deer grazing around the meadow for a long time before my eyes grow too heavy and I’m out for the night.