Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Day 24: The forest is burning....

Karolina and I woke up early and hit the trail.

It didn't take us long to get over Glen Pass since we had camped maybe a half-mile from the pass, but at the top, the views were... less spectacular than we had expected. Mostly because there was a distinct haze in the air. It wasn't particularly thick, but it was definitely there. Smoke from a wildfire, obviously. We knew there were wildfires burning in California--a few of them had been burning for weeks and were quite substantial in size--and in Bishop, her mom (in Poland!) had heard about wildfires in California had asked Karolina if they were a problem. I was a little surprised when Karolina had told me that. I knew the wildfires were big news locally, and might deserve a mention nationally, but it made the news in Poland?!

But none of the wildfires were close enough to fill the sky with smoke and haze... until today. We didn't have any way to get information about the fires. We had no idea where they were located, how big they were, or even if any were on the trail. The fire causing this smoke might not have even been a new fire. It could have been that the winds shifted direction during the night and was now blowing the smoke towards us rather than away from us.

But wherever the smoke was coming from, it was definitely causing an ugly haze around the horizon and obscured far-off mountain peaks.

Glen Pass peaked at 11,980 feet above sea level--not a new record for us, but still quite high--then descended down a series of steep switchbacks before reaching a junction with the Kearsarge Pass Trail. It was time to get off the John Muir Trail and resupply again.

Stephanie (this is Stephanie) caught up with us as we neared Glen Pass. Karolina and I camped on the ledge just above the large lake far below. I don't really mention Stephanie in the text because we saw her for all of about five minutes then never saw her again. A very fast hiker!

Our resupply point this time involved three stages. Stage one was to hike out of the wilderness, about 7.5 miles away at the Onion Valley trailhead over Kearsarge Pass. Stage two was hitch a ride into the small town of Independence, 13 miles down a narrow, windy road from the trailhead. Stage three was to hitch a ride on to Lone Pine because Independence was a podunk town with no good places to actually resupply. We would have shipped food to ourselves to the post office, but we expected to arrive on a weekend and the post office wasn't open on weekends. If we were lucky in hitching a ride, we might get stages 2 and 3 done in one fell swoop, which would certainly be convenient.

Then, of course, after resuppling, we'd have to reverse the process to get back to the JMT. Hitch from Lone Pine to Independence, then from Independence to the Onion Valley trailhead, then hike back over Kearsarge Pass to the JMT. We hoped to complete the resupply mission in three days. Starting today!

So we veered off trail towards Kearsarge Pass with absolutely stunning views of the valley far below.

We took a break at the top of Kearsarge Pass, and I told Karolina a strange story about the naked hiker along this stretch of trail back when I did the PCT. I told the story in the third person, as if I wasn't actually the naked hiker. "Back when I did the PCT, there was a naked hiker out here! Well, he wore a pack, and shoes and socks... but yeah, there were things showing where the sun doesn't normally shine." *nodding*

Of course, she had heard this story before. It's one of my favorite trail stories to tell people. =) She knew the whole time that I was talking about myself, but I think the story felt more relevant now since she was at the actual place where it occurred. It's funny how stories come to life in a way that they didn't before--just as soon as you walk in the places where the story takes place. Read a book about anywhere you've never been, then read it again after visiting, and it's like you understand the story more completely. You can imagine the environment better. The crisp breeze, the smell of pine trees, the dryness of the air....

I suggested to Karolina that she should give naked hiking a try--it's exhilarating! But she passed on the idea. Not surprising, really. I wouldn't have done it either. Way too many people out and about. When I did it, there were a lot fewer people and, in fact, I had expected even fewer than there turned out to be. There were probably a hundred people along this section of trail today. Nope, neither one of us were even remotely tempted to recreate my PCT hike.

Kearsarge Pass topped out at 11,845 feet above sea level--again, not a new high for us, but the air was still very thin--then descended towards the Onion Valley trailhead. Smoke, again, obscured some of the more distant views. We hoped it would clear up quickly--or at least wouldn't get worse.

We stopped to camp near Gilbert Lake, which we estimated to be about an hour walk from the trailhead. We might have been able to make it into town tonight, but our schedule had us getting in tomorrow and we'd need the whole day to resupply.

And that was that. Tomorrow, trail town! Talking to Karolina, I pointed out that tomorrow we would meet someone. Someone out there was going to stop and give us a ride. They didn't know we were here, or that we would be needing a ride. They didn't know we even existed, but they would stop, pull over, and offer us a ride into town. We had a slight advantage--we knew these people existed. We didn't know who they were, but we did know they were out there. But tomorrow, our paths would collide.

Heading up to Glen Pass in the morning.

There was a distinct haze in the air that hadn't been there the day before, and the farther away a mountain was, the more obscured it was by the haze. These mountains are relatively close, but even then, the haze is readily apparent.
Glen Pass
Looking down the other side of Glen Pass.
A long series of switchbacks took us down from Glen Pass. There are three different people in this photo at different levels on the switchbacks. See them all? =) (Technically, there are four people in this photo, but the last two are standing so close to each other, they look like a single person.)

The haze is readily apparent in this photo.
That's Charlotte Lake down below, but the trail doesn't go down there and neither will we. =)

Karolina admires the view above Bullfrog Lake. Or maybe she's blowing her nose. I can't quite tell....

Looking back towards Bullfrog Lake.

View back from near the top of Kearsarge Pass.
And looking down the other side of Kearsarge Pass towards Big Pothole Lake.

We set up camp for the night within view of Gilbert Lake. Wonderful! =)

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