The Sierra – Independence to Walker Pass – our finish!

Saturday 3rd October We spent a day off in a town near to Independence called Lone Pine before hitching back up to the Kearsage Pass road end. Luckily for us we caught a lift from two guys who we had met on the trail at Kearsage Pass and they stopped to give us a lift when they recognised us.

Often when we were hiking, people would ask us where we had hiked from and, although we did delight in telling hikers our full story, there were times when we would just reply with the last nights camping spot so that we could just have a short chat then keep on hiking. On this occasion however, I had told the two guys that we had hiked all they from Canada and one had replied “That’s amazing, let me shake your hand!”. We were both a bit embarrassed by this living in Scotland where the norm is to downplay any achievements however it did mean that we were recognised when standing at the side of the road looking sunburnt and dusty.

Since we didn’t start hiking that day ’til 3.30pm we only made it about 7 miles to camp at Kearsarge Lakes in a bitterly cold but lovely spot. There were bear-proof boxes provided here where we could store our food safe from bears, however we were amused to find out that this area was where ‘bad-bears’ from tourist spots around Yosemite valley are air lifted out to by park staff. We kept a careful look out that evening for any signs of bear activity but thankfully there was none. Two miles further hiking the next morning and we were back on the PCT again and heading south on our final stage! We noticed some lovely trees on the way south before finally crossed the highest point of the whole Pacific Crest Trail, Forester Pass at 13,180 feet.

Lunch was eaten just over the other side of the pass in the snow in a little warm sun trap sheltered from the wind before dropping down onto lake dotted granite Bighorn Plateau. We passed the highest mountain in the contiguous states, Mt Whitney, at Crabtree Meadows and since we had summited two years earlier on a climbing trip we sped on southwards with only a few backward glances. The meadows however were in lovely autumnal colours with patches of snow adding to the scene. Our lunchtime ritual had now extended to laying out the frost-wetted tent and sleeping bags in the sun to dry them out as we lazed around and soaked up the midday sun’s rays.

Near Big Whitney Meadows we were surprised to meet two friendly horse riders who were also out on a backpacking trip into the mountains. Apart from them we hadn’t met anyone else since Kearsarge Pass. The spectacular mountain scenery began to flatten out a little as we wound round tree lined peaks southward into an amazing stark granite, sandy landscape with unusual dry dead trees. We guessed that breakdown of trees takes a long time in this high dry climate.

After a 23.5 mile day we arrived at Kennedy Meadows, a small store and campground and for us it meant that we had cracked the high Sierra mountains- one of the undoubted highlights of our long journey. The terrain around here was more arid with sage and manzanita the dominant plants instead of the big pines of the higher lands.

With 47 miles left to our finish at Walker Pass we just picked up some food and headed off into some hot sunshine down beside the Kern River. Our minds were focused now on finishing and resting our tired legs. We made it 23 miles down the trail just past a water source called Fox Springs for our last night on the PCT. Typically for us, it ended as it began with us running out of daylight and camping right on top of the trail as it was the only suitable flat bit of ground we could find. This had happened to us on our very first night out from the Mexican border at Campo!

Brian startled a coyote which jumped into the bushes as we set camp. We had carried some special food for our last night and had a Mexican gourmet meal with tortillas, refried beans, salsa, corn chips and beer!

Our last day was a bit of a blur with ever increasing heat, sore feet and a focus on reaching the road at Walker Pass. We did have time to notice some Joshua Tree and teddy bear cactus though before reaching the road in a sweaty bedraggled state. Martina wrote a goodbye into the sand on a dirt track and we assumed a familiar position by the side of the road waiting for a hitch to a town down the road to the west. When a driver did stop we asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a photo of us to record the end of a long, long hike and a special experience for both of us……..

It was Saturday 10th October 1998 and it was 2 weeks short of six months since we had set out from the Mexican border in April – we were definitely in need of a rest but elated and thinking that we had been privileged to spend so long in the beautiful and wild country of western USA.

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