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    • Day 3

      The weather was better the next morning. The storm broke around 9 am. @xelanil's view from his tent:

      Alex's thermometer read a hair less than 30F. A cold front was rolling in.

      We were only 11.7 miles in. And we had 3 more days to finish the 43 mile journey. We had 72% the distance left even though we spent about 60% of our time already. The remaining trail had two major obstacles, Forester and Trail Crest Passes, both dwarf Kearsarge Pass at over 13,000 ft.

      We had to make up some serious miles on Day 3 if we were going to complete the journey on time. We got an earlier start on the trail. The first half of the day was spent climbing Forester pass. We had to constantly stop to add and remove layers to regulate our body temperatures. We didn't want to sweat in freezing temperatures to fear of the sweat freezing to our bodies.

      We were stoked we were making good progress.

      The landscape looked like the Himalayas.

      We made it to the top of Forester Pass around 2 pm.

      The crossing from Kings Canyon to Sequoia National Park was epic. The trail did not disappoint. It was etched out of a 1000ft cliff.

      We cruised through the first valley of Sequoia National Park. It was absolutely beautiful.

      But so so cold, even on a sunny day. Icicles had formed between rocks, and not even direct sunlight at 12,000ft could melt them.

      We made it to an ancient forest at near sunset. I'd never seen anything like it. These were huge 2000-year-old trees thriving at 11,000 ft where the air is thin and most trees can't grow.

      That day we made it to the 20.0 miles mark. That meant we had 23 miles left in the last 2 of 5 days. Days were too cold and too short to get more than a few hours of hiking in. Our packs were heavy. And we were not acclimatized properly. It was clear we couldn't finish the journey on time without killing ourselves.

      We had enough food to draw out our trip, but we told our loved ones back at home to call the ranger station if we didn't report back to them by 11 pm on Day 5.

      There is a pass that exits to a trailhead halfway between Whitney Portal and Onion Valley called Shepherd Pass. It was 14.5 miles from our camp to the trailhead of Shepherd pass. It was much closer than any other trailhead, and only have 2000 ft of climbing as opposed to 5000 ft of climbing if we turned around or continued to the Whitney portal.

      The Shepherd pass had three downsides. First, we would have to arrange a ride to one of our cars from the Shepherd pass trailhead. Second, the map said "Stock not recommended" which meant it could be really steep and dangerous. And third, it was 7000 ft of vertical descent. This is an extreme amount that would put a lot of stress on our joints.

      Our group of three made the unanimous vote to exit Shepherd Pass the next day.

    • Day 4

      That morning I filled my camelback with water from a flowing river nearby, added my Aquamira treatment drops, then waited the specified 20 minutes before drinking. To my surprise, the 2 liters of water was nearly frozen solid. This cemented our decision to exit Shepherd pass.

      Photo by @xelanil

      Despite the fact that our camp was fairly low compared to the average altitudes we were at hiking at, it was extremely cold that night. At 8 am, our thermometers read 5F. That's at 10,500 ft, our lowest campsite, in the sun. That meant the temp could have been below 0F before dawn.

      Photo by @xelanil

      We all froze that night. Our sleeping bags weren't rated for those temperatures. I saved a NOAA weather forecast to my phone for that elevation on the day we departed on our journey. I pulled out my phone and reconciled our recorded temperature and the forecasted temp:

      Clear, with a low around 29

      The forecast was dangerously inaccurate. We were equipped for such temperatures, but another night at that elevation would be torture. And we had no guarantee that the temp would not drop even more. We eagerly embarked on our exit from the Sierra high country. Photo by @xelanil

      It was absolutely beautiful that morning. The storm days before and the cold front that followed cleared out all the smog and dust. The sky was a perfect blue.

      Our fears of Shepherd pass were realized when we dropped into a chute that consisted of a loose talus field. Snow on the trail made navigating the steep terrain quite dangerous. By my estimates, the terrain was YDS Class 3, possibly Class 4 at the top. A class 4 fall is usually fatal. We had to be extremely careful.

      To our surprise, the chute was littered with elk body parts. Maybe 50 elk died in this chute.

      My theory was an avalanche took out a heard in the winter before, and the snow had finished melting this September-October. Fresh coyote poop filled the trail. Coyotes must have ravaged the recently unfrozen dead Elk bodies.

      It was a relief to finish the steep terrain. We spend the next five hours descending the remaining 6000 ft via hundreds of switchbacks. Although we had another day left, there was not a single suitable area to camp in the remaining 10 miles. The trail was 1 foot wide at most and on a 60-degree mountainside the whole way down.

      We made it to the 6000ft trailhead around 8 pm. We were 45 minutes by car from our closet vehicle in Onion Valley. The last few miles to the trailhead was a 4x4 road. Getting a ride was impossible at this hour where no taxi service operates.

      We had 5 days of food and fuel, so camping at the trailhead on Day 4 was comfortable, especially because the trailhead was much warmer than our last camp, about 4500ft higher in altitude.

    • Day 5

      We found a guy listed on the US forest service website that provides hiker transportation. $70 got us a ride from Shepherd pass trailhead to Onion Valley. From there we collected the other car at Whitney Portal.

      It was a remarkable trip. We went 48 hours without a single another person, and we saw 5 other people on our whole journey. We found solitude.

      I could barely walk. My calves and quads were aching. The switchbacks the day before were killer. Here's our actual GPS tracks:

    • i trek out of lodgepole campground a lot, it is a hike out from there over panther pass, i usually head towards lion lake past tamarack, and on to triple divide peak.

      nice work on getting forester pass, thats a LOT of work due to the elevation, most people will never see that !

      yeah snow, lol nothing like a little walk through the park.

      but i'm certain you can lose at least 20 pounds off your pack and still be fine, the lost weight would mean the world in terms of lugging it over 13K+ peaks.

      my current gear list is about 21 pounds before food, i end up right around 28-30 pounds fully loaded, here's my gear list from a CO trip this year :

      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1frPMOAa5-n7DcMwPylfLMbXvGNnc1ala7x6M5cLpQw8/edit#gid=0

      nice photos, epic trip, gotta love SEKI in snowtember :)

    • Nice gear list! This inspires me to get rid of some of my heavier stuff.

      Yeah, 50lb pack and worn weight was killer, especially on my 155 lb frame. I'm glad I brought 2 sleeping bags for the 0-degree night and a 3 season tent. In the summer, my weight with food is usually in the 30 lbs range.

      Having starred at the epic peaks of the western side of the Kern river drainage I think my next trip will be to your area. I just can't get over how beautiful the triple divide ridge line is. And it's a shorter drive to those trailheads since I live in San Jose.

    • you'd love the western side :)

      i always bring a north face down 0 degree bag, when it's as cold on a trip as yours, i'd wrap it with a bivy and be sleeping in my clothes most likely.

      dual purposing equipment is one of the best ways to shed weight, along with dropping heavy items ... i have a simple rule, each time i return i evaluate every item i didn't touch the entire trip and ask if its essential.

      from there i categorize by season, and sometimes i've been cold (not life threatening, but definitely miserable).

      as i've aged, i've become accustomed to bringing an extra jacket, but most times its a security blanket rather than a necessity.

      but as you well mention, it only takes one mistake to truly mess things up.

      really enjoyed your photos, jeff #happytrails

    • Beautiful photo. I absolutely love travel, and I am so excited for what Cake can do to help compartmentalize the travel discussions. Lots of possibilities here that don't exist in other social channels, and I can't wait to see where the conversation goes!

    • Great progress thread/posts like these are why I would like to be able to stop any comments on a post until the story is done to allow for a really nice transition in the day to day posts. Then the comments and questions happen. Doesn't work for all posts and stories as some want interaction between posts but a good option to have. I don't see a way to do that.

    • Wish I could have joined, I have always wanted to backpack deep into the Sequoia back country. It seems to me that every time I venture into the Sierra's the weather is never as expected and always seems to be a lot colder than forecasted. But I find this to be one of the most alluring parts of the Sierra's. The fact that due to the ever changing circumstances and conditions in the Sierra's makes it so that not every person and not everyday you can make it to the summit, over a pass, or to the campsite. And the times that you don't make it make for the greatest adventures and stories. These so called 'unsuccessful' adventures make the successful ones ever more sweet.

    • There is nowhere like the Sierra of California in North America. It has a special place in my heart. It's the only region of vast uninterrupted alpine land. There are thousands of square miles of lakes and plateaus above the treeline. Other ranges, like the Rockies, have many tall peaks but not as much concentrated high country.

    • I had that same thought. If you could start a conversation as a panel and then later change it to a normal conversation so everyone else could comment, I think that could be a useful feature.

    • Thanks! Had to come back to look at the photos myself. I miss the adventure already.

      I forgot to share this photo @xelanil shot. It's our mountain shadow as we descended from Shepherd Pass on the last night.