High Sierra at last

by Gillian Larson | posted: July 18, 2016
Monanche Meadow north of Kennedy Meadow

I was sorry to have to say good-bye to Carol's great hospitality in Truckee yesterday, but I loaded the horses into the trailer and drove south to begin a long-delayed and much anticipated new challenge--riding through the Sierra section of the PCT. I had ridden to Kennedy Meadows, the southern beginning of the Sierra--just before Memorial Day, but the snow levels were too great for me to attempt to ride through at that time. So I jumped north and have been slowly working my way back down ever since. Also, back in 2014 when I rode the PCT, because of the demands of starting grad school I had to do much of this Sierra section at the end (after I got all the way to Canada) and in several shorter bursts over a couple of weekends; I was really looking forward to doing it all in one continuous unit this time around, and all of it northbound (last time I rode part of it southbound instead).

But first I had some horse shoes to take care of! Back in 2014 I had met a farrier who lived in Ridgecrest, not far from Highway 395, and I was able to contact him and he was incredibly helpful in arranging a time to meet me. So I drove on Saturday to Horseshoe Meadow west of Lone Pine, where I prepared lots of food bags and then left most of my supplies at the pack station there. Then on Sunday morning I drove south to Kennedy Meadow, where I met Shawn Stephey at Grumpy Bear's, the landmark restaurant in the area. He did a wonderful job with my poor horses' battered hooves, and I felt confident once more as we finally hit the trail in the afternoon.

However, my confidence proved short-lived, not in terms of the shoes, but because of water problems. I already noticed how shriveled the Kern river was as I headed north out of Kennedy Meadow; just six weeks earlier, the water was flowing strong and clear, but now most of the streambed was dry, with only a few pools left. And as we climbed, we kept passing dried up streams, more evidence of the effects of five long years of drought on the southern part of the state. We passed through some water at Monanche Meadow, where I stopped to let the horses drink, and in hindsight I wish I had just camped there for the night. But it was only 15 miles from the trailhead, and I figured we could go a little further to Cow Creek, which my Guthook app said had water. I had to travel quite a ways off trail to get to that spot, but I though it would be worth it . . . until it turned to to be dry. Now I was really in a pickle. It was nine o'clock at night, I was miles off the PCT, it was getting very dark, and I had no water--absolutely none. I have to admit that I felt a bit of a panicky sensation come over me; I spent one night without food or water or shelter during 2014, when snow and a dead headlamp prevented me from making it through a section, and I had no desire ever again to face something like that.

I had no choice but to turn around and backtrack several miles to the PCT, and then I went south instead of continuing north. I had passed a miserable little puddle leftover in a creek a while back on the trail, and I figured that "one in the hand beats two in the bush" . . . there might be a better spot ahead, but I couldn't be sure, and my maps had just led me astray once so I didn't trust them to be right now. So as poor as it was, I headed for the puddle and tried to make the best of it; not only was the water meager and dirty (but at least there was some), but the area was on a hill, too, and so the horses and I spent a very uncomfortable night. I ended up wedging the panniers against a tree and using them as a wall to keep me from rolling down the hill as I slept. But the next day I knew I would be back in Horseshoe Meadow, where there was hay and water waiting for the horses, so I was just grateful that we had gotten through that unpleasant surprise without it being any worse than it was.


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