My next adventure was intended to be an 8 day, 7 night, easy backpacking trip. Jon and his friend Ian had planned out a route that Ian had mostly done on other trips. He expected that one day would be challenging but in general it would be an easy trip for me - it was my first backpacking trip other than an overnight trip in Alaska after all.
Jon helped me pack - advising me on what I needed to bring and what I should leave at home. We went shopping for food and got ourselves all packed up.
Then, we drove over to where we'd meet up with the rest of our group - Ian, his wife Lizzie, and their two boys. We started out on Day 1 in the late afternoon and had a pretty easy four mile hiking day up Onion Valley on our way to Kearsarge Pass. That night, Jon told me that he thought this first day would be one of the tougher days of the hike due to the steep hike. He was not correct.
Day 2 we hiked about ten miles. It started off alright while we hiked the rest of the way up Kearsarge Pass (11,760ft) and then down into the valley. The views were wonderful. We saw waterfalls, streams, lakes, snow, mountains, etc.
We stopped for lunch at Bullfrog Lake where we didn't hear any bullfrogs. We had started the day on a trail but when we found out the river we wanted to cross was uncrossable where we wanted to cross it, we changed plans a bit and went off trail. Our plan was to cross the river earlier on and then meet back up with the trail on the other side of the river. Off trail hiking is tougher than trail hiking, I found! We hiked over rocks, through streams, across large thickets of a bush I am now not very fond of called Chinquapin. It has burs on the stems that leave splinters in your hands when you grab on to them after you step on a rock that rolls away and you nearly slip down the hill and fall over the cliff into the waterfall. Trust me. Chinquapin also likes to cover up large holes lined with sharp rocks so that you nearly fall into them but narrowly manage to roll over to your side and miss the hole but end up cutting your hand and having your ice ax removed from your pack but not noticing it until a day later because you are exhausted. Trust Jon.
The part of the river where we crossed was about waist-deep and icy cold. Jon and I went across together and I nearly pulled him down the river with me when I slipped. He was able to keep us upright though and we made it across.
We camped at a flat area near the river with a beautiful view of the mountains and a waterfall.
There were piles of rocks around, old glass, and burnt metal in the campsite and we tried to figure out what the area had once been. During our hike the next day, we ran into a couple of trail workers who told us it was the site of an old hotel from the 1920s.
Day 3 began with some tricky climbing over more landslide/avalanche rocks but much easier going when you aren't exhausted. Of course, the great views continued.
Day 3 was about 6 miles and we were still off trail. In addition to telling us about the hotel, the trail workers told us that the river crossing we had avoided was indeed too dangerous to cross. That made what we had done seem a little better. After all, the trail workers were taking our same route through the Chinquapin just to get to work - although, they brought loppers with them.
We made it to Lake Reflection (10,027ft) on Day 3 and planned to stay there for two nights to get some rest from the earlier days and to rest up for the next tough day. Lake Reflection was a beautiful place to spend a couple days. The boys fished and managed to catch several fish - maybe 9? - for dinner one day. Jon and I did some laundry and we all played many games of Pass the Pigs.
To get over to the side of the lake where we camped we had to cross another river. This one had several logs and rocks all the way across, so one by one, we crossed and only got wet shoes when a log wobbled. I think we all managed pretty well. In the picture below, that larger bush is about halfway across the river. There were more logs on the other side.
On Day 5, we left Lake Reflection to hike over another pass. Ian had checked out our choices and read up on Lucy's Foot Path (12,800ft). It was described in the trail book as being "a convenient and easy way to connect the two valleys" so we thought that a backpacking newbie (me) and the two kids (7 and 10yrs) would be able to do it with no problems. We were expecting possibly steep hiking but with switchbacks to make things easier.
We stopped at the bottom of the pass and Jon and Ian looked through binoculars to plan out the way we would go. There was still quite a bit of snow that we wanted to avoid and some loose-looking rocks as well. We made it up some of the first parts with not a lot of trouble. At one point, I was following Jon over some large rocks, stepping on the same ones he had just stepped on. Jon sometimes would pause and look back to check on my progress and see if I needed a hand. He looked back just as I stepped on a rock about the size of a VW Beetle. As soon as I stepped on it (the same one he had stepped on), it started rolling right out from under me! I jumped up to another rock (which thankfully stayed put) and then continued on my way.
Then, we got to the scary parts.
We came to a snowy section that would have been fine except for the steep hill you'd slide right down if you slipped. We decided to break out the rope and harnesses at this point. Ian is an experienced climber and he had all the gear we needed to get across this section (and later up the whole pass) safely.
I don't have any pictures from this point until we get to the top, but this is how it went. We went up each section one by one, or two by two, with rope and harnesses all the way to the top. It got dark. It was cold and there was a lot of snow. We were all exhausted. We ran out of water. Rocks would sometimes come loose while you were grabbing them and the number of bruises and scrapes we got was impressive. The last couple of sections were vertical - with one part past vertical. The only way I made it up that part was by standing on Jon's shoulders. And of course, we were doing this all in the dark with our packs! Part way up, Jon said to me, "I've got something in the car for you. The second we get down, I'm giving it to you. We're not waiting any longer!"
What was supposed to take a couple of hours to climb ended up taking about 10 hours! The whole day was about 13 hours of hiking and we only went about 2 and half miles. But, we made it! Here's a picture of the last bit the following morning with our tents in the background:
Here are a couple of pictures of Lucy's without the snow. It still seems pretty amazing to me that we all made it up in the dark and snow safely. We had camped at the top of the pass and were treated to a pretty sweet view in the morning.
Day 6 was about six miles but was one of our easiest days (especially compared to what we did the night before!) hiking down into the valley, past Lake South America to another lake near the trail. Yes! Back onto a trail at last! Still, we had to walk in some squishy wet ground and through more snow so my feet and shoes were pretty wet by the time we got to where we'd camp.
Our campsite was around a number of Foxtail Pine trees which get pretty gnarly when they die.
Day 7, we hiked to the top of Shepard's Pass. We had a 6 mile, easy hiking day to get there but my feet had had enough. This is when my feet really began to hurt. I'm not sure if it was just the amount of hiking or the number of times they got wet for so long or a combination of the two, but they weren't happy. We camped at the top of the pass at about 12,000ft. It was cold and windy there with not a lot of protection for our tents. Jon built up a little wall for our tent and we had an easy afternoon. Down at the lake, getting water, we saw thousands of ladybugs. They must have just hatched. Some were alive and flying or crawling around, but there were many in the snow and floating on the lake near the shore.
Day 8, our last day, was between 8 and 12 miles depending on whose map you believed. I believe it was closer to 12. It began with a worrisome hike down a field of snow:
Ian had gone over it the night before with his ice ax and made some good steps for everyone though, so it ended up being much easier than I expected. Then we walked and slid down the loose rocks to the trail. Getting down the pass this direction was not too difficult but I definitely would not want to be going the other way.
Finally, we got this treat of a view:
We still had to climb up what the map told us was 500 feet but seemed much much more than that and then back down. The downhill part ended up being much tougher than I expected because at this point, I was really tired, my feet hurt so bad that it felt as if I was walking barefoot down the mountain, and my slightly twisted ankle wasn't happy. Also, I was out of water and hadn't had enough to eat. Jon was a star though and kept me going. At one point, he even forced me to let him put more of my stuff into his pack. We should have taken a photo of his pack then because it was pretty ridiculously filled with everything. We had to cross the same stream four times. By the fourth one, we just walked right through it with our shoes on since we were nearly to the bottom.
We made it though, back down to where we thought we parked Ian's car. Ian went looking for it and came back a little over an hour later - with no car. He couldn't find it. At that point, another hiker came down and drove Ian around until he found the car - which had a dead battery. After the jump, Ian came back and picked us up to take us to Jon's car at the Onion Valley trailhead where we started this adventure. Jon and I got some gas and stopped in Bishop for dinner. It was nearly 11pm by this time.
We decided for safety we better stay the night in Bishop and drive back up to Santa Cruz in the morning. So, after showers we were ready for bed and pretty exhausted. Finally, Jon made good on what he said on the mountain and slipped this on my finger:
And THAT is the story of our crazy backpacking adventure and of our engagement!
More pictures at flickr.
P.S. People have asked if I'll go backpacking with Jon ever again after all that. Yes. I will.