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Keeping cool in the High Sierra
Stifling California heat prompts memories of a hike up the Kearsarge Trail
LOS ANGELES — The hot weather we are having right now made me long for the coolness of the High Sierra. I didn’t make it up there nearly as often as I wanted. October 2007 is one of the few times I did. It was a weekend, so we didn’t have the trail to ourselves, but at least I got to summit nude.
About 16 years ago, when I still had a reasonably functional body, I hiked up Kearsarge Trail to the pass with two textile friends. It is not a strenuous hike. Or at least it was not for us at the time.
If you look at that chart, the slope is almost continuous. No big dips and no super steep sections. Very well laid out trail. Being only a bit less than 10 miles round trip, it made a perfect day hike.
To get there, drive up Highway 395 to the small town of Independence, elevation of about 3,900 feet. Turn west onto Onion Valley Road and go for about 10 miles. There is a small campground and a trailhead at the end of the road at about 9,200 feet.
The Onion Valley campground was closed. They like to close camps right after Labor Day up there because of the potential for early storms. We camped at a different campground the night before at 6,000 feet instead. We should have just slept in our cars, but my hiking partner’s girlfriend wasn’t interested in roughing it.
The weather was perfect. You don’t expect October to be warm and sunny up there. The high temp that day at elevation was probably in the 60s F. You’d expect to have to walk thru deep snow now and then. We didn’t. One of the reasons we went when we did was we expected the cold autumn weather to keep us comfortable. Instead, we doffed our cool weather gear on the way up.
Watch the weather very carefully in the mountains. Terrific thunderstorms can happen. An incoming front could cause a huge temperature drop with heavy rain/snow. And you might end up a corpse-sickle.
I ditched all my clothes once I was sure the trail was clear. You cannot be a friend of mine without expecting this to happen.
The bigger issue was possible mountain sickness. The pass is almost 12,000 feet in elevation. A night at 9,200 feet would have acclimated us better. (People have gotten sick as low as 7,000 feet, but I don’t seem vulnerable that way.) A night at 6,000 feet wasn’t a lot of help. Our strategy was to go slow and hydrate and rest often, and it worked.
From the pass, you can see into the Kings Canyon National Park backcountry and Kearsarge Lakes. Continue down the east side, and you’ll meet the John Muir Trail. We didn’t have time for that. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but I still had to take it slow because of altitude.
We met few other people on the trail. A pack train was on its way down, and two Marines were running (!!!) down the trail. I try to ensure the people ahead of me are behind me before I strip down.
Coming back, the sun was beginning to set and temperatures to plummet. I dressed again to stay warm. I may be a nudie, but I’m not stupid.
Just a cool stroll down memory lane.