In the middle of the night Kyle woke me up to inform me that his side of the sleeping pad had gone flat, which meant both sides of the sleeping pad had holes. Goody. We re-inflated it and switched sides, since my lesser mass causes it to deflate more slowly. “We will fix it tomorrow at Kennedy Meadows,” we muttered as we fell back asleep. In the morning my hip touching the ground and the promise of a real meal motivated us to get up on time. Plus the mosquitos didn’t seem willing to brave the cold, so we had a mosquitos free “breakfast.” Breakfast deserves air quotes there because the day before we had decided to eat the poptarts that were supposed to be for breakfast as a snack. We had assumed we would be able to do a twenty five mile day, leaving us with fifteen to Kennedy Meadows, but instead we had stopped at twenty out of pure exhaustion. So breakfast was just a meal replacement drink, split between the two of us.
The day into Kennedy Meadows North promised a few exciting milestones. The first was getting out of the Yosemite Wilderness, when we went over Dorthy Pass. According to Guthook the change in scenery was dramatic. Although the dramatic change didn’t take place right at the pass, the landscape did change later in the day, which I will talk about in a second. The second big milestone was an actual milestone, the 1,000 mile milestone to be exact. We crossed it early in the morning, right before our first break, but I was in such a foul mood I would have missed it had Kyle not pointed it out. I hardly cared. Kyle had woken up in an extreme amount of pain, seemingly back to where we had started with the shoulder ache. All morning we had been discussing options, how we were going to have to try to get someone to come get us from Kennedy Meadows North so he could go to a doctor, or maybe that didn’t make sense because it was a weekend. Maybe we should try to make it to South Lake Tahoe where we could find a doctor ourselves. What if the doctor said he needed to take two weeks off from the trail? What if it was something more serious than that? At that point I felt that our hike was most definitely over. I didn’t know how we could possible come back after two weeks, and we most certainly wouldn’t finish, even if we did. There just isn’t enough time. Dark thoughts circled around in my mind, made blacker by my extreme hunger, the mosquitos buzzing nonstop in my ears, and the muddy wet trail. Everything was terrible. Plus, we had a four mile climb coming up and my sick weak hunger striken legs didn’t feel strong enough to carry my heavy backpack (now stuffed full of most of our gear) up it.
The climb was extremely slow going, made slower by the fact that we missed a switch back covered in snow and ended up on a practically vertical scramble. After crossing some snow we crested the saddle that was the top of the climb and stopped, stunned. On the other side everything was different. A stiff breeze was blowing, refreshing every part of my body after the long hot climb out of the stiffiling valley bellow. The mountains had changed from blocky white granite to steeply sloping crumbly brown, streaked with different colors of eroding rock, snow dotting their sides, buttes rising out of their summits. Wild flowers of all different colors were growing in patches on the side of the trail, and for as far as the eye could see the mountain ranges looked hilly and inviting, smoothly flowing into lakes at their bases. It was a whole new type of beauty, and one that I had not been expecting. Everything still hurt, I was still tired, my legs still felt heavy, but I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while. I felt curious. Excited. I wanted to see what was next, I wanted to go around the bend, I wanted to keep moving. It was a welcome feeling, and as quickly as all the dark thoughts had come, the beauty and the possibility vanished it.
On top of one of the ridges above Sonora Pass we managed to get cellphone service. I had been trying to communicate with two friends of ours for the past couple of days, but service had been non-existent. Now that I finally had it I was delighted to discover that one of them, my friend Sadie Joy, was driving to Sonora Pass to meet us and take us to Kennedy Meadows North. I had also been trying to get in touch with our friend Kesa, who had been interested in hiking out with us for a night, so I sent her a text with our whereabouts in it and told her to meet us the next morning at Kennedy Meadows North if she wanted to hike. Because I knew I wouldn’t have service down below I sent that text off into the universe, hoping she would get it in time and hoping she would show up. We put the phone back on airplane mode and headed down to Sonora Pass to meet up with Sadie.
The last part of the descent was terrifying. By far the sketchiest thing we have encountered so far on trail. There was a good amount of snow still on the trail but it was unclear how people had been walking around it. The spots where steps were kicked in were extremely hard to get to. We tried to scramble down to them, but it was down a very steep and cliffy dirt face with terrible run out. The dirt was covered in small rolley rocks, which felt like trying to climb down a forty five degree slope covered in marbles. We quickly retreated. Finally we decided to cut across the cliffs, and get onto the snow above where the steps were, do a controlled glissade down to them and then continue from there. The snow was a terrible consistency, slippery on top and icy on the bottom, it was all I could do to dig in my trekking poles like an ice ax and stop where the kicked steps started. It was terrible on Kyle’s shoulder but we had no other choice. Once we made it to the steps it was easy going and we were down at Sonora Pass in no time. Sadie arrived only a couple of minutes after us and it was so amazing to see her.
Kennedy Meadows North is NOT Kennedy Meadows South. It is a little resort, complete with a C-store, a hiker bunk house, a great shower and laundry set up, and a restaurant. The people were friendly and set us up in a bunk room with five beds, which we promptly spread out on. Kyle and I took showers and Sadie and I caught up over beers while Kyle took a nap, covered in Ben Gaye to help his aching shoulder. We ate dinner in the restaurant and heard about Sadie’s amazing bike trip through Patagonia (we are always up for new adventure ideas). We lounged around on our beds, ate pie, and talked more. And the next morning we slept until eight thirty, not because we planned to sleep in but because the room was so comfortable and the fans were making such a nice breeze that we just didn’t get up. I highly recommend Kennedy Meadows North. It was that perfect promise at the end of a rough day, a day when you think you might be done but the trail keeps you guessing. I woke up the next morning feeling healthy and refreshed and ready to eat a whole stack of pancakes.