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[pct-l] Trip Report: Horseshoe Mdws to Kennedy Mdws

Thursday: May 22 (Trailhead)

My friends (Terri and Chris) and I drove the 300 miles from San Diego to Lone
Pine, CA to be at the trailhead for an early morning departure. We camped
overnight at the Horseshoe Meadows trailhead located about 23 miles from Lone
Pine. In addition to being the trailhead for our hike, the elevation at
Horseshoe Meadows is 10,000 feet. We had hoped that sleeping there overnight
would help us acclimate to the higher elevations of the Sierras.

Friday: May 23 (17+ miles)

We rose early and prepared to take to the trail. I'm not sure exactly what
time we left the campsite, but it was a short walk to the east end of
Horseshoe Meadow where we would find the trail to Mulkey Pass and the PCT. 

As luck would have it, some of us gave up on finding a place along the
east-bound use trail to cross the stream running through Horseshoe Meadow. In
desperation, or frustration, two members turned to the west in search of a
better place to cross. After a long walk to the west, they finally found a
crossing (before the foot log at the extreme west end) and made their way
back east to the trail leading to Mulkey Pass. 

For the information of other hikers wishing to reach the trail to Mulkey
Pass, continue to follow the use trail to the east end of Horseshoe Meadows.
WILL reach the trail before the meadow disappears at the forest's edge. 

Once we were all together again, we began our 300-foot-plus climb up the spur
trail to Mulkey Pass and the PCT. The grade doesn't meet today's design
standards for the PCT, but then, this is a "stock drive way"  designed by
cows. Thru-hikers needing water can find it within 1/4 mile or so of the PCT,
beside Mulkey Pass Trail as it heads for Horseshoe Meadows. 

Within an hour or so, we reached the 10,380-foot elevation of Mulkey Pass and
turned east along the PCT. At the pass, the trail is identified twice within
50 feet. After a brief rest, we continued on, descending  perhaps 600 feet
elevation within 1 1/2 miles before stopping to rest again in a nearly level
spot above Diaz Creek. We could have added water to our bottles if necessary
by following a use path for 1/2 mile off trail.

By the time, we arrived at the crest at 10,000 feet elevation for lunch, one
of the hiker's legs were bothering her to the point that she decided to turn
back. The
other hiker volunteered to hike out with her to Horseshoe Meadows. The plan
was that they would return to Diaz Creek and camp for the night and hike out
next morning. I continued on towards Kennedy Meadows alone.

Since I was hiking alone, my pace was steady allowing me to reach the
crestline and descend gently to a crestline saddle where the eastern slope
drops down to Owens Lake bed (dry). The winds were high and there were larger
patches of snow covering the trail in this area (perhaps at 10,390 feet)
forcing me to walk around the patches to rediscover the trail. 

From the vantage point, I could see Olancha Peak to the south. By late
afternoon, the peak was obscured by a rain cloud sitting on top. I thought to
myself that I needed to hike beyond that point before the clouds settled in
again the next day. It didn't look like it would be a hiker-friendly place
during a thunderstorm.

Once my hat blew off and had it not been for a large rock, my hat would have
become part of dry Owens Lake. I recovered my hat without too many extra
steps and continued down 22 switchbacks along a ridge, finally reaching an
all-year creek at the mouth of Death Canyon. 

There was a pleasant campsite just above the creek, but not wanting to
backtrack, I continued a short distance on to Big Dry Meadow as the trail
entered a lodgepole forest. Even though I was camped relatively close to the
water, there were few mosquitoes. I swatted a couple, but was never required
to resort to a
head net nor insect repellent.

Saturday: May 24 (14 miles)

I crawled out of a warm sleeping bag about 6:30 and busied myself with the
morning chores. It was a cold morning and even with glove liners, my fingers
were "numb" making it difficult to light the stove. Somehow, I managed and
continued with preparing coffee and breakfast. Since everything was covered
with frost, I found rocks in the sun to spread the tent and sleeping bag to
dry while I ate and refilled my bottles with water from the creek at the
mouth of Death Canyon.

Eventually, I was packed and took to the trail again, heading on towards
Gomez Meadow. In less than 2 miles, I was crossing the causeway abutment
where I noticed what appeared to be five, evenly-spaced scratch marks in the
dirt. Could this have been made  by a bear? It was perhaps 5 - 6 inches wide,
but I could find no traditional-looking bear paw prints so I hiked on ...

I knew the trail would lead me up to a saddle of a ridge jutting out from
Olancha Peak and I tried to visualize the route it might take to reach that
point. Visually, there was no clue! I looked for signs of switchbacks on the
mountainside, but saw nothing. In my continuing hike, I realized that I was
following a subtle arc counterclockwise around the mountain, gradually
gaining elevation. In my mind, I remembered (incorrectly, I learned) that my
high point was to be 10,700 feet at the saddle so as I walked, I checked my
altimeter to monitor my progress. As I neared the saddle, I crossed more
frequent patches of snow. At one point, the trail seemed to level off at
about 10,500-feet. It was then that I realized I was at the saddle. Indeed,
it was a pleasant surprise since I had thought I still had 200 feet to gain.

I continued across the open slopes and was looking ahead for the documented
junction of COW TRAIL. I thought it was a bit strange that the guide
the trail junction could be found near "a large fallen tree." Hiking on, I
did find THE fallen tree and the signed COW TRAIL junction. I located my
position on
the map and continued. I soon stopped for lunch and refilled my water bottles
at the spring-fed brook running through the corn-lilies.

Shortly after leaving the brook, I reached a signed junction pointing to
Gomez Meadow and Olancha Pass. There was a third trail (forming a tee) that
unmarked. For a reason that only made sense at the time, I followed the third
trail. As I hiked, the trail became harder to follow and seemed to have been
"less traveled." 

Finally, I realized that I had somehow lost my trail and ended up
"God-knows-where." I knew I was supposed to go south down Cow Canyon, but all
canyons looked alike. I attempted to backtrack to the last place where I was
sure I was on trail (the tee-junction). In back-tracking, I crossed a
well-groomed trail which I assumed was the PCT, said "screw it" on finding
where I had gone wrong, and continued down the trail. All I had lost was a
trail-hour or two of

Question: Has anyone else hiked this section north-to-south? Did you
experience a problem interpreting this 2-direction sign at a 3-trail

In a few minutes of following this trail, I came to another signed junction.
The trail straight ahead was marked "Monache Meadows." The trail pointing in
direction from which I had hiked was marked "Pacific Crest Trail." The left
turn (south) was marked "Beck Meadows." I quickly ruled out "Monache Meadows"
as the direction I should follow and pondered on the meaning of the other two
signs. Did the sign which read "Pacific Crest Trail" mean 'PCT - North,' or '
the PCT?' Did the sign which read 'Beck Meadows' really mean 'PCT south to
Beck Meadows?' 

After a little map-checking, I decided on following the "Beck Meadows" sign
even though it made no mention of the PCT heading south. Within minutes, I
spotted a PCT post and was relieved to confirm that I was indeed back on the
trail. I followed Cow Creek for a short distance until the PCT veered off to
the east of the creek making its way through the Big Basin Sage just above
the level of the meadow. 

In a little more than a mile, I reached the bridge over the SF Kern River. I
continued across the bridge and up the grade on the other side, now in
Sequoia NF. I made my way up to a shelf covered by Big Basin Sage and dry
camped near a lone Juniper tree. While the location may have lacked in some
of the finer
things, it allowed a grand vista to the north and east across the Kern River.

Sunday: May 25  (11 miles)

I rose early and broke camp, spreading the tent to dry a bit. I ate a
non-cook breakfast and was on the trail by 7:30. Within the first mile, I had
my last look at
Mt. Langley as I hiked farther south. Farther south, near Beck Meadows, I
passed the camp of the first hikers / campers since the rest of my group
back on Friday. It was 8:45 and no one stirred in their camp. I continued
south and finally met a group of day-hikers out of Kennedy Meadows. 

Soon I reached another bridge over the SF Kern River. It was a welcome site
as I knew that Kennedy Meadows was only two miles away. I estimated my
arrival time and kept hiking. The trail was nearly covered from both sides
with waist-high, Lupine in full bloom. I met several more groups along the
trail; some were hikers, others were fishermen. Thinking I still had another
30 minutes before reaching the end of my trail, I was surprised to cross a
small knoll and see cars ahead. This was it. I had reached Kennedy Meadows.

Charlie Jones
JMT '96
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