I woke up early after a toasty warm night. My shoes were frozen. It is nice to have a warm, dry haven each night.
I prepared for the remaining miles to Sonora Pass and the end of Section I. I wondered, does it count that I did Section I with all the detours and cross-country travel I did? I decided that the hardships I endured qualify and that I can cross Section I off my list forever.
I left shortly before Chuck and Lenny. Chuck and I were going to take a detour suggested by the guide book as a safer option than the exposed conditions going down to the pass. We really did not want to die. The detour would take us to Leavitt Lake on a dirt road. Lenny was going to try the pass.
There was snow on the trail and as I climbed, the snow became more expansive. I walked a long way around a large patch. At the top of the snow patch I was at a saddle on a dirt road. It appeared to me that the dirt road climbed dangerously up the side of the mountain into scary vertical snowfields. I thought that it could not be right. There must be a branch of this road that went down to Leavitt Lake.
I searched around at the top of the saddle looking for a gate that the guide book said I would walk through. I could not find the gate. Only huge piles of snow and the road going up into the dangerous snowfields.
I looked back and saw Chuck as he walked down the dirt road. I figured I would search for the gate and be able to show it to him. But when I could not find it, I went back to consult with Chuck. But he had vanished.
I backtracked further, thinking maybe I had missed the gate and it was actually behind me. I found a post with arrows that pointed in odd directions. PCT south was 90 degrees off the course I had been traveling. PCT north was pointing exactly back the direction I had come. This made no sense at all. I looked up the side of the mountain in the direction of the arrow and could see a trail traveling way up high on the mountain. But Chuck and I had already agreed we weren't going to take the scary PCT route so there was no way I was going up that mountain.
I was very confused. Nothing on my map matched what I could see. I stared and stared and no matter how hard I looked at it, nothing matched. I wandered up and down the road. I looked at all the options laid out in front of me and the only thing that seemed to make sense was to drop down the other side of the saddle and go cross-country down to the lake. I figured maybe that was what Chuck had done. So I decided I would head out and take the path of absolute least resistance.
As I descended I managed to avoid snow almost entirely. There were only a few small patches and only one that made me take out my microspikes. Those things are a miracle when the snow is hard and slippery. Shortly after I began, I saw a tin can. Then I saw a fire ring. These items encouraged me. I had a feeling something about what I was doing was not quite right, but I also knew I was headed more or less north and as long as I went north I had to run into the highway.
Encouraged by the can and fire ring, I walked faster thinking maybe I would catch up to Chuck. In my haste, I stepped on an icy rock in a creek and slipped and fell. I decided I had better slow down.
Soon I found myself walking on an actual trail. Now I was very much encouraged. It almost seemed like someone had hiked this trail not too long ago, too. So I marched down the valley on a real trail, taking great pains not to lose it despite the avalanch ruined trees and the often times faintness of the tread.
As I descended a lake came into view. Leavitt Lake! My map actually showed a trail leading to the lake and then a dirt road, so I hoped the dirt road would be at the end of the trail. I pulled out my map to look again, but the shape of my lake and the shape of Leavitt Lake on the map were not quite the same. I hoped maybe the lake being extra full accounted for the difference.
I struggled over a large talus field. My stomach was growling so I stopped when I reached the end of the talus to have some crackers and peanut butter. I leafed through my guide book pages, now almost completely dry after all those creek swims, and found a map that showed Kennedy Lake, clear as day the same exact shape as my lake. I was not headed for Leavitt Lake at all.
I remembered that up here there was supposed to be another Kennedy Meadows. I hoped the lake and the Meadows were somehow connected. Another map in my guide book pages showed that they were. I knew now that I was lost but I knew where I was and that I was going to be fine. I worried now about Lenny and Chuck. I worried that they were worrying about me. I needed to make haste to get to Bridgeport so that I could let them know I was ok. My route to Kennedy Meadows was going to be a lot longer than the route to Leavitt Lake.
I lost the trail near the lake but just went cross-country. The meadow by the lake was soggy so I had to pay attention to where I placed my feet so as not to fall into a hidden little creek. At times I thought I could see a trail, but then it would disappear. At times I thought I saw evidence that someone had recently walked through this tall grass before me.
I saw a large deer in the sage. I decided to follow the deer. He led me to where I could see the trail. It was wide and deep. I followed the trail and it led me to an old cabin. I stopped to investigate and take a picture. Perhaps the cabin belonged to someone named Kennedy.
Now on a firm trail, I knew everything was going to be alright. I motored on. Down down down. The trail went on for miles and miles.
Eventually I saw some people. People! Now I knew things were going my way. I asked them if this was the way to Kennedy Meadows. Indeed it was. After a few more hours I asked some day hikers if I was getting close to Kennedy Meadows. They said, no, but that I ought to be there in a couple more hours. I figured I'd be eating ice cream by 1:00 or 1:30.
I crossed a river a few times on big, sturdy steel bridges. Hooray for bridges! I got stuck behind a long line of slow-moving horses. I ran by them at my first opportunity when the trail split in two, after enduring many jokes from uphill hikers about them running out of horses and being forced to walk.
I rinally reached the bottom of the canyon where hordes of people fished the river. I stopped to fill my water and went on. Soon there were tents and RVs and people everywhere. And then the store! I stopped and got two ice creams, paying for them with a still-wet $20 bill.
After my ice cream break, I went on down the road toward the highway. I stuck out my thumb and got a ride instantly to the highway. Then I hitchhiked from there to the top of Sonora Pass. I walked down the pass a little to a safer spot and got another ride all the way to Bridgeport.
Once in Bridgeport I wandered the streets and finally selected a restaurant with outdoor seating, hoping if I sat there for a while, Chuck would walk by. And he did.
Chuck had been overwhelmed with worry for me. He had been ready to call Search and Rescue if I didn't turn up by the next day. He was so happy to see me. Lenny hadn't been worried because Lenny had hiked with me in Santa Barbara and thought I was a pretty good route finder. Obviously that isn't true. I hardly feel qualified to be out there in such an extreme and rugged place.
I told Chuck all of what had happened, about going the wrong way to Kennedy Meadows. I still don't understand where the road had been, but it sounded like I should have climbed up that ridge on the PCT and that there was a second road. I hate that guide book sometimes.
Chuck had checked into a hotel, but they were out of cheap rooms. Lenny supposedly had gone to a nearby hot spring. I decided that I would go there.
I got directions from the local people and hiked the 2.5 miles or so to the hot spring. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes along the way as I walked through a marshy meadow on a paved road surrounded by all kinds of birds. It seemed odd that the birds' home had been bisected by this road. It was like they were still trying to make their living despite the intrusion.
I found the hot spring and spent some time soaking in the water trying to get clean. There were some nice women there and we had a good time talking.
Soon I decided I ought to find a place to camp. I camped near the spring, but not too near. I slept among pinyon pines once again and felt happy.