Date: July 31, 2017
Place: Golden Trout Wilderness, Lone Pine, California
Coordinates: 36.448389, -118.170800
Length: about 8 miles
On the first week of August my chikas go to their week long 4-H camp. Last year I took that time to go on an amazing backpacking with a friend to Mineral King. I wanted to go there again this summer. My friend, however, had to withdraw from the plan just three days before and I was unable to find someone else to join me on such a short notice. After only little consideration I resolved to go on my own.
The weather forecast for Mineral King was of daily thunderstorms for the week I was to go there so at the last moment I changed direction and decided to go east to the Whitney Portal area, where the forecast was for much less rain. And so, after kissing my chikas goodbye at the camp pick up place I hit the road and headed southeast to Lone Pine.
I arrived Lone Pine well after dark and probably should have checked into a hotel room. But I was eager to be outdoors and I also wanted try my new single person tent so I went to Portagee Joe Campground by the Alabama Hills where there were I found a vacant campsite and pitched my new tent there.
I had almost no sleep that night. It was sweltering hot and miserable. I tossed and turned without rest, drenched in sweat. When I got out at the crack of dawn I forgot the night's misery because on the west Mount Whitney was lighting up with the early sun.
|Mount Whitney at the Break of Dawn|
When the center finally opened I already knew which trailhead I wanted to go on. I was issued a permit to the Trail Pass Trailhead and drove up Cottonwood Springs Rd up the sheer slope of teh Eastern Sierra up to the Golden Trout Wilderness, where I would be the next 5 days.
|The view east from Cottonwood Springs Road|
|Day 1 hike as captured by my GPS|
|Into the Wilderness|
I stooped low: theses were tiny little monkeyflower blossoms, of a species I was not able to identify for sure.
It was also the first creek I had to cross and I needed to go barefoot in order to keep my shoes dry. The trail near the creek was damp and tiny tree frogs leaped from under my feet as I moved on it. I had to be very careful not to step on any of these miniature frogs.
A short distance after crossing the creek and I was back in the woods again, making my way up to Trail Pass.
At first the slope was mild, easy to walk. I run into a few backpacks that were coming down the trail. They were exiting the wilderness after two weeks on the pacific Crest Trail. We stopped and chatted a bit before moving on, and those were the last people I interacted with on that day.
After that the trail became steeper and I slowed down my pace. Not much - I was still running on my excitement to be out there.
|On the way to Trail Pass|
|Scarlet Paintbrush, Castilleja miniata|
I guess the outcome wasn't too bad :-)
|Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa|
I snacked and rested for some time, then I got antsy, hoisted my backpack, and headed down the trail, westward.
Still in the woods, but the trees were more distant, wider gaps and clearings. Still mostly pines, but also sierra junipers between them. And I am always a sucker for weird-looking trees.
|Sierra Juniper, Juniperus grandis|
|Little-leaf Creambush, Holodiscus discolor|
In between the trees, here and there I saw a small blooming shrub. A different one each time, never in a large patch of color.
|Mountain Monardella, Monardella odoratissima|
And then, all of a sudden, I cleared the trees and was out in the open. I arrived at a trail crossing and had to figure which one to take. That was a hard choice for two reasons. The first, because there were more than two trails crisscrossing the meadow below. Only two of those were actual hiking trails, all the rest used by cattle drivers. I needed to figure out which one's which before taking the right one. The second was that up until then I was not completely decided on which loop I wanted to hike - they all looked very enticing. What eventually tilted the scale for me was my desire to see the Kern Canyon. So with that thought, I turned right on to the Tunnel Trail that would take me on the shortest path to the Kern.
Getting a close up of these yellow beauties turned to be quite a challenge. Of the numerous shots I took, very few turned out sort of ok. None really good.
|Pumice Alpinegold, Pumice hulcea|
I stood there transfixed for some time. I had never before seen a cattle drive and I was mesmerized by the too cow people moving the large beasts here and there.
|Lupine, Lupinus (Lepidus or breweri)|
|Sierra Ivesia, Ivesia santolinoides|
|California Tree Frog|
I arrived at the title side stream and it was time to stop for lunch. To my dismay I found that cattle had mucked up that place as well. I walked a little upstream to find a spot less disturbed and dropped my backpack. Almost immediately I had to pull out the bug repellent - the place was swarming with mosquitos. Then I went about collecting and purifying water.
Being off trail I had to take good care not to trample the delicate vegetation near the water. It was a bit ironic, considering the recent damage done there by the cattle, but I didn't want to add to it.
|Western Mountain Aster, Symphyotrichum spathulatum|
|Harsh Popcorn Flower, Harsh allocarya|
|Field Mousetail, Field ivesia|
The wind picked up too, but it came from behind me, driving the rain away. Still, heavy clouds moved across the sky, darkening the day. I kept walking on, pausing here and there to look and photograph wildflowers. Most of the flowers looked very familiar and although I much enjoyed their spring display (in August!) i didn't get overly excited about any of them. It would be later, as I would go through the images at the convenience of my home, that I'd realize that many of them were new species for me, some as good as endemic to that area. That goes to teach me to give closer attention to the flora :-)
|Dwarf Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja nana|
I came across a large puddle on the trail and had to hop over it. I did get the soles of my shoes muddy, but I also got to see the next generation of frogs swimming to and fro in the shallow water.
|Tadpoles in a Puddle|
A splash of bright red color on the yellowish-gray gravel slope attracted my eyes - scarlet bugler
The trail stretched along the fine line between the trees and the meadow, with the two realms occasionally invading one-another and their distinct flora communities blending. The terrain turned sandy and porous. I saw little bicolor monkeyflowers blooming in small patches between the trees.
|Mountain Monkeyflower, Mimulus montioides|
Meanwhile the trail got farther from the meadow and the sand was drier. For a time the sky cleared and the sun shone down, and I went on without worry. According to the map I was due to meet the upper tip of the South Fork Kern in less than a mile.
When the clouds gathered again I found myself going up a sandy slope along the dry end of the Milky Creek tributary that sloped down to Bullfrog Meadow, now far behind me. I was getting tired and was ready to stop any time. All I wanted now was to get over the crest and find the South Fork Kern.
The sound of running water heralded the presence of the creek, and I hastened my pace, glad that soon I could set camp and rest for the night. The soil became damp again. Greenery and wildflowers covered the ground between the trees.
|Larkspur and Company|
|South Fork Kern River|
I was glad to see the creek but there was no suitable place to camp there. I had to move on. At least it was downhill now and the trail was lined with beautiful wildflowers.
American Bistort, Bistorta bistortoides
My path was marked by throngs of fireweed. True to their name, these flowers lit up my trail.
|Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium|
I wasted some time checking out a spot that might have been a tight one had I no choice, but it wasn't dark just yet and I opted to keep going.
|Kelley's Lily, Lilium kelleyanum|
It did become too dark to get any decent photos, however, so I have no more from that day. Eventually I did make it to the point where the canyon opened up. It wasn't quite flat yet, but not too steep, and there was plenty of space. And it was still within reach of the creek. I didn't waste any more time. I veered to the side and found a quasi- flat spot behind a pine tree a good distance from the trail and pitched my tent there. There was just enough daylight left for me to fetch water and cook a quick dinner. Not having my normal appetite I ate without pleasure, forcing spoonfuls down one after another. I finished my rehydrated meal but couldn't eat any more of my 1st day's measure. The rest I couldn't fit into my small bear canister, so I had to put the sealed items into a bag and hang it on a tree away from my little camp.
When I went into my tent I found out what quasi flat meant. It meant *not* flat. I fixed the situation as much as I could, Pushing articles of clothing under the lower side of the mat to level it better. I was alone in the wilderness, and night has descended. I could hear no birds at all, but the sound of the rushing creek roared in my ears. I shut my eyes and tried to sleep.
Thus ended the first day of my solo backpacking trip.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!
A link to the next day blog post.