Thursday, September 2, 2021

Emigrant Escape Day 6: Kennedy Lake to Kennedy Meadows

Date: August 8, 2020
Place: Emigrant Wilderness, Stanislaus National Forest, California
Length: 9.4 miles
Level: strenuous

The rain returned that night, tapping lightly on our tent on and off until I faded to sleep. I don't know how long it lasted but in the morning everything was wet but there was not a single cloud in the sky. 

The sun hasn't cleared the eastern ridge line yet and the waning moon was hanging low over the western ridge. I stood near the tent, shivering slightly in the early morning chill, and watched the line of daylight descending slowly down the western slope. 

It felt like forever but finally the sun cleared the mountain.

Almost instantly the air warmed up and my morning chills subsided. Shortly after, my jacket came off. It was breakfast time.

A hawk was perched atop a large boulder a bit higher uphill. I've been watching it since coming out of the tent, standing motionless at the edge of the boulder. The line of sunlight reached it first. A few minutes later it had reached me too. I raised my eyes to see if the hawk was enjoying the morning heat but it was already gone. 
A hawk basking in the morning sun. 

It was also time to cross the creek to get more water, and also to take a closer look at my yesterday's find - the ladies' tresses orchid. I was very excited to see it. 
Hooded Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana 

Energized and happy, we quickly packed our camp and were ready to go. It was our last day in the Emigrant Wilderness and we expected and fairly easy hike - all downhill on a well maintained trail. A nice conclusion of a lovely backpacking trip. 

The willow thicket surrounding our campsite was blocking our sight of Kennedy Lake. As soon as we got out of the bushes and back on the main trail though, we had a nice view of the lake, looking all blue and inviting. 
Kennedy Lake 

Water trickled in little rivulets all around us. The Kennedy Creek had split into multiple little channels forming a mini-delta before spilling into the lake. We hopped easily over these little flows, even with our backpacks on. I was surprised at the low level of mosquitos, which was a very nice surprise and a big contrast to our previous year's trip in Yosemite, where they've eaten us alive. 

We passed the lake quickly without stopping even once at its shores. The land between the trail and the waterfront was soggy and in many places the trail itself was flooded and muddy. Accessing the lake through the mud didn't hold much appeal. 
It sure was beautiful to look at from a distance, however. Looking back I could also appreciate the descent we did yesterday down the basin of Kennedy Creek. 
Kennedy Lake

This area wasn't as rich in wildflowers as the upper region of Kennedy Creek. Still, there were some nice blossoms to enjoy. 

Despite my concerns the night had passed without any bovine interruption. Hiking past the lake however, we finally met the beasts responsible for all the pies we've seen around our camp site and along the trail. They were blocking our path too. We tried shooing them off the trail, but instead of stepping to the side they turned their backs on us and started down the trail. For about a quarter mile we herded them (unintentionally) down the trail when all they needed to have done was to get off in ...  Silly cows.
Not so smart cows.
The meadow west of the lake sure looked like a fine place to graze. I was glad to have passed the cattle, however. There were no more surprises on the trail. 

Did I just say there were no more surprises on the trail? Well, I was wrong. A cute, little Belding squirrel was blocking our path. It did scurry when we approached it. 

For a short distance the trail neared Kennedy Creek. A large horse caravan was making its way to a corral across the water. I figured this would be a place where the horses would be boarded in between jobs. 
Kennedy Creek

Unlike at the higher elevations, there weren't as many wildflowers near the lake and  the creek. The flowers that did bloom attracted many insects, including colorful butterflies.

We settled into a lazy, slow strolling pace, enjoying the brilliant day to the most. In the back of my mind I had the thought of having to drive home at the end of the day, but I didn't feel in any hurry.

Pace by pace the valley narrowed and it's mountain walls drew nearer to us. At the bottom of the northern slope grazed a small heard of horses, probably another caravan animals on leave.

A fence popped between the trail and the creek, yet another evidence that this area was being used for more than just recreation. 
A movement across the fence caught my attention. It was a coyote, and it was heading towards us. Soon it crossed the fence and came close enough for us to get a good look at it. It crouched and observed us for a few seconds, then dropped into the grass and moved to cross the trail and up the slope a few yards away from us. I do get to see coyotes fairly often on my Bay Area hikes but this was the first time I've seen one on any of my Sierra Nevada hikes, and I was very excited about it. 

Not to minimize my excitement of other wildlife encounters. Pretty lizards count as well.  

The trail entered the woods and begun sloping downward at a very mild, almost unnoticeable grade. It was late morning and getting fairly hot so we welcomed the shade of the trees. 
Faster parties of backpacker were passing us on their way downhill. Other, early rising hikers, were making their way up to the lake, wearing wide grins and waving at us without breaking their pace. It looked like it was going to be another busy day at Kennedy Lake. 
Kennedy Lake Trail

By lunch time we stepped off the trail and made our way down to the river to eat, rest, and fill our bottles. It was nice to take off our shoes and dip in the cool water of the creek. It was hard to pull ourselves from the water side and get back on the trail to continue our last day's hike. 
Kennedy Creek

On our way back to the trail I saw this delicate flower, one that only by prior experience I knew was a species of wire lettuce, of the aster family. It certainly doesn't look like any other lettuce I know. 

Near the trail were more aster-looking asters. One can always count on seeing asters blooming almost any time of year, at almost any location in California. They are always a lovely sight to see. 

No doubt those pines that grow in granite cracks are of the most owe-inspiring plants I know. Standing out in beauty and character, I'm always happy to see them on my High Sierra hikes. These particular trees in the photo below were my goodbye trees for that trip. 

Not that the other pine trees lack in beauty. We were walking through an area of more spacious forest where the trees grew mort in girth, and the canopies didn't shade much the earth, allowing the undergrowth to thrive in the sunlight. 

A common representative of that undergrowth was the buckwheat shrub, another lovely late summer blossom of the Sierra Nevada. 

For almost five miles we descended very little. It was only expected that a big drop would come soon. In perfect timing with the slope becoming steeper, clouds that came seemingly out of nowhere started covering the sky.  
Kennedy Lake Trail

The lizards were still in denial, posing on exposed rock faces, waiting for the sun to return. (It didn't). 

The combination of a steeper downhill grade with an increasingly overcast sky prompted us to increase our pace. before long we reached the Kennedy Creek crossing. I paused on the bridge to take a photo of the pretty water cascade below. It was accessible, but we didn't feel like stopping for another creek side break. 

Wild flowers were fewer yet below the bridge, but even so, I got to see a new one (for me). And that was the last wildflower photo I took for that day and the entire trip. 

Past the Kennedy Creek bridge the slope became really steep. As we made our way down the exposed mountain side the view opened up and I had a good look down the canyon of the Stanislaus River, at the end of which was the kennedy Meadows Resort where we were headed.  Somewhere below us, near where the Kennedy Creek confluents with the Stanislaus, was the trail junction with the Relief Meadow Trail we had come up on our first day. 
The Stanislaus River Canyon

I gazed west to the area of Relief Reservoir. I didn't see the lake itself but I saw that it was getting filled. The rain looked very intense and very local. I figured that cloud might come our way too so I nudged my friend along an we kept on downward. 
Local Rain over Relief Reservoir 

All that time people kept coming uphill en-route to Kennedy Lake. It was around that area when I saw the first mask-wearing person of that day (since our second day, actually). All of a sudden I was reminded of the world outside and the pandemic that was beyond the wilderness. My mood darkened. 
The bridge across the Stanislaus came into view. The trail junction was near. We have completed our wide version of the Emigrant Loop. 

At the trail junction I said my quiet goodbye to Kennedy Creek. It was a lovely, and very intense descent of two days from the top of the Big Sam all the way down to the Stanislaus River confluence. 
Kennedy Creek near the Stanislaus River Confluence

The remaining of our hike was along the trail we came up on our firs day. I didn't take many photos now, on our way out. For one, I was already eager to finish. Usually I feel reluctant to return to civilization after a good backpacking trip but this time, as good as it was, I was ready to conclude it. For second, it had already begun raining and I kept my camera covered most of the time. 
The last couple of miles are blurry in my memory. Perhaps I shouldn't have waited this long to write about this trip, but I also thing that my urge to finish had diverted my mind from being in the present during that part of the hike. Either way, we were back at Kennedy Meadows in no time at all. 
Stanislaus River
When we made our final steps into the resort area the rain was really pouring down. We stopped at the resort's store where we got the well deserved ice cream. I left my backpack with my friend at a bench by outside the store and went quickly down the road to the trailhead's parking lot to fetch the car. 

 Thus ended our six days' backpacking escape from the COVID reality. This trip had fueled my mental strength throughout the months to come until my dire need for yet another escape called me to retreat into the desert



  1. Very nice wildlife sightings :-) The trees on the rocks are very impressive.

    1. Thank you, my friend. I hope the fires won't get there...