After my river plunge I impale my right shin on a tree branch and watch the blood trickle down my leg and onto my boot. I’m more concerned about staining my boot than with my wound. I find a great campsite next to the river. I gather wood, set up my tent and watch the sunset while sipping my special coffee drink. mmmmm. By 8:30 I’m snuggled into my sleeping bag and the Kern lulls me to sleep.
Saturday November 8, 2014
I’m sitting in front of a cozy fire on the banks of the Kern River in the Golden Trout Wilderness in Sequoia National Forest. It is 6:04 pm, completely dark as in dark, dark, dark ….way way dark. It has been dark for one hour….only 12 more hours until day light. I’m ready for bed but there is no way I can crawl in my tent now and stay there until morning. Thankfully the ban on fires has been lifted, otherwise I really would be in my tent!
Yesterday afternoon I decided the weather was too perfect to miss out on one last low elevation Sierra backpack. I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping backpacking food on standby so when I decide to jet out of town at the last minute I can grab and go!
I left my house at 4:00 am and after stopping in Kernville to obtain a self registered/issued permit I was on the trail by 10:00. The road in, Lloyd Meadow Road, I have not travelled since my Volkswagen van camping days with my dear friend Julie. We used to head up to Peppermint and spend days exploring all the swimming holes! Shortly after the last time we did our “Chuck Wagon” this entire area was devastated by a wildfire. Now 14 years later the scars of the charred trees and hillsides are still visible and the forest remains in recovery.
I have never hiked this trail before and choose it for that reason as well as the fairly easy access, and low elevation. The trailhead is at 5,800 feet. At home, studying the map, I trace my finger all along the Kern River until I reach it’s headwaters some …60 trail miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain deep in the heart of the Sierra. I marvel at how I stood at the head waters of the Kern this summer midway through my Circle of Solitude hike. I fantasize about starting at the Forks of the Kern and hiking all the way to the headwaters….perhaps a trip for another time… but not today!
There are 8 cars including mine at the trailhead, within 2 hours I will have passed all 7 other parties and the far reaches of the canyon will be mine to explore in solitude. The trail immediately descends 1,000 feet to the Kern and the Little Kern River….The Forks. It is crazy hot and I can feel the sun not only frying my right side but also reflecting off the rock walls and frying my left side. Well, it’s good to be even. I cannot imagine the heat radiating off these walls and up this canyon in the summer months. People even carry kayaks and rafts down the first 2 miles of this trail so they can run the rapids and spend a few days riding the river to Johnsondale.
Wow what a gorgeous day today. In fact it’s perfect. Once at the Forks I spend some time criss crossing the braided rivers until I find the right trail heading up the canyon. This is a cold, fast and dangerous crossing in the spring and early summer especially in high snow years. Today I only get the toe box of my boots wet. And yes the water is cold.
The black oaks and willows are still showing some nice fall color and provide a stunning backdrop to the Kern. There are campsites and swimming holes everywhere! Sadly at the beginning of the trail there is also a lot of trash. And too much TP! Fortunately the further up the trail I go the more pristine both the trail and river become. I actually stop and jump in the water….yup still cold.