Within Kings Canyon, slumbers an ancient energy. The water is crisp and delicious and the earth, a rich, dark brown. Granite peaks saturated with sunlight shine as if from within, humming with power. The very air is alive. Around every bend another lake waits for discovery, which is akin to finding a diamond the size of a football field. It is impossible not to let that energy permeate your mind and body, and it makes for long, happy summer days within the range of light.
Kearsarge is a great word (and dog name). It’s a fun word, but there is a hardness to it, like the real pass. The climb up the western side is challenging, with some serious ‘east coast’ graded switchbacks. But the view from the top is absolutely staggering. To the west squats Bullfrog Lake, an azure gem reflecting the saw tooth backdrop. To the east, the heat distorted desert screams discomfort. As you make your way down the eastern face, you pass several lakes connected by streams and cascading waterfalls. The eastern face of Kearsarge Pass is the epitome of west coast trail construction. It is at times, obnoxiously switchbacked. Though the climb back up with full packs is super easy.
We hitched with some hipster vampires from LA into Independence. From there an 18 wheeler took us to Bishop, where we stayed at the Hostel California. Opened this season and in a 112 year old Victorian, it is worth the extra hitch into Bishop just to stay there. The owner is a young man who enjoys rock climbing and acting like The Dude. He allows hikers to work for their beds, and thought it was a good idea to have a ‘lamp cache’. Granted, there was a stern note saying, “Take only what you need!” Two hikers left with a large brass lamp, though I never saw it on the trail.
Legs and I left Bishop first, leaving Finna, who was suffering from strep throat, and the rest of the gang. We climbed back over Kearsarge and continued the journey north.
After Kearsarge, the first obstacle is the snow socked Glen Pass. Approaching Glen Pass, the trail narrows and granite walls slump to either side. The trail snakes through these walls along side a small creek, runoff from the lake at the base of the pass. The approach is moderately steep, finishing in even steeper switch backs. On top is a slash of black stone, offering some incredible views of the Rae Lakes basin. We stopped a while and enjoyed our conquest. I could see the land ahead reflected in Legs’ sunglasses, and could feel the heady rush of conquest and accomplishment running through my body.
When thinking back to my travels, there will always be a few places that jump directly to the forefront of my memory. That castle in Italy, that hostel in Prague, that castle in Turkey, et cetera. Rae Lakes is worthy of this honor, and next to these lofty places, it shall not be shamed. Consisting of an upper and lower pool, the basin is surrounded by gleaming white granite, and humming with the electric blue of the glacial fed water. One peak burst skyward, bellicose and defiant, next to Glen Pass and watching over the entire basin. The upper lake’s rim is steep and rocky in most places, but the trail will bring you directly to the one spot where there is access to the water. The trail continues around the lower pool, which is no less beautiful, though smaller and less grand.
The trail continues down into a canyon, where you cross a water source and begin the first approach of Pinchot Pass. Pinchot is an interesting pass in many aspects. It is the first pass involving a double approach, where the climb is broken up into two sections separated by a flat area. It is also named after Gifford Pinchot and on the John Muir Trail, that is like naming a Pass after Derek Jeter along the Mets Trail. Pinchot and Muir were, to say the least, rivals. Pinchot loved the wilderness, but believed that it and all its resources should be used to help man, while Muir believed in keeping the wilderness untouched and sacred. They clashed most on the development of the Hetch Hetchy river near Yosemite. In the end, Pinchot won and the river was dammed. Muir died believing the Hetch Hetchy dam his biggest failure, so Pinchot Pass is a bit out of place. Legs and I camped two miles before the base, tucked behind some gnarled trees below the timberline.
I faced Legs, who sat cross-legged in the doorway of the tent. Over the steam of her dinner, I saw her eyes widen in surprise and she started jabbing her finger in a direction behind me.
“Coyote! Coy-! Wolf?!” I DON’T KNOW!”
I sprang around, grabbing my trekking pole and crouching low. A large coyote, about the size of a scrawny german shepherd was sauntering right up to our campsite, completely unafraid. I stood up right, brandished the pole and shouting, but the coyote didn’t seem to notice, and barely changed its pace. Only a well placed stone and guttural snarl finally sent it scampering.
It was an interesting affair. For one thing, I was raised in New York and have always styled myself a modern man, but my first instinct when faced with danger in the wild, was to grab my proverbial spear, stand between my woman and shelter, and bellow challenging grunts towards the approaching beast. The woman of course, is the incredibly capable Legs (who would fuck a coyote up if she had to) and the home, a ‘2’ person tent (that 2 is sarcastic), but it still served. I easily slipped out of the skin of a modern man, and into the rough hide of our more brutal ancestors. I’m no push over and can usually handle myself, but this was different. I felt a wild fury bubbling inside me, and the speed in which it revealed itself illustrated how close to the surface it had been, just waiting to be released.
Hiking is in our DNA. Long distance bipedal travel is bred into us, and is the reason humans have long since covered the entire globe. A human can out distance any land animal in the world. It is basic and primal. It is intrinsically us.
“Climb the mountains and gain their good tidings.” Indeed.