Part 1 – Photos
It was quite an exciting trip! First, my car started acting up on the drive up to Horseshoe Meadows. The oil light came on, and it was up in the air if I was even going to make it to the campground.
When I did….I found I was camping next to the family who had brought everything but the kitchen sink, including a very loud child who wouldn’t shut up. My little camp looks miniscule compared to everything they brought. We heard quite a few coyotes, and this poor dog was barking half the night, making sleep very sporadic.
The smoke from the fires made for an interesting night sky. You can tell by the roof of the outhouse that it had already rained.
Luckily in the morning, it was fairly clear. This is the trailhead sign. Horseshoe Meadows is also known as “Last Chance Meadow”, (last chance to exit the PCT before Kennedy Meadows, and is where Trail Pass is. Trail Pass, besides being my entry point, is where Cheryl Strayed (from the movie Wild) exited the PCT due to bad weather. The trail starts at an altitude of 9500 feet.
That nights camp would be at Chicken Spring Lake, a total of 4.8 miles in. The first mile goes downhill, losing about 300 feet of altitude. It started raining off and on, making hiking an interesting mix of putting on the raingear, then peeling it off when the sun came out. The photo below is taken looking south, from the top of Cottonwood Pass. That clear area in the distance is Horseshoe Meadows, which is ½ mile from my starting point. It was a tough climb of 2800 feet of elevation gain in 3.2 miles, all on steep switchbacks. Other than the haze from the fires, the skies to the south are clear.
This is me at the PCT trail junction looking Northwest. The skies in this direction look much different, and the combination of clouds, sun and smoke from the fires cast an eery light. This photo of me was taken by some kind gentleman hiking out that day. I am smiling only because I know the next ½ mile to the lake is all downhill.
By the time I got to Chicken Spring Lake, the storm was rolling in. Chicken Spring Lake, is unfortunately, in a flood zone because the lake is in a bowl, surrounded by mountain on all sides. This is looking towards the camp sites, (which is in the area of the bushes). That ridge above is about 300 feet above the campsites, and is where the trail is to continue on to Rock Creek, completely exposed, and unsafe during bad weather. During bad storms, the camp site area floods completely.
This is the other side of the lake, taken from the camping area. I had hoped to go take photos of the Bristlecone Pines the next day, but it rained continuously, so it was impossible. This ridge is about 500 feet above the lake.
The whole first day and second day at the lake, really bad storms and a deluge of rain came in. It was the afternoon of the second day during a brief break in the weather, when the ranger told us we had a choice. Hike 10 miles (4.6 miles on an exposed ridge) to the next camping area, or exit the trail. Most of the people here were heading south anyway, but the ranger warned us that it would take a very fast hiker to make it to Rock Creek before the next storm rolled in. While I had no pain in my knee, I had a lot of swelling, and there was no way I was going to make 10 miles that day, so I started packing up to exit out.
It was at this point, that I met a very sweet German lady, (who was an English teacher) who was the only other person alone. She had hiked the John Muir Trail with a male friend. She was much slower than he was, so they hiked separately, but joined each other at camp every night. She assumed he had already made it to the next camp, and she was worried he wouldn’t know what happened to her. She told me that they were very low on food, because they had already lost days due to bad storms. They had a week of hiking left, but only about 4 days of food left. Sine I planned on leaving anyway, I gave her the extra food that she needed to complete her trip, and she was very thankful. I wish I had gotten her contact information. She was a very sweet lady.