I hope you are enjoying this show-and-tell! Here’s how Day Four went…
As we got ready to hike out from Junction Meadow, I told Emily and Rene that I would continue hiking with them to Crabtree Meadow, a popular stop on the High Sierra Trail, John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikes. This was a change to my original plan to take a slight detour from the High Sierra Trail here in order to visit Lake South America in the Upper Kern Basin. As much as I wanted to explore the Upper Kern, I enjoyed hiking with my new friends and I was feeling a bit anxious about being alone on the trail again.
It was another beautiful, sunny morning in the Sierra and before we knew it we were at the junction to Lake South America. I think that seeing the actual sign (LAKE SOUTH AMERICA this way and CRABTREE MEADOW that way) brought me to a Robert Frost road-not-taken moment, and I decided at that moment that I would probably regret not following the spirit of adventure that led me there in the first place. So I told Emily and Rene that I wouldn’t be hiking with them to Crabtree after all. I got their contact info and we parted ways. Our schedules put us in the nearby town of Lone Pine on the same night three days later (August 28) so I hoped to run into them then.
Now I was on my own again, and more than a little nervous about it. I was leaving a heavily used trail for a more lightly used (and less well-marked) one. Pretty soon after I left my friends, the trail turned into this.
Because of the abundance of snowmelt, the further up the Kern River I went, the more creeks I ran into, and some spots had so many creeks criss-crossing and zig-zagging every which way that the ferns and brush overgrew the trail and the ground was a muddy marsh. (Lots of mosquitoes, too.) Finding the trail was sometimes impossible.
Luckily, most trails in the Sierra have some sort of “handrail”…an actual real-world surface feature that the trail follows, like a river or a valley or a mountain ridge. If you don’t see a trail, but you know that the trail follows the river north to its source, then you just follow the river north to its source and generally you’ll see a remnant of the trail somewhere along the way and you can pick it up again. In my case, the trail went north along the west bank of the Kern, but for much of the day I couldn’t see it. It took me a while (and several miles of hiking with wet feet along the muddy bank) to realize that what I thought was the Kern was actually the trail. There was so much water that the river spilled over into the trail and was trickling down it, too. Figuring this out didn’t save me from wet feet, but it could have saved me a lot of time worrying that I was going to get lost or something.
All in all, it was the most difficult day of hiking (more like bushwacking) on my trip so far, and by the time I got to Lake South America, I was a bit disheartened. The views fixed that real quick.
I made camp on a sandy shelf about a quarter-mile below Lake South America, at about 11,900 feet elevation. It was a windy spot, and cold, but I was looking forward to spending the morning there. I had plans to get up early and perform a lhasang, so I ate a quick dinner and hit the sack.