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Wounds won’t heal the way you

want them to, they heal the

way they need to.

Dele Olanubi

The agony of de-feet, knee … and back

Bottom line: Aging pains can be a bee-otch ... particularly when in the wilderness.

6.23.24, Day 0, “Pre-positioning” -

Prim8 and I met Mark R. in Mojave to gas up the car before we drove to Kennedy Meadows, some twenty-five miles into the wilderness west of Hwy 395. Desert temperatures ranged in the 90’s and low 100’s, and we speculated about hiking conditions in the mountains.

Before this trip, Mark had explained he’d changed his trail moniker during his last PCT section hike from the Mexican border northward as a result from his consumption of pemmican. “I’m going by Tallow now,” he’d told me.

No more changes, Prim8 had demanded, not liking the idea.

“Okay,” I’d told Mark, somewhat skeptical. How many more changes will he adopt, Prim8?

Thus, Mark R., formerly known as Cabo, with the previous alias of Wrong Way, will now be referred to as Tallow.

We pre-positioned my car at Kennedy Meadows for our sectional hike southbound. A north to south hike on this section would eliminate the elevation gain of roughly 4,385 feet. If you’re going to do the distance, why not go downhill rather than uphill?

A traffic accident on Hwy 395 south of Olancha delayed our progress to Lone Pine. Dark clouds hung over the mountains to our west and a few large and sporadic rain drops splattered on Mark’s RAV4 windshield as we waited to continue.

By the time of our arrival, the ranger station in Lone Pine had closed, so we proceeded to Lone Pine’s Dow Villa for the night, where I’d reserved a historic room, sans private bathroom. No problem on that front, however the room felt stuffy and the air conditioning blew tepid air, not cool enough for my liking.

The room’s air still and stuffy, Prim8 complained, Hot!

Then, we’ll lay on the bed in the buff without covers or sheet. Not until the wee hours did I feel comfortable.

6.24.24, Day 1, “Our Most Northern Position on the PCT” -

After getting takeout at McDonald’s at 5 a.m.—Prim8 wanted coffee and a chicken sandwich—we drove to Horseshoe Meadow at 10,000 feet.

A posted sign near the trailhead parking lot warned of ACTIVE BEARS.

“As opposed to retired bears,” I told Tallow.

Mt. Whitney and portion of the Sierra Crest
Mt. Whitney (the sharp point) from Near Lone Pine

Under clear sky, Tallow and I hiked to Cottonwood Pass, 11,132 feet, mile-marker 751.4 (according to the FarOut app, which Tallow used, and the PCT posted sign, differing slightly from Half-mile Notes of 750.8).

From the trail junction, we turned south to Trail Pass Trail—I kid you not—at 10,493 feet, mile-marker 744.5. (FarOut indicates the distance is 4.9 miles along the PCT, while Half-Mile Notes says 5.7 miles. Go figure!)

Regardless, we followed Trail Pass Trail back to Horseshoe Meadow.

Boulders in foreground with tree covered hills and Horseshoe Meadow and mountainous terrain beyond
Looking East from PCT Near Cottonwood Pass Towards Horseshoe Meadow and Surrounding Terrain

With clear sky, temperatures for the day ranged from 55 degrees when we left Tallow’s car at 7 a.m. and 80 degrees when we finished the 10.9 mile loop at 12:50 p.m.

Looking across bare ground to intermmediate tree covered hills and Mt.Lanely in the distance
Looking at Mt. Langely from Trail Pass Trail in Horseshoe Meadow

Back at Hwy 395, we stopped at the ranger station for a wilderness permit, then headed the Dow Villa in Lone Pine for the night, I appreciated the slightly cooler temperature in my room compared to the previous evening.

6.25.24, Day 2, “Southbound” -

We presented at the Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery at 5 a.m. for breakfast.

“Breakfast isn’t available until six,” the gal said, “but you can get coffee and pastry.”

Tallow and I debated, and decided on take-out.

Hungry, Prim8 demanded, Ham and Cheese pastry.

Though I detest processed yellow cheese, I relented, and ordered one along with a cup of coffee.

Breakfast to go, Tallow drove us to the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead parking lot.

I downed a tab of Ibuprofen in hopes of forestalling an increase in knee pain—coming on of late—before we started our hike at 6:25 a.m. The 55-degree temperature felt surprisingly good once we were under way.

Two hours later, we’d hiked 2.2 miles to Trail Pass Trail/PCT junction at mile-maker 744.5. From there, we continued south bound on the PCT.

What? No blister, Prim8 insisted, as if he could order that, when heel pain suggested something amiss.

It’s probably, a blister, fella, but there’s little we can do about that. “I think my foot is trying to grow blisters,” I told Tallow. “I thought I’d solved that problem.” Apparently not, Prim8.

As the morning dragged on, the cool temperature rose to the 80s under clear sky by noon. Though tree cover diminished for stretches, short rest breaks and breezes staved off my total meltdown. Flies and mosquitoes periodically buzzed us. An application of DEET, and our movement along the trail, combined with gusting breezes, prevented their overwhelming us.

Looking east, framed by conifer trees, across mountainous terrain to Owens Lake
Owens Lake from the PCT

We arrived at Death Canyon campground aside a running creek, 8,946 feet elevation, mile-marker 730.8 after a ten-hour hike over 13.7 miles.

After a dinner snack, Tallow bear-bagged our food stash in a tree.

Though no bugs hassled Prim8 and me, once Tallow had set up his tent, I retreated indoors to prevent bugs from getting any ideas otherwise.

A blister! No, Prim8 complained, when I checked my feet and discovered one aside my heel.

Nothing can be done about that. We’ll have to tough it out, Prim8. I’d neglected to bring mole skin or band aids, only carried a small stripe of Duct tape for emergencies. We’ll take another Ibuprofen. I hoped to reduce any and all pain during the night to get better sleep, which had eluded me the past several nights, and maybe avoid muscle stiffness the following morning.

6.26.24, Day 3, “Continuing South” -

6:40 a.m., the temperature near the low 50s, again, felt quite comfortable. Knee, blister and back pains were negligible, but I downed another Ibuprofen as a pain preventative before we continued southbound.

The temperature rose into the 80s. Short breaks to catch my breath under the shade of a tree now and then, helped compensate for the exposure to the sun’s relentless heat.

Tired, Prim8 frequently complained. Stop! 

Okay. We’ll rest a moment, but we need to keep going.

Hurting, Prim8 griped about my on-going heel blister pain, though that felt tolerable, my knee ache, which seemed consistent, and an increasing lower back pain.

Getting old is for the birds, fella. 

I literally limped across the South Fork Kern River bridge (steel bridge) at 7,832 feet elevation and mile-marker 716.5. We’d totaled 14.3 miles distance and a 1,114-foot elevation drop for the day.

Nesting swallows swarmed under the bridge, collecting bugs to feed their young, while Tallow and I filtered cool water to replenish our bottles after he’d set up his tent.

Bridge across Crag Creek, several hikers sitting on the bank, and meadow on one side
"Steel Bridge" Across Crag Creek (PCT mile-marker 716.5)

Exhausted, I reclined on my sleeping pad to eat a light meal and took another Ibuprofen in order to maximize my R&R, rest and recuperation.

Tallow and I decided not to bear-bag our food, as the campground occupation of perhaps a dozen hikers would likely deter most larger critters. As well, we were well out of active bear territory.

6.27.24, Day 4, “Limping to the Finish” -

5:35 a.m. The trail continued away from the stream.

Clover Meadow with Crag Creek meandering through, with a boulder outcrop in foreground and mountainous terrain in background
Looking North at Crag Creek and Across Clover Meadow

We continued over a ridge, then down toward the river again. Remnants of burned and fallen trees, left us with negligible cover from the sun. Hot, miserable and fatigued, Prim8 encouraged frequent breaks, which I took to catch my breath.

I encountered one non-poisonous snake aside the trail before reaching the stream crossing. There, however, an even larger snake—same species, I think—slithered over one of the logs used to aid hikers.

Non-poisonous Snake at PCT Stream Crossing Near Kennedy Meadows

(Courtesy Tallow)

The broad expanse of the Kennedy Meadows, covered with sage brush, made hiking to Sherman Pass Road a continued hot ordeal under unobstructed sun, while the temperature ranged in the 80s. I plodded onward, hiking slowly and taking frequent, though short, breaks, back pain dominating my concern. Thankfully, my knee pain had not increased, while my heel blister had stabilized.

Tallow pointed out a coyote that trotted away, some fifty yards off the trail. “Searching for a wabbit,” he said.

1:50 p.m., we arrived at PCT mile-marker 702.2, elevation 6,009 feet after a 14.3 mile, 9 ½ hour hike.

After retrieving Tallow’s vehicle at Horseshoe Meadows, we spent the night at the Mount Whitney Hotel in Lone Pine—with great air conditioning—before driving home Sunday, 6/28/24.

Note: I’ve decided to stick with the Half-Mile Note mile-marker designations, except for the Cottonwood Pass mile-marker sign, which read 751.4 miles. The remainder mile-marker designations are referenced according to Half-Mile Notes.


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