PCT Section: Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows South

PCT hike, section 1: Walker Pass (mile 653.3) to Kennedy Meadows South (mile 703.4), 50.1 miles, 8,995ft elevation gain 

We are back on the PCT for a section from Walker Pass to Burney Falls, CA! We decided to start at Walker to give ourselves a few days of hiking before hitting the high Sierra, which includes the highlights of the PCT but also other challenges like high altitude (10,000+ft) that will be tough for us to adjust to coming from sea level. Kennedy Meadows South is an iconic landmark on the PCT, marking the end of the 700 mile desert section and the start of the high Sierra, which takes you through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. Really, this is the highlight reel section of the PCT. Our trail legs came back immediately, but this section was not without its massive challenges! 

Day by day: 

7/2/24: Boston to LAX, to Bakersfield – 0 miles hiked 

7/3/24: Buses from Bakersfield to Walker Pass. Walker Pass (mile 653.3) to campsite (mile 666) – 12.7 miles, 2,700ft elevation gain 

7/4/24: Campsite (mile 666) to Fox Mill Spring (mile 684.3), 18.3 miles, 4,300ft elevation gain 

7/5/24: Fox Mill Spring (mile 684.3) to Kennedy Meadows South (mile 703.4), 19.9 miles, 2,600ft elevation gain

Reflections from our first three days on trail: 

  1. Oh hello heat wave! Of course we started our hike of a desert section with a severe heat weather advisory. It has been 100+ degrees during the day and hiking in this heat in such an exposed section of trail has been one of the toughest things we’ve ever done. Truly. We are carrying 3-4 liters of water each (which means more weight) and stopping for breaks at any places we can find shade. The water hauls are long, too—about 12 miles per carry—making our packs heavy! Usually we don’t stop much while hiking, but that’s not possible with these conditions. We are really embracing the siesta! Sun hoodies, sunscreen, and electrolytes are our best friends. We dunk our bandanas in streams and tie them around our necks, Stretch went for a swim even though the water wasn’t even cold, and we are playing a new game: pointing out a tree somewhere in front of us and stating that will be the spot we take a break. 
  2. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Section hiking has a ton of perks, but a big challenge is getting to remote parts of the trail to get started.  On July 2, we flew to LAX, rented a car, picked up fuel, drove 2.5 hours to Bakersfield, dropped off the car at the airport, took an Uber to a hotel, and stayed overnight. The next morning we took a bus at 7:30am to Lake Isabella, waited two hours in a parking lot playing cards and eating snacks, then took another bus to the trailhead. Thank goodness everything worked out, but that was a whole day before the hiking day even started! Then we hiked 12.5 miles in the dead of the afternoon sun.
  3. New landscapes: Joshua trees! Cacti! These gorgeous burnt purple flowers. We have never seen a Joshua tree in person before and couldn’t believe we saw one right off the bat within the first mile of hiking. The desert is not our favorite landscape, but it has diverse, beautiful and surprisingly lush flora. 
  4. Highs and lows: in the span of an hour we felt so overwhelmingly hot, then so joyful to get a hitch to Kennedy Meadows, then so disappointed when we found out our resupply box hadn’t gotten there. We ate burgers and fries, drank 3 cold bevies, and figured out our game plan if our box didn’t arrive. Do we wait? Spend money and resupply and waste that box? That convo happened over the food and Gatorade we had been dreaming of all day. As per usual, backpacking has so many ups and downs, sometimes at the same time. 
  5. Body scan: we are both really feeling the weight of our packs. Those bear vaults (required for the next section) add a couple pounds and wow our bodies are sore. We like backpacking, right?! 😅 And the heat and elevation have been so depleting that we are mainly feeling the effects of that. We both have some headaches. But our legs feel strong so it’s just a matter of getting through this heat wave, acclimatizing, and letting our bodies get used to the packs.  Then hopefully we will be good!
  6. Books this section: A Farewell to Arms (both), We’ll Always Have Summer (Lotus, don’t judge, I need a mindless YA novel sometimes), and The Dawn of a Mindful Universe (Stretch, going deep in thought)

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