Great Western Loop: 178 - 181: Kennedy Meadows (North) to Mammoth Lakes
Day 178: Sonora Pass (27miles)
The night at Kennedy Meadows Resort was cold. The building I slept in had no heating and temperatures were below zero.
The 10mile road from the resort back to the trail was very winded and narrow and so I happily accepted a ride up to the pass.
The climb just after Sonora Pass brought back a lot of memories. In 2018 I couldn't find the trail down the mountain and therefore decided to glissade down a frozen waterfall. This time I had no snow and enjoyed the views from the ridge.
(I came along the ridge on the right-hand side of the picture)
On my way down from the ridge I met the first hikers in more than a week. We briefly talked about the current trail conditions and than parted.
Throughout the day I felt that I had just come from sea level, as I had problems catching my breath on just below 11,000ft.
After several up's and down's I crossed Dorothy Lake Pass and the tentsite I had used 3 years ago. So far I had been lucky, the day was gorgeous and the air quality perfect. This however would change drastically in the upcoming days.
Day 179: Benson Pass (30miles)
Waking up on my second day in the Sierra, I realised that the water in all of my bottles was frozen. Luckily the performance of my water filter was not affected.
The day presented a lot of smaller climbs of some 500-1000ft each, until it culminated in a final climb of 3,000ft over Benson Pass. That climb was extremely steep and rough. In contrast to the climbs in Washington, the terrain here in the Sierra is more rugged and requires a lot more effort. The trail oftentimes isn't as smooth and you have to take many steps and walk over loose rocks and gravel.
What really stuck to mind is the difference of water levels now and back in 2018. The climb to Benson Pass started at Kerrick Creek, which was almost dry this year. In May 2018 it was a raging river and I was really scared of falling into it, while hiking over a slanted and icy trail just next to the stream.
(Dry Kerrick Creek. In 2018 this section was very narrow and slanted due to massive amounts of snow)
At the end of the day I was extremely exhausted. Not being used to the altitude anymore and climbing over 14,000ft (7,000ft up, 7,000ft down) really made me struggle. In addition to that, smoke rolled in and made it even harder to breathe, as I had to use my buff to cover mouth and nose.
(View from Benson Pass, smoke had rolled in. My camera automatically makes the sky look quite blue, so it doesn't really show how smokey it actually was)
Day 180: Tuolumne Meadows (31miles)
Day 3 in the Sierra presented a nice break from rough climbs. After some initial climbs of 3,000ft in the morning, the trail dropped to the Tuolumne Falls and the flat Tuolumne Meadow, which I followed until the end of the day.
Toulumne Meadows is part of the Yosemite National Park and so I wasn't suprised to see a lot of dayhikers throughout the day. I even passed some John Muir Trail hikers, who couldn't keep up with me, even though I felt tired.
Just after visiting the Tuolumne Falls the wind started to change significantly. Smoke rolled in from the 5 (!) big fires just west of the PCT. For most of the afternoon visibility and air quality were rather bad.
(Sun almost didn't break through the smoke. It was rather dark for most of the afternoon. Picture taken just after 4pm on a "sunny" day.)
Along the way I found a rather "funny" note from the Park Rangers. The note said, that a fire had just burned next to the trail and that hikers should be aware of burning stumpholes etc. and not report the fire (again), as it is part of the natural ecosystem.
Day 181: Mammoth Lakes (25miles)
I had stopped the day before just before the 2,000ft climb up to Donahue Pass.
The climb wasn't as bad as expected and clear skies allowed for some great views.
(View from Donahue Pass back to Tuolumne Meadows, from where I climbed up)
By 9am I was already over the pass and continued towards Thousand Island Lake and Pass. In 2018 this area was completely covered in snow and I therefore didn't follow the official trail. Seeing the actual trail and comparing it to my 2018 route was quite interesting.
I pushed hard for most of the day. My plan was reaching the Devil's Postpile National Monument before the park closes, to get a hitch from there into Mammoth Lakes.
At 3:30pm I arrived at the Monument. The area had recently been on fire and when I got there I didn't see any people at first. My hopes of getting into town dropped, but then suddenly I was surrounded by a lot of visitors. I got a ride from the 2nd car that passed me. It was a family of 4 and so I had to ride on the bed of the Truck, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately the smoke was really bad in the valley and so I didn't get any views.
(Devil's Postpile National Monument)