Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kennedy Meadows Redux

Unable to attend the AZDPCTKO (the "Annual Zero Day PCT Kick Off") at Lake Moreno this year, Sierra and I decided to return to the PCT for a backpack trip instead.  We headed to Kennedy Meadows (south), the unofficial start of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Having only passed through Kennedy Meadows on foot, we were blissfully unaware of how long and windy the drive would be.  But we were both happy to be back in the mountains with open trail ahead of us.  Less than ten paces down the trail Sierra exclaimed, "I'm home!"

Traipsing down the trail we enjoyed reminiscing about our 2012 PCT thru-hike.  We stopped to sniff the Jeffrey pine trees ("Mmmm, smells like vanilla and butterscotch!"), to remember hikers we met along the way, and to compare conditions.  We both kept commenting on how dry it is this year.  The pleasant creek that usually parallels the trail as it climbs to Beck Meadows was bone dry in places and reduced to a mere trickle in others.  Even the South Fork of the Kern was reduced to a shallow, meandering creek.

Most thru-hikers leave Kennedy Meadows in mid-June, a time the mountains are considered "passable" (by thru-hiker standards) in a typical year.  A few hardy souls will leave earlier, especially in a dry year like this one.  But we did not expect to encounter any thru-hikers in late April, when most hikers were just starting the trail at the Mexican border.  In fact, we hiked for several miles without encountering a single soul.  And then, all at once, we saw two.

Paul, a 66 year old thru-hiker who started at the Mexican border on March 22, may be one of the first PCT thru-hikers to leave Kennedy Meadows this year.  We met Paul leaning up against a rock, gratefully accepting a bottle of water from a local day hiker.  The four of us lamented the lack of water and swapped stories before continuing up the trail.

Our favorite memory of the our hike out of Kennedy Meadows is laying in a grassy meadow watching the swallows swooping in and out from under the second bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Kern.  We selected our destination in part due to our somewhat unrealistic hope that we would see the swallows again.  I knew that it was probably too early for the swallows to have returned.  Paul warned me that it was probably too early for the swallows to have returned.  And we both warned Sierra that it was probably too early for the swallows to have returned.  Nevertheless, we could not help feeling a bit disappointed when, upon reaching the bridge, there was not a single swallow in sight.

Surrounded by such natural beauty -- the South Fork of the Kern meandering through a grassy meadow surrounded by pine covered ridges and tall, snow-capped mountains -- it was hard to remain disappointed for long.  We set up a cozy camp in the trees, and began making dinner.  It was then that we discovered the second snafu of our weekend adventure:  no cups or utensils.  We had forgotten them at home.

Stirring with a long, carved stick, we managed to keep our dinner from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Eating it posed a new challenge.  Turning two ziplock bags inside out, we used them as gloves and scooped the pasta out of the shared pot with our hands.  We quickly emptied the pot and turned the bags back right-side-out, zipping the mess inside.

Picking up our newly cleaned pot, we headed back down to the river.  As we approached the bridge, a dark cloud or birds swarmed out from underneath the bridge.  The cloud passed just overhead, then swooped lower, skimming the water in the quest for fresh insects.  The swallows had returned!!!

Awestruck, we stood paralyzed on the grassy riverbank as hundreds of swallows darted in and out of their mud nests under the bridge.  After a few minutes of watching, we laughed and danced with pure joy as the cloud of swallows continued to swirl all around us.  We continued to watch as the last light faded over the meadows and the last of the swallows tucked away into her nest. 

The next morning we sat on the bridge and sipped hot chocolate out of our communal cooking pot.  Warm, golden sun bathed the meadow, melting the white tips of frost that blanketed the grass.  We sat transfixed as hundreds of swallows swooped out from under the bridge, scooped up a quick breakfast, then swooped back to their gourd-like mud nests underneath the bridge.

As hard as it was to tear ourselves away from the swallows, it was harder still to get back on the trail in the "wrong" direction, heading south back to the trailhead instead of heading north to Canada.  Though we were sad to say good-bye to the trail for now, we knew we would be back.  The mountains are our home.

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."  John Muir

1 comment:

  1. How beautiful the imagery and special the time and place when you were actually present for the swallows return. Made me feel right there and thrilled that you and Sierra are engaged in this wonderment! Thanks for sharing. I shall go read the Part 1, now and then Part 2 after having my celebratory cocoa.