Kearsarge Pass and a Tale of Overcoming

Last weekend, I accomplished a great achievement and hiked to Kearsarge Pass via the Onion Valley Trailhead. This wasn’t my first time up to the pass, but it’s a big victory to me because it was my first hike above 11,000 feet in almost three years. I had hiked to this pass several times, but this was the most special for me because it was a comeback of sorts.

The group’s goal was to hike to Bullfrog Lake and back, but my goal was to just do the pass, which was quite a feat by itself. I backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop a few years ago, so I didn’t feel I was missing much of the backcountry scenery. My thing was, I didn’t want to tire myself out by having to go over Kearsarge Pass twice. Since the group went beyond the pass, I took my time on the way back and stopped at Heart Lake, then revisited Flower Lake and one of the waterfalls.

The group at the trailhead.

Wild onion.

A gorgeous waterfall just off the trail before Gilbert Lake.

Gilbert Lake.

While listening to my boots grinding rock and dirt underfoot, I couldn’t help but remember lying in that hospital bed, having been diagnosed with a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), frightened, thinking the worst and wondering if I’d ever hike again. The whole situation came out of nowhere.

Just a couple of weeks prior to my hospitalization, I was a healthy (albeit overweight) 38-year-old going about my adventures, traipsing across the Sierra, leading and inspiring others along the way. Then, I got blindsided and taken out of commission. I couldn’t even finish the last hike of the Sierra series I was leading, and that devastated me because I was really looking forward to closing out the series on a new peak that I had never reached before, Cirque Peak.

Flower Lake.

Heart Lake.

After a brief hiatus, I did start hiking again, but it wasn’t the same as before. I stayed away from high altitude hikes and did hikes that were closer to home and at a lower elevation. It took me a while to work up to doing long distance hikes again. I eventually began dabbling into the high altitude hikes, but only on occasion. The highest elevation I attained post-DVT was Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet.

The final stretch to Kearsarge Pass.

Looking toward Bullfrog Lake and the Kearsarge Lakes from Kearsarge Pass.

The popular rock column at Kearsarge Pass.

A marmot taking in the scenery at Kearsarge Pass.

Looking down at Big Pothole Lake from Kearsarge Pass.

Last year, I mustered the courage to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, which was another big milestone. That gave me the confidence I needed to start pushing again. Gradually, I’ve made my way back to high altitude hiking and I’m feeling pretty good. I’d like to climb Mt. Whitney again, although I’m not sure I have another Whitney in me. Only time, coupled with a season of training, will tell. For the time being, I’ll continue enjoying the great outdoors while reconditioning my body to do what it was made to do. In the near future, I’d like to go and hike to Cirque Peak since the DVT stopped me in 2015.

Kearsarge Pass “summit” selfie.

Sometimes, we get blindsided and are tempted to give up on ourselves. In those dark and uncertain times, we have to look back and remind ourselves of why we started our journey to begin with. It’s always harder to restart something than it is to begin in the first place. The resistance feels even greater. But we have to show that resistance that we are more determined than it is. We have to stand strong and not let fear or trepidation intimidate us. We are more than conquerors.

Hike on!

~J

Trip Report: California’s Mt. Whitney

It was Friday and the end of a busy week when I decided I needed some Sierra therapy. On a whim, I went home after work and packed my stuff to head up the 395 North. Without campsite reservations, I was taking a chance, but I figured that the worst that could happen would be that I’d end up forking over some money for a last minute hotel or sleeping in my car at a campground or trailhead.

I drove to one of my favorite campgrounds in the Sierra, the Cottonwood Lakes Campground at Horseshoe Meadow, and lucked into a walk-in campsite.

The next morning, I woke up, unzipped the door of my tent and immediately recognized two of my friends sitting at a table enjoying breakfast. They were just as surprised to see me as I was them. They were hiking Mt. Whitney the next day and invited me to join them since they had an extra permit.

Why not?

We relocated to Whitney Portal Campground from Horseshoe Meadow (it was more convenient to start closer to the trailhead), and I went to bed before dark. But I didn’t get much sleep because of all the noise and rambunctious kids running around.

At 1:30 the next morning, my boots and me hit the trail. It was a later start than I wanted. I usually prefer to start this trek at midnight to give myself ample time to complete it at a decent hour. The first time I conquered Whitney, it took me 22 hours to do the whole hike. The hike is 22 miles round trip with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and I try to maintain a steady pace of at least one mile per hour. I knew I was going to be pushing it by getting started so late.

I originally wrote this article for the Oboz Footwear Trail Tales Ambassador blog. Read the conclusion of this serendipitous story here: http://obozfootwear.com/trail-tales/trip-report-californias-mt-whitney

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

I posted a silly picture on Instagram that was taken when my friends and I were grocery shopping during our weekend getaway in Mammoth. In the produce section, I noticed a bright yellow sign in front of the bananas that said, “Pick me I’m single.” Being the creative person that I am, I came up with this crazy idea of posing in front of the sign as if it were a dating ad. It was all fun and games and my friends tend to bring that out in me. We even had the produce attendant cracking up as the silliness was contagious.

Shortly after we left that section, I went to grab a couple of 1-gallon jugs of water. Of course, the ones I wanted were on the top shelf. Not only that, they were at the very back of the top shelf. I was able to grab one jug, but struggled with the second one for about a minute. I was determined to get that jug of water and was about to climb on the shelf (I like climbing stuff) when I felt someone behind me. My normal reaction is to move away because of personal space preferences, but this time, I stood my ground.

Next, I heard a man’s voice asking if I needed help, so I turned around and sheepishly said yes. The man reached up and grabbed the jug with no problem at all and I thanked him for the assistance. Normally, I would have just said I was okay and didn’t need any help, even though I clearly did. I let myself be vulnerable for once and it was all good.

People often ask where all the “cowboys” have gone and I am guilty of having posed that question myself. The reality is that they haven’t gone anywhere. They are all around us. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to appreciate the decency of a kind gesture. I’m learning and growing. In the words of Steve Harvey, “God ain’t through with me yet!”

Check back for more tales from my weekend in Mammoth including a walk through a tufa wonderland, my battle with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and a journey into a volcanic crater!

Happy trails!

~J

Tales of a Vagabond

The Inconsolable Range is a small subrange in the area north of the Palisades and situated just outside Kings Canyon National Park. Within that range of inconsolable peaks, Cloudripper beams above all, standing tall and magnificent at an elevation of 13,525 ft.

In this latest episode of “Tales of the Trails,” I set off on a solo adventure toward the majestic Cloudripper Peak in the California Eastern Sierra.  Was I successful on my maiden voyage to this boulder-laden peak?  And what sort of tale(s) did I find myself in?

Watch and enjoy!