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

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Of Trails and Sunsets

This was my first hike to lead since mid-August and it went very well. We hiked the 10-mile Sycamore Canyon Loop at Pt. Mugu State Park near Malibu and ended our beautiful day watching the sunset on the shores of the Pacific Ocean after a feast at Malibu Seafood.

I led this same hike three years ago for a team I organized to train to conquer Mt. Whitney. This was our inaugural hike in the training series. It’s a good hike for those who aren’t used to hiking long distances in that it begins at sea level and is pretty flat for the first few miles until is begins the 700-foot plus ascent to a breathtaking overlook of the ocean. For that reason, I knew it would be a good re-introduction to long distance hiking for me after my injury.

Our hike took us through a peaceful wooded canyon on relatively flat terrain initially, which provided a great warmup for us, as well as a chance to get to know some new friends. It was a pleasure having “Don Viejo” along on the journey. Now at 88 years young, he is quite a trooper and an inspiration to all of us.

After meandering through the canyon, we took a turn to the south, where the real hiking began as we ascended a fairly steep but well-graded path to a junction that provided access to nearby LaJolla Canyon, which is also a gem.

My friends, Danielle, Jeanette and I took our time on the steeper segment and just enjoyed the views around us. We were shocked when we saw Don (who had gone ahead) hiking downhill toward us and told him he was going the wrong way. He said he came to check on us to make sure we were alright. What a gentleman. He had already made it to the junction, backtracked downhill to check on us, and then went back uphill with us. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

Don told us that there was a bench up ahead from where he had just come, which motivated us to get up the hill. However, we didn’t see that bench until about 2 miles later. But when we did, it was a great opportunity for me to take my boot off and rest my foot, which still sometimes swells up due to the effects of the DVT in my calf that continues to heal.

My Low Rise Trail Socks from Minus 33 were an excellent choice  for the day. Made of merino wool, these socks are comfortable, lightweight, and built to go the distance. Not only was there no swelling in my foot, but I also had no blisters or hot spots due to the full cushion of the socks. They were perfect for the 85-degree weather we experienced.

Minus 33 Low Rise Trail Sock

Minus 33 Low Rise Trail Sock

The Minus 33 Low Rise Trail Sock is thin and lightweight, but durable, providing me with great comfort over all 10 miles of this trek. Although there are other more expensive socks on the market, for half the cost, the Minus 33 Low Rise Trail Socks are solid performers. These will be my go-to socks from now on.

After taking in the beautiful ocean views at a popular overlook, we descended back down into the canyon and went to Malibu Seafood for a sunset dinner. After that, we followed a short path leading us through a tunnel that provided direct access to the beach. It was an unusually warm evening, so we were able to play in the waves a bit without freezing our little toes.

It was a fabulous day all around.

Happy Trails! 🙂