9 May 2021
Chimney Creek Camp to Kennedy Meadows
PCT Mile 681.1 to 702.2
Today was dumb. One of the reasons I hiked so hard yesterday is that I had this image in my head of walking into the front gates at the Kennedy Meadows Store in the afternoon and all my friends would be there. They would clap, and then I would buy them all a beer.
That’s not what happened.
At least the day started well. Before dawn I was up and out and by sunrise I was at my first water source for the day.
It was a bit of a hot climb in the morning as the trail ascended into a burn zone. Fortunately, the rest of the way was downhill after that. And even better, I got some great views of the Sierra from the top!
At my next water source, Manter Creek, I caught up with Teresa and Monte. We chatted for a while and then hiked together as the trail flattened out into Kennedy Meadows.
It was wild to see the South Fork Kern River. We’ve been in the desert sooooo long, it was hard to imagine we would see that much water ever again! Even though we were all in a hurry for town day, we stopped to take a dip.
Shortly after we hit a big milestone.
And then there was a lot of confusion about where to go next. Traditionally everyone went to the Kennedy Meadows General Store, but now there is another place called Grumpy Bear’s that is an alternative. The new place has been doing aggressive marketing, including a sign on trail over 20 miles back!
Both offer showers, laundry, WiFi, and free camping.
The General Store is just a mile off trail, while Grumpy Bear’s is 3 miles away. But the new place runs a shuttle to a spot 0.3 miles off trail and also take hikers back and forth to the store.
To make things even more confusing, there are two competing seasonal gear shops, one set up at each location. And even weirder, a rumor was circulating on trail that the gear shop by Grumpy Bear’s got so upset with some hikers that they threatened to call the Forest Service to shut down the free camping there.
So Monte and Teresa were headed to Grumpy Bear’s to meet Teresa’s husband and they pleaded with me to do the same.
But I had that scene at the General Store in my head….
So we parted ways at their 0.3 mile turnoff spot and I soldiered on the last two miles to my own destination.
At the road I stuck my thumb out for a ride, but the three aggressively-styled pick up trucks that passed slowed not one bit (what I needed was a Subaru!).
That last mile was hot and uphill and long. But I had visions of friends in my head.
And indeed, Buttons and Sugarfoot were there. But no one clapped because they had one foot out the door. Just moments after I arrived, they piled into the shuttle van headed for Grumpy Bear’s.
I didn’t join them because I had already ordered a cheeseburger from the grill from the one woman who did clap when she saw me. After giving me a sticker, she promptly took my money for the order.
While I waited I felt confused and alone. Don’t get me wrong, I swallowed the burger, but my physical satiation only heightened my sense of loss.
On the bright side, a Boy Scout troop was there and they were very curious about my journey. I told them some stories and they took turns lifting my ultralight pack and complaining about how heavy theirs had been on the overnight trip they had just done.
Afterward I set up my tent in the free camping area, and still seeing no thru-hikers, I hitched a ride to Grumpy Bear’s.
I did find my friends there, but I was so discombobulated I had a hard time enjoying myself. Many of them are going to take one or more days off at Grumpy’s to rest for the Sierra, but I can’t do that because my plan has always been to go to Lone Pine for my time off. That’s where I asked Half Cookie to mail my bear can and ice axe.
To make matters worse, several people I like are ending their hike here. I began to feel very, very homesick.
I went to call Half Cookie, but the screen to pay for WiFi was so lengthy and confusing I gave up. Fortunately, one of the hikers knew a back door password, and I was able to use that to call her. It was really good to hear her voice.
Rather than lingering here at Kennedy Meadows, I decided to head out first thing in the morning. But I had no food and the store would be closed by the time I got back! Fortunately, the outfitter by Grumpy Bear’s also sells food so I resupplied there. Then Button and I got a ride back to the store with Sugarfoot’s friends who have come to camp with him for his last night.
Button and I were going to recharge our electronics when we got back tonight, but the store shuts off the power at 5, including to the shower, laundry, and bathroom.
And just to add flavor to all the ramshackle buildings that contain all these unavailable amenities, a wild pack of dogs greeted us on our way up to our tents. I wonder how they will react to a headlamp in the middle of the night….
Good thing I have a pee bottle to survive this hillbilly hell!
As I write this, I feel so low. This is probably my second worst day on trip, only a little better than Tylerhorse Canyon. I know it’s partly because I pushed so hard to get here and I’m exhausted. It’s partly because of my dumb expectations. And three beers probably just dehydrated me and made me maudlin.
Fortunately, Josh is here. He’s a section hiker who camped next to me last night at Chimney Creek, and he has the same plan as me to get down to Lone Pine by Wednesday. We agreed to hike together tomorrow. I hope that that — and some sleep — helps!
I was expecting
A warm reunion with friends
But they weren’t there