At least I didn't have to struggle about whether to spend extra time in the high sierras or continue on up Highway 395. If I can get my butt up and out of this sleeping bag, I should be in Lone Pine this morning. Lone Pine is the only trail town along 395 that I stayed in during my thruhike in 2005. I know where the public showers are, the laundry, the library, the chamber visitors center, etc.
I am drinking coffee now, still snug in my sleeping bag... ahhhhh! I slept like the dead last night, which is surprising to me given my level of activity yesterday (read that to mean none)... but I guess the heat can really zap you, and even up here at a higher altitude, it was definitely a scorcher.
Well today was spectacular! Oh the places I've been and the things that I have seen. It is really hard to believe that it was just this morning that I was camped on the Kern River! The town of Kernville really is charming. Very well kept and tidy. As I drove thru at 7am, nothing was open to explore, but the town definitely warrants further research. As I drove around the far side of Lake Isabella, the morning light was magical. I really really really should have pulled off to take some pictures, but I had the morning commute on my butt (all 5 cars) and there were no pull outs on my side of the road. I regret not doing that now... heck, I regretted not doing it at the time.
The drive to Lone Pine was very nice. Highway 395 takes the low path through the valley floor, but rising up on either side are quite impressive mountain ranges. As the Sierras got closer and closer, the level of my excitement and emotion built as well. I get teary now just thinking of the love I have for these hills. As soon as I arrived in Lone Pine, I headed out on movie film road to try and find and photograph the famous Lone Pine arch. The time of day and lighting were not ideal, but I think I got some pretty good shots anyhow.
Next I drove up to Whitney Portal which is the launch site for Mt. Whitney attempts from the Lone Pine side. Mt. Whitney at 14,495 feet above sea level, is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. I had always wondered what the Portal was like, as I summitted Whitney from the other side. I will say that Whitney looks pretty damned impressive from the east side... so rugged... the jagged spires rising into the sky appearing to be totally impenetrable. Needless to say, I took many photos on the way up the winding mountain road. Whitney Portal itself is not how I imagined it at all. I pictured a wind scrubbed boulder field with a bare parking lot and a fortress of a store, but Whitney Portal is actually tucked in a grove of thick pine trees, with a stream and a little fish pond just in front of the store. In fact, the trees are so thick that you have absolutely no views of the summit whatsoever. It's really funny how you can have an idea in your mind of what something will be like, and once you see it you find that you are totally wrong. The place was completely overrun by stellar jays... really gorgeous birds with brilliant blue plumage... I came away with some pretty fun photos.
The next town on my itinerary was Independence, population 500+. It was a cute little town and although it is considerably smaller than Lone Pine, it seems that the properties are better kept. Some of the properties in Lone Pine are just total junk heaps. The homes and yards in Independence were mostly nice and well cared for. I took another long and winding mountain drive up to Onion Valley and the trailhead for Kearsarge Pass, which intersects with the JMT and PCT up top. I was the only person there, and after I took a little stoll up the trail aways, I struggled with wanting to just drop everything, grab my backpack, and head all the way up. It is really frustrating to me that the people in my life don't understand this "call of the wild" that I feel. I know my parents and even my boyfriend to some degree just think I am irresponsible. I should just settle down, work everyday, buy a bunch of crap that I don't want or need, and live happily ever after. Ugggggh! The only reason I can even justify hanging out in town and being a slave to the man, is so that I can save more money to spend more time on the trail. Maybe this will change for me someday... I had no idea when I got off the trail in 05 that the pull to go back would be so strong.
Back down into the lowlands once again, as I traveled through the booming metropolis of Big Pine which is really just a wide spot in the road (ok... I exaggerate a little), I spied a sign pointing east which said, "Ancient Bristlecone Forest 24 miles" As if on auto pilot, the car swerved right, and we were off (me and the car,that is) I had seen the bristlecone forest on the map and thought it was a hundred miles or so off of 395... now 24 miles... that is doable!
The hiway to get there was one of the narrowest, windiest, steepest mountain roads yet, climbing from just over 3,000 feet to up above 10,000 feet. I didn't make it to the visitors center, but rather, parked in a pullout just inside the boundary of the forest. Camera in hand, I dutifully trudged up the hillside to try to capture photographically what nature has spent hundreds if not thousands of years creating.
I swear it was the first big tree I saw... I walked up to its base to get a wide angle shot looking up into its colorful and contorted branches, when I notice just a few feet away, a fat marmot poking his head out of a hole beneath the trees roots. I got some great shots of both the tree and the marmot... one where he looks like he is going to attack, with his mouth wide open and showing fangs. (In reality, I think he was just yawning, but it is an awesome shot!) There was an amazing vantage point that gave amazing views into the high sierras... a bit far away to get a good photo though.
Back down the hill I go.... headed toward Bishop, to get some fuel (both for me and the car) and then on to the Green Church hotsprings to camp for the night. I've been hearing about the Green Church hotsprings ever since my PCT hike. It is supposed to be one of the best around, and it is a local hangout and not advertised.... just turn at the Green Church. Allegedly, you could get a campsite with your own private hottub for $10 a night.
In Bishop, I grabbed a quick bite, and drove thru town...keeping an eye out for the green church. I gassed up the car, and asked the attendant if he knew where it was, and he said, oh yeah, that is near Lake Crowley, (which is just a bit north of town) but, they had to close down in June of last year, apparently there had been some type of geothermal event and a couple of skiers were killed.
Ok.... plan B, so Mr. Gas station attendant, is there a road that will take me up into the sierras to camp for the night? He was very helpful, and I am now camped on the bank of Bishop Creek at 8500 feet... I will say that it was unbearably hot down below, and here, I am wearing my down jacket and a hat.
There were two campsites higher on the map, and after a perilous mountain drive, I discovered them to be closed. So damned frustrating!!!!!
Well, tomorrow, I will head into Mammoth Lakes.... I'm having fun.