How We Came to be in Kings Canyon
July 10, 2006
The streets of LA were dark and empty as I rode from the airport on a shuttle bus, heading toward a rental car agency and a reunion with Birdie. I last saw her in the winter of 2004 at an Ice Age Trail get together in Wisconsin. I recognized her old, beat pack before her, though she had changed little in the two and half years. The pack was even rattier than before, complete with a new layer of duck tape holding parts of it together. The pack used to be purple. Now it was brown. It had been too long.
In the wintertime we had hatched plans for a trek in the wilds of the United States, though neither of us wanted to commit to something too terribly long. The Pacific Northwest Trail was axed due to being too long. Birdie had already hiked the Colorado Trail. The John Muir Trail was the right length, but both of us had already hiked most of it during our Pacific Crest Trail thruhike. We finally settled on an obscure route through the Sierra Nevada, mostly off trail, called the Sierra High Route. I knew little about it and there were few resources on the web. Perfect. Winter had turned to Spring and Spring to Summer in the Pacific Northwest and our departure date seemed to sneak up upon both of us.
The hyrbid that we had rented carried us out of the LA megaplex where Birdie's sister lived and into the brown, hot desert. We were heading for Bakersfield where Ishmael was going to meet us. Neither of us had hiked with him before and we knew him only by reputation. Both Birdie and Ismael are Triple Crowners, with thruhikes of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Both of them had also hiked the Great Divide Trail the year after I had, though they never linked up on that isolated trek. Ishmael lived most of the year in Pennsylvania in a small town that holds a section of the Appalachian Trail. However, he spends most summers in the West, going to festivals and hiking around the magnificent land stretching from the Rockies to the Pacific. A friend of his lived in Carson City and had ridden down with him to Bakersfield.
We found Ishmael and his friend in the parking lot of a Trader Joes relaxing in the shade and the four of us squeezed into the hybrid for the run to Kings Canyon National Park. Ishmael's friend would drive the van back to Carson City, where we would retrieve it, somehow, in three weeks. The Sierra High Route begins at Road's End in Kings Canyon, far from any public transport. Birdie's sister would drive the rental back to LA and the three of us would then hike approximately 200 miles north to Twin Lakes, northeast of Yosemite.
The approach to Kings Canyon isn't an amazing one, for it isn't possible to see the mountains through the thick pollution of the Central Valley, and once you get close the low foothills block the higher mountains. Winding high into the forested foothills, the hybrid brought us into the park, where we found that the ranger station that issued permits was closed, and that the campsite where we were going to stay the night was six miles away. Something, we figured was going to work out.
Birdie's sister deposited us at the campground and then returned to LA to study for a final exam that she had to take in a few days. Armed with a watermelon, we went in search of a ride to the trailhead in the morning, though we didn't have to go far. Ishmael approached a retired couple in the campsite next to us, used an offer of watermelon as a way to get the conversation rolling, and quickly got us a ride at 7 am the next morning. It was good to travel with experienced hikers.
Our one chore for the day done, we spent the evening try to get to know each other and what the others expected of the hike. How early did each of us like to start? Breaks? Dinners? Campsites? We quickly found that all of us kept to about the same sort of schedule. Birdie and I had hiked most of California, a small part of Oregon, and about forty percent of Washington together. Maybe 1800 miles total. There would be no problems there and Ishmael seemed very willing to go along with what we wanted to do. Although I thought I might have difficulty sleeping, it was not hard to close my eyes and relax into dreamland. I wasn't setting out on a difficulty trip alone. The three of us had probably 25,000 miles of hiking experience between us, and the collective strength gave me a feeling of confidence for the pathless future ahead.