Friday, August 10, 2018

Photo Friday: Shepherd Pass

I'm finally ready to start my trip report on our recent backpacking extravaganza, 9 days into the Kaweah Basin in Sequoia National Park.

The trip really began back in 2015, when my husband, Eldest Son, and I backpacked out of Mineral King in Sequoia NP. Midway down that trip report is a picture of the Kaweah Peaks, one jagged and intriguing crest. I'm not sure how we got from "those are impressive peaks" to "I hear there's an amazing basin on the other side of those peaks," but we did, and found a couple of on-line accounts of accessing the (trail-less) basin. Thus was a plan begun, but until this summer we didn't have the two-week time block we needed to acclimatize and tackle what we would want to do as a 9-10 day trip.

Fast-forward to July, 2018. My husband retired, I quit work, and we had the time to train and to do the trip right. I shared some of our acclimatization activities here. Now we had 10 days food, and a plan to enter the Sierra via Shepherd Pass (out of Independence, CA, in the Owens Valley), cross the crest, drop down to the Kern River, and climb back up to the Kaweah Basin from the east. That approach, while long and involving some off-trail route-finding, doesn't involve finding a route across the jagged Kaweah Crest, which was a good thing.

Ten days' food is a lot (I got it to a hair over 1.5 lbs/person/day, so you can do the math). Because of that, our trip actually began 3 days before our start date when we loaded up most of our gear, hauled it 6 1/2 miles into the mountains, and cached it. Thanks to that effort (which was also good training!), when we started at sunrise on July 17 our packs were small. That was nice, because the first day's hike to camp was 8 1/2 miles, with 4400' of climbing (and about 500' of descending as you pass from one creek drainage to another). The final mile or two, after we collected our gear, told us how hard it would have been to have carried everything the whole way--we estimate that for those 2 miles pack weights were 40 lbs or more. Once upon a time, that was normal, but we aren't in our 20s anymore.

Day 1-1 1/2: Trailhead to Shepherd Pass (national park boundary)

We camped at the trailhead, putting ourselves in position to start our hike almost as soon as the sun was up. I'm ready to hit the trail at 6:30 a.m., hoping to beat the (not insignificant) heat.
Nice little pack to start a long trip!
On both our earlier gear-haul and the first day of the trip we took advantage of the final creek crossing (before beginning a 2000'+ climb out of Symes Creek) to fill our hats as well as our water bags with cold water.

The climb was long and grueling, but long views and near alike helped make it feel like an outing rather than a slog.
Blazing star. Apparently one of several wildflowers with that name!
High above the Owens Valley, which was already showing signs of smoke impacts from assorted CA wildfires. Happily, we were never affected by any of the smoke.

Thanks to some extra stops it took us until lunchtime to cross the divide from Symes Creek to Shepherd Creek. Now we can see where we're going, though the pass is out of sight around to the left.
Wait--we have to go up *there*??
The climb took most of the day, what with the extras (including time to pick up, sort, and pack the rest of our gear several hundred feet below "Anvil Camp," one of only 2 or maybe 3 camping places along the 10-mile, 6000' climb to the pass). Always nice after a hike like that to have a hearty dinner. I put in the work at home, and in camp my cooking is purely of the "add water" variety. In this case, also "add salmon." Thanks to Teresa Dicentra Black for her fantastic cookbooks!
The Amazon mailing bag is my "cozy" for keeping meals hot while they rehydrate.
Camp felt like we were perched at the top of the world, but the next morning we kept going up.
Dave, making his way past tree line.
And higher!

Finally seeing the pass. We know we have to cross the top of that snowfield, and we've heard stories.

Apologies to the squeamish for the next photo. I'll leave it small so you don't have to see too much. Last  November an unusually heavy early snowstorm caught deer herds on the wrong side of the Sierra crest (they graze well into the mountains in summer, but winter in the Owens Valley). It dumped a lot of snow and ice, and when the deer tried to cross the pass many fell to their deaths. The evidence remains at the base of the more or less permanent snowfield. Assorted predators and scavengers have reduced the evidence pretty much to bones and hair.
Grim reminder that steep snowfields can have real dangers.
And, of course, we had to cross the snowfield. We'd been hearing from hikers coming down, with opinions ranging from "scary" and "kinda sketchy" to "no problem." We expected to find it somewhere in between, but by the time we got there the snow was soft in the mid-day sun, and though we stepped carefully it felt safe.
We reached the pass in time for lunch, and launched ourselves into the Park. For the record, when we got our wilderness permit, they issued two--one for the National Forest (east of the pass) and one for the National Park (west of the divide), but we were able to get both at the same place (the Bishop Ranger Station).

Lunch was sometimes crackers and peanut butter, with other munchies, and sometimes hearty main-dish salads I'd made and dried at home, then rehydrated in my pack all morning. Those proved to be really tasty and filling, and I'll be doing more of them! Either way, we got mixed nuts for trail snacks, and chocolate to top off our lunch.
Juice and a taste of carrot-raisin salad, and chocolate. Always must have chocolate!
 Watch this space on Fridays for the rest of the trip--the scenery just gets better.
Shepherd Pass, looking west toward our goal--at the base of the dark jagged peaks on the far left, far distance.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. Wow. You are one seriously impressive adventurer.
    You'd think Amazon would pay for the product placement, wouldn't you?
    I think some instruction on making the trail food at home would be interesting in a future post. How to dry the meals, and what works in them, what doesn't.
    Looking forward to the next episode :)

    1. Funny you should mention that about the trail food--we made some rather bad videos, talking about that. Most of the serious backpacking community knows, of course, but there are always new people, so there's always an audience :) Others have probably done it better than I can, though.

  2. Hi Rebecca - I'd be interested in your basic recipe ideas ... but what an amazing hike along the trail you had ... yes, I'd never do that ... but do admire those who are able to walk and camp those distances. Incredible and I loved the read - thank you ... cheers Hilary

    1. Thanks, Hilary! Maybe I will do some posts on backpacking recipes. Many of them are good for picnics and camping trips, and some might give ideas for quick home meals (without all the drying and rehydrating :) ).

      We were kind of excited at our ability to hike the distances, even if our days were very short compared to the people through-hiking the long trails (the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, etc.).

  3. What an incredible journey! Looking forward to seeing your next adventure. And that salmon dish looks pretty scrumptious - what a great idea for good trail food.

    1. I think that was ramen noodles (I found some great brown rice, non-fried ramen noodles at Costco, of all places!), cheddar-broccoli soup mix, freeze-dried corn, and the salmon. It was yummy. Most of the camp food is more salty than I'd make or eat at home, but out there we tend to need it.

  4. My boss is currently on a canoe portage in Canada. He plans out the meals and most are the add water kind especially for dinner, sometimes they have pb&j too. Your "hearty meal looks quite tasty.

    Thank you for sharing your hiking photos! The trip looks wonderful.


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