Kearsarge Pass to Vidette Meadow: Summer Sierra Trip Report Part 1

Climbing to Kearsarge Pass
Climbing to Kearsarge Pass

After missing my week in the Sierra last year due to injury, I couldn’t wait to get on the trail this year! The plan was to hike in over Kearsarge Pass and head south along the John Muir Trail, then off-trail to explore Wright Lakes Basin and the 14ers of the Shepherd Pass region (Tyndall and Williamson).

We drove out on Friday night and met up with Pavla at Whoa Nellie. Then we headed south to a decent campsite about a mile off of 395 that would get us some sleep above 7k to help with acclimation. In the morning we headed south to Bishop to fuel up at Jack’s with a big breakfast, then picked up our permit after the White Mountain Ranger District office opened at 8 am.

A couple more stops delayed us a bit, most important was Pavla’s search for packets of spam singles. They weren’t at her normal spot but the Bishop K-Mart delivered! David also picked up a pair of socks at Wilsons. Finally we were on our way to the trailhead at Onion Valley.

Unloading at our primo parking spots in Onion Valley
Unloading at our primo parking spots in Onion Valley

The drive up to Onion Valley went quickly, and as we approached the trailhead people were parked on the side of the road. It was a busy saturday morning in summer at 10:30 am so I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was getting the two primo parking spots right at the trailhead! I was just planning on turning around up there, but I was glad to be able to leave my car in a good spot since we would be out a week.

This is what 43 lbs looks like. Including 9 days of food, 2.5 L of water, tons of electronic doodads, helmet, and fishing gear.
This is what 43 lbs looks like. Including 9 days of food, 2.5 L of water, tons of electronic doodads, helmet, and fishing gear.

After some prep and pack weighing (43 lbs, ugh, you think I’d know better but nooooo, I had to bring all my electronic doodads), we took off down the trail. About 1/2 a mile up the trail Pavla suddenly stopped. The Spam that she had so carefully searched for was still sitting in her car back at the trailhead. She forgot to add it to her pack. She dropped her pack on the trail and hurried back to the car to grab the spam. I’m not sure what motivated her more, the fact that she loves spam so much on the trail, or the potential of bears getting into her car!

She was back in a jiffy and we saddled up again (ugh, still heavy) and started up the trail to Kearsarge Pass.

Heart Lake
Heart Lake

I think that Kearsarge Pass is probably the easiest east side access trail. It is well graded most of the way and climbs about 2600 ft in the five miles to the pass at ~11,800 ft. Being easier than other passes doesn’t necessarily make it actually easy, especially when coming from sea level and carrying a heavy pack, but I’ll take it over most other passes! Classic Sierra scenery makes the hike even more enjoyable.

I take a picture of this tree every time I hike Kearsarge Pass. I think everyone does.
I take a picture of this tree every time I hike Kearsarge Pass. I think everyone does.
Line of hikers approaching Kearsarge Pass
Line of hikers approaching Kearsarge Pass

The view on the other side of Kearsarge is also a stunner. That’s another reason I love this trail – there is no messing around down low, it spits you out right into the gorgeous high country of the Sierra. Kearsarge Lakes, a popular overnight destination, are scattered below but we’re passing by them in favor of getting in some more miles.

Kearsarge Pass
Kearsarge Pass
Kearsarge Lakes - the view to the west from the pass
Kearsarge Lakes – the view to the west from the pass

David, the mountain goat, was way ahead of us and stopped to fish Bullfrog Lake while we caught up. There was some good fishing there, according to him, but it’s not a place to camp – it’s closed to camping for restoration purposes, I suppose.

Resting and fishing at Bullfrog Lake
Resting and fishing at Bullfrog Lake

Shortly past Bullfrog Lake the trail connects with my old friend, the John Muir Trail. We turn south and start down the switchbacks to Bubbs Creek and the Vidette Meadow area. Along the way I get to enjoy one of my favorite JMT views:

East Vidette Peak over Bubbs Creek
East Vidette Peak over Bubbs Creek

Camping in Vidette is not the best of Sierra backcountry experiences, but there are lots of options. We specifically chose a spot away from one of the several bear boxes scattered throughout the valley since that’s where most people (and bears) go. Stumbling into camp after a long and exhausting day, I was pleased to see our own private waterfall and view of East Vidette. We crashed hard that night, hoping to restore some energy for the climb over Forester we had planned for the next day.

Private Waterfall in Vidette
Private Waterfall in Vidette

Coming next: hiking over Forester Pass and finding some solitude along the JMT.

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Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +