For the final part of this trip report, I’m mostly revisiting terrain we crossed our first and second days. But the views are so great that it’s totally worth it! Unfortunately, our idea to climb Mt Williamson didn’t work out as planned. Feeling a bit spooked about the route after chatting with some other climbers and learning that just getting to the base of the peak was 9 hours round trip, we started considering other options.
The next morning, the intended day of our climb, we woke to gusting winds that nearly blew me off my feet, and waiting it out wasn’t working. The wind was picking up and we were well past the window of time where we should have left for Williamson.
So instead we decided to pack up and make it a long day on the trail, working our way back towards Forester Pass and hopefully making it to Kearsarge Lakes for the night. We estimated it to be about an 18 mile day with about 4000 ft of gain, including a 1500 ft climb to cap thins off right at the end. It wasn’t going to be an easy day. Considering we were already getting a late start due to our attempts to wait out the wind, I wasn’t completely confident we’d make it to Kearsarge Lakes that night. But we hoped to in order to meet up with some friends we thought might be staying there that night.
If you’ve ever spent more than a few days on the trail, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I was feeling simultaneously sad to be heading out and excited to be heading out. Once we made the decision to skip Willy and start working out way back to the trailhead, my mind switched to that horse-to-the-barn gear. On the one hand I was disappointed that this great trip was coming to an end, but on the other: food, showers, beer.
We packed up and started back down the trail towards the JMT. However, instead of following trail all the way down to the JMT’s Tyndall Creek crossing, we cut cross-country to avoid the extra distance and elevation change. The travel was easy, and soon we popped out on the trail just as a groups of JMT hikers heading south passed by.
From here, we retraced our steps back over Forester Pass, just in the opposite direction. On our way up the pass we stopped and chatted with some trail maintenance crew members. They were waiting for an I-beam to be flown in by helicopter to help reinforce the trail. It was still windy, so I wished them luck and continued on to the pass.
We stopped at the first lake on the north side of the pass for a water refill and heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It hovered just above the pass and then disappeared from view. Later, I found out Pavla heard it and worried about us, thinking it was a SAR helicopter and we were on Mt Williamson! Fortunately no tragic events were occurring, as we gladly informed worried folks heading south on the JMT.
From the pass, we zoomed down the trail. I felt great and was feeling confident in our distance plans until I suddenly bonked at the Center Basin junction. A 10 minute foot soak in the creek, some heavy snacking, and a big water refill helped, but I moved slower through Vidette Meadow. At the bottom of Vidette, where the JMT climbs towards Bullfrog Lake, we took another long break. I finally switched my shoes, something I should have done a long time back. I was hiking in my scramblers, but my awesomely awesome Columbia Power Drain camp shoes also make good hikers. After switching my feet were so much happier!
We started up the final climb and I started feeling more confident about reaching Kearsarge Lakes. Only a couple of switchbacks up, we heard a familiar voice ahead. Approaching us were three hearty hikers. Our friends who were planning on staying at Kearsarge Lakes had decided to push on to Vidette. We had a long chat and each continued on our way.
It was at this point that I hit what I had been waiting for all day – my second wind! I powered up the switchbacks, moving slower than my normal pace but trudging along at a consistent and comfortable pace. We marched on to Bullfrog Lake, but shortly after the lake I started to hit the wall again. Another mile or so of hiking ahead of us with a few hundred feet of gain – normally a trivial thing but I was out of gas.
Finally, we reached Kearsarge Lakes. I normally spend some time looking around for a campsite away from the crowds, but I was just happy to find a flat spot and crash for the night. The lakes are beautiful but overused, so despite my exhaustion I made sure to sit back and enjoy the view!
The following morning we packed up early and hoofed it back over Kearsarge Pass. I barely saw anyone on this normally popular trail since we were hiking so early. I had the pass to myself, something I’ve never experienced before. David had gone ahead so I tried to relish my final couple hours of quiet and solitude before heading back to civilization. We were back at the trailhead by 9:30 in the morning and after cleaning up headed into Lone Pine for a late breakfast at our favorite restaurant, The Alabama Hills Cafe (try the breakfast BLT).
All in all it was a really fun and successful trip. I have a summary recap coming up with reflections on gear, itinerary, and what worked and didn’t with our plan. Thanks for sticking around for this long trip report!