Express Yourself: Kearsarge Pass to VVR mile 789-879

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By Robert “Pitcher” Nickelson
Special to the Express

Leaving Independence, I headed back over Kearsarge Pass and headed North. It was a 20 mile detour to resupply and two days (in and out) over and back a 12,000 foot summit. I used to look at an oncoming pass and dread the uphill. Now, it’s all the same. I just trend slower uphill.

The landscape was magnificent. Peaks, valleys and water everywhere. The fishing was great. I added a rainbow and a brown to my quest for my Sierra Slam. Or at least I thought I did. I met some Stanford students hiking up the trail that were doing research on the fisheries. He said the Bow could be a hybrid. I looked at him puzzled and asked him how he got into Stanford? He said he was from a small public school in Calaveras County. Maybe he was right.

I headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which is the same as the John Muir Trail (JMT) for 170 miles. I soon realized the different types of hikers for the two trails. PCT hikers were grinders, chasing miles. The JMT hikers were there to see the great scenery of the California Sierras. I settled into the JMT mindset. What a place. I went over five passes 12,000 feet. Each ascent would follow creeks, rivers or lakes on the way to the top and the reverse on the way down.

Resupply options were easier and better on this section of trail. I had pre-shipped my supplies to a camping resort just off the trail called Vermillion Valley Resort. They picked me up in a boat taxi so the five mile hike off trail was not required. My daughter had booked a Yurt for two nights and upgraded to the one that had its own outhouse. Outstanding! Breakfast, lunch and dinner was served community style. The bell went off and it was time to eat. Beer and snacks were all put on your tab. There was no telling where the money went. When I checked out I didn’t care where the money went, it was worth it.

I headed north again, fired up and ready to go. My goal was to make it over Silver Pass and camp for the night on the back side. It started to rain at the summit and I put on my rain gear. Just an afternoon thunder shower and it would clear up in a short time, I hoped. I was wrong. I set up camp and went to sleep. The next day it was still raining and continued through the day. I refused to hike. The only place I was dry and warm was in my sleeping bag in my tent. My tent didn’t leak, but much of my gear was damp and cold. I played a lot of solitaire on my phone and listened to some audiobooks. It was a long day.

The sun did return the next morning and I was off again. I dried out my gear and my life and started to enjoy my trek again. I stopped at Reds Meadow in Mammoth and had a real breakfast and some daytime drinking beer for extra strength. Three more days following the John Muir Trail and I landed in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. I was running short of time and mental health. I decided to skip up to Echo pass and finish the last 62 miles of this year’s trek to

Donner Pass. They give PCT hikers a free 40 ouncer of King Cobra beer for crossing Old Highway 40 at Donner Pass. Technically I didn’t complete the whole trail but I kept that on the down-low. The bottle is now in my trophy case.

One day on my hike, in the wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, I heard a voice yell out, “Mr. Nickelson.” I looked ahead and saw a young lady coming towards me on the trail. I failed to recognize her until she introduced herself — Angelica Arellano. A fellow Winters local and friend of my daughter from high school. We spoke for a couple of minutes and continued on our journeys. It just goes to show you if you live long enough there is no telling who you will run into, and where.

Three hundred twenty-six miles completed this year. Six hundred last year. One thousand six hundred seventy-five miles to go. I plan to complete the trail before I die. I’m still a young man in my mind.

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