The day started off with Danielle waking me up to let me know that our alarm clock unexpectedly failed to go off, which caused us to get out of bed about an hour later than we had anticipated. I may or may not have forgotten to turn the alarm back on, after turning it off the previous morning...whoops. We reluctantly shook the cobwebs of sleep off, and got ready to take on the day. For breakfast, I made us eggs, bacon, and toast, along with some espresso-thanks Gretchen and Bret-and we quickly scarfed it all down before heading to the Kearsarge Pass trailhead.
We left our campsite and started off for the trail just around 8 a.m. The hike from the trailhead to the pass would be about five and a half miles with an elevation gain of 2,560 ft. Luckily, for pretty much the entire hike, I felt pretty good and I didn't feel that the hike was overly strenuous for me, as much of the trail is switchbacks. I was pumped and ready to freaking go.
The terrain up the trail was truly incredible. During certain parts of the hike, especially as we got closer to the top, I felt like I was on another planet and that the scenery surrounding us could have just as easily been Mars. The landscape seemed completely otherworldly, and all around us-nearly encircling us-were the jagged and sharp peaks that Inyo had to offer. And to add icing to the cake, we got to hike passed 5 beautiful alpine Lakes-Little Pothole, Big Pothole, Gilbert, Flower, and Heart Lakes. Each lake was a color reminiscent of an icy teal or an icy sapphire, and each were surrounded by the biting peeks of the Sierra Nevadas. The pass cuts directly through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which separates the John Muir Wilderness part of Inyo National Forest with Kings Canyon National Park, and Danielle and I couldn’t wait to see what Kings Canyon looked like at the top.
On our way up, we met a hiker that was doing part of the Pacific Crest Trail and was hiking to Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the continental US. We talked about how beautiful the campground and landscape was, how insane the wind had been the other night, and how awesome the hike had been up to that point. After exchanging pleasantries for about 10 minutes, she continued onward towards the pass, moving and grooving at a pace that Danielle and I could not keep up with. She undoubtedly had her trail legs.
On the Kings Canyon side, there were peaks off in the distance and a series of lakes and ponds in the valley below that dotted the landscape. On the Inyo side, we saw the apexes of the teeth that made up the peaks of the National Forest, as well as Big Pothole Lake in its pristine glory. At that elevation, the trees were no longer present, providing us the opportunity for a near 360° degree view of stunningly beautiful landscape.
The months of excitement and wonder were finally over. Danielle and I stood 11,760 feet above sea level, being pounded by wind, and nearly paralyzed by the insane beauty surrounding us. We stood in awe and felt like champions. We had been anticipating this moment for months, and finally being able to experience it left me feeling overwhelmed with joy. At one point, I remember Danielle and I taking the sites of it all in and neither of us said a word to one another for what felt like an eternity; we were both astounded and bewildered by the scenery and were completely speechless.
We finally sat down and took a break, enjoying our daily peanut butter sandwiches and the landscape before us, after having already spent about an hour at the at the top. At about 1:30 p.m., we reluctantly decided that it was time to start making our way back to camp. We got our things together, took a few more photos, and took one last opportunity to take it all in. We had anticipated an incredible hike, but I don’t think either of us could’ve imagined such a magnificent experience.
Our descent back to camp was pretty easy, and it took us just slightly over two hours to finish up and get back to the trailhead. We came across a few other hikers that were heading up as we were heading down, a group that had lost their friend-whom we later came across and told him his friends were looking for him-as well as our friends from the previous day. When it was all said and done, we had started the trail at 8 a.m. and were back at the trailhead by 3:30 p.m. A successful day to say the least.
Back at camp, we made a quinoa meal for dinner, cleaned up, and then got in the tent around 6 p.m. We got into our pajamas, played some Uno-Danielle beat me in both games that night, resulting in her being ahead in our total games 5 to 4-and we then watched some Parks and Rec, which was a perfect way to end the evening.
I initially arrived at Onion Valley Campground being intimidated, but eventually fell in love with it. It was a campground unlike any other I've been to before, and I hope to one day find myself back in its grips again. When I think back to Onion Valley, the first thing that comes to mind are the rugged, steep, and jagged peaks that envelop the campground-they're like harden gods looking down upon the campground, blowing their furious and fierce wind to ward off any visitors not worthy of staying there. I'll also soon not forget the wind...that god damn wind.