Mosquitos, Rain, and I lost the kids!
I have been eyeing this particular thru hike from Leavitt Meadows to Kennedy Meadows. It looks perfectly do-able on the map and only needed some fancy coordinating. Scarlett decided to sit this one out so it was Willa, Ava, and her friend Moorea. This would be Mooreas 1st backpack trip ever.
We arrived to Kennedy Meadows around 9am and hung out while we waited for Gary, their super awesome employee to drive us the 40 minutes to Leavitt Meadows trailhead. I was really excited because there were PCT hikers everywhere and I think they are super exceptional humans. I guess you could say they are my kind of super heroes. We threw our packs into the truck and climbed in with a hiker named Diamond. As we hit the road, Gary picked up 3 other PCT hikers who were hitching to get dropped off at Sonora Pass to get back on the PCT after resupply. They climbed into the truck bed and we were off. During the 40 minute drive to the trailhead, Gary shared the history of this area which was great!
We were on the trail by 10:30 and set a nice pace as we could see some weather moving in. The thunder started about 2 hours into the hike, soon followed by a bit of lightening and light rain. Willa was very excited to hike in a storm. Well, at first she was. The novelty of the storm wore off pretty fast. We put our ponchos on but there was a problem. I did not have one for Ava and forgot to have her bring a rain jacket. Ava was hiking in a full on storm with shorts and a tank top.
We decided all we could do was hike as fast as possible to get to our destination and hole up in the tent. We were all feeling pretty miserable and then made it to the river crossing which involved taking off shoes and wading through knee high water, thigh high for Willa. This is where things got super sucky, and that is a nice word for it. Ava and Moorea made it across the river and took off to bust out the next 3 miles to Fremont Lake. I had to take Willa's pack across and then go back for mine. By the time I got back with my pack Willa was crying because her hands were so cold she could not get her socks and shoes on. Somehow I was able to get them on her and get back on the trail. I was really worried about Ava, she had no protection whatsoever, hiking in this cold downpour.
We were completely soaked at this point. Our hands were like claws and useless. I knew we needed to get to camp and get our wet clothes of immediately. I knew Ava must be freezing, because I was so cold and I was wearing pants, a long sleeve, and poncho. I was super mad at myself for not being more prepared for a storm like this.
Somehow we made it the 8.5 miles to Fremont lake where Ava was shaking uncontrollably and said her skin burned. Moorea and I managed to get their tent up without it getting too wet inside and Ava climbed in followed by Moorea and Willa. They got their wet clothes off and got in their sleeping bags which were all a bit wet. I squeezed in and we slowly warmed up and ate lifesavers, which seemed an appropriate treat for the situation.
The rain let up around 7 so we escaped the tent and attempted to make a fire as our site happened to have a big fire pit. I don't know how but by some miracle we got a fire going. And when I say fire, its was mostly smoke with a bit of fire. More importantly, it was a huge morale booster. We smoked all of our wet clothes, had some chili and called it a night.
Day 2: Fremont Lake to Grizzly Meadow
We were so happy to see sun and started the morning with a breakfast of Croissant pre-cooked bacon, and cheese. We started climbing and made it over the pass. As we gained elevation the mosquitos got worse. Not only did they get worse, they literally came out in clouds and followed us. It got so bad, the only way to get away was to run and we could loose them for a few seconds. We put bug spray all over and tried to ignore them. I honestly could not say what was worse, hiking in a thunder storm or getting swarmed by mosquitos. I have never seen mosquitos like that in my entire life.
We walked fast but poor Willa can only go so fast so she had them hitching a ride all over her. The plan was to find my best, Cecilia who was hiking in to meet us and then camp by this big lake. Willa saw her first, hiking up toward us and yelled "CC!" It was the 1st good moment of the day. She confirmed the mosquitos were awful by the lake she just passed so we decided to hike back a mile and camp by one of the alpine lakes.
After making camp we hid in our tents to escape the evil bloodsuckers. CC and I braved the mosquitos to make a quick dinner and delivered bean burritos to everyone in their tents. It was strange to be in such a beautiful place and not be able to enjoy it.
The next morning we set off at a fast pace to try to outpace the clouds of mosquitos. The trail was downhill from here on and after about 6 miles we noticed the mosquitos were tolerable and then barely noticeable. Things were looking up! Ava and Moorea wanted to go ahead and meet us at our next camp. We showed them the All Trails map on our phone and told them to take the 1st path toward the lake.
As we came to the supposed 1st path, we see there was no path. Thats the thing about All Trails, it shows ALL the paths that someone has used in the past and often this involves bushwhacking. We continued on and took the next "path" to Relief Reservoir. At this point I realize that there are numerous paths to the lake and was wondering how in the world will I find the one they took?! Willa was exhausted as we were about 10 miles in so I left her and CC at a camp spot by the water.
I proceeded to run to every path over the next hour asking other hikers if they saw 2 teenage girls. I was getting panicky as I couldn't find them and it was now after 5. They had a water filter but I had all the food. After about an hour of searching I found what I would call the main path to the lake and sure enough, at the end of the path I found them hanging out by the water wondering what took me so long.
I was so happy and so mad at the same time. They had already set up their tent so I rushed them along so we could get back as soon as possible. I knew Willa and CC would be worried and waiting for us. Lesson learned, either stay together or if we split up make sure we have a meeting point on the trail rather than at the supposed camp spot.
Our home for the night was right on the water and we all went for a swim to rinse all the sweat and grime away. Finally something was going right. As this was Moorea's 1st backpack trip, I was happy she got to experience a moment when all things went right. We had a blissful night, a tasty dinner of ready made backpack food, followed by tea and snuggles in the tent. The next morning we had some oatmeal, packed up and went for another long swim before hiking out.
The last day was only 6 miles back to Kennedy Meadows which we knocked out pretty quick. Its amazing how fast Willa can go when she knows juice and ice cream is waiting for her. Once back where we started we said our good byes to CC and checked into our little cabin. It was super cute with 2 bunk beds, a bathroom, shower and mini kitchen! Everyone took a turn in the shower and then went to our 6pm dinner reservations at the restaurant. The diner was so busy and loud it was a bit overwhelming, especially because we have all lived the past year not going out to eat due to Covid. There were hungry thru hikers and campers stuffed into the teeny room, splilling out on the deck. We got a table and eventually got a tasty burger, which we all devoured.
I learned a lot on this trip. I learned to take more rain gear if there is supposed to be rain. Always bring a 2nd pair of socks. Always bring plenty of bug spray, the good stuff, not the natural stuff. And most important lesson, never split up without a foolproof plan on how to find each other.
I was so happy that we were able to hike from Leavitt Meadows all the way to Kennedy Meadows. This was our 1st thru hike, Im hoping there will be a few more in our future!