Date: Monday, August 2, 2021
Mileage: 11.5 miles
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”John Muir
Like any good long-distance backpacking trip, Day 1 on the High Sierra Trail started at 5:15am in Visalia with butterflies in our stomachs – or maybe that was the mediocre continental breakfast at our hotel, one that you start to regret even before you put the food on your plate. But long-distance backpackers need to eat, and soon enough, after shoveling down our last real food for a week, we were on our way. We made the windy drive up to Sequoia National Park, got our permit around 8am, and then drove on the one-way road to Crescent Meadow. Our dear sweet trail angels, my mom and her bff Terry, dropped us off – we took lots of pictures, gave lots of hugs, and we were on our way.
We started the trail and fortunately it was still super cool out. The beginning of the trail was super shaded too – it made for some easy hiking. Almost immediately, we got to witness first-hand the expansive diversity of the Sierra. Shaded by the conifer forest, the ground was covered in bright green fern for as long as the eye could see. It was seriously unlike anything I’d ever seen in the Sierra.
Within a little less than a mile, the trees opened up and we came upon the grand canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. To the south, we were treated to views of Castle Rocks and the central valley below. To the east, we saw the Great Western Divide and the Kaweahs – the very mountains that we would be crossing in the next few days.
About a half mile further, we saw our first bear! He was an adult, but definitely still young. He didn’t really care for us – he just mosied up the hill eating his berries.
The morning was spent making our way along the side of canyon. To our surprise, there was a lot more water than we expected! We each started with about 2Ls, so we weren’t necessarily in need, but it was a nice surprise nonetheless. As we hiked further, we were treated to spectacular and ever-changing views of Castle Rocks and Moro Rock. We had just started the trail, but we were already spoiled with the grandeur of the Sierra!
By noon, we stopped for lunch at Mehrten Creek. Our freeze-dried hummus and assortment of crackers and tortillas just tasted that much better with the expansive views that we were lucky to be gazing upon. The miles seemed to fly by as we chatted (one of us had just gotten back from an especially entertaining family reunion), and we had lots of fun stopping for various photo breaks.
Eventually, we came upon a deer in the middle of the trail! We got closer and closer to him and he eventually began walking and following the trail himself – he was our little sherpa. At one point, he got off trail so we passed him, but then he began following us again. He was getting super close to us, so we stopped, he got off trail to pass us, and then he got back on trail and continued on with us. We thought he may be telling us, “Come on – it is this way! I’ll show you!” But he could have also been saying, “I just want to eat my berries in peace – why are you following me?” We must have followed him for about a mile and a half – no joke! It was the first of many magical experiences that we would be having on the HST.
As is the case with all long trails, we met some people who we would be leap-frogging for the week. Some notable groups include “2 Minutes & Co.” – a group of three guys where one always seemed to be only ‘two minutes’ (read: longer than two minutes) behind; “The Ladies” – a group of about five older ladies in their ~70s, kicking ass and taking names, and probably going faster on the inclines than we were; and “The Couple” – a couple from the midwest who we’d eventually end up summiting Whitney with… and who didn’t think to bring enough sunscreen for their trip. And yes, we were very creative with the names that we gave them all.
We initially planned to camp at Nine Mile Creek, and arrived around 2pm. We took a pretty long break at the most beautiful, peaceful swimming hole south of the campsites. After lounging for about an hour, we were feeling refreshed and rested, and at this point, since it was still pretty early in the day and we all felt good, we decided to continue onto Bearpaw Meadow, 11.1 miles in. This way, we would have less mileage tomorrow and could spend more time at both Hamilton and Precipice Lakes.
Like magic, all of those refreshing and relaxed feelings that we got from Nine Mile Creek vanished as soon as we were out of eyesight from said magical creek, and the last two miles (including an incline up and out of Buck Creek to Bearpaw Meadow) were an absolute slog. The day was still young though, and we took it nice and slow.
We arrived at Bearpaw Meadow around 5ish, and despite the tough last couple of miles, we all agreed that we were glad that we did it today and not tomorrow morning.
Bearpaw Meadow is a super cool campground where everyone has to camp on top of eachother, but everyone also shares in the camaraderie. We picked out a campspot close to the water spigot and set up quickly (every man for himself when campsites are limited!). While setting up, we saw another bear! He also was not interested in us, but was very cute.
Near the water spigot was a table and chairs made out of logs, so we commandeered that. This let us play some SkipBo and eat our dinner comfortably!
One note about Bearpaw Meadow is that the only water source is a spigot from a creek coming out of the ground that dumps back onto the dirt. You must treat this water before consumption. Since all of our dinners were backpacking meals that did not need a bowl, none of us brought anything that we could collect our water in in order to pump it, so we ended up just using the water spigot for the water that we boiled that night and morning. We had filled up at Nine Mile Creek, so we were good for the night in terms of drinking water, but we did have to start Day 2 by conserving our water until we ran into another water source along the trail (more on that later). If I were to do it again, I’d probably bring an extra ziplock bag to collect our water in (or have the foresight to use my bear bin). Either way – just be aware of this as you take into account your water situation around this area!
It was overall a really great first day. Like the first day of any backpacking trip, our bodies were tired, but we were feeling really good for day 1. As our main man John Muir would say, another glorious day in the Sierra!
Day 1 of the HST: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Day 2 of the HST: Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake
Day 3 of the HST: Precipice Lake to Moraine Lake
Day 4 of the HST: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
Day 5 of the HST: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station (coming soon!)
Day 6 of the HST: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake (coming soon!)
Day 7 of the HST: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal (coming soon!)