While Issy and I have been in the Sierra Mountains since June we have just started back on the PCT this past week. We arrived at Kennedy Meadows and turned into Tom's place where we went last year. Issy had a nice pen with a shed to stay under and he really needed it this year as it rained for two days.
I used the time to gather up all my remote travel equipment and pack it in my saddle bags and pommel pack. I enjoyed Tom's and Cushy's company while I waited out the rain. Issy was all packed up and we left out by 7:30 with a clear sky. We walked to the Kennedy Meadows Campground about 3 miles up a dead end road and greeted several campers along the way. I offered Issy a drink but he refused so out the gate we went. Right off, a mountain biker roared down the small path and I startled him by loudly saying " You are not allowed on the PCT." Of course, he lied and said he didn't know but there little I could do except take his photograph. I got a shot of him carrying his bike out the gate but it wasn't clear enough for posting. Issy travelled fluidly and with a slight resistance to go back to Tom's pen. If you remember this was the same part of the trail Issy and his trail mate Chaco left Emily and I 12 miles out and ran all the way back to this very gate. I had hauntings of that frightful episode, realizing that many horses who run off are never found.
But, we travelled upward for a few miles crossing a steel type bridge and I dismounted to climb down to get Issy a drink of the fast flowing Crag Creek. The creek was slit and Issy didn't have any interest in the brown sludge. The rain had caused the torrent and I wondered if the rest of the creeks were of the same quality. We continued to travel on a gradual upward climb but were rewarded by several creeks which were clear and lined with green grass. Issy grazed for half an hour and then we pushed on through the burnt out forest with many trees down and crossing the trail but the open timer allowed us to go around and not have to deal with any of them. It was there, about 7 miles out I realized I didn't have my saw. I seem to always need a tune up ride to get all my equipment right.
We got to Beck Meadows and the dozens of cattle were grazing quietly in the misting rain. We climbed out of the meadow to follow Deer Mountain's northern ridge overlooking the meadows and seeing Monache Meadows in the distance. I had to dismount and open the gate to the next section of trail and I marveled that last year Issy worked this barbed wire fence and found an opening for both Chaco and himself. Soon we crested and started down towards the South Fork of the Kern River at Monache Meadows where we spent the night.
The camp was perfect with some graze but wonderful tent sites built by Tom and a few hikers years ago. The sites were sheltered by large pines and boulders. We both rested easily and got up with energy to spare.
Our next camp was to be Gomez Meadows which was only about a 10 mile ride but I suspected it would be waterless and perhaps even without any graze so we took advantage of every grazing opportunity we had along the way. The on trail water sources were scarce and often poor quality but the springs off trail were flowing and clean. We travelled to Gomez Meadows and found that the entire meadow was dry and only had yellow dried sprigs for Issy to munch. This wasn't going to be a good camp with no water and little for Issy to get moisture from so we pushed on. I had failed to read the Data Book elevation column for the next few miles and when we started to ascend with Issy working harder and harder I pulled it out and frowned that I was asking him to climb again back up to over 10,000' but with the water situation we had to go. I knew that we probably could get to a spring at the top which was about 1/3 mile off the trail but we were clocking up miles the hard way. Issy just power strided upward and we finally got to a saddle with my GPS showing the water far off trail but we were stopping no matter what. Issy needed and deserved the rest and we could camp just off the trail if necessary. Following the trail over the saddle for a good bit we got to some small logs and rocks pointing the way to the suspected spring and I dismounted and told Issy this is it: water or no water we make camp at the spring.
We had travelled over 21 miles! We walked for what seemed much more than 1/3 mile when a glimmer of a meadow caught my eye...At least Issy would have grass as there were acres of green grass spotted among the dried field grass. The closer we got the more green it became....and then I saw a couple of branches sticking out of the ground which were marking the spring. I hoped that there was water and the ground was spongy as I headed towards it so even if the spring was dry Issy would be able to get moisture from the grass. The spring was active and flowing although I had to lie down to reach the spring which was 2 feet below the surface we had good clean water. What a camp...water, graze and wonderful scenery. These are the reasons I keep coming back.
We had a great night with Issy waking me at 1 for his night snack. I gladly got up and hung his nose bag and sat enjoying the stars while he finished. 5:30 came with Issy wanting his breakfast and I know he was anxious to eat and then get turned out with his hobbles for an hour or so while I broke camp. It was one of those perfect camps where I felt I could linger for days but we finally got back on the trail to go the last 12 miles to Horseshoe Meadows where Tom had taken my trailer (hopefully.) The next part of trail was familiar as Emily and I had ridden it south from Horseshoe Meadows last year. Revisiting it this year it looked the same and was comforting and relaxing to know the trail and know that it would be clear. We arrived with Issy showing he remembered the camp as we past the Cottonwood Packing camp with 20 or more horses and mules. We rode right the same pen Issy had last year and he settled in immediately looking for lunch!
For the next 2 days we just meandered around looking for graze and exploring, only doing a few miles and resting the balance of the day. My routine was to call Burton every night and when I spoke with him Wednesday night he told me of Ed Anderson's passing and it was such a shock to hear that my mentor had a heart attack and died. Ed encouraged me and selflessly gave me many hours of wonderful advice which has allowed me to ride the PCT safely and in his foot steps. I miss him already and those wonderful hour long phone conversations we had about the trail.