Memorial Day Massacre 2017 - Jerky Meadows Kern Backpack

  • Updated: May 27, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 27th & 28th, 2017

Historically I try and go big on Memorial Day and do a Sierra backpack with an aggressive plan.  It is after all the first "free" long weekend of the year and I'm always raring to get into the Sierra after a long season of desert trips and teaching outdoor classes.

It's also early enough where weather and other factors make things difficult more often than not.

A brief summary of the Massacres so far
2010 Walker Pass - The trip that inspired the name. Went at Chimney Creek to get a number of peaks and hike south to Walker Pass. Jen and I were the only ones that completed most of the peaks after more limited water sources than anticipated.
2011 Williamson Turnaround - Planned to be a Williamson are cleanout. Went in on a bad forecast which proceeded to get worse. Retreated from Shepherd Pass due to 100 mph winds to set up near Anvil only to have our tent ripped open by gusts. Spent the night in a bush getting snowed on. No peaks but we day hiked Olancha as a consolation prize.
2012 Golden Trout - Some weather but highly successful. Lots of miles & peaks. Started with 3 people, ended with two, and drank the worse water I've ever had the mispleasure of forcing down.
2013 Courtright In A Kilt - Spectacular weather, lots of peaks, lots of miles. All in a kilt!  (That summit shot won me an award)
2014 Skip Year - Didn't happen due to the job switch and moving back full time from Boise.
2015 Kibbie Ridge - Snowstorm hit on day one and high river crossings made the loop impossible.  Scaled the plan back and later did the loop over the 4th of July 2016
2016 Durrwood Crossing & Rincon - Scaled back to three days due to work challenges and recovery from knee surgery.  Three day loop north of Isabella involving a rotting cable crossing, one peak, and so many foxtails we had to throw out multiple pairs of socks.  And an armed man in a cave looking for murder gold.

This year I was recovered from surgery but had to stick to only three days due to a combination of work and an the fact I had to move my home the following weekend.  Also a record snow was making trailhead access difficult unless we wanted to haul in more gear and do the snow.  Eventually we settled on a 50 mile ish loop starting at Jerky Meadows, crossing the Little Kern and the bridge, following the Kern north to the crossing and grab Tower and Overlook to the east, then swing west camping at Coyote Lakes (a bucket list thing) and grab Coyote and Angora on the way out.

Aggressive.  As usual.  And also as usual things didn't go quite to plan...

Traffic leaving town wasn't too bad considering we had to go through LA and over the Grapevine.  However the drive from Bakersfield up the 178 and then north on highway 99 is a painfully windy road especially late at night.  Once we reached Johnsondale it was another 23 miles to the trailhead which I expected to be rather packed so we started looking for a place to pull over and sleep.

That proved to be more challenging than expected since Forest Route 22S82 has several campgrounds and everything was packed due to the holiday weekend.  Eventually we gave up and found a pullout we could block with the car.

And as always when we've been driving until 2 am morning came brutally early.

We had about ten more miles to the Lloyd Meadows / Jerky Meadows trailhead which as expected was pretty packed.  We were lucky to get a park and the only other ones open soon filled while we were getting ready.

This was the second trip out for my new Osprey Aether which I've been struggling to adjust to.  For those who aren't aware Osprey makes great packs and has an amazing warranty.  Their All Mighty Guarantee means they'll take any damages packs and either repair them or replace them for free other than the cost of shipping.  I've had about 5 packs replaced after a very significant amount of use and for my Aether in particular this is the second replacement.

It's gained another half pound from the old model which I'm not thrilled about.  Some of that is obviously the suspension upgrades which are ok so far but not a huge gain.  They've also turned the top flap into a fully features summit pack which feels a little unnecessary.  It takes up a fair amount of room in the top flap and the resulting summit pack isn't very hearty.  The first time I used it on the Crag trip I already managed to put some holes in it.  On the plus side a lot of the old failure points have been re enforced.

We took the shorter steeper route to Jerky Meadows which branches off to the north not far in.  And after that it was a quick hop over to the bridge on the Little Kern.

This bridge is a big deal as the river can be a challenge to get across especially in high snow years like this.

It was around this point when some boot pain I'd been struggling with became a bit too much to take.  A few months back some general foot pain had driven me in to see a podiatrist who sold me on some custom orthotics.  Considering how much I hike I went for it and I've been struggling with the damn things ever since.  I already had one adjustment and now after appearing to work for a short time I had a sharp edge cutting into the side of my foot that no amount of climber tape or duct tape seemed to be able to relieve.  I ended up taking the orthotics out completely and continuing on with no pad on the bottom of the boot which worked but wasn't pleasant.

We'd run across a large number of people on the trail (not uncommon in non quota areas) and decided to cut cross country to a higher trail which would cut out some distance in favor of a bit more gain.

The upper trail was far less traveled but went through a burn area and the trail crews hadn't cleared the downed trees from the trail.  It did give nice views of Angora in the background.

The trail rejoined the higher traffic route at Willow Meadows which had some nice camps here and there.

Then a short distance north we got this spectacular view looking north before dropping down to the Kern.

We stopped for a while and had lunch while we appreciated the view.  Both of us commented how it felt like a Sierra summer vista.  We could still see a lot of snow off to the north and looking up at Coyote Lakes it was likely we'd be walking and possibly camping on snow before this was done.

From here we dropped down by the Kern and things got a lot more challenging.

We had to resort to taking our boots off for minor creek crossings more than once and the periodically flooded out trail led to a lot of crawling through the brush on either side.

The Kern was deafening anytime we got close to it and sure as hell wasn't crossable without a bridge.

We originally planned to make it to the Kern Canyon Ranger Station area at the base of Coyote Creek but it became apparent that was going to be a stretch based on the condition of the trail.  We readjusted and ended up looking for a camp at the top of Grasshopper Flat.

There were several established sites with fire pits tucked away in various places and we settled on one about halfway between the trail and river.

We had a nice evening and it gave my feet some time to recover.  Without any pad or insert in the bottom of my boots I was getting a bit beat up.  I was still hopeful I'd be able to continue and we made plans to aim for Coyote Lakes the following day.

The next morning my feet weren't great but they also weren't quite bad enough to turn around and hike out.  At least at first.  As we were dropping down to Little Kern Lake I had a problem.

I'd been hiking for over 10 miles in a boot with no insert and the squishy underlayer of my Sportiva approach shoes had started to abraid.  More attempted duct tape and climber tape repairs proved to be of limited use and the pain and blisters were getting worse.  And we had 16 ish miles if we turned back right then and 30 some if we went forward.

We looked at our options and reluctantly decided if my boot issue was going to keep us from getting our loop in we'd rather hike out and spend Monday prepping for my impending the following weekend rather than spend a day just sitting around out here (as pleasant as that sounded.)  So we turned back.

On the way out we chatted with a number of other folks on the trail some of whom we'd jumped ahead of the following day using the Willow Cutoff trail.  Several mentioned all the snakes they'd seen to which we had to respond we hadn't even seen one.  And then of course we started seeing them.

Rather than take the Willow Cutoff back to the Little Kern bridge we decided to go through Trout Meadows and see what that part of the trail was like.

It was really pretty but had a lot more people camping there.  I have a prospective experience trip I want to run out here to get Hockett whenever I have a free weekend.

We reached the Little Kern bridge late in the afternoon.

It's a pretty spot but we found a large number of Boy Scouts plus several other groups all camped there.

The last bit of the trail went fairly quickly and we were back to the cars a little before 8:30 pm.

Our goal was to get home so I could make the best use of our lost 3rd day but Jen was struggling with car sickness after winding our way down to Isabella and we ended up finding a place to sleep along Walker Pass.

And woke up to the car covered in mosquitoes but fortunately they weren't in a biting mood.  We grabbed a quick breakfast at the Ridgecrest Denny's (not having had dinner the night before) and made it back into town before noon.

Other than the boot failure the trip was doable as a three day.  If the trail had been a little less obstructed and we could have moved a little faster we would have had a good shot at making Tower and Overlook along with Coyote and Angora before returning via Deep Creek.  Even with the conditions we found looping around to Coyote Lakes would have been achievable.  Damn orthotics.

I also really enjoyed the area alongside the Kern and at some point I have a plan to do a longer loop starting from where it runs into the Rincon trail.  But that will have to be either later in the season or a much drier year.

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