Memorial Day Massacre 2018 - Jerky Meadows To Coyote & Angora Via Kern Loop

  • Updated: May 28, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 26th to 28th, 2018
Coyote Peaks (10,892')
Angora Mountain (10,198')
Day 1: 17.75 miles, 3,000' gain
Day 2: 10.3 miles, 4,800' gain
Day 3: 19.4 miles, 3,400' gain

After what has felt like a painfully slow last couple of months where I've barely been able to get out in the mountains I've finally wrapped up the classroom portion of Wilderness Travel Course, the Spring Advanced Mountaineering Program, my Wilderness First Aid recertification, and the Sierra Club LTC Rock Checkoff which means that at long last it's Sierra trip season again!  And this year that means I've got 19 -ish weekends of adventures planned!

The first of those weekends is the annual Memorial Day Massacre trip where Jen Blackie and I (and occasionally others) head out to do some big both to take advantage of the holiday and to help get us into proper backpacking shape.

In the past these trips have been 4 or 5 day monsters (for write ups on many of these trips you can browse the tag Memorial Day Massacre) but the last few years we've had to hold them to 3 days thanks to Jen's sadly draconian teacher employment contract.  So with only three days to work with we decided we'd redo last years aborted plan this time without the flooded trail conditions and  (hopefully) the major boot issues that derailed us after a mere 32 miles.

For some reason I always think that Jerky Meadow is a short -ish drive since it's southern sierra -ish but I always forget how long it takes to make it up the windy roads around there. The last 23 miles past Johnsondale in particular is just painful.  We left Orange County at about 8 pm and didn't get to bed at the trailhead until 2 am.

Day 1: Jerky Meadow To Little Kern Lake

17.75 miles, 3,000' gain

Despite the holiday weekend and seemly great conditions there were only a few other cars at the trailhead so we were able to grab the camp spot located right next to the trail. This trip was the first time out for my new Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 which I've been trying out and we decided to set it up since there was a non trivial chance of rain according to the forecast.

We woke up feeling only slightly sleep deprived, sucked down some instant coffee, and got hiking around 8:30 am.

The Jerky Meadow trailhead has a junction maybe 3/4 of a mile down the trail where you can either shortcut up and over a hill or take the slightly longer and more gradual way around. The last few trips we've always done the shortcut so this time we elected to go around the more gradual route.

Which turned out to be a good call since after a few more turns of the trail we saw a bear! Sadly he ran off before I was able to get a picture but it looked like a juvenile possibly still with his mother.

We made good time and by 10:30 am we made it to the iconic bridge that stretches over the Little Kern. It's a beautiful spot and it's common to find the areas on either side of the bridge packed with tents but to our surprise we only found a solitary camp set up.

The Little Kern was down significantly from the year before. The picture on the left is from the 2017 Massacre while the right was this year.  Not surprising considering I think we only made 50% of the average snow pack this year.

Past the bridge is another gradual climb which brought us to the always scenic Trout Meadows.  I'll actually be back here in a few weeks to eval someone on a provisional climb of Hockett but for now we were headed further north.  There's actually a number of really memorable campsites to be found along the next few miles.

Right before the trail drops down to the Kern River there's an overlook that really made an impact on both Jen and I last year.  Sadly the 2017 Lion Fire had reached out this far and we had to enjoy the view past a number of burned trees which damped the effect a bit.

After that we had a stroll along the Kern River where again we made remarkably better time than last year on account of the trail not being underwater.

Jen striking a pose where we turned back last year

The climb just past Grasshopper Flat that takes you over to Little Kern Lake was a bit of a push but once over we found we had our pick of sites.

Seeing as we were a bit tired at this point we elected for the nice spot on the southwestern end of the lake which came with a nice firepit and readymade furniture.  We soon had a roaring fire going and settled in for a dinner of Suddenly Pasta and red wine.

Day 2: Little Kern Lake To Coyote Lakes

10.3 miles, 4,800' gain

I'm actually in decent shape heading in to this season but that doesn't mean I can do a 17 -ish mile day with a full pack and not feel anything.  My first request upon waking up was for an ibuprofen smoothie but instead I had to settle for more instant coffee and some stretching by the lake.

Today was going to be quite a bit shorter mileage wise but we had one long 5k gain climb to get up after which we'd hopefully be dropping packs and grabbing the SPS peak Coyote Peaks before settling down for a nice night at Coyote Lakes.

We seemed to have had the lake to ourselves the previous night but we did run into another party coming south carrying what looked like a packed watercraft of some sort.  Sadly they weren't acting very chatty so we didn't get the story of what they were doing.

I love hiking along the Kern and I'm always saddened by the number of awesome campsites I find that I can't stay at. Sometime in the next few years I'm planning a trip specifically hiking along the Kern maybe from Johnsondale to the headwaters behind Shepherd Pass. Days of swimming, river camping, and great scenery!

We reached the junction at the Kern Canyon Ranger Station and took a break before starting the big climb of the day.  This was at about 6,480' and our pass was 10,500' or so.

Jen took to the hill with slightly less enthusiasm than me but a lot of determination.  At least in between her moments in repose.

We ran into our first snow patch around 9,200' but mostly avoided getting our boots wet until right below the pass.

From a distance it looked like we might have to deal with steep solid snow but once we got closer we could see a path around the left hand side.  This unfortunately meant boot kicking up very loose steep sand.

Fortunately some weather had blown in to distract us and we started having graupple thrown at us punctuated by some cracks of thunder from the north and east. This combined with the fact Coyote was now hidden in the rapidly dropping cloud layer changed our plans a bit and we elected to save the peak for the morning.

We took the trail down to Coyote Lakes which we seemed to have to ourselves and quickly found a nice site between the lakes.  We threw up the tent and quickly dove inside as the snow turned to rain.  For the next hour and a half we hung out inside and cooked dinner just outside of the vestibule.  The weather cleared just before the sun went down leaving us with a gorgeous night.

We were pretty beat and had another big day tomorrow so we elected to forgo the fire and passed out fairly early.

Day 3: Coyote Peaks, Angora Mountain, Deep Creek, and Out To Jerky Meadow

19.4 miles, 3,400' gain

Today was going to be a big one and Jen was a bit nervous now that we had two peaks, a lot of hiking, and then a drive home to fit in.  Still, priorities are priorities and we weren't moving until *after* the second cup of coffee.

We climbed back up to the main trail where we dropped our packs and started sidehilling around south side of the lower peak before rock hopping up to the actual summit.

It was a fun little boulder scramble to reach the summit plateau.

The high point is the bump in the background.

From the summit we had a spectacular view of Coyote Lakes down below and the Whitney area in the distance.

We also found my signin from 2009 when Coyote had been my very first Sierra Peak. There's been just a few since then...

Me on the summit of Coyote Peaks On Memorial day 2009 and 2018

We were on the peak around 8 am and spent about an hour enjoying the view and taking pictures before retracing our steps and continuing south towards Angora and Deep Creek.

The trail south from Coyote drops down to follow Grasshopper Creek but you can save a fair amount of effort by just staying high and following the ridge.

Just before the trail descends down towards White Mountain and Deep Creek we again dropped packs and started sidehilling over to Angora.

Angora doesn't look like much from a distance but it has another spectacular view.  Since it's a little further south than Coyote it gives you a much nicer appreciation of the high Sierra.

Once we returned to our packs we started descending. Sadly this area was absolutely destroyed by the Lion Fire making the trail difficult to follow at times.

Deep Creek wasn't much better.  Everytime we thought we'd made it out of the burn we'd go another few hundred feet and be back to desolation.  Also what passes for a use trail that people us to get up Deep Creek seems to have badly eroded after the burn leaving the options of a messy bushwhack or climbing across steep ash / dirt slopes.  We ended up doing some sketchy sections just to make it down.

The bottom part of Deep Creek used to have a number of rather nice camps for those that didn't want to haul packs all the way up to the upper meadow.  The area is now completely burned and most of the camps are completely wiped out.  We identified one of the packer camps just by the fact there was a metal grate and a scorched fire pit.

The trails south of Deep Creek all meander quite a bit and it's common to shortcut across the relatively friendly cross country terrain. After some debate we decided to stick to Deep Creek until we could swing over to the west and grab a ridge that would take us directly down to the Little Kern Bridge.

Staying down in the creek was a challenge due to vegetation and some slick rocks but once we got up higher it was fairly easy going. Towards the end we probably should have stayed high to save ourselves a bushwhack but we made it work and by 5 pm we were taking a break next to the bridge.

After a rest and filling up our water one last time we did a hard haul up and over the hill to the cars where we arrived at 7 pm. Sadly that meant by the time we made it down the hill all the decent food options were closed which wasn't what we wanted to hear after three hard days of backpacking.

So we ended up at Denny's where at least the coffee is decent and you can get an acceptable if not exactly scrumptious burger (which was the food item we'd been using to drive ourselves down the trail for the latter part of the day.)

We made it back home to Orange County around 2 am which is rough but not out of the ordinary for this sort of thing.  We both felt the trip was a success and were happy with what we'd done though our first act when we got back into cell range was to send a warning to another group we knew was planning to lead Coyote and Angora via Deep Creek in a few weeks telling them they may want to reconsider.  At least for the time being I think Lion Meadows or Rifle Creek are going to be the best way to grab these particular peaks which is a shame since the area used to be so beautiful.

 Now there's four days of readjusting to civilization before I'll be (hopefully) heading back out to the Southern Sierra for another three day!

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