Seven Days In The Southern Sierra Out Of Kennedy Meadows

  • Updated: May 31, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 25th to 31st, 2019
Saddlehorn Peak (7,408')
Finger Rock (Attempt) (9,220')
Peak 9156 (9,156')
Day 1: 10 miles, 3,000'
Day 2: 10.7 miles, 2,700'
Day 3: 12.5 miles, 1,200'
Day 4: 6 miles, 750'
Day 5: 11.5 miles, 2,000'
Day 6: 18 miles, 3,000'
Day 7: 8.7 miles, 450'

Each year I take advantage of the long holiday weekend around Memorial Day to get out and do an early season backpack with the goal of getting back in "backpacking shape" for the summer trip season.

In the past these trips were 4 or 5 day buttkickers (for write ups on many of these trips you can browse the tag Memorial Day Massacre) but the last few years I've had to hold them to 3 days thanks to Jen's sadly draconian teacher employment contract which doesn't allow for floating vacation days.

This year thanks to the whole quitting my job and adventuring for the summer situation (more on that here) I wasn't about to limit myself to just three days so I decided I'd just stay out after Jen had to return to gainful employment making for a nice long seven days total with the plan of revisiting some seldom visited terrain in the Southern Sierra. And because it's still early in the season in what's been an interesting year so far I hit everything from sun to wind to rain to hail to full on snow.

My last* week at work crawled by painfully slow.  After a late night Thursday for the last (at least for a while) Newport Harbor After Work Paddle I was in the office on Friday trying to close out the last few items in a sleep deprived fog while waiting for the clock to hit 5 pm.

Finally 5pm did roll around and it was time to trade soul crushing cubicle life for a few months of outdoor adventure!

Unfortunately getting to said adventure meant I had to fight my way up the 15 with every other person in the greater LA area who was intending to get away for the long weekend.  And since Jen was coming back early we couldn't even carpool and trade off driving.

We finally arrived at Kennedy Meadows at 1:30 am and sacked out in the mostly empty campground.

The trailhead was my early season standby located at the Kennedy Meadows Campground.  This and the Jerky Meadows trailhead share a key feature that make them ideal for early season trips: bridges!

Early in the season the Kern is always running high with snow melt and wading across is generally going to be a no go.  So a nice solid backcountry bridge is well appreciated.

Another advantage is that since this is the Southern Sierra Wilderness there are no permits and no quotas (unless you are heading up into Golden Trout Wilderness in which case you need a permit but it's still non quota) It just amazes me that this area isn't appreciated more than it is.

Day 1: An Easy Day & Finally Checking Out Saddlehorn

Jen and I made breakfast in our campsite and after mustering our gear set off at a relaxed pace down the trail. The parking lot was full but most of the traffic we encountered were PCT hikers heading north.

For years when I've come in this way I've eyed a bump of a peak located a bit south of Clover Meadow. It doesn't have a name on the USGS maps but it stands out from the trail and the summit looked interesting enough I've always guessed it had good views.

And finally I was taking the time to check it out.  We dropped packs on the north end (since I figured any WTC trip to this peak would ideally camp on some isolated spot along the Kern on the north end) and started up eyeing clouds which had been building for the last few hours.

The 600 ft climb was fairly straightforward until the last hundred feet or so where we had to take a bit of care to avoid some 3rd class. (Because again I wanted to make sure this was a viable option for WTC experience trips)

The summit itself was a rocky protrusion with a perfect saddle seat on the top making for great summit shots.

There's also a rather neat view looking north towards Clover Meadow.

We could see rain coming down in several directions and started to hear rumbles of thunder distressingly close so we decided it was time to get down. It was soon raining on us with drops that would freeze on impact.

On the plus side it did keep us moving.

We stayed at my usual spot on the ridge at the south end of Beck Meadow and enjoyed fireside wine and pasta.

And of course I couldn't help but notice the rather prominent lenticular cloud formation over the east side which really didn't bode well for pleasant climbing weather the next day...

Day 2: In Which It Snowed, Quite A Lot.  Also Finger Rock.

The day started out absolutely beautiful as we grabbed our daypacks and followed the quasi trail off to the west and then south along Lost Meadow towards the western side of Finger Rock.

Finger Rock is something I've passed a number of times as the standard Smith, Crag, and Jackass trip passes by it to reach Crag.

Finger Rock in the foreground viewed from Crag Peak

After years of looking over at it and wondering it was time to check it out.

We approached from the northwest fighting our way through the dense burn area vegetation and after a few false starts we found a 3rd class way up to the section next top the finger

The weather was already starting to turn on us as we scrambled up and eventually found our way to the highpoint next to the finger.

Yea, that's really not going to happen.  Even if it wasn't snowing.  Just getting up to the base looked to be 4th class (we did find something that might have been easier on the far side that involved some rather awkward moves I was increasingly reluctant to do considering the snow coming down on us) but that top 20 ft or so didn't look like something either of us wanted to do. Maybe with a bit of gear and a belay rope thrown over that lower horn to protect that slab.

For those interested Bob Burd did do the summit block and documented it in his usual low key manner.

After checking the far side we decided to make our way over to the peak northwest of Finger Rock since the weather wasn't too bad yet.  So of course you know what's coming next...

We grabbed the peak in the midst of a hellacious wind which the peak thankfully provided a bit of cover from. Our view at the top was of course pretty much non existent so we hustled down and made for camp as quickly as we could.

At which point it really started dumping and didn't stop for the entire trip back.

The snow let up briefly as we arrived back at camp around 6 pm giving us just enough time to filter water for the night and dive into our tent grateful to get out of wet gear just as it started up again. Dinner was a damp affair cooked outside the vestibule.

Day 3: Melting, Meadows, And Mud

We awoke to snow still covering everything but the sky was clear and the sun was rapidly causing everything to melt.

We enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and by the time Jen left for the trailhead and I headed further north things were starting to look distinctly summer -ish again.

There's a ranch in Beck's Meadow that's situated rather obnoxiously on the western side of the meadow and tends to have a lot of no trespassing signs up. It was deserted but I dutifully slogged up the hillside behind looking for the bypass trail that's shown on the USGS map.  If it's still there I didn't manage to find it but the terrain was passable.

The Southern Sierra Wilderness ends south of Summers Ridge and here I had the first of many water crossings.  The water reached mid thigh and had me squelching through deep mud to the point I almost lost one of my trusty crocs.

Around the north end of Summers Ridge I had another water challenge crossing Round Mountain Stringer.  I ended up following the road west until I was able to cross only soaking my shoes a small amount.

Leaving the north slope of Monache and crossing over to Bakeoven my shoes finally got wet enough I said screw it and slogged through knee high water running across the road.

Next up was Bakeoven which is an interesting little area I've been through before.  There's a few private cabins scattered around though no one was there this early in the season.

Note the campfire on the left side of the picture above.  It was actually a nice little campsite with a great view if but alas I had more miles to do.

I ran into my first bear of the season in the meadow near Olivas Spring.  It didn't notice me at first and then proceeded to stare at me for a long minute or so before taking off running in the other direction.

The camp at the north end of the meadow was similarly deserted and as I made my way past to pick up the trail leading around Brown Mountain the best friends of urgent need and opportunity came together in the form of a functional and unlocked porta potty out back.  And what would you find in the reading bin of said functional outhouse out back of a cow camp?

Why cowboy lifestyle magazines of course.

Feeling much more relaxed I started climbing as the rain started up once again. I'd hoped to make it to Templeton but after putting in a good 12.5 miles with a not insignificant pack I was ready to be done for the day.

The sun was dropping out of sight on the far side of Brown when I came across a ridge with a nice camping spot, ready access to water, and a decent view looking back the way I'd come.  I took advantage of a conveniently located firepit and made an attempt to dry out my socks and boots while I cooked dinner.

Day 4: Short Days Are Made For Napping

The next morning I spent an extra hour in camp drying gear in the sun.  While the sky was clear clouds soon started appearing which signaled yet more rain on the way.

It turned out I'd picked a good place to stop since a bit further on I started to hit snow patches across the trail that sooned reached annoyance levels.

By 10:30 am I was south of Templeton Mountain once again getting snowed on.  And everything was wet and muddy.

I was starting to lament my choice of footwear for this trip as my trusty Boulder X approach shoes weren't really suited to the amount of mud and water I was having to ford. But ah well, all part of the fun.

I reached my nominal goal which was the southern end of Templeton Meadows.  I'd been out here a few years ago on a peakbagging trip and I'd loved the views and general feel of the area and I'd always wanted to come back when I could enjoy it (vs on that trip where I ended up having a brutal day hiking out over Haiwee 26 miles to the south)

I had intended to maybe dayhike to Kern Peak to the south to get a view of the high sierra but that died once I saw the amount of snow up there.  My boots were already squelching and when I found a nice campsite just as another rainstorm started in earnest I decided to revel in my unemployed status and spend the afternoon in the tent dry and sleeping.

Once evening rolled around and the weather had died down I was able to coax a fire out of all the wet fuel to life with not a small amount of difficulty.  And *almost* managed to get my shoes and socks dry.

Day 6: Disappointed By Jordan Hot Springs.  Again.

After a frankly glorious amount of sleep it was time to turn south.  This was all terrain I'd been on years ago though later in the year with slightly more melt.

The trail up to Redrocks Meadow and eventually Jordan Hot Springs went past Templeton Cow Camp.

And yes, this camp also had an outhouse.  Over a pit.  That had water flowing through it.  This briefly made me question my choice to not filter downstream where I camped.  But hey...

Upslope from the camp the snow quickly covered everything. This sucked and really made me wish for my snowshoes.

After a painful 1,200' climb I passed the shoulder of Kern Peak and at least got to post hole in a downhill direction for a while.

Then finally after Indian Head was back on a fairly snow free southern aspect with a trail I could actually follow.

I soon entered the burn area around Jordan.  I remembered from the trip years ago there being a section of downed trees and dense brush and I kept bracing myself to hit it. But it looks like someone has been clearing trails out here since then.

From Indian Head it was another 2,200 ft descent until I reached Jordan Hot Springs.

If you're interested in the history or Jordan Hot Springs it can be found here or here. In more recent history it burned during the 2010 Grouse fire and again partially in the 2017 Indian fire.

I'd been there back in 2012 during the Memorial Day Massacre of that year.  At the time I hadn't been overly impressed admittedly largely influenced by the presence of some rather obnoxious boy scouts.

I had an ex who had gone there during college for one of her very first backpacks and raved about the place so I'd been contemplating returning for a while.  So this was my try #2.  And I'd been slogging through snow for days with wet feet and had the entire area to myself!  What could be better than a nice hot soak?

Enter bloody goddamn early season runoff.

The trickle of hot water coming in from the right was completely overwhelmed by the snow melt flow from the main creek.  And the flimsy piece of metal usually used to limit the inflow wasn't going to be able to stop the amount of water that was flowing in.

Slightly disappointed I went up to check out the cabin ruins up above and see if I could turn up any other functional pools.

After running through the cabins and not seeing anything pool wise that looked promising I returned to the main pool and did a quick dip hitting the majors: pits, crack, and crotch.  And then quickly exited.

Since no one was around I elected to camp in a bit more central location than I'd normally set up in.  Plentiful firewood made for a nice fire where I could once again attempt to dry out my boots.  And it was pretty much idyllic.

Except for the jets.

The bloody things seemed to pass over multiple times an hour flying so low I had to pause my audiobook each time to avoid missing anything.

Ah well, maybe a try #3 in another 6 or so years...

Day 6: One Doesn't Just Stroll Out Of Jordan Hot Springs

The next morning I still had the place to myself as I packed up and headed for Ninemile Canyon.  I had a good 1800' climb to get up to Casa Vieja and I suspected based on what I'd been seeing that the creek might present a challenge.

Sure enough the usual crossings were so deep I wasn't about to try and wade across meaning I had to cross country sections until I could find a log. Fortunately logs to cross did exist here and there.

The section around 6,800' was the worst.  I was stuck on the southern end of the creek crawling through dense brush trying to balance on logs where I could.

And when snow came into the picture it added steep slippery slopes to the equation.

As you can probably imagine I was quite happy when I popped out at Casa Vieja and the snow gave way to good old southern sierra meadow bogs.

I meadow hopped to the southeast commenting to myself a few times on the irony of Little Dry Meadow being underwater. I picked up a road around Bull Meadow and followed that hoping (correctly) that it would take me by more of the artificial dams set up for stream crossings in some of the meadows.

The area east of Bull Meadow and south of Summers Ridge felt strikingly remote and beautiful and different than the main meadows to the east thanks to the rock structures and the river / mini lake currently occupying the middle.  If I didn't have plans that required me to get out at a reasonable hour the next day I'd have stopped there.

Instead I retraced my steps from a few days ago past the ranch in Becks and back to my old standby campsite.

By the time I arrived I'd done 18 miles very little of it on trail and I was beat.  I ended up having to force myself to set up the tent and make dinner rather that just crash immediatly so sadly I didn't get to enjoy another campfire.

Day 7: Out Is Easy

From there my last day was an easy 8.7 miles on better trail than I'd seen in days.  Biggest delays were caused by talking too much to PCT hikers and the brief delay when I launched 4 feet in the air when a rattlesnake went off right by my leg.

I made the parking lot by noon, changed into some badly needed clean clothes, and headed home with a quick stop in Adelanto at Miguelito's for a well earned burrito.

I came out feeling tired but more relaxed than I'd been in a long time.  Next up I had a one day scuba stress and rescue class in Orange County and then it was back up to the Sierra for an exploration of some less used trails out of Jerky Meadows.

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