Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Part 69 - Smoking Brakes

Now that I was in the Sierras, there was water everywhere, mostly from snow melt; it cascaded off the cliffs in spectacular waterfalls; it formed powerful streams that plunged headlong down the valleys to form even more powerful rivers; and it flowed gently across the trail at a thousand different points on its descent to the valley floor.  As I surveyed the massive rock formations that surrounded me, I felt a sense of awe and true wonderment for the forces that thrust this massive granite monolith several miles above the earth’s surface. 

At the upper end of Kings Canyon, Bubbs Creek was the name of the stream that flowed down the valley and into which all other water sources flowed.  The PCT was forced to cross this stream several times, but the crossings were not difficult as this was a low-snow year.  Solid blocks of gray granite topped with lofty spires lined both sides of the trail.  On my right, I identified the towering spires as the Kearsarge Pinnacles, and in a few miles I reached the northern end of this colossal formation. 

 Here, a well-used side trail departed from the PCT and headed down to Independence, California, where many hikers had resupply packages waiting for them, of which I was one.  I camped for the evening at the trail junction and set up my tent, as the mosquitoes were fearsome.

It was twenty-one miles to Independence from the trail junction, of which I only needed to hike 7.6 miles to the Onion Creek trailhead and campground.  The campground had a long history as a starting point for fishing trips and hiking excursions into the Sierras.  Likewise, many day hikers used the parking lot to park their vehicles while they fished the lakes just a mile or so up the trail. 

 It was standard procedure for hikers to hike to the campground and “yogi” (think Yogi the Bear) a ride from a driver heading back down the mountain.  I arrived at the campground around eleven in the morning and by noon I had a ride down the canyon heading for Independence.  My host for the drive down the canyon to Independence was Rick, a mechanic from the Los Angeles area.  He was driving a black, Chevy Silverado four-wheel-drive crew cab with an automatic shift.

I threw my pack and trekking poles into the bed of Rick’s truck that already contained an assortment of camping equipment and fishing gear, then climbed into the passenger seat, buckled up and settled in for a relaxing ride down the canyon to town.  Part of the fun of hiking was the opportunity to get to know someone else, even if it was only fleeting.  I peppered Rick with questions about his work and why he was here at this location at this time of the year.  Rick said he worked for the Los Angeles Port Authority as a mechanic; his specialty was working on the giant cranes that loaded and off-loaded containers on the oceangoing container ships
At least once a year, to get away from work and spend a few days relaxing, he and a few friends came to Onion Creek to fish and drink beer.  On this trip, his friends couldn’t juggle their time to coincide with his schedule, so came without them.  I told Rick about my hike, where it started and where it ended, the length of time required for such a long journey, but more especially I told him about the kindness and the sacrifice of the trail angels I had been privileged to meet thus far along the trail.  I told him that meeting these people had been the most satisfying aspect of the entire trek up to now. 

Even though Rick had been coming to Onion Creek for several years, he said he wasn’t aware of the PCT and he envied me having the time to undertake such a venture.

As a side note, I quickly became aware that Rick didn’t know how to drive mountain roads, as he used his brakes continuously to slow his vehicle when going around curves or to reduce his speed.  Within a short time, his brakes heated up and began to chatter, shaking the vehicle violently.  The acidic smell of burned asbestos filtered into the cab, and although I couldn’t see it, I knew white hot smoke was issuing from the overheated brake pads.  

It wasn’t my place to tell Rick how to drive, but the prudent driver with mountain driving experience would downshift into second or third gear, to let the engine do the braking rather than relying solely on the brakes.  Rick was in a no-win situation, and if we hadn’t reached the town when we did, chances are he would have lost the use of his brakes completely.

Looking back at Forrester Pass. This was only the beginning of the great beauty of the Sierras.

The day was hot, so after summiting Forrester, I took a skinny dip in the first lake I came to. The water was only a few degrees above freezing.

The lake I took a dip in.

The U shaped bowl of King's Canyon testifies to its formation by glaciers.

All the snow melt flows into the rivers, which eventually have to be crossed.

To retrieve my resupply package in Independence, it was necessary to leave the PCT and travel over Kearsarge Pass. This massive granite formation is close to the Kearsarge Pass junction.

One of the first lakes encountered coming over Kearsarge Pass.

Coming into Independence, I spotted this pile of junk in the town's outdoor museum lot. I later was able to identify it as a 1924 Model T Ford Flatbed Truck.

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