I got to listen to the coyotes howling this morning as I packed up. I can only assume it was the same pack I saw last night. Had intended to get going a little early, but I didn’t even get out of my bag until almost 8a. I was just so cozy and warm.
No matter, I was still about 20 minutes early for the light on Kaweah, so I ended up hanging out below the pass waiting on the sun anyways. Great captures today…incredible pass. Kaweah Gap is without doubt one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I was moving at a snail’s pace all morning, because I kept stopping to take photos. The west side was even more beautiful. Hamilton Lake is a prime campsite. I imagine it’s packed throughout the summer months, but I saw just one person from Big Arroyo to Eagle View, which is a mere mile from the parking area. I had this incredible place almost to myself. Actually, I had almost the entire 62 miles from Whitney to the Sherman Tree all to myself. Fall: the High Sierra’s best-kept secret.
The pit toilet at Hamilton Lake is, like most pit toilets, a glorified cathole. That said, it’s a hole in the ground that’s fit for the Gods. And it came just in time. I was thinking to myself during the descent, “Dang, I need to dig a cathole soon. Wait, maybe there will be one down at Hamilton.” Eureka! And boy, what a view. Again, undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed while taking care of business.
A thick smokey haze engulfed the valley beyond Hamilton Lake, and it persisted almost all the way to Crescent Meadow. I wonder if they were doing a controlled burn. There were no signs, but then again there was nothing indicating a wildfire either. It eventually cleared, but not until I’d reached the parking lot. I enjoyed a snack and snapped some photos at the HST sign before finishing the last 2.5 miles through a maze of well-traveled trails to reach the General Sherman Tree, and the official end of this trip. On the way, just a quarter mile from the parking lot, a coyote hopped out onto the trail in front of me. She ran along ahead of me for a few hundred feet before leisurely dipping off into the trees. I don’t think she ever realized I was behind her. She was so beautiful, and certainly about the last thing I expected to see so near cars and people, especially with so much wilderness around her. It happened really quickly; I never even reached for my camera.
After the first couple trail junctions, there were no more signs that indicated the way to Sherman. Instead, I followed signs for the Congress Trail. I think it’s a loop. When I reached it, I turned right which got me to the General Sherman Tree. I dunno if left would’ve been faster. I reached the Sherman Tree at about a quarter to 7p. Just enough time for photos. They’re dark, but they’ll do!
It was funny that I felt physically better at the end than I had at the start. That persistent shin splint was all but gone. I’d been comfortably cruisin’ pretty much since Whitney. I felt like a thru-hiker again. Pretty satisfying. I was finally done, but not really. I still had to get back to the car, which I’d parked at the Giant Forest Museum. Two miles on the road were all that separated me from creature comforts like climate control. I made quick work of the road walk and found my car exactly as I’d left it, then I raced down the mountain to get to Visalia in time to go to In ‘n Out Burger for dinner. I was high on stoke, speedily driving the winding road while banging on the steering wheel, laughing out loud, and yelling repeatedly: “HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS AWESOME!!”
I freakin’ love working out all of the troublesome logistics on the front end. There is nothing – and I mean nothing – like hiking back to the car and actually being totally done. There is nothing to plan or work out, nothing to rob me of that precious moment. It’s so satisfying.
Miles Hiked: 27