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Aug 17th
Grouse Lake (120.3)-Roads End/Copper Creek Trailhead(128)
Mileage: 7.7mi

Our final morning on the KCHBR and in the Sierra. We soaked it up these last couple days knowing how fortunate we were to be able to do this trip and pull it off. Many factors have to come together to make a route such as this work. We both are grateful the chips fell into place with no fire closures, excellent weather (not a drop of rain in 12 days!), great trail conditions (we went a bit early), and no injuries. This morning was a brief mile of off trail from Grouse Lake to get us to the Copper Creek Trail and then 6.7mi down to the car at Roads End, 5,434ft below where our tents were pitched this morning, whew!

Sunrise coming through on the Copper Creek Trail.

For me, I’ll be coming full circle this morning, and I love that. About two months ago, I started this summer of high routes, as a somewhat apprehensive novice, at the exact same trailhead. Heading up the exact same trail for the Sierra High Route. I was such a different hiker then and never imagined I’d take to this type of hiking and enjoy it as much as I do.

Morning light as we thankfully were shaded on the way down.

I know this summer has been quite different from my previous hikes and that long trails with a trail community makes for, often times, more entertaining reading than just describing one pass after another. No worries, the next 6 months or more will surely be filled with that type of journal entry as I will be headed to actual TRAILS! This was a really good experience for me. I like challenges and pushing my comfort zone a bit to grow and evolve. This summer was definitely a challenge to learn map and compass navigation and to feel comfortable on off trail terrain. Specifically, to feel comfortable on rocks, which has always been a fear for me given my weak ankle that likes to give at any moment. Somewhere around the second or third week of all this, I finally started to feel more natural and less hesitant on the rocks. Now I can cruise on them and step confidently in stride from one boulder to another, whereas I previously would use my hiking poles or hands as a precautionary brace anticipating a slip or fall.

Somehow after two months of this, I didn’t have a major fall on the rocks. Some bumps and bruises, but nothing major at all, and that was a huge confidence boost for me and my faith in the ankle I step on. I no longer have that slight wave of anxiety with a leap from one curved rock to another anticipating my ankle to give. I learned to step in a direction that it will be less likely to roll and it became more natural over time. I can’t say that this type of travel is one I enjoy more over the comfort and ease of trail miles, but I can appreciate it. It opens up so many more opportunities for exploration and travel, and I’m excited about the possibilities that could bring.

For many people who read this blog, I know that this type of hiking can be difficult to fully relate to and understand as far as how challenging and difficult it is. The line-up of the Sierra High Route, High Sierra Trail, Wind River High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route is extremely ambitious with a ton of factors needing to fall into place. People don’t do this type of hiking, for this extended amount of time, at this level of intensity. I met someone on trail who was basing their SHR hike off my schedule and said they found they needed double the days to complete the route. I do want to stress that, for most people, the pace that we went this summer, would be considered aggressive. Please take that into account if you are planning to do any of these routes. If you are normally a trail hiker, I’d compare what we did to the energy it would take to hike 30+ mile days routinely. It was not a vacation by any means and was full days of hiking at an intense level. I enjoy that type of hiking and I know it isn’t for everyone over an extended period of time. These routes can be done at a more relaxed pace. Yes, it would require carrying more food or finding creative ways to resupply, but it can be done.

KCHBR complete! Copper Creek Trailhead at Roads End.

It all went so seamlessly as far as logistics, weather, and health that I feel so very fortunate. When those factors out of my control fall into place like that, I like to believe it’s because I’m where I’m supposed to be. There is a natural flow that just clicks and I definitely felt like I was in that groove this summer of everything just falling into place to make all this happen. I also was fortunate to have friends willing to endure such challenges as well. It is quite motivating to do routes like these in groups or pairs where you can have someone to share the difficult and amazing moments. I want to thank Why Not, Rockin’, and E for coming along and tolerating a schedule that was sometimes more tiring over an extended period of time than they would have preferred. 

As for the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, I have to applaud Skurka on piecing together a route that is well balanced in challenge and reward. We met many people out doing their own routes in the Sierra. It is a playground where really anything is possible and you can lay out a map and be creative. For those of us unwilling to put in the research or time, it is quite nice to have this and the SHR as options for high routes. None of this is new to anyone who travels in the Sierra. People do their own off trail routes all the time and many books detail every area and pass we’ve been through. It’s nice to have them all linked together to create a nice route for people like us looking to do a thru-hike of sorts (there are also loops and section hike options for the KCHBR and SHR).

We only used the GPS twice the whole time (confirming King Col location and checking where to cross in Goddard), and that isn’t just our skills, but that means that the maps and descriptions were well done. So props to Skurka on making a guidebook and map set with more complete content than some of his other online packages. I know I gave him a hard time on his less than quality WRHR package, but I like to give credit, both good and bad, where it is due. Skurka redeemed himself on this one. Once the third version of the KCHBR packet is compiled, I would say that it is a solid guide for this trip. At the moment, the pieces are all there to be put together at least. Hopefully soon, he will compile it all in a more user friendly way so the updates are part of the original content and not a separate file of notes.

Ok, back to today. We finished by 9am, headed just a few miles down the road for breakfast burritos and showers at Cedar Grove Village, and then began the day of driving. It was two hours to get back to my car at our start point at Lodgepole. Then we parted ways. E is always traveling somewhere and is looking to complete a small section of the PCT that was closed to her 11yrs ago when she did the PCT, then her home in Moab for awhile before the Antarctica ice core drilling season begins again. We may overlap and see each other again in New Zealand (she has a home there she tends to be at in our winter) and we both have dreams of Tasmania one day, which just might work out if I get time in our late spring after the TeAraroa…so, so fortunate to have E as a friend and hiking partner and I’m sure we have plenty of hiking ahead together! THANK YOU E!!!

For me, I drove to visit family in Moraga, CA. My mom, stepdad, younger sister, and nephew, live there. I can’t believe I was sleeping in my tent at a beautiful lake over 10,000ft this morning and I finished the day in Moraga enjoying a steak at the Outback Steakhouse (great warm-up for Australia in less than a month!). Yep, that’s how to end a trail. Steak dinner to celebrate!

Outback Steakhouse celebratory dinner with my mom and stepdad.

I will spend a few days visiting with family and then I head back home to Portland for a couple days to then transition to hopefully do the Wonderland Trail (~100mi around Mt Rainier ON TRAIL!) for a week next week. I’ll put up more on that in a few days before I leave. Thanks to everyone for hanging in there on these high routes. Trail is coming and I’m just as excited as you are to stretch my legs!

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