Day Two: Bearpaw Meadow to Big Arroyo Junction
Peak elevation: 10,700 (Kaweah Gap)
Peak elevation gain: 2,880
Camp elevation: 9,560
In retrospect, this was one of the hardest days and one of my favorites. Don’t let the mileage fool you – Jeez this was a hard hike, especially with a pack. It’s a pretty steady, relatively easy elevation gain to Big Hamilton Lake, which is a lovely mountain lake at 8,235 feet. We – and the other hikers that passed through – took our clothes off and swam in the cool waters surrounded with Kaweah Gap well above us then snacked as our underwear dried before putting our already dirty clothes back on.
There’s a pit toilet there as well. A simple fence on two sides blocking the view from the trail, but with a 360 view of the mountains around you. An absolutely gorgeous place to take care of your uh, morning business. I don’t think I’ve ever had a prettier poo. Although whomever left their salami in that pit toilet is pretty much the worst. Can you imagine the mess animals will create when they try to go after that salami? Would it have killed you to carry it out, anonymous evil, lazy hiker?
After Hamilton Lake, there is nowhere to go but up. Pretty much straight up. You go from 8,235 feet to 10,700 feet in under 5 miles and the trail is pretty open to the heat of the day. Add to that it’s the first experience above 9,000 feet and you’re facing your first serious brush with high altitude trekking. It was brutal. I took diamox to help with the altitude but I still had what felt like a sinus headache starting halfway up those nearly 5 miles to Kaweah Gap. Molly’s headache was worse and the closer we got to Precipice Lake, the landmark right before the Gap, the more she struggled.
The last bit from Precipice Lake over Kaweah Gap was a slog through the altitude gain. Molly may have proclaimed she was dying while we recovered at the Gap with snickers bars. The last nearly 3 miles to camp was downhill or relatively flat – but the sort of last-three-miles that last bloody forever. We got to camp (finally) around dusk and ended up cooking dinner by headlamp, which is always less than ideal.
Big Arroyo Junction has a nice river for a water source, a bearbox, and was less full than Bearpaw – I think only two other groups were there. No pit toilet, just you and your trowel and whatever creative positioning you do to get comfortable pooping in the woods.
Also, as mentioned in a previous entry – nothing like backpacking to make you comfortable talking about bodily functions with complete strangers. I’ve been back in civilization two days now and I’ve already had to actively remind myself not to burp in front of people. But I’m also a real classy lady like that.