Monday, September 24, 2007

A Stormy Dry Meadow & Needles Hike

Yesterday we went hiking up above Johnsondale, just as the first snow of the season was brewing in the distance. After months and months of perfect sunshine and blue skies, seeing the ominous clouds was energizing! There is so much to explore in this area ranging from the Western Divide and the upper Kern River.

We started hiking near Elephant Knob and followed Dry Meadow Creek (an epic steep creek kayak run) for a bit. We ended up wandering a trail running perpendicular towards Peppermint Creek miles to the north. The views were awesome...Sentinel Dome, Dome Rock, the Needles and several other geological features were in view.

We took a lunch break on a granite slab that overlooked the Forks of the Kern run and the Kern River Trail, another spectacular hike. We could see all the way from Split Mountain in Wofford Heights and into Golden Trout Wilderness to the north.

The only evidence of humans was an old motorcycle track; otherwise it was just deer prints, bear track, and coyote poo. Rad! We'll have to check out more of the trail, but it could make a good mountain bike ride.

After looping back, we got the urge to go check out The Needles on the Western Divide. The Needles are a group of huge granite spires and domes that lunge out above the Forks of the Kern, and are extremely popular for rock climbing.

The storm seemed far enough away, that there could still be some excellent views. We did see newly snow covered peaks out towards Mt Whitney.

But - of course - the storm intensified right when we got to one of the best viewpoints in the Sierras; the Needles fire lookout. (See the fire tower perched on top of one of the granite knobs in the picture below.)

The wind picked up and it started snowing as the visibility dumped. After climbing all the rickety steps up to the tower, we had about 2 minutes before the ranger closed it down due to lightning.

The only thing was that there was no lightning! It was the deer hunting season opener, and some poor deer bit the dust. It was very obviously a gun shot to everyone up there...except the ranger lady. She was all panicked and argued that there was lighting RIGHT above us! Oh well... we couldnt even see to the bottom of the Needles at this point. It was fun enough just hiking in a storm! Finally some precipitation!

Here's a GPX file of our wanderings.

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