K_Dub's Solstice Solo in the South Sierra

K_Dub

New member
#1
Seeing as I'm new to the forums, and this is my first trip report here, perhaps I should start with some perfunctory expedition exposition. I've done a handful of true expeditions in my life, at one point spending 4 months traveling the west coast from Southern California to Alaska and back. Otherwise it's mostly weekend trips or taking the scenic route to visit family out of state. Beyond travel, automotive photography is another hobby of mine and to two interests compliment each other well. In short, I like to drive to scenic, remote locations and pose my cars for pictures. I've been doing this for almost two decades now, and posting on various make/model forums, but I believe I've finally found my home with like minded folks here at Expedition Portal.

I don't get out as often as I used to, but each year I manage to spend my birthday and Summer Solstice some place special. This would also be my first multi-day trip in a 1995 Jeep Cherokee that I'd bought off my friend last fall. The old XJ has taken the name Brosef Bromley, and we've done a couple of local day-trips around Southern California to get a feel for things but never too far off the beaten path. I was worried about getting Brosef up to snuff for a longer trip, and I spent the week leading up to the trip in a last ditch effort to get everything ready. With the help of my mechanic, I swapped out the climate switch and charged the freon, replaced the power steering pump, torched out the axle-studs for my sway-bars (which had been removed since last winter) and then installed a set of disconnects. Before re-assembling the dash I installed a new Pioneer head unit (a nice BT receiver unit with no CD so it's tiny in back to make room for some extra wiring that's been done), and then put some faux chinchilla-fur covers over my torn vinyl seats. I removed my rear bench and bought a toolbox that fits in the footwell behind the passenger seat and it makes a surprisingly large, flat, cargo area. The night before my planned departure, Brosef was all buttoned up and ready but I was not.

We were headed out for a 5 day/4 night trip to the South Sierra Nevada, specifically the South Fork of the Kern River where it comes down from the Golden Trout Wilderness into Monache Meadows in the Sequoia National Forest. I woke early on the day of my planned departure. I had breakfast with the lil' 'Dub and then ran to the grocery. I always have a bunch of Mountain House meals on hand, but I also bring lots of extra food and provisions on my trips. So i picked up some snacks and lunches, lots of water, spare batteries for the headlamps, etc. When I got home I was just tearing through my garage, throwing tools and parts into bins, throwing clothes and jackets into duffle bags, and generally just making a mess of things. I didn't get on the road until 2pm, which is terrible. The long, hot, slog of a drive to Pearsonville was also my shakedown for the last of my repairs. The sway-bars gave me a newfound confidence at speed, but it took forever for me to figure out my iPod with the new stereo (for those following along at home, the soundtrack of the trip was Adios Maria by The Cactus Blossoms). The A/C blows cold, but it redirects to the defrost vents when under load so I have a vacuume leak somewhere. All in all, Brosef is much improved but still not a pleasant drive on the freeway. I got to Peasonville at 5:30 to gas up and buy local firewood (which doesn't actually look local, but at least I tried). From there I was headed straight up the mountain on 9 Mile Grade Rd to Kennedy Meadows. I continued on to Sherman Pass Rd as the sun began to dip behind the trees. At the trailhead for Jackass Flats, I pulled off and found the most amazing map of OHV trails in the Sequoia Nat'l Forest in a box at the trail head kiosk. 2000 miles of trails with marked difficulty on each one, thanks USDA for that little gift. I pressed on and finally reached my trail right at sundown. I aired down, disconnected my sways, turned on my lights and headed into unknown territory. By the time I reached Monache Meadows is was officially dark out, the last of the dusk light vanishing while I was deep in the woods. I struggled to find a spot to camp in the dark, so I simply pulled off the first side trail I found. There was a fire ring there, but it was too late to get that started. I backed onto a log to level out and jettisoned a couple bulky items to make room for sleeping quarters. I haven't got many pictures to back this all up, but there's a lot more to come. Here are a pair of shots I took on the way in; my first glimpse of Olancha Peak and Brosef in the Magic Hour light.





To be continued...
 
Last edited:

K_Dub

New member
#2






The following morning, I was greeted early to an incredible sunrise and some biting cold. The spot I'd chosen was amazingly beautiful, but also far too exposed. I shrunk back into my bag, and fell asleep waiting for the warmth to pick up. I waited too long, and by 9am the car was a sauna. It was still nice and cool outside, but sitting in the sun at that altitude will cook you alive. I took a few photos and made a hot freeze-dried breakfast with cold pita bread which I ate under a nearby tree. I developed a very specific model of my ideal campsite in my head, and set out in search. I toured the meadow and drove all the branch roads. Finally I continued north following the river roughly to a spot at the base of the canyon just above the meadows. I'd found my spot! There are others like it, but this one is mine. I proceeded to set up the most decadent campsite that I've ever enjoyed. I parked in the flattest spot available, although that wasn't ideal for my cheepo tarp awning which I stretched around and between the trees with paracord and bungees. The tent isn't actually a tent but a decoy: I laid the ground cloth and set the poles and then stretched the rain fly over the top with no actual tent inside. It was my shed where I put all my gear while I made a house out of the Jeep.







As an aside, throughout my twenties these Birthday trips were solo backpacking adventures. I'd pack light, and hike far to get deep into the back country. A few years back I had a bear encounter that has led me to staying in more "civilized" locations or dragging a friend along. This is the first time I haven't stayed out on the ground though, so my idea of decadent my differ from yours. I'm still conflicted as to whether this is an improvement. Photos are from later in the day.



 

K_Dub

New member
#3
After getting my camp built, I went for a short walk to check out my surroundings. I walked up river a bit taking pictures of the wildflowers, before heading west up an escarpment that would give me views of the river's route down from the high country to the north. I got back to camp right at the start of magic hour. I snapped some more shots of the river adjacent to my camp and then headed back to build my fire and make dinner. I had a can of vegetable beef soup (canned goods on a camping trip is another first for me) and hot pita with cold beer to wash it down. For dessert I'd brought a cupcake and I sang happy birthday to myself between bites. I doused the fire and settled in to my palatial abode for the night. This was good living.













A very happy birthday, indeed. More to come...
 

K_Dub

New member
#4
The spot I picked had ample shade from the east, and my bed was so comfortable, that I managed to sleep later than I had in months. I eventually woke up, reached back and cracked a window, grabbed a book and proceeded to stay in bed for another two hours. This is unprecedented. I'd told everyone that I would be climbing Olancha Peak, or at least the ridgeline to look down into the Owens Valley, but I ended up having the laziest day of my adult life. I played some guitar (a full sized guitar on a camping trip is another new luxury), read even more, ate some snacks, played more guitar... I didn't end up leaving my camp until mid-afternoon and even then I left with only a water bottle, bear spray and my pocket knife; I wasn't going anywhere too far. I hiked down the river into the northernmost extremities of Monache Meadows. I was going parallel to the trail that I took to get in, so eventually I circled back to the road and hiked that back. Later when the light got nice, I grabbed my camera and returned to the meadow to shoot what I'd seen earlier. I just love the Sierra Nevada. That night I enjoyed some spaghetti out of a pouch with some pita by the fire and watched the stars move slowly through the trees.





















Next up, the longest day of the year.
 

K_Dub

New member
#5










Up early on Summer Solstice, not sunrise early but like 7:45am. I'd planned all along to return home on Friday the 22nd, but on the way in I decided that I would rather take two days to get back and explore some other trails. I returned to Sherman Pass the way I came in, this time with the sun to show the trail, and aired back at Powell Meadow when I returned to pavement.















Powell Meadow photos and the road to Kernville are still to come.
 

K_Dub

New member
#7
I've spent a lot of time up here, but never in a big-ol' Jeep like Brosef Bromley, so I was determined to drive a couple of trails that had turned me back years ago in various Subarus and such. This really is a wonderfully accessable part of the Sierra Nevada. It isn't Yosemite by any stretch, but the South Sierra has its share of domes and big trees too without the crowds and regulations. Sherman Pass Rd is the main road through the area, but there are plenty of branch trails and even a couple of loops. The Sherman Pass 4x4 trail, which runs parallel to the road, is on the bucket list for me still but is not something I'd try on my own. In fact it's likely beyond the abilities of both me and my truck, so it's something to aspire to. I bounced around on stiff tires for a while on various trails on my way over the pass. I had wonderful views of the Great Western Divide to the North-West, and Olancha Peak to Whitney and beyond to the North-East. To the South lay the Domeland Wilderness. I took the customary photos at the top of the pass, and then headed down the other side toward the North Fork Kern River (the big one). I stopped once more on the way at the site of my Bachelor party years ago. The large Rambo Rest-Stop with fire pits has been completely restored. The road up there still exists, but it just peters out into a field. It's nice, but certainly caught me by surprise. I wonder if anyone ever found the crossbow bolts that we lost that night.

















A tryptic tribute to Ansel Adams.





 

K_Dub

New member
#8
Eventually I made it down the canyon to Kernville, home of the Kern River Brewing Company. I've spent some serious time here back in the day, but it had been 8 years since that fateful Bachelor party and I hadn't been back since. I got a motel room next door to the brewery, and got cleaned up. I had a burger that was a little disappointing, but great compared to freeze dried rations. The beer was fantastic, and they filled my insulated growler to go. I stayed out late talking to a fellow Jeeper and Photographer in the parking lot of our motel and didn't get to bed until about midnight. I never had trouble making friends in Kernville, it's a great town.



The next morning I pointed south and headed toward home. I've always taken the highway down Kern Canyon to Bakersfield, but this time with a bit more time to kill I went exploring. Over the pass South of Lake Isabella there is a road that goes up to the top of Breckenridge Mountain where there's a fire lookout, then winds its way down the ridge to Bakersfield. This may be the windiest road I've ever driven. The entire length of it is a continuous squiggle for over 40 miles. This could make the craziest tarmac rally stage in the world. I took the dirt diversion road up to the summit, so I missed a chunk of the road, but I still can't believe some of the sections dropping down through the Oak belt and into the grassland foothills. It made me wish I had something a bit more sporting than a lifted Jeep with a 4-banger and cruddy brakes. At least I had those sway bars.




















Once you bottom out in the valley, you just want to find the quickest way back out of said valley. It was hot a muggy that day, and I hopped on the highway back toward Los Angeles. Eventually I was on Interstate 5 South, climbing what's known as "The Grapevine". That's a nasty stretch of road, I don't care who you are, but in Brosef it was torture. Climbing the hill gets you into 3rd gear eventually; on the far right with the truckers; no A/C of course; eyes glued on the temp gauge; foot mashed to the floor. Coming back down the other side is hardly any better in my wobbly old Jeep, but we survived it and made it home by mid afternoon with a couple of new grey hairs in my beard. My wife and baby were out when I got back, so I had time to shave off my beard to surprise them and give closure to the journey. This trip was very different than all my previous adventures, with luxuries and comforts that border on "glamping". I'm looking at RTTs and fridges now, you guys are a terrible influence on me. Hope you enjoyed my story and pictures.
 
#9
Great right up and love the xj. I also have a 2 door and love wondering around Colorado with it.

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K_Dub

New member
#11
Great right up and love the xj. I also have a 2 door and love wondering around Colorado with it.

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Thanks. I grew up in Colorado, above Boulder. I'd love to tool my Jeep around the old stomping grounds like Rollins Pass and the Switzerland Trail. I've driven from CA to CO and back countless times, but that would be a monster trip in this car on the freeway. Maybe if I stick to back roads the whole way...:unsure:
 

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#12
Very nice write up and photos. I called the Kernville area my temporary home for a few days every month back in the 70s, part of my job with USGS. So lots of your descriptions and photos brought back great memories.


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