HIKE TO: Kearsarge Pass TRAILHEAD: Kearsarge Pass Trail MILES: 9.3 miles out and back TIME: 1 night (commonly done as a day hike) DATE I WENT: 8/17/18 - 8/18/18 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION: 11,760 ft ELEVATION GAIN: 2,595 ft PERMIT: no for day hikes, yes for overnight camping LOCATION: Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra
Last August [8.17.18] I decided it was time for me to experience the wilderness alone, so I packed up my backpacking pack and got on the road with no trails in mind, just the direction of the 395 N hwy… but Kearsarge Pass has always caught my eyes.
Motivation to Try Solo Wilderness Camping
I’ve been hiking for a few years now and have almost always had a partner to adventure with, but I’ve been hearing about all these bad@$$ women who go on solo trips which empowered me to try it for myself. I very much enjoy a solo hike and my “me time” but the idea of hitting the road by myself and sleeping completely alone in the dark wilderness surrounded by wildlife had always made me nervous… and still does.
I left on the morning of August 17 and made my way to the Interagency Permit Center in Lone Pine, CA to check with the ranger on permit availability, current water sources, bear sightings (yes, I still get paranoid about bears on every trip esp since I’m solo this time) and any extra info I may need. Kearsarge Pass has always been a trail I wanted to hike so I opt for that one. Although it is only 4.65 miles to the top of Kearsarge pass from Onion Valley trailhead one-way, there are plenty of alpine lakes along the trail so I thought it would be a good trail to spend some time exploring. Although I didn’t have a set plan in mind for this road trip, it still didn’t go quite as I planned.
The trail begins at Onion Valley campground on the Bubbs Creek Trail and passes through: Little Pothole Lake, Gilbert Lake, Flower Lake, Heart Lake, and finally Big Pothole Lake before reaching the top of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760 ft. From there, you can either go down to Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake to connect with the JMT (& Rae Lakes a little further down) or if you’re feeling adventurous, climb Mt. Gould, a short 13er with some class 2/3 scrambling.
Day 1: Hike from Onion Valley to Backcountry Campsite in Inyo National Forest
I started the trail to Kearsarge Pass at 2:45 pm with the intention of staying for two nights solo… that didn’t happen. The trail is very populated since it’s also a resupply spot for JMT thru-hikers so I was never really alone for too long. I had plenty of time to make it to the top of Kearsarge Pass this afternoon and probably catch the sunset up there too since I started so early, but my mind wasn’t there so I hiked up above Heart Lake, only to find out it’s too far from a water source and decided to head back down to Flower Lake to set up camp by 5:20 pm and hangout.
I got to test out my new BeFree water filter and absolutely love it! I bring it on every trip now & I’d definitely recommend checking it out for ultralight water filter options. The weight + convenience is simply unbeatable.
I met a lot of interesting people on the trail but there was a dad and son who asked to camp right next to me. They were coming off early from the JMT and very kind humans – they had a donkey, offered me a ton of food since they were exiting the trail incredibly early (daughter had altitude sickness so the mom hiked off the mountain & into the city with her), and we had great conversations and good vibes all evening. At first, I was a little annoyed that out of the entire wilderness, they had to set up right next to me when I was testing out my first solo night in the wilderness, but I’m glad they did because it was so windy and scary at night alone so they kept me calm when my mind started panicking.
I headed inside my tent just as the sun set around 7:30 pm – I rarely stay outside my tent after the sun goes down because 1) I get cold in the backcountry and 2) I’m scared of the dark when I’m out there for too long.
Day 2: Hike to Kearsarge Pass
The next morning, I got up and out at 7:30 am and spent a couple of hours with the dad and son before parting ways at 10 am. They took off and I started my way up to Kearsarge Pass solo. It’s only about 2 miles away and I frolicked to the top by 11:20 am (if I recall correctly, there’s some spotty cell signal along this way for those trying to connect with thru-hikers). The trail was very exposed and a gradual incline with some switchbacks.
The original plan, since I had plenty of time on my hands, was to attempt Mt. Gould, but I was reluctant to go at it solo, especially with my late morning start. I decided not to go down the pass to Kearsarge Lakes either and mostly just wanted to spend time out in the wilderness by myself, so I enjoyed an hour at Kearsarge Pass with lake views on both sides and the Kearsarge Pinnacles towering over the lakes.
I failed at my solo trip. Since I had an empty itinerary for the rest of the day and upcoming days, I hung out at Flower Lake back at camp by myself and decided to head off the trail because I was scared of the wind from the night before and nervous to stay again completely alone.
Solo backpacking is not for me… at least not yet.
For the rest of my trip, I crossed paths with a member from GirlsWhoHikeLA, Jen, who reached out to me on Instagram, letting me know she had a solo trip planned to Kearsarge Pass at the same time, and we made plans to meet up that night to hike together the next day. I camped at Alabama Hills solo (while she went up to Mt Whitney trailhead to acclimate) so we could hike to Lone Pine Lake the next day… and I headed home after.
Gear List from this Solo Backpacking Trip:
- 2p Big Agnes Ultralight Tent (if you’re looking for a 1-person ultralight tent, I also have this one and love it)
- Water filter – ultralight and so dang convenient
- Food storage container
- GPS watch – newer model linked
- Custom ultralight backpack – interested to go ultralight for a better hike experience? Check out my gear guide for tips on how here
- Compressible day pack – great to bring on overnight hikes for summit days
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Eddie Bauer Cirruslite Down Jacket
- Glyder sports bra/ leggings outfit – 20% off your first order