Kearsarge Pass: Solo Wilderness Trip

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
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.

Thanks for reading!

Have you solo camped/ backpacked? I’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you have to get more comfortable with it! 🙂

Please don’t forget to practice Leave No Trace

Gear List from this Solo Backpacking Trip:

13 thoughts on “Kearsarge Pass: Solo Wilderness Trip”

  1. The easiest way is to just do it. It takes time to become accustomed to being without people. Once I did, I didn’t feel alone, and you might not either. No people gives time to hear and see other things that a companion might distract from.

    1. Oh good point! I like the way you think… I’ll have to try again one day… when I work back up the courage. I think just making the first step towards it is the hardest part.

  2. I also did Kearsarge but with a buddy of mine and pretty much the same exact itinerary. Camped at flower lake (by the big rock with the charcoal stains) The 1st night, summit the next day, then went home the next. Ive solo camped before, and yes its pretty scary at night. You hear everything! All in all this was a good trip and cant wait to do it again!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Justin! Glad to hear I’m not the only one that gets freaked out solo camping. Let me know how it goes the next time!

  3. George Armstrong

    I have done quite a bit of solo backpacking. I don’t really get scared of anything except lightning or difficult water crossings. I have solo’d in the Sierra, Los Padres, and San Gorgonio, as well as numerous car camping trips. I like to go with friends, but they don’t usually have the same time off as I do. I do like the solitude that solo camping offers. All in all whether with family, friends, or solo camping is one of my favorite things to do. I think you would get used to solo backpacking after a few more trips but I can see from your posts that you have a great time with your companions as well. Your posts are some of the best I have seen, especially the Utah trips.

    1. Hi George,

      Thanks so much for sharing and for the kind words. I haven’t been able to bring myself to go solo again yet but am definitely inspired to! 🙂

  4. Just love your storytelling and the adventure you head out into.keep up the hikes you encourage my wife who has done with me misty falls hike and to the top and camping at kings canyon and the area.keep the hikes coming Van $ Johnny

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