Saturday 6am, we met at Kennedy Meadows Campground and two of us drove 20 minutes over to Fish Creek campground to drop off a car for the return shuttle. By 7:20 am, our group of 6 was hiking North on the PCT out of Kennedy Meadows. Weather was perfect; crisp and cool.
We hiked 5 miles to Clover Meadow and took a break, then continued on and stopped just at the end of the meadow to start the climb. By this time it had warmed up considerably and but it was still comfortable for hiking. As suggested by Aaron Schuman's trip report, we were about 1 mile past Crag and were looking at forested slopes which hopefully would keep us out of the brush encountered by others. We stripped our packs from unnecessary items and at 10:30am walked cross-country West toward the trees. The map showed a creek which we were expecting to cross and use to refill our bottles but we only saw dry creek beds. We had minimal brush hiking up to the ridge and headed South toward Crag once we reached the ridge top. As we got closer to the peak, we climbed up the rocky ridge hoping to reach the summit only to find out that the actual summit was yet further south. We finally arrived to the knife edge fin and scooted across toward the summit by 2:30pm. We placed a new register and enjoyed the 360 degree view, while convincing ourselves that the shiny patches in Beck Meadow were indeed water.
For the way down, we followed a small gully immediately before the knife ridge and skirted the rocky ridge. After an easy descent, we were back to our packs around 5:30pm. A group of beginner backpackers stopped by asking if we had found any water. At that time, the closest water point was Beck Meadows, about 2.5 miles North on the PCT. Tired and thirsty, we got there around 7:30pm and immediately started looking for a pond or stream. It turned out what we had seen from Crag was little more than brown algae filled ponds. Clean, clear, water was flowing from a tiny spring flowing in a stream 10 inches wide and about 1 inch deep. Not discouraged, John dug a little hole and demonstrated we could scoop water 1/2 cup at a time into a pot while Kirsten and Tony filtered the water out of the pot into the bottles. And so it went...everyone got rehydrated and was able to cook dinner.
It got cold at night: all our water bottles froze solid and a thick layer of frost was covering everything including the sleeping bags of the star gazers Paul and Tony. Sunday morning, we made the decision to head toward Smith Mountain with the option to skip it should we not find water again. We each guzzled one to two quarts and left Beck meadow at 9:00am. The trail between Beck meadow and Jackass crosses many meadows and makes for very enjoyable hiking. It is a little unclear in some sections but we used Jenkins' "South Sierra" guide book and map/compass/GPS to keep us on track. Coming to Albanita Meadow, we somehow followed a spur trail which lead to the Southern portion of the meadow, 1 mile south of the intended trail. When arriving to Albanita meadow, make sure you keep going west to North West rather than head south into the southern arm of the meadow. Water was flowing in the creeks along the way and allowed us to remain well (too well?) hydrated.
Because of our late departure, and in true PCS fashion ("I don't climb the list but I would rather climb the list peak"), we decided to skip Jackass and focus on Smith. We dropped our packs at 2pm at the saddle North East of Smith and took about 1 hour to reach the summit. We were looking at a storm over Whitney when we suddenly heard thunder approaching. An isolated storm we had not noticed earlier was coming our way from the South and seemed very close. We estimated it would hit the peak in 15 min. We quickly came down and were back at the saddle around 4:00pm. We then headed down the trail to cover the last 6.5 miles to Fish Creek campground which we reached at 7:30pm. We did not encounter any bad weather and figured we somehow stayed out of the storm's path. At the campground we noticed the trail was wet and campers were standing around camp fires warming up after a 20 min hail storm. We were lucky!
We packed the whole group in one car for the short shuttle back to Kennedy Meadows and concluded this great trip at "The Grumpy Bear's Retreat", the closest restaurant open (6 miles from Kennedy Meadows). The waitress announced the extensive menu: CHICKEN OR RIBS". We devoured our $6 ribs while pondering the gold letter sign on the wall that read: "If you ain't a cow boy, you ain't shit".
Trip participants: Tony Stegman, Stephane Mouradian (leader), Kirsten Mouradian, John Damaschke (first PCS trip), David McCracken, Paul Magliocco
Trip stats Day 1: 8.3 miles, +2100' gain to hike from Kennedy Meadows to Beck Meadow on the PCT 4 miles, +2000' gain to climb Crag
Day 2: 11.5 miles, + 1100' to loop from Beck Meadow to Fish Creek via Lost Meadow and Albanita Meadow. 1.2 miles, +1000' to climb Smith Mountain