These were the questions our band of peak climbers faced as we spotted the start of the McNalley (Sequoia National Forest) fire on Sunday while descending from the northwest ridge of Mt. Tyndall. The mushroom cloud of smoke quickly spread up the Kern River valley and blotted-out the sun. After hauling big packs up Shepherd's Pass we were reluctant to yield to the fates. We moved camp down from the pass towards Milestone Basin on Monday, hoping for better conditions, but were met with ash falling from the sky short of the Kern River.
Still hoping for a miracle, we camped and fished for trout in the lakes along the Kern River on Monday afternoon anticipating a shift in the wind, or quick reaction from firefighters. Tuesday morning gave us a bright blue sky to resume our trek into Milestone Basin. We followed an excellent use trail up Milestone Creek, camping just north of the Creek at a lake with a fine view of Milestone, Midway, and Table. The sky would grow hazy in the afternoon, but clear in the morning. The lakes in Milestone Basin were teeming with tadpoles and the only fish to be caught were a mile down the Creek. We climbed Milestone Peak by the description in Secor, ascending one fork of Milestone Creek and descending the other fork past waterfalls and Alpine Shooting Stars. Our relaxed schedule left plenty of time to swim and fish in the lakes. The only other party we saw was an Outward Bound group climbing the same peaks in the area.
On Thursday we climbed Midway by the east ridge and moved camp to a lake south of Genevra, climbing it from the east side on Friday morning. We moved camp again Friday afternoon to a point near the John Muir Trail and, not wanting to squash mosquitoes all afternoon at Anvil camp, completed a 17 mile march to the trailhead Saturday. Surprisingly, the snow pack had melted from Shepherd's Pass, leaving the trail completely dry. We only had twenty feet of snow to cross on the way in.
Despite the gloomy outlook on Monday, a little perseverance rewarded us with a fine adventure. And no, one should not climb through choking ash to reach a peak one cannot see.