Getting confused on Kern Peak

31 May 2001 - by Helen Qian

"I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for a spell." Daniel Boone

When I first heard of this quote, I thought it was just a smart-ass reply. But after my experience this past weekend, I couldn't agree more with the sentiment.

You see, I tried to so a solo trip to a new area without a map. It wasn't intentional not to carry a map. But work got into the way of trip preparation. When I got to the local map store at 4:30 Friday afternoon, the store had already sold out all 10 copies of the Kern Peak map in that same day. Neither REI nor Sport Chalet carries the map.

No matter, I have studied the map on (Oh, did I mention that my printer is out of ink?) I have read several trip reports and got good information from others who had been there. I had backpacked in the area before. So I knew the trails are very well marked and I was confident about getting to Redrock Meadow.

My last ditch effort to get a map at Blackrock station also failed. I only have $2 in my pocket and they don't take credit cards.

"You're a brave soul." One of the ladies says to me. I mumble something like "I'm familiar with the area." and "It doesn't get dark until after 7."

The comment comes back to me as I'm driving toward the trailhead. What does her mean exactly? Is there anything going on at Redrock I should know about? Oh well. I guess I'll find out.

I set out on the trail at the crack of noon. I figure: 9 miles, 5 hours, I should still get to camp well before dark.

I soon discover the advantage of having a map even when I'm following a well marked trail. Is THIS the Beer Keg Meadow? or was it the last meadow I passed? I think Redrock should be the next meadow. No... the topography doesn't look right. How do I know I haven't gone past it already? Let's see... It's call Redrock for a reason. There's a prominent formation call Indian Head nearby. And the trail from Jordan Hot Spring meets there. That's it. I'll just keep going until I hit the trail intersection.

I top out of a hill and there across the valley is some redish looking rocks. Aha! That must be the Indian Head. Has it been climbed?

I hardly saw a soul since I left Casa Vieja Meadow. I now have a cultral shock. There must be more than 20 people here in several groups. I debate between camp near a fire ring or solitude. Solitude won. Well, not total solitude. I can still see another group across the stream. But this will do.

Aah! It's so nice to get into sandals and sit back. Truth be told, 9 miles is the longest I've ever done carrying a pack. I am beat! Can't even keep the eyelids open reading Abbey.

Wake up at 7:30 next morning. Doh! I over slept. Ouch! I feel stiff. I AM out of shape!

The plan: follow the trail towards Cold Meadow. At top of the ridge, follow the ridge all the way to the peak.

I was told the trail out of the camp is hard to find. I find it easy enough. It's a bit faint, but not hard to follow... it led me to the edge of another meadow. Wait! Where did it go? The trail vanished! Look! There're 3 deers grazing. Take some pictures. Maybe I'll pick up the trail on the other side of the meadow. Sorry deers. I can't wait all day. The deers retreat. I cross the meadow.

No sign of the trail. I start up the slope then angling back hoping to meet the trail at some point as I go up. Never did find the trail. But I'm on the ridge now. Let me make a marker so I know where to head down later.

The proper ridge line is actually on my left. I'm on a relatively flat bench. As long as I'm going up and near the ridge, I'm OK. Leave another marker somewhere along the ridge. Before long, I'm on the summit ridge.

I think, I should get to the top in 15 minutes. I top out, and discover it's not the summit. Repeat the process 3-4 times. I reach the true summit. But is this Kern Peak? or am I on some other peak? I can't find the summit register. What's that on the wooden platform?

I gingerly step on the platform. It is a map. Kern Peak is right on the center of the map. This used to be a fire lookout. I wonder how long since it was abandoned?

Heading back, I find the register. It was so well hidden, I placed my poles next to it and didn't see it. I'm the first person this year to sign the register. A tinge of excitement.

The view from the top is truly magnificent. There's nothing even close to this elevation near by. I can see Olancha Peak to the east, Langley to the north, the Great Western Divide to the west, the Needles southwest and the Domelands to the south. All my doubts about the worthiness of the climb vanishes.

Time to go down. I see a set of footprints in a snow patch. I'm not the first person this year after all. The footprints look about a week old.

I walk down along the southwest face, avoiding the scrambles near the ridge line. I remind myself to traverse more than go down, unless I want to miss the lower ridge.

Wait a minute! That ridge I've been aiming for is not the right one! It's the one on the far side of Redrock Meadow. Where is the proper ridge then? I can't see pass the trees. The confusion starts to set it. Did I go pass the right one? I wouldn't know. Well, let me just keep traversing and see what happens.

I see something through the trees and it looks familiar. Getting closer. Yes! It's the saddle I want to reach. I know EXACTLY where I am now. I only have to follow the ridge down to where I left the marker, then down the slope to camp.

Feeling confident again, I continue down the ridge. Looking for the 2nd marker I had placed earlier. It should be here somewhere. I must have walked around a different way and missed it. That's OK. I'm on the right ridge, going the right direction.

Hmm. There's more scrambling on this part of the ridge than I had remembered. Did I come up from below? I drop down below the ridge. No this doesn't look right either. Am I even on the right ridge? The confusion is back.

I keep walking along. Sometimes going up to catch the ridgeline, sometimes dropping down lower. Still no sign of anything familiar. I startle a grouse from its nest. Sorry! Didn't mean to scare you.

I see a canyon coming up. I'm far enough below the ridge now that I don't feel like going up. I head down the canyon. I will either come out at one of the meadows above Redrock, or near Cold Meadow. I'll find out soon enough.

I follow the stream, crossing it back and forth. Deja vu. This spot look familiar. Sure enough. I was at the same spot this morning, before I angled back to look for the trail. Now I know exactly where I am. The mood lightens. I'll be back in camp soon.

So you see, I was never really lost. In my mind, getting lost is where I don't even know which direction I should go. I was just not where I thought I should be. And got a bit confused as the result.

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