November 22-23, 2003
I planned this trip with three guys I met on Backpacker.com, WindWalker, HikinMike, and
Blisters. We were armed with snowshoes but didn't need them. There was snow out there,
but it was melted out in some spots and where it wasn't it wasn't too hard to walk on.
We met at Quaking Aspen Campground at about 10:00 am Saturday then drove up the road
1/4 mile and parked at where the Needles Road meets the Western Divide Highway. It was
sunshiney and brisk, but not too cold. We hiked the 2.5 miles up the road to the trailhead and
there's a nice campspot right there at the trailhead so WW, HM, and myself set up our tents
there after eating lunch (Blisters didn't because he was only along for the day hike).
Then for the fun part of the journey. It's another 2.5 miles out to the Needles and most of
the first part of the trail was covered in snow. But it was hikeable so we trudged along. At
this point views of the high peaks around Mineral King (Vandever, Florence, Hengst, etc.)
revealed themselves across the upper Kern and Little Kern Valleys. Then we could spot
Olancha Peak. Then Langley. We were anxious to see Whitney but you really can't see it
until you are at the Needles Lookout.
The Needles Lookout sits at 8,245' on the top of the first of a series of granite needles
perched high above the Kern River. The hike out there isn't too difficult until the last 1/2
mile. Then you have to ascend a bunch of switchbacks then go up a series of long, steep
wooden staircases and catwalks - not recommended for those afraid of heights! I had
gotten permission to open the gate to go up the stairs to the lookout, but turns out it
wasn't even locked! So up we went and it was quite blustery up there. But we stayed to the
north side of the lookout tower, out of the wind, and from there had a spectacular view of
Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Crest.
By this time it was late afternoon and we didn't linger long because Blisters needed to
hike back all the way to his car. So he and WindWalker trucked back and HikinMike and me
moseyed out at an easier pace.
Hiking back to the trailhead and our campsite, there was alpine glow on the entire range, it
was magnificent. Made me remember why John Muir called the Sierra Nevada, "The Range
We got back right when it was starting to get dark. WindWalker had started a fire going
and there was quite a bit of downfall so we kept that fire going to around midnight or so!
We cooked up dinner, melted some snow for water, and told stories 'round the fire. The
temperature ended up dropping down to about 17 degrees, but we were all bundled up and
it was actually quite warm around the fire. We had a bunch of manzanita branches and
those burned quite hot
We eventually crawled into bed, toe warmers, down booties, and Nalgene bottles filled
with hot water in tow. I slept quite well and it really wasn't all that cold. We went
Woke up around 8:30 I think and WindWalker already had the fire going again. Ate
breakfast leisurely and it warmed up nicely this morning. It was quite warm by the time
we packed up and hiked out - warm enough for a t-shirt!
We got back to our trucks and decided to head south a little ways to Dome Rock. From
Dome Rock you can see the Needles and we climbed around up there a little bit and took
some photos. Man, it's beautiful up there today! Blue clear sky and actually kind-of warm...
So, I think the trip went quite well Didn't end up needing our snowshoes, but that's okay.
Looks like Blisters made it back home alright, although it was getting dark when he
headed back. WindWalker and HikinMike tell great stories and had me laughing as we sat
around the campfire. Although I learned a very valuable lesson. Don't believe *anything*
WindWalker says, he likes to pull your leg HikinMike and I seemed to hike at the same
pace so we had a lot of good conversations. It was great meeting Blisters and HikinMike
and getting to know WindWalker better.
|Me and HikinMike on Dome Rock
overlooking the Kern River Canyon
|HikinMike and WindWalker on Dome Rock
with the Needles in the background
|WindWalker pauses to take a photo
|HikinMike and WindWalker around
the fire in the morning
|HikinMike hikin ahead on the
|This is no place for those afraid of heights!
|WindWalker, HikinMike, and Blisters