FATMAP difficulty grade
On this segment which begins California Section G, the PCT finally leaves the Mojave Desert behind, and gains the lofty crest of the Sierra Nevada.
The price of entry, however, is a series of big climbs and descents before the trail remains definitively in the high country.
Once the trials of the elevation swings are over, the South Fork Kern River welcomes hikers with an abundance of water.
Next comes Kennedy Meadows, a tiny town with ample provisions, which serves as the gateway to the High Sierra. From the highway at Walker Pass, the northbound PCT tackles a sun-baked ridgeline.
The first 1000 feet of ascent from the road are quite steep, then the trail mellows somewhat but continues a steady gain as it winds between points on the ridge, overlooking the valley far below.
Though the vegetation remains quite desert-like, the surrounding rocks begin to resemble sparkling granite characteristic of the Sierra, and the craggy pyramid of Owens Peak reminds that this ridge is indeed the crest of the range. After nearly 2500 feet of gain comes Owens Peak Saddle (NB mile 660.7), proudly presiding over desert basins on either side.
However, from there the trail descends and quickly surrenders all that elevation gain.
So goes this section of the PCT, repeatedly flirting with the Sierra crest then shying away. The first chance at water is Joshua Tree Spring (NB mile 663.8) which has a pipe into a trough, and good campsites nearby.
Note that this is 43.7 trail miles north of Willow Spring, which is the closest natural water source southbound.
North of Joshua Tree Spring, the trail crosses various forks of Spanish Needle Creek (NB miles 668.7-670.2) which usually have water also. After the second big climb and then descent from the crest, the trail crosses a seasonal stream near [Chimney Creek Campground](https://www.blm.gov/visit/chimney-creek-campground) (NB mile 680.9), which has potable water from a spigot in the summer.
Fox Mill Spring (NB mile 683.1) is another option for water and camping shortly after. By now the surroundings have transitioned to taller pine trees, but those disappear on the next stretch of trail, which presents a long climb on sun-exposed slopes through a burn area.
It’s the third and final of the major up-downs before Kennedy Meadows; but it’s the toughest of them all.
After rising to about 8000 feet on a hilly plateau, the trail drops again, and traces the side of a canyon to eventually meet Manter Creek (NB mile 693.5). Here the trail enters Rockhouse Basin, a broad valley full of sagebrush and mounds of boulders, hemmed by craggy mountains.
The South Fork Kern flows through the center, and after a few miles of meandering through low hills, the trail finds an abundance of water at the river (NB mile 698).
It then loosely follows the river for the remainder of the way to Kennedy Meadows (NB mile 702.2).
Half a mile from the trail is the Kennedy Meadows general store, which makes a crucial stop for thru hikers.
They sell basic supplies but also accept packages.
A bit farther down the road are Grumpy Bear’s Retreat and Triple Crown Outfitters, which are even better options for food, rest, and resupply. Note: Those continuing north from Kennedy Meadows need to plan for carrying a bear canister.
Canisters are required along much of the trail from Cottonwood Pass (NB mile 750.2) to Sonora Pass (NB mile 1016.9), so many hikers purchase or deliver themselves one at Kennedy Meadows. Permits: Here the trail goes through Inyo National Forest, in an area where no permits are needed for camping.
However, the next segment northbound enters the South Sierra Wilderness, where permits are needed, so hikers must have a plan for obtaining that if continuing on.
Also, the [California Fire Permit](https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/california-fire-permit/) is needed for making a campfire or for using a camp stove anywhere outside of developed camping areas.