Resupply on the Pacific Crest Trail (how you get yourself more food and/or supplies) is one of the major logistical obstacles that hikers face every year (although I would argue that, barring any special dietary restrictions, resupply is a relatively simple thing to deal with – but that's another story).
Many times the call of whether or not to head into town can be made on the fly and requires little planning. It goes something like this: “Hey look, the road/trail to the next resupply point! Do I have enough food/supplies to make it to the next resupply? No? Time to resupply. Yes? Guess I can keep hiking.”
Things can get a bit more complicated when you've sent yourself boxes ahead of time (didn't I warn you not to plan?), but generally speaking you don't need to put a ton of thought into your resupply stops.
You'll probably hear a lot that “your mileage will drop significantly once you hit the Sierra”. This scares many hikers, and although it's true that you'll be doing a lot more climbing, descending, and (hopefully) stopping and enjoying (and hopefully not dragging yourself through snow), this doesn't necessarily mean that your daily mileage will fall.
However, where you resupply will depend largely on the number of miles you expect on hiking each day.
Kennedy Meadows is located at mile 702.2 – remember this for the upcoming read.
So how far is a direct trip to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR)? One hundred seventy-six miles (284 km) through some of the PCT's most challenging terrain.
Your decision comes down to whether or not you want to hike this stretch to VVR without resupplying, or briefly exit the Sierra and make a trip to Lone Pine, Independence, or Bishop (or hold out (and pay) for Muir Trail Ranch at mile 857.7).
Here are the details for your resupply options after Kennedy Meadows.
- MILE 744.5 | Follow the Mulkey Pass Trail 1.7 mi / 2.7 km to Horseshoe Meadow and then hitch 18 mi / 28.9 km to Lone Pine.
- MILE 750.2 | Follow Cottonwood Pass 4 mi / 6.4 km to Horseshoe Meadow and then hitch 18 mi / 28.9 km to Lone Pine.
- MILE 766.3 | Follow the trail up Mt. Whitney from Crabtree Meadow and descend to Whitney Portal (5,100 ft / 1,554 m descent). Then hitch 12.5 mi / 20 km to Lone Pine (this is not a popular resupply option and a permit is required to hike down the east side of Whitney).
- MILE 788.9 | Follow the trail over Kearsarge Pass (1,235 ft / 376 m gain and 2,564 ft / 781 m descent) 7.6 mi / 12.2 km to the Onion Valley Trailhead and then hitch (or walk if you're a crazy person) 13 mi / 20.9 km to Independence (this is a popular option among hikers).
- MILE 831 | Follow the trail over Bishop Pass 11.8 mi / 18.98 km to the South Lake Picnic Area and then hitch (again, walk if you're a crazy person) 22.1 mi / 35.5 km to Bishop along South Lake Road and Highway 168.
Lone Pine, Independence, and Bishop are all located along Highway 395 and hitching between the three of them is not difficult (there's also bus service if you're still not into hitchhiking at this point). Independence has the least of the three in terms of resupply options.
MUIR TRAIL RANCH
- MILE 857.7 | Follow the trail 1.5 mi / 2.4 km to the Muir Trail Ranch and then pick up your resupply or dig through the hiker box. WARNING: Muir Trail Ranch has very specific instructions on what to do when packing and sending your resupply and they charge a $55 fee to hikers picking up resupplies here. I had a friend whose resupply didn't make it and so he was given someone else's resupply (who apparently didn't pick it up) – no refunds on the fee.
VERMILION VALLEY RESORT (VVR)
- MILE 874.5 | Follow the Bear Creek Trail 8 mi / 12.9 km along the south shore of Lake Edison to VVR (this is what I did since I was too late to catch the last ferry).
- MILE 878.8 | Follow the VVR Ferry Trail 1.5 mi / 2.4 km to the VVR ferry and take a ride across the lake for $9 (one way).
- MILE 878.8 | Follow the VVR Ferry Trail 1.5 mi / 2.4 km to the VVR ferry and then continue another 5 mi / 8 km to VVR along the northern shore of Lake Edison.
Remember, just because you decide “I'm going to hike straight to VVR”, it doesn't mean that you can't decide “Actually this wasn't such a good idea” and bail to a resupply point before reaching the VVR.
Conversely, if you find that you're making excellent time and have plenty of food, you can always try to stretch your supplies (or bum some food from overpacked section/JMT hikers) and head to VVR instead of heading east out of the Sierra.
The Benefits of Hiking to VVR
Thinking of adventuring all the way until VVR without stopping?
Here's why what you're doing is the right thing to do:
- TIME | Hiking out (and then back in) from the Sierra can cost some serious time – especially if plan on taking a zero during your resupply. Stay the course to VVR to save yourself some break time for when you really need it.
- SOLITUDE | The 176 mi / 284 km between Kennedy Meadows and VVR mean that you will have some serious time away from civilization. Sure, the entire trail is an escape from societal strains, but staying out of town for this long is a fantastic exercise in solitude.
- AWESOMENESS | The trail through this stretch offers some of the PCT's most incredible scenery. To hike through it all without so much as glimpsing a road, car, or power line is pretty awesome.
- LOGISTICS | The majority of the people who choose this resupply will probably hike out over Kearsarge Pass to the Onion Valley Trailhead. The closest resupply to this place is Independence (13 mi / 20.9 km down a long and winding mountain road). Keep it simple and just head to VVR.
The Benefits of an Earlier Resupply
Thinking of hiking out to resupply once before hitting VVR?
Here's why what you're doing is the right thing to do:
- PACK WEIGHT | If you hike straight to VVR, then chances are that your pack leaving Kennedy Meadows will be the heaviest it is all trail (you'll have your bear canister, a ton of food, possibly extra gear, and your water). By choosing an earlier resupply, you will not have to suffer through a couple of very heavy pack days.
- SCENERY | There may not be much to see in the towns of Lone Pine, Independence, or Bishop (there's especially nothing in Independence), but the scenery heading in and out of the Sierra can be just as spectacular as the trail itself (Kearsarge and New Army Pass are both awesome places to check out).
- OPTIONS | If you don't hike straight to VVR then you also afford yourself more resupply opportunities – including not going to VVR. You can exit from and resupply in the Sierra at many points before reaching VVR and then skip VVR (and its high prices) altogether. Mammoth Lakes isn't too much farther and it's an excellent resupply point with a post office, supermarkets, restaurants, and outfitters.
However, an experienced thru-hiker I meet early on (around mile 104) tells me that the hike from Kennedy Meadows to VVR is “a tough thing to do”, but that “it is incredible to go 176 mi (284 km) without seeing a road, power-line, or signs of civilization”.
He also shares that the hike over Kearsarge Pass (where many hikers choose to hike out and resupply) is no cakewalk (you gain 1,235 ft / 376 m and then descend 2,564 ft / 781 m over 7.6 mi / 12.2 km over to get to a remote trailhead you need to hitch 13 mi / 20.9 km down from and back to).
“Guess I'm going straight to VVR” I decide, not wanting to hike up and down (and then up and down again) an extra mountain pass (also because I'm already trying to get this whole PCT thing over with as quickly as possible).
I expect to be on trail nine days (including departure and arrival days) before hitting VVR – my longest stretch between resupplies. My bear canister is literally packed as full as it can get, and I leave out my first day's food to maximize space.
I'm a little worried about this stretch since I have never been hiking in alpine wilderness and everything I've read says to expect a dramatic fall in mileage once in the Sierra. To make it there with the food I've packed I will need to average 20 mi / 32 km a day – my average until this point is 19.36 mi / 31.15 km.
Fortunately, I manage to convince another hiker, Achilles, that doing this is a good idea. He agrees to accompany me through this first (and longest) stretch of Sierra wilderness and somehow this makes me feel a little better about my potentially reckless decision.
Long story short, we make it to VVR on the ninth day, as expected.
However, we are not able to spend as much time relaxing and/or basking in the many glorious rivers, lakes, and magnificent natural splendor as I would have liked.
We end up night hiking twice to make our miles, and by the last few days, we are taking all extra food off weekend/section hikers that we can manage (we never ask directly, but we always make sure to bring up how worried we are about our dwindling food supply).
Our average daily mileage from Kennedy Meadows to VVR is more than the needed 20 mi / 32 km (which I think shows that your mileage need not “dramatically fall” once you enter the Sierra – but that's just me).
In the end, was I happy with my decision? Yes, I was. Would I do it again? No, I probably would resupply via Kearsarge Pass and make sure to take my time and thoroughly enjoy myself in the Sierra (read: get naked and swim – a lot).