Words can't describe the overwhelming wow factor of reaching the top of Kearsarge Pass and seeing the view that lays beyond. I was so focused on getting up there and stopping to enjoy the wonderful scenery along the way that I didn't think beyond the goal. What awaits is glistening lakes and even more majestic peaks stretching in all directions. Lordy, this region is vast! But backing up... I am a 55+ female in pretty good shape, one knee that annoys and a back that can suffer if I push it. I am experienced with long hikes but rarely do any at elevations above 5000 feet. The drive up to the trailhead was long for my 4 cyclinder Forester but we plodded along using the manual gears. We started the trail at about noon. The parking lot was maybe 60% full. Most of the other hikers were backpackers, many were doing the PCT and came to the trailhead with hopes to find a ride into town to get some supplies (and good luck for that, Independence doesn't have too much in the manner of retail establishments). Anyhow, I had one treking pole and an 8 pound dog and a day pack. The trail was always clear and easy to follow. There were wildflowers along the way and even a wily marmot. I loved seeing all the people (mostly young, but not all!) who told me they were on extended hikes (goes from Mexico to Canada!). Lots of foreigners as well. The trail was challenging for the oxygen supply;) I had planned to reach the top at 3 hours in or so but it took me four. I stopped alot to take pictures and at one point to make a sling from my windbreaker for my little dog to give him a rest. We gladly stepped aside for the backpackers. Hiking alone allowed me to keep a pace that felt comfortable- I am no fan of 'arduous'. The last stretch, however, took a deep sigh of resolve- I had vowed to turn back after 4 hours no matter where I was and I was closing in on that. Huffing a bit, I got to the peak at 3:58 p.m. There were about four people up there and they took my picture for me. I took their picture too, they looked like a Patagonia ad! I literally felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the view on the other side of the pass. For certain the hike up revealed beautiful trees, the bluest sky, colorful rocks, wildflowers, a roaring creek and waterfall, and a couple small lakes with water like a fantasy. I was happy with that, so here was this extra visual reward for having made it. I watched the backbackers head on down towards it all. Dogs aren't allowed at this point so if I were to make this a two day overnight, the dog would have to stay home. Anyhow, I started my descent at about 4:15 and it took me three hours- downhill! Blame the knee for that. It convinced me that two poles is the way to go in the future. If I didn't have the dog I might have jogged a bit on the parts without rocks. Once at the parking lot I gave two backpackers (both well over the age of 60 and on a month long trip) a ride into town. I was wiped out. I camped at Independence Creek campground and slept well.