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August 2009 Segment hike: South Lake to Whitney Portal
2007 Through Hike: We have described the trail in segments which could easily be done in a few days to one week, depending on you! This is a description of 30 days on the JMT, which includes the trip to Half Dome, and a couple of layover days here and there.
There are excellent trail guides available through bookstores, REI, and Amazon.com. In the equipment section we have listed some of them, and this trail log is not intended to replace them, only to supplement with our observations and to correct some discrepancies we found with signs and water sources.
August 7, 2007 On Our Way
If we're not ready now, it's not happening. Christy came to our place and we loaded into the hike-mobile. We did a last look around the home, and locked the door. Oddly enough, we didn't turn around at the end of the street. Hope we turned off all the lights.
We arrived in Lee Vining around 10am, and did the mandatory stop at Whoa Nellie Deli, the gourmet restaurant inside the Chevron gas station at the intersection of the Tioga Road and Highway 395. After the amazing breakfast croissant and some cappuccino, we headed up the Tioga Road, and picked up our permits at the Tuolomne Wilderness Office.
After securing our permits, we stashed our food for the Tuolomne-Devil's Postpile segment in a food locker at the wilderness office, saying a prayer that God would put a big angel on top to guard it from man and beast.
Christy had never seen a High Sierra Camp, and Steve and I felt like stretching our legs, so we hiked up to May Lake (2.4-3.0 miles, depending on which sign you believe)
On our way down to Yosemite Valley we almost were hit head-on by a car driving completely on our side of the road. That was a close encounter, and would certainly have stopped our trip before we started.
We checked into Curry Village. I've never been there in August. It is crowded! After Christy left, we walked down to the JMT trailhead, about 25 minutes each way. We'll be setting out early tomorrow so we wanted to know how long to get to THE BEGINNING.
Pack, pack, repack. Still trying to figure out where everything fits best.
Segment One-Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to Tuolomne Meadows
First sign-very exciting to be starting our hike!
Is it 211 miles, or 215? We saw both distances within a mile of each other.
Bridge over Nevada Falls
Day 1- Yosemite Valley to junction of JMT and Cloud's Rest trail.
After a wonderful night's sleep at Curry Village, we started our journey. We woke up at 5:00, ate some sweet rolls and drank half of our protein drink. The cabin didn't have a bathroom, so we had to go outside to the communal bathroom. It looked really dark for 5:30. Steve checked his watch-it was only 4:30. The clock in the cabin didn't keep time at all. So we went back to bed until 5:20, got up, made coffee, and were were out the door at 6:06 real time.
There were about 30 people who passed us very early, day-hiking to Half Dome. We stopped often to adjust the packs and boots. It is quite a climb, going out of the valley. We stopped at Nevada Falls. There is a bridge across the Merced River, which even this late in a dry season was flowing well. Yesterday we had seen that Yosemite Falls was dried up, and Bridalveil just a whisper. There are wide flat rocks to lay on. We pulled out the jetboil stove and made coffee. Very pleasant rest stop. (Composting toilet is just 1/4 mile up the trail)
From there we went on to Little Yosemite Valley. I had never heard anything about it, except that it was good for camping to do Half Dome. It is absolutely gorgeous, with tall pine trees, and the river running through it. Lots of beautiful places to enjoy along the way. The trail was shady and sandy. There is a ranger station, but we did not go out of our way to see it.
After a short, flat walk we started climbing again, 2 miles on a well-worn trail to the Half Dome junction. By this time it was pretty warm so we were glad to see the signs. About a half mile later we came to a stream which crossed the trail. We found a beautiful camp site complete with a granite table for food prep (a flat rock). We set up the tent about 50' away from the kitchen, as there are dire warnings about bears. Linda from work advised me to get a foghorn from a marine supply store, which I did. Bears hate the loud noise. All day when I laid my backpack down I'd set it off. I finally put it in my pocket, only to bump it as I took off my pack. The can sent freezing gas of some sort onto my leg and "burned" it. I think we are going to rely on good housekeeping and "perimeter defense," which we will describe on another day.
Day 2, Half Dome!
"The Lord has given me hinds' feet, and he enables me to walk upon my high places"
"There's room at the top"
Last night the Chicago couple had a bear wander into their camp. We heard yelling and rocks thrown. As far as we know, it didn't come to our camp.
Awakened at 6am. It was 40 degrees. Had eggs and bacon, coffee, and hit the trail for Half Dome by 8 am. What takes us so long? Who knows?
It was a half mile to the trail junction for Half Dome. The trail itself is beautiful, uphill of course. The surrounding forest looked very healthy and green. Tall Jeffrey pines and fir trees were predominant, with open spaces where new trees are sprouting up. We saw two men coming down. They said they had started from Yosemite Valley at 6am, and ran as fast as they could to beat the heat and the crowds. They were the first ones up.
Steve decided he wanted to cache his jacket and the camera bag, which is a great idea but **TIP** mark the place somehow for easier retrieval. I strapped my jacket on the back of my fanny pack, but left my hat and vest right before the cables.
The approach to the cables is very tough. Lots of granite steps, tall ones, switch back up Quarter Dome. They are quite narrow in places, and no cables or rails anywhere. It is really surprising more people don't fall here. That took about 30 min.
Then, you are facing the cables.**TIP** The guide books said there are gloves in a bin at the bottom of the cables. This is no longer the case. There is a sign declaring gloves to be litter, and don't leave them. So bring your own, the stickier the better.
I honestly don't know if I would have gone up without Steve. The moment of decision is when you are at the bottom of the cables, looking up. It was very scary, but I knew I needed to push past the fear to move into faith, so I said a prayer, and started up. It is VERY STEEP, at times 60-70 degree angle. There are stanchions every 8-10 feet, holding the cables, with a 2x4 strapped to them. This is very useful for resting, and to wait while others are coming the other way. Mostly on the way up I used both cables to pull up (they are about 4 feet apart) but on the way down I went hand over hand, bracing my feet like I was rappelling(I would have liked the safety of a harness) Once it gets crowded, traffic goes up on the right side and down the left. Most people were very polite, but I did see 2 men hurrying up on the outside of the cables, which is not only rude, it is dangerous. I had to sop every couple of boards to rest. My heart was pounding from the exertion and adrenalin rush.
At the top-incredible views! It is very broad, abut the size of a couple of football fields. We snacked, drank the last of our electrolyte drink, took pictures of the views, other people, a marmot. We decided to go down before it was too crowded on the cables.
Going down was not as hard, which surprised me. It was still hard for me to look around on that 70 degree pitch, but I made myself do it once. Awesome!
On the way down we saw a 3' rattlesnake meandering across the trail. We saw people going up, looking so tired, out of water, in the heat of the day. Not wise. They'll probably make it, but they will be hurting by the time they get back to water.
We were out of water 1/2 mile from camp, so we hurried back on that very hot segment of trail. We grabbed the water filter and went immediately to the creek to pump. We guzzled the first liter, pumped another and added cherry drink to it, and guzzled it. Steve soaked his head, with a long "aaah." Back to camp for bathing ourselves and washing out a set of clothes. Amazing how long that takes when camping. Then some reading and resting. After all, this was a rest day.
After a delicious dinner of spaghetti and parmesan cheese, we walked up the trail to see if Half Dome would light up, but it didn't.
It's "dark-thirty" and time to turn it in. We will try to get an early start but don't seem to have the routine down yet.
The arrow points to the cables as we approached
Loads more people by the time we went down
Rattlesnake on the trail
Day 3 Cloud's Rest trail Junction to Sunrise Camp
Little Yosemite Valley from the trail
Looks like water to me!
Sunset in the meadow by camp
"Looks like water to me."
"Don't believe an evil report."
Steve rolled out of the tent at 5:45, and it took us until 8:20 to leave camp. It was lovely and cool. Forest looks healthy. We stumbled upon 3 grouses right away, then a doe nursing its fawn. We tried to get a photo, but the camera was buried. There was a creek bed that was sometimes dry and sometimes with a little water. We had heard reports spoken very authoritatively that "the trail was dry, no water until Cathedral Lakes." The trail went through a a forest of pine and fir, with wildflowers in the open spaces. Then it opened up to fantastic view of Little Yosemite Valley with its domes. We expected to do a 6.4 mile hike, and after all the reports we thought the trail would be hot, sun exposed, and dry. After about 2 miles we came across a stream and refilled our water.
After the trail junction to Merced Lake we met a man who was filming a documentary on the JMT. I asked him if he was doing it with Josh Heller, who was a ski guide When we did Glacier Point trip in Feb 2007. He said he knew him, but that Josh was in patagonia. This guy told us most definitely that there was a nice stream before the big switchbacks, and that was the last water until Cathedral Lakes. Wrong, wrong, wrong.I'm not sure how accurate his documentary will be. There was a beautiful stream almost all the way to the top of the switchbacks. The trail was mostly shady (we did it from noon-2pm) It was a very steep trail, about 45 degrees in a lot of places. After our "rest day" of doing Half Dome our legs were crying out for mercy.
Anyway, back to the evil report. Steve and I refused to get freaked out about hiking to Cathedral Lake, another 4.4 miles past Sunrise HSC. We prayed and agreed that there would be water in the backpacker's camp. We came across another set of hikers who said there was no water at Sunrise.Then a ranger with a group of kids came by, asking where were we headed? She said there was a small stream in the backpackers camp, so we decided to believe the good report and took just enough water to get there.
Then we came across water 1/2 mile before the camp, a nice little stream. Then, right as we got to the camp, three men who were backpacking said, "There's no water at Sunrise." I asked, "Did you go into the backpacker's camp?" They said no. How can people keep repeating bad info? When we got to the camp, which Mr. Documentary said was closed, we went into the dining room and had a candy bar and juice. We hailed down the couple from LA, Susie and Scott, who had heard all the same bad reports, and assured them there was water. They were so happy, because they were still adjusting to the altitude.
I took some pictures along the way of these beautiful places where we filtered water. As I'm writing this we are watching the glow of the last sunlight on the mountains which ring this meadow. There are some spectacular mountains seen from our campsite, which is on an open shelf about 100 feet above the meadow.
This was a very beautiful day, and we did have "water in the wilderness," thank God.
Day 4 Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Tuolomne Meadows
Got up early, started out with Suzie and Scott, the grad students, and Richard the anesthetist from San Diego. A long flat meadow, then a turn up through Cathedral Pass, which was not too bad. It was very smoky from wildfires, so the pictures will probably not show up how amazing it is. Cathedral Peak, Trissider Peak, . . ColumbiaFinger. Then some more fairly level walking until we arrived at upper Cathedral Lake, which was a fabulous place to enjoy the views.
We pumped water, had lunch, and started the descent to Tuolomne Meadow, with a big agenda for the afternoon.
Arrived at TM around 2 pm, and waited for a shuttle to go to the campground. Missed our stop (!) and went on the the lodge. No showers for backpackers :( We Walked about a mile back to the food lockers where we had cached our food. Then with ice chest between us we got on the shuttle to the store/grill. By then it was about 3:30, so we had an early dinner of cheeseburger, coke and fries. We crammed all of our new food supplies into our packs, gave away the ice chest to a young climber who was thrilled to have it.
Back to the backpacker's campground, where we saw Susie and Scott. We advised them the grill was only open 'til 5pm, so they went right over. We set up camp, then I washed clothes and myself in the sink in the women's bathroom. Awkward, but better than nothing. It took about 10 rinses for the water to go from black to merely grey.
We were full from our early dinner, but walked back to the store to buy some castille soap. As we walked in and saw milk and cookies we forgot everything we came for, and took fig newtons and milk to the meadow, enjoying the cool air and lovely view. Only later did we realize we had forgotten the soap, and niether of us wanted to walk back after all that pounding descent from Cathedral Lake.
view from Cathedral Pass
Beautiful summer sights
Segment 2 Tuolomne Meadows to Devil's Postpile
Day 5 Tuolomne Meadows, over Donahue Pass to Island Pass
a spectacular breakfast spot
Heading toward Donahue Pass
A Restful Day
We arose at 6 in an attempt to catch the first shuttle at 7 to the lodge for breakfast. Waited and waited, then at 7:20 the shuttle stops, and the driver says he has to go to Olmsted Point first.We debated walking to the lodge, about 1 1/2 miles, or wiaitng for the grill to open. Fortunately the shuttle came back around 7:40, and we went to the Lodge. Did I mention it was 28 degrees? It took me all of breakfast to get warmed up. We had a hearty meal of eggs, pancakes and bacon, and several cups of hot coffee. Excellent. I sent off some postcards, and we geared up for the day.
About a 1/2 mile into the trail we came to the Dana Fork bridges, just an incredible spot. Of course there are always other backpackers coming and going, full of talk about the trail, bears, weather and fires.
This was actually a very restful day, even though we walked over 10.5 miles. We cruised along the scenic Lyell canyon, stopping often to admire the river and mountains. The sun was warm enough to encourage us to wet down our shirts and put our feet in the water, but the breeze kept us just the right temperature. At the end of the canyon we kept going becuase we felt pretty good.
We made camp about .5 miles below Donahue Pass, at a tarn with spectacular views of Lyell glacier. We met up with Scott and Susie, and Richard again. It was very windy, and our tent went tumbling at one point, before we had a chance to stake it down.
Sparkling Lyell Creek
Day 6 Over Donahue and Island Passes
Multiple System Failures
Started the day with both lighters not working, then at dinner the matches wouldn't light. Managed to get the stove lit with some ingenuity. Also we tried calling Genny on the satellite phone, and maybe left a message, but the phone said "low battery." I guess that was enough equipment failures for the day. Yesterday the tent rolled as an unexpected gust of wind picked up, and we got a tear in the fly. Richard had some super tape to patch it.
We left late after a leisurely breakfast. Donahue Pass was ahead of us, but before that were the headwaters of Lyell Creek-so beautiful. Lots of water pouring down the basin.
Ate a snack on Donahue Pass with a marmot carefully observing us. There was one couple going the other way. Didn't see anyone else for hours. Love the high alpine scenery. Weird clouds adorned the sky all afternoon.
At the Marie Lake Trail Jct we met a couple from Reno, Larry and Robin, and exchanged phone numbers. They were out for 5 days.
The outflow from Marie Lake was really wide and full, with waterfalls, greenery, and flowers. Rush creek was easy to cross. I saw the log we had to use in a previous trip when the water was really high. We crossed a couple of streams on logs today, but nothing treacherous.
Then up again to Island Pass, another 600 feet up. It seemed to go on forever, but we were getting tired by then. Finally came to the outrageous view of Banner Peak. Once we got to the top of Island pass we began looking for a lake we remembered from several years ago, where Randy and Bernhardt had been skinnydipping.We found it and made camp on the eastern shore. We were going to swim in it to get off the trail dust (it is REALLY dusty) but the wind picked up so we did the usual cat bath and rinsed the clothes out (no soap in the lake, please!)
Yummy dinner of chicken chili as we watched the clouds turn pink and yellow. We covered our packs in case the clouds precipitate tonight. We have been sleeping so soundly we might not wake up if it rains.
**TIP** Simple "Bic" lighters work the best. Also after the failure of our kitchen matches we got some "stormproof" matches, and they are amazing.
John Muir Trail on the right side of photo, heading up towards Lyell Glacier
Wierd clouds over Banner and Ritter Peaks
Smoky Sunset over Island Pass
Day 7 Island Pass to Gladys Lake
Smoke at 9 am over Banner Peak
Awakened to completely hazy sky. Can hardly see the mounatins that were so clear yesterday. Seems like every other day has been this way. We're wondering if this is all from the fires in Yosemite.
God is truly our source. This morning we prayed for fire and voila! the match lit and we were able to have coffee and breakfast. As we started on the trail, there was a young girl sitting on a rock, saying, "I think I am lost." We helped her find herself on the map and told her about the River Trail to Agnew Meadows. By the time we got to Thousand Island Lake she was with her scout troop. We showed them on our map where to go, and they blessed us with a Bic lighter. YAY! Down to Thousand Island lake, up to Ruby, Emerald and Garnet, down to Garnet, up then down to Shadow lake, and up again to Rosalie and finally Gladys Lake. The hardest part was from Garnet to Shadow. Seemed like the descent would never end.
Shadow Creek was impressive. At the JMT/Ediza trail junction it was quietly meandering in a green meadow, then just steps down the trail it cascaded over jumbled rocks and fallen trees. Lots of water! We stopped at Shadow Lake for a rest before another ascent of "delightfully engineered" switchbacks. as our British guide book says. It seems like a good trail for horses, as there are no big steps, and it was sandy. Steve knocked off a couple of points in the ratings because there were no rocks to sit on along the way. It was a very steep hillside (800ft ) but it's true that it wasn't as hard as going down from Garnet, and we made great time getting to Gladys Lake, our home for the night. Rumor has it that the haze is from the Santa Barbara Zaca fires that have been burning since July 4. We prayed for rain for that area. Skies seemed clearer this afternoon.
Day 8 Gladys Lake to Devil's Postpile
and Resupply at Mammoth
Got up early and had an easy walk to Devil's Postpile. It is a long downhill grade over pumice, and after the trail junction with Minarets, we had been there before, so we hurried on. At Devil's Postpile we took a shuttle to Mammoth. After an hour or so at the Mammoth lodge, we made contact with Randy, and he picked us up. We used his truck to drive all over for the miscellaneous items that would make life easier on the trail, like another Bic lighter and the storm matches.
**TIP** Bring a prepaid calling card for the phone. Pay phones are really awkward without them.
Back to their cabin for washing clothes and us. Sue and Randy gave us their clothes to wear so we could get all our clothes done at once. They are so great-such a generous couple. They fixed a big steak dinner with salad and rice. We enjoyed meeting their "horse friends." Stayed up late using their internet connection.
We are looking forward to getting back on the trail.
Segment 3 Devil's Postpile to Vermillion Valley Resort at Lake Edison
Day 9 Devil's Postpile to Deer Creek
beautiful place to stop for lunch and soak the feet
Got up at 6, had coffee and sweetrolls with Sue and Randy, then Randy dropped us off at the shuttle. Left Devil's Postpile around 9:30. It's a little confusing to follow the trail signs to Red's Meadow. Does it mean the campground, the resort, or the showers? At last there were some clarifying signs, and we arrived at Red's Meadow Store and Cafe. We wrote postcards and had an okay breakfast. My whole meal was cold. I ate the eggs and bacon, then asked the waitress to reheat the pancakes, which she did. I devoured them. We got out of there around 11:30.
**TIP** I would say the cafe is not worth going out of your way, but it IS on the way, and the pancakes were good once they were warm.
The trail all day was pumice. After all, the whole area around Mammoth is volcanic. The first hour we climbed through an area of a forest fire in the '90s. Aspen and shrubbery are making a show, and even some young fir trees. Recovery just takes so long! Then into a fir forest, all the while climbing on the side of very steep cinder mountain. There were several springs crossing the trail. At a saddle between two red cones there was a creek, where we stopped to wet down our shirts and scarves. That was the key to a good hike today.
Around 3pm we pulled out the map and GPS to figure out how much further to Deer Creek Crossing. We had been in one meadow where we first saw a buck with large rack of antlers, then a doe. That should've been Deer Creek, but it was still about a mile farther.
Now I am waiting for dinner to rehydrate-chicken curry with couscous. Deer Creek is bubbling right below me, and after a hazy day the sun is now filtering through the trees, lighting up the flowers along the creek. We seem to have the place to ourselves. Two JMT hikers passed us up this morning. We saw Richard coming back towards Reds Meadow, saying that Mammoth, a hot shower, and a steak dinner were calling him back. I'm wondering if he will resume after all those treats. We saw Scott and Susie in Mammoth while we were waiting for Randy. They expressed doubts that they could finish the trail. (Note: we didn't see them again on the trail, but we received an email that they finished! Hurray!)
This was a pretty good hike today. Our guide book says 9 miles, and that seems about right time-wise. We went up 1700 feet on the pumice trail. This is all new territory for us now, which is exciting.
We're stronger every day. . . That's our story and we're sticking to it!
Day 10 Deer Creek to Lake Virginia
We hiked two hours more of pumice trail winding along the canyon on the north that makes Cascade Valley. Below us are Fish Creek and Ida Bell Hot Springs, which is on our list of places to go. This is a lovely forest of fir, spread out like it should be. There are grand vistas of the valley and meadows across the way.
Made it to the Duck Pass Trail Junction in 3 1/2 hours (5.5 miles) Now we have to add to our saying, "we're faster every day." Sat by the stream that comes from the lake and had lunch. A cool wind made us put on light fleece, but as soon as we started to climb we were back to our t-shirts.
We went up the side of a mountain via switchbacks, then around it 2.3 miles to Purple Lake. Dont' know why it's called purple. The water was deep blue-green. We rested there about an hour, then pushed on to Lake Virginia. It is quite a climb from Purple Lake up to a pass. The pass is amazing for its giant boulders, stacked at least 50 feet high. Looks like either they were busted up by a glacier, or have fallen from the mountain above. Many of them were stacked precariouly on top of another. No way did I want to linger on the trail beside those huge boulders. We came into the lake, with its beautiful views of mountains near and far. God has answered our prayer for clear skies, and we can see many distant peaks to the south. There is nothing quite like this clear Sierra blue sky.
We had Steve's favorite meal for dinner-Uncle Bill's spaghetti. Very tasty at home and on the trail. Then we had our hot chocolate and cookies as we watched the light fade from the mountains, and the crescent moon set. The alpenglow lasted 20 minutes, and then "night creep" in the east.
**TIP** Perimeter defense= pee around the tent before going to bed. Evidently the bears don't like the smell. Don't know if that's true, but we never have had bears by our tent.
Steve on trail near Duck Pass Junction
Day 11 Lake Virginia, over Silver Pass (10,900') to Silver Pass Lake
Lake Virginia inlet, looking south
Long way down into verdant Tully Hole
Lake of the Lone Indian, right below Silver Pass
The sign at Silver Pass was laying on the ground
Looking south from Silver Pass
Off to a fabulous start. Left camp at 8:40 after a granola/apple breakfast. Must be getting a little more efficient :) It wasn't cold at all last night. Sometime in the night I had to open the tent to get some more ventilation. Watched the stars twinkle before drifting off to sleep.
Lots of "wow" moments as we walked along Lake Virginia. The air is so clear, the sky incredibly blue, and the lake reflects that. Then we begain the descent into Tully Hole, a big meadow with a stream meandering through it. There are springs along the end of this valley, giving it its name, Cascade Valley. We dipped our scarves in one of them, as the trail is south-facing and reminds us of Grand Canyon switchbacks, except for the water rushing down at either end of the switchbacks.
It was a slow mile from Tully Hole to the bridge over Fish Creek, not because the trail is difficult, but because it is incredibly beautiful. The creek tumbled and slid over jumbled rocks and large flat ones. The forest was lush. The trail stayed close then would rise up in the canyon to bring us far above the water. Finally we descended to a steel and wood bridge. Amazing that out in the wilderness there is such a nice structure.
From there we passed a couple of small streams, where we dipped our shirts for the ascent to Squaw Lake. The path was easy, and followed some cascading streams. The forest was lush near these waters. The mountain azalea, although not in bloom, still exuded a sweet smell.
We followed the streams to Squaw Lake, where, lo and behold, there were 8 people! A veritable crowd! Two heading south, and 6 north. We had a small lunch (cherries and almonds are a great combo), then filtered water for the ascent of Silver Pass, another 600 feet up. I had on my master plan to stay here, but it's only 2:15 so we'll go on.
Up and up to Silver Pass at 10,900 feet.
We called Elizabeth from there-what an amazing thing. (We rented a satellite phone for the trip.) The connection was very clear. All is well with them, and I asked her to email the family to let them know we are good, and on schedule.
Before we left Squaw lake we asked 2 guys, "How's Silver Lake?" They gave such a negative report-water low, almost no lake. So weird. We came down from the pass to this incredibly blue lake with excellent camping spots! There are 3 other couples camped here, scattered among the boulders and junipers.
**TIP** Don't believe everything you hear! (Repeat lesson)
It's windy this afternoon as the sun is droppping behind these tall mountains. To the south we can see lots of peaks and we'll see them up close as we continue. Good thing about the wind-I washed out shirt, undies and liner sockes, and they dried in 2 hours.
We are snug in our tent now after a yummy dinner of "6 can chili," with graham crackers for "dessert." We are waiting to see of these mountains light up with alpenglow.
**TIP** we bought "storm matches" in Mammoth-they are amazing-like a torch.
**TIP** Soak your shirt and/or bandana in a stream for a 15 degree cool off. Exciting for your hiking partner to hear those screams when you put on the wet, cold shirt. Steve likes to soak his hair too.
We saw whole families of marmots on the rocks as we came in, but none came into our camp area, and we saw no evidence of them chewing on our stuff.
Day 12 Silver Lake to Vermillion Valley Resort
Ezekeiel 34:25 says "I will make a covenant of peace and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land, and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
[We understood this to mean bears!]
Job 5:23 "The beasts of the field shall be at peace with you."
As soon as we hit the JMT from our campsite at Silver Lake, we met a couple from Fresno, California, who were walking along with an MP3 player and speakers dangling off the guy's backpack. It was Jesse Duplantis preaching at the Southwest Believer's Convention. We kept up with them until Pocket Meadow, listening to the preaching, and talking with them.
The trail down is forested, no streams until Pocket Meadow, through which a small stream meandered. Right after the meadow an enormous view of the whole glaciated valley opened up, with the steep mountaintops above, and polished sides below.
Then the trail went down,down,down in some tight switchbacks. Soon beautiful Mono Creek came alongside the trail, and we stopped to take pictures. That was yet another part of the JMT we could've spent all day, lingering to enjoy the scenery. There were aspens and pine and fir, and ferns and grasses--very lush. Some of the aspen leaves were already yellow.
Then the trail followed switchbacks down a steep, dry, south facing area for about a mile.
Onto the next meadows, where we came to the sign for Lake Edison ferry. Here you leave the JMT for a 1.4 mile stroll through lush Quail Meadows. A sign posted on a tree indicated that we should cross Mono Creek and walk in the now-dry lakebed until we come to an American flag, the sign said one mile. The creek was flowing fast at that point so we looked up and down to find a suitable crossing place. Steve, the agile one, carried my pack across as we jumped from boulder to boulder. Then an eerie trek across dry lakebed, with sand blowing fiercely against us. We arrived at the flag at the same time as Dave and Karen, the MP3 toting hikers. She is the one who gave us the Ezekiel and Job scriptures quoted at the beginning of this section, so appropriate for this trail.
Soon after a Swiss couple staggered through the sand. The had a guide book which set a pace of 15 miles a day for the whole JMT. Sadly, that was the definition for them of "blistering pace." They had started in Yosemite, and before Mammoth her shoes had fallen apart. She bought new boots in Mammoth, but now had bleeding blisters on both heels. They were going to bail out at Vermillion.
We waited and waited for the water taxi. Finally, around 4:30pm, a small little speedboat came roaring up, and 6 of us went in it. By that time there were 12 of us waiting. It zoomed us to the dock, where a dusty, klunky van was our shuttle to the resort, over 2 miles away. In a good year of snow this whole area is full of water. We pulled up at VVR, and the owner, Jim, came out to greet us and give us the lowdown on the facility. He pointed to a dusty plot of ground and said we were welcome to set up our tent. My expectation had been for a night in a tent cabin, so I was disappointed. Steve went in to start a tab, and came out with a key to a "yurt," which is a wood frame and canvas circle tent-so cute and nicely furnished. It was $85, but SO worth it.
We took our showers, started a load of laundry($5/load) and went to dinner. Showers were included for us because we were in the yurt but otherwise hot showers and towel were $5 per person. My shower was hot for 3-4min, then turned tepid. Steve said he turned it off and on, and got a spurt of hot water each time.
My first impression of VVR was bad because it was dusty, and looked like a dumpy trailer court. They rent the trailers as motel rooms. They are building a new bathhouse/laundry facility, which will be nice because the showers were not a great experience, which is a kind way of saying that they were filthy. Of course, everyone using them was like us, filthy. But keep your shoes on!
Dinner was absolutely great. We had New York steak, cooked to perfection, garlic mashed potatos, and vegies. Cherry pie a la mode completed the meal-Steve's favorite. After dinner I used the internet connection($10/30 min) and emailed the family a progress report. I tried to check bill pay and other automated features, but after 2 weeks I have forgotten the passwords! That actually felt good. Jae G emailed that no fires were on our path, and that someone else might come with them over Kearsarge pass.
Back to our yurt, where we sorted our package that we had sent to VVR($15 for them to hold it) We decided to get back on the trail instead of staying another night, even though with a full tummy and a clean body we were warming up to VVR. The staff is so accomodating and friendly-really made a difference. The bed was so comfy, and the yurt so cute, it was getting hard to leave.
But we were ready to get back to the wilderness.
Silver Lake from our camp site
Trail is on the left side of the picture
Mono Creek detail. We could've spent a day here
We searched for a good place to cross Mono Creek
Tree stumps in the dry lakebed
Yurt with its own outhouse
Segment 4 Vermillion Valley Resort to Muir Trail Ranch
Day 13 Vermillion Valley Resort to somewhere on Bear Creek
Infinity Pool along Bear Creek
More waterfalls and cascades along Bear Creek
We woke up with a start when the light came on in our yurt. We had left it on when the electricity was shut off around 9pm. We wanted to get to breakfast early. We dressed quickly and went to the restaurant. I had eggs, sausage, and 2 enormous pancakes. All was great. Steve had eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast, and he said, "THIS is how I like hash browns." So we both were happy.
We bought a couple of food items for an extra day on the trail, then back to the yurt to pack. The total bill was around $250, so it is good we were moving on! But it was a great break, and we felt refreshed. I had a chance to talk to the Swiss couple over breakfast. They love our parks, and have made 7 trips out to the west.
On Jim's advice we took the "Bear Creek cut-off trail" to the Bear Creek trail, which leads back to the JMT. We didn't want to do the death march acorss the sand again, retrace our steps, and go up 2000ft on switchbacks. Turns out the trail we are on is almost the same. It start out though a lovely forest, with soft mulch underfoot. The trail is wilder than the JMT. So up, up we went, then down into the valley in which Bear Creek flows. We hiked slowly, stopping often to admire and photograph the many waterfalls and cascades, and dipping our shirts in the water to keep cool.
Around 5 pm we met a couple of men on the trail, and asked them how far to the JMT. They said, "about 2 miles and 1000 ft up." We said, "no problem," but as we found another incredible waterfall with a perfect campsite, we camped here. After all, this was a rest day!
We set up camp across the creek in an aspen grove, cooked dinner, and ate at the creek. No matter how good a restaurant might be, nothing can compare to the views out here.
Back to our tent. I asked Steve to show me how the bear repellent spray works, so he demonstrated. Even though there was no wind, in a few minutes we started to get scratchy throats and teary eyes. We evacuated down to the creek, and waited for the spray to dissipate. I'm not sure how you can use it on a bear without getting choked up yourself.
The half moon is setting, and through the trees we can see alpenglow on Mt. Hooper in the distance. Another fabulous day on the trail-miles and miles of beauty.
**TIP** Wrap your down jacket around your camp pillow, then cover it with your fleece. The fleece gives a warm feel to your pillow.
Day 14 Bear Creek to Marie Lakes
What a full day! Started out with a quick breakfast, then up and away, approximately 1200 ft up to the JMT. Took us 2 hours because we still had to stop to admire the waterfalls, the aspens, ferns. There were springs crossing the trail so we took the opportunity to wet down our shirts. It seemed quite warm, even in the morning.
We joined the JMT and began our southward ascent toward Seldon Pass. We followed Bear Creek all the way to "upper Bear Creek Meadow." Really no words to describe how many beautiful waterfalls and cascades there are-water sliding over slick granite, then tumbling over broken slabs. It was very hot by mid-afternoon. Steve's thermometer read 70 degrees in the shade but 90 in the sun. No wind today, but perfectly clear blue skies. Praise the Lord!
As we climbed, so many rugged peaks came into view. Past the Seven Gables Lakes TH we saw a man sitting on a rock, looking like John Muir himself. I thought it was an apparition.He was resting after a strenuous hike into "Bear Lakes Basin," and his hiking companions were ahead of him.
Rosemarie Meadow was exquisite. There were tall grasses with a meandering stream through it. We stopped for a much needed rest, then continued to finish the last 500 ft of elevation gain.
We were rewarded by the perfect alpine lake, Marie Lake, surrounded by high beaks and just below Seldon Pass, which is just 500 ft more elevation from here. Steve says it's his favorite camping spot so far, and that's saying a lot-every one of them has been gorgeous. We both love the high Sierra terrain.
We arrived at Marie Lake at 4:45 pm, so we had hiked almost 8 hours. We washed our clothes, then ourselves. It is pretty clean to camp on the granite.
**TIP**Use a ziploc bag to wash your clothes, with just a tiny bit of castille soap. The goal is not really to get all the dirt out, but to get the odors out. We used a nalgene canister designated for clean-up to haul water from the lake or stream, then take it far away from the water if we are using soap. Pour from the nalgene to rinse the clothes that have been "agitated" in the ziploc. Nothing gets very clean, but it does eliminate odors. It takes effort to keep the soap out of the water, but we never want to be the ones who put suds in these pristine lakes.
We enjoyed the sunset while eating our chicken chili with tortillas. Wow, that is a good recipe that Genny gave us. The half moon is very bright and is lighting up the mountains. The stars are coming out. Still no wind, which is making it lovely to sit outside to write this. There is another tent at the end of the lake but haven't seen or heard anyone.
Upper Bear Creek Meadow
Day 15 Marie Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch
Looking back at Marie Lakes
Is this the biggest downer of the trip at 7700'?
Blayney Meadows, site of Muir Trail Ranch
There were plenty of confusing trail signs
One of the Blayney Hot Springs
Bear-proof food storage at Muir Trail Ranch
This is where your food will be awaiting you.
-Halfway, both time and mileage
We had a very warm night for being at 10,500 ft. Wasn't even cold pre-dawn when we arose. That made it easy to roll out of the tent, have breakfast, and hit the trail.
We had an easy 300 ft ascent to Seldon pass, then a rocky descent to Hart Lake, a little more rocky descent to Sally Keyes Lakes, a lake on either side of the trail with an island of fir trees between the lakes. We saw trout, some big, and thought of Mike T. We saw horses in the meadow past the lakes, and a couple of deer. There was a family-size tent set up, with table and chairs, so we deduced that was what the horses were used for. Until Senger Creek the trail wound through forests and meadows. The forests looked healthy with grasses and flowers flourishing between widely spaced pines.
After Senger Creek the real descent began-2000 ft in less than 2 miles. Basically went zigzag down the side of a canyon wall. The first half was through manzanita with a rare juniper for shade. Heat just radiated from the dirt path. At last the trail brought us through the forest, now aspens and pine.
Finally, a trail sign!! but not what was mentioned in our book, so we checked our map and went straight down another 600 ft. This part of the trail was very steep and poorly maintained. We came to the junction for Muir Trail Ranch at last, and we could see some log stuctures and horses.
MTRanch is 5 miles into the wilderness-no road at all, just trail from Florence Lake. It is a major resupply for through hikers, as it is the closest resupply on the PCT south for many miles, and for JMT south until the end. As we appraoched, we saw a bell. "Hikers ring," so we did.
A tiny woman came to greet us, asked us our name, and retrieved the bucket we had shipped. There are very specific requirements, so check the info on their web site, www.muirtrailranch.com. She welcomed us to have some water from the tap, and a shady place to sort our food, and pointed out the store. Steve went to check it out, hoping for a cold soda after that long dusty trail. No luck.
We sorted our food, left our garbage, and left one day's supply to pick up in the morning, then proceeded toward the camping area along the river. There are about 10 tents we can see on this side, and a couple on the other side.
After pumping our fill of water we crossed Paiute Creek to find Blayney Hot Springs. It was a discovery, and a challenging one. Nothing was marked, and there was no good creek crossing. We saw a family playing in a mud puddle in a meadow and went to investigate. They were guests at the ranch, and were really surprised that there were campers in the area. They told us there were springs all over. The one they were in was very muddy and small. We found other muddy ones, some hot, some tepid. There is a lake that is big and not exactly warm, but not as cold as most Sierra lakes. I thought about swimming but the sun was about to dip below the canyon wall. We walked back to look for a hot spring that was clear, and found one. I estimate the temp around 105 degrees. Felt great so I went in for a few minutes. By this time Steve and I were getting tired and hungry, so we forded the creek and headed back to camp.
After dinner a hiker named Mark from PA came over to chat. When he left I made hot chocolate and we sat on the rocks above the camp to admire the rising moon. It is still balmy out. We heard, "thump!" the sound of our bear canister falling over. Steve shone our light that way, but didn't see anything. Fortunately I had cleaned up the food and screwed the canisters shut. Unfortunately I had left a bag of toiletries out, since we hadn't brushed our teeth yet. The bear started to make off with it. He didn't get my lotion or sunblock, but did get our toothbrushes. In the morning we'll go look around for them. So, it IS true they like toiletries. We have always been so careful to put everything in the canisters, even for a moment away, but one careless moment showed us we have to be vigilant-bears can be very quick. Now there are 2 owls screeching at each other. We are hoping they won't be at it all night.
Now that it is over, it seems like it was a pretty easy day, even with 3000 ft down in 6 hours.
Segment 5 Muir Trail Ranch to LeConte Canyon and Resupply by Randy, Randy, and Sue
Day 16 Muir Trail Ranch to Franklin Meadow
Started our hike today with a detour back to MTR to pick up our supply, buy toothbrushes, and send out an email to friends and family. The young man who was in the store told us the building, a log cabin with beautiful stone fierplace and shake shingle roof, was built in 1890 and was essentially the same except for some of the flooring, and raising the lintel of the doorway. Sent some postcards out, and off we went, along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.
The trail was hot and rocky most of the way, and went up and down, bringing us close to the river, then above it. There is 1.5 miles of trail before reaching the JMT and turning south. Afte 1.8 miles of gradual ascent you come to an amazng bridge over Piute Cree. Smooth, water worn boulders are jumbled in this "creek," and the water was fast flowing. We stopped for lunch here.
We met 3 hikers on the trail who were doing a loop hike from North Lake, near Bishop, to South Lake. Sounds like a beautiful week-long trip.
After the bridge the trail was rocky and sun-exposed, with very little tree cover. The river is spectacular, but being in full sun , we took only a few pictures of the waterfalls, cascades, and slides.
Three miles up there is a metal bridge to cross, and an excellent place to get out of the hot sun, or, if needed, to camp. We lingered by the creek, ate snacks, and drank our pure filtered water, all the while soaking our feet in the cold water.
Past the bridge the trail follows Evolution Creek through aspens and pine. Looks like this area is one big flood plain in the spring thaw. In appoximately one mile there is a log bridge to cross, and a trail sign for Evolution Valley, 2 miles, and Goddard Pass the other dirction. We began to look for a campsite. There are trail workers by the bridge, and the sound of chain saws. A startled hiker asked, "Is that a chain saw or a motorcycle? I've never heard such a thing out here!"
Our campsite is forested, 100 ft or so from Evolution Creek. We found a private place to get naked and wet, then walk away from the water to soap up and rinse with water hauled from the creek. A lot of work, to be sure. Then a similar process for our clothes. Feels good to wash away the trail dirt.
We had to eat a lot and squish a lot to close our bear canisters. it's always that way after resupply.
We are at the base of the switchbacks that lead up to Evolution Valley, and we have seen a few stragglers going past. I'm glad we stopped right here. Tomorrow our goal is Evolution Lake, 6.8 miles and 2400 ft up.
Another nice bridge in the Wilderness, this time over Evolution Creek, in King's Canyon National Park.
Bridge over Piute Creek, entering King's Canyon
Piute Creek, and a stop for lunch
Day 17 Franklin Meadow to Evolution Lake
Evolution Creek waterfall
Moon rising over Evolution Lake
We made it to Evolution Lake, and it was worth all the effort we've done in all these miles. Sparkling blue, high country lake, at 10,800 ft, surrounded by sharply angled peaks, and today, incredible blue skies. There are 2 other people we can see, quite spaced apart. Our campsite is on a rocky peninsula that juts into the lake, with a few foxtail pines for wind break. Right now, at 5:30 there is a gentle breeze and warm sun on my back.
Backtrack--last night my mind became bombarded with doubts and insecurities about our ability to actually do this high country, with its high passes. I'm happy to say that the Holy Spirit brought to mind the Word of God to counterattack the thoughts of failure. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.: "The Lord has given my hinds' feet to walk upon the high places." "My grace is sufficient for thee." The lesson is to imitate Jesus when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Use the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." So then I fell asleep into a deep, peaceful rest.
The day began with coffee, protein drink, and the healing scriptures that we say every day. Then pick up and go up a 750 ft set of switchbacks. They brought us alongside and then away from incredible waterfalls and cascades of Evolution Creek. We don't always set up the tripod during the day, but this was exceptional, some of the most beautiful we've ever seen.
Then the trail levelled out, and the creek just rippled, or moved quietly. We crossed quite a few stream beds, which were still damp with flowers and grasses. We crossed Evolution Creek. Steve put on his water shoes, and I just went across in my boots, but did get wet so had to change socks.
We pushed on to McClure Meadow, a most beautiful sight. It is not a large meadow, and looks like young firs are creeping into the edges of grass. But Evolution Creek runs through it, meandering through tall grass that has turned golden brown. We stopped here for lunch, and again, the tripod came out.
As we left we saw Mark from PA, and his hiking partner Dave, on a rocky outcropping across from the Ranger Station. There is a flower-lined stream coming down, probably supplies the Ranger with his water.
After walking about an hour we came to a place where 3 streams come together to form Evolution Creek. We saw the source of them, full cascades from the tops of these peaks. We had our afternoon coffee break here before the next 1000 ft of switchbacks. Not as bad as we had anticipated, as we were in shady forest and there were multiple springs pouring out of the rocks. I can't even imagine how much water there is in a normal year or a big snow year. I'm thankful there is water, but not so big that it is dangerous or difficult to cross. Shortly after the switchbacks we came upon Evolution Lake, a stupendous sight.
As the sun went down the mountains to the north turned golden and the lake did likewise. Stunning! It was hard to frame a photo because everywhere we looked was magnificent.
Outflow of Evolution Creek at sunset
Day 18 Rest Day at Evolution Lake
I'm writing this on Day 18-our Rest Day. while laying in the tent watching clouds go by. Clouds have been rare in these 2 1/2 weeks. The wind is up, and the water is gently lapping at the shore. We circumnavigated the lake this morning. There is an old trail on the west side of the lake that is much easier than the new trail on the east side, which brings you way up above the lake. I know the trail builders have to engineer the trail so it won't flood in the spring melt, but do they have to go so high?
Met 2 men from Memphis and chatted for a while. One had a Canon digital camera which looked pretty nice. Might have to go digital soon. I counted 10 people go by for today (12:30) Many of the ones we've talked to are doing the South Lake-North Lake Loop. Update: 5:30 pm. We have seen 22 people coming across the trail by now. Not sure if any are stopping for the night.
Of course sunset was as spectacular as the whole day. We walked to the outlet of the lake and watched the sun go down over McClure Meadow. There were a father and son watching, too. They are on the South Lake-North Lake loop out of Bishop. He has a nephew who is a C-5 pilot. Must remember to ask Greg about him.
| View from the tent on a restful afternoon
Day19 Evolution Lake, over Muir Pass(11,950') to an unnamed lake in Le Conte Canyon
Rocky is the way to describe our day. Woke up to grey skies and humid, cool air. Just right for going up 1200 feet.
As we passed through one glacial boulder field after another, the wildness of the area was apparent. ("continued to escalate exponetially," said Steve)
Sapphire Lake was the first after Evolution, a deep blue even in grey skies. The mountains were sharply angulated, and huge boulders dotted the landscpe. Some were broken in half as if they fell our of the sky and split in place. Others looked like modern sculptures. Water poured out of all the higher drainages. There was still some snow in the north faces. Small birds fluttered as we walked, as if begging us for a cracker.
Going toward Muir Pass some hikers stopped to talk to us. They were doing a section of JMT, going ultralight. One of the men was obviously a foreigner. He said to Steve, "Your wife must be sporty girl. I could not get my wife to do this." So my nickname is now Sporty Girl.
Wanda Lake is very large, and had some unusual violet wildflowers. Also remarkable were the number of frogs that sat on the lake edge, or were in the water with their heads sticking up.
The trail crews have been out on these sections, sometimes filling the trail with sand (nice) and other places with golf-ball size rocks to baseball-size rocks(very annoying). Your feet roll around and it is fatiguing. This type of trail continued to Muir Pass. I'm sure there is so much water at times that they have to prevent wash-outs, but it is hard to walk on!
At Muir Pass we had some folks take our picture in front of the famous hut that was built in 1930 by the Sierra Club and Park Service as an emergency shelter. I'm sure it has saved lives, as there would be no place to get out of the elements. It is made of local stone, with the roof also of stone, stacked like a beehive. There is a fireplace which is boarded up, since there is no wood around anyway. I wonder if they used to stock the place with firewood. We stayed for lunch, then put on windbreakers because of the cool wind.
It wasn't long before we were back to shorts and short sleeve shirts. The trail descends through a narrow canyon of rocks of every color and description, from white granite to orange to pure black(shale?) and even green. A stream flows all along, at least one. Sometimes you are walking over the water on giant boulder fields, other times you are hopping over a small spring. You can see and hear the water under the rocks.
As we moved down into the tree line around 11,000 ft we spied a cascade coming down the side of the canyon at least 300 ft. Then the same stream that had started from the pass, now falling and sliding over polished white granite.
Around that time we started to look for a campsite, which we found by a pretty little lake. We can hear the water above, and the outlet to this lake is below our tent 100 ft or so. Good access for water.
Just when we arrived to camp, I said, "Let's get the tent up in case those clouds let out a little water." We barely had it up when it started to rain. we just threw our gear and ourselves in the tent, and waited it out. We had heard from a hiker gong north tht the rain was from hurricane Dean, and was coming through as far north as the southern Sierras. We say, praise the Lord for sending rain to put out the Santa Barbara fires.
It rained again a couple of times, but we managed to get dinner cooked in between. Now we are watching it break up with a glorious show of colors. It will be nice tomorrow for the trail dust to be knocked down for Sue and Randy x2. as we will be meeting them at the Le Conte Ranger Station around mid-afternoon.
It is a marvellous thing for God to answer our prayers so wonderfully. It's so great to have the assurance that He knows where we are and cares about all the details of our days.
Now the air is so fresh and cool with a beautiful pink sunset.
Saw a pika today, and several FAT marmots.
After the rain a large pack train went by, then a group of Japanese hikers with day packs. About 20 minutes later a solo hiker with just a daypack. Seems so unwise to be out by oneself in this wet weather. A couple of backpackers in full rain gear passed by. I'm glad we were able to set up our tent before the rain.
I had a lot of time in the tent during the rain to think about some tips:
**TIP** Don't follow someone so close that if you fell you'd take out the person in front. Stay back 6 ft or so, even if you have to talk louder to maintain conversation.We actually had this happen to one of our group in a Grand Canyon hike.
**TIP** Cinch your boots by stomping your heel to the back, and tightening at the top of foot and ankle. Prevents jamming your toes on the downhills. Loosen the laces for the uphills to prevent heel blisters.
**TIP** If rain threatens, be sure to keep pack cover and rain gear handy on your pack to whip on in a hurry.
**TIP** Don't forget water intake, even on cool days.
**TIP** Make a back-up plan for food drops in case of bad weather or emergencies.
**TIP** This trail is best with an internal frame pack. There are lots of streams and rivers to boulder hop or cross on logs, and an internal frame gives one better balance because it fits closer to your center of gravity.
Sapphire Lake was an incredible color
Muir Hut is a landmark on the JMT
Another great campsite
Clouds temporarily clearing for sunset
Day 20 To LeConte Ranger station and Resupply with Randy, Randy and Sue
Resting the horses at top of Bishop Pass. Photo by Randy Gibson
View into LeConte Canyon Photo by Randy Gibson
lunar eclipse from the meadow
Day broke with clearing skies, so we fussed around camp, let the tent and fly dry out, and had a leisurely breakfast. Started down the canyon at 10:00. We are continually amazed by the beauty we are passing through! The Middle Fork of the King River starts here, with streams pouring off the canyon side walls to join the torrents. The path was steep but the trail good. Parts of the switchbacks were so steep they looked like terraced gardens that no man could have dreamed of. Azalea bushes were predominant, with black-eyed susans, ferns, and violets.
The clouds behind us were dark, dark grey, and before us, scattered cumulus. At noon we heard thunder echoing through the canyon. We could see distant mountains and wondered if our trail went through them. Big Pete Meadow was a confluence of water with a small lake in which a fisherman was trying his luck. As we went lower in elevation the forest became fir and pine, even a few blue spruce.
All the while we are praying that Randy, Randy, and Sue are okay going over the pass. It started raining on us and we put on rainjackets and pack covers. The rain was straight down and not unpleasant for us, but we kept thinking of trying to ride horses down these steep trails with rain.
We checked in at the ranger station at 1:00, left a note, and sat nearby while Steve looked around for a campsite. The best was a 5 minute walk north, so we changed our note, left one on the trail sign (there finally was a sign because of the trail to Bishop Pass) and set up camp. Meantime the ranger had returned to his cabin, and approved the site we had picked for horses.
We had a leisurely afternoon, talking to some JMT hikers, washing our underwear and socks. Steve washed up but I was too lazy. We ate a big lunch around 3:30, then walked back to the ranger station to see if we could check up on Randy guys or meet up with. . .
Hurray! Here comes the pack train. Randy x2 and Sue in their slickers, and just beat from the ride over the pass. Randy Ashway says, "Won't do that again." Sue says, "Fulfilled my adventure quota for a lifetime!" They were each riding a horse and in addition, 2 pack horses(5 all together)Quite a sight! It was about 5pm when they arrived, so as soon as they arrived they were here while inhaling their lunch that had accidently been packed, and they didn't want to take the time to dig in the panniers to find it. After feeding the horses in the campsite they made a "high line" in the meadow. Lots of checking on them, bringing them to the river for water, untangling them. Meantime Steve and I fixed the dinner they brought-steak, rice and salad. I almost hate to mention it to other JMT hikers. Oh yes, and a bottle of merlot!
After dinner they all crashed. They said the trail was awful-very rocky and very difficult for horses and riders. They are planning to walk them from Bishop Pass to South Lake on the way back.
We cleaned up, putting all the extra food and garbage in one of the saddle bags(panniers) and hanging it from a tree in the middle of camp. We tied a cooking pan on the line for noise. No bears attempted it.
We woke around 2 am for the lunar eclipse, and went out in the meadow to take some pics of it. The meadow and canyon walls looked incredible in the moonlight. One of Randy's horses is white, so looked very cool in the moonlight. The moon set behind "the Citadel" before the eclipse was complete, but I was okay with that as I figured I needed my sleep for the days ahead.
Segment 6 LeConte Canyon to Kearsarge Lakes
Day 21 LeConte Canyon to Deer Meadow
We packed up and left around the same time Sue and Randy x2 got their horses together and packed. As they left Steve and I prayed for their safety and that of their horses. God bless them for blessing us so greatly. It was a tremendous effort and we couldn't thank them enough, knowing the weather was so dicey and the trail so steep and rocky.
We started off, me staggering under the weight of our resupply of food. The trail went along the middle Fork Kings River for about 3.5 miles. Amazing waterwaterfalls and cascades, with steep mountains directly above. At one point the river went from roaring cascades to a gentle, meandering streaam through a large meadow. What distinguished this meadow was enormous white boulders in the middle of it.
Continuing on we came to the trail junction that would lead on to "Road's End" many miles away.
Here we turned east to follow Palisade Creek to the end of this canyon, and tomorrow to the Palisade Lakes and Mather Pass. The landscape passed through an old burn-lots of snags still standing, but grass abundantly lushly growing.
We have called it a day almost at the end of the canyon. We are beat from getting up in the middle of the night, heavy packs, and heat. It was 100° in the sun, and 80° in the shade, according to Steve's thermometer. This campsite is in the forest, with a beautiful creek flowing nearby. When we stopped here around 4:30 there were dark clouds and thunderings coming from the mountaintops, but now the sun is out.
Ready to leave. What a blessing they were!
Tall mountains along LeConte Canyon
Water source at Deer Meadow campsite
Day 22 Deer Meadow to Bench Lake Trail Junction
Looking back into Palisade Creek Canyon
Looking back to Palisade Lake, almost to Mather Pass
Down the other side of Mather Pass, our destination will be the far mountains
Passing over into fanatic JMT hikers!
From Deer Meadow we began our ascent to Mather Pass, a daunting 3300 ft ascent. The first 1700 ft went to the Palisade Lakes on a section of trail called the Golden Staircase. Went straight up the end of the canyon. We could see the hikers on the trail above us, which was at once encouraging and discouraging.
Once you get up the staircase, there is more climbing to the lakes, which are in an idyllic setting, with streams pouring into them.
The pass beyond was the landscape of huge boulders left by glaciers. It was somewhat anti-climatic, as there was no sign at the top. It was clouding all the way up, thank God, and cool. Going down the other side was amazingly steeep. It led into a huge basin(Upper Basin) that was moraine from, you guessed it, glaciers. The trail followed one made of rock for miles, until "Center Basin," where trees (foxtail pine) were sparsely growing. We stopped there for a cup of coffee and snack, under threatening skies. We had a goal to reach king's River Crossing, so as to put us in good position for Pinchot Pass.
One hilarious moment occurred when Steve was pumping water off the trail a few feet. a hiker stopped to chat, and Steve let out a loud fart. The hiker abruptly ended the conversation and moved on, looking startled.
We made it to the King's River, and the skies seemed to be clearing a bit. We really hated to be in the woods again with so many amazing peaks and cliffs. So we went on, and up 700 more feet. (We had gone down 2000 ft to get to the King's River.) It was about a mile but seemed very long for weary legs. We were rewarded by awesome views of Pinchot Peak, and Mt. Isosoles. We were greeted by deer grazing in a golden meadow. Pretty much collapsed after a quick dinner. That was our longest, and most elevation gain and loss in a day so far-ever! 4000' up and 2000' down in about 10 miles. We have to guess on mileage, since trail signs and maps are different.
Skies cleared up, with a lovely moonrise and stars reflecting in the lake.
Day 23 Over Pinchot Pass to Woods Creek Suspension Bridge
Awakened by the sound of rain and totally grey skies. The rain stopped while we had breakfast and packed up. It was a day of rain, snow, rain, hail, wind, and now at night, thunder, lightning and rain.
We got up Pinchot Pass-our 8th of 11 passes on the JMT-in 2.5 hours. This pass on the north side was pretty easy, and very interesting with high lakes and rocks. Did not seems as barren as Mather or Muir.
At the pass we ate lunch, took some photos in a lull in the rain, and descended sharply down switchbacks. This trail is not for anyone afraid of heights. It opened into a broad field with scattered stream and lakes. The rain that had threatened while we on the pass now swept over us with a bit of hail. It was a day of stopping a lot to adjust clothing, but we left the pack covers on all day. It rained on us for an hour steadily, then off and on all day. We descended 3500 ft. No wonder my heels and big toes are sore! I woud rather do this pass from the north to south for sure.
This wide open basin narrowed to steep canyon walls, with Woods Creek flowing through it. Remarkably the trail was constructed with pink granite steps. The river bed had the watersldes with the pink granite. Incredible.
Now we are at the "famous" Wooks Creek suspension bridge, in the campground just past it. There are about 10 tents-the most we've seen since Muir Trail Ranch.
Thunder and lightning close by, with sunset view of distant canyons. Some hikers have said they had 4 days of this rain. Hope it ends-tonight!
Dawn from our campsite, looking to Pinchot Pass (below)
Day 24 Woods Creek Bridge to Rae Lakes
Dollar Lake, with view of Fin Dome
Arrowhead Lake, looking north
Another campsite view, Rae Lakes
Woke up to clearing skies-YAY! Spent most of the morning drying out the tent. Steve went back up Wood's Creek to photgraph some waterfalls.
Left at 11:30. We thought the day wouldn't be too bad with only 1500 ft up. For some reason we were drained of energy, then we figured we had only one cup of coffee. Yes, we are hooked on our routine of 2 cups in the morning. So we ate some chocolate covered espresso beans and made it to Rae Lakes. Amazingly beautiful lake on the way, Dollar Lake, then Arrowhead Lake.
We saw the backcountry ranger on the trail, looking for a particular hiker. Evidently his hiking partner had wrenched his knee, might need to be evacuated by helicopter tomorrow. (He was evacuated, and we watched the helicoptor come in as we were hiking up the pass.) He gave us a suggestion where to camp but we missed the place and made camp near the food storage (bear) lockers. We see 8 other tents on this penisula that juts into the upper Rae Lake. We did some "laundry" but it was too cold to bathe by that time. We feel better after dinner and hot chocolate. Now to bed early so we can get up for our 9th pass tomorrow-Glen Pass.
We realized we haven't had this much time off to play since Steve was discharged from the army in the '70s. Could be habit forming! We were wishing for llamas today. One week from today we'll be coming down from Whitney. Wow! Surprsingly, we are not anxious to finish the trail. It gets more beautiful every day.
Day 25 Over Glen Pass to meet Jae and Christy at Kearsarge Lakes
From Rae Lakes over our 9th pass, Glen Pass @ 12,130'.
Fairly easy ascent to Glen Pass with beautiful views of Rae Lakes all the way up. Trail leads up to a bench, then zig zags straight up 500 ft to a very narrow pass-the mountain is only 10 ft wide at top. Some people say that this is their favorite pass along the trail, because of the views both ways.
Chatted for a time with a JMT hiker doing south to north, Michael, which confirmed that it is wiser to go from north to south, just to acclimate to the elevation. We felt good and made good time, and he said he still didn't feel good since Whitney.
Steep descent, then we stopped to dry out our sleeping bags and tent fly. Oddly, this morning when we took our bags out of the tent and laid them on a rock, they absorbed moisture. But they dried fast in the warm sun as we ate our lunch.
Soon we came into more stunning views to the south and west. This trail is more beautiful than we could have expected. An unusual granite rock, like El Cap, crowned one side of a valley. Charlotte Lake sparkled below us.
Trail signs were challenging near Charlotte Lake. We picked one, and proceeded down switchbacks, then up towards Bullfrog Lake, which is huge and framed by enormous peaks-very dramatic, but no camping allowed here.
Up some more to our rendevous at Kearsarge lakes. Steve was sprinting along, really looking forward to the hair wash and bathing we had been trying to fit in all week.(It's important to me to bathe in the warm part of the day) I was dragging by this time in the afternoon heat.
The Kearsarge Lakes are off the JMT a couple of miles. This are a good place to get a resupply, as it is one of the "easier" places to hook up with the JMT. It is still quite a hike over a near 12,000 ft pass, and 6 miles from the Onion Valley trailhead to the Kearsarge Lakes. Before our friends volunteered to bring us food, we figured we would hike over and cache food somewhere over the pass. Other JMT hikers we talked with had hiked to Onion Valley, then hitch-hiked into Independence to pick up a package at the post office. This trailhead is also popular with Whitney hikers, as it is a great semi-loop trip, and can be done in as little as 4 days if you desire.
We found the lakes on an unmarked trail.The plan was that whoever arrived first, leave a note at the food lockers (bear box). First bear box-no note from Jae and Christy. So we left one. Next bear box-no note, so we left one and made camp. As we finished washing our hair they came down the trail.
What a welcome sight! We totally don't deserve such friends who would haul our food over a 12,000 ft pass!
They were tired but in pretty good shape. Jae had toted her special merlot-what a gift- and some really good lotion for my sun, wind and elevation exposed skin. Jae also had some homemade cookies, and Christy pulled a great big Toblerone chocolate bar out of her pack. We had a marvelous dinner made so special by good company.
Kearsarge Lakes are another set of spectacular lakes set below the Kearsarge Pinnacles. Beautiful lighting, like Maxfield Parrish colors, played on the tips of the pinnacles as the sun went down.
We had our first visit from a ranger this evening. He was a very pleasant guy, and he actually checked our permits. This would be the only time a ranger came into our camp to do that, and the third ranger we've seen along the way. It is Labor Day weekend, prime season for backpacking, so there are a few people around these lakes. But none are near us, and it is another fabulous night on the trail.
On Glen Pass, with the Rae Lakes behind us.
Claire signs "25" for the day, Steve says "9" for the 9th pass of the route.
Jae and Christy were heading over Kearsarge Pass to meet us.
Looking into King's Canyon from Kearsarge Pass. Photo by Christy Jordan
One of the Kearsarge Lakes, near our campsite
Segment 7 Kearsarge Lakes to Whitney Portal
Day 26 Kearsarge Lakes to Center Basin Trail Junction
Friendship-the essential ingredient
Distant view of our destination for the day
Had breakfast with Jae and Christy, then we all packed up and headed our separate ways. In spite of our heavily laden packs, the going was easy-at first 1500' down, then 1000' up. There are staggeringly beautiful views of peaks near and far, across Bullfrop Lake, across some small ponds, and then dropping down the mountainside to Vidette Meadow. The trail follows the outflows of Kearsarge to Bullfrog to some small ponds, then joins Bubbs Creek.
We followed Bubbs Creek through typical Sierra high country. We met three men who had started JMT at Red's Meadow and had not resupplied. We gave them some of our extra food, including tuna, protein drink, candy and dried bananas. A few minutes after they passed us, we passed them, for they had stopped to eat!
We planned to go as high as the tree line, to get in position for Forester Pass tomorrow, but stormy clouds swirled over the pass. We opted to stop by Center Basin Creek, which is a lovely creek that in 100yds or so from here drains into Bubbs Creek. It was very nice to stop before we are really tired, as tomorrow will be 2600' gain and at least 9.5 miles.
We walked back to the "campground" on the trail, which had bear lockers, as we have too much to put in our canisters. There are plenty of people around here, and that means plenty of bear opportunity, so we are being cautious.
We have met several people who are hiking from Onion Valley, over Kearsarge Pass, to Whitney. **TIP**One couple said it was a nightmare to pick up their permit in Lone Pine. Well, it is Labor Day weekend, and very good weather to do Whitney.
Bubbs Creek near junction with Center Creek
Day 27 Center Basin Trail Junction to Tyndall Creek
via Forester Pass at 13,160'
What an awesome pass! We started right out from our campsite climbing gently through forest and in the shade of a huge mountain. What a blessing!
Met Margaret, whom we had chatted with in LeConte Canyon, looking very rested and fit. She was hiking with a speedy young woman, so they soon passed us.
We walked at our usual mile per hour pace, which is pretty good considering we were rapidly above 11,000 ft. We felt great all the way to the pass. From the pass the views are incredibly beautiful in all directions, from the valleys below to the peaks all around. Junction Peak looks like a triangle, with very sharp outlines. At its base is a glacier blue lake, which was mind-boggling stunning. The trail on the north side of the pass is smooth, sandy granite, with no big steps to struggle up. The clouds came over as we passed out of the mountain's shade, and a cool breeze really helped.
The views from the actual pass are tremendous in all directions. A pesky marmot scurried around, searching for crumbs. Four more people arrived to share the area for a lunch break, and of course, people on the trail are very congenial and interesting.
The way down is not for anyone afraid of heights. It was Alfred Hitchcock style vertigo on narrow switchbacks. We found a place to sit and enjoyed the view while talking briefly to Elizabeth on the satellite phone. All is well with family.
The next four miles were rather lengthy through the basin, but the views south and east were so beautiful that we were entertained. We stopped at 4 pm for our customary coffee and snack, which perked us up enough to do another mile to the bear lockers and campsites along Tyndall Creek. The forest is sparse but the campsite is flat. There is a waterfall right where we filtered water.
The three men to whom we gave food yesterday are next to us. One of them came over to chat for quite a while. Ted is a Sierra Club-Sacramento outings leader, and he gave us his card for snowshoe trips.
I think we are the last to go to sleep. It is very quiet, and no wind. I feel sorry for those who will hear me unzip the tent to drink water, or unzip and zip my sleeping bag to regulate temperature. I can only hope they are sleeping heavily.
Psalm 18:31-33 "For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God? It is God who girds me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like hinds' feet, and sets me upon my high places."
**TIP** Look at our calendar pages in the John Muir Trail Logo Shop for an excellent photo of the switchbacks of Forester Pass.
Nice trail, very few big steps to conquer
Highest Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail
Long way down this basin to Tyndall Creek
Day 28 Tyndall Creek to above Timberline Lake
I can't believe it, so few miles to Whitney. As Steve says, this gypsy camping is becoming a way of life. If I had the luxury of soap, hot water, and clean clothes, I could do this indefinitely!
Left Tyndall Creek at 9:00 after chatting with Margaret. We left first but she caught up with us, passed us, then had lunch with us at Wallace Creek. Her plan was Guitar Lake, which was ours also, but we stopped about 1.5 miles short of it, and we will have one more day to rest up for Whitney. She was on a shorter permit.
This was a day that seemed like it should be easy, just 1000' diffeerence from Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake, even though it wa 12 miles.What was not so obvious is that we went way up and down about 5 times, and I bet when we study the contour lines on a good topo, we might as well have done a huge pass. Note: I examined the topos later, it was about 3000' up and 3000' down!)
However, the trail was smooth and the views were grand all around. This wilderness is HUGE! We basically went around a mountain over miles of moraine. Some was open and grass covered, part was a widely spaced forest of enormous firs (foxtail pine? bristlecone?) The forests open up at times into large green, grassy meadows which made for expansive views. We saw a fire to the south. But the skies were a brilliant blue and the breeze was cool, with just a hint of autumn in the air. It was perfect hiking weather.
I was really dragging by the time we got to Crabtree Meadow, so we did our 4 pm coffee and cookies. Somewhat revived, and with an improved attitude on my part, we went another mile to Timberline Lake. It is a pretty lake, with green reeds at its shore, and stupendous views of Whitney and other peaks. Unfortunately, there was a "no camping" sign, so we went just above the lake where we could get views of the peaks, and we were not disappointed. The setting sun makes the trees and rocks glow. And the alpenglow on Whitney lasted and lasted. Now we are photographing "star trails."
One interesting thing, at Crabtree Meadow intersection there was a bin with "wag bags" (Waste and Gel) which is to poop in past Guitar Lake so the trail stays free of human waste. Kind of gross to think about carrying out your poop.
We heard and saw fighter jets going over all day. I sure hope all the acitivy is just training. We have had no contact with the news for 28 days. We have only seen 5 other people all day.
At Crabree Meadow, a prize for every hiker
Big meadows and expansive views
Day 29 Rest Day and Stroll to above Guitar Lake
Guitar Lake-people camp on the right.
Camp above Guitar Lake
The sky was so blue it almost hurt the eyes
Today we are gathering ourselves, cleaning ourselves and our clothes, for our big day tomorrow, and return to "the other reality" on Friday.
We are getting smoke from the fire, but it is still very clear. It seemed colder this morning, and Steve said his feet were cold all night. I didn't even have socks on. So he will heat water in a nalgene bottle tonight to throw in the bottom of his sleeping bag.
This is a day to take some pictures of this glorious spot. There are really neat waterfalls coming through cracks in big boulders.
Later. . . we saw the three guys we had given food to earlier and were able to give them some of extra food, which is good for us and them. We are eating our daily allotment of snacks, just not the Active 8 or jello. They waited for us to vacate our campsite so they could have our shady campsite. It was fun to meet up with them, and we chatted with them for about an hour while we leisurely packed up. (Andrew took our picture at that spot, which is on the contact page.)
We hiked up to Guitar Lake so quickly I was surprised. Our daily confession has been, "We are stronger every day, we are faster every day, and thinner, too!" Later we added, "we are better looking," but I don't think either of us had faith for that one. It is true there is no shade except the tent.A trail crew guy told us about campsites above Guitar Lake, so we kept going till we came to a little tarn about .5miles and 200' above Guitar. At least it knocks off some mileage for tomorrow.
Perhaps the saying, "30 Days of Heaven on Earth" came to us because life is worry-free, no bills, no jobs to think about, just one step at a time towards our goal. This lesson of single minded pursuit of a goal is one that I should remember when the pressures of "the other reality" start to crowd out what is important.
Day 30 Last Day on the JMT, and ascent of Whitney
No big steps, and the coolness of morning
First view of the hut on top of the summit.
Views from the top are stupendous
Our preparations paid off as we awoke early, downed our breakfast of eggs and protein drink and coffee x2, packed up and hit the trail by 7:30. It was cold, and frosty on the tent and items that were outside. The little pond has ice in it! This was our first really cold morning, but then we're at 11,600 ft, and it is the first week of September.
We had more clothes on us than in our backpacks so that lightened the load on our back. Steve took the camera so it wasn't banging against my thighs as it had been for 210 miles.
The cold air helped us tremendously, and we were in the shadow of Whitney as we made our way up in record time. Well, only our own record. We did the first 3.5 miles and 2000' of gain by 10:00. The trail is wonderful-no huge steps, just very long switchbacks with a sandy path. At Trail Junction we reorganized to take the lids off our backpacks and use them as fanny packs. Took us an half hour . I thought it would be more of a resting place, but it is narrow, with very little room to maneuver. We threw our packs up on a ledge to get them out of the trail. No marmots chewed them, nor did we hear of anyone having rodent problems.
Then up the remaining 1.9 miles to Mt. Whitney summit, at 14,497 the talleset peak in the continental U.S. This part of the trail seemed so easy without our packs. We took it slow, savoring the incredible views along the way. The trail is narrow, and the drop-off deadly, so in order to look, you better stop walking.
There were other people on the trail but it was not crowded. Most were day hikers, and looked pretty wiped out.
We reached the stone hut on the summit @ 12:07, signed the register, had our photo taken, ate lunch, and called our friends and family on the sat phone. Fun stuff! We made it!! After a year of planning and 30 days of walking it out, we made it. It has been the most wonderful adventure of our lives, and that's saying a lot! Steve and I just looked at each other and said, "Wow!"
It was warm with a cool breeze on the top, but right as we started down the wind picked up and I donned my fleece, down vest, and windbreaker, and felt just right.
At trail junction we put our packs together, and went up a very short stretch to "Trail Crest," which is the highest pass so far @ 13,800', but not technically on the JMT.
Then down some tight switchbacks for 2.5 miles to Trail Camp.
This place, at which we arrived as the shadow of Whitney was chasing down the sun, looked like a scene from a "Mad Max" movie-lots of tents, people in all colors of clothing, moving all over a couple of rocky ledges, no trees. It was surreal to see so many people in one place after our wilderness experience. We found a spot, and I feel like I'm in a KOA except there are no showers, toilets, or running water. All of which I'm anticipating, now that we are almost done.
Day 31 Trail Camp to Whitney Portal
We got down to our last cup of coffee, so I guess it's time to leave. Because of sharing our food, we came right down to the last candy bar by the time we got to the Portal Store.
I felt so bad for day hikers, which were passing through Trail Camp as we were packing up and eating our breakfast of hot apples and granola, drinking our hot coffees. They have just come up 3300' in 6.8 miles, and most do not seem to be tolerating the altitude. Last night we also saw people at dark passing through on their way down, exhausted, but with all that mileage to go.
The trail down was just gorgeous, with the typical Sierra scenery. A stream went all the way down, sometimes the trail was close to it, sometimes not accessible. As we got closer to the Portal, it was warmer and to us, downright hot. Outpost Camp is lovely, with trees and a waterfall. I imagine it could be buggy in June and July. Lone Pine Lake is classic. At one point you can see the parking lot at Whitney Portal, but you are still a mile away, and that seems very long. At many points along the way there are views of the Owens Valley.
At Whiney Portal we met up with a couple we had seen on the trail earlier in the day. Turns out they are staying the same motel in Independence, and they told us the motel had a shuttle service. This was happy news, as we did not have a good plan to get to Independence. See the discussion about transportation issues in the preparation section of this site.
While waiting for the hotelier we ate a hamburger and fries, and bought some souvenir mugs in the little store. Perhaps next year they will stock ours. They have hot showers, but since my clean clothes were in our car at the motel, I wanted to wait.
The motel in Independence, Mt. Williamson Motel, was just perfect. It was spotlessly clean, had comfortable beds, microwave, TV, and a refrigerator. Jae had left the rest of the bottle of wine, and the hotel owners, Henrietta and Paul, had put it in our room. Jae and Christy had left our car there, so I retrieved our clean clothes and went to scrubbing! Poor Henrietta! I'm afraid she'll have to throw away the wash cloths. I threw away my shorts, which are now too baggy, and almost threadbare in the seat.
We went into Lone Pine for dinner, as there is not much in Independence. We didn't have any particular cravings, since we had eaten so well on the trail. We brought a pizza back to the motel, and sat outside to eat. Guess we weren't ready to give up the outside dining.
Dawn from Trail Camp
Lone Pine Lake and view to east. Nice trail!
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April 5, 2010