JMT 2019 Day 14: Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail

September 17, 2019
Small tarn at 11,000 ft south of Pinchot Pass to Middle Rae Lake
Day Miles: 11.1 mi
Cumulative Miles: 155 mi

I wake up to my wristwatch alarm at 6 am and discover my campsite is beautiful, perched above a little pond reflecting the mountains above in its glasslike surface now that things are calm. I make my dinner for breakfast. The good thing about making Mountain House meals for breakfast is I get to sit with a little hot water bottle in my sleeping bag while I wait for my food to rehydrate.

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We are back to beautiful blue skies with nary a wisp of cloud. Last night my wrist was still itchy and swollen from the bee sting at VVR. To sleep through the storm, I took some Benadryl. As a side effect, the swelling in my wrist is gone. Highs and lows on the John Muir Trail.

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The so-called “Golden Gate of the Sierra”, a very bouncy suspension bridge over Woods Creek

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I liked this sign at the large campsite at Woods Creek Junction, just across the bridge.

In Kings Canyon NP, the JMT’s MO is to climb a hanging valley up to another hanging valley, go over a pass connecting two glacial basins, follow the headwaters of a creek down until the creek turns into cascades, descend into a valley until the creek meanders in great wide S-curves through a meadow, junction with another creek, follow that creek up, up, up… and so on. Just when you think, “Whose idea was it to build this insufferable trail that goes incessantly up one canyon and down another!” you reach Dollar Lake and discover another high alpine paradise — the Rae Lakes. Such is the JMT, like an emotionally abusive romantic partner that is just so beautiful and talented, you endure being jerked up and down.

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Dollar Lake and Fin Dome, which looks like one of the Tetons came over to the Sierras for a vacation.

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Rae Lakes Basin

I set up camp at Middle Rae Lake pretty early, taking it easy after yesterday’s harrowing day, and spend quite a bit of time wiping black dust from everything with my bandana. Even after that effort my hands still turn black from touching any of my gear. Once upon a time, my tent was impregnated with red dust from Southern Utah, now it’s black dust from under Pinchot Pass!

I soak my feet in the lake, wash some laundry, hang it to dry on a rocky perch by the lakeside, leisurely heat up and eat my dinner, journal… And then, when I go to wipe out my cook pot, I cannot find my bandana! It’s green, plant-based hand-tied tie-dye and made of hemp that dries quickly. I bought it over 15 years ago in Okinawa, while on the 55th Japan-America Student Conference. I’d been giving it quite a work out on this hike, and it was starting to develop holes from all the wear, but I love it and it is my everything towel! What am I going to wipe my nose with? By now, the campsite is full of other people and I make the rounds asking everyone if they have seen a green bandana fly by. When I have given up and return to the spot I was sitting and pick up everything to bring back to my tent, I find my bandana! (Smushed under my electronics bag to prevent escape.) Yay! It’s funny how losing anything on the trail incites panic, because you’ve stripped down everything you packed as much as possible and if you can’t find something, you need that thing! That one particular thing, much more than you would in normal life, where you can easily get a replacement.

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The Painted Lady at dusk

JMT 2019 Day 13: The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Windstorm

September 16, 2019
Upper Palisade Lake to small tarn at 11,000 ft south of Pinchot Pass
Day Miles: 14.6 mi
Cumulative Miles: 143.9 mi

I treated myself to hot breakfast — a breakfast burrito filled with Mountain House scrambled eggs — and was on the trail by 7 AM. My firefighter friends caught up with me halfway up Mather Pass. It was so windy. The clouds were racing by overhead. I kept all my warm layers on for the whole climb. Someone was taking a timelapse on the top of Mather Pass, capturing the terrible beauty of the ominous clouds and dramatic rays of light streaming through breaks in the clouds and illuminating the walls of slick shiny granite.

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View toward Mather Pass in the morning

 
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View south of Mather Pass

I could have stayed to watch forever… if it wasn’t so cold and windy. So, after a few sips of hot coffee from my thermos, I headed quickly down the other side. I had just finished the steep and rocky decent and pulled out my iPhone to take a photo of nice flat trail following the rolling glacial moraine when I rolled my ankle, hard, and collapsed flat onto the nice flat and straight trail. I always twist my ankle when the ground is flat!

Flat, straight trail that I proceed to fall on.

I tried to pull over to eat some food in a grove of whitebark pines under the pass, but they didn’t provide much wind protection. I couldn’t find a place to pee all day where my pee didn’t spray right back at me. It was a bit better at the bottom of the valley, where the South Fork of the Kings River crosses the trail and the trail begins to climb up toward Pinchot Pass. The trail climbs up to another beautiful bench of alpine lakes. Above treeline below Pinchot Pass, the wind picked up again. Despite the sun emerging, I had to wear my Buff in balaclava mode.

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Still windy in here

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In the southern half of the JMT there is the least amount of mileage and elevation gain/loss between Mather and Pinchot passes. But, what brutal weather conditions.

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Taboose Pass closed due to the fire I’d seen smoke from on Highway 395 before I started my hike

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View from the climb up Pinchot Pass

 
 
 

Atop Pinchot Pass, lenticular clouds were stacked like pancakes, evincing how strong the winds were. On the descent, I had to stop and brace against my trekking poles every time a wind gust picked up to keep from falling over. And then I had to poop. This would often happen after climbing a pass, and usually I try to make it down past treeline, for cover and soil adequate for cathole digging. Whitebark pines are my friends! But this time I wasn’t going to make it. I’d already gone 14 miles over two passes, my feet were spent (especially with my ginger right ankle), and with wind whipping my face all day, I was just about over it. Where the trail rounded to the left, I took a right cross-country to a pile of boulders, behind which I dug a cathole best I could. I did my business and as I unzipped the small ziplock bag that is my shit kit, the wind swooped down and snatched my last three sheets of toilet paper and whipped them into the air and who knows where. You gotta be f-ing kidding me! Honestly, this was not a super big deal because I still had wet wipes, but at the time I was so defeated.

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Lenticular clouds about Pinchot Pass

 

I made it down to the first groups of whitebark pines and started looking for a tentsite. I just wanted to set up my tent and get out of the wind. I finally found a site sheltered by a half-circle of trees, but I still had to stretch out prone on top of first my ground sheet and then my tent to manage to stake it down. I tied one of the guy-lines to a tree with the thought that at least my tent wouldn’t fly away with me in it and ducked inside.

I crouched upright in my tent wondering what to do next. The inside of my tent was rapidly coated with a layer of fine black dust, sieved through the no-see-um mesh around the edges of my tent. It’s all over my hands and face. No point in trying to cook dinner. I ate two Clif Bars for dinner and lay down, pulling my sleeping bag over my head. It was still bright and PCT hikers were still walking by. For the first and only time on this trip, I went somewhere else, listening to Desert Solitaire on audio book off my phone. I listened to Abbey describing desert sandstorms blowing little piles of red dust through the cracks of his trailer, and it seemed fitting.

When I woke up at 11:30 PM, it was quiet. I cautiously left my tent to re-tension it, saggy from all the violent jerking by the wind. The moon and stars were bright and close in the calm and clear night sky. I peed and went back to bed.

JMT 2019 Day 12: Another Day in Paradise

September 15, 2019
Little Pete Meadow to Upper Palisade Lake
Day miles: 13 mi
Cumulative miles: 129.3 mi

Was out of camp by 7 am and, chased by mosquitoes, made it 8 miles by 11 am, including a stretch break and a second poop!

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Sunrise in Le Conte Canyon

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Langille Peak

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The Citadel

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Grouse Meadow

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Deer Meadow

Early in the day there are a few wisps of rippling clouds in the sky, that a Mammoth local informs me are called “mares’ tails” and usually indicate that precipitation is on its way. It’s been perfect blue skies for the last 10 days. What is rain? By the time I reach the Golden Staircase, the sky is fully overcast. After the mosquito-filled meadows and forests, the rocky, exposed, dry Golden Staircase is actually a welcome respite. No mosquitoes! A breeze! And the cloudy skies mean that it never gets too hot. I power past a group of college-aged beginner backpackers who are clearly struggling.

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Impressively tidy and well-graded switch backs of the Golden Staircase, unobtrusively tucked into a rock wall,  seamlessly traversing from one gully to the next.  When you look up you can’t quite see where it is going, or it seems to disappear, but when you are on it you can climb the 1500 feet steadily at a constant pace, and it’s actually quite pleasant. This was the last section of the JMT to be completed in 1938.

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Almost at the top!

I reach Lower Palisade Lake around 2 pm and the obvious camp spots around Upper Palisade Lake by 2:30. Seems too early to stop for the day, so I contemplate going over Mather Pass and camping at one of the tarns on the other side. As I am looking for a water source to refill my water before attempting to go over the pass, I spot a single sheltered tentsite with a beautiful view of the lake in the last copse of whitebark pines before everything becomes ground hugging shrubs and granite. I continue on, but as I filter some water at a small trickle of a stream along the trail the wind picks up. I chicken out of climbing Mather and backtrack to claim that tent site, the last campsite that is not completely exposed for miles. I still have tomorrow or the day after to do a long day where I climb over two passes in one day.

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Lower and Upper Palisade Lakes. There are Palisades Lakes near when I live in Idaho too, so I looked up what a “palisade” is. “Palisade” originally means a defensive wall made of steel or wooden stakes (think fort or stockade), but is a common name for cliffs (especially columnar basalt) abutting a body of water, e.g. the Palisades along Hudson River in New York and New Jersey.

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Mather Pass

With all the hemming and hawing about Mather, it’s about 3:30 when I set up camp but still quite early. The sun comes out. I go back to the water source and do a bit of washing, hoping it will dry before dark, but by 4 pm the sun is weak and it’s noticeably cooler. I enjoy my dinner and journal in the last rays of the sun while perched on a rock overlooking Upper Palisade Lake, and go to sleep with my damp clothes tucked into my sleeping bag so that my body heat will finish drying them overnight.

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Upper Palisade Lake — my tent is tucked in the trees to the right

JMT 2019 Day 11: Swimming with Tadpoles

September 14, 2019

Evolution Lake to Little Pete Meadow
Day miles: 13 mi
Cumulative miles: 116.3 mi

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Moon-set over Evolution Valley

I fall asleep watching the full Harvest Moon rise over Evolution Lake. I wake up to Orion hanging right outside my still half-open tent vestibule. No bugs, no wind, warm night. My sleeping pad stayed full, though I give it a few extra breaths at 5 am before deciding to get up early anyway and watch the moon set. I eat a Clif bar without trouble, make my coffees, and am on the trail hiking at 6:40 am.

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Leaving camp at dawn

Evolution Basin is gorgeous and shaded from the morning sun and the combination of great scenery and cool morning makes for a brisk pace.

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Trail skirting Evolution Lake

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Evolution Lake

After about an hour of hiking to warm up, I take a 20 minute yoga break at Sapphire Lake to enjoy the sunrise. Ken and Danny pass me as I am rolling up my yoga mat and I leap frog with them all day.

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Sapphire Lake

I stop on the banks of Wanda Lake, inflate my sleeping pad and submerge it in the clear waters. No bubbles confirms no leaks!

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The shore of Wanda Lake looked like a rainbow

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Ken and Danny passing me, as I stop to check my sleeping pad for leaks at Wanda Lake

It’s a steady, mellow incline up to Muir Pass alongside sapphire lakes, reflecting the intense blue of the cloudless sky, among stark white granite. I catch up to Ken and Danny on the top of Muir Pass. We take photos of each other and have lunch by the famous stone shelter. They make fun of me when I pull out my thermos of hot coffee. I think they are jealous.

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Crazy beautiful sky mirrors

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Muir Hut

One the other side of Muir Pass, the trail follows snow melt streams down another string of beautiful alpine lakes. It is sunny and hot so I decide to strip down to my underwear and jump in alongside the giant endemic tadpoles. (No fish up here!) I think I manage to stay in for 2 or 3 minutes. It was pretty cold! It was the perfect day for a swim; by the time I got down to Big Pete Meadow, my underwear was dry.

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Lake

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Rocky descent

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Lake

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Mountain Yellow-legged Frog tadpole!

Following the string of beautiful lakes, the trail follows the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River as they become an impressive series of cascades and then mellow into a river meandering gently through lush meadows at the bottom of a glacially scoured granite canyon — Le Conte Canyon. Apparently, this is what Yosemite Valley used to be like before “they paved paradise, put up a parking lot” and all that jazz.

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Hello! Le Conte Canyon!

The day was so gorgeous, the scenery so magical, I felt so physically strong. My sleeping pad was fixed. My pack was carrying well since it had lightened up. The climb up Muir Pass was steady and not too steep, and the rocky descent was broken up into interesting and varied sections. There were so many small beautiful things on the trail: the sound of water tinkling over smooth rock, the sun glinting off glacier polished granite, the intense colbalt blue of the lakes, wildflowers. I am so so stoked, just elated to be out here in paradise.

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Feeling goofy with the Le Conte rock monster, another JMT “Easter egg”

I pass Ken and Danny setting up camp in a shady grove of trees at Little Pete Meadow, but determine that campsite is too buggy for me. (I am very mosquito susceptible.) I hike a little further and set up on a little shelf behind a tree on the other side of the trail where it is a bit higher up and drier and, I hope, less buggy.

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My home for the night

But I’ve had such a great day I want to talk about it, so I take my dinner re-hydrating in its foil pouch down to Ken and Danny’s campsite, where I hide from mosquitoes in the smoke of the campfire they have built. We review our upcoming itineraries. At Ken’s advice I decide I will alter mine to go over Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass in a single day, since those are the passes with the least elevation gain/loss between them. Then a family of deer come to investigate. Did you know that baby deer meow? We’re sitting around the campfire and not 10 feet away the deer circle and sniff at Ken and Danny’s tents. Then they take off, not running away startled, but romping, hopping like bunnies on all four feet across the meadow. The sight is comical. I say, “I read on Guthooks that a deer at one of the campsites in this area will steal your trekking poles. Maybe it is this one.” I glance at the guys’ trekking poles just stuck upright in the ground in the campsite next to their respective tents. The guys laugh, but don’t move their trekking poles and we keep talking.

Two days later, I’ll see them on the climb up Mather Pass and they’ll say, “You were right!” They woke up and their trekking poles were gone! They found them in the meadow covered with deer spit and had to rinse them off in the river. As proof, Ken will show me how the deer chewed the brand logos off the wrist straps of his poles.

JMT 2019 Day 10: This Sh*t is Tough!

September 13, 2019
Piute Creek Junction to Evolution Lake
Day Miles: 11.6 mi
Cumulative Miles: 103.3 mi

I wake up and my sleeping pad is flat. Duct tape slowed the leak, but not enough to be functional. I re-patched with Tenacious Tape, which worked slightly better, but I still had a slow leak. I woke up a couple times in the night to reinflate my sleeping pad, and luckily I wasn’t terribly uncomfortable because temperatures did not drop to freezing overnight.

The day was devoted to worrying about my sleeping pad. I have 5 more nights to endure on trail before a bed and the possibility of replacing gear in Independence. I announce that my sleeping pad is leaking to my campsite mates, but no one has anything better than the Tenacious Tape I have already tried, so I get nothing but sympathetic looks. I pack up and start hiking to find a place to poop. (A considerable challenge as so many people were camped at Piute Creek Junction last night.)

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Rocky trail high above the South Fork of the San Joaquin

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I take some time to find the Muir Trail 1917 rock and take a selfie with it. Down by Muir Trail rock, there is a little eddy of shallow calm water in the otherwise turbulent South Fork of the San Joaquin River and I dunk my sleeping pad in this eddy to check for leaks. I learn that I had managed to find all the holes last night: there is one area of the pad with two tiny holes on the front and one in the back. I must have folded a tiny piece of sharp granite into my pad when I rolled it up in the morning at Rosemarie Meadow and then the rock ground into my sleeping pad all day at the bottom of my pack. When I submerge the pad in water, bubbles form around the patches of Tenacious Tape I have stuck over the holes. So it appears that while the adhesive does not form an airtight seal, the tape itself is impermeable.

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The Muir Trail 1917 rock is an “Easter egg” along the trail.  The Wenk book suggests it commemorates the completion of the Piute Creek Bridge when funding for the JMT first beame available.

Back on the trail, I happen upon a group of three packing up their camp site. “Hello! Does anyone have a sleeping pad patch kit?” I announce to total strangers. And one of them does! I explain my predicament and a guy named Ken gives me a tiny tube of Seam Grip. He says he is headed to Muir Pass today and hopefully I can give it back too him, but if not, not to worry about it. The trail provides!

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Bridge over the South Fork of the San Joaquin

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The deer in Kings Canyon NP are fearless. Look forward to stories about aggressive deer in Kings Canyon NP.

After this, I stop twice to sun my sleeping pad, damp from being dunked in the river. I apply Seam Grip and new patches over my lunch break, hoping the sealant has enough time to set in the sun.

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Drying sleeping pad along Evolution Creek

On top of the sleeping pad anxiety, it is a tough hiking day: uphill the whole day; following the South Fork of the San Joaquin River upstream to Goddard Canyon, climbing up the steep east canyon wall along Evolution Creek, and then climbing out of Evolution Valley up to a hanging glacial valley, Evolution Basin — 2,810 feet of elevation gain.

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Idyllic Evolution Valley

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Made it up to the fabled Evolution Basin!

This shit is tough! I feel like I have an above average fitness level in normal American civilian life, but I am definitely a slow hiker by JMT standards. I am being passed by people in their 60’s with heart issues and hip replacements. I guess in that aspect, hiking the JMT is like hiking in Japan… The other thing that is happening is that my hands are in the worst shape ever from the sun and dryness. Even over all the seasonal jobs that have caused me to lose my fingerprints (handwashing glasses in hot water at a bar, glacier guiding in wet work gloves all day). I intended to bring a small tub of Vaseline but left it in Lone Pine and the small tube of Gold Bond I picked up at VVR isn’t cutting it. My right wrist is still kinda puffy from the bee sting I got at VVR. I stopped wearing my watch on my wrist to minimize irritation. Dunking my wrist in cold water helps. Also, I managed to lose my potty trowel. I think I left it stuck upright next to where I pooped at Rosemarie Meadow.

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At the end of a tough day, I am rewarded with one of the best camp spots I’ll have on the trail.

JMT 2019 Day 9: Disaster Strikes!

September 12, 2019
Rosemarie Meadow to Piute Creek Junction
Day Miles: 12.5 mi
Cumulative Miles: 91.7 mi

I woke up to a frost coating the inside of my tent. It felt warmer than the last two nights, but there were little ice crystals in my water when I poured it into my cookpot and heated water to make 2 coffees. Since I stopped cooking oatmeal for breakfast, I would make enough water for two coffees (Starbucks Via) and drink one out of my cookpot to wash a Clif bar down for breakfast and fill my thermos with a coffee for second breakfast on trail. (My mini thermos is incredibly well insulated and it takes a couple hours for hot liquids to reach drinkable temperature.)

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Marie Lake was very busy with hikers. I finally pulled over for second breakfast and some stretching where the trail leaves the shore of the lake and begins to climb up Selden Pass.

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That little dip is Selden Pass

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View of Marie Lake

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View south from Selden Pass

On the other side of Selden Pass was a beautiful little meadow crisscrossed with snowmelt streams feeding into Heart Lake. Heart Lake would have been a beautiful place to camp and I wished I could’ve just stayed there. But I was not confident I could hike a 20 mile day to make up such a drastic shift in itinerary.

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View north from Selden Pass

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Heart Lake (it’s shaped like a heart if you look back at it from the outlet)

Then came beautiful Sallie Keyes Lake and soft, duffy trail to walk on. There were lots of trout in Marie Lake, the the little stream below Selden Pass and in the clear blue water of Sallie Keyes Lake. I wish I knew how to fish! (I need a Tenkara backpacking fishing rod.)

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Sallie Keyes Lake

Yesterday, I had been feeling discouraged that everyone from VVR seemed faster hikers with more ambitious mileage plans than me, but the scenery around Selden Pass made me happy to go slow and be slow again.

Then came a series of dry, hot switchbacks, down, down, down to the two trail junctions to Florence Lake and Muir Trail Ranch. Despite offloading food at Red’s Meadow and VVR, I still have too much food and no reason to stop at MTR, so I passed up the chance to check out MTR’s legendary hiker bins. The Wenk book neglected to mention this was a long dry stretch, and I finished my last bit of water 2 miles before Piute Creek.

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Long, hot downhill

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no more dogs 😦

I was so relieved upon reaching the Piute Creek bridge and crossing into Kings Canyon National Park that I decide to just camp at the busy camping area by Piute Creek Junction. The area was very busy. Luckily, Peter and John waved me over because they had an extra tent spot at their site. Ken and Danny from Rosemarie Meadow also camped nearby. After Peter and John went to bed, I joined Ken and Danny at their campfire. They are Santa Barbara County firefighters and Ken had planned and cooked and dehydrated all their meals. He’s a great cook from all his experience cooking firehouse meals. It turned out we had pretty much the the same itinerary to Onion Valley, where they would be completing their hike.

I go back to my tent and find my sleeping pad flat. Strange. I had blown it up when I set up camp. I think it might have deflated a little from the temperature dropping after the sun went down, so I blow it up again… but it goes flat again as soon as I lay on it. I scan the sleeping pad head to toe with my headlamp and find an abraded spot. I patch it with duct tape. I’m too tired to panic. I go to bed thinking, worst case, I have my foam pad and backpack to lay on…

JMT 2019 Day 8: Struggle Bus

September 11, 2019
VVR to Rosemarie Meadow
Day miles: 12.5 mi
Cumulative miles: 79.2

I was going to try to make it to Marie Lake for the night, but came up a bit short because carrying my 8 days of food became a struggle bus after the first few hours. I weighed my pack for the first time when leaving VVR. It was 36 pounds with 8 days of food and 1 liter of water, the heaviest my pack would be for the entire JMT. 36 pounds was under the guideline that your pack should be under 1/3 of your weight but it was burdensome and my ULA Circuit stopped feeling like it carried well. (ULA website suggests keeping loads under 35lbs for the Circuit.)

The normal ferry had been repaired the day before, so the trip back across Edison Lake was a leisurely scenic ride. The sun had come out by the time we arrived. I took off ahead of everyone delayering and repacking at the ferry dock.

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Climbing up Bear Ridge from Edison Junction (2000ft+ elevation gain in ~5 miles) took 3 hours from 10:20 am to 1:20 pm, which wasn’t terrible, but I couldn’t seem to pick up my pace even after the terrain mellowed out. Everyone from my VVR ferry passed me and I didn’t see anyone again until I passed Peter (a retired ornithologist) and John from Hawaii, who I’d eaten dinner with the night before, setting up camp. They explained that they are “union hikers” and only hike until 4 pm. I asked, “Did no one else need to stop for a lunch break?” My pace of 10-12 miles a day seemed to be a common 65 year old retiree pace, and it was a little demoralizing not to see anyone for so long. (Not that I am not totally used to getting my butt kicked by 70-year-olds carrying giant packs full of heavy camera equipment in Japan. Also, I think this is because most people my age have jobs and try to complete the JMT within 2 weeks. So people who budget to hike the JMT in about 3 weeks are retired, or work seasonally or on contract or are European…)

Most of the day was not super impressive in terms of scenic vistas, but I loved the smell of the redwoods and the sound of Bear Creek running over bare granite. A little gem of the day was when a father-daughter pair showed me a fish they had just caught as I passed them at a creek crossing.

I gave up about 2 miles short of Marie Lake and camped near two fishermen, Ken and Danny, also hiking the JMT and also headed to Paiute Creek tomorrow. The meadow was pretty mosquito-y, and there was one mosquito I just couldn’t catch in my tent, so I fell asleep worrying I’d wake up with an archipelago of bites on my face.

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Vista north through break in the trees to Seven Gables

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Beautiful Bear Creek, lots of fishing opportunities along the trail

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Lodgepole pines growing straight out of granite slabs

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Seven Gables

JMT 2019 Day 7: Zero Day at VVR

September 10, 2019
Moseying about VVR
Day miles: 0 mi
Cumulative miles: 66.7

On my zero day at Vermilion Valley Resort, I didn’t even journal. (I took some notes the next day when I got back on trail.) A “zero day” is hiker lingo from a day where you hike zero miles. I had actually planned to take a “nero”, a day where you hike nearly zero miles, but was ahead of schedule.

It was wonderful to wake up, not have to pack up and just wander over to the main building, and order hot breakfast. I think I got both the classic bacon, eggs and pancakes and a breakfast sandwich. I had been craving savory breakfast. The pancakes were the best! Then, I got a shower and did my laundry. I fetched my resupply and packed my food for the next section of trail. I hung out at a picnic table, drank a beer, ate a bag of potato chips, and chatted with other hikers. There was a good mix of PCT hikers, JMT hikers and veteran Sierra hikers hiking loops they’d made up themselves. I pet sat a wonderful trail pup named Darwin when his mom went to take a shower. I took a nap. There is no wifi at VVR (though you can pay to use one of their computers), so I walked out onto the dam for AT&T cell reception and texted friends and family that everything was well. I did some yoga on the beach. I ate a giant fried chicken sandwich for dinner. All these mundane little things felt like absolute luxury. It was a perfect day. (Except I got stung by a bee, more on that later.)

This vortex of two nights and a day at VVR, including paying for my resupply pick-up and taking the ferry both ways cost me $195 and I tipped them $40. The VVR crew was excellent and it was an amazing hiker-friendly experience. Highly recommend resupplying and taking a zero at VVR!

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Contemplated helping in the kitchen… but then decided I really just wanted to luxuriate in doing nothing. There already were resupply chores to be done.

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Sorting through my resupply. What do I want to eat? What do I not want to eat? A theme for my hike is I have packed too much food. I leave all my oatmeal and a bag of peanut M&Ms in the hiker boxes.

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Food for 7 days packed in my bear can and the first days’ food set aside to be packed at the top of my pack. 8 days till my next resupply in Independence!

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Wandering out onto the dam for cell service. Lake Edison was formed by Vermilion Valley Dam in 1954, is named after Thomas Edison and owned by Southern California Edison, the power company.

JMT 2019 Day 6: Silver Pass

September 9, 2019
Squaw Lake to Vermilion Valley Resort (9.5 miles)

After the long hiking day yesterday, I thought I might sleep in. But I woke up at 4:30 am, realizing that if you go to bed at 8:30 pm, by 4:30 you have probably had a solid 8 hours of sleep. I got up for a pee, fetched my bear can and boiled water for coffee while packing up things in my tent. I ate my breakfast of Probar & coffee sitting on the granite table next to my tent, with my feet dangling in my quilt foot box and the quilt buttoned up behind me, looking like some sort of mermaid, except half-human, half-fat caterpillar.

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Bag packed and leaned up against the granite “table” at my campsite

It’s a bit warmer than the previous morning, but there are still thin clear sheets of ice along the shores of Squaw Lake and Chief Lake when I begin hiking. I start hiking at about 7:45 and reach Chief Lake in about an hour and a half, just as the sun comes rising over Chief Lake. I find some nice flat slabs of granite, roll out my Thinlight pad and do some sun salutation into the sun. I decide I should make this a routine, hike until warmed up and then stop to do yoga and stretch.

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View from my yoga spot on the banks of Chief Lake

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At the top of Silver Pass I meet a PCT thru-hiker from Belgium named Weatherman, and we take some pictures of each other. Descending the south side of Silver Pass, the landscape is very reminiscent of the Gallatin and Madison Ranges in Montana (where I had done all my training hikes in the summer), only without the moose and grizzlies. Then the trail follows Silver Creek down into the forest flanked by smooth granite formations like those in Yosemite.

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Silver Pass

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Hello, southwestern Montana! (Actually, basin south of Silver Pass)

Mid-morning, I stop and take break where the stream runs over bare granite and ice my feet in an indentation in the rock that makes a perfect little footbath. The water is painfully cold. I eat salami wrapped in a tortilla.

Then it’s down, down, down an endless set of rocky switchbacks. At one of the stream crossings, I meet a couple with the best hiking pups ever, each carrying its own backpack and following faithfully right behind the heels of their owners. I stalk closely behind this group because the sight makes me so happy until we part ways at Mono Pass junction. (Between Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks is the dog friendly portion of the JMT and it was always a treat to meet people’s furry friends on the trail.)

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I reach Ediza Lake junction by 2 pm, so I decide to take the 4:45pm Edison Lake ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) half a day earlier than planned. I meet some folks already waiting for the ferry by the bear box around 2:35. They mosey down to the ferry dock while I spread out my tent and ground sheet to dry in the sun. The sun out by the ferry dock is harsh, so I roll out my foam pad to nap in the shade of the trees by the bear box.

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Lake Edison ferry dock

I am laying prone on my mat using my freshly dried tent as a pillow when Ellen rolls up. We catch up. She’s been having trouble with the cold due to old frostbite injury and managed to lose one of her two pairs of shorts and hasn’t been able to swap out her outfits as she normally likes to do. I tell her I saw her shorts at Red’s Meadow and was hoping I would see her there and I am super glad to see her again going into VVR.

Around 3:50, Ellen and a section hiker we have been chatting with head over to the ferry dock. I am rolling up my foam pad and putting my hiking boots back on when another familiar face appears, it’s Larry! He made it from Red’s in less than two days, camping last night at Lake Virginia. It turns out that the usual ferry is out of commission, so the boat captain has to make multiple trips across the lake in a little skiff and can only take 5 people at a time. My dilly-dallying in the shade puts me on the third and last boat, so Larry, another hiker and I share our life stories as we wait for our ride.

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Putting 5 hikers and their gear in this little boat is pretty sketchy…

We finally arrive at VVR when it is starting to get dark. We get the spiel, get our tabs set up, go set up camp (JMT and PCT hikers get two nights free camping and a free beer at VVR) and I eat a steak dinner. Showering will have to wait till tomorrow.

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The boat ride to VVR was a bit more thrilling than anticipated…

JMT 2019 Day 5: Hidden Gems

September 8, 2019
Deer Creek to Squaw Lake (15 mi)

It’s a frosty morning. Sitting in my sleeping bag poking at my oatmeal, I come up with a theory that the reason it takes me so long to get out of camp every morning is I don’t really want to eat my oatmeal. I wake up around 6 but can’t seem to get on the trail until 8. I wish I had savory breakfast, that I had packed something like cheesy grits with bacon bits. I have never had issues with oatmeal before, but I decide to experiment with eating Clif bars for breakfast the next couple of days and see if that speeds up my morning routine.

There is a 5 mile dry stretch between Deer Creek and Duck Lake, one of the longest dry stretches on the JMT, so I start the day carrying just over 2 liters of water. I see a sooty grouse as big as a chicken and then some cute California quail with their little bobbing head plumes, twittering and running about in the manzanita. Too bad Dan and Dakota aren’t here to get them for me for my dinner and I’ll have to eat a dusty looking ziplock of Mountain House instead.

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I take my lunch break at Purple Lake, then head on to impressive Virginia Lake. Virginia Lake is as clear and blue as Lake Towada (caldera lake in Japan famous for its bright blue color, which is the pride of the small town where I lived for two years after college). I would have and should have swam in Virginia Lake, except I was still relatively clean from yesterday’s shower.

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Purple Lake

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The trail skirting beautiful Virginia Lake

From Lake Virginia, the trail descends to the headwaters of Fish Creek, which was true to its name, full of small mountain trout until the river began to descend steeply in rapids and waterfalls. There were a few nice campsites along Fish Creek and I thought about how if you planned to fish along the trail you would plan a different itinerary and camp at Minaret Creek and Fish Creek, etc. instead of the high alpine lakes I have a preference for.

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Fish Creek

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Bridge across Fish Creek

After crossing Fish Creek over a nice steel bridge, it’s a slogging climb up towards Silver Pass. Squaw Lake sits hidden atop a shelf and when you finally step up there, it feels like a magical secret world.

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Squaw Lake is hidden up there!

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View from the top of the climb

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Squaw Lake from my campsite in golden afternoon light

My tent site is a gravelly patch behind some stunted pines. It is not quite flat, but I will tuck my backpack under my sleeping pad to help level the floor. 15 miles is the longest distance I have hiked in a day so far, and I am looking forward to having a short 8 mile day tomorrow where I can fully enjoy Silver Pass and its lakes.