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!


Sunrise in Le Conte Canyon


Langille Peak


The Citadel


Grouse Meadow


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Trail skirting Evolution Lake


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.


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!


The shore of Wanda Lake looked like a rainbow


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.


Crazy beautiful sky mirrors


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.




Rocky descent




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.



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.


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.


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.)


Rocky trail high above the South Fork of the San Joaquin


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.


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!


Bridge over the South Fork of the San Joaquin


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.


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.


Idyllic Evolution Valley


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.


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.)


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.


That little dip is Selden Pass


View of Marie Lake


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.


View north from Selden Pass


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.)


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.


Long, hot downhill


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.


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.


Vista north through break in the trees to Seven Gables


Beautiful Bear Creek, lots of fishing opportunities along the trail


Lodgepole pines growing straight out of granite slabs


Seven Gables