JMT 2019 Day 17: Back on the Trail

September 20, 2019

Onion Valley to Center Basin Junction
Day Miles: 11.5 mi
Cumulative Miles: 178.5 mi

Following the lovely family-style breakfast at Mt. Williamson Motel, we were dropped off at Onion Valley around 8:40 am. The hike back up Kearsarge Pass was not as bad as I imagined it would be prior to beginning this hike. A resupply of 4 days of food is much more manageable than 8 days of food. Based on conversation with hikers coming down the trail as I was going up Kearsarge Pass, I had missed some snow flurries and a really cold night by taking a day off. I reached the top of Kearsarge Pass by noon, had lunch at the top, and took Bullfrog Lake Trail back to the John Muir Trail. (Between my first JMT attempt and this hike, I have hiked all of the “official” John Muir Trail, except for 0.6 miles between Kearsarge Pass Junction and Bullfrog Lake Junction.)

The trail climbed out of the valley along beautiful Bubbs Creek. The smooth glacially polished granite walls of East Vidette to the west contrasted with the Kearsarge Pinnacles, pointy and fragmented by freeze thaw cycles, to the east.

I made camp around 4 pm near Center Basin Junction with a couple of southbound PCT hikers I had met at breakfast, and made some classic President brand Taiwanese stewed pork instant noodles with a vacuum sealed tea egg for dinner. I had found these treasures in the hiker buckets at Mt. Williamson Motel. Went to sleep excited to climb my last big pass — Forester Pass — tomorrow!

JMT 2019 Day 16: Zero in Independence

September 19, 2019

Treasure from the hiker boxes at Mt. Williamson Motel
Walked all 8 blocks from one end of town to the other. Apparently this was snow up in the Sierra.
Lamb shank for dinner at the random French bistro in an otherwise gas station food town. I need all that connective tissue to strengthen my tendons.

JMT 2019 Day 15: The Trail Provides

September 18, 2019
Middle Rae Lake to Onion Valley
Day Miles: 12 mi
Cumulative Miles: 167 mi

Fin Dome

I wake up to a frosted tent at 5:30 am and am hiking by 6:30. Today, I need to go over Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass and make it to Onion Valley in time for a 3 pm ride down to Independence. Shortly, I come across a full roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag laying in the middle of the trail. I take a few sheets for the day and put the toilet paper somewhere visible on the side of the trail with a rock on top of it to hold it down for the next hiker. The trail provides! (Recall the wind snatched the last of my toilet paper when I came over Pinchot Pass two days earlier.)

The Painted Lady in the soft morning light

Glen Pass is the hardest pass I’ve climbed so far. The trail is interminable with many false summits. When I arrive at the top, I can’t tell where I am supposed to go next. Am I supposed to squeeze through these rocks? I walk along the ridge, look down, and see so many switchbacks… I have never seen so many switchbacks in my life!

I imagine what it’d be like to ski this chute in the spring. The switchbacks turn out to be not as terrible as they look. Soon I am having my second coffee and morning snack and switching out my socks at the first grove of whitebark pines after Glen Pass. It is 9 am.

I reach the junction of the JMT and the trail to Kearsarge Pass by 9:45. I’m taking the higher trail above Bullfrog Lake, and it’s exposed and dry. I should have filled up on water because the trail skirts high above the first couple alpine lakes on the other side of Kearsarge Pass too. 

I see a lumbering silhouette ahead of me on the trail. A heavy set man with a huge, antiquated external frame pack, all sorts of lumpy objects strapped to it, including a giant sleeping roll hanging from the bottom. He appears to be wearing his rain pants with a giant tear in the butt, a loose flap of fabric flapping. This is weird because the trail is exposed, with no shade and the sun is beating down, hot.

He is laboring each step and I catch up to him quickly. His pack is so huge it takes up the entire trail. “Excuse me,” I call a couple times to try to get his attention so I can pass, but he’s concentrating so hard or suffering so much he doesn’t hear me. Finally, I manage to skitter around him, surprising him and he apologizes for not realizing I was there. He asks me if I know where the next water source is. I say I’m not sure, there might not be one until after Kearsarge Pass, and he looks distressed. But soon after I pass him, I cross a nice clear trickle of a stream over the rocky trail and wave back at him, shouting that there is water and he shouts a thanks in return.

I make it over Kearsarge Pass, get cell reception and call Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence. I get their voicemail and leave a message that I am on schedule for my ride from the trailhead and would love to stay two nights (I only reserved one) so I can take a zero.

I descend into the trees where the trail approaches a stream and am looking for a good water source / lunch spot when Ellen appears! We take a lunch break together. I ask her if she saw “an anachronism” along the trail and she laughs and says she knows exactly who I am talking about. Sadly, she has decided to leave the trail at Onion Valley and cut this hike short because it’s been a tough hike for her, but her friends had left her a resupply in the bear boxes at Charlotte Lake, so she’s packing a big bag of potato chips, which I am happy to help with. It is so nice to catch up with a friend, but she’s taking it slow and I have to catch a scheduled ride, so we part ways and I take off ahead of her. 


I make it to Onion Valley Trailhead where I meet other hikers waiting for the same ride to Mt. Williamson Motel. A few people are joyously riffling through outdated resupplies in the bear boxes. They’ve even discovered a bottle of wine. (People often leave resupplies in the bear boxes with an expected arrival date. Past that date, the contents are fair game.) I’ve had too much food my entire hike so I just take the opportunity while we are waiting to spread my tent out to dry.

We are shuttled to Mt. Williamson Motel in a little van with a wagon hitched behind it to carry all of our backpacks. When we get out I scramble to dig out my wallet from down in my pack so I can tip the driver. (Should have used wait time at the bottom of the trail to find wallet, but at that point had forgotten that money was a thing.) Lauralyn gives us the spiel. Like VVR, Mt. Williamson Motel is a JMT institution. Lauralyn and her husband are many-time JMT hikers themselves and and recently purchased the property from Strider (the previous legendary owner). There is a free arrival beer, loaner clothes and well-organized hiker buckets. First things first, Lauralyn wants us to turn in our laundry so that she can do it and give it back to us clean before tomorrow morning. There is an efficient and hiker focused system in place. Lucky for me, they did have a room available for two nights, so I get to take a zero! Tomorrow is for luxuriating!