Inspired by the trips of Dave1 and 9L, I decided to give the John Muir Trail a shot this summer. Yosemite is very tough to get an entry permit from, so I started at Tuolumne. Therefore, we can call this a JMT light or a segment hike and I will go back and suffer through the crowds of Yosemite valley another time to complete the final segment.
I dropped the dogs off late Sunday morning on June 14 and headed for California. Having never been to California before, that turned out to be a minor adventure in itself. I missed the first turn for Yosemite and google rerouted me up the west coast. I toured Pasadena drove on a road I think they call the grape vine and was nearing Fresno when I realized it was not the way I wanted to go. I then took highway 58 across the bottom of the Sierra Nevada range and made my way back to the eastern side via a series of state roads. My detour only cost me about three and a half extra hours and 200 plus miles. I ended up seeing some more of California, but did not make Yosemite on the 14.
I finally arrived at the permits office around nine the next morning. The ranger informed me that if I wanted I could start a day early. Initially, I had planned to day hike Yosemite on the 15 and start my trek on the 16. However, the previous day's driving fiasco had me extra annoyed, I did not want to spend anymore money and the thought of hiking the sidewalks of Yosemite on a Sunday afternoon made me cringe. Consequently, after about a five minute deliberation in my head, I said let's start now! There would only be one small issue, I really only had four days worth of food until my resupply and this would be adding in an extra day, but I had some extra snacks in the car and I knew I would be fine splitting a Mountain House.
Day 1: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Bridge (11.3 miles)
No reason to rush at all on this day one, as with an early entry date, any miles I gained would just be a nice little head start on the miles I would need to cover to complete the trail in my original permit dates of the 16-30. Not rush is exactly what I did on day one. I spent my late morning and early afternoon just absolute awestruck at the beauty of Lyell Canyon and the picturesque Tuolumne River. I stayed near where John camped in 2013. A great spot along the Lyell fork of Tuolomne, near the forks bridge. I set up camp and took a signature FOTG nap, woke up, ate half a mountain house and went back to bed. Perfect site, perfect day, perfect start to trek.
Day 2: Lyell Fork Bridge to Gladys Lake (20 miles)
I hit the trail at 0630 on day two. This would be my latest start time of the entire trek. I quickly developed a pretty efficient morning routine that had me leaving camp usually on or just before six the rest of the way. The climb up Donohue Pass was nothing short of majestic with: partially frozen basins, a snowy backdrop, water gushing from every drainage and amazing views. Speaking of views, they only got better as I crested the pass and gazed south. From there I headed down down Rush Creek and up Island Pass. Island Pass is where things simply got breathtaking. I can't put into words the beauty of Thousand Island Lake and the several other crystal clear lakes the trail drops into and out of during this simply amazing stretch of JMT. I kept with John's 2013 itinerary and stayed at Gladys Lake, but at the south end. Another perfect campsite another perfect day.
Day 3: Gladys Lake to Purple Lake (22.7 miles)
Even though it was only day three, I woke up eager to get to Red's Meadow. I thought a quick bite to eat would not hurt and I had a few things I could trow away as well. However, as I was making my way down to the Devil's Postpile area, I decided I did not really need to go to Red's Meadow. I was afraid it would undo my two days in the wilderness and make me soft or yearn for things I could not have, besides I was getting resupplied in potentially another day anyways. From Devils Postpile it was through the eerie Ansel Adams Wilderness that has been recently impacted by a forest fire and a tremendous wind storm that took out several thousand trees. The next stretch of trail many find mundane and boring according to the Wenk book, however, I had no problem with it and enjoyed the views along with the very well-maintained trail. I was still keeping with John's old itinerary when I finally deviated at Duck Creek. He had selected an awesome and relatively popular site in 2013 from the looks of it. However, I did not stop at Reds and had hit Duck Creek a little early in the afternoon. I decided I would push up the trail to Purple Lake a lake formed by thousands of years of purple rain according to the guide book. Reaching Purple Lake included a pretty nasty little climb out of the Duck Creek drainage, but it proved to be worth it. I got a great spot nestled just inside the tree line and among some large slabs with a nicely flowing creek to avoid long walks to the lake for water. Ate well, slept well and enjoyed a cool but not cold evening.
Day 4: Purple Lake to the Junction with Bear Creek (24.2 miles)
Silver was another superb pass. It was preceded by a knee rattling drop down into the beautiful and robust flowing Fish Creek drainage and then followed by an even more aggressive drop into Tully Hole then a 2100 foot climb up Bear Ridge and another 1000 foot plus drop back down into Bear Creek. I took advantage of the tremendous downhills, the relative ease of the Bear Ridge Climb along with the great trail conditions and knocked out a 24 mile day that was not overly strenuous. Bear Creek is a powerful little creek pushing a lot of water. I enjoyed a pretty built up site near the trail, but not as close to the water as some of the nicer sites that I came across the next morning.
Day 5: Bear Creek Junction to Muir Trail Ranch, Hot Springs and finally Piute Creek Junction (16 miles, 1.6 miles, 4 miles)
I arrived at Muir Trail Ranch early in every way. I arrived just before noon and a day early. I was gambling that I could pick up my food bucket a day early and either push up the trail more, or get an earlier start on the following day. The worker at ranch had no problem grabbing my bucket a day early, however, immediately there was an issue. My bucket was not there, however, she was very confident it would be arriving on the five o'clock truck and told me I could come back and check later to ease my worries. Although slightly worried, it was tough to be too down. The hot springs were great and I was having a pretty good time socializing with the several backpackers that were slowly trickling in. Although, I was nearly swept down stream fording the very fast moving San Joaquin River not once, but twice. its amazing what a little quality time around the hot springs will drive one to do. Then the wheels came off my little vacation day at the ranch. My bucket never arrived. Under normal circumstances this is not that big of an issue, as M.T.R. is known for its great "community" bin. However, this was the day before the ranch opened officially and the only food they had available was left over from last year. I had no problem finding four days worth of Mountain Houses, however, there was nothing to take for a breakfast, nothing with electrolytes and no nice quick burning sugary snacks. I went from expecting to receive six days worth of my own hand selected dinners, snacks, breakfasts and comfort foods to four mountain houses of which only three I really liked and about 4.5 days worth of expired cliff bars and Kind bars. Oh when I say expired I mean expired with dates ranging from as early as April 2015 to as far back as August 2014. At this point I almost convinced myself to grab enough food to make it to Bishop and call the trek off for events that were obviously out of my control.
As I am mulling over what to do, one of the workers comes out and says, "Now I remember why your name sounded familiar!" I eagerly say, "yes?" as if he is going to pull my bucket out of his pocket. He then says, " A letter arrived for you today." I was completely perplexed, I took the letter and it was from my sister. My sister obviously realized that I could survive ten days without a correspondence from her, but she wanted to surprise me with something fun I guess. The letter was very nice. It had some personal things about my father, some words of encouragement about my new job and gave me way too much credit for undertaking a pretty modest 200 mile trek. Anyways, how does a guy say he is quitting the J.M.T after that? I said to myself quit being a little bitch grab what food you can, shorten the hike to five days and make do. I made a quick appeal to my new found friends at the river and collected some granola and homemade trail mix. Great! I went from coffee in the morning, circus peanuts, chips and my hand picked favorites to bird food and 12 expired cliff bars. At least now my greatest threat was a bird attacking me for my food and not a bear. Can't wait to see how 0500 goes now without a little instant coffee in the system.
Everyone was sympathetic to my situation, but they were all waiting on resupply as well. A couple cool girls I had met in passing the day before offered some breakfast the following morning, but by this point I was tired of being social and slightly annoyed by the situation, so I decided to get a few miles head start on Muir Pass and left M.T.R. sometime after six. I certainly had some anxiety about my food situation and had a feeling those hot springs may have been the place to be in the Sierras that night, but I left anyways and committed to completing the trail. Ended up staying near Karl and John's site from the year before. I shared a site with a PCT guy. Very cool kid, 24 years old, was living off fresh trout and wild onion as he slowly made his way through the Sierras. His name was Breaks and he was tackling the PCT after only one trip to Glacier national park! He was doing well though when I met up with him and was confident he would reach Canada before winter. We had a few pretty good conversations and he helped ease my anxiety over my very modest rations, saying something to the extent of, "don't worry the trail will take care of you."
Day 6: Piute Creek Junction to Big Pete's Meadow Crossing (24 miles)
I got a nice early start just before six. All of a sudden my morning routine had become considerably shorter with no oatmeal to cook or coffee to drink. Day six was also my first day where I felt I should start covering some ground. Muir Pass was beautiful but a tough climb for me with my newly albeit partially stocked five day pack. What compounded matters was that even with my head start from the night before, I was reached the pass at around mile 19 when I was not exactly at my most spry. Luckily, the beauty of Evolution Creek, valley and the basin area more than made up for the tough climb. The descent down the south side was amazing, more cascades, partially frozen lakes and quick trail with some amazing views of what lies ahead; the second of the M&M brothers, Mather Pass.
Day 7: Big Pete's Meadow to three miles before Pinchot Pass (24.7 miles)
If Muir Pass broke me off, than Mather Pass got medieval on my #$%. I cursed and crawled my way up the 12,000 foot plus devil pass, but was then able to enjoy a relative highway of a trail down the other side up a quick 800 feet to my campsite on an unnamed lake, just north of Lake Marjorie and just below 11,000 feet. Today, I realized after I dipped into some snacks reserved for another day, that my food rationing system may been a little optimistic. I was simply not getting what I needed, I am not saying my sugary snacks would have saved the day, but the old school year old Cliff Bars were certainly not meeting my nutritional needs on the trail.
Day 8: 3 miles before Pinchot Pass to Bubbs Creek Junction Area (23.8 miles)
My results of a lack of quality snacks, or at least quality snacks and food in my opinion came to fruition today. Day 8 was a big day. I had to start the day off with a three mile 1500 or so feet climb up Pinchot than a drop down to 8500 feet only to climb back up to just under 12,000 in order to get over Glen Pass. Day eight marked the first time during my entire trek that I was passed by hikers. It was by a considerably fresher group on day 12 of the same south bound hike, so I naturally passed them later and never saw them again, but they went by me like I was standing still on the way up to Pinchot. I literally took nearly two hours to cover those three hours and was feeling very worried about my overall level of energy all of a sudden. My boots felt like cement, hard to describe, but I could barely lift my feet during those first few hours of day light. Day 8 was kind of zero day for snacks, not a lot to go around, nothing at all for breakfast and three bars for the whole day, not counting dinner. I started to pick up some energy and speed with the downhill, but I was absolutely dreading Glen Pass. Then I met a pretty knowledgeable local hiker and fisherman named Mike. After filtering some water, several conversations about trout fishing and a couple miles of hiking we parted ways. However, before he left he gave me a packet of almond butter mixed with a touch of maple syrup and promised me that it would get me up Glen. I don't know if it was psychological, but that almond butter hit that spot and provided the energy he said it would. I cleared the first 2500 feet of the climb in two plus mile an hour fashion. I guess the trail does find away of taking care of one. With about a little less than half the ascent complete, I passed a few sites with stationary bear boxes provided by the forest service. For some crazy reason I stopped and went over and opened one. It was packed with food! It was an illegal, but definitely a community cache of supplies and food. There were several bags of food inside, some trash and a lot of basic trail supplies. I started going through the bags and this was my take: one row of Ritz crackers, one row of Oreos (not crushed amazingly), four granola bars, (you know the unhealthy kind that taste like candy) three small packages of peanut butter and get this a package of Lifesavers and four prepackaged Gatorade mixes! Not wanting to be greedy, but positive I had not raided some poor hikers supplies, I shut up the storage bin and headed for the pass grinning ear to ear. I told myself the Lifesavers would have to wait until after Glen, but I immediately had a Gatorade mix. The allure of new snacks quickly wore off and I had perhaps what I think is one of the steepest and toughest passes of the JMT ahead. It broke me off, but mentally all was good and I pushed all the way back down to 9500 feet after clearing the pass. I was now in a pretty good spot to tackle Forester and I was feeling so much better about my food situation. The trail had taken care of me. I got an awesome spot, but then the Bad Scouts of America showed up and ruined my night, but not worth the cliche rant about unruly scouts and poor scout masters.
Day 9: Bubbs Creek to Crabtree Creek south of the ranger station (23.4)
My food was not as big of an issue now and I really only had to have a decent day to set myself up for a Whitney Summit and Whitney Portal exit. But first loomed Forester a legitimate 13,000 plus foot pass to clear within the first eight miles of my hike. Surprisingly, Forester was a breeze! Imagine that hit a pass with a little food in your belly and hit the pass before mile 18 and all is well. Not to mention the grade and trail up to the pass from the north side were probably the best out of all of the other passes. Some talus to navigate, but not like Mather and Muir, generally long sandy or gravel switchbacks most of the way. A race track down Forester, but I will say the final 8-10 miles to Crabtree were my least favorite of the JMT, just dry and not a lot going on in the scenery department along with some annoying little 400 and 600 foot climbs mixed in there.
Day 10: Crabtree Creek to Whitney Portal (19.3 miles)
Final food count for the last day was two expired cliff bars for the climb and exit. However, for breakfast three Oreos, a left over chicken breast from the previous night's Mountain House and a cup of hot cocoa. My largest and most filling breakfast since about day four I think. The breakfast did not help, nor did the last day mentality, climbing Whitney with a full pack just hurt! Although, I should note there is a convenient spot at 13,000 feet where you can leave your pack, so that leaves you only a 3000 foot climb with your full pack. The other 1400 you get to do like a rock star pack free with a nalgene bottle and puffy coat. I met a group of cool guys on the top, relished my moment a little, reflected on what I had done and then started down. However, during conversation the group I met, not only insisted that I accompany them to Lone Pine for celebratory brew and food after, but they also offered a ride back to Yosemite, as they were going that way. My problem of getting back to Yosemite was all of a sudden solved in five minutes, and believe me I had no real plan to get back, so it was a tremendous break for me. The summit of Whitney to the trail head can be summed up with one word switchback. I hiked out with my new friends after they packed up at base camp. They were all super cool guys a surfer, a lawyer and a couple of green thumbs from Santa Cruz, who could go wrong with that company? I confidently ordered a Stone IPA like I knew what I was doing, chugged it down and ate my food quicker than the entire table. I hopped in a car with Charlie the surfer and we had a nice safe, relaxing pleasant ride back to Yosemite. Next, I hopped in my car and drove straight through the night to get back to Cup and Blanco, I passed out for about an hour or two outside of Vegas and somehow arrived at Chumleys by about nine in the morning for my long awaited reunion with Cup and Blanco. A much quicker and efficient route home than the one there!
Had my food arrived this would have been a longer trek and less taxing on the body, but when the food situation became sketchy I had to turn it on a little. The only problem with this strategy was, I was now completing nearly an ultra light weight style hike with miles and AEG, but I was carrying nearly a 40 pound pack. I can do 12-15 miles all day with 35 plus pounds on the back, but once you start going over 20 the days can drag a tad out there.
A special thanks to John for help with the planning/logistics from the very first day I secured a permit and his other guidance along the way. Some more HAZ appreciation Dave1's way of course, he seems to be the inspiration behind most of my more ambitious hikes lately and he always remains a good source of info. Both Dave and John wrote great triplogs for JMT, must reads if doing trail in future. Finally, a very grateful thanks to Chumley for taking the pups on for ten days! Oh and I almost forgot, thank you Oregonhiker for sharing your California topo on Garmin and downloading the first 78 miles of the track for me, it certainly made the other 120 miles more interesting.
On the night I left M.T.R. I ran into two PCT guys that were in pretty rough shape, down to nothing for food and they had not ate much in the last few days. They still needed to make it to V.V.R. to resupply, so I went back to M.T.R grabbed two Mountain Houses for them and gave them two of the packages of trail mix that the girls had just given me. Two days later I found a ton of food and snacks, maybe in some weird way trail karma had came around to me for my good deed. I mean after all I did get a ride back to Tuolumne after only about five minutes on the top of Whitney.
I am not sure how I will go back to hiking in Arizona after spending ten days in an area I am now classifying as one of our nation's natural wonders, but I think I will manage. Similarly, I am now very intrigued by this PCT thing, I guess its that or the AZT up next ;)
I know the triplog is long and the photo-set will be excessive, however, no apologies. It was an amazing trip every step of the way and while its certainly not the feat of the century, I do have a strong sense of accomplishment after this one. The miles and days were modest, but I think I accomplished it under some less than ideal situations and with some trials and tribulations along the way.