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John Muir Trail to Piute Pass, CA
mini location map2013-07-21
35 by photographer avatarJohn9L
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John Muir Trail to Piute Pass, CA 
John Muir Trail to Piute Pass, CA
Backpack avatar Jul 21 2013
Backpack131.57 Miles 30,022 AEG
Backpack131.57 Miles8 Days         
30,022 ft AEG40 LBS Pack
1st trip
So a lot went down on the trip. Basically the JMT was a dream at first and then the smoke moved in from the Aspen Fire. It got very heavy and was ruining my trip. I set a hard pace averaging around 19 miles per day. It was too much for my ankle and I ended up straining it on day 5. I continued on for another two days but it only got worse and I had no choice but to bail. I hiked out Piute Pass and met two fishermen that drove me back to my jeep. They were both a lot of fun!

Here is my trip report by day. Enjoy and message me if you have any questions about the John Muir Trail. I highly recommend the hike. It will change your life!

Day 1 - July 21 - 13.41 Miles, 6,735 AEG
My trip is off and running! I started from the Half Dome parking area around 7:30am. Chumley, Larry and Haley saw me off. Thanks for the help with the shuttle! My plan is to hike the 220+ miles to Mount Whitney over the next two weeks. My jeep is waiting for me at Whitney Portal.

The start of my hike was uneventful. I followed the JMT up and passed Nevada Falls. I’ve been to this area several times before so I cruised on through. I continued to the Half Dome junction and then headed east and took my first break at Sunrise Creek. The water was flowing cool and clear. During my break a group of a dozen people from Sacramento joined me. We chatted and they shared some food with me. They were good company.

I continued my solo hike on the JMT and followed the trail up and up. I was planning on pushing all the way to Sunrise High Sierra Camp which is over 6,000 ft of gain from Yosemite Valley. Along the hike up I took another break next to a creek at roughly the 10 mile mark. I still had another 1,000 ft of elevation to gain before the camp. I was running low on energy. After my break I continued and started following switchbacks up. During this ascent some rain started falling and got heavier. I stopped and busted out my rain coat and pack cover. I geared up and continued in relative comfort as the rain increased. Within an hour the rain stopped and I then reached the camp. I was done for the day and picked out a site that was close to potable water and a bear locker. My site had a fire ring but the area was too wet to start a fire. I turned in early after eating dinner and writing this journal. It was a good and exhausting day. Day two will be much easier.

Day 2 - July 22 - 20.68 Miles, 2,560 AEG
I woke around 7am and had coffee and oatmeal. I had a good night’s sleep and I feel strong! I plan on hiking 20 miles to the base of Donahue Pass. I want to stop in Tuolumne Meadow at the grille and then pass through Lyell Canyon. Most of this hiking is flat and I should make good time.

I started my hike and made my way to Cathedral Pass. The view of Cathedral Peak and Cathedral Lake is just awesome! I continued as the trail drops in elevation on the way to Tuolumne Meadow. Along the way I hiked with an Ian from Sacramento. He was a lot of fun. We parted ways at the grille where I had a breakfast sandwich. It was too early for lunch. From there I headed towards Lyell Canyon. About two miles in a ranger stopped me to check my permit. I continued and rain started falling again. Once again I busted out my rain coat and pack cover. From there I did a mixture of hiking and stopping when the rain got heavy. Eventually the rain died down and I started the climb towards Donahue Pass. Along the way I talked to some North Bound (NOBO) hikers and they said there is a great camping area up ahead. I pushed on and reached the camp situated next to a river with a bridge over it. I thought about going over Donahue Pass but decided to wait until the morning.

This was a hell of a day! I feel like I really hit my stride today as I hiked over 20 miles. I feel very confident on this hike. Too confident in fact.

Day 3 - July 23 - 17.81 Miles, 4,212 AEG
It started raining last night around 9pm and continued for a few hours. I woke this morning to dry weather but the clouds look ominous so I quickly packed up camp and started the hike across Donahue Pass. My plan was a 17 mile day and I would camp somewhere in the Minarets near Thousand Island Lake or Garnett Lake.

I started the climb towards the pass and a lite rain started falling. Once again I put on my rain coat and pack cover. I do not have rain pants and I never missed them. The hike to the pass includes numerous switchbacks and lots of water. This area is truly breathtaking. I wish I could take my time but the clouds and rain are making me nervous so I continue. After much effort I reached Donahue Pass where I took a few pics and then started down the south side. I did not like the weather and wanted to get to lower elevation right away.

I was now in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This area is very rocky and lush with lots of small ponds and creeks. Most of the vegetation is brown after a dry summer. Today the area was soaked from the rain. I continued my trek and passed over Island Pass which is unmarked. As I continued I could see Banner and Ritter Peaks to the south. I would pass near those two and what a treat that would be. They are spectacular! I continued and headed toward Thousand Island Lake. The JMT skirts next to it and the views are once again jaw dropping! I could spend days in this area!

Next up was Garnett Lake and I took an extended break there. The lake sits below Banner and Ritter and what a site it is! I soaked my feet in the cold water as I ate my lunch and reflected on the past few days. The JMT was everything I hoped it would be. I’m in heaven! I hiked a few more miles and called it a day at Gladys Lake. There was no one else around and Gladys sits next to a deep valley. I could see Mammoth off in the distance and I had cell signal. I sent off a few texts letting people know I was okay. Afterward I had dinner and turned in for the night. After I laid down I heard a pack of coyotes howl. They were very close and it was a little unnerving. I had to remind myself they wouldn’t bother me. I was asleep soon after.

Day 4 - July 24 - 20.29 Miles, 3,666 AEG
The start of Day 4 was a little concerning for me. Smoke moved in during the night. I had no idea where it was coming from. I had my breakfast and coffee and started the hike towards Reds Meadow near Mammoth. I planned on taking a break there and would treat myself to a cheeseburger and fries. I would also charge up my phone and camera. I planned on camping south of Reds Meadow.

I started the descent down the JMT and the smoke grew heavier. After a couple of hours I passed a NOBO hiker and he said the fire is to the west and the smoke is drifting in. The JMT is open! I continued hiking and passed through The Devils Postpile which was choked in with smoke. I continued and stopped at Reds Meadow where I ate a burger and downed several glasses of soda. The burger was good but upset my stomach. During my break I charged my electronics and once again made contact with people back in the world.

After Reds Meadow I continued hiking and cruised up the trail that once again was gaining elevation. My belly was full and I was highly caffeinated and made good time. I slowed after five miles and my energy crashed as I continued. I eventually reached Duck Creek where I found a small campsite situated next to the creek. There was a family hanging out nearby. I struck up a conversation with them. They were spending eight days along the JMT and had several kids with them that ranged in age from 8-12. They had a ton of food and shared quite a bit with me. They turned me on to chocolate covered espresso beans which were amazing!

I turned in for the night as soon as it got dark. I was exhausted from the long day. My plan for the next day is to hike over Silver Pass and then camp near the junction with the Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). I’m 50-50 on heading to the resort. We’ll see.

Day 5 - July 25 - 17.82 Miles, 3,329 AEG
The morning started off clear. I said goodbye to my neighbors and started my day. I passed Purple Lake in roughly an hour. It was another beautiful lake! There was a group of eight starting their day as I passed. I continued and started gaining elevation as I approached Silver Pass. Along the way I passed Squaw Lake. It sits at roughly 10,500 ft and is just stunning! I noticed over in a far corner a group of “active adults” skinny dipping. Needless to say I kept my distance.

I carried on and soon after I topped out on Silver Pass. You actually hike above the pass and then drop down to the actual pass. Once I was on the south side of the pass I stopped for lunch which would be cut short due to more rain moving in. Once again I put on my rain coat and pack cover and started making my way downhill. As I was hiking downhill I felt a slight tweak in my ankle. I didn’t think much of it. The smoke also returned and grew very heavy and ruined my views. I talked to two NOBO hikers and they said there wasn’t any smoke on the south side of Seldon Pass but that was two days ago.

I continued on and arrived at the junction with VVR. The smoke was extremely heavy in this area. I wanted to go over to the resort but figured the smoke might be heavier because it was closer to the fire. I settled in for the night and had oatmeal and trail mix for dinner. Such is life on the JMT.

Day 6 - July 26 - 21.26 Miles, 4,712 AEG
I woke early and started hiking right away. I wanted to get away from the smoke which was a little better this morning. From the VVR junction, there is a hardy climb of 2,000 ft in less than four miles. I made my way up as I ate espresso beans I got from my neighbors a few days earlier. The climb up wasn’t too bad.

The JMT levels off for a bit and then starts a modest descent for a few miles. I cruised through this section and then started the climb up to Seldon Pass. I took my time as I made the climb up and stopped for a few short breaks. My ankle was bothering me a bit. I continued on and reached Bear Creek. My feet got a little wet as I crossed this creek. This was the first time I got my feet wet on the hike. It was not a big deal.

With a lot of effort I reached Seldon Pass and took a long break. During that break another SOBO hike named Sean reached the pass. We would hike together for the next few miles.

I finished my day at the Muir Trail Ranch. I arrived right after it closed. I’ll check on my resupply in the morning. I was very glad to be done because my ankle hurts a lot. It’s only getting worse. I set up camp in the backpacker’s camp and enjoyed dinner with a few other backpackers like myself. I really enjoyed their company! I may take a zero day tomorrow. I want to see how my ankle feels in the morning. I’m about halfway done.

Day 7 - July 27 - 16.05 Miles, 4,726 AEG
My day started at the Muir Trail Ranch but would end in a very unlikely place. I started my morning by hobbling over to the ranch to pick up my resupply. I arrived at the ranch and asked for my resupply and patiently waited about ten minutes. Finally the girl comes out and says they have not received my resupply. It turns out the Post Office got my bucket mixed up and it arrived a week later. The good thing about MTR is they have lots of extra food and gave me first dibs on some missed out resupplies. My bucket will eventually be given away to others in my same circumstance. I grabbed a variety of food including snickers and dehydrated meals. I had plenty of food.

I walked back to camp and my ankle was very uncomfortable. Every step hurt and I noticed some swelling. After a lot of soul searching and internal debate I admit my ankle is in bad shape and I cannot complete the JMT. I will need to exit the trail and return to Phoenix. I know I can still hike so I chose a 20 mile route that exits over Piute Pass. This will take me to Bishop and I know I can find a ride to Lone Pine and then back to my jeep at Whitney Portal.

I started hiking around 11am and reached the Piute Bridge and officially left the JMT. At this point I turned to the northeast and followed the trail that runs parallel to Piute Creek. The smoke from the fire was extremely bad today. My hiking up this canyon was very slow and uncomfortable. I took four ibuprofen and took a lot of breaks. The terrain was fairly steep and very rocky. My ankle hurt with each step and I knew there was no way I could have finished the JMT.

It started drizzling around the 12 mile mark. Piute Pass was roughly 3 miles away and the North Lake trailhead was over 7 miles. My goal for the day was to cross Piute Pass and then camp one last night. I continued in the rain and was hiking at roughly 10,000 ft when I saw a flash of lightning. This was very unnerving and I decided to throw my tent down to wait out the storm. I found a flat area nestled in some trees. Right as I started setting up my tent the skies opened and it started pouring! I erected my tent as quickly as possible but everything gets soaked! I get inside my tent with backpack and all and start wiping down the water with my bandannas. I’m cold and wet and it’s pouring outside and the lightning is very close. I see a flash and hear the report 2-3 seconds later. The lightning is close! I sit in my tent for the next 30+ minutes as the storm finally tapers off and moves on. I’m very cold and it’s about 6:15pm. I decided I need to warm up and the best way to do that is to move so I hastily pack up my gear and start hiking for Piute Pass. I know it gets dark around 8:45pm so I have some time.

Once again I’m on the move. I took four more ibuprofen and start moving at an aggressive pace. I’m full of adrenaline. Luckily the skies are clear and the trail is wet but easy to follow. The miles tick by as my adrenaline and energy crash. Within an hour or two the pass comes into site and I struggle the last stretch. Right below the pass there is Summit Lake and I see several different backpacking groups there. This feels very reassuring for me seeing others in the area. By now my body has warmed up and I know I’ll be fine. I crossed Piute Pass at 11,400 ft and then dropped down a few hundred yards on the other side and grabbed the first flat spot I saw. Dusk was setting in as I set my tent back up and finished drying it out with two bandannas. I then got my sleeping bag out and lay down to sleep. Right after closing my eyes I heard a mountain lion roar nearby. I figure I’m on its turf. I made a bunch of loud noises and then played some music on my iPhone’s external speaker. After ten minutes I shut it off and slept!

Day 8 - July 28 - 4.16 Miles, -1,846 AEG
I woke early and had a look around at my surroundings and must say this place is spectacular! I’m surrounded by peaks and high walls. Water is everywhere. It’s quite a sight to behold! I have some breakfast and then pack up my gear. I know this is the last time I’ll do this on this trip. I hope to be home later tonight. My plan is to hike out and then hitch hike back to Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. I know I’ll get there.

I pick up the trail right where I left off last night. I’m heading downhill and there are steps carved into the trail. Each step hurts my ankle. It reaffirms my decision to exit the JMT. I proceed slowly and the sun rises and warms this drainage. I continue and up ahead are two guys fishing. I notice they both have large backpacks and figure they spent the night out here. We strike up a conversation and I tell them of my situation. They are brothers named Jim and Rick. One is from Havasu and the other is from San Diego. They were spending a long weekend fishing in the area. They tell me they are driving south and will drive me to Lone Pine. I was so humbled and gracious they would do this for me.

We spent the rest of the morning together as we discussed healthcare reform, the navy, family and my JMT experiences. We hiked out the last four miles to North Lake and then drove down into Bishop. After a couple of quick stops we headed south on the 395. I texted family and friends to let them know I was coming home early. As we neared Lone Pine Jim asked me where the turn off was for Whitney Portal. I directed him to it and said he could drop me off and I would hitch hike up to my jeep. Jim immediately said “we’re not going to abandon you like that”. This is one of those comments that moved me so much that I will remember it to my final days on this earth. We drove up to WP and it started to rain which was a fitting conclusion to my trip. Once up top they drove me to my jeep and we said our goodbyes. I offered them some gas money but they said to pay it forward. Thanks guys you’ve made a big difference in my life and I will never forget you!

So that ends my JMT journey. I learned a lot about… the wilderness, about slowing things down, about pacing, about people and how wonderful total strangers can be and most importantly I learned a lot about myself. This was one hell of a trip and I will return to finish what I started!
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