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Hiking the John Muir Trail

Hiking the John Muir Trail

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Sometime in early 2011
Talking about various adventures with my boss at work one day the John Muir Trail came up and we both agreed it would be fun. I thought it was merely idle chatter until a couple weeks later Steve informs me that he already talked to our bosses and got our time off approved! After that we entered the permit lottery system and were very lucky to come out ahead! Once that was sorted we worked on planning and (very little) training... oh and the buying of new gear. :)

Early July, 2011
From tracking the weather and from reading other people accounts of the trail we were getting quite worried. Snow levels were at a record high: some of the trail was still blocked by snow and other areas were flooded with chilly snow-melt. The week before we left we saw the first reports of people making it through and we were finally starting to feel optimistic about our chances. We mailed off our food caches and hoped for the best...

July 24, 2011
Charlene drove us up to Yosemite where we picked up our permits, had dinner at the Yosemite Bug and then settled into our campground with our heads abuzz with trail thoughts...
The rest of the days are excerpts from my trail journal.

July 25, 2011
10:00am - 4:20pm
8.7 miles
Happy Isles (4051') to Forsyth Trail Junctions (8000')
Today was one of the harder days of the trip (hopefully). Lots of uphill with full packs while we (I?) are still out of shape. Had a nice buffet breakfast at Curry Village with Char & Steve, then a hurried goodbye as the bus driver told Steve and I to board. It was one of the sadder goodbyes ever!
Didn't run into Blair and her group on the trail, but impressed a few other random hikers when they asked what our destination is. Met an older couple day-hiking Toulumne to Happy Isles (to do later?) as well as a group of 4 also doing the JMT (one of whom seem like they may hold up their (perhaps accidentally) ambitious plan.

July 26, 2011
8:50am - 3:00pm
8.0 miles
to just south of Upper Cathedral Lakes
Had a nice first last night, and saw the same pack of deer walk through our campsite multiple times. Steve also saw a coyote!
Today was fairly short although we ended up going further than originally panned as the mosquitos at Sunrise were crazy bad. Had to hike past with along-sleeve shirt and my bandana over my face. We also climbed the unnamed 9000' peak at the top of the switchbacks. Not my top choice, but nice views of Matthes Crest and wasn't really that bad of a climb.
Crossed Cathedral Pass today -- apparently it's the divide for rainwater going to Toulumne and the Merced river. Also met a couple doing the JMT, but Toulumne to Happy Isles and then Toulumne to Whitney. We'll have to keep an eye out for them.
After setting up camp we headed down to Upper Cathedral Lake for a quick swim. Super refreshing and greap views (I'm writing my journal while drying out).

July 27, 2011
8:30am - 11:30am
6.2 miles
to Toulumne Backpackers campground
Finally back to civilization! Got in early and had the pick of the campsites. Then it was off to the grill for a hamburger lunch. Took a lazy stroll through the meadows after, then wrote postcards with a sode in hand. Also spoke briefly with Char and was informed that they hadn't been getting our SPOT messages. Called the company and they had no useful advice. Tried the SPOT again, but left it on for a long time, and this time it worked. Good thing we were able to talk to our SO's!
Today was super easy as most of it was downhill. Met a bunch more JMT'ers (a few even slower than us!).

July 28, 2011
8:30am - 2:00pm
9.5 miles
to Lyell Bridge/Lyell Fork
Last night we partook in a couple of the ranger activities: the "Bear Necessities" campfire talk and a start gazing talk. Both were moderately interesting and somewhat informative. Though I was pretty tired and cold by the end of the star gazing talk (we were up until 11pm!), though I did relearn the Coronas Borealis constellation (the C-shape above Arcturus which is pointed to by the handle of the big dipper).
I also called Charlene again before the campfire and we talked for another half-hour. She's doing well and being productive. Miss her lots!
Had a crappy sleep as well. Since about 2am I had a headache and sore neck which made sleeping hard. The aspririn was in the bear ocker and I didn't want to go get it. Took some in the morning though.
Since we ate 2 meals at the Toulumne Grill we threw out a couple meals to save weight - it was hard picking which ones to dispose of. Like Sophie's Choice of homemade meals! I hardly knew you broccoli beef flavoured rice.
We also stopped by the store on our way out and started the day off with coffee (I actually had a double shot - Mike would be proud).
The hike today was our longest yet, but also probably the easiest! Almost all of it is along the super picturesque Lyell river and is seemingly flat (you do gain 400' in many miles). Then there's 650' of ascent right before the campsties. We actually passed bunch of people, got here early, and had the pick of the sites.
On the final ascent we passed a bunch of trail maintenance folks - looks like touch work! But it definitely much appreciated!
Once at camp we relaxed by the bridge, did some laundry and I'm trying out the Solio on my phone (to little avail I fear). I tested it on the camera at home at that worked okay.

July 29, 2011
8:15am - 6:30pm
9.0 miles of JMT + 3 miles for Donahue Peak
to ~1 mile before Thousand Islands Lake
Had our first water crossing this morning before Donahue Pass. Chilly water, but otherwise uneventful. Though it did make the trip a bit more "real". On the way up the pass we crossed a snow bridge and leap-frogged some boyscouts a few times (Troop #3).
At the top of the pass we felt good and Steve talked me into going on a side hike to Donahue Peak (12023') which the book said was a 3-hour round trip and class 1. Getting there was pretty fun, hiking up some snow slopes and getting amazing views (could see all the way down Lyell Canyon back to Toulumne!). Once on the peak itself we got into a bunch of class 3 scrambling. Made it to the top only to realize the actual peak was another few hundred feet north-east along the ridge. Went over there with Paul (one of the Quebecois couple who had caught up with us). Coming down we found the class 1 trail and also traversed a bunch of snow-slopes. All-in-all the side-hike took 4 hours and a lot of our energy. We got back to the pass just as some bad weather was forming so I had some snacks in lieu or lunch and we headed down. We got a teensy bit of rain & hail but for the most part we stayed ahead of the bad weather.
By now it was later than we expected, and we were tired. Paul decided to camp by Rush Creek instead of going on to Thousand Islands Lake (even though it turns out that he had both stoves but not gas -- thus meaning no one in his group could cook!). Shortly before losing Paul we had come to a strea crossing and were looking for a way around. I found some footsteps in the snow, but Steve thought they went nowhere and turned around to look elsewhere. Luckily for me the footsteps were true and in minutes I was back on the path. Called to Steve but he couldn't hear me above the rivier. Him and Pual found a dicey way across the river, but then the fickly trail made them cross it again (my way avoided both river crossing). This time there was no good way across and they didn't want to go back the way they came. Paul started putting on his water shoes but Steve decided not to (against my advice). He forded the river safely but now has wet socks and shoes. A few miles later he changes hit wet socks with a dry pair, which helped his comfort level, but now he has 2 pairs of wet socks (out of a total of 3 pairs I believe).
As we're both pretty tired we try to figure out where to stop for the night. Rush Creek is too early (tomorrow's a big day already). So we head up Island Pass. The ascent isn't so bad but a bunch of false summites dampen our spirits. Eventually Thousand Islands Lake comes into view and we know we're close. We eventually find a place to camp and call it quits for the day. We both choke down our dinners (we're more tired than hungry) and go to bed.

July 30, 2011
8:05am - 5:30pm
19.0 miles
to Red's Meadow Resort
Today was our longest day of the entire trip! Scheduled to be ~16.5 miles by the book, it was longer for us since we had stopped about a mile early yesterday and then continued on to Red's Meados (the book has you camp at Devil's Postpile). Despite slightly trickier than normal route finding we made good time on both the uphills and the long downhills. Somehow we missed the turn of by Garnett Lake, but found some use trail that took us in the right directions and met up with the real JMT.
Spent most of the day leap-frogging an elderly solo guy. We must have hiked at the exact same pace. If we stopped for a break he would pass us. Then we'd pass him as he was filtering water. Must have passed him at least 6 times.
Earlier we had considered taking the PCT today as we'd heard earlier reports of badness on the JMT. Yesterday though we met a North-bound hiker who said it was fine, so we opted to do the true JMT and see all the pretty lakes. Good thing too! Again this afternoon there was inclement weather, mostly around the peaks, and the PCT route stays high on a ridgeline. We assumed that most of our fellow hikers had taken that route as we made fresh tracks on the snow just past Thousand Islands Lake. Mark and Amelia just arrived at Red's Meadow around 8pm (so Steve informed me) so I'll ask when I see them.
Walked through Devil's Postpile today, which I've been super excited for. It was cool, though a bit smaller than anticipated. Fun though!
Once at Red's we bought Gatorade and ice cream, picked up our resupply box and set-up camp (which is ~0.2miles away, uphill both ways!). We had heard good things about the thermal showers here and were very excited to de-stinkify ourselves. Much to our dismay the NPS has shut them down this year. Ken, the maintenance guy here, claims it's all political.
Anyhow we had dinner at the grill (hamburger, pie & soda) and now we're doing laundry. Man our stuff is (was?) rank!

July 31, 2011
9:30am - 4:00pm
12.0 miles
to Duck Lake trail junction
One week! Today was supposed to be a short 6-miler, so we had a leisurely breakfast at Red's Meadow (mmmm french toast). Chatted it up with Mark and Amelia a little enviously as they are taking a "zero day" (aka a "rest day" in PCT-speak) in Mammoth with a hotel/showers/thai food. Left after 5 cups of coffee and hiked for 10 minutes with a couple PCT'ers until we took different paths. Pretty intense stuff - 6-month trip and his story about hiking through the Mojave is nuts! We also exited Red's via the packing area ("horse packing" that is) so got to see lots of horses on the way out.
The hike out started off pretty good, modereate uphill through a barren area (forest fire in '92). We even did the side hike up the southern Red Cone. Just then it started raining so we suited up and carried on. Found a nice overhanging rock to shelter our packs while we ate lunch and then carried on again. We arrived at our destination, Deer Lake, around 1pm but it was still raining and my foot was feeling pretty good (it was sore all night from our long hike the day before) so we once again carried on (not wanting to set up camp in the rain and then just hide in the tent).
About an hour later Steve was less than happy as his coat was soaked through and he was getting cold. We thought about going back but instead I lent him my wool had and the overmitts he had made for me. This helped and one we went. The rain stopped around 3pm and we were treated to great views of the valley and generally improved our spirits. Found a really nice campsite near the river (the white noise helps us sleep) with a couple trees for wind/rain protection, a totally level site and a nice kitchen area! We even tried having a fire, but everything was too wet to catch.
The packs today didn't feel especially heavy with our newly re-supplied food - maybe we got our "trail legs" after all! The supplies also meant I got my yummy tuna and rice dinner. I put in too much water but it tasted great anyhow, and oreos for dessert! Unfortunately my stomach was a little upset today for some unknown reason (5 cups of coffee? But that should have hit me earlier..), but feeling better now.

August 1, 2011
9:10am - 1:45pm
6.0 miles
to McGee Creek trail junction
White rabit! Totally remembered to sy it this morning. It was chilly and damp this morning so we got off to a slow start and enjoyed the sunlight (when it finally crept down the hill to us). Immediately after starting off we had a river crossing so that took a little time to change our shoes. Really didn't get going until about 9:20.
We were both feeling tired so the initial uphill went a little slow and we dawdled at Virginia lake (Steve applied moleskin to a blister on his right big toe and I dangled my feet in the lake). Also today my ankle was almost immediately sore and my left knee was sore as well (which is new).
After that we had another water crossing and then it was downhill on switchbacks to where we are now. We had hoped to go at least a few more miles but as per usual (of late) the weather didn't cooperate. The first thunder clas was at 1:39 and were at a site and in the tent by 1:54 when the rain started. Spent the afternoon napping and reading through two rain showers. So at least we got a good rest and hopefully we'll feel less tired tomorrow (big pass and we want to catch the 4:30 ferry to VVR).
Super buggy at this stie, so glad I bought that bug net! Dinner was beef lasagna, hot chocolate and oreos. Now we're off to bed only kind of early (8pm) since we set an alarm for 6am so we can get an early start.

August 2, 2011
7:00am - 3:10pm
13.0 miles
to Vermillion Valley Resort
Got up early today since it was a big day with Silver Pass and the Mono Creek crossing and we had a deadline of 4:45pm to catch the ferry to VVR (otherwise it's another 4-mile hike along the lake to reach VVR).
Set the alarm for the first time for 6am. It wasn't so bad since we had mostly a rest day yesterday. We packed up pretty quick and were out on the trail by 7am. We had another 500' to descened before starting the uphill towards Silver Pass and that we covered in half an hour (the book claimed an hour). We had heard the pass was tough for routefinding (and in general). However we powered through the uphill and use the map to find our way (along with the footprints) and were on top around 10:30am!
The snow at the top got a little steep but we re-used the steps that were already kicked in the snow and all was well. The massive descent on the other side was cool. Started off fairly gentle going by Silver Pass Lake. Around here I was taking a bunch of photos of the rocks on the east side of the lake. Could be a cool place to get in some moderate first ascents! After that it got into switchbacks with steep exposure and a bunch of stream crossings. We passed a couple hourse trains and finally made it to Mono Creek, of which we'd heard Bad Things. However people we talked to today didn't even recall crossing it (hence it wasn't so bad). The creek itself didn't look so bad and in fact a huge log had fallen down about 10' downstream and made it easy to cross without getting your feet wet at all. Once of the previous stream crossings though was our hardest yet! Over 1m/s and mid-thigh high on me, and it had a bouldery hard-to-see bottom. If it was any harder I would have opted for a two-person crossing. We were the first ones to the ferry dock and with a hour and a half to spare Steve laid out his clothes to dry while I soaked my feet in the cool, but not freezing, water.
Eventually the ferry arrived and took us to VVR. Unforunately they were out of hiker cabins, so it's another night in the tent. However it's a night in the tent after some eggplant parmesan and a shower and a couple beers. The $6 shower was probably the most I've ever paid, but it was worth it!
The concernt that was been on my mind for the last 3 days is that my ankle won't hold up for another 2 weeks and that this is one of the last bail-out points. Each day has ended with it being quite sore and even after our short day yesterday it started hurting again after just a couple hours on the trail. When it's sore, walking is painful and requires a lot of concentration on the trail to avoid bending it in odd ways on rocks and roots. Both of which detract greatly from the experience, turning what would otherwise be a nice hike into a non-enjoyable chore. At first I had attributed this to the poor weather, but today was loverly and with amazing scenery. Finally told Steve about my fears over dinner. He took it well and seemed to understand. Suggested a rest day, but I fear that won't be enough. Anyhow, we'll probably carry on tomorrow and I think I'll reassess when we hit Muir Trail Ranch in 2 days. At that point, if I bail, I can either hike back to VVR (with maybe a tentless night) or maybe head over to Florence Lake Resort and catch a ride from there.
If that happens, I think it'll be the first major thing I've bailed from. Conflicting feelings and emotions.

August 3, 2011
9:00am - 5:45pm
13.0 miles
to Lou Beverly Lake Trail
Took the steep and crappy Bear Ridge Trail out of VVR instead of taking the ferry. At first we walked the wrong way after the dam (which was cool to see) and edned up at the Bear Creek Trailhead so had to backtrack about 1/4 mile. The trail itself wasn't super distint but a mule train had just gone ahead of us so it was easy to follow the horseshoe prints (and piles of poop).
Neither of us saw what all the VVR hype was about. We found the bar annoying and loud as we were trying to sleep in our non-hikier-cabin. And the waitress was bitchy, though the girl at the store was nice. Despite the "first beer is free" and maybe the showers, didn't feel particularly hiker friendly (and the hiker barrels of food were nasty).
Anyhow, after we regained the JMT the hiking got much easier (nicer paths, better grading). Still we had a 1000' descent and 1000' ascent over 5.8 miles with 3 stream crossings to boot.
The biggest stream crossing was Bear Creek, which looked pretty gnarly in places, but of course the trail picked a relatively calm place to cross. Still it was thigh deep and moving pretty quick, however it had pretty good footing across the enrire, wide, way.
We're camped out at some meadows before Seldon Pass and it's hella mosquito-y! Eating sinde your bug net and hiding in the tent afterwards kind of thing. Also appears that the permythrin that Steve used on his clothes does have a good effect. We took photos/videos to show just how bad the bugs are. Dinner tonight was my currey couscous with sun-dried tomatoes and veggies. It was yummy, but next time I should remember the "2/3 curry" rule (both Steve and I have had a hard time finishing our dinners, but especially with curry ones. So the rule is if your dinner has curry, just make 2/3 of what you think you should). Topped it off with an airborne (was feeling a bit dehydrated) and some oreos.
Tomorrow's a relatively short day (~9 miles) to Muir Trail Ranch. And probably my last bail-out point (hitch to Florence Lake Resort and hitch a ride from there). It's also the halfway point on the trail. Decisions, decision....

August 4, 2011
8:45am - 3:00pm
9.6 miles
to Muir Trail Ranch
Half way! Errrr, all the way! I'm going to bail and hike out to Florence Lake Resort tomorrow. Anyhow back to the recent news!
Had a sweet fire last night (this morning we saw the "no fires before this point" sign about 100 yards from our site, so we were good!). Also got another look at the night sky (since we were up "late" for once) and even saw a shooting star.
Today we got up at the sleepy hour of 7:15 and ate our breakfasts inside our head nets. Then it was of - past the pretty Marie Lake and over Seldon Pass (where we got just a wee bit off route but found it again, no big deal). Sallie Keyes Lakes were also very scenic - walking on a wooded path between two mountain lakes.
Then there were some crazy switchbacks! Eventhough we were going down it was hard! Rocky steep path with little shade. I was tired going down them. Last night my camera battery finally died so this morning I rigged up the Solio (solar charger) on my backpack and charged my camera while I hiked. Totally mostly worked and I got a few more pictures in (before I charged it up for real at MTR). When we got to MTR the friendly staff showed us the water, let us rest in the shade, and got our resupply bucket for us. We charged our cameras, sorted food and checked out the unimpressive store. We also weighed our newly laden packs. Mine, with food & water, was 37 pounds while Steve's was 35. Not too shabby! Another group of 4 weighed theirs and all were hearvier than ours. Go us!
We then left and set-up camp at a nice site by the river. Washed our clothes, laid them out to dry, and went to hike over to the hot springs. However the river crossing looked dicey so we went back to camp and swam in the river there.
Was talking to an elderly lady at MTR about getting to Florence Lake Resort and she seemed to think I should take some time to rest up and continue on. But I'm ok my decision. This is the last good exit and my ankle hasn't been getting much better even on our short days. Also we do have a shcedule to adhere to unfortunately.
This trip has been amazing so far! Amazing scenery, good people, great hiking partner... and I made it farther than I really thought I would. Obviously finishing would be awesome, but this has already been an experience to treasure forever.

August 5, 2011
7:45am - 11:00pm
5.0 miles hiking
to Oakland
Got up this morning with a mix of sadness and relief. Packed up my stuff for the last time, sorted gear with Steve (making sure he has everything he'll need to continue on, and lightening his load by taking stuff he doesn't) and off we went. Our paths continued on for a quarter mile and then we took some separation photos at the sign-post indicating our different directions.
On my own the path was scenic and flat. My only complaint was that it often broke into multiple paths so was confusing (luckily they usually converged again a little ways ahead). Took a bunch of photos along the way, trying to capture all the remaining scenery and flowers to help remember the trip by, but also trying not to dawdle too long as I had to catch the ferry at 10am.
Once I found the ferry dock I was surprised by the number of people there! Apparently an elder hostel had just finished that day and so they were all there waiting for the ferry to take them to their cars and then they could continue onward to their homes. Since I needed to hitch a ride into town this was perfect for me! Picked a friendly looking fellow and started talking. He readily agreed to drive me to Fresno, and had a remarkable knowledge of the transit system on how exactly I'd get home (the train schedule from Fresno and which BART station, etc), the only flaw was that he was one of the elder hostel instructors so would be the last person on the boat (only if there was room). On his suggestion I started chatting with other people as well in case my first ride didn't make the cut on the ferry. Everyone seemed pretty nice, but going from idle chit-chat to asking for a ride home didn't pan out as well as my initial attempt. Luckily for me everyone made it onto the ferry and we had a pleasant ride across the river. Once landed I helped unload the boat and then we had a nice picnic lunch (eating the salami I just picked up from my resupply) before setting off on the windy single-lane road out from Florence Lake (which is also the same road VVR is on). My new friend, Bill, is a retired ranger and had an incredible knowledge of the area (not surprisingly), making the ride home both entertaining and informative. He himself had done the JMT a couple years before and had just published a book that intertwines his hike with his thoughts on the future of the NPS (An Uncertain Path -- I have since read the book and really enjoyed it!). After a stop at an art museum and an ice cream shop, I finally made it to the Fresno train station.
Bought a ticket for Oakland and then proceeded to wait while my train was delayed... once on the train I spent some time reading and relaxing until a chatty young lad sat next to me and I proceeded to learn about his entire life (including homemade videos on his ipod). It was entertaining for a couple hours, but after our train was delayed on the tracks and the trip stretched out even longer it became slightly tiresome.
Called Charlene and she agreed to pick me up from the train station. After wandering around in the tunnels for a bit, I found the correct exit and saw her smiling face! Apparently my manly odour was too much for her as we drove home with the windows down. :P
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