#tbt Trip Report: John Muir Trail, July 2014

Trip report originally published in August 2014 by Jen Adach.

This trip report has been a long time coming, but it has — to be honest — been hard to put down into words what we accomplished. Fourteen days*, 218 miles, 10 passes, at least 30 applications submitted for our permit, countless alpine lakes, and a bevy of marmots: that’s the trip in numbers. (*Technically, it could be argued that we did the trail in 13 days since that’s when we hit Whitney, and that the fourteenth day was just hiking out. You can decide.)

Friday, July 25 was day zero. Denise and Doug had arrived the day before, and Brian, Mimi, Kevin, and I were arriving at various points on Friday. I was the first of the Friday arrivals, and made my way into San Francisco to meet Doug and Denise. We toasted the start of our trip with incredibly large mimosas, and then made our way to a great Mexican restaurant to fuel up. Brian and Mimi found sushi elsewhere, and we made our way back to Baggage Claim 1 to meet Kevin. His plane was slightly delayed, but he made it. So far, so good.

The logistics of our trip were a bit tricky in that we needed a ride to get from San Francisco to Yosemite. Most of the shuttle services are well set-up at the end point, but finding a shuttle to the start took some research. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that SuperShuttle would take us all the way to Yosemite. Done. Money paid, reservation number received, and final confirmation made. However, in the never-ending battle between corporate and field offices, one important part was overlooked. In California, the SuperShuttle runs on natural gas and it can go for ~200 miles. Yosemite is 280 miles away from the airport. Needless to say, there was a concern about getting us there.

After a bit of wait and many, many phone calls, we hit the road. We had a bit of a detour in the almond capital of America as we searched for the natural gas station, and then finally made our way to Yosemite. We stumbled into the backpacker camp, with most of us opting to cowboy camp under the stars.

And then it was Day One. Time to get our permits and hit the trail. Over the next fourteen days, we encountered smoke and rain, adapted to the altitude, and hiked some pretty epic miles. And, to overuse the word, it would be a trip report of epic proportions to write each day in full. With a trip like this, there are the moments that stick with you, the memories that you take along, and the individual challenges you struggle through. Here are mine in no particular order:

* Climbing the Golden Staircase. Not what I pictured, but it was a beautiful stretch. Its tight switchbacks allowed for people to zip back and forth as they climbed up. The rain created mini-waterfalls along the trail. It was far more lush than I thought it would be.
* But then having to climb Mather Pass. I did not like this pass. Even the presence of a photogenic pika did not sway my opinion. It was the pass that would never end.
* Camping at North Evolution Lake. We cut the day short here because of threatening clouds, and I’m glad we did. The sunset was spectacular. It was a memorable night.
* Going over Muir Pass. It was rainy and windy, but escaping into the hut gave a bit of refuge. Of course, leaving it meant you had to emerge back into the storm. I think this was my fastest descent, but it led to another great stretch as we descended alongside a churning river and waterfalls.
* The views from Selden Pass. This was my favorite pass, and one of my favorite days of hiking.
* It is not possible to eat potatoes every day. Since I was in the middle of finishing up the final chapters for the day hiking book, I was in a bit of rush pulling together my food for the trip. My (formerly) new favorite breakfast item was instant potatoes with cheese and bacon, so I went with that — yes, every day. About halfway through, I wound up hating potatoes, which is a strong statement from someone who is half Irish. Fortunately, Mimi was swapping out breakfast and I got some of her granola to add to the breakfast mix. Score!
* The park ranger and his thoughts on marmots. Day one, I was talking with a park ranger. He asked me what type of shelter I was using, and I replied that I had a tarp (the Trailstar). He then proceeded to share that marmots are very curious creatures, and I may wake up with one on me. I spend the next fourteen nights in fear.
* Tackling Glen and Forrester in a day. Hands down, this was the hardest day of hiking I’ve done. Glen Pass is steep and the switchbacks seem to go on forever. Still, the view from the narrow ridge was amazing. We then had Forrester to conquer: a beautiful and mild stretch that is made challenging by its 13,000+ elevation. I got a bit lightheaded on this one. We crossed over the pass just before sunset, and made our way down before dark. It was a clear night but it was a windy one: we had to go at least four miles before we could find a good camping spot.
* Savoring the last day. I took the last day slow (surprise!), enjoying the scenery of Bighorn Plateau and Wallace and Wright Creeks, and then baking slowly in the sunny and exposed stretch to Crabtree Meadow. I enjoyed the climb up to Timberline Lake and Guitar Lake, taking in the views of Whitney. And when I finally got to Trail Crest, I stopped to take pictures and to take it all in. The hike was done.

And here are the splits for those interested in what we did day-by-day:

July 26: Happy Isles to Sunrise High Sierra Camp (13.9)
We diverted from the John Muir Trail to take the Mist Trail up, trading an easier climb for a steeper one that went past Vernal and Nevada Falls. It was a good call. Brian tackles Half Dome. Some of us were struggling a bit with the climb and altitude so the four of us opted to camp about two miles shy of our intended campsite, leaving Denise and Kevin — who blazed ahead — very confused. We caught up with them the next day.

July 27: Sunrise Camp to Evelyn Lake / Vogelsang Junction (16.1)
We went over Cathedral Pass (9,703), through Tuolumne Meadows and entered Lyell Canyon.

July 28: Evelyn Lake Junction to Garnet Lake (16.6)
Our first major pass — Donahue Pass (11,073) — and a quick scurry down as we heard thunder.

July 29: Garnet Lake to Upper Crater Meadow (17)
Resupply at Red’s, and some of us took an optional sidetrip to Devils Postpile.

July 30: Upper Crater Meadow to Squaw Lake (21)
We went through the infamous Tully Hole, home to mosquitos. We didn’t see many.

July 31: Squaw Lake to Bear Creek (15)
Went over Silver Pass (10,754), and said goodbye to Doug who headed out to Vermillion Valley. Also, some of the Sweden folk had flashbacks since the mosquitos from Tully Hole seemed to be hanging out at Bear Creek.

August 1: Bear Creek to JMR to Piute Pass Trail (17)
Mimi fixes Kevin’s pack which decided to rip. We resupply at John Muir Ranch and check out the hiker buckets. 

August 2: Piute Pass Trail to North Evolution Lake (13)
Stopped shy of our original campsite (Sapphire Lake) due to thunder. It passed quickly, but we decided to stay. Also, I may have made Mimi run at 10,000+ feet for cover under a grove of trees when we saw lightning in the distance. We were crossing a large expanse of slab at the time. Yikes! 

August 3: North Evolution Lake to Deer Meadow (22)
Climbed over Muir Pass (11,991) and enjoyed time in Muir Hut while rain and wind whipped outside. We headed to Deer Meadow, described by the park ranger as beautiful with big trees. We believe she has not been there in a while.

August 4: Deer Meadow to South Fork Kings River (13.4)
I love you, Golden Staircase. Mather Pass, you know how I feel about you.

August 5: South Fork Kings River to Middle Rae Lake (18)
Climbed over Pinchot Pass (12,086). This is the night that I used rocks to pitch the Trailstar, only for a gust of wind to knock down the entry pole in the middle of the night. I half-heartedly tried to fix it, and then decided I really didn’t want to.

August 6: Sixty Lakes Trail to Shepherd Pass Trail (18)
Two pass day! Glen Pass (11,924) and Forester Pass (13,118). We find a campsite and collapse. At least I do.

August 7: Shepherd Pass Trail to Mt. Whitney to Trail Camp (16)
Brian, Mimi, and Kevin summit, while Denise and I opt to head down due to bad weather. This is our highest night of camping at 12,000 feet. I successfully use rocks to anchor the Trailstar and it doesn’t collapse. Finally, Denise makes friends with a marmot.

August 8: Trail Camp to Whitney Portal (6)
And we’re done! The East Side Sierra Shuttle takes us to Lone Pine for showers and enormous sandwiches at the Alabama Hills Cafe. Our shuttle then takes us back to Los Angeles.

(Caveat: It may not add up to 218 since an English major decided to randomly round the daily mileage.)


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