For days 62 – 82 (Reds Meadow to Chester) see Jo’s blog at:
For days 62 – 82 (Reds Meadow to Chester) see Jo’s blog at:
After our peaceful sleep under a canopy of trees, we awoke to another short hike to take us back to the trappings of the outside world. With such a popular trail, it was for the most part well groomed and easy to hike on. The initial miles provided us with a rapid wake up, climbing steeply up the side of ridge. Shaking off any last vestiges of sleepiness, we got to the top of the hill and rested briefly, surrounded by large boulders and stunted pine. All around us we could see high peaks on the edges of the mountains, and it was a beautiful sight to behold. We also started to see day hikers coming the other way, seeking to explore the immediate area. From here we began a long slow descent towards Tuolumne Meadow. Around the corner, a gorgeous meadow, a mile long, presented itself. Stopping to appreciate the view, we immediately regretted it. Within moments swarming mosquitoes, thick enough to coat any exposed skin, surrounded us. Even hiking furiously, we couldn’t evade them, gesturing widely to keep them at bay, to little avail. Both Rattles and I swallowed some, and had the pleasant experience of them crawling up our noses. Escaping the meadow, we rapidly climbed the next small hill, just to gain some respite. From here they lessened in intensity, but were waiting whenever one slowed or stopped. This made us hurry past some small lakes, which we later learned had some wonderful spots situated on large islands of rock, keeping the mosquitoes down. As we came within several miles of Tuolumne, the track became inundated with day hikers, some questioning where we were going with such big packs. The trail also widened out, allowing, at times, three people to walk abreast. As we wound our way down into the meadow, multiple small trails diverged. Visiting the local information centre, we found out that a bus would take us back to Mammoth Lakes that evening, which required us to hang around the General Store, chatting to some of the PCT thru-hikers who were stopping to resupply. It was at this point that Rattles and I, because of a combination of factors, including injury and, truth be told, boredom, decided that this was a suitable place to end our journey. Jo and Sole Catcher will continue on, and will keep updating the blog as they go. I hope those who are still reading have enjoyed exploring the trail with us over the last two months and if interested will continue to follow the adventures of the other two.
After such an extended break, it felt slightly strange to don a pack and pick up the hiking poles. Back into the park we again mixed with the throng of day visitors, many of who would join us for the first few miles of the John Muir Trail. From the valley floor, a concrete trail leads up to two big attractions, the Vernal and Nevada Falls. Interestingly, the initial part of the trail, while a pedestrian highway, was actually at a steeper grade then we were used to. Subject to the herds, we maneuvered our way through large groups of day hikers, somewhat distinctive with our large packs. Up and up the trail climbed towards the first falls. The last section manifested itself into a large series of stairs, another uncommon occurrence for us on the trail. With a slight traffic jam caused by a narrow cut across a rock face, we eventually made it to the top. Gorgeous views back towards the valley were the reward for such a short climb. Onwards we continued, following a well-trodden path to the top of the Nevada Falls. The height of this trail had thinned the numbers, but still many people strived for the top. Several more switchbacks brought us rapidly up in elevation, with yet more expansive views. Here we had lunch, savoring the fresh supplies we had brought on our short two-day stint. It was at this point we had to say goodbye to our trail angel, Carl, who had provided such a wonderful experience over the last couple of days. As he descended back down, we continued ever upwards. Immediately after we left the falls, the number of people on the trail diminished dramatically, with the only ones left being those hiking down from Half Dome. A gorgeous trail led past the Mercer River, where we spotted yet another Rattle Snake, as well as one other species of snake swimming in the river. Tame squirrels tried to steal our food supplies, which we vigorously defended. With my knee not up to scratch, Sole Catcher and Jo headed up to Half Dome, while Rattles and I took the JMT towards Tuolumne Meadows. A constant uphill gradient saw us climb further out the valley, and back into an altitude we were more accustomed to. After each break during the afternoon, we decided that the next camp would be better, as it would be a slightly shorter distance to the store the next day. This led us finally to a spot just shy of Sunrise Camp at Sunrise Creek, nestled in the trees next to a small stream. Here two families, who were hiking the short section between the valley bottom and the meadow at the top, joined us in camping nearby.
Miles hiked – 16
With the siren call of an amazing hotel room and a very nice town, we decided to stay an extra day at Mammoth Lakes. Lounging around, we explored the stores and continued to stock up on delicious food that didn’t have the consistency of wet cardboard. With plans to visit Yosemite via a relative of Rattles, we were in no rush to organize our next hiking leg. Instead, we exploited our laziness to the full and engaged in activities that required us to merely sit, such as the movies. The next day, Rattles once again worked her magic and got us a late check out. From the hotel we were picked up and driven on a tiki-tour of the surrounding area by our trail angel. Our first stop was Mono Lake, a body of water that, due to the lack of sufficient outflow, has a salinity level two and a half times that of the ocean. It was somewhat surreal to come from high mountains down to a lake in the desert that smelled like the sea. From here we travelled over Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park. Stopping to admire the expansive views over the valley from the top of the pass, we swept down the other side, covering hundreds of miles by car in an afternoon. A house very kindly provided by Carl, Rattles relative, in Mariposa allowed us to continue to rest weary muscles and a sore knee. From here we had only an hour drive to head back into the park, where we spent the next day exploring sights we never would have seen from the PCT. Half Dome, Bridal Falls, El Capitan and the Ahwahnee Hotel were admired or explored from the bottom. Fortuitously we were right next the wilderness centre at 11 am, and found that we could acquire permits to climb Half Dome the next day. With this in mind, we decided to change our plans and hike up from the valley back to Tuolumne Meadows, with a detour up Half Dome. With good food, cold drinks and the ability to drive to some amazing locations, we were well rested and content after such a long break from hiking. One last time we supped under a roof and within four walls, before heading to bed for an early start.
Miles hiked – 0
After another cool evening nestled in beneath the foot of the mountains, we awoke to thoughts of a hot, cooked breakfast. Unfortunately, we still had 13 miles to hike before we could allow such cravings to be satisfied. Another short, sharp climb led us back out of the lake-filled valley and above the ever-present mosquitoes. A small glorious section of flat trail through pine allowed us to appreciate the glimpses of mountain peaks. A winding descent from here gave us the speed to cover the miles quickly, eating up the distance towards town. Once towering trees ripped from the ground showed us the power of winter weather, and made us appreciate the almost perfect sunshine of the last few weeks. With thoughts of warm showers and food ahead, we stopped only once to refuel on snickers bars and look out to the green meadows and babbling streams. A few wooden footbridges and duel log bridges let us keep our feet dry, and we bounded along. A series of switchbacks dropped us down towards Reds Meadow, situated in a valley that featured a road and some buildings. Here, we hiked a mile through a large section burnt from a fire many years previously. Some regeneration had begun to take place, but it still brought back memories of heat and long exposures in the sun. Just before we got to our hitching location, Rattles happened to look up the hill and spotted our first full size black bear. Except, due to the sun in California, he was almost as blonde as I was. Happy to watch him lope up the hill, we finished the last mile with smiles on our faces. At the general store, we had hoped to catch a shuttle into town. We quickly found out that it wouldn’t start for another couple of days. So a hitch was required, and for once, all the cars heading down the hill were full of people. It took us, split into pairs, over an hour and a half to finally catch a ride. Once in Mammoth Lakes, our first immediate stop was fresh food, followed by accommodation. Sole Catcher and Jo found lodgings at the cheap Motel 6, while Rattles and I stumbled upon a very fancy lodge in the middle of town. Apparently the women at the front desk took a liking to Rattles, and quoted us a sumptuous room far below its actual price. One look at the room and Rattles was hooked. The rest of the day was spent eating and relaxing amongst the luxuries of civilization.
Miles hiked – 13
After a couple of long weeks in the mountains, it is becoming harder to get out of a warm sleeping bag in the morning. After some delaying tactics, we were finally up and back on the trail. A short sharp climb dulled any initial enthusiasm, especially as we were aware it wouldn’t count towards climbing our next pass. A smoky haze out towards Yosemite indicated some sort of fire, and we hoped it wouldn’t affect us. After this climb, a pleasant change occurred to the trail. We had a section that was almost flat. Soon this ran out and began a long series of switchbacks down a rather steep sided hill. At the bottom we crossed a bridge over a large river, quickly coming to the turnoff for Vermillion Valley Resort. A lot of hikers go here to resupply and enjoy warm meals. We, on the other hand, spurn any such easy luxuries, and instead for some reason aimed for Mammoth Lakes before we could enjoy the pleasures of civilization. Reluctantly turning our backs, we tightened our straps and began another six mile climb to the pass. Personally I think this was the most beautiful part of the trail yet. Granite cut steps wound us up and through large rocky outcrops. A large gushing stream filled with cascading waterfalls followed the trail for a while, before we emerged high above the valley below. Here, green grass filled meadows and small lakes dotted the landscape. The last two miles climbed gently for a time across a small basin, with small stunted trees, patches of snow and an azure lake. Once at the top we congratulated ourselves that we had no more passes to cross before reaching town. Lunch was nestled amongst the warm rocks away from the wind and mosquitoes. Some small patches of snow mixed with a rocky trail characterized the descent back into the next valley. This was a shorter section then usual, as we found ourselves down by a river, before we began to climb again. Being deep in a small valley, the trail took the approach of climbing its way out. Up another 1,000 feet to get out, we were rewarded with the expansive Lake Virginia at the top. Wishing I had a fishing rod, we hiked down to the shore before crossing a couple of patches of water. From here we had another small climb to get out of the basin, back into rocky terrain. Dinner was set overlooking a mass of outcrops, some still smothered in snow. One mile down and we found Purple Lake, before deciding higher ground was a better option. With some campsites scouted and found, we gratefully set up our tents.
Miles hiked – 20
With Sole Catcher and Jo off last night to enjoy the hot springs, we planned to meet them further up the trail. After a night of heavy condensation due to our proximity to the river, we were extra cautious in packing our gear away. Hitting the trail in the cool of the morning, we threaded our way through a tree filled valley, with the trail cutting in on some small canyons. A long undulating series of miles across pine needles allowed us to make good time. While the hot springs tempted us when we passed the turnoff, an extra three miles and the chance of an infected knee put us off. Passing a couple of northbound JMT hikers, we caught up with the other two after fleeing mosquito filled meadows. From here it was six miles climbing to the top of our next pass. The first few miles switchbacked sharply up the side of the hill, before a pleasant plateau evened it out. Another great campsite was found. It was next to a babbling stream nestled in the woods, but once again it was far too early in the day. Continuing up, the trail roller-coasted for a while, before wandering by a very nice lake. Our first attempt to stop for lunch was met with a horde of mosquitos, as was our second. It wasn’t until we got high above the lake and found some large smooth granite boulders that we found some peace. Here we had an expansive view over a lake nestled in a small valley, with a backdrop of snowy mountains. To make it even better we were investigated by one of the local marmots to see what was going on. After he disappeared behind us, Sole Catcher suddenly became worried about his quilt drying in the sun. Standing up much like the pose of said marmot, he stated that the individual might make off with his quilt. Before taking off at a rapid pace to make sure. After this hilarity, we only had a mile and half to the top. Strolling up the trail we were presented with small deep blue lakes, so clear you could see everything in them. Snow lined the side, but barely proved a hinderance. Some small switchbacks took us to the top of Seldon Pass, where we admired the views and tried to take a break. But even at 11,000 feet the mosquitos don’t quit, and we fled down the hill. The next seven miles took us off the ridge and down into another tree filled valley. While the scenery was beautiful, any pause was met with a cloud of bugs, so we admired it on the move. Tired from some long days, we finally found a dinner spot above the river that was relatively bug free. That was until Jo came in carrying a cloud with her. Afterwards a short climb gave us some altitude and with it views over the valley. Here we found a perfect campsite nestled near the edge of a slope that allowed me to look out of our tent at the valley below.
Miles hiked – 20
It was almost a petting zoo today, with so many animals in abundance on the trail. Finally a warmer night meant we were all rested heading into our next pass. Beginning in a forested valley, our first mile was filled with deer, grazing contentedly in the forest. It was almost possible to walk up and touch them. After some short stream crossings and almost falling of a log because of a fish, we made our way up. Climbing steadily for six miles, we initially followed the river to our left. After some rocky switchbacks and periods of forest cover, we eventually came out on to a small plateau. Here we cast our gaze to the north, and could see a series of ridges. With a surprising amount of snow accumulated in this south facing valley, it made a change for us to hike up it. Crossing the river twice, we cut through some narrow canyons, at points right along a lake shore. Some parts required us to boulder hop above the snow, while others saw us just trudge across it. As we made our way up we saw the valley split, and in heavy snow you would want to make sure you picked the right pass. Some heavier snow sections were completed just before the top, as we reached Muir Pass, just below 12,000 feet. Once accomplished, we admired a stone hut built in the 1930’s by the Sierra Club, and caught sight of marmots running merrily across the snow. From here we descended north into a large basin, requiring more snow crossings and boulder scrambling, but nothing too troublesome. A gorgeous set of lakes was enough to make Jo and Sole Catcher jump in for a quick dip. Lunch was overlooking Evolution Basin, with more lakes to come. Descending gently for a change, we meandered around the sides of these beautiful lakes, catching sight of one fisherman. More chipmunks and small rodents were seen, as well as yet more deer. Picture perfect, it was a shame we couldn’t camp here. A series of short, sharp switchbacks saw us plunge back into tree cover. The last five miles before dinner saw the trail meander through the base of the valley, filled with running streams, meadows and forest. Just before we had to cross Evolution Creek, we supped and tried to fill up on water, even as we were ferociously attacked by swarms of mosquitos. What could be a dangerous ford in high snow years, was only calf deep for us, but marked the first true crossing where we got out feet wet. Camp was soon after, down in an adjacent valley next to a running stream. The white noise of rapids smothering any other noises.
Miles hiked – 20
It was a day of ups and downs, literally and figuratively. After a cool night on a small hill top over looking a stream, we roused ourselves just before the sun came up. It was cold enough to freeze during the night, making us slide deep into our sleeping bags. The trail began gently enough, bordered on each side by grass. Soon we climbed above the tree line once again, into a small rocky bowl scattered with small lakes. Climbing steadily, we aimed for a mountain, before the trail swung strongly left, taking us across a rocky face. The now familiar switchbacks then kicked in, winding our way to the top of Mathers Pass. At the top we had our second breakfast and were entertained by the antics of a chipmunk. From here a somewhat technical descent over some larger sections of snow and short steep gravel slides led us towards a large lake in the adjacent valley. Shortly after stopping for water I slipped on a large smooth rock covered with small loose grit. Acting like ball bearings I shot forward and landed on my left knee, driving a piece of stone deeply into it. Once I had recovered from the initial agony, I threw some band aids over it and popped a couple of ibuprofen. The next couple of miles were tortuously slow, as my knee was a little sore. Only one mile down, I decided lying on the ground and not moving was a good option. It was at this point Ladykiller walked by, whom we had not seen since leaving the road to Tehachapi. Apparently he caught some form of illness, and upon starting off again met a day hiker who happened to be a nurse. She sat him down and stuck a thermometer in his mouth, which blew a reading of 102. He continued to hike for two more days with a fever. After a while, I managed to summon some energy to stand up, and limped down the trail to where Sole Catcher and Jo were waiting. Here, we bandaged my knee up, and took it in the gorgeous valley below us, with the prerequisite waterfalls. Deciding to continue on, we climbed down to the valley floor. Upon stopping for water, I noted that the bleeding had slowed and the drugs had truly kicked in. A pleasant trail by the river led us towards camp, with an easy gradient sparing my knee. This section also boasted a large number of deer, who were quite unfazed by us, crossing the trail ahead of us with nary a pause. Passing an impressive waterfall we eventually made it to the turn off to Bishop Pass, where dinner was served. With the bugs swarming, we took off up the hill, hiking onto a small plateau with great camping areas. More bugs led to a rapid camp and welcome beds.
Miles hiked – 19
Another pass up and down. After hiking over Glens Pass yesterday, and with the cool temperatures of being in a valley, we were reluctant to get out of our sleeping bags. Mustering out, we quickly packed up camp and started moving. Continuing to descend into the valley, we initially walked by a ranger station. Further on, the trail began to meander past waterlogged meadows, deep rich green in color. After some careful rock hopping and balancing on log bridges, we navigated our way through the valley. Only one crossing led to our feet getting wet, and if we had tried harder we could have avoided it. A long downhill section dropped us below 9,000 feet, which is fine when you don’t have to climb back over a 12,000 foot pass in the afternoon. Along the way we spotted a wild fowl, which looked particular tasty and didn’t seem too perturbed by our presence. At the bottom was the first swing bridge we had come across. Similar in style to the New Zealand ones, with the exception that the floor was made of hundreds of wooden slats. Once across the climb began, and would not stop until after 3 pm. A short way up the hill, we had morning tea by the river cascading over large flat rocks. From here, we began the long grind, stepping up over large step like rocks with a high frequency. It actually made us wish for the contours of the desert. Lunch was in a shady spot under some trees, although a cool wind made jackets necessary. Full of calories, we still had over three miles to the top. Once again we put our head down and soldiered on. More deer were spotted, one just off the trail who didn’t even bother to move until we were right next to it. Then all it did was stand up and look at us. More wild fowl also graced us with their immediate presence, with this one having a clutch of babies hiding under the nearby rocks. Higher up we moved above the tree line, and into patches of snow. With the pass in sight, we didn’t stop all the way to the top. Once there we sheltered behind some rocks again, and appreciated another pass climbed. With camp six miles away, we didn’t tarry, and steadily hiked into the next smaller valley. After dropping down some switchbacks, we spent the next several miles crossing streams and meandering through rocky meadows. While this was pleasant, we had our sights set on dinner and a sleeping bag. Some larger river crossings just before camp required some more skill to cross, with some small leaps of faith. The last mile was a pleasant climb up towards our next pass for tomorrow. Finishing on an easy note, we scrounged around for campsites and gratefully fell into bed.
Miles hiked – 20