JMT in September?

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JMT in September?

Post by BSquared » Thu Sep 18, 2008 7:08 pm

Hey, folks. I'm looking at doing the JMT solo next summer, and my calendar looks like it might be best to start in very late August. Taking two-and-a-half weeks (as long as I think I'll be able to stand myself :retard: ), that'd have me coming out around 16 September. Many, many years ago I took a few short hikes in various parts of the Sierra around then, and it was absolutely lovely -- few mossies, few people, nights cold but not too much so... But things change over the years... My questions:

-Is this still early enough that snow is still quite unlikely (I know it's theoretically possible at any time)? Suppose it snowed on me the night before going out over Trail Crest: how difficult would descending the Whitney trail be with a light dusting of snow?
-How many people will be around? I'm kind of equivocal about what I want in this regard: I love solitude, but I'm not as young as I used to be, and in the off-chance I should have some kind of medical emergency it'd be nice to know someone will likely be coming down the trail in, say, a day or so. (At least to find the body ;) .)
-When do the back-country rangers pack up and leave?
-Water isn't likely to be a problem, is it? I know many of the smaller lakes and streams dry up in late August, but my recollection of the trail is that there's plenty of *big* water all along.

Any other helpful advice would be much appreciated.

Last edited by BSquared on Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: JMT in September?

Post by quentinc » Fri Sep 19, 2008 10:25 am

I've always done my major backpacks in September. It's my favorite time in the Sierra -- no mosquitoes and few people (not that I'm a misanthrope or anything!). As you say, snow is always possible, but I've never once had a significant weather/trail problem. A light dusting of snow won't cause any difficulty. (Once I got to hike out from Rae Lakes through 4 inches of snow and it was more beautiful than ever, especially since I encountered no footprints for miles.)

Although my aim is to see as few people as possible, if you're on the JMT you'll never be out of sight of people for long, so I wouldn't worry about a medical issue. Last week, I did actually go a whole day on the JMT seeing only 4 people, which amazed me. But you'll never go a whole day without seeing anyone unless you go off-trail (I managed nearly 3 days of complete solitude that way). Also, water isn't a problem so long as you do a little planning. Generally, the maps show which creeks are year round, so you have to plan around those. You just can't count on the seasonal streams in a dry year.

I hope you have a great trip!

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Re: JMT in September?

Post by ndwoods » Mon Sep 22, 2008 12:32 pm

That's when I did my JMT hike....
You have a 50% chance of rain on Sept 20 weekend...then usually nothing else for awhile. We have seen some spectacular lighting shows that weekend in the Sierra. But...rarely is there ever any precip before Sept 20th....
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Re: JMT in September?

Post by Snow Nymph » Tue Sep 23, 2008 1:08 am

We always did our long trips Aug/Sept. A few years ago we bailed because of snow in Sept (was not expecting snow) but it was not a problem getting out. But that was also a big snow year. I like that time of year because no bugs, less people. In '01 we did the JMT and got 1 day of rain, 1 day of snow flurries (Split Mountain, light dusting and gone by end of day).

Have fun! :)
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Re: JMT in September?

Post by Haiwee » Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:32 am

I, too, have always planned my long trips for September. After Labor Day, the trail traffic is much lighter, although you'll still see plenty of folks on the JMT.

Three years ago I hiked from Tuolomne Meadows to Bishop Pass the third and fourth weeks of September. We got snowed on at Donohue Pass and again on Muir Pass, but the trails were still passable. Water is never an issue on the JMT; you'll see several lakes and perennial streams every day.

In short, I say go for it -- September is the best time in the Sierras. Fewer people, the days are cooler, and, as has been noted, you won't have to deal with hoards of those merciless blood-sucking insects.
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Re: JMT in September?

Post by oldranger » Sun Oct 05, 2008 10:57 pm

Like the other respondents September is my favorite backpacking month and I agree with their assessments of the number of people you are likely to encounter on the JMT.

Significant snow (up to 12") does fall in early september from time to time. But if you sit tight for a day or so it will melt. My biggest concern is an extended tropical storm. They can last 2 or 3 days and creeks can be unfordable for an additional day or so. In early september of 83 or 84 a tropical storm washed out portions of the road into Cedar Grove. In the unlikely event this occurs a good choice of your campsite and keeping dry and waiting it out is more important than catching your plane back home!

Most backcountry ranger stations will still have rangers in SEKI. Does the forest service ever have anyone in the backcountry? For a better assessment about weather risks and rangers do a private message to gdurkee. He should be back on line soon.

Finally if you are concerned about emergency help get a Spot Locator. It enables you to send pre arranged message that you are ok and also where your location is on google maps and the coordinates of your position. Plus, in the unlikely case of a true emergency you can send an emergency help message that is forwarded to the closest 911 dispatch center with your location. I got a SPOT Locator so my wife and kids wouldn't worry about their old man hiking solo. Every evening I send an OK message so they know where I am camped. The location is always within 100 ft. of the my real location and usually within 50 ft. There is also a tracking mode if you want to really to have them keep an eye on you.

The bottom line from my perspective is to go for it!


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Re: JMT in September?

Post by BSquared » Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:29 am

Thanks to all for the encouragement and advice. It's looking now like the trip will not be solo (my spouse really doesn't want me to do it alone), but I'm in the process of drafting a couple of other old guys, so the advice is still relevant. A SPOT is definitely something I have my eye on (except one of the other "old guys" already has one, which may eliminate my excuse for buying one myself; too bad...). And Oldranger, yes, I'm waiting to hear from George when he next checks in to the forum -- couldn't think of a better person to ask about the SEKI backcountry rangers!


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Re: JMT in September?

Post by The Other Tom » Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:43 pm

Hey B^2,
I lost the link to your trip report when you and your son did the JMT. Can you post it again ?

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Re: JMT in September?

Post by Cloudy » Tue Oct 07, 2008 7:34 am

oldranger wrote:My biggest concern is an extended tropical storm. They can last 2 or 3 days and creeks can be unfordable for an additional day or so. In early september of 83 or 84 a tropical storm washed out portions of the road into Cedar Grove. In the unlikely event this occurs a good choice of your campsite and keeping dry and waiting it out is more important than catching your plane back home!

Lol, I was in the SEKI backcountry during that storm. It seemed that it rained constantly for days. The streams got harder and harder to cross until I ran into one that I couldn't cross and was trapped until the water level went down. I waited two days until the madly rushing water finally subsided when it started to snow... I was also wet for days - including my sleeping bag which I had to wring out every morning. That trip which was my first extended solo venture (12 or 13 days as I recall) taught me many lessons. :)


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Re: JMT in September?

Post by BSquared » Tue Oct 07, 2008 7:05 pm

The Other Tom wrote:Hey B^2,
I lost the link to your trip report when you and your son did the JMT. Can you post it again ?
Well, I don't think there was a link, I believe I posted the TR directly into a message, and I'm pretty sure it got lost when the board got hacked a couple of years ago. So, hold your breath: here it is, warts and all. Enjoy! Even though I edited it down, it seems *awfully* long...

For those who have not seen this before, it's a trip report of a JMT through hike I did in 2004 with my son, Ben, then age 15, and a friend and coworker, Bob, roughly my age (then about 58).

Day 0. Monday 12 July.

Ben and I fly from Seattle to Sacramento. The SeaTac airport is horribly congested, as usual, but we manage to get on our Southwest flight on time with no problems. It leaves 15 minutes late. The packs don’t seem to raise any eyebrows. Excellent views of Rainer and Mt. St. Helens, superb views of Hood. We fly directly over the more southern volcanoes and so can’t see them. We rent a car and find the house in Roseville with no trouble. Two boxes await us, one with two incredibly light bear canisters (“Bearikades” from Wild Ideas, inc.) and one with the pre-shipped stove, fuel bottles, etc. We refill one of these with clean street clothes and arrange to mail it to the motel we’ve reserved in Lone Pine, at the end of the trip. Ben realizes he left his boots, so a trip to REI is obviously mandatory. Rather breathlessly, we depart to go back to the airport to pick up Bob. He arrives on time, and we stop by the rental-car office to add his name as a driver, then head out for REI. It takes us a while to find the REI store, but we successfully buy Coleman fuel, some isobutane for Bob’s stove (or so we think; read on), the requisite boots for Ben, and some miscellaneous stuff like socks and another pair of shorts for Ben.

The drive from Sacramento to Yosemite Valley is uneventful (stop for lunch near Stockton at a Subway) except that I fret because it’s now obvious that we can’t possibly pick up our wilderness permits today and so must leave fairly late tomorrow morning. But it’s both good and very strange to be back in California, where I lived so long, after so many years. The Valley is absolutely beautiful in the early evening as we pull in to Curry Village. Curry Village tries to assign us to a tent cabin with only two beds (and somebody else’s food in our assigned bear box), and the registration lines are horribly long, so it takes us well into the dinner hour to get it all straightened out. Bob buys us excellent, very large beers while we stand in the food line (Bob and I pay the “seniors” price while Ben has to pay the higher “adult” price; I think that’s my very first senior discount!). The cafeteria food is pretty horrible but cheap and in large quantities. We sleep fretfully, partially because there’s a screaming baby a few tent-cabins away. The baby screams itself to sleep around 11:00 and then screams itself awake well before 6:00 AM.

Day 1. Tuesday 13 July.

We have a so-so breakfast (high volume, low quality) in the Curry Village cafeteria, check out, and head for the wilderness office to get our permits and a bear canister for Bob (Ben and I do this) and the store to get a fishing license (Bob does this). Happily the wilderness office has changed its opening time from 8:00 AM to 7:30 AM, and after a short wait we get our permit. It looks cool! There’s a trail-status board in the permit office that shows two fires near our route out of the valley (the Sunrise Trail), but the ranger assures us that they are small and that we probably won’t even see them. We get the canister and meet Bob. We put all our food in the canisters (it barely fits – wow, and it’s food for only three days!!), pull ourselves together, and drive to the trailhead parking lot. We finally hit the trail at 08:57, with packs feeling very heavy but with great expectations.

The first part of the trail is as beautiful as I remember it, with views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Glacier Point, and hints of the high peaks of eastern Yosemite. We stop for lunch at the top of Nevada Falls, where there are crowds but it’s absolutely gorgeous. As the afternoon wears on it begins to smell like smoke, and as we climb up out of Little Yosemite Valley we see the smoke from what appears to be a rather large fire just over the south rim of Little Yosemite. We meet a group of three garrulous women coming down the trail. They are doing the PCT and also the entire JMT (meaning that they went to the top of Whitney and are going down into Yosemite, two places that the JMT goes but the PCT doesn’t), and they warn us of a very aggressive female bear at the Forsythe Trail junction, which is where we had planned to stop for the night, and also in Evolution Valley, where we had planned a layover day later in the trip. Sigh. The Forsythe bear is said to have “swiped” their tent, slightly injuring one of them, and the Evolution bear is said to have tried to take one of their packs. The Forsythe bear also is rumored to know how to open the “Bear Vault,” a relatively new large-size bear canister (but quite different from the ones we’re carrying, happily). Apparently stopping away from the water is supposed to help. We stop for water and a rest at the Cloud’s Rest trail junction and chat with a family of three with a teenage boy; the mother is leafing through a copy of the Guide to the John Muir Trail.

We camp at the junction with the Forsythe Trail in spite of bear rumors, because we’re very tired, but we choose a site well away from the stream. The alpenglow on the surrounding peaks is absolutely beautiful, possibly enhanced by the nearby fires. Bob’s stove turns out not to fit the fuel containers he bought at REI, so we have only one stove. We cook dinner, lock up all the bear canisters and retire to the stream to clean up a bit. When we return, there only appear to be two bear canisters, one Bearikade and the Garcia model we rented for Bob. Where could we have put the third? Then we hear some crashing noises from the forest down the hill. Damn! The Bear (the one we’d heard about) has apparently visited and managed to roll one of our canisters out of camp! We give chase but back off after she hisses at me. We see the glint of the end of our canister in the light of our headlamps (it’s got quite dark by now), which is a good sign: it’s apparently not open. Yet. We hear enormous crashings and crunchings for about an hour and then quiet. We go to bed, but I can’t sleep. The bear does come by again, but only for a cursory inspection, which we greet with shouts and thrown rocks. Sigh. What’s to become of our food? Why is it taking so damn long to get going in the morning? Why does it take so damn long to sort out our food from the canisters in the evening? I definitely have the trail blues and think enviously of the passengers in the planes we hear periodically overhead, sipping their cocktails in quiet luxury.

8.7 Miles, 3,965 feet climb (The largest one-day climb of the trip.)

Day 2. Wednesday 14 July

After breakfast we go in search of the errant bear canister. The bear rolled it into a slightly swampy meadow, and her tracks through the corn lilies are very obvious. After some time, Ben finds the canister, perfectly intact. Opening it reveals little damage—a few plastic bags burst under the strain and everything is coated with a fine powder, apparently a mix of Swiss Miss and some kind of pudding. But really, not much of a problem: Bearikade, 1 – Bear, 0! Hah!

On trail at 08:45. It’s quite smoky. The climb to sunrise is a serious one, very grueling. We don’t see a single soul all morning long, quite a contrast from yesterday! The forest here has huge red firs in it, beautiful trees. We find some Mimulus near a stream and have first lunch around 11:15 at 9550’ on the altimeter. We meet a couple headed down toward half dome, and they ask us if they’re going down into a fire; we tell them we don’t think so, but it sure is smoky! We finally unearth the peanut butter, which we hadn’t been able to find yesterday; no apricots yet, but it’s good on dried apples. We’re now in the Lodgepole zone and we see our first Clark’s Nutcracker. Views of the Cathedral Range are unfortunately obscured by smoke, but we can see Mathes Crest, the Echo Peaks, Cathedral Peak, and so on enough to make them out. It’s too bad, because I’ve been looking forward to the views of this area for some time. This is where I did my first (in 1964) and also last (in 1981) Sierra rock climbing, and I consider it part of my home.

We find a beautiful campsite at upper Cathedral Lake, but I am sooooo tired! I wonder if I’ll actually be able to do this trip, if I’m so exhausted at the end of a normal day! Bob fishes in the lake, without much success (he says he’s more of a stream fisherman). We’re in bed by 8:00 PM, extremely tired out.

10.6 miles, 1,940 feet. Total miles so far: 19.3.

Day 3. Thursday 15 July

Breakfast of Backpacker’s Pantry huevos rancheros, which is only so-so. It was much better on AT; perhaps we didn’t do whatever was necessary to adjust for the altitude (about 9,500’). We hit the trail at 08:20. When we get to the trailhead near Tuolumne Meadows, we discover that the fires behind us were much worse that we had thought, and we were evidently among the last people allowed to climb up out of the Valley into Little Yosemite. The couple whom we met yesterday who asked if they were walking into a forest fire turn out to be “VIPs” (“volunteers in park,” unpaid Park Service workers, often spouses of rangers, though not in this case, apparently) and we find them at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead advising people that they should expect to go only as far as Sunrise (from Tuolumne) and not down into Little Yosemite or to Cloud’s Rest or Half Dome, because of the fires. They tell us that the scene in Little Yosemite Valley when they arrived yesterday was “post-apocalyptic:” there was no one at all in this normally crowded area, because it had been evacuated, and it was filled with dense smoke. Whew! As the days pass we will meet many people who had planned to do the JMT and had had to reroute their passage out of Yosemite Valley to avoid these fires.

We fiddle around looking for the trail in Tuolumne and finally get on track for the Parsons Memorial Lodge and Soda Spring. Bob and Ben check out the lodge, and I make sparkling lemonade in the spring, which all agree is very good. We chat with several people near the spring and then head off for the Post Office to pick up our cache. The PO and store area turns out to be a real zoo, with people cruising around looking for empty picnic tables, huge long lines in the store, and just generally lots of people. The PO finds our package with no trouble and we immediately discover that there’s no way all that food will fit in the bear canisters. Not even close. We decide to sleep with the peanut butter and wheat thins, since they’re the bulkiest things we have. Bob goes to the mountaineering shop and buys a new stove to fit his fuel canisters (these LP gas stoves can be very cheap). We get out of the area feeling kind of hectic and harried, and frustrated at the huge volume of food we can’t fit into the canisters. In fact, the whole trip has had an air of “hurry up” so far; got to get out of that mode! However, now we need to make serious tracks up Lyell Canyon, so it’s hurry up once again…

We camp a mile or so beyond the junction with the Vogelsang trail, almost in the area they call “Lyell Base Camp.” Ominously, we see a group heading back down Lyell Canyon very slowly, with one person carrying two packs, one on front and one in back; someone injured and airlifted out? We meet the woman and boy of the family we saw two days before at the junction with the Cloud’s Rest Trail, and it turns out they’re doing the first third of the Muir Trail, and the boy is 15 (seems younger than Ben, though). We burn the pudding and throw it out. It drizzles during the night, and when I get up to cover up the packs Bob thinks I’m a bear and yells at me.

11.6 miles, 400 feet. Total miles: 30.9.

Day 4. Friday 16 July.

On trail at 08:50. We’re climbing virtually all day, and it’s very tough. We hit 10,000 feet for the first time on the trip at 11:00. We’re bound over Donohue Pass, and about 2/3 of the way up Ben wonders aloud if he’s going to be able to make it to the top. I wonder too, but not about me: I’ve done this pass before and I know I can do it. Views of the glacier on Lyell and Maclure are spectacular, as are the views back down Lyell Canyon. It seems less smoky today, but the smoke gets more obvious as the afternoon wears on. We play leapfrog with the woman and her son, and we both decide to camp near the junction of the JMT with the Rush Creek trail, an area called “The Forks.” The mosquitoes are terrible, among the worst I’ve ever seen in the Sierra, making camping extremely uncomfortable. Bob has pretty good fishing in the streams. I burn the hair off my fingers while lighting the stove (Ben says I must record this).

11.6 miles, 2155 feet. Total miles: 42.5. Damn, we really are making tracks!

Day 5. Saturday 17 July.

Ah, the Minarets and Ritter and Banner! We go over Island Pass (not much of a climb), and there they are. I can see so many places I’ve gone and tried to go: Thousand Island Lake, North Glacier Pass, Banner itself of course, and on and on. We take an extended lunch hour at Garnet Lake and wash out some of our stuff and swim a bit. We introduce ourselves to the boy and his mother, who are respectively Matt and Molly. Shadow Creek is as lovely as ever, but Shadow Lake is somehow disappointing; I guess it’s lovelier when one hikes up to it on the way into the wilderness than when one hikes down to it in the course of an ordinary hiking day. However, we get some beautiful views of the Minarets as we descend down into its basin. (Unfortunately, it’s the only good view of this spectacular area we get on the whole trip.) The climb up from Shadow is tough, and we camp at Rosalie Lake. We had been hoping for a layover day in here somewhere, but we’re not making nearly good enough time to pull it off and still get Bob to Red’s Meadow tomorrow. Molly and Matt camp near us, and we invite them for dessert; they agree, but only on condition that they bring their cheesecake, which is more than they can eat. We have a very pleasant evening chatting with them while Bob fishes (again very successfully). They plan to do around a third of the JMT each summer for the next couple of years. Molly used to be a wilderness ranger in a wilderness area in northern Washington, apparently near the Methow Valley.

I seem to get extremely flustered each evening, what with water to pump, dinner to prepare, camp to set up, and so on. Why does this bother me so much? I need to settle down—Ben says so, too. I think our meals—with soup and dessert every night—are too complex for a trip like this, where we’re trying to make time and may have to start camp fairly late (say after 5:00). Also a larger water container (for unfiltered water) might help, perhaps 4 L or so, so we wouldn’t have to go to the water source as often.

10.9 miles, 1423 feet. Total Miles: 53.4.

Day 6. Sunday 18 July.

Cheeseburgers and showers ahead, but we have to let Bob leave and head home… We hit the trail at 08:38 for an easy descent on pumice to Devil’s Postpile and thence to Red’s Meadow. Devil’s Postpile is weird because of all the fat tourists—we’ve really got into this backpacking thing, I guess. We get to the Red’s Meadow campground around 2:30 PM and after rejecting the showers as too filthy overcome our disgust and take showers. Wonderful! Takes lots of CampSuds to get the grease out of my hair, but it feels so good. We check out the resort and call home, buy some more DEET, and have cheeseburgers and milkshakes for lunch. We’re only slightly envious of Bob, who takes the shuttle bus off to a motel in Mammoth. Back in the campground Ben chats with other JMT hikers, and then we return to the resort for dinner. Who should show up on the shuttle but Bob, having left his glasses in the restaurant, but then he is off again to his cushy motel, lucky guy. We have a reasonable dinner and go back to the campground. It rains briefly and we get a beautiful rainbow.

Ben introduces me to Dan, another JMT hiker who has an idea for an alternate route: we should go down to Fish Creek and thence back to the JMT via Cascade Valley, adding either 4.0 or 0.4 miles to our total trip (depending on whose map you read) and putting a hot-spring into the trip. I agree, and we decide to do this. A bear comes through the campground after we go to bed and some brilliant car-camper decides that activating his car “panic” alarm is the way to repel the bear. Sheesh. Wakes everybody up, of course, and the bear is no threat (we have all our stuff in the bear canisters at this point, and we even put the canisters in some nice bear boxes provided by the Forest Service).

6.9 miles, 230 feet. Total Miles: 60.3.

Day 7. Monday 19 July.

We hike down to Rainbow Falls and take the short scenic trail directly to the top of the falls, which are beautiful, even in the early morning with the sun off them. We hike down the valley of the San Joaquin River, which is also beautiful, and then up and over a ridge into the valley of Fish Creek. We reach the Iva Bell hot springs around 4:00, but they’re kind of disappointing, only a couple of lukewarm streams. We hunt around for something hotter and better for soaking but only find a bunch of other people camped around (one obvious packer camp with a huge tent, coffee pot, etc.). Around 5:30 Dan arrives, accompanied by Jeremy and Chris, two young experienced hikers from the east, and a guy named Garret, who was going to do the trail alone as his first backpacking trip but decided he didn’t have the temperament for a long solo hike and therefore joined up with Dan, Chris, and Jeremy. All very nice people, and they cook dinner together and we chat into the evening. We decide to go to Squaw Lake the next day, very near Chief Lake, our originally planned destination for that day. Chris and Jeremy are very careful about bears, putting everything of any scent at all into their canisters and putting their pots and pans under big rocks.

12.1 miles, 1175 feet. Total miles: 72.4.

Day 8. Tuesday 20 July.

On the trail at 07:29. I think the early-trail blues may finally be behind me. We have a great hike, though long and with lots of climbing. We find a campsite at Squaw Lake that is pure mountain magic: beautiful views of the distant Minarets and Ritter and Banner, few bugs, a high alpine setting (about 10,300’). There is a group of four young women also camped at the lake, and we say hello. Garret has very bad shin splints and Jeremy has horrible blisters, and both are planning to exit the trail at VVR (tomorrow?) to see if they can find cures for their troubles. Garret will probably just stop hiking, and Jeremy will try to get some different shoes.

Ben cooks dinner entirely by himself while I pump water and wash up. Incredible sunset views of the Minaret area in the evening. The trail blues are utterly banished and I’m having a very good time at last! Chris and Jeremy have really interesting backpacking food they got at It’s not only lightweight, it’s also extremely compact, unlike the Backpacker’s Pantry stuff, which is all puffed up, especially at high altitude, making it hard to fit into the bear canisters.

12.4 miles, 3185 feet. Total miles: 84.8.

Day 9. Wednesday 21 July.

We go over Silver Pass, our second “big pass” (Donohue was the first). Views are excellent, particularly back toward Ritter and Banner and our previous night’s campsite. Then it’s down, down, down, (past a trail crew) toward Thomas A. Edison Lake and the ferry to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). The three PCT girls we met on the first day gave VVR a very bad review, but everyone else we’ve spoken with seems to like it, so we’re hoping for the best. We make excellent time down the trail and have time for a dip in Edison Lake with enough time to dry off; the lake is surprisingly warm. There are campers all over the place, including a boatload tied up at the ferry dock (!), so we keep our shorts on (actually we usually do this—Ben is fifteen, after all…). The ferry shows up early and the people who were tied up at its dock ask for a tow (guess they were out of fuel or had some other problem), and the ferry leaves with the boat in tow, long before the scheduled departure time. Luckily the skipper has trouble getting under way with the towed boat, because a very out-of-breath hiker shows up at the dock waving frantically for a ride; we go back in and get him.

VVR is OK. They give everybody who comes in on the ferry a free beer, and the meals are excellent (much better than Red’s Meadow). Their cook is a real personality. The campground is an ordinary Forest Service campground. Jeremy and Chris receive their resupply package there and divide it up in the campground, demonstrating their bear-canister technique and the advantages of We also meet another 15-year-old and the adult he’s hiking with (never did get the names), Jay, and Peter, a crazy Ozzie (from Melbourne), whom we’d greeted on our first day as he roared past us on his way to Sunrise.

Garret, Chris, and Jeremy have conspired to hitch a ride out tomorrow, rent a car in Fresno, and find some shoes for Jeremy. Chris and Jeremy will probably hit the trail again by taking the Florence Lake ferry in a day or two, and Garrett is going to retire from hiking for at least the next few weeks because of his shin splints. (We later learn that Jeremy and Chris did exactly that and would have finished up the trail except that they met some damsels in distress at Palisade Lake and helped them hike out to Cedar Grove road-end—Ah, youth!) Dan is going to lay over at VVR for a day, expecting his daughter and brother to come in tomorrow to spend the day with him and bring in his resupply cache. We wash our socks and go to bed.

9.2 miles, 1770 feet. Total miles: 94.

Day 10. Thursday 22 July.

Ben and I leave VVR around 8:00 with Peter the crazy Ozzie. After consulting the map and other people, we decide not to catch the ferry back to the other end of Edison Lake but instead to walk out via the Bear Ridge Trail. This is supposed to save a mile or so and also some time, because the ferry wouldn’t get us on to the trail until around 9:30 AM. However, it takes us nearly an hour to walk from the resort to the trailhead, so it probably doesn’t save us anything. We toil up the trail 5.7 mi and 2300 feet to its junction with the JMT. Shortly after this, we hit the junction with the Bear Creek trail that’s such an important entry point into the Sierra—I remember reading about so many hikes in Sierra South that began from the “Bear Creek Diversion Dam Jeep Road End.” We later learn that Dan and some of his friends come up that way from VVR a day later, but it is apparently no better than the Bear Ridge trail that we took. We pass the four sisters again (just as crazy Peter is making some loud remark about naked virgins who are to be gracing the stream ahead of us … oy) and have lunch at the junction. Peter stays with us just long enough to refill and sanitize the genuine Ozzie Coke bottle he’s using for water and then takes off, purposing to get to Whitney Portal on 31 July.

The clouds build up, and we hear some characteristic Sierran monotonic thunder (presumably caused by resonances in the canyons), and then it begins to rain. The sisters pass us wearing rain gear, and we put on our ponchos. Unfortunately these don’t work very well. We’re both extremely hot in them, and Ben’s is too long in front, so he tends to step on it. Also, it’s hard to keep them on straight, without allowing them to swivel around so the rain gets on the packs. After a few minutes, we just stand still in the rain, enjoying it but fretting about getting to our planned destination, Marie Lake near Selden Pass. But the rain stops after around 20 minutes and we doff our ponchos and move along. We get to Marie Lake around 6:00 PM, but we’re getting better at making camp so it’s not so daunting to arrive late. Marie Lake is gorgeous!

13 miles, 2908 feet. Total miles: 107.

Day 11. Friday 23 July.

There are picket pins (Belding ground squirrels) and humming birds in the camp! We get off at 08:37 and arrive at Selden Pass (10880) at 09:10. Views from Selden Pass aren’t as spectacular as at Silver, but we take pictures. The guy who was waving frantically at the VVR ferry two days ago arrives at the pass about the same time we do, and takes our picture. We leapfrog with him for the rest of the day (actually for the rest of the trip, as it turns out). The country just down from Selden Pass, the Sally Keys Lakes area, is extraordinarily beautiful. There are extensive meadows interspersed among deep forest populated with huge red firs. But after that, the trail is very exposed, hot, dry and down! We arrive at Muir Trail Ranch—the halfway point and our planned resupply cache—about 1:00 PM.

To our surprise and pleasure, Muir Trail Ranch is wonderful, largely because of the efforts of “Patt,” the person in charge of doing the resupply. The first thing Patt says is, “empty out your water bottles and fill them up at this tap; no pumping required, this is fresh, cool spring water.” Our two buckets are there as we’d hoped, and we spend nearly two hours resupplying, culling unneeded food, chatting with Patt, buying and mailing postcards, buying a little fuel, and so on. We decide we have far too much food (especially for the bear canisters), and so we leave an embarrassingly large amount of food in the “backpackers box.” Patt assures us that anything left over at the end of the summer is given to a Fresno charity. A young couple named Andy and Hannah are putting together their resupply stuff, and the frantic waver (whose name turns out to be Richard) also stops to pick up his cache.

We leave Muir Trail Ranch with very full packs and climb the 400 feet or so to the crossing of Piute Creek, which is also the junction with the Piute Pass Trail and the northern boundary of Kings Canyon National Park. We thought we’d heard that there were bear boxes here (Again, all our food doesn’t even come close to fitting in the canisters), but it turns out not to be true. We’ve decided to have a layover day here. We find a place to camp, right next to where the four sisters are camped with their parents. We chat for a while, discovering that they are, indeed, four sisters, and they’re form Berkeley. Their parents—experienced backpackers—had a horse-packer bring in both their food cache and also a celebratory dinner to mark the halfway point of their JMT journey (they’re planning to get out on 5 August, the same as our planned exit date). We never did get anyone’s name, though. The parents have two huge coolers that are hung from trees just a few feet above the ground (“bear piñatas,” grumbles a hiker in an adjacent camp), but after some discussion they work hard and get them up much higher off the ground. After we have dinner, they offer us grilled salmon and corn on the cob, but we’re too full to eat much of this. Nice folks!

11 miles, 490’. Total miles: 118. More than half way!

Day 12, Saturday 24 July

We have our only layover day. We wash virtually all our clothes, sit on the rocks and laze (puncturing one of our Therma-Rests, darn it all!), and toss rocks into the stream. Ben expertly cooks pancakes for breakfast, served with shaved maple sugar (delicious!), and then we go over to Piute Creek to play bomb-the-ship and watch sticks come back to us on the eddies. I’d forgotten how nice it is just to hang out for a day by a roaring Sierra stream. More than 30 backpackers head out for points north and south that day—this is a nice camping area, but a bit overused. Ben and I work out a schedule for the rest of the trip:

Sunday 7/25 Evolution Lake
Monday 7/26 LeConte Canyon
Tuesday 7/27 Palisade Lake
Wednesday 7/28 Marjorie Lake (under Pinchot Pass)
Thursday 7/29 After Woods Cr. Crossing
Friday 7/30 Vidette Meadow
Saturday 7/31 Past Forester Pass
Sunday 8/1 Guitar Lake
Monday 8/2 Trail Camp

This will get us out two days early, and we’re thinking we might even go directly out from Guitar Lake (at the base of Mt. Whitney) and thus be three days early! Obviously we’re feeling fit and energetic…

We invite Andy and Hannah to join us for dessert (cobbler) and wonder if Dan will come by; this would be about the right time, as he took a layover day at VVR. And sure enough, late in the afternoon we find him washing his socks near the river. His feet hurt a great deal from the long, hot descent from Selden Pass, but he cooks dinner with us and then decides that since it’s only around 4:30 he’ll move on and see how far he can get. Shortly afterward, several of the people we’d met at VVR a few days back arrive and camp nearby. Andy and Hannah do join us for cobbler, which is only slightly burned. They turn out to be undergraduates who met as high-school sweethearts. Awww…

Day 13. Sunday 25 July

I awaken at 05:30 needing to pee, but the feeling persists after peeing and rapidly develops into full-blown kidney-stone pain. Double-damn! I think the trip may be over but cannot come up with any reasonable scenario to get out and to serious pain medication in less than, say, a whole day! Ben gets up and starts to break camp, and I take a codeine pill. I pace and drink, pace and drink for an hour or so, and to my astonishment and immense relief the pain begins to pass!! We hit the trail at 08:02, with full water bottles. From now on my strategy will be to stop every half hour and drink at least a third of a water bottle. I feel as if I’ve been given a really serious reprieve!

On the switchbacks going up into Evolution Valley a couple going ultra-light at an incredible pace passes us. The woman has purple hair, lots of tattoos, and a bunch of facial piercings—very memorable. We more-or-less follow Jay and the others from VVR, which is good, because as we enter Evolution Valley proper the best stream crossing is ambiguous and Jay remembers where it should be from previous trips. The valley is as beautiful and serene as ever (if one ignores the threat of marauding bears), and we enjoy the crossing and I swim at lunch. We wonder where Dan has got to. Jay and company decide to stay and camp, but we keep on to Evolution Lake, up another set of switchbacks into Evolution Basin. The views are fantastic! I’ve always thought of the Evolution region as the heart of the Sierra, and it’s a very beautiful place indeed.

12.2 miles, 2800 feet. Total miles: 130.

Day 14. Monday 26 July.

We hit the trail at 07:59, the earliest yet, heading for Muir Pass, where we have lunch from 11:20 to 11:50. The four sisters are at the pass when we arrive, and we exchange group picture-taking. There’s something about Muir Pass that makes it seem more alpine than the others we’ve been over so far on this trip, and we enjoy it. Beautiful views of Evolution Basin on one side and Helen Lake on the other. Then we head down, down into LeConte Canyon. We had planned to go past the junction with the Bishop Pass Trail, but in Little Pete Meadow whom should we see but Dan! So we stop there and join him. Alas, Dan has extremely sore feet from the descent down Muir Pass, and he thinks he’s decided to bail out of the trail and go home via Bishop Pass, in very short stretches. My skepticism about the abandonment of sturdy boots by the ultra-light crowd seems justified. [As it turns out, Dan actually goes a good deal farther. He e-mails us later that he kept on for some days, eventually leaving the JMT via Kearsarge Pass on the last hiking day he had available. Good work, Dan!] The sisters pass us as we’re cooking dinner. We cook another cobbler (burned again) and also some butterscotch pudding (we’re ahead on desserts), which we pour on top of the cobbler. Yum!

11.6 miles, 1105 feet. Total miles: 142.

Day 15. Tuesday 27 July.

We reluctantly leave Dan, who lends me a pair of socks. I realized a couple of days ago that I left a pair of inner and outer socks drying on a tree limb at VVR, and Dan saw them but didn’t know whose they were. He had three pairs of outer socks, so lending me one isn’t a horrible sacrifice. We hit the trail at 08:11, going down, down, down LeConte Canyon and then turning east to part with the Kings River and going up, up, up toward Palisade Lakes. The last part of this trip is called the “golden staircase,” and was one of the last sections of the John Muir Trail to be completed. We see lots of hummingbirds in the pines near the lake, but hardly any other people. A couple whom we’ll see again and again for the next couple of days (but whose names we never learn) comes by just at sunset. From here on it’ll be nearly a pass a day!

10.0 miles, 2593 feet. Total miles: 152.

Day 16. Wednesday 28 July.

On the trail at 07:40 toward Mather Pass, which we reach at 09:45. Perhaps we can see Mt. Whitney, but for certain we have an excellent view of Split Mountain and lots and lots of peaks. We descend from Mather Pass and then climb toward Pinchot Pass, camping at Marjorie Lake, which is not a very pleasant place to camp because of very early sunset (caused by encircling peaks) and persistent wind.

9.1 miles, 1853 feet. Total miles: 161.

Day 17. Thursday 29 July.

We get surprisingly early sun in our little basin and hit the trail at 07:45, cresting Pinchot Pass (12,130’) at 09:01. On the way down from Pinchot we meet an extreme ultra-lighter going the other way and later learn it’s Reinhold Metzger (age 62), trying to break his own Whitney-to-Yosemite record for unsupported JMT travel (5 days, 10 hours according to one source). Only an hour or two later, we see the same tattooed woman we saw on day 13, heading back toward Yosemite. She says she has been to Whitney and is on her way back to Yosemite, doing a round trip, and we later learn that her name is “Kathy” and she is trying to break the JMT round-trip record. Egad!

We arrive at the “Golden Gate of the Sierra,” the suspension bridge over Woods Creek, only to discover that it is closed on the one day of our lives we want to cross it! Apparently they’re replacing the planks that serve as the walking surface. So, we have to do a long, tortuous wet crossing, taking nearly half an hour instead of the three minutes the bridge would take. We again meet the couple we saw at Palisade Lake and learn that they’re on a fast pace because they’re running out of food; they’ve met several other JMT hikers in a similar situation, and we speculate that the recently instituted requirement for bear-proof containers has something to do with this, as well as the penchant for ultra-light backpacking. We ourselves are very low on lunch materials, largely because we had to throw away a very leaky container of peanut butter —our major lunchtime protein and calorie source— at Muir Trail Ranch.

We try modified “stealth camping,” cooking dinner near Arrowhead Lake and then packing up and hiking to Rae Lakes to sleep. (True stealth camping involves spending the night where it wouldn’t ordinarily be possible because of lack of water or proper places to cook food, and of course Rae Lakes has both.) However, it takes us nearly two hours to do our complicated dinner. But we do manage to get to Rae Lakes, making today a very high-mileage day. The full moon comes up over the Painted Lady near Glen Pass, and I take a picture. It’s beautiful here!

14.7 miles, 2653 feet. Total miles: 176.

Day 18. Friday 30 July.

This is the coldest morning yet: my socks are frozen where I put them out to dry last night. We’re on the trial at 08:15, though. Glen Pass is our “Pass du Jour,” and we get to the top about 10:30. This is by far the most rugged and alpine of the passes we’ve yet been over, and the views are correspondingly incredible, both back down toward Rae Lakes and on southward into the southern Sierra. Glen Pass holds special significance for me because it was the first Sierra “big pass” I ever climbed, back around 1970 or so, though I didn’t actually go over it—just went up to the pass from the Bubbs Creek side and then back down to a campsite in Vidette Meadows. We descend over switchbacks toward Charlotte Lake, and near the junction with the Kearsarge Pass trail (a major Sierra entry point) we meet the Charlotte Lake ranger, who checks our wilderness permit—first time on this trip. We also meet three women who are ultra-lighters and who started at Whitney thinking of doing a record-run to Yosemite but who “lost focus.” They’re very nice, and offer us a ride from Whitney Portal if we need it (two of them live in Independence).

We camp above Vidette Meadow (the better to attack Forester Pass tomorrow), and a PCT hiker wanders by to talk with us. He seems a bit vague about the National Park rules and is worried that the Charlotte Lake ranger might give him trouble for his bear container: an “Ursac,” (which he keeps calling an “Urksac”), a Kevlar bag whose approval was revoked years ago. (The bears couldn’t actually break it, but they could fairly easily pulverize the contents and then shake out the powder through the top.) He seems to think that PCT hikers should be in some kind of different category from other park users and shouldn’t have to be bothered by the NPS rules since they are just “trying to get from point A to point B.” I couldn’t disagree more, but we don’t argue.

11.8 miles, 2898 feet. Total miles: 187.

Day 19. Saturday 31 July.

On the trail at 07:32 to go to Forester Pass (13,180), the second highest pass on the JMT (depending on how one defines “pass”) and definitely the highest pass on the PCT. In the pass around lunchtime, we meet several people, including Bruce and Jeanne from Jacksonville, OR (with ultra-light packs from “ULA,” “Ultra-Light Associates”), and we exchange picture taking, except they don’t have a camera so I agree to e-mail them a picture from my camera. Also a guy we hadn’t met before hears we’re low on lunch food so gives us a couple of pieces of pita bread while he waits for his father-in-law and someone else to get up to the pass. Finally there’s a guy on an interesting loop trip, having come in over Shepherd Pass and exiting over a mountaineer’s pass from Center Basin that ends up in sensibly the same place. (I have to make a confession here that I did tend to announce rather publicly that we were low on lunch food if we happened to be near anyone else at lunchtime…. heheheheh. Worked, too! ;)

The country south of Forester is qualitatively different from what we’ve been through before. It seems vaster somehow, with huge, sweeping vistas, more like the Rockies I think. As we descend from Forester we can see miles, to Shepherd Pass, across the Kern Canyon (whose bottom is completely out of sight), and far to the west and south. I wonder if I can see places like Mineral King and the Chagoopa Plateau, where I hiked many years ago, but we don’t have the right maps to be able to tell. Forester Pass itself, on the other hand, is all but invisible from its south side, just a tiny notch in a huge rock wall. We meet someone who looks like a day hiker (just a fanny pack) and remark that it’s an odd place for a day hiker. He laconically says over his shoulder, “started at Whitney Portal this morning…be at Charlotte Lake or beyond by tonight…” We seem to be in the land of the ultra-light fast-hikers all of a sudden. As if to underline this, we pass a group of three people going north carrying Ray-Jardine-style mylarized umbrellas. Are we in Southern California? Hmmm… We get to Tyndall Creek and then walk down what seem like miles of spur trail to find the Tyndall Creek ranger, who tells us (a.) the “frog ponds” (small lakes we’d seen on the map and heard recommended) are a good place to camp, and (b.) Guitar Lake might not be the most sanitary place to camp tomorrow (as we’d also heard). I must be getting old: the Tyndall Creek Ranger looks like she’s about 14. We climb back up to the frog ponds, where we have an excellent camp and swim and wash.

10 miles, 2620 feet. Total miles: 197.

Day 20. Sunday 1 August.

Before we’re ready to go, Richard the frantic waver happens by on the trail, along with an older fellow and the guy who gave us the pita bread on top of Forester! Apparently the older guy was the father-in-law, and Richard the frantic waver is some other relation. We chat briefly, they pass on, and we break camp hitting the trail at 08:28. We pass the fabled raven-haunted tarn on Bighorn Plateau, and I wonder if the ravens are the same individuals who were there in 1976 when I was first in this area. How long do ravens live? We are thinking of camping at Crabtree Meadows. We pass Richard’s group and they again offer us pita bread, this time with peanut butter on it. We accept. The meadows are indeed lovely, but we get there around lunchtime and so decide to press on to Guitar Lake, thinking that tomorrow we’ll climb Whitney and go all the way out. We understand there are some campsites above the lake proper, and that these might be less fouled than those lower down. Both of us can feel the hot showers and taste the delicious cheeseburgers that await us in Lone Pine! We get to Guitar Lake, and there is a veritable tent city at the usual camping spot nearby. However, we find a lone campsite near the streams feeding the lake and have an excellent, though cold and windy camp. We’re definitely smelling the barn now.

There seem to be some jerks harassing a marmot down at the main camping area, and Ben plots various ways of putting them down (removing tent stakes, peeing on tent, etc.) but we decide imaginary revenge is the most appropriate.

9.3 miles, 1397 feet. Total miles: 207.

Day 21. Monday 2 August.

We awaken at 05:30, wash down some hot oatmeal with cider and cocoa, and hit the trail at an incredible (for us) 06:25. Only a few people are stirring from the huge campsite down below, but as we pass the next lake up in the chain, who should we see but Richard the frantic waver and his group. The trail is challenging but good, and we enjoy the climb although we’re fairly cold. We arrive at the junction with the Whitney Summit trail around 08:00, and rather than leaving our packs we just lighten them, leaving tent, stove, etc. It’s very cold, and we’re hiking in long pants, windbreakers, gloves, and warm hats. We summit at 09:53, and incredibly there are only two other people there! We eat lunch (fighting off a family of grey-crowned rosy finches and several marmots), take pictures, sign the register, and enjoy the sites, but then the crowds begin to arrive. We take off, retrieving the stuff we left at the junction, and get to Trail Crest before noon. From there it’s just down, down, down, with small switchbacks, then large switchbacks, then more small switchbacks, and so on. We pass Trail Camp with its solar outhouse, then Outpost Camp, and before we know it, we can see a paved road ahead and below, winding up from Lone Pine! However, it takes us what seems like forever to get down to it, with switchback after switchback. We pass and repass several groups of people, including a father and daughter who’d just aborted the “Mountaineer’s Route” up Whitney.

Whitney Portal is a little disappointing, because we don’t find (a.) a sign that corresponds to the big JMT sign in Yosemite (we really wanted to take a picture next to a sign saying, “Yosemite 211.4 miles” or whatever) and (b.) milkshakes, but we make do. Everyone told us we’d have no trouble getting a ride into town, but alas, when we’re ready to go there’s no one leaving the place! After much effort (including unsuccessful phone calls to the women from Independence we met near Charlotte Lake), an incredibly nice fellow with whom we’d struck up a conversation offers to take us into Lone Pine, even though he’s planning to stay at the Whitney Portal campground and get up at 02:00 the next morning for a one-day climb! Incredible! He takes us to our motel (we’d called to warn them we were three days early), and we gratefully take hugely long showers. The box we’d mailed from Roseville (it seems so long ago!) has dutifully arrived, so we have clean clothes to put on. We’re tired enough that we don’t even have dinner, having shared a hamburger and some other snacks at Whitney Portal.

We’ve done it! 15 miles (the longest day), 1996 feet (… and about 6,000 feet down!) today, 222 miles total! What an incredible trip!

Days 22-23. Tuesday and Wednesday 3,4 August

Lone Pine stakes much of its claim to fame on the movie industry. Apparently the Alabama Hills (the foothills around the base of Whitney) were the site of filming for dozens of “B” westerns, particularly those starring Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. Several Lone Ranger episodes were also apparently made there. We had dinner the second night in the Pizza Factory and lunch at the Whitney Grill (buffalo burgers), and I wandered the streets of the town while Ben watched TV in the hotel. I kind of liked Lone Pine, but I think it would get old after a while. We took a bus to China Lake, where we rented a car, then drove to L.A., where we met friends for dinner. Next morning, we caught the plane back to Albany, where we were met for the drive back to Burlington.

One helluva trip!

What worked: the Tarptent (though it was a bit small), and in fact most of the gear. The Bearikades were clearly superior to most of the other bear canisters we saw with other hikers, and we’d use them again.

What could be improved: food, especially in volume. Maybe take three bear canisters for legs longer than 10 days? Certainly work hard on reducing the volume of the food, as well as the weight. Peanut butter just doesn’t seem to be in the cards: even the hard, gasketed canisters we had leaked. A stove that would actually simmer would definitely be nice. In fact, except for the longest of trips I think an LP gas stove would make up for in simplicity what it cost in weight (of fuel canisters). As mentioned before, a large water container wouldn’t hurt if it didn’t weigh too much. And I’d give a thought to using iodine (or somesuch) tablets and saving the weight and hassle of the filter/pump combination.

Our conditioning was on the whole adequate, although a little high-altitude experience would have been most helpful. I think if one were to try a significantly faster trip, high-altitude conditioning would be absolutely essential.


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