HIKING THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL PART 1
Happy Isles Trail Head to Reds Meadows
A little over a year ago Jose casually asked me if I’d
be interested in hiking the entire John Muir Trail with him, instead of
just resupplying him here or there as I’d previously agreed to.
I thought about it for a moment and decided, “Hey, why not? Two-hundred
and twenty some-odd miles in the back country over 3 weeks? Piece of cake!”
And so our journey began.
Roughly 20 days of food ready to be reorganized into multiple resupply shipments
After organizing and shipping out our many resupplies and checking and rechecking our multiple spreadsheets and checklists, we found ourselves packed up and ready to hit the trail in late July. Jose’s parents drove us to the Sierra Sky Ranch, our last real bed for many miles, and then to the Happy Isles Trailhead and the beginning of our 225 mile adventure.
Happy Isles Trailhead
We began the short hike out of Yosemite Valley along with Jose’s family. At the last watering station we parted company and continued on up the valley, while family went to explore other parts of beautiful Yosemite. Not long after, we spotted our first bear just off of the trail. Little did we know that this would not be our only bear encounter! We carried on up the trail passing Vernal Falls and began to finally see a few backpackers in the midst of all of the day hikers. Two guys we met were also starting their journey on the JMT as well; they would eventually become close trail friends and join us for a lot of our trek.
We stopped for lunch at Nevada Falls and reached our camp at Little Yosemite Valley shortly after. Because it was only 12:30, we debated pressing on to the trail junction for Cloud’s Rest, but ultimately decided we’d stay at Little Yo. After relaxing around camp we finally began to put up our tent. As we were attaching the body of the tent to the poles we noticed there was something very wrong with our tent. The body was not taut as it should be, but sort of saggy in multiple places. Looking at our wilted tent strung up on its too small poles I realized: these are the one-man poles. We have both the one-man and two-man Big Agnes Copper Spur tents and somehow mixed up the poles! What were we going to do? Determined not to let the situation get me down, I suggested that we call my dad, who was dog/house sitting for us, and have him overnight the correct tent poles to Tuolumne Meadows- our next resupply. Neither of us having brought a cell phone, we reviewed severalcourses of action and resolved to hike back down to Happy Isles the next morning, phone my dad, and then catch a bus to Tuolumne Meadows. It so happened that we were able to use a fellow camper’s cell phone (who knew there’d be service?!) and leave a message for my dad which we were able to confirm the next morning through the use of another charitable fellow’s phone. Tent poles on their way, we pressed on to Sunrise Camp.
We passed the trailhead for Half Dome and stopped for some photos but did not climb it, two-hundred and twenty-five miles being enough for one trip- at least for me! Passing Cloud’s Rest as well, we stopped for lunch at a creek and resupplied our water. We met a few other people doing the JMT, including Brendan, who was doing the trail solo- we eventually adopted Brendan.
Jose in front of Half Dome
As we began to climb up to Sunrise Camp it started sprinkling, and then full on raining. We sheltered under a tree for a bit before finally donning our rain gear and pushing on to camp. Sunrise Camp was an absolute zoo of people and it took us a while to find a suitable campsite. When Brendan arrived he set up near us because it was so crowded everywhere. We were a bit concerned about the weather due to our tent debacle, but we managed to "MacGyver" the rain fly with my trekking poles and make it work. The view from our campsite was absolutely gorgeous!
View from our tent
Home Sweet (saggy) Home
The next morning we headed up the 400 ft to Cathedral pass the first of many passes we would cross, though this was a rather insignificant one. The rest of the day was primarily downhill to Tuolumne Meadows. The sky was hazy and the air smelled heavily of smoke, a predicament that would plague much of the next several days.
Smoke clouded view
Arriving at the Tuolumne Visitor Center we overheard that the cause of the poor air quality was a fire near Mammoth. Brendan, Jose and I then began the hunt for the backpacker’s campground at Tuolumne Meadows, which was something akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. What seemed like hours later we finally found our camp and, using our bear barrel as a big sink, were able to wash up a bit and do some laundry. After hanging our things to dry, we walked down to the Tuolumne store/post office/café to enquire about our tent poles. Alas, despite paying for overnight shipping, packages shipped overnight to national parks are not guaranteed to reach their final destination overnight. It being Friday, we were desperately hoping our poles would arrive Saturday or we would have to wait all the way until Monday, which would put us a day behind schedule. We used the payphone to call my dad and check the tracking number. He told us the poles were guaranteed to arrive by 3 pm on Saturday, which would make for a very late start to our day. We left our resupply package for pick up the next day (along with our poles, hopefully!) and headed back to camp. A few hours later Jose, Brendan and I went back to the café and stuffed ourselves with delicious sloppy Joes andFrench fries, prepared as it happens by an old friend from Vegas who was working seasonally at the café- small world! We finished our meal with a vanilla-chocolate swirl ice cream cone and returned to camp for the night.
We slept in the next morning, said farewell to Brendan as he headed out, and then lazed around camp before making our way down to the Tuolumne Café for a delicious breakfast. On the way back to camp we stopped at the post office for our resupply and the very helpful guy working there told us our package was on the truck for delivery and should arrive around 12:30. Excited to get the correct poles for our tent, we took our resupply back to camp to organize our food.
We left Tuolumne Meadows around 1, correct tent poles strapped to my pack, and pushed hard up Lyell Canyon. The trail here was pretty much flat following the Lyell fork of the Tuolumne River. It was a beautiful day with some lovely views. We hiked until around 5:30 and set up camp across from Kuna Creek about 8 miles into the canyon.
Lyell Canyon looking toward Donohue Pass
New and improved tent!
On day five we faced our first real pass. At just over 11,000 ft, Donohue Pass is the first of eight major passes on the John Muir Trail, and we had to climb a little over 2000 ft. to get to the top. As we came down from the pass, we left Yosemite National behind and entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Shortly after coming off the pass, a huge thunderstorm developed and it intermittently rained or hailed on us for the next few hours. We went up and over Island pass, another minor pass on the trail and arrived at the beautiful Thousand Island Lake. We debated camping here, but decided to go on to Ruby Lake to be closer to Reds Meadows the next day. Our camp at Ruby Lake was probably one of the most beautiful camps on the whole trail!
View toward Donohue Pass
Up the pass we go
Wildflowers on Island Pass
Thousand Island Lake
Our camp near the outlet of Ruby Lake
I was very excited about day six of our trip which brought us to Reds Meadow and real showers! Because we had already hiked this stretch of the JMT on a previous backpacking trip we decided to take an alternate route to Reds Meadow. This route would not save much on mileage but would minimize our elevation gain. We left the JMT at Emerald Lake and headed down the River Trail. We somehow managed to miss our river crossing, however, and ended up on a user trail crisscrossed by downed trees that meandered up and down gullies and washes. After route-finding for a while we got back on the River Trail at Shadow Lakes and beat feet for Reds Meadow.
Arriving at Reds Meadow fairly early in the day, we were directed to the backpacker’s camp which was super lame and a bit of a hike from the Reds Meadow Resort. The whopping three or four backpacker’s sites available were $20 a night and were not very spacious. We set up our tent, bear-lockered our stuff and made our way back to the resort to do laundry and shower. We picked up our resupply, which we had cleverly packed additional toiletries into, and took turns showering and laundering clothes.
We reunited with Brendan as well as the two guys we had met our first day- Steve and Vance. We met Mike and his two sons, Will and Jake, who had also started the same day we did. We all ate an excellent dinner at the Reds Meadow Resort and then returned to the backpacker’s campground, where we all squished into our one campsite for the night.
In front of Mount Ritter & Banner
For more pictures and a full trip report, please join us at the LVMC monthly meeting on October 23rd 7:00pm at the REI in Boca Park. Or look for Part 2 of Hiking the John Muir Trail in the next edition of the Ascender.
SUMMER TRIPS: THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
The first week of August, I took my kids, Toby (11), and Sierra (7), on a four-day camping/easy peakbagging trip to central Utah. In Richfield, Utah, we met up with Terry Flood, a veteran peakbagger from southern CA who would join us for our adventure. He just happened to be on his way to Colorado, and the timing was perfect for our trip.
The first peak on our agenda was Mine Camp Peak (10,222'), a UT county highpoint with over 3000' of prominence. It was a nice short hike, only taking us just over an hour roundtrip. As we shared the summit with hundreds of ladybugs, we leafed through the summit register, recognizing many names.
The beginning of our adventure
On the way down the road, we decided to take a short
side trip up White Pine Peak. As we were driving up, Terry was following
us in his truck. As we approached the summit of White Pine, I noticed
Terry wasn't behind us anymore. After doing a 5-minute summit "hike",
we headed back down to see what had happened to Terry.
With this delay, and the stop for pizza dinner along the way, we decided to modify our plans a bit. I had planned to drive up Monroe Peak, a 4000' prominence peak that evening, but we camped along the road to the peak, and hit Monroe Peak first thing the next morning. Our beautiful campsite at 9000' that we stumbled onto was in lush, forested area with a spectacular view of the valley below.
After a good night of sleep, we packed up and made the drive to the summit of Monroe Peak (11,227'). The view was amazing on this beautiful morning. From there, we took a road down the east side of the mountain (opposite side we came up) and then up toward our next goal, Fish Lake Hightop.
Terry on Monroe Peak
Sierra, Joel, & Toby on Monroe Peak
Fish Lake Hightop (11,633') is a UT county highpoint with over 4000' of prominence. This was to be our highest peak of the trip, and was our favorite. The crux of the peak was the drive. If I had been without my kids, I would have just parked and hiked up, but since there was supposedly a "road" that went to within a half-mile of the summit and I had told my kids that the hikes would be easy, we drove.
As we were driving along we turned one switchback and were confronted with a wall of sheep! There were several hundred sheep right in the road, and they were in no great rush to get out of the way. After I honked my horn, they finally began to hustle a bit, but it still took a while for them to clear the road. It was quite a strange situation; my kids thought it was hilarious! Soon after the sheep incident, the road went severely downhill, not in elevation, but in quality.
After about 100 yards on this rougher road, Terry decided it was too tough for his truck, so he piled into our Jeep with us. The road was steep, and much of it was composed of watermelon-sized rocks. High-clearance is a must, and I hit bottom a few times. Near the end of the road, in several sections, I found that driving on the road so tough, I just left the road and made my own route through the open terrain. Eventually, we made it to the end of the road on an open plateau.
The short hike to the summit was quite fun with some class 3 scrambling. The kids loved playing on the maze of boulders in the summit area. Sierra was proud to be most likely the first 7 year-old to summit Fish Lake Hightop in flip-flops! After lunch and much time spent scrambling on the boulders, we headed back to the car for bumpy ride down the mountain.
Sierra found it easier to squeeze through these boulders than I did!
Once back to pavement, we made the drive around to Spring City, then headed up a very steep but well-graded dirt road up to the crest of the range. Near the top of the road, a came around a bend in the road and beheld a strange sight. In the middle of the road was one guy waving his arms frantically for us to stop and next to him an overturned vehicle and another guy laying next to it clutching his leg, and tools strewn all across the road! They were driving a "mule", a large 2-passenger ATV with a frame and flat-bed in the back. Apparently, they had been coming around a corner too fast and had lost control, and rolled their vehicle over on the passenger side. The passenger had fallen out and had the vehicle land on his lower leg. He had been able to get out from under it, but was in serious pain. The driver was unhurt, but was quite distraught and worried about his friend. We all tried to turn their vehicle upright, but it had fallen downhill into a ditch on the side of the road, and was too heavy.
So, then we attached a cable to the top of their vehicle and attached to my Jeep, and then we were able to get it upright. The guys said they lived at the bottom of the hill, and if they could get down there, they could get help. After a few tries, they finally got it to start! We offered them some water, as they had none, which they gladly accepted. They thanked us profusely and headed (slowly) down the hill. They are lucky we came along when we did!
From there, it was only a few miles up to Skyline Dr. which runs along the crest of the range. As it turns out Skyline Dr. is a deeply rutted dirt road, with some muddy spots from earlier rains. It was passable to us, but only with extreme care. We went a few miles up this road, then found a nice camping spot. Our goal the next day was to climb South Tent Mtn., another UT county highpoint. After having hot dogs and s'mores around the campfire, I went on a scouting mission to look for the best way to go up to S. Tent the next morning. What I found was tough, steep, loose terrain - the kids would not have enjoyed it. So the next morning, after breaking camp, we drove several more miles up Skyline Dr. to what looked like a likely starting point.
We started off up the steep slope up toward our goal. It was quite beautiful as steadily climbed up through fields of wildflowers. Supposedly there was old road there, but we saw little evidence of it. We finally reached the ridgeline near North Tent Mtn. From there it was an easy descent down to the saddle between the two peaks, then back up to South Tent. It was a very pleasant hike and we enjoyed a nice lunch on the summit. We decided to descend a different way. Once back at the saddle between North and South Tents, we headed straight down. It was a steep descent. At one point Terry stumbled and fell, and did a perfect somersault, before getting back his feet. The kids and I thought it was the most graceful fall we had ever seen!
Sierra wades through wildflowers!
The entire descent we walked through wildflowers, every color you could imagine...amazing! We followed a manmade waterway called Beck's Ditch. Eventually we reached an old road and followed it back to Skyline, then walked back to my vehicle. The entire loop trip took us about 3.5 hours at a leisurely pace.
Hiking back along Beck's Ditch
From here, the plan was to drive Skyline Dr. for about 15 miles north to its end then head up to Monument Peak, a drive-up UT county highpoint. Since Terry was a bit worried about driving his truck for that far on the rutted Skyline Dr., we opted for the slightly longer route backtracking the way we had gone up the previous day. That worked well, and we saw no overturned vehicles on the drive down. From Spring City, we drove north toward Monument Peak. It involves about 8 miles of good dirt road to the top. As we drove this road, the skies darkened and it began to lightly rain. By the time we reached the summit, it looked even more ominous.
We got out of our vehicles for less than two minutes on this "challenging" summit before heading down to beat the rain. Monument Peak is the only peak I have seen where you can drive over the benchmark, as it was in the middle of the road! The rain got harder and harder with lightning and thunder by the time we reached pavement again.
Our plan was to drive to the trailhead for East Pk. and hike it the next morning, but from what I read of it, the access road was rutted dirt, almost impassable if wet. So we scrapped that plan to avoid the muddy road. We said our goodbyes to Terry who headed east to hit some Colorado peaks, and we decided to try Kane County Highpoint instead. It is located considerably farther south, and not so wet I hoped.
On the way south, we drove by Spring City and looked up at South Tent Mtn., where we had hiked that morning. It was completely engulfed in black clouds; I'm sure Skyline Dr. was a muddy quagmire then! Our timing had been excellent and our fortune continued to be good as we completely drove out of the clouds heading south.
We camped along a dirt road close to where the Kane County Highpoint is located. The next morning, the kids and I set off on a treasure hunt that is locating the highpoint. The Kane County Highpoint is one of those odd counties where the highest point in the county is not a peak. The highest point is a spot along a ridge where the county line crosses. Finding it is quite a challenge. Once we made the short hike to approximately the correct area, we circled for about 20 minutes, all 3 of us fanning out, before Toby finally spotted the cairn marking the "summit". Some frown on these "liners", but the kids enjoyed the challenge.
It was a fun, scenic, and easy trip. We hit 8 peaks in all, 5 of which were UT county highpoints. Total hiking time was about 7 hours.
In sharp contrast to the Utah trip, this hike took 22 hours to complete, and it was a day hike!
On August 17, six hardy mountaineers set out to climb Mt. Sill, one of the CA fourteeners. Originally it was planned as a two-day backpack, but to avoid having to deal with getting permits, a few of us lobbied to do it is a long day hike. That wasn't my preference, but I went along with the consensus. We knew it would be a long day as it's about 20 miles rt. with 6500' gain, the last third or so off-trail with some class 3-4 scrambling. We had a lot of gear: rope, harnesses, helmets, ice axes, headlamps, plus all the usual hiking gear.
We began our hike at 4:30 am, and by 5:00, Collin was feeling very sick, and had to turn back. The five of us continued on along the N. Fork of Big Pine Creek, past beautiful lakes and jagged peaks up to a spectacularly scenic area called Sam Mack Meadow. It is a green, meadowy flat area, with a creek running through it, surrounded on three sides by steep granite walls. We took a nice snack break there before heading up a steep, class 3 chute to top on a flat spot. There was supposed to be a use trail, but we find it until the descent! The rest of the way to the summit, we found cairns here and there, but it was all off-trail. We did stop a little further on on to fill up on water as it was the last water we would have.
One of the many lakes we passed en route
Hiking through Sam Mack Meadow
Just above the steep climb up from Sam Mack Meadow
Jodie, Rich, and Tom enjoying the magnificent view
The terrain soon went from rough to agonizing as we had to traverse a seemingly never-ending talus field of rocks that shifted uncomfortably at times! Each of us took a slightly different route through, but they were all about equally tedious. We had nice views of what was left of the Palisade Glacier - a dirty, rocky mess this late in the season. Once finally past the talus section, the objective was a saddle called Glacier Notch, almost 1000' above us. The options were to continue up the loose talus directly to the saddle or venture to the left on more solid class 3-4 rock; we all chose left.
The bottom of the glacier and the small lake below it
Annoying talus above the glacier
It was steep climb up to the saddle and we were all getting tired at this point. Once we all arrived at Glacier Notch, Jodie decided to wait for us there. She had originally just planned to just practice glacier travel on the glacier below, but she has the heart of a tiger, so she just kept going.
It was about 1:30 at this point, and we knew we still had a ways to go, so Bart, Rich, Tom, and I pushed on. After climbing to another saddle, we had to descend slightly to get to the most technically difficult part of the climb. There are several variations, but all are class 4 in my opinion. Rich, Bart, and I made it up unroped, but Tom requested a belay for one short section. Once past the class 4, we thought we were home free - not exactly. This is a tough summit, and even the final section was challenging, going up, over, around, and under huge granite blocks. We finally summitted about 3:30, and knowing we had a LONG way down, we didn't spend too long enjoying the summit. The weather began to look threatening which added to our urgency of descent. Fortunately, other than a couple of raindrops, it never materialized!
Bart climbing the class 4 section
Belaying Tom up the class 4
North Palisade and the Palisade Crest from Mt. Sill
Our summit photo on Sill as the dark clouds build
We retraced our steps, rappelling the class 4 section, and finally back to the saddle where Jodie was waiting. We met a couple of other hikers there. One of them had taken a fall and had hurt her back. She could still hike, but didn't think she could backpack her gear from Sam Mack Meadow, where they camped, to the trailhead. I took their info, and notified the authorities when we got back. We actually hiked down part way with them, and they seemed to be doing OK, so we took off, trying to get to the trail before darkness fell. On the descent, we found a few fun sections where there was wet dirt on top of ice; that was slickest terrain I think I've ever been on!
Rich on the endless talus above glacial lake
A final look back on Mt. Sill as the sun sets...we hiked for another 7 hours after this!
We did not make to the trail before it got dark, so out came the headlamps. It was physically and psychologically difficult to keep putting one foot in front of the other knowing it was so far back to the vehicles. We finally reached the trail about 9:00 pm, but we were all exhausted. Did I mention that none of us got more than two hours of sleep the night before?
We all walked like zombies, stopping to filter water at Sam Mack Meadow. We took a lot of five minute breaks on the way down because we were so tired. In fact, we all probably would have just slept along the trail, except that we knew Collin was waiting for us, and was probably getting very worried about us. After one break, we all got up to go, except for Tom, who had fallen asleep! This became a routine every time we stopped; Tom would take a catnap, sometimes even snoring! I was jealous as nothing sounded better to me than sleep.
We stumbled along, actually taking two wrong turns on the way down due to exhaustion, and finally arrived at the trailhead just before 2:30 am! After we woke Collin up, he was relieved to see us. Rich and I found a spot in a nearby campground and crashed immediately. Collin, Bart, and Jodie attempted to find a hotel room, but after finding them all full, also camped. Tom just slept in his car at the trailhead.
We slept in a bit the next morning, before driving home. It was quite the epic, but was fun (in hindsight) I think. Even Bart, the biggest proponent of doing it as a day hike, said that it would have been better as a backpack!
Actually, my best advice would be to do it earlier in the season, when you could hike on snow instead of the loose talus and scree for most of the last sections. I will never forget this trip, and hope never to break this record of 22 hours for a day hike!
Part 2: Tips 4 – 6
Besides using your legs, you have to use your feet. Practice and use the three basic foot positions—toeing, edging, and smearing. Toeing is exactly that—using the toe of your shoe to stand on a foothold. Edging is using the inner and outer edges of the shoe to stand on footholds, using sharp flakes or ripples. Smearing is placing as much of the foot and shoe rubber on the rock, as in slab climbing, and relying on friction to keep the foot in place. Smearing uses both the toes and balls of your feet to support weight. Use both your outdoor and indoor climbing sessions to practice the three foot positions.
Tip #5: Hands Keep You On
While your legs push and propel, your arms and hands pull on various kinds of handholds. Use your hands to your advantage with lots of different grips, including crimps and open-hand grips. As you climb, continually assess the rock surface to find the best handholds. Look for both horizontal and vertical edges, big holds or jugs, edges that you can layback against or climb in opposition, and cracks where you can jam or wedge your fingers and hands for support. Remember that there are almost no perfect handholds. Make do with what you find. Grab and grip the hold and move upward. Don’t over-grip or hang on too tightly. You will use valuable strength, weaken, and fall off. Grab the holds with a loose hand. Learn more about handholds by reading Six Basic Finger Grips.
Tip #6: Flow with the Rock
Climbing is about flow and movement. Don’t climb with a jerky manner. Instead strive for gracefulness and equilibrium. Climbing is not a series of isolated movements but instead like a vertical dance with one movement leading to the next one. Some moves are hard because the holds are small, while others are easier with big holds. Climb fluidly and try to stay in motion. Don’t stand around on holds and over-think the route. Reach and grab, step up and push. Stay relaxed and breathe as you climb. If you have to shift your weight to keep in balance, make sure that you transition the change smoothly. When you reach a big foothold or handhold, stop and rest. Shake out your hands and arms to increase blood flow. Study the route above and figure where you’ll rest next. Let your climbing movements ebb and flow. Be one with the rock.
Please send any address, phone number and e-mail changes to Eric Kassan, membership director. LVMC currently has approximately 130 paid members or families.
If you wish
to send a check instead of using PayPal online, please make your check
payable to the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club and mail to: P.O. Box 36026,
Las Vegas, NV 89133-6026.
Single membership is $30 per year, $85 for three years. Family annual membership is $40, $110 for three years.
To the following
members, please note that your membership will expire in the next three
months, unless you have recently renewed it:
Craig & Karen Rowe
Jeff Casey, Laurel Raftery, Bret Casey
Jose & Heather Witt
Eric & Angela Kassan
Steven & Zenaida Pearce
Alaina & Adam Whitt
The Las Vegas Mountaineers meet on the 4th WEDNESDAY of the month at 7 pm at REI in Summerlin.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
the John Muir Trail
NO GENERAL MEETING THIS MONTH