HIKING THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL PART 3
Muir Trail Ranch to Whitney Portal
Welcome back to the John Muir Trail! It’s day thirteen on the trail and we’ve stuffed ourselves with bacon, eggs, potatoes, and fruit before heading off to McClure Meadows. We left Muir Trail Ranch around nine in the morning and after a day of rest it was a bit difficult to get back on the trail. Today we cross into Kings Canyon National Park on our way to McClure Meadows, leaving the John Muir Wilderness behind us.
We bid farewell to the John Muir Wilderness and enter Kings Canyon National Park.
We stopped for lunch and ate our giant sandwiches and Doritos before the arduous climb up to Evolution Valley. Climbing up switchbacks on a hot day with a very full stomach was likely not the best plan, but eventually we made it to a beautiful waterfall and reunited with our friends Vance and Steve. We continued along with Vance and Steve to a river crossing- the first and only water crossing of the entire trip, where we actually had to wade in the water- and then on to McClure Meadows in Evolution Valley.
Crossing Evolution Creek- this sure looks more like a river to this desert girl!
Jose crossing Evolution Creek
After the creek crossing, we hiked about 2 more miles before coming to our camping area, which looked much like a gypsy tent village because there were so many people! We camped with Vance and Steve, two couples we met at Muir Trail Ranch and a group of British guys. It was a tight fit, but a beautiful place!
Evolution Creek and the Evolution Range
Purifying water for dinner
Vance and Steve
Beautiful Sunset on Evolution Creek
Day 14 finds us heading out of Evolution Valley into Evolution Basin and then over Muir Pass. We hiked up to Evolution Lake with Vance and Steve where we parted company for a while before reuniting at Sapphire Lake. Jose and I continued on to Muir Pass while Vance and Steve contemplated camping at Sapphire Lake. They were hiking heavy with all of their food for the rest of their trip as their last resupply was at Muir Trail Ranch. Jose and I had one more resupply scheduled before finishing up on Whitney.
Taking a break at Sapphire Lake with Vance and Steve
Jose and I continued up to Muir Pass, ate some lunch, and checked out the Muir Hut. After a much needed break and nourishment, we continued on our trek down Muir pass to our campsite below Helen Lake where we shared a camp with a couple we met at Muir Trail Ranch. The other couple we met at MTR passed our camp around 6:00 pm and let us know that Vance and Steve had crossed Muir Pass and were camped just above us.
Inside Muir Hut
We set off at around 7:15 am on day 15 for a 14 mile hike down into Le Conte Canyon and up to Lower Palisade Lake. The hike through Le Conte was easy-going and gorgeous, filled with beautiful views of meadows and peaks. Our original thoughts were to camp at Big Pete Meadow, but upon reviewing our options we decided to press on to Lower Palisade Lakes which meant climbing the Golden Staircase at the end of our day rather than camping below the Staircase and having to face both the Staircase and Mather Pass the next day.
Le Conte Canyon
Big Pete Meadow
The Golden Staircase
Continuing up the Golden Staircase- also known as my own personal never-ending Hell!
When we finally reached the top of the Staircase we were both pretty exhausted. We found a pretty crappy campsite (seriously, horse poo everywhere!) near Lower Palisade Lake. As the sun set behind the mountains, the Palisades were aglow and made for a lovely sight, but the wind picked up and it got pretty cold really fast. After a 14 mile day, I was definitely ready for my nice warm sleeping bag.
Horse Apple Camp at Lower Palisade Lake
A deer wanders into our camp
The Palisades aglow
Another long day was in store for us on day 16 as we decide to try and cross both Mather and Pinchot Passes. The climb up to Mather Pass was not too difficult, especially considering we had the Golden Staircase behind us. Coming off the pass was pretty speedy and the trail flattened out for a good long while before we got to Kings River Crossing. We stopped at Kings River Crossing to refill our water and eat a snack. With a little over 2000 feet of gain ahead of us, Jose was not feeling confident that we would make it over Pinchot Pass. We pressed on up the 800 or so feet up to Lake Marjorie, refilled our water again and decided we had time to tackle Pinchot and hopefully reach camp by 5:00.
Looking toward Mather Pass
Deb and Dave (one of the couples we met at MTR) on Mather Pass
The trail flattens out for quite some time after Mather Pass.
The climb up Pinchot was very strenuous for me and I had my first share of some mild altitude sickness. We made it to the top in due time, snapped a few photos, and then made our way down quickly as some storm clouds were rolling in. We were hoping to drop down in to the lovely valley below to set up camp, but sadly, the trail had been rerouted keeping us far above the valley floor. Continuing on the trail, hoping to find a campsite soon, we heard coyotes howling and yipping off in the distance. Finally we reached a lake with some suitable campsites around it. After 16 miles and 3500 feet of gain, I was rather done in! We set up camp, ate dinner, and went to bed.
Jose above Lake Marjorie
The lovely valley we were hoping to camp in
Because of our long haul on day 16, we were able to sleep in for a mild 9 mile, 2000’ gain day 17. We left camp around 8:00 am, hiking mostly downhill to the Woods Creek Suspension Bridge. This bridge is so narrow that only one hiker is permitted to cross at a time. We took a snack break, crossed the bridge, and then began our 2000’ climb, which looked much more gradual on our map. In reality there were quite a lot of steep sections followed by some flat bits, and then back into steep sections. The two previous long days had caught up with me, and I began to not feel very well- I was probably also suffering a bit of dehydration. We took several more breaks before setting up camp at Arrowhead Lake early in the day.
Having reached our destination for the day so early, we decided to take advantage of our extra time and get some laundry done. We used our bear barrel as a wash tub for both our laundry and ourselves. It was just too cold to jump in the lake with a chilly breeze blowing through our camp. We warmed up with one of our favorite backpacking dinners- Shepherd’s Pie- and enjoyed some chocolate mousse for dessert.
Morning view from our camp at Twin Lake
One of many pack trains we encountered on our trip
Woods Creek Suspension Bridge
Our camp at Arrowhead Lake
The morning of day 18 was a chilly one as we began our hike up Glenn Pass. The hike up the pass was fairly steep and we stopped for a nice long rest at the top of the pass before heading down toward Charlotte Lake and our final resupply. We could see Charlotte Lake as we made our way down from Glenn Pass. Shortly after noon, we reached the trail to Charlotte Lake and soon encountered a 3 X 5 notecard with “Witt” written on it and an arrow pointing off the trail. We followed the arrow and found the tents of our re-suppliers- Harlan, Susan, and Jeff- with a note that they’d gone peak-bagging and would return later. Nearby we found our name spelled out in rocks and sand on a nice tent site. It was so nice to see and catch up with friends from home and also to reunite with Brendan, one of our friends from the trail. Brendan had hiked in to Onion Valley for his resupply and we had told him we would be at Charlotte Lake on our 18th night, and spent a very enjoyable evening of sharing trail stories.
Beautiful but chilly morning at Arrowhead Lake
On the top of Glenn Pass
How we found our camp
Our tent site
Jeff, Susan, and Harlan
Brendan, Jose, and I set off the next morning for Bubbs Creek as Harlan, Susan, and Jeff planned to hike another peak and then head back home. We had a relaxing day, hiking only 6 miles to our next camp at Bubbs Creek. We arrived at camp around 12:30, relaxed, cleaned up in the creek, and had camp set up all before 4:00. As I was finishing up zhushing our bedding, Mike and his sons showed up with the rest of his Scouts. They had left the trail at Vermillion Valley due to all of the smoke, but returned for this pre-planned Scout trip to Whitney. Mike told us Vance and Steve were camped about a half mile behind so our little trail family was almost all back together again. Mike also snuck us some of the Scouts' Oreos, which was the best gift ever!
Another beautiful sunset
With only three more hiking days left in our trip, on day 20 we met back up with our little trail family and made our way up Forester Pass- the highest pass on the John Muir Trail. Vance and Steve passed our camp shortly before Brendan, Jose, and I were ready to head out- the Boy Scouts would be leaving as soon as the Scout Leaders were able to get group of teenage boys out of their sleeping bags, dressed, fed, and on the trail. As we made our way up the pass Jose and I began a random karaoke montage of songs which we decided to call Monday Morning Mash-up- things you do when you’ve been on the trail for 20 days and you happen to be climbing above 10,000 feet. Don’t judge. We reached the top of Forester pass at 13,153 feet just after 10:00 am, took a group photo with Brendan, Vance, and Steve (the Scouts were behind us due to their later start) and then headed down off the pass. The trail down Forester is a series of switchbacks that were dynamited into then rock, opening up this “new” section of the trail in 1931. We found a campsite with a bear box at Frog Ponds near Tyndall Creek and set up camp. Vance, Steve, and Brendan all went swimming in the pond, but the water was a little too chilly for our warm desert blood.
Hiking up Forester Pass
Vance, Brendan, Jose, Heather, Steve on top of Forester Pass
The dynamited trail coming off Forester Pass
Life is good!
So close to Whitney!
The hike from Frog Ponds to Guitar Lake was a microcosm of the John Muir Trail thus far; we went up and down, and then up and down, and up and down again. We stopped at Crabtree Junction to pick up our wag bags and headed up the 800 feet and 3 miles to Guitar Lake. Vance and Steve had arrived before us and saved us a great campsite, which was wonderful because people were pouring into the area from every which way. It was a warm day and at 11,460 feet there was not a lot of escape from the sun- which meant there were also not a lot of places to make oneself private in order to answer the call of nature...
The tub of wag bags
Brendan contemplating the need for “only 1 bag”
Guitar Lake camp
Our final night was a windy one and I didn’t sleep well. We got up shortly after 4:30, ate breakfast, and each went our separate ways to try and find a private place to make use of our wag bags- which then became the subject of many jokes as we packed up camp and prepared for our summit bid. We dropped our packs at Trail Crest (except for Jose who just kept water in his pack for us) 4 miles and 200 feet up from our camp, before hiking up the trail to Whitney another 1.9 miles and 1000 vertical feet away.
Jose had decided he would try to tag Mt. Muir on the way to Whitney and so he sped ahead of our group. Having determined that Mt. Muir would be class 3-4 that he was not comfortable climbing solo, Jose made his way back to our group. We reached the summit of Whitney shortly after 9am, feeling pretty cool about hiking 211 miles to the highest peak in the contiguous US. We spent some time at the peak taking photos and then headed back down to Trail Crest and our packs. Shortly before arriving at Trail Crest we met back up with Mike and the Scouts who had gotten a much later start than us. They were taking an extra day to come off Whitney so we said our farewells.
After Trail Crest we had to go up for a bit before descending, which was ridiculously unfair in my opinion. Vance flew down the never ending switchbacks. Jose, Brendan, Steve, and I eventually caught up and we all stopped for a lunch break. Six thousand feet below Mt. Whitney and nearly 17 miles from where we began our day, we finally arrived at Whitney Portal where we immediately found our friends Don and Julianne Stewart, who generously volunteered to pick us up and drive us back to Vegas. Vance and Steve hitched a ride to the hostel in Lone Pine so we said our farewells quickly. Jose and I had volunteered a ride to the hostel for Brendan from Don and Julian. The five of us sat down at the Whitney Portal Store to a delicious second lunch. Don and Julian had brought us amazing sandwiches from Bishop, and provided us with a variety of cookies, chips and snacks. After our second lunch we dropped Brendan off at the hostel in Lone Pine, parting with hugs and fond memories. We waved to Vance and Steve who were waving back from their hostel room window, then continued on to Bishop and a well-deserved shower.
So ends our adventure along the John Muir Trail. We had an amazing time in a beautiful place and met some wonderful people. It was an awesome trip and I’m so glad my husband asked me to come along with him! Until our next adventure, happy trails!
Sunrise at Guitar Lake
It really does look like a guitar
Brendan and Heather making their way up to Trail Crest
Brendan, Vance, and Heather heading toward Whitney
Group Summit Photo (Front: Vance, Jose, Heather; Back: Steve, Brendan)
The Mount Whitney Hut
We did it!
Onward and downward!
“Going to the mountains is going home” – John Muir (photo taken from Wikipedia commons)
INTERVIEW WITH LVMC's TWO YOUNGEST CANYONEERS
Ascender: So what were your first impressions of canyoneering?
Toby: It was a little frightening at first, but then fun, once we got started. It was intimidating until you realize that you can trust your gear 100%.
Ascender: Were you scared at all?
Sierra: I was a little scared on the first rappel and the beginning of the second rappel. There was a creepy move at the start of the second rappel that was hard.
Ascender: What was your favorite part?
Toby: The fourth and final rappel was really fun. It was about 100 ft. I was totally comfortable by then, and I could really enjoy it. At the bottom of the rappel, a family of four had hiked up the canyon, and were amazed to see me and my 8 year-old sister rappel down this big dryfall! I felt so cool.
Ascender: What did you find the most difficult?
Toby: I would say learning the mechanics of rappelling. Also, starting each rappel was a bit challenging.
Ascender: How were Lori and Matt as leaders?
Toby: They taught and explained things thoroughly. They were both excellent teachers. Matt rappelled very fast; he made it look easy.
Ascender: Anything else to add about the overall experience?
Sierra: I liked the way the sliding rope tickled my hands. I liked the last 100 ft. rappel with that family watching. I was like a slow version of Matt. I liked the teamwork, and I especially liked my sassy buddy, Cory.
Sierra and Toby taking a break on the hike up
Our awesome leaders, Lori and Matt
Lori instructing Sierra at our "practice spot" before we drop into the canyon
Getting ready to rappel
Sierra descends. Note all the loose ends of the harness we had to secure. We borrowed this "fully adjustable" harness from Harlan.
Toby was a natural.
Lori belays from a relaxed position.
Sierra and Cory
Toby enjoying himself
Sierra ready to drop the final 100 feet.
The Brewster kids on double rappel!
Lori with Cory descending
Group photo at the end of the final rappel
Cory and Sierra in a "sassy" pose
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014
the Length of the Grand Canyon Under the Rim
Wednesday, June 25, 2014