Tuesday July 26th, 2011: Starting Mileage=66.5, Ending Mileage=82.8. Starting Elevation Gain=14,000, Ending=17,850'. Reds Meadow To Lake Virginia, 16.3 Miles, +3,850'.
Woke up at 0530 feeling pretty good. I slept good considering how noisy it was. I was getting slightly ahead of schedule and decided to push on to Lake Virginia and bypass Purple Lake where I originally planned to camp. The forest leaving Reds Meadow was burned down by the Rainbow Fire in 1992. Very interesting to see what plants are making a comeback nearly twenty years later. As I climbed higher towards Red Cones it became quite cold, cold enough to wear the old balaclava. Made it to Deer Creek in good time. My guidebook (John Muir Trail by Elizabeth Wenk) said to fill up on water here as the next five miles were dry. I am glad I had that advice because the next stretch was indeed dry, steep and went on forever. Made it to the Duck Lake drainage and had to get wet to cross. It was actually a nice rinse off/cool down from the hot/dry section I just traversed. Throughout the trip I tried to plan my lunch around a stream crossing, that way I could dry off and relax. Some days (like today) that worked, other days it did not. After lunch I had to roller coaster my way up to Purple Lake, which was beautiful, then up again to Lake Virginia.
Awww, Lake Virginia. Up until this point, this was the most scenic campsite. Arrived about 3:00 pm, in time to take a swim, do some laundry, eat some more lunch and relax. The lake is magical, so pretty. It is nestled between striking mountains and there were great views to the Silver Divide to the south. I would not be camping alone tonight. As the hours passed by, alot of the people from Reds Meadow started to trickle in. Seems that was the plan for the day for at least eight people. I was calling it the Reds Meadow after party. That was okay as this group was quiet and focused on backpacking more than it being a social event. The plan for tomorrow was originally to go to Pocket Meadow, but it wasn't that much farther to Vermillion Valley Resort. There I could call Judy (which would be a surprise), get a hot meal, hot shower and do some laundry. I would have to do bigger mileage, but it was sounding like a great idea. Tomorrow would be Silver Pass, there would also be a couple of bigger stream crossings tomorrow. Mono Creek awaits......
|Looking Back At The Yosemite High Country|
|Sunset View From Lake Virginia|
Wednesday July 27th, 2011: Starting Mileage=82.8, Ending Mileage=97.6. Starting Elevation Gain=17,850', Ending=19,850'. Lake Virginia To Vermillion Valley Resort, 14.8 Miles, +2000'.
Woke up to a wet/frozen campsite, was too close to the lake again (not learning my lesson as you can see). It was to be another beautiful day. Mild temperatures and clear. There were some great reflection photographs to be had in the morning, so beautiful. The start today was all downhill to Tully Hole, a beautiful spot with roaring Fish Creek beside it (thank goodness for bridges, it would have been suicidal to cross without). From the bridge, it is a steady climb up to Silver Pass. Snow was patchy starting at 10,000' and solid for the last 300' of elevation. I was looking forward to the normally spectacular views afforded from Sierra Passes, but today was not one of those days. There was a significant amount of smoke coming in from the Yosemite. What a bummer :( The views were still good, just not spectacular. Made good time down the southern side of Silver Pass, the snow went down to about 10,400'. It was to be all down hill from the pass to Vermillion (VVR), but first there would be two very wet and swift crossings. First up was Silver Pass Creek. Not only was this a wet crossing, there was also a waterfall to contend with. Three weeks prior I had seen pictures of this crossing and it looked epic, luckily it was just a beautiful, albeit wet crossing. I had gathered intel that the next crossing (North Fork Of Mono Creek) was only a three quarters mile past Silver Pass Creek, so I kept my crocs on and carefully descended to Mono Creek. This was a faster moving and longer crossing. There were a few people on the other side who gave me tips where they crossed and in I went. No problem. I took off my pack, found a sunny spot and had lunch while I dried off. Then the entertainment began. Three northbound hikers came to the crossing, two guys and a girl. The first guy tried to rock hop across monster sized boulders. He slipped, fell into the creek (he was okay), lost his poles and soaked his entire pack. The next guy seeing this decided it would be a good idea to mimic his friend and nearly did the same thing. He got across dry, but lost one pole and nearly cracked his head open. The last one across was the far wiser female who put on her water shoes and walked across like the rest of us had. I had a chuckle watching the guy who fell in take everything out of his pack to dry while the girl made fun of him and ate her lunch. Trail hijinks. I continued to descend the trail until another fork of Mono Creek was reached. Normally this is a wet crossing as well, but the winter knocked a very large tree down that spanned the crossing. So, a bonus dry crossing. From there it was 2.5 miles to the VVR boat landing. Got there at 2:30 and waiting for the 4:45 ferry to arrive. Time to chillax next to Lake Thomas Edison.
The ferry arrived around 4:30 to take us to the other side where VVR is located. It was a full boat, so full that they made two trips this afternoon. The ride across was wet, I sat at the front of the boat and got soaked. But it was okay, a hot shower awaited. As we neared VVR I noticed for the first time large puffy cumulus clouds building to the east over the Sierra Crest. I took note of this and unfortunately the worst case scenario would come to pass two days later. Once off the boat, we were shuttled into the store and "opened a tab". A lady took down our names, gave us a free beer (Heineken) and gave a run down of their services and prices. I got a shower and laundry ticket immediately. I got dressed in my rain jacket and pants and started a very dirty load of laundry. I then proceeded to take a long hot shower. It felt so good to clean up. All the resort had in the way of a phone was a satellite phone at $2 a minute :o. Luckily again, I was able to use another hikers cell phone to call Judy. She was very surprised and happy to hear from me. I gave her a run down of my prior days and chatted away. She received the flowers and first postcard I had sent and was very happy to hear from me. Talking to her warmed my heart and soul, I missed her so much. I was very lovesick at this point and talking to her helped alot. My laundry was soon complete and having warm, clean clothes to wear felt great. Now it was dinner time. Tonight's special was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cheese covered broccoli. I normally wouldn't eat cheese on any vegetables, but tonight, that was sounding great and it tasted great too. I made quick work of this meal, very good meal. I chatted with the owner of VVR while eating dinner and gained more valuable intel about the days ahead. I then grabbed a bunch of candy, a Drumstick, mailed off a postcard to Judy and headed off to make my camp. It was nice to chat with other hikers and hear their trials and tribulations. There were a few of us heading south with similar itineraries. I made camp and hit the sack around 10:00pm. It had been a really good day on the JMT. VVR was very refreshing and rejuvenating. Just what I needed to continue on and as a bonus, I got to call Judy again after dinner to say goodnight. Good Day :)
|Early Morning Reflections Of The Silver Divide From Lake Virginia|
|High Above Lake Virginia|
Thursday July 28th, 2011: Starting Mileage=97.6, Ending Mileage=112.5. Starting Elevation Gain=19,850', Ending=24,050'. VVR To Marie Lakes, 14.9 Miles, +4200'.
Got to sleep in today. The first ferry back across the lake didn't leave until 9:00am. I woke up, had skippy peanut butter with a hersheys bar for breakfast, mailed another "inside joke" postcard to Judy and settled my "tab". Wow, that was an expensive stop, but completely worth it. A complete rejuvenation that was greatly needed and appreciated. As a bonus I was able to call Judy one last time to say good morning. The ferry ride across was smooth and I was back on the trail at 9:30am. Today's big events were the climb up Bear Ridge and the infamous crossing of Bear Creek. Was getting a late start due to the ferry, but it was well worth the price to pay for VVR, so off I went up Bear Ridge. It is a steep climb. Gained 2000' in no time at all. The views were slightly obstructed by smoke today, but not as bad as yesterday. I am using the "John Muir Trail Pack Maps" by Tom Harrison. They were convenient due to their size and weight but did not show me what these grand mountains I was looking at were. It would have been nice visually to have the full map of the Sierra's, but very inconvenient with weight and bulk. I knew I was looking at the Mono Divide and a sea of 13,000' + mountains, but I would have loved to know which ones. I want to someday climb all 248 named Sierra Peaks (the SPS list) and this was my first time seeing many of them, I was in awe. The Hilgard Creek crossing was a wet one, four times as it branched out. But it was nice and refreshing. Then it was time for what many consider the most difficult crossing on the JMT/PCT, infamous Bear Creek. It looked fast and furious, but not too deep. I spotted a nice line of semi shallow rocks that I would cross. I put on my crocs, said a prayer and got in. The water was fast enough to make my hiking poles rattle, but I was able to cross in thigh deep water to the other side. Success :). From there it was 3.5 miles and another 1000' of gain to Marie Lakes.
I was able to make good time and arrived in time to hear some thunder coming from far off. The clouds were building to the south east. At the time, I was hoping this would be a typical Sierra T-Storm event. The clouds would build for a few days, unleash their fury in a few violent hours and be done. So, I made up camp and waited for the storm. Marie Lakes are gorgeous. Surrounded on all sides by snow bound peaks and passes. It is actually 300' lower than Selden Pass, tomorrow first objective. I would have really enjoyed my time here if not for the terrible mosquitos. I put on my rain gear, a headnet and gloves to save myself. Even with all that on, they managed to somehow bite me. I absolutely hate mosquitos, not even sure what their purpose in the world is. Someone mentioned food for bats. Well, we need alot more bats up here because the mosquitos are out of control. Natures Assholes. It was hard to eat dinner with a headnet on. Everytime I tried to take a bite, several mosquitos would try and come on in, so I had to walk up and down to prevent being attacked while I ate. I was able to snap off some spectacular sunset photos, but I did not completely enjoy the camp due to the mosquitos. Quite a shame to be honest.
|Feeling Good After A Night Of Rest At VVR|
|Looking Up At The Mono Divide|
|Campsite At Marie Lakes|
|Clouds Rumbling In The Distance|
Friday July 29th, 2011: Starting Mileage=112.5, Ending Mileage=127.8. Starting Elevation Gain=24,050', Ending=25,050'. Marie Lakes To Goddard Canyon Bridge Junction, 15.3 Miles, +1000'.
The rains never came last night, it ended up being a restful night, felt pretty good this morning. Todays objective was Selden Pass, but I only had to go three quarters of a mile and gain around three hundred feet to get up it. There was a bit of snow on the northern half of Selden Pass, but nothing too bad. The southern half was almost all melted out. Had to cross a complete swamp around 10,000'. Normally this would be a meadow, but this year it was a muddy swamp. Got my boots nice and muddy/wet. From there it was all downhill to Muir Trail Ranch. It was a dry and dusty descent. The views looking south and east were great. Could see the puffy clouds building and it was only 9:30 am, starting to get nervous about T-Storms. Made it to Muir Trail Ranch at 10:30 am. Alot of reports and stories I heard about the Muir Trail Ranch were they were not hiker friendly. Kinda, here is your re-supply, now go. I had a great experience here. When I got there, they asked for my ticket, told me where to get fresh water, how much different services (fuel, internet) cost and where I could go to sort out my bucket. They were very friendly I thought. They do not have a grill or a store with food nor do they have a dedicated restroom, but I knew all that going in. I was happy with my experience and would use their services again in the future. Now to my bucket. I mailed it out three weeks prior and was happy to see that it made it safe and sound. When I opened it I found a surprise from Judy. She wrote me a great card, put in some photos of us and even let me use her Toby Keith bandana. It was a very welcome surprise, every last bit of mental boost really helped. When I got to Muir Trail Ranch, my pack weighed 32 pounds and felt great. When I left it weighed 46 pounds and not as great. But that is the price to pay for eight days of rations. I laid out my food all over the benches and ground. Went over everything to make sure I would have enough to get me to the finish. I did, plus extra. I would be taking the extra goodies (Pistachio Chocolate Toffee, Disney Choco/Caramel Popcorn, Peanut Brittle and Snickers) with me to eat that first day, can't get enough calories out here. I was also happy that all my food and scented items fit into my Bearikade. Alot of hikers could not fit there food in their bear cans and would be risking it the first couple of days. I was then able to mail Judy another postcard and check the internet for two things. First was to e-mail Judy and tell her all was well, the second was to check the weather forecast as I suspected T-Storm activity that afternoon. Unfortunately I was right about the pending forecast. NOAA was forecasting a 40% chance today, a 50% chance Saturday and a 60% chance Sunday. It was 30% for Monday and clear again Tuesday. So, big weather coming my way. By this time, 12:00 pm, the clouds were really building to the east.
I decided I could hike seven miles from Muir Trail Ranch to the Goodard Canyon Junction along the South Fork Juaquin River/Evolution Creek. I started this portion with two other solo hikers I had been talking to at Muir Trail Ranch, Aaron from Orange County and Paul from Boston. It would be nice to hike/camp with these two over the next three days. Crossed into Kings Canyon National Park at the Piute Creek bridge. At about 2:00 pm it began to rain. I had already changed into my rain jacket and pants and put on my pack cover. I also waterproofed the camera gear and electronics and it is a good thing I did. The rain started off mild and peaceful so we made the decision to press on. At about 2:30 pm it started to hail, we also heard our first thunder and saw some lightning above us, good times. We were in a very rocky area that presented no shelter or camping areas, so we were forced to keep moving. We didn't find a suitable site until 3:15 pm. By this time it was all hail and it hurt, the size of golfballs pelting us. I heard very loud/deafening thunder and then saw a bolt of lightning that was far too close for comfort. Everything was turning white with hail and any flat area there was had standing water collecting. We made a mad dash (I was literally running with 46 pounds of gear on my back) for the first forest cover we had seen in awhile. Found a nice uneven, lumpy spot and tried to set up my tent as soon as possible. It took me three minutes to get the tent and rainfly on. I put all of my gear under the rainfly and got in. The bottom of my tent had a good inch of standing water that I had to dry out before getting in. Thank goodness for the pack towel and bandanas I had with me. I spent some time soaking up water and wringing it out the tent. I was then able to get in the tent and change into the dry clothes and sleeping bag I had waterproofed with kayaking dry sacks. (I brought these anticipating getting wet crossing creeks, but never got that wet, but they sure came in handy now). I never developed shivers, but I was cold and wet. Getting into the dry clothes and bag felt great. I did some sit ups to generate all the heat I would need. Then it dawned on me, I am on one uneven lumpy patch of ground and it was not ideal to try and sleep on, but it would have to do, I did not have a choice. I could hear hail pelting the rain fly and thunder overhead. Quite un nerving. My two partners for this stretch had gotten into their respective shelters and were doing the same thing as me, waiting for the rain/hail to stop.
At 5:30 pm the hail and rained stopped. We were able to get out of our tents and assess the damage. It was very cold and it looked like it had snowed. Everything that wasn't wet from the rain was damp, the humidity was very high. We could see the river had grown from run off and most parts of the trail were now flooded. What a violent episode. We were all feeling fortunate that it wasn't worse. I tried to send out an "okay" on the spot message (I found out later that my spot messages did not go through this night, the very dense clouds prevented a signal I suppose). It looked like we would be wet in the morning also, nothing was going to dry tonight. Thank goodness for my dry bag and clothes inside my tent, without them, I would have been completely miserable. I made dinner, journaled about this episode and went to sleep. What a day of extremes. The hot and dry trail heading into Muir Trail Ranch. The thrill of my surprise from Judy in my re-supply bucket and then this violent episode. All this and the forecast the next two days was worse. I went to bed hoping and praying it would get better.....it didn't.
(I later found out that this violent episode took place all over the Sierra's. Whitney Portal got washed out, hikers were stranded at the Portal. The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek was impassable, hikers were stuck there too. Hikers over at Hamilton Lakes got flooded and washed out. It was all due to Monsoonal Moisture from Arizona had clashed with desert and risen up the Sierra Crest. Was not very fun to be in the middle of it.)
|Early Start Up To Selden Pass|
|Looking Back At Marie Lakes|
|View From Selden Pass|
|Clouds Starting To Build|
|Heading Into The Storm|