Monday, August 22, 2011

Pre-Trip In Yosemite, Days 1-4 On The JMT Trip Report & Photos

Pre-Trip In Yosemite National Park

Tuesday July 19th, 2011: Left The House About 7:30 for our trip to Tuolomne Meadows Campground. Myself, My Wife, My Niece and our two Dogs were off. After a beautiful and scenic cruise up US 395 we arrived at the Tioga Pass park entrance around 2:45. After purchasing our annual park pass ($80.00), we headed west for the campground. Initial reaction was, "there is alot of snow on the mountains and passes, glad I brought the Ice Axe." After getting the whole bear scare from the rangers, we made it to our camp at 4:00. Didn't take us long to set-up and relax.

Got a nice campfire started and chillaxed with a glass of wine, good times. It felt good to relax. All the preparation and last minute running around was taking its toll on my sanity, so these next few days with the family were needed to get my head straight. It didn't hurt being in Yosemite, what a beautiful and stunning place. We had a steak, potatoes and corn on the cob dinner that was terrific, then hit the sack. Good day.

Wednesday July 20th, 2011: Got up rather late in the camping world, 8:00 am. But it was a good restful night of sleep. Started off with some coffee and pancakes, m & m pancakes that is :). After the wonderful breakfast, my niece and I set out for North Dome. We drove to the Porcupine trailhead and started hiking around 10:00 am. It is one of those backwards hikes, starts higher and goes down, down, down to North Dome. Pretty little hike I must say. The views looking across to Half Dome and the valley floor were spectacular, what a sight. The hike back up to Tioga Road required some huffing and puffing, but nothing for a sixteen year old cross country athlete. Drove back to the campground, dropped off Jackie and picked up Judy. But first we all had a chicken/cranberry salad sandwich for lunch, so tasty.

Judy and I headed back out for Lempert Dome. Judy has been nursing a badly sprained ankle from March and this was her first real hike since and she did great. Lempert Dome was just what we needed, short but sweet. A really beautiful view from the summit. A great day on the domes of Yosemite. When we arrived back at camp, Jackie had a nice campfire going and had already started dinner. What a day :) We had another round of steak, potatoes and corn, drank some more wine (and Whisky) and called it a day, I mean a great day.

Thursday July 21st, 2011: After another great night of rest we were up and at em much earlier today, 7:00 am. It was cold, needed to bundle up to make coffee and breakfast. More of the same, M & M pancakes :). The mission today was to move to much lower ground. We packed up our site and left Tuolomne Meadows Camp for Upper Pine Camp all the way down in Yosemite Valley. But first I had to take care of two things. First off was dropping my food re-supply for days three through eight in the Dog Lake Trailhead bear boxes. I did not want to carry all that extra weight up from the valley floor and this was a great logistical spot to leave a food drop. I had talked to the rangers prior to this and although they weren't jumping for joy in approval, they didn't disapprove the drop as long as I put my name and pick up date on the box. The second thing to do before leaving Tuolomne was to get an ice cream at the general store, mission complete. The drive down to the valley floor was gorgeous, it is simply a stunning drive, one I will never tire of. Up next was the majestic Yosemite Falls. Normally it dries up by August, but not this year, it was roaring full speed. So much beauty, so much water. We had a picnic lunch next to the Merced River with a great view of the falls. can't beat that. Next it was time to pick up the wilderness permit. We parked at the general store parking lot and walked the dogs along the bike/walk path. Getting my permit was fun. The ranger told me in not so many words that my itinerary was too aggressive for the conditions and changed my exit date from the sixth to the tenth. I know he was being helpful, but I did not have enough food to go that long, trying to put a scare into me :o. Upon arriving back at the truck, we discovered a pastry had been left out in the back of the truck and something (more than likely a bear) had made a mess of it before being scared off.

From the valley store we drove over to Upper Pines Campground. We saw news vans driving around but did not know at the time what they were looking for. Sadly we now know. Three people went over the edge of Vernal Falls to their death the previous day, truly sad. The Upper Pines Camp had a very different feel to it than Tuolomne Meadows. They were both listed as full and sold out, but we never felt crowded up at Tuolomne. Upper Pines was a zoo in comparison. Tents, trailers, cars and people everywhere. Our neighbors were noisy and sloppy. Food left out, draining water from tuna cans right on the ground next to their tents, trash on the ground. No wonder the Yosemite Bears like it here. We set up our camp then drove over to "Housekeeping" for a nice hot shower, it was a wonderous thing to get a hot shower before my trip. Back at camp Judy and Jackie prepared a delicious meal; whole wheat pasta, marinara sauce and turkey sausage while I put together my pack for the next morning. It was perfect before a big trip. After dinner we walked over to the Happy Isles Trailhead where I would be departing the next morning. We found that walking there from camp was much easier than trying to drive. I was starting to get nervous and sad. I had a great three days with Judy, Jackie, Honu and Hana and I did not want it to end.......

The John Muir Trail

Friday July 22nd, 2011: Happy Isles To Sunrise Trail Camp, 18.0 Miles, +7500'.

 Had a so so night of rest in camp the prior night. Nervous and anxious mostly. Oh, and the campground was a tad noisy. I woke up at 5:30 am and started packing things up. Had some coffee and a pastry while Judy and Jackie got up. They walked me to the trailhead where Jackie said her goodbyes, then Judy walked me up to the John Muir Trail mileage sign. It was hard to say goodbye. We had never been apart this long and it was already wearing heavy on my emotions. We had an emotional departure and I was off for sixteen days at 0700.

I hiked up the John Muir Trail proper to the top of Nevada Falls in no time. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed hiking to the top of the falls. So far, so good, but I had a long way to go today. After crossing the bridge, I ran into lots of people. This was the Half Dome dayhike crowd. I did not fit in with a full overnight pack amongst the dayhikers. I pushed on up and up to the Half Dome junction. I was able to drop my pack off to the side of the trail and hike the remainder of the way to the top with just my camera, some water and food. It felt good. I made good time to the area where the rangers checked permits. They are really strict about the permits this year. They were taking down names coming and going. After that the views really opened up as I approached the sub dome. This was my first time on Half Dome and I was in awe. Just a spectacular view, I was really enjoying this. I had heard all the horror stories about the cables but the permit system must be doing something because I was able to climb up fairly freely. Luckily I was able to pick out a rather decent pair of gloves from the pile at the base of the cables to protect my hands (mainly for the descent). I was able to take some nice video's and photos on the way up. The weather was perfect for an ascent of Half Dome, not a cloud in the sky. Made it to the top and enjoyed the views in all directions, the Valley Floor, over to Glacier Point, up Tenaya Canyon, across to North Dome. Doesn't get much better than this. Only thing I would change is to have Judy up there with me. The climb down the cables was fun in my opinion, I really did a number on the gloves though, quite a bit more friction going down. Made it back to my heavy pack in no time.

After putting on the heavy pack I wandered on down the trail to the Clouds Rest Junction where I took a nice long break beside the creek. Soaked my feet, had some lunch and took a little nap. Again, the weather was perfect. From the Half Dome Junction all the way to Tuolomne Meadows I saw just a few people, a fry cry from the valley floor crowd.  After my afternoon siesta it was off to look for a camp. I had originally planned to camp alongside Sunrise Creek in the 8500' region, but once I got there it felt dark and gloomy. I was already rather tired climbing out of the valley but made the decision to push to Sunrise Trail Camp. I wasn't all that jazzed about climbing to nearly 9900' before dropping to Sunrise at 9300'. Whew, what a day. I ended up hiking for ten hours, going 18.0 miles and going up 7500' of elevation gain. I was tired and really missing my wife. I set up camp, had some Mountain House Rice & Chicken with a flour tortilla and olive oil. It hit the spot even though my appetite was suddenly suppressed. Its like your body starts to work against you, I needed all the calories I could get, but my appetite was waning. The magnitude of the trip was starting to really set in. This was only night one of fifteen. How was I going to do this? How was I going to find the strength mentally and physically each and every day? I did my Journaling, watched some Lilo & Stitch on my I-Pod and hit the sack. What a first day.

Myself At The Start, Only 211 Miles :o

Nevada Falls

Half Dome Cables

My First Summit Of Half Dome, Good Way To Start The JMT

Descending The Cables, Quite Steep

Tenaya Canyon

Saturday July 23rd, 2011: Starting Mileage=18.0, Ending Mileage=34.7. Starting Elevation Gain=7500', Ending=8900'. Sunrise Trail Camp To Ireland Lake Junction Along Lyell Creek, 16.7 Miles, +1400'.

After a good nights rest, I was up and ready to go. Felt much better in the morning which would be a reoccurring theme the first half of the trip as I adjusted to the backpacking routine. My tent and bag were wet, I camped too close to the meadow which was a cold sink last night. Today I was going to pass by the Tuolomne Meadows grill, store and would be able to call Judy from the store. Many things to do today. First thing was to climb Cathedral Pass at 9700'. It was the first official pass of the trip and it was easy. I had heard reports of route finding difficulties through this area due to snow. But the reports were old as there was hardly any snow. I cruised into the Tuolomne Meadows area in good time. First thing I did was call Judy, man I missed her so much already but talking to her warmed my heart and gave me the mental strength I needed. As for the physical strength, the double hamburger and fries sure helped that. I mailed Judy the first of five postcards she would get from the various spots along the northern half, had a drumstick and headed off for the Dog Lake Trail head to retrieve my re-supply.  My pack was feeling so good and light, but that all changed as I loaded the five days of food into the bear container. I snacked on some extra provisions (Chocolate Covered Toffee, Chocolate & Caramel covered popcorn from Disneyland and freeze dried fruit.

I had been moving north and east until now, but from here on out it would be a south trending walk. I now got to start one of my favorite sections of the trip, Lyell Canyon. It is a very peaceful and flat walk. I don't think I gained much elevation over the next several miles. Walking next to teal blue Lyell Creek was peaceful and relaxing. So much so that I decided to take a rinse off in the very cold waters, but it felt so good and refreshing. I started to pass Pacific Crest Trail hikers heading north. Being the chatterbug that I am, I engaged most of the them in conversation to gain valuable info about what I was heading in too. It was comical how different the reports I was getting were. Some said it looks great, the passes and water crossings were no big deal all the way to don't go, you will die it is so epically bad. I guess I would have to make my own way through this. I arrived at the Ireland Lake Junction and found a decent campsite. I got there early enough to dry out my gear from the prior nights soaking. Ate candy for dinner and readied myself for the first major obstacle of the trip, Donahue Pass.

Looking Towards Cathedral Peak From The JMT

Yummy Yummy Double Hamburger & Fries From The Tuolomne Grill, So Tasty

Lyell River

Lyell River

Sunday July 24th, 2011: Starting Mileage=34.7, Ending Mileage=51.1. Starting Elevation Gain=8900', Ending=12,200'. Ireland Lake Junction To South Shore Of Garnet Lake, 16.4 Miles, +3300'.

The day started off nicely, the climb up Lyell Canyon was mostly flat for another few miles, then it began climbing in earnest. Another great weather day, not a cloud in the sky and mild temperatures. The views climbing out of the canyon were superb. Got my first good look at Mt. Lyell and the Lyell glacier. Hit a good amount of snow at 10,000', but it was easy to walk on, no need for microspikes, just careful foot placement. At the outlet of the highest lake before Donahue Pass I had to get wet, the dry crossing was under water. On went the Crocs and I went across thigh deep, freezing water for 100 yards. Man was that cold. Dried off on the other side, put on a fresh pair of socks (a key to my feet staying blister free throughout the entire trip was to have a rotation of dry socks handy, after a crossing, I would rinse off the current pair, hang off the pack with safety pins and put on the dry pair, really worked) and was on my way. Another 1000' of climbing through rock bands, snow fields and some trail placed me on the border between Yosemite National Park and the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Donahue Pass. The views were spectacular in all directions. Mt. Lyell, Mt. McClure, Banner Peak, Lyell Canyon, Mt. Dana and many others. What a site.

I did not find the northern half of Donahue Pass to have that much snow, but a strange phenomenon occurred. The south side of the pass had alot more snow than the north. It went on for miles it seemed. Didn't find dry trail until 9700'. It was fun sliding/standing glissade down the slope for awhile, but my boots and socks were getting soaked and the snow was inconsistent in texture/firmness. Had to be careful punching through it. Once off the snow, the hike down to Rush Creek was smooth. Rush Creek was flowing strong, very powerful. The Rush Creek water drains to Mono Lake which drains nowhere, I found this to be interesting. Soon after Rush Creek, the ascent to Island Pass begins. I had read Island Pass was no big deal which I found to be accurate, but for some reason this climb was tiring. It seemed to go on forever. The views from the pass were great. Looking down to Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak were worth it. I timed the lighting of the sun all wrong here. In the morning you get great Alpine Glow and reflections of Banner Peak off Thousand Island Lake, but in the afternoon when I was there, it was all backlit. Guess I need to go back and spend some more time there :) 

I pushed on past Thousand Island Lake with my camping destination to be Garnet Lake. I read there was good camping and views at Garnet. Well, that is true, but in very limited spots. When I arrived, the campsites were taken, all of them. I started to climb above the southern shore of the lake and found nothing flat to camp on. It was now 6:00 pm and I was tired. Did not want to hike 2.5 miles to the next junction. Just as I was started to get really cranky about not finding a campsite, I ran into one overlooking the lake. It was just big enough for a solo tent so I took it. Happy times again. But I was beat. The snow slogs really took it out me today Long day on the JMT, but a very scenic one.

Normally A Trail, Had To Get Wet To Cross

Mt. Lyell & Lyell Glacier

On Top Of Donahue Pass

Snowy & Wet, But Gorgeous Scenery

Banner Peak & Thousand Island Lake

Monday July 25th, 2011: Starting Mileage=51.1, Ending Mileage=66.5. Starting Elevation Gain=12,200', Ending=14,000'. Garnet Lake To Reds Meadow Backpackers Campground, 15.4 Miles, +1800'.

Woke up feeling good after my frantic campground search the previous day. I was also feeling good because I would be getting a hot meal at Reds Meadow Grill and would be calling Judy from the pay phone. Started the day by climbing above Garnet Lake and down to Shadow Creek. Once at Shadow Lake the climbing began again. The John Muir Trail is a roller coaster ride. Alot of climbing and descending. The Tom Harrison Topo Maps can be deceiving as they show the elevation from point to point, but most times there is an up and down in between. Starting on the climb above Shadow Lake I made the decision to hike with my I-Pod on low volume. This way I could have a little tune in my head but still hear the sounds of nature and talk to other hikers as they passed by. It is a decision I am glad I made as solo hiking for days and days gets lonely, this sure helped. The hike into the Devils Postpile Monument was uneventful except for the bridge that was out just before the Buck Lake Junction. Normally you walk across two logs tied together, but the intense water flow this spring washed the logs off to the side making this a wet crossing. So, on with the crocs and across the icy cold water it was. After the crossing it is a dry & dusty trail into the Reds Meadow area. One problem I encountered, there are no signed trails for Reds Meadow so I walked on down to Rainbow Falls before realizing my error.

Reds Meadow is a nice place for backpackers. A grill, store, campground and did I mention a grill.....I arrived at the Reds Meadow grill/store at 1500. I found the payphone and went to call Judy, but the phone was out of order. I asked where the next phone was and was told in the Devils Postpile Campground a few miles up the road. So I ordered a double hamburger and pondered my next move. I thoroughly enjoyed the burger, boy was it good. The backpackers campground is a half mile north of the grill. On my way over I inquired as to where the backpackers camp was. I was told by the attendant that the camp was full. There are only two sites for backpackers and they were both full. Where was I to go, the next camping down the trail was several miles away. Well, I went over to the site and found it to be mostly empty, a few tents, but by no means full. I talked to a couple of guys who were already there and they told me to pick out a flat spot and make camp. I later found out that there are two assigned backpackers sites, but as long as the people occupying those sites don't mind, you can camp as many as you can fit. Lucky for me (and many others that came later) the two guys who booked the site were very friendly, so I had a place to stay for the night. The campsite became a small community of backpackers. Most had come from Yosemite, some were finishing here, some were going all the way to Whitney. But just about everyone had a different start date and a different completion date from everyone else. A few people I would see down the trail, hop scotching each other for a few days. A couple of people were nice enough to let me use their phones when I told them I was hiking up the road to Devils Postpile due to the broken phone at the grill. I was able to call Judy and all was right in my world. It was so nice to talk to her, really put my mind at ease.

After setting up camp, rinsing off some clothes and myself, I was ready for some dinner. So I walked back to the store/grill and ordered another double hamburger, but this time with a coors light and fritos. It hit the spot, very tasty. I then went shopping at the store for: Fritos, Skittles, Payday, Reeses Cups, Gummy Bears, Nectarines and another Beer. I was also able to mail out another postcard to Judy and call her one more time. I then walked back to the camp feeling pretty good from all my junk food I had eaten or planned to eat. When I got back to my tent, I saw that the campsite was really full. I counted twelve tents and at least fifteen people. It was not the typical wilderness experience, but that was okay tonight. I actually slept good.

Alpine Glow Off Banner & Ritter

Mt. Ritter & Banner Peak

The Minarets

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