John Muir Trail Sept 7-27, 2019

For years I have been trying to get a permit to hike the John Muir Trail. I finally did when I met Lance at a 4th of July party. Lance was hiking the JMT with a group from his church and got me added to their permit.
We (Ron, group leader and pastor, Ray, Jelmer, Lance and me) met up at Horseshoe Meadows campground outside Lone Pine the evening before the start. We hiked over Cottonwood pass while a porter took our 5-day supply of food to Rock Creek Camp. It was a luxury not to carry 6-7 lbs. of food. During the evening a young woman, Jennifer, asked to camp with us. It was her first night on the trail, hiking alone and a little afraid. She joined our group for 3 days and then went on her way. There were a lot of young single women on the trail.
Ron had purchased an ultralight backpack. It was designed for light-weight travel and a maximum load of 35 lbs. He had replaced the waist strap with one that he liked better. Well, he had way more than 35 lbs. and the strap didn’t hold. We had a trail repair of the pack with zip ties and duct tape. On day 2 we encountered a Ranger and Ron had forgotten our hiking permit. After several minutes of interrogation, we were allowed to hike on. On Day 3 we summited Mount Whitney. It was a spectacularly clear day. Ron bonked on the climb and this would later catch up with him on later passes.
Days 4-5 took us over Forrester Pass and to Vidette meadows camp. Finally, on Day 6 we were due for a resupply. Since I was hiking strong, I was tasked with going ahead of the group to meet the porter. I was given the wrong waypoint and waited 4 hours for the porter. A hiker eventually told him we were waiting down trail. At this point Ray had to leave for a wedding and was to re-join us with a resupply at Muir Trail Ranch on Day 13. Jelmer was having feet problems and decided to leave the trail with Ray. Ron paid the porter to hike with the remaining 3 of us and carry the resupply up Glen Pass. The resupply was for all 5 hikers, and since 2 dropped, that left a lot of stuff to divvy up. The porter got the spoils. Ron, Lance and I then hiked on to the very beautiful Rae Lakes. I had hiked this portion of the JMT solo several years ago. We had a ½ day rest, took a swim in the lake and washed our clothes – a much needed event.
The next few days were pretty much the same – up a 12,000-foot pass, down to 8,000 feet and repeat every day over Pinchot, Mather and Muir Passes. We did run into 4 Japanese men who were heating tea and smoking cigarettes in the middle of the trail. Weird. At Woods Creek I was almost run over by stampeding deer. I was getting water and raised up to leave and 2 deer splashed right where I was getting water, running as fast as they could. On day 10 along the Palasiad Golden Staircase, it snowed on us for about 15 minutes. That was it for inclement weather. While camping at Big Pete Meadow during the evening, deer ate the straps off the hiking poles of the guys camping next to us. For the salt, I guess. Day 11 was a big day for Ron. He was having difficulty after the previous hikes up the passes and Muir Pass, a big one, was coming up. Lance and I took about 8-10 lbs. from him, but when he made the pass, he was really wasted. We determined we should try and stay the night of Day 13 at Muir Trail Ranch.
We had no reservations, so I was elected to speed to the Ranch and try to secure a room. Just above the Ranch a couple was ahead of me and I pushed it up a gear to pass them. I got to the Ranch before them and secured the last room. Oh well. The evening was a real treat. There was a hot springs where we got a shower and a relaxing soak. The meals were great and all you could eat – tri-tip for dinner and eggs/bacon/pancakes for breakfast included in cabin rental. The cabins were primitive but had a real bed.
The next day Ray and Jelmer were to rejoin us with a resupply and Ron was to leave on the Florence Lake ferry. Jelmer was a no-show and Ray decided not to hike the ~8 lbs. of resupply up to us and to return to the ferry with Ron. This added 10 miles round trip and 1,600 feet elevation gain for Lance and me and not revealed to us before the hike. Turns out this day had the same elevation gain as the Mt. Whitney day. We now had to pick up the pace to make up for this day add to the trip.
That evening a hiker named Doc showed up at our camp at Senger Creek. He was complaining of chest pain, shortness of breath and numb fingers. We suggested he return to Muir Trail Ranch while it was still light and go home. He didn’t and instead enjoyed our campfire and ate his salmon – with his fingers. We were worried about bears, but he said his dog sleeps on his camping gear and bears wouldn’t bother him. The next morning, he takes off up the trail, and soon thereafter, Lance can’t find his Spork! Doc had taken it. We then had to share my Spork until the next resupply.
Day 16 was our longest day, 18.6 miles to Red’s Meadow. By now we had made up the extra day. Red’s had little cabins, a restaurant, showers ($1/min.) and washer/dryers. We took advantage of all – double cheeseburger and 6 scoop mike shakes.
We had heard from several south bound hikers that a major snowstorm with temperatures below 10⁰ was on its way, so we quicken our pace to at least get to Yosemite Valley before it struck. We made it to Tuolumne Meadows by day 19 and were ahead of the weather. There we met up with Mitch, a retired head and neck surgeon, we befriended at Fish Creek and kept crossing paths with him along the trail. Another single woman hiker, Christina, was on her first night of her solo excursion and she stayed in our camp and then took off the next morning. Lance and I had been together in the wilderness for 19 days and not gotten lost. The campground at Tuolumne was a maze of car camping, RV camping and tent sites, and we got separated in the campground. We both took off alone and I caught up with him by mid-afternoon. We weren’t used to man-made obstacles. About noon on Day 21 we reached Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. We took a tent cabin in noisy Curry Village and we were extracted the next morning by 2 of Lance’s friends.
The weather was spectacular. If someone told me you could hike in the Sierra for 21 days and not have rain, thunderstorms, or snow in September, I would have not believed them. But that’s what we had. It was below freezing several nights but we were snug in out tents. It did make for some difficult times packing and cooking.
Addition to the two young solo women hikers, we met some interesting people along the way. A pair of Japanese students, one of whom had lost her watch. She was distraught and we thought maybe it was expensive. I did happen to find it the next day, but they were southbound. It was a cheap Casio. There was the young Asian girl hiking with her sunglass bedecked terrier – which she picked up by its little suitcase type handle when we passed. She said they’d been 80 miles. Yeti appeared on the trail – a guy with incredible dreadlocks towering over his head and draping halfway down his chest. And an Ansel Adams look-alike was on the Nevada trail.

I’ve been asked, “What was the favorite part of the trip?” I cannot say, (Except for hanging off Mt. Whitney) because it was so different and overwhelming. I can describe it in 4 parts, going from south to north – The rugged grandeur of the High Sierra, the majestic beauty of the lakes and mountains of King’s Canyon, the picturesque rivers, mountains and meadows of the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, and finally the sculpted panorama of Yosemite. All epic.

Overall, 2 of 5 finished, travel 260 miles, hiked 38,770 ft. elevation in 20.5 days. (click on any picture to see slide show)

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