John Muir Trail – Silver Pass to Duck Lake Junction to Johnson’s Meadow

Day 17: 7/16/2017

I reveled in my accomplishments thus far.  Looking back, I really felt like I had done something amazing.  What could possibly stop me now?

On the way down, the boot tracks split.  For reasons I cannot discern, it appeared to me that right was the way to go.  I saw people coming from the left, but right seemed more direct.  And there was a bonus:  A glissade.  At the bottom, the trail split again.  One went to a very steep glissade that was old and rocks poked through everywhere.  I started to walk around towards the upper side of Warrior Lake.  There was no trail, just boulders and rock. Climb down or go back to the glissade?  I thought to myself, it seems like there were many more glissades NOBO (North Bound) than SOBO (South Bound).  After every pass I encountered them.  Probably because there were so many NOBO PCT hikers who were crazy enough to make them.  I was in no mood to climb anymore, so I went back to the glissade and went down the ice chute with my ice ax.  The bottom opened out into the middle of an alluvial fan with an ice bridge breaking apart over it.  The river was on my left and I clearly had to make my way through the woods on the right.  I saw no trail, no spike marks from trekking poles, no boot prints….nothing….And the mosquitoes were legendary in this marshy area.  Every time I stopped to read the map, the little vampires swarmed all around, so thick, I couldn’t see the map.  Keep moving.  Down and towards water.

I sank up to my knee in muck jumping down off some rocks to one area, and got several scrapes going through bramble brush.   From what I could tell I was at least a half mile from the trail and on the wrong side of the water.  However, the other side of the water was a steep mountain with no path.  I kept going and eventually found what looked like a campsite below Squaw Lake…which was where I had wanted to be for last night.   A trail came and with it some relief.  One more small crossing and I sped down hill.  I passed quite a few SOBO hikers huffing and puffing.   Again the feeling like NOBO had softer up hills and longer down hills, I sped past them, only chatting up one or two.  At the bottom I refreshed by a creek.

In short order I encountered another huge bridge at Fish Creek.  Who makes these things?  How on earth do they get this stuff here?  This was a remote area and certainly no land based vehicle could get here.  All that steel would suck for a donkey or a mule.

The trail split by a fantastic meadow – Tully Hole.  I still had hopes of seeing a bear, but I settled for some wonderful birds and some deer.  I started up a steep set of switchbacks.   My energy was good, but about three quarters of the way I conked out.  The internal complaining started…probably just karma rebate for thinking how lucky was was for having better down hills and shorter uphills earlier.

As I reached the top, and the terrain changed again.  Trees and rocks.  No grassy meadows.  No dense bushes with flower beds.  Just trees and rocks.  It was an alpine forest that opened to a fantastic Lake Virginia.  Large and sprawling the trail took me around the perimeter to the outlet.  I crossed after switching to my river shoes and after a short up, I paused for lunch.  I pulled out my prized possession: One pound of refried beans.  Everything on the package was in Spanish, and I had never seen beans packaged in a plastic one pound bag.  I didn’t care  I pulled out my spoon, huddled over the bag and feasted.

A PCT hiker passed me, who had passed me before before Seldon pass.  They all had stopped over at the resorts on Florence Lake.  I skipped that to gain some time.  They were catching up to me now.  I packed up my garbage, and kept going.

Purple Lake

In coming up on Purple lake, I had to decide if I was going to detour to Iva Bell Hot Springs.  My body was pretty achy and some hot springs would feel incredible.  However it would add time to my trip, and I was homesick.   As I was pondering this at the Purple Lake outlet refilling my water, one of the Canadians appeared behind me, scaring the bejesus out of me.  Sneaky and fast….damn Canadians.  It’s a good thing we are allies!   We had a good chuckle and he stated he was meeting Nosebleed, Ramses, and the other Canadians at Mammoth.  That’s right, I was close to my other food drop already.  He said they were camping at Purple Lake for the night.  Feeling competitive, I said I was going farther. I pushed forward.

The forest around the mountain was pleasant and relatively level.  It looked out over the Silver Mountain range across the valley.  Judging by the sun, it was evening.  I had about an hour before sundown.  Hurrying along, stopping periodically to rest my shoulders and back,   I wondered how on earth horses went through here.  It was a trail, but rocky, with places I had to use both hands to climb up, down, and over.  I saw horse apples, so I knew they went through, but heck.   As I rounded the mountain I ran into a group of hikers.    The last was not in good shape.  Huffing and puffing.  I told him he was almost there and that it was flat going from here to Purple Lake.

Positive energy got me so far on this trail.  Every little atta boy, and you can do it reverberated in my bones and got me to where I was.  It was the least I could do to pay it forward.

At Duck Lake Junction there were campers.  The sun was at the mountain tops, meaning I had at best 10 minutes of light left.  First and second campsite: Taken.  Third site taken.  I saw a group in the fourth site as well.  Oh well, time to make a campsite on nice granite slab.  I erected my tent, and marched up to the creek to wash my socks and shirt (my nightly routine).  I hung them out to dry and cooked some Ramen.  The wind kicked up and it was COLD.

BRRRRR Cold hands.  I lost my gloves; what a loser!

Camp at last light: Duck Lake Junction

I curled up in my bag for the evening Talley:

15 miles on the day 2625 feet of up and 2245 feet of down

208 miles on the trip so far:  Holy Moly progress.

Day 19: 7/17/2017

I awoke excited knowing I would hit Red’s Meadow today.  I wasn’t short on food, but I was looking forward to calling my family.   The wind had stopped and I ate some bars and was off.  The trail was much like the last part of yesterday.  Going around the mountain. Trees. Rocks.

My tummy rumbled and it was time for a trip to the nature outhouse. The requirement was 100 feet from the trail and 100 feet from water.  I walked up and up trying to find a suitable place. (I swear I’ll never again make fun of a dog again sniffing around for the right place to poop).  Surprisingly (or maybe not), instead of poop smell, re fried bean aroma filled the air.   I opted to take toilet paper on the trip.  This meant however, that I had to pack it out.  Thank you zip lock bags for seal tight freshness.

Mostly down  through a mature forest.  Tress were spread out like Bear Creek Ridge, rocks and needles covered the ground.  Clark’s Nutcrackers dominated the forest sounds.  Although I was struck at how quiet this forest was.  There were few insects making sounds, and a few birds.  A stark contrast to the jungles of Central America.

The Canadian crept up on me and scared me again.  “We’re meeting at Mammoth….maybe we’ll see you there.” Fast and sneaky. An hour later the second Canadian passed me.

The trail weaved down and around and dropped into a more lush area.  There were lots of down trees and the meadows picked up again.  I saw more day hikers out of Mammoth.  And just after Redcones – the cinder cones formed from a volcanic eruption 5000 years ago.

Red Cones

After a steep decent after Red Cones I dropped into the valley ravaged by the Rainbow Falls Fire.  This area was scorched in 1992.  And although it seemed to be making a comeback, it was hard to believe how little had grown since 1992.

Rainbow Falls Fire Recovering

Although plenty lush, I later learned the growing season in the Sierra is extremely short which stunts growth.  Nearby my homestead there was a giant fire in 1995, and by 2017, most trees were already 40-50 tall.  The wood ferns through here were neck high, that was impressive.  At this point I was getting excited.  I was so close to Red’s Meadow, which was not only my last food drop but would be my first opportunity to call my family in three weeks.

I slid into Red’s Meadow only to find it almost abandoned.  I was there about five years back and it was packed with tourists.  Here now, in mid July, it was almost empty.  Apparently the road was damaged and only essential personnel were in the Monument area.  Lucky for me essential personnel included the general store operator and the restaurant staff!

I walked into the general area and had so much to do.  I walked right into the restaurant and ordered the BEST GARDEN BURGER in the world with FRUIT salad, and a regular side salad.

Best Garden Burger Ever!

While this cooked.  I started charging my camera.  I saw in the restaurant one of the Canadians and we chatted.  He said he got lost on the trail to Mammoth and headed back to here.  I saw several other PCT hikers who had passed me.  All were thoroughly enjoying their meal.  I chatted with the waitress who said the backpackers who come through are always so appreciative of the food.  Deservingly so, that burger was phenomenal.  I had not really been hungry on the trail, but this burger really hit the spot.  I wolfed it down and ordered another.

Calling my wife and hearing her voice was wonderful.  So elated to speak with her, almost all I could get out was how happy I was to hear her voice.  She was surprised as well.  We talked for 5-10 minutes.  It had been so long since I spoke with her, it was such a release of stress to hear her voice.  I relayed some of my adventures and told her I was about six days away from Yosemite.  I called my mom as well, who was very grateful I was alive. I went back into the restaurant and wolfed down my second burger.  I retrieved my last food bucket from the general store and started sorting through it.  I donated most of the food to the hiker bucket to keep my bag light.  I fiddled around Red’s for almost two hours waiting for my devices to recharge, and headed out.  My goal was Johnson’s meadow.  I had another goal.  I thought talking to my family would stave off some of my homesickness; but it didn’t – it made it worse.  So now instead of six days to Yosemite, I wanted to be knocking on the door in six days.  This meant I’d have to huff it to make it to Happy Isles by 6pm in five days, as that was the last bus to the Merced Amtrak.

Energized by my new plan and two garden burgers I set off with a good pace.  I raced by the Postpile, and started back up out of the valley towards the lakes.  I got confused around Mineret falls.  The JMT and the PCT trails split.  Also several JMT SOBO hikers were coming down from the PCT trail saying that the JMT through Garnet lake was closed, was too dangerous, impassable, blah blah blah. I chose to follow the JMT irrespective of what the other hikers said.  It couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than what I had faced earlier.

Mosquitoes infested Mineret creek, and when I came to the crossing, I didn’t want to dawdle.  The crossing was deep with a medium current.  I walked upstream until I found a suitable place.  The day was late, and I didn’t want to get my boots wet, so I changed to my river booties.  I crossed it like a champ and forged ahead.  There was not campsite nearby.  The air was thick with Mosquitoes and I kept trying to convince myself that just a little farther up away from the creek would be better.  (The things we tell ourselves….).

I was losing light, so I bit the bullet and found a campsite off trails in a wooded area.  I skipped dinner and washing my socks and headed straight for the tent.  My wife had told me that the kids would be home later in the day, so around 7pm with the sun almost down, I peeked at my phone to see if I still had reception.  Hurray!  I called my girls and spoke with them.

Reeling from a wonderful day of connecting with my family I tallied my stats for the day:

15 miles on the day (yay!), 2380 feet of decline and 600 feet of gain.  And what excited me even more was 223 trip miles (149 miles of which was the JMT).  I tried to think out my next few days:  Perhaps I could make it to the ascent to Island Pass tomorrow.  Do two passes the following day, and then be in Yosemite!  I could taste the finish.  I didn’t know if I’d have enough umph to get to Happy Isles, but I’d definitely make it to Tuolome Meadows.

The night was filled with new sounds.  I heard bears and cats.  I heard coyotes and deer barking.   This forest was very active.

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