The 2006 John Muir Trail Hike


Early morning at Evolution Lake, the usual unsatisfactory breakfast of instant oatmeal, hot drink and one energy bar to get moving after breaking camp. So it begins … another hard day on the John Muir Trail, looking forward to the daily allotment of two remaining energy bars, rationed out over the next eight hours and thirteen miles to Le Conte ranger station. It's a cold start as Lucy and I move off along the eastern shore of the lake, well before the sun rises above the 13,000 foot eastern ridgeline. Fortunately this is California and we're in the Sierras, so we can anticipate a 30 degree temperature boost when the sun finally reaches us at the bottom of the deep valley.

Two hours later we're moving fast, wrapped in the sun's warmth, an azure sky above and a light katabatic wind drifting down the slopes from the surrounding snow covered summits. We reach the shore of Wanda Lake at an elevation of 11,500', speak briefly with two hikers that have camped in the lee of a large boulder in a landscape otherwise devoid of any protection from the wind. We can see Muir Pass to the south and the trail snaking along the western shore of the lake until reaching the switchbacks that lead to the Pass and the stone hut 500' above the lake.

As we begin the climb up the switchbacks, Lucy pulls well ahead of me … either she's moving faster than last year, or more probably, I'm moving slower. It's just after 10 am when I stagger onto the Pass and approach the Muir Hut that sits at it's apex. Lucy, with pack off, is sitting on the stone steps of the hut with three young men offering her gifts of canned beer and hotdogs (complete with buns, mustard and ketchup). Lucy declines this manna from such an unlikely location … a 12,000' high pass, two to three day's hike from the nearest trailhead and involving a minimum cumulative ascent of 5,000'. I have no reservations: eating and drinking everything that's thrust into my hands by these Three Kings of the Wilderness … whoever they may be, and for whatever they're performing this service for. The absolute joy of this breakfast of champions … cold beer and hotdogs after days of dehydrated meals and energy bars, ahead and behind.

 

  • Peter standing above Garnet Lake with Ritter and Banner Peaks behind Peter standing above Garnet Lake with Ritter and Banner Peaks behind
  • Our 10,000' camp-site at Island Pass, with Banner Peak behind Our 10,000' camp-site at Island Pass, with Banner Peak behind
  • The summit block of Mt. Lyell in Yosemite NP The summit block of Mt. Lyell in Yosemite NP
  • Lucy descending the steep switch-backs on the granite slabs above Pocket Meadow Lucy descending the steep switch-backs on the granite slabs above Pocket Meadow
  • Peter descending the steep switch-backs on the granite slabs above Pocket Meadow Peter descending the steep switch-backs on the granite slabs above Pocket Meadow
  • On the descent from Selden Pass to the lakes above Muir Ranch On the descent from Selden Pass to the lakes above Muir Ranch
  • On the bridge that crosses the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. On the bridge that crosses the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.
  • Our camp at 10,900' by Evolution Lake, looking south towards Muir Pass Our camp at 10,900' by Evolution Lake, looking south towards Muir Pass
  • Lucy with fellow hikers on Muir Pass. Lucy with fellow hikers on Muir Pass.
  • Beer and hotdogs for breakfast at the Muir Hut .. compliments of Graham, Javin and Joe. Beer and hotdogs for breakfast at the Muir Hut .. compliments of Graham, Javin and Joe.
  • Peter standing on the summit of Mather Pass.  The Palisades behind. Peter standing on the summit of Mather Pass. The Palisades behind.
  • The morning calm at Rae Lakes. The morning calm at Rae Lakes.
  • Lucy reaching the summit of Glenn Pass Lucy reaching the summit of Glenn Pass
  • Children of the JMT ... Haven, Kai and Andrew Children of the JMT ... Haven, Kai and Andrew
  • Lucy on the 13,200' Forester Pass Lucy on the 13,200' Forester Pass
  • Last night on the Trail ... Peter and Lucy with Sheryl, Dan and Ray. Last night on the Trail ... Peter and Lucy with Sheryl, Dan and Ray.
  • Lucy and our camp at Guitar Lake. Lucy and our camp at Guitar Lake.
  • Evening at Guitar Lake Evening at Guitar Lake
  • Early morning on the last day, climbing the switchbacks to Mt. Whitney Early morning on the last day, climbing the switchbacks to Mt. Whitney
  • On the summit of Mt. Whitney, watching two climbers coming up the hard way! On the summit of Mt. Whitney, watching two climbers coming up the hard way!
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Eating and leaving is not an option and we settle down with the "three boys from the Bay" … Graham, Joe and Javin, who came up with the idea to provide a treat for through-hikers on the John Muir Trail at one of it's more inaccessible points. Between them, they'd backpacked 80 cans of beer, hotdogs, buns and condiments up two 12,000' passes and a distance of 21 miles. Then set up camp 1000' below Muir Pass (Muir Hut is an emergency shelter only – no camping), ascending each morning to the hut to set up a way-side cafe for the likes of us. I've often commented that you meet a good class of people in the mountains, but these guys are real gems, not easily forgotten.

And so it happens … the beer and hotdog stand at 12,000' on Muir Pass becomes the talk of the JMT for the 2006 through-hikers. Many who crossed the Pass either before or after the boys were operating their café suspect the story is a hoax, nothing more than a wondrous mountain dream by cuisine starved hikers too long on the trail. In the days that follow, Lucy and I take great delight in telling the skeptics just how good the food and beer tasted and to marvel at how much effort was required for the boys to hump the supplies in, and the trash out.

This one magical day, crossing Muir Pass, really set the tone for our JMT hike this year. Until then, the ten days of walking from Tuolumne Meadows had been fairly routine. We began at Tuolumne on August 16, with a leisurely four days planned to reach Reds Meadow, taking the opportunity to camp at Island Pass and Rosalie Lake … two beautiful locations we'd missed in previous years. After a day out at Mammoth, which included positioning our vehicle at South Lake trailhead, we continued south to Purple Lake, Silver Pass, Bear Creek (no sidestep to VVR), Piute Pass intersection and then Evolution Lake.

After leaving Muir Pass we descended into Le Conte Canyon, spent that night by the ranger station, getting reacquainted with Dave Gordon, the local ranger and then the following morning climbed the 3,000' to cross Bishop Pass on our re-supply mission from South Lake. Two days later we were back at Le Conte, carrying an eight day supply of food and fuel for the completion of the hike to Mount Whitney. Ranger Dave Gordon informed us of a large party of through-hikers going our way and two days ahead. This party consisted of two couples and their combined five children, ranging in ages from 7 to 11. We were fascinated by this news: How could the four adults manage to carry the necessary trail supplies, equipment, clothing, spare footwear and emergency gear for themselves and the small children whose packs would be very limited in weight? How could they keep the children motivated with the physical demand of hiking an average of 10 miles, and climbing 2,000 – 3,000' every day … for at least three weeks? And how about dealing with injuries, illness and the threat of mountain lions which would naturally be attracted to the movement of small humans?

Five days later, below Glen Pass, we caught up with the family; spoke at length with Lisa and Katie, the two mothers of the group and watched the four youngest children: Andrew (10), Kai (10), Häven (9) and Ahmae (7), fully occupied around their camp writing trail diaries, studying insects, wildflowers and adding another "Pass Crossing Bead" to their leather neckbands. The two fathers and eldest son, Kevin (11), had hiked ahead for a re-supply rendezvous at Kearsage Pass … the next closest access to civilization. In the days leading up to this most memorable meeting, some hikers had expressed dismay at what the family was attempting, concerned that the children had been placed in harm's way by their foolhardy parents. Lucy and I found this to be far from the truth. When we met them, the children were in great shape and very excited as they counted the days down to reaching the Whitney summit. Traveling with these resourceful, well organized folk was a special time during this year's JMT walk.

The final days of our trip were relatively easy and on schedule, with excellent weather to the summit of Mount Whitney. However the descent to Whitney Portal was into the teeth of a series of thunderstorms that built up rapidly against the eastern escarpment, bringing down hail, rain and lightning strikes. Obviously time to be out of the mountains, and certainly off the high passes and ridgelines!

See the 2006 JMT Schedule


©2012 Peter W Tremayne, Reno NV

 


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