John Muir Trail, Day 3: Sunrise Camp to Tuolumne Meadows

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I remember thinking that waking up on Day 3 and getting through that day would be the hardest of the whole hike for me. Most of the backpacking trips I’ve been on have been 1 or 2 night adventures, so typically, waking up on the 3rd day means I’m already home or going home that day, and I am hiking to the car. Obviously this trip is a lot different – we were just getting started – so I was a little curious if my brain would think of this or not and if I did, how that day would go from a motivation standpoint.

Answer? Nope. Didn’t think of it at all. What I did think about all day was getting to the end of the day and making it to Tuolumne Meadows before the Grille closed.

J:  backing up a few hours…there is one (and only one) amazing thing about waking up in the middle of the night after an extremely long and exhausting day of hiking, realizing you have to pee like a racehorse, fumbling to get out of your snuggly warm sleeping bag, finding your shoes, unzipping the tent…to see the most amazing night sky. I have been in the middle of nowhere before, but for some reason, the sky around 3am in the High Sierras was one of the most amazing things I saw on this trip.  Sitting there, getting dizzy from staring up at the Milky Way over the meadow was worth all the hassle of getting up in the middle of the night for sure.

But back to the day ahead of us.  As much as I wanted that burger, I think Jennifer and I both agreed that we deserved some rest after the long day we’d just finished, so the burger was priority #2 after sleeping in. We slept in for what would be our latest sleep of the entire trip – probably until 8:30 or so (yeah, that’s sad…). We took our time getting going that morning, enjoying the sun and the meadow in front of us. We also chatted up the nice couple who camped beside us that night (they were dead asleep when we got in), and slowly but surely, we got outta dodge around 10:30.


By the way, I hope you like our outfits. We pretty much wear the same thing every dang day. It made getting dressed AFTER the hike (meaning, in the real world) that much harder.😉.

Looking back, Day 3 really wasn’t that bad at all – not too steep in either direction. All in all, it was relatively manageable. I clearly had sunburn from the jaunt up Half Dome the day before, so the pack wasn’t really that comfy, but not a huge issue.


We stopped for lunch at Cathedral Lakes, which was not a sucky view. The sun was out, it was quiet, and Jennifer was ready for a swim. Me? Oh, I’d rather watch than jump in that ice cold shit. I’ll put my feet in, but other than that, I didn’t have much interest in actually getting IN the lake – I just like staring at them. Jennifer liked to think of it as a bath replacement, but I think we both realized pretty quickly that it more or less just moves the dirt around rather than actually getting rid of it, or removing the stench.


Look how happy Jennifer is in that water! You’d think it wasn’t even cold. She is a good actress.

J:  The warmest lake of the trip!  There is nothing that gets the stench out of your hiking clothes, but those lake dips were refreshing and at the very least rinsed off the dirt and sweat from the day.  It definitely could have been a little warmer though.


This is Cathedral Peak (above). I don’t really have a comment about it other than ‘it’s pretty, isn’t it?’. I’ll probably say that a lot. But when hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, there really isn’t much else to say. It’s just pretty.

J:  While not considered one of the 8 major mountain passes along the JMT, Cathedral pass was the first mountain pass that we went over.  We barely noticed the climb…probably because we’re so badass (or there wasn’t much of one).

I think it’s because we were SO FUCKING BADASS. Or because we had burgers on the brain…


Also, jackasses are everywhere. As well as jackass poop. This was a group of them supplying the people who like to pretend to camp (i.e., glamp. k. I’ll spell it out for you – glamping = GLAMOUR CAMPING – you pay hundreds of dollars to do a little day-hiking and then have people make food for you in the middle of nowhere while you sleep in a relatively nice bed and (probably) take a shower. then, on the next day of your ‘glamping adventure’, you hike to another place a few miles away, daypack on your back, and the jackasses carry all your clothes and food to the next place). Did I say jackass enough? Not sure…

Also, glamping just started to sound good….Can I bring a hairdryer, too?!

J: I have a love/hate relationship with mule/jackass poop…”where’s the trail???  Just follow the poop!”  We rarely got lost.

Ok so anyway, while we thought we had all the time in the day to get to Tuolumne Meadows, the day started getting away from us pretty quickly. Truth be told, we were probably hiking pretty slowly at that point, AND we spent a ton of time at the lake. No shame there. But I still wanted that burger, and we were also hoping to get our first resupply box that day. It would have been there the following morning, too, but something about ending the day with a burger and a resupply box sounded pretty swell.

Well, we ended up going a little further than we thought we had to. The backpackers’ campground, the post office, and the grille were all about a mile off the trail itself. We stopped off at a visitors’ center at which point we realized that we barely had enough time to get there before close. That was my cue to haul ass, and I think we got to the grille literally 5 minutes before they closed for the day. The post office was already closed, but the guy running it (“it” was really was just a room in the back of the convenience store) was standing around and I must have looked really nice that day because he agreed to let us in to get our box.

While there, we again ran into Sean & Cassidy (our father/daughter hiker friends) who were also staying at the backpackers’ campground. We said hi, and proceeded to sit right on the damn ground and chow down.


Mmmmmmm burger!! ICE CREAM!!! ok soft serve. but either way!!!


After this magnificent experience, we made our way to camp, unpacked, and rummaged through our resupply box. We even managed to find a couple of tiny spots along the campsite with cell service and called Chris and Jon before calling it a night.

J:  While I appear happy in that photo, that burger combined with the ice cream, exhaustion, and altitude sickness made me feel horrible a few minutes after consumption.  This night was the first and only time I ever gave away an ice cold beer after hiking.  Something just wasn’t right.

After dinner and settling in, we reflected on the journey thus far, and what we had in store the next day. We quickly realized that our lofty goal of getting up and over Donahue Pass the next day (a 16 mile hiking day with 2,500 feet of elevation to gain) would be nothing short of a miracle, given our speed in a relatively ‘flat’ hiking environment, and the fact that Jennifer clearly wasn’t feeling normal having given away a freaking beer. I should note here that our appetites in general (aside from the burger/soft serve binge) were nowhere near what we anticipated they’d be, and we’d barely touched all the whisky we’d packed. Altitude effect? Heebie jeebies? Just plain too tired to drink?? Still up in the air…

Ultimately, we decided to make a slight modification to our schedule. We decided to instead make it close to Donahue Pass (not over it) and keep Day 4’s mileage at a more reasonable ~10 miles, figuring we’d have more gas in the tank after a couple of slower days. It felt pretty good going to sleep and knowing that we weren’t hiking 16 miles the next day…

Day 3 Details (July 27, 2015):
Start-Finish: Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers’ Camp
Daily Miles: 11.3
Total mileage tally: 32
Total JMT miles: 24.5
Camp elevation: 8,670 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1099 ft gain, 1814 ft loss

All JMT posts page!

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