John Muir Trail, Day 13: Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadows

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I know, I know. We get on a roll and then we fall off the wagon again! But you just wait – Jennifer and I are determined to get to the end of this blogging adventure before the 1-year anniversary of us finishing this thing last year. Writing this here will hold us to it, right?!

Ok, so where were we? We just had a most amazing Day 12 – I carried Jennifer across the creek to keep her feet dry, we had lunch in McClure Meadow with our trail fam, we meandered around Evolution Valley, and we camped at Sapphire Lake where we had one of the most beautiful sunsets of our entire lives. Day 12 was pretty un-sucky, so we were hoping the good vibes would continue along to Day 13.


Since we’d camped at Sapphire Lake, we actually only had a short distance to go before getting to Muir Pass, the 4th of the 8 major passes on the JMT and home of the famous Muir Trail Hut. Our entire group started around the same time and before long, we’d covered the ~3 miles and 800 feet of elevation to make it up to the pass relatively early in the morning.

J:  The Muir hut! I was actually looking forward to this pass because of the hut.  It’s one of only a few man-made landmarks along the trail.  Maybe it’s the architect in me, but I thought it was pretty fascinating to see an 86 year old stone hut still standing in the middle of this incredible wilderness.  It was also a really nice place to hide from the wind and marmots to eat our snickers bars and celebrate climbing another pass!


group picture at the Muir Trail Hut

We spent a ton of time at the pass because, why the hell not?! It felt like a special kind of victory to make it to this point – the hut is something you read about frequently when planning for and considering hiking the JMT, so seeing it in the flesh (well, stone) was one of those really major feelings of accomplishment.


plaque inside the hut


two sexy beasts at the hut

On our way up to Muir Pass, we hiked past a couple of girls making their way early in the day as well. Luckily, we stayed long enough for them to meet up with us, as meeting them was one of the highlights of the trip. They had been writing songs throughout their hike and were dying to play in the hut to test out the acoustics, so of course we stayed and listened for a while. One of them had a ukulele (you should have seen how I spelled that in my journal..), which fortunately, doesn’t add a lot of weight to your pack; it was really a special moment for all of us – I probably got a little teary-eyed just listening and realizing how lucky I was to be there on that day, at that time, and with so many amazing people.

J:  We sat in the hut for a while chatting with the girls (Sophie from NYC and Anna from MD – who knew where my itty bitty hometown was!).  There was also another group of hikers including an older guy who told us a story about his family hiking over the pass with 7 kids and his mom was pregnant with him…yes, pregnant!  She had broken her arm (or something) and had stayed in the hut while waiting for the rescue team to help them out.  Crazy story!  Then the girls broke out their ukulele and played us some songs.  It was definitely one of my favorite moments of the whole hike. 


the duo singing in the hut

Eventually, we all decided it was time to get going. We were all sort of dreading it, because as per usual the wind was picking up at the top of the pass and we were getting chilly – never a fun way to start a descent, but it wasn’t going to change any time soon!


For the rest of the day, we were going down, down, down. The first part of the descent from the pass is always a little steep and fast-moving, but eventually it evens out a little as you descend into the next valley. We were starting to learn this routine, but as we continued south, the passes would be higher up, the ascents and descents on either side just a little bit more steep with each one. Muir Pass elevation was 11,980 ft, and our anticipated stop for the day was down at 8,830.

The five of us all hiked together on the way down from Muir Pass – Jennifer’s feet were feeling better, were staying dry, and the duct tape was on tight! My feet were continuing to hurt pretty badly each morning, but a little Ibuprofen seemed to do the trick, as long as I took 2-3 each morning and another round at night.

J:  I was definitely worried about the steep descent from Muir pass, especially after the brutal downhill on Day 11 heading into MTR.  I was pretty gimpy and slow, but my feet held up ok.  I was starting to rely a little less on my hiking poles to keep steady which was a pretty good sign that the duct tape was doing something right.  

We’d all go at slightly different paces throughout the day, but all in all weren’t too far from one another. Courtney seemed to be in a race with herself that day and disappeared ahead of us all for a while, and Brittany and I kept a similar pace for a large part of the descent, with Jennifer not too far behind us. Who knows where Andrew was… he’d lollygag for a while to shoot some photos and then catch up when he was finished, so I never remembered if he was ahead of us or behind at any given point!


Jennifer is dead here. Duh.

Fortunately, Jennifer, Brittany, and I spotted the giant whale head of a stone, where we just had to take some silly pictures. This spot is pretty popular on the JMT – who knows how long ago someone had the idea to make stone eyes and stone teeth with the rocks around the giant stone – we knew we’d come across it soon, and glad we found it! Courtney blew right past it, but by the time we found her, we were too far away from it for her to go back for pictures :(.


I was about to be dead, too.


We stopped as a group around 4:30 at Grouse Meadows, a campsite slightly before our ‘planned’ stop of the day, but not by much. Jennifer and I decided we’d rather stay with our buddies instead of hike another mile or two further, plus we’d already covered 14 miles. We shared the campsite with Samuel, a really nice young guy who was solo-hiking. It was pretty eerie, as he was also from NC (Charlotte). Did we mention that Courtney and Brittany grew up in NC, too? I can’t remember…anyway, it was weird that 5 out of 6 of us at this campsite had some ties to NC. Andrew was the oddball here, since he’s always lived in the Midwest.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were corrupting Samuel with talk of poop – as we get set up at camp, it’s always a conversation because we all had to pick our ‘spots’ for the next morning – one slight disadvantage of group camping! I think Samuel thought we were funny, but probably also thought we were super weird, and he was probably ready to get back to his solo hiking the next day.

J:  At Grouse Meadows we also started visibly noticing that the sky was getting a lot smokier.  It was kind of nerve racking since we had zero way of finding out exactly where the smoke was coming from.  We all decided that if we were in immediate danger then we would have seen a ranger or at least signs on one of the many trail posts along the way telling us we needed to evacuate.  As it turns out, this was only the start of a pretty horrible season of wildfires.  Looking back, I’m glad we were on the trail when we were because if we’d been hiking even a week later, we would have had to make some tough choices about leaving the trail because of the wildfires in the Sierras. Regardless, I didn’t sleep well and had nightmares about getting swallowed up by fire that night.  It also didn’t help that Brittany and Courtney thought they heard a bear outside our tents… false alarm (I think).

That’s about it for Day 13 – time to call it a night and rest up for another big day ahead – the day we’d tackle the Golden Staircase!

Day 13 Details (August 6, 2015):

Start-Finish: Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadows
Daily Miles: 14.0
Mileage Tally: 154.9
Camp elevation: 8,400 ft (the last of the “low elevation” stops!)
Hiking Elevation: 877 ft gain; 3,512 ft loss

2 thoughts on “John Muir Trail, Day 13: Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadows

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