John Muir Trail, Day 6: Garnet Lake to Red’s Meadow Resort

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It is hard to believe that we’d already been out in the wilderness for 5 full days, and the fact that we were starting our 6th day seemed so surreal. The good part about it is that at the end of this day, we knew there would be some sort of temporary relief in terms of a non-dehydrated meal and possibly a shower at Red’s Meadow Resort.

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Day 6 was another early rise day, something that was becoming a habit since it took us longer than expected to break camp. We were out hiking by 7, ready to tackle whatever came our way, as long as we got that milkshake we’d heard so much about at Red’s!

J:  We woke up at 5am! and were still not packed up and hiking until 7am.  How it took us so long is a mystery, but we were going to get into a rhythm at some point (we hoped).  We knew we were being pokey when we saw the sisters (Brittany and Courtney) hiking up the trail past our campsite as we were eating breakfast.  The race was on to get to those milkshakes at Reds!

We were starting to get used to seeing lakes on the regular – so much so, that I wondered how I’d ever appreciate the numerous hiking trails back home in the Bay Area, none of which have alpine lakes to brag about. Redwoods? Pssshhh.. Ocean views? Lame. Hiking the JMT would forever overshadow any other adventure, this I already knew.

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So as per usual, the first part of Day 6 was pretty stunning. We weren’t too concerned about a huge amount of steep incline or decline – just very steady all day, and a decent number of miles to cover. What we weren’t prepared for was the rocky ass trail – the first mile or so after an initial ascent was one of those sections that will torment you no matter what your ailment – blisters, sore feet, bad knees – these rocks would make anything worse.

J:  It felt good to get the uphill portion of the hike out of the way early in the morning, but that rocky trail felt GREAT on my exploding blistered feet.  The only relief was the distraction of little “meeps” – sounds of the cutest little animals we saw on the trail …picas.  They were fast little suckers, so I never did get a photo, but look them up.  They look kind of like a mix between a bunny and a chipmunk.

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Eventually though, we came out of all the rocks but still had a decent amount of climbing to do. At this juncture, we only (only!) had about 700 feet to climb over a mile or so, but it was an unrelenting steady climb, fortunately through a forest and different terrain from what we’d been used to that day. It was at this point that I’d realized the joys of energy chews – various morsels of sugary, carb-y, electrolyte-y goodness that would prove to be extremely useful when tackling some difficult terrain (watermelon Sports Beans were especially yummy).  Jennifer and I took to it, each climbing at our own pace, but both with a pretty steady rhythm and a feeling of accomplishment as we eventually neared the top. I always felt especially proud when I could climb a section without needing a break, and this section of the trip was when that finally became a little more possible on a regular basis. Our days of stopping “to admire the scenery” (but really because we couldn’t breathe) were hopefully behind us, at least the majority of them ;).

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The views at the top weren’t too bad, either. I think this is the spot where I crossed paths with a fellow hiker with some bell attached to his hip. I just remember hearing it as I approached the end of the climb, but wasn’t exactly sure what the purpose of the bell was – I later learned it was supposed to scare bears away…probably a little bit of overkill, but whatever.

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Look how happy Jennifer is!

J:  I WAS happy!  This was the day we were hiking through the beautiful Ansel Adams Wilderness. This was one of my favorite parts of the trail.  We kept spotting deer along the trail only a few feet away from us.  They would look at us like “what the hell are you looking at?  I’m trying to eat here…” and not give two shits about us.  I’m used to animals skittering away from me as fast as they can, so it was a little surreal.  The views along this part of the trail weren’t too shabby either. No wonder Ansel took so many photos here.  I tried to recreate them with my iPhone.

We also hiked past quite a few lakes today.  We quickly realized after you pass a lake, prepare to go uphill since, you know, water pools at the bottom of those damn mountains that we had to hike through. Needless to say there were quite a few up and downs this day as we passed Shadow Lake, Rosalie Lake, Gladys Lake, and Trinity Lakes.  We kept running into our “trail family” along the way and I think the consensus was that we were all ready for some milkshakes. 

And it was a good thing that the first part of the day was so gorgeous, because the last part of the day ended up being my absolute least favorite portion of the JMT. This section of the trail has a ton of downed trees – it looks like a logging crew came through to clear some land and stopped midway through. Apparently this was an area that was affected by the a windstorm in 2011. We’d pushed off eating lunch, thinking we’d find a good stopping point during this stretch, but we never did and ended up just eating while perched against a few logs. Definitely not the gorgeous vistas we’d come accustomed to on our adventure, but we still managed to spot a deer or two…

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It was also on Day 6 when we started to really notice smoke in the air, which became more and more apparent the closer we got to Red’s Meadow. That’s one really weird part of hiking in the wilderness – even though we still saw people every day, most of us had been out hiking for days and unable to read the news (not that I do that when I have the ability, but still…). When you’re hiking and smelling/seeing/breathing in smoke, it’s a wee bit unsettling, because you have no idea how close the fires are, only that you haven’t been evacuated, so it must be safe, right? Right?

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So we finally got through the half forest/half barren wasteland and made our final approach to Red’s Meadow. As I’d mentioned briefly in the last post, Red’s is a common stopping place for hikers, as well as a common entry/exit place as folks come in from Mammoth Lakes, a little town and popular ski area. We ran into Andrew right before getting to Red’s, and the three of us hiked together a little and wandered around Devil’s Postpile (above), which is pretty freaking cool – it’s some weird sciency phenomenon that occurred from cooling magma following an eruption of basaltic magma thousands of years ago. Apparently Devil’s Postpile is the world’s tallest example of columnar basalt (thanks again, Lizzy book!) aka really badass rock-like sticks piled together. This is another reason people come into the area at Red’s.

When we did finally get to Red’s, we had one and only one mission – FOOD. The three of us immediately found a spot at the bar (old habits die hard, even on the trail!) and ordered food moments later. We were so happy to eat that we didn’t even take pictures of our food. I had a Patty Melt and a strawberry shake. It was hard to chew because I was smiling so hard; for some reason getting real food was so rewarding, so comforting, and so damn good.

J:  The best damn milkshake I’ve ever had.  I almost puked because my stomach wasn’t used to real food, but I finished every last drop.

After eating our early dinner, we ran into Cole, who had gotten to Red’s earlier in the day. He’d somehow managed to get a little cabin for the night as a spot opened up that day. Cole immediately became my most favorite person on earth, as he offered Jennifer and I a bed in his cabin, as well as Andrew, Brittany, and Courtney (who at this point was finally officially known by her real name, and not Kathleen – ha!). This was especially amazing as we realized that the campsites were about a mile away, and my feet were so dang tired that day.

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We were fortunate enough to grab a group picture as all of our ‘trail family’ were finally in one place together, sadly for the last time (L to R: Cole, bag o’ Sun Chips, Jennifer, me, Sean, Cassidy, Andrew, Brittany, Courtney). Sean and Cassidy ultimately decided to leave the JMT at Red’s due to a number of medical issues they were both experiencing. We were super sad to see them go, but ultimately, getting to Red’s was still a huge accomplishment. We watched them board the bus to Mammoth Lakes, and then settled in at Cole’s place, so happy to not be pitching a tent and sleeping on a mat, but instead, a REAL BED!

Jennifer and I also both took a good 30 minutes or so to call Chris and Jon, which was nice even though we’d talked to them a few days ago – this time we had a clear cell signal and could sit and talk without worrying about the call dropping. Had I known how hard it was going to be to talk at our “free day” spot we had in a couple of days, I would have talked longer, but still it was nice to touch base and share our excitement about real food and time with new friends. I should also mention here that the shower we both got that night? Ahhhhh-mazing. Hard to describe how much dirt piles up in 6 days… Also, Brittany had oatmeal cream pies in her resupply that she wanted to get rid of (I know!), and I promptly ate one in exactly 1 bite. Best. Dessert. Ever. (okay, except the milkshake…)

J:  Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d get to talk on the phone to my family and Jon for the next two weeks.  I would have chatted just a little bit longer had I realized…but at the time, there was laundry, showers, and sleep in a real bed to get to.  What an unexpected and generous surprise to rejuvenate us and get ready for the next couple of long hiking days.

Overall, this slice of luxury was really timely, as we knew we had a lot of ground to cover in 2 days in order to make it to our reserved room for our two-night one-day stay over ZERO DAY.

Cole, thank you a thousand more times!


Day 6 Details (July 30, 2015):

Start-Finish: Garnet Lake to Red’s Meadow Resort
Daily Miles: 13.9
Mileage Tally: 67.8
Camp elevation: 7,710 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1,739 ft gain, 3,704 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure 😉. You’re welcome.

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John Muir Trail, Day 5: Lyell Fork Bridge to Garnet Lake

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One of my favorite parts of writing about this hiking trip, day-by-day, is that we get to re-live the adventure months later. Prior to writing, I read through my journal entry for the day, scroll through our pictures, and take a glance at our favorite JMT hiking book by our best best friend Elizabeth Wenk, who we will all eventually just start calling good ol’ Lizzy. It’s fun to reminisce.

For Day 5, I think Jennifer and I both started off feeling pretty optimistic – my cold was a little less bothersome, and Jennifer seemed to be adjusting to the altitude a little better. We’d been out in the woods for over 4 days at this point – a milestone for me given that my longest hike up to that point had been 4 days on the Inca Trail. In fact, when Chris and I started prepping for this trip, I remember telling him that the JMT was basically like doing the Inca Trail 7 times. I don’t think that really helped either one of us, but it at least put things in perspective.

Anyway, Day 5 was particularly memorable. We would cross over Donahue Pass, the first of 8 official JMT passes (and definitely the easiest!), and say goodbye to Yosemite National Park, then we’d continue along, entering one of my favorite areas, the Ansel Adams Wilderness…

J:  AND another big milestone on Day 5… first poop in the woods! There was nothing left to be anxious about.  I think that, plus the electrolytes we started drinking in our water helped with the altitude sickness.  Day 5 was off to a great start!

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The hike up to Donahue Pass really wasn’t all that bad. We got an early start, but certainly not earlier than our soon-to-be friends, Brittany and “Kathleen” aka Courtney. They were up and out before I had time to make coffee, something we’d later learn was extremely typical.

It was a relatively quiet morning, the weather was nice, and our ascent up to Donahue was relatively straightforward, with a lot of picture ops. We took a lot of little stops along a stream, one of about 10,000 we crossed on this trail. At one moment, we turned around and saw someone creeping up behind us. Ok, not creeping, because that would be, well, creepy. What we really saw was just plain annoying – this young whippersnapper literally bouncing up the mountain, looking fresh (ok, fresh for the woods), spry, full of energy. It should also be mentioned that this asshole wasn’t even wearing hiking boots, but rather, Tevas. SANDALS! NO SOCKS! Andrew aka Tigger is lucky we were both in a good mood that morning. We would later learn to forgive him for his youth; remembering where we met him now just brings a smile to my face.

J:  We stopped to eat a snack at this little lake right before tackling the “really tough” part of the climb up the rest of Donohue Pass.  I remember almost peeing my pants because we stopped and then this “kid in sandals” just stopped too (or maybe he was already there?) and kept taking photos and chatting with us.  My bladder was bursting by the time he hopped up the mountain, but I’m really glad we took the time to chat with Andrew that day because he ended up being one more member of our little trail family.  He might not have wanted to hike/camp with us if I’d just popped a squat on the side of the trail while he was trying to take his artsy photos that morning.  

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So we conquered Pass #1 of the JMT. It felt a little bit like a big deal, hence the celebratory pictures – which by the way, were taken at each pass, so get used to this. Later on, we also pretty much ate a Snickers bar at each pass – one of my favorite traditions. Also, please note the ‘janky shades’ with a small piece of turquoise duct tape on the right, courtesy of Day 4. Other than my shades, I gotta say, we actually looked pretty decent at this point.

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We stayed up on Donahue for a couple of minutes and then continued our journey, quickly noticing the change in scenery now that we’d moved away from Yosemite and into Ansel Adams – rockier on the descent, but now visible in the distance was the trail ahead, some small patches of snow still tucked into many of the mountains, and although there was definitely less air up there, we felt a little stronger given the miles we’d covered up to this point.

J:  I had to pee again on top of Donohue and think I ruined another fat marmot’s house trying to find a rock big enough to hide behind…BUT after that business was taken care of, I could celebrate with Heather and focus on the fact that we’d just climbed up to 11,056 feet  and conquered our first mountain pass!  Pretty damn awesome.

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Throughout the day, we’d continue to cross paths with Andrew as well as Sean & Cassidy – we even ended up at the same spot for lunch and chatted for a few minutes. We had of course met Cole the day before at Tuolumne, and I distinctly remember Jennifer talking to him at one of our breaks during the day, at a time where I was desperately trying to pee and for the life of me couldn’t find a spot where someone couldn’t see me. This would become less and less of an issue as the trail itself continued to become more sparse the further we distanced ourselves from Yosemite.

For most of the day, Jennifer and I were hiking alone, but often times would cross paths with someone hiking through in the other direction (South to North). Most of the time we would say hi and each continue on our way, but on occasion we’d stop for a few moments to chat. Once, we stopped and talked to a solo hiker who had just gotten onto the JMT and had been hiking ‘trail-less’ up until that point. Whhaaaaattt??!!! Now that’s just crazy talk.

We also stopped at Thousand Island Lake for a decent break where Sean, Cassidy, and Andrew were also hanging out. Jennifer decided it had been too long without an alpine swim, so she hopped in; meanwhile I got up enough courage to rinse my hair and finally run a brush through it. That process took way longer than expected.

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J:  It was so hot and that water looked too good to pass up, so of course I got in!  

While we were stopped here, we encountered a teenage boy and family friend who were looking for the boy’s mom – his mom had gotten a late start due to altitude sickness and was supposed to meet up nearby but they had failed to come across her – they weren’t sure if she’d made it that far, or if they’d missed one another during the day. Sadly, we don’t know if they ever found her, as they continued North after that point. It’s easy to forget how isolated the JMT is when hiking with a friend and crossing paths with familiar faces throughout the day – this was a huge wake up call – we were truly in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilization.

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I took a couple more pictures of Thousand Island Lake (above is one) while Jennifer finished up her swim – this was one of the prettiest spots we’d seen so far, so we tried to forget that we had some more climbing to do before getting to Garnet Lake, our stop for the night.

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We got to Garnet Lake later in the day than usual – probably closer to 6 or 7 given our longer stop earlier. But the lake was gorgeous – plenty of good photo ops while we set up camp, cleaned up, filled up water, and made dinner.

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We passed a few people on the way to the camping spot where we stopped for the night, but we never actually saw anyone. But once we got settled in and walked to the edge of the lake to wash up, we noticed people on the other side – we’d later come to know that a lot of the people we’d already met ended up on the North side of the lake – Cole, Sean & Cassidy, and Brittany & Courtney/Kathleen.

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I don’t remember why J took this picture – probably because my hair was frightful which was particularly noteworthy. But it’s a good point to show you our typical set-up at night, once we got settled.  By this point, we more or less had a routine going. Jennifer had become the ‘tent nazi’, which meant she basically did the whole tent stuff herself. We only argued about this every other night, but now it’s pretty funny.

J: Heather took the artsy landscape photos and I tried to capture the grittiness of the trail.  Don’t worry, my hair looked just as awesome.  

I knew it was only a matter of time before the “tent nazi” story came up.  There was bound to be something that just pissed us off about each other on this trip.  We’re lucky it was something as dumb as camp duties and nobody got shoved off the mountain.  If anyone is reading this thinking about hiking with someone for 20 straight days, I’d advise you to choose your hiking partner wisely.  Figure out a way to work through stupid fights and if you come out the other side still speaking to each other, you’ll be better friends for it…right H?  

Right, Simpson! I’m glad we got the “tent nazi” story out in the open. Ha ha ha. Thanks for not pushing me off the mountain…

Anyway, while J did her tent thing, I would usually do the “lady chores” – I’d go refill some of our water and get things set up for dinner, as well as snap a few pictures if the mood struck. We’d then each take turns changing into some PJs in the tent and ‘cleaning up’, which for me basically meant wiping myself down with a couple of baby wipes, rinsing my feet in the lake, and changing into camp shoes/sandals. After we got cleaned up, we’d eat a lovely dehydrated dinner out of a plastic bag, as we were doing in the picture (above). Note that the food was still tasting ok at this point even though we weren’t eating as much as we thought. We were still yet to repeat a dinner, though that rotation would soon start kicking in since we had 5 different meals. We’d then make our way to the tent (but had to pee before getting in, otherwise risking having to go in the cold, cold middle of the night) and most nights write in our journals, and pass out.

For Day 6, our plan would be to make it to Red’s Meadow, a common resupply, shower, laundry, and break point on the JMT, and also a common entry/exit point for section hikers. The shower was calling my name, but the thought of another fresh meal and laundry didn’t sound too bad either! It was nice going to sleep after a good journey on Day 5, knowing we’d get a little ‘luxury’ soon, including the possibility of a cell signal and chance to chat with our respective husbands.

 


Day 5 Details (July 29, 2015):

Start-Finish: Lyell Fork Bridge to Garnet Lake
Daily Miles: 11.9
Total mileage tally: 53.9
Total JMT miles: 45.4
Camp elevation: 9,690 ft
Hiking Elevation: 3,585 ft gain, 2,507 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure 😉. You’re welcome.