John Muir Trail, Day 17: Rae Lakes to Upper Bubbs Creek

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Alrighty! The start of Day 17, to me, was so very different than the other days. I knew we had a lot of climbing to do, and I was actually excited about getting to Glen Pass, if only to see the beautiful Rae Lakes from a different angle. But I also knew that our hiking routines would change drastically when we met up with Chris, so this was the last morning that Jennifer and I had to stick with our normal routine. Jennifer on the other hand, was probably glad of this, as it meant she’d get that pristine tent all to herself ;).

It was also crazy to think that after 16 full days of hiking, I’d reunite with my husband in a matter of hours if all went according to plan. He’d show up like our knight in shining armor – a fresh smile and a pack full of food, duct tape, apple cider powder, whiskey, and wine! This was all very very exciting. The least exciting part was that he’d written a sentence in my journal the night before that said, “This is your last chance to talk about poop”. I’m sure he knew this really wasn’t going to happen, but he sure did try to clean us up!

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Rae Lakes and the Painted Lady were just as stunning in the morning as they were the night before. It was really hard to walk away from this beautiful spot – it really was the best campsite ever.

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Rae Lakes selfie!

We were happy to have an extra mile out of the way since we’d stayed at Rae Lakes, but since Brittany and Courtney usually hit the trail earlier than we do, we felt pretty certain we’d run into them shortly after we started. Sure enough, about 30 minutes into our hike, we heard them coming up behind us! We all hiked together for a good part of the ascent up to Glen Pass, but eventually they went ahead of us, while Jennifer and I stayed back and took a few more pictures here and there.

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J:  On the way out of Rae Lakes, we stopped to take about 50 million photos.  I’m so glad we stopped to camp there the night before.  Since we had estimated we wouldn’t meet Chris until later in the afternoon, we knew we had plenty of time to get to the meeting point so I had no issues taking my time heading out of Rae Lakes and getting up that mountain.

The morning was pretty chilly, as usual, but not as bad as it had been on the prior two mornings. We had about 3 miles and 1,500 feet to climb – it didn’t sound like it was going to be that hard, but it seemed to go on forever. I think the tricky part with Glen Pass is that you can see so much of the pass while you’re hiking, and you can see so many people up ahead of you as you go up each switchback. But the views – man, the views! Amazing – it was worth stopping often just to stare. We’d get there eventually.

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J:  This view (above) looking up to the top of Glen sort of sums it up…climbing mountains is hard work.  Glen Pass was probably one of my least favorites.  It was a rocky trail that just kept winding up and up through multiple switchbacks.  When you thought you saw the end in sight, the trail would take another turn.  Once you finally get to the top, the trail follows the ridge of the mountain, which is pretty cool as long as it isn’t too windy.

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the final jaunt along the ridge, with Brittany and Courtney in the background

Once we got to the top, we met a really friendly, chatty girl who was solo-hiking the Rae Lakes Loop. We’d come across a few people here and there who were hiking various sections of the JMT, and not the entire trail. We learned a little about the loop she was doing (~40 miles or so), and both Jennifer and I immediately made a mental note to come back to do this in a few years – it was by far our favorite part of the trail, and a place we both knew we’d want to revisit.

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the usual celebratory Snickers bar! And this is a great picture to really illustrate the use of duct tape on both of our pairs of sunglasses. go us!

Brittany and Courtney were waiting for Andrew (he’d done his usual – taking his time and starting after everyone, since he was able to hop on up the trails pretty quickly), so we stayed up there for a bit too and took the opportunity to get a group photo since there were people at the pass. Plus – we had plenty of time to go before we thought Chris would show up at our meet up spot, so why not?

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Jennifer, Heather, Courtney, Brittany – looking North

After a few more minutes of admiring the views and letting the wind continue to chap our lips, the 5 of us started the descent into the Bubbs Creek area. The views down looking south to Charlotte Lake weren’t too shabby either, and we’d heard the lake itself was really nice. We’d run into Samuel one last time, and he’d mentioned he was going to check it out possibly.

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view from the JMT of Charlotte Lake  with smoky skies in the distance

We eventually separated from the rest of the group and made our way to the junction where we’d turn off the JMT and meet up with Chris. It was hard to believe that we were just hours away from seeing him! We turned off at the Bullfrog Lake Junction and made our way to Bullfrog Lake, which was not quite a mile off the trail.

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pretty sure this is the view East from Bullfrog Lake, and the dip in the back mountains was Kearsarge Pass, where Chris came from.

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It was a nice place to chill out for a while – we had lunch and just lounged around. But for Chris to make it to us, a lot of pieces on his end had to come together, too. We were happy we’d kept to our end of the deal and were where we were supposed to be with plenty of time to spare!

Chris’ plan: Drive down from San Francisco to Lone Pine on Saturday where he’d pick up his section permit and rent a small bear canister. He had a night down in Lone Pine in case he needed the next day to get those things accomplished (the drive was over 6 hours) and was to meet Paul with East Side Sierra Shuttle mid morning on Sunday down at Whitney Portal, where he’d leave the car for the week. Paul was to drive him up to Independence (30 minutes or so) where he’d check in at the Mt Williamson Hotel, then the plan was a breakfast the following morning (today/Monday), a courtesy drive from Stryder to the Onion Valley Trailhead at which point he’d likely be hitting the trail around 10AM.

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The hike from Onion Valley to the JMT via Bullfrog Lake was about 7.5 miles, and probably a little under 7 miles to the actual meet-up point – Bullfrog Lake. So I’d figured the absolute earliest he’d be at the lake if he left at 10 was 1:30 that afternoon, since the hike in required a trip over Kearsarge Pass which wasn’t easy by any stretch – a gain of about 2,600 feet, and then the descent to the lake and the JMT – and he hadn’t been hiking for 2 weeks in elevation. I’d allowed a grace period after 1:30 until about 4 – which was the point I felt like I should worry if we didn’t see him. I’m sure it sounds silly, but it was just a lot of pieces that needed to work out!

The good part of that is that we had a decent amount of time to just hang out without thinking about it, but once 1:30 hit, it was hard to not look up every minute or two! Jennifer told me to chill but it was really hard – I knew he was fine, but of all the things we’d planned, this was the one thing I had absolutely no control over once we started the JMT – I just had to know it would work.

J:  Oh man…Heather did not “know it would work” and was kinda freaking out a little.  I knew this day, this moment, would be tough for her since she had zero control over this situation.  

While Heather went and put up signs along the trail and asked anyone that passed by if they’d passed a hiker in a green shirt, I tried to get her to relax and eat some lunch and just WAIT…It was hard work.

Oh shit. I completely forgot that I put signs up. Thanks for trying to reassure me, Jennifer! I really did try not to be a total nutcase.

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duo becomes a trio! Chris didn’t warn me that he’d bought a really dorky Rush bandana ;).

I knew what he’d be wearing (his green shirt) so I knew I’d be able to spot him pretty easily. Surely enough, around 2:30, I saw a green shirt on the other side of the lake. Jennifer and I both stood up to look closer and I saw him raise his hiking poles in the air – confirmation that it was him and he knew it was us, too! It took another few minutes to get around to our entrance to the lake, but man, were we excited. I of course was all weepy with happiness, relief, and admiration for him – he was carrying 5 days of food for 3 people, after all! I think Jennifer was pretty happy too – I mean, they aren’t married or anything, but it was still nice to see a familiar face, AND it meant we had made it to the final ‘stretch’. We were all so badass is what it meant – clearly.

J:  He made it!!! It was so good to see another familiar face and hear stories from the “real world”, about Jon (my husband), and about Chris’ adventure in to meet up with us.  I was especially excited that he’d brought us wine, whiskey, and more duct tape!

Chris had a hiking buddy he’d met on the shuttle in, and they had hiked together up to this point, and even stopped at Kearsarge Pass for lunch. They really hit it off, so I was glad to know he had a good adventure in. We said goodbye to his friend, stayed at the lake for a little longer, and eventually got moving since we had about 5 miles to go before meeting up with the rest of the group.

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[I should mention here, since we haven’t talked about it too much, that our little GPS Spot tracker that I carried on my pack was what looked to be low on battery at this point (and other times along the trail). So we didn’t waste batteries, we’d usually wait until the battery died before replacing it so we could ensure we didn’t run out of supplies – it used more battery than expected, and we’d already bought more at VVR. I later learned that when the ‘low battery’ light was on, it actually wasn’t transmitting – so there was basically no tracking us the day before while we hiked with the low battery AND while we waited for Chris. I know this was difficult for people at home who were tracking us, knowing this meet-up was taking place but not knowing where we were – it later remedied itself as we changed the batteries right when we learned from Chris that there were times it wasn’t working – and we learned later this was one of them. This was one of the reasons I had voted against (and lost) even having this device – I didn’t want people to worry if it malfunctioned! At the end of the day though – it gave more comfort (and fun!) to people than worry, so it was probably worth it.]

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not too shabby…trail after scooping up Chris at Bullfrog Lake

Ok, so with that – most of the rest of the day was downhill until the last little bit, but as usual the last section of the day never seems to end! It took us quite a while to get there, but we took a lot of breaks along the way, readjusted our supplies, and we eventually met up with Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew at yet another awesome campsite long Bubbs Creek. It was fun introducing everyone and exchanging stories. Chris quickly learned that he’d have to hear poop stories from us all. And one of the best parts aside from him being there? He’d also brought in some booze – something we hadn’t really wanted until recently. So we all had a nice cup of whiskey + apple cider powder (thanks, Safeway! and Chris!) that night before hitting the sack.

J:  We also shared this amazing oreo pudding concoction that I’d been carrying.  It was like a little dinner party…almost.  Drinks, dinner, and dessert.  Then, the best part, I got a tent all to myself for the final few days…so luxurious.

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view from our campsite at Bubbs Creek

As much as Jennifer wanted me to stay in the tent with her, I didn’t. I heard her crying a little that night, but it didn’t last long ;).

Tomorrow? The biggest pass of them all – Forester. What a day…


Day 17 details (August 10, 2015):

Start-finish: Rae Lakes to Bullfrog Lake to Upper Bubbs Creek
Daily miles: 10.0
Mileage tally: 200.4
Camp elevation:10,000 ft
Hiking elevation: 1,439 ft gain; 1,831 ft loss

John Muir Trail, Day 15: Lower Palisade Lake to Marjorie Lake

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I hate to start the post by complaining, but damn, Day 15 was a really rough morning. So I’m going to.  For starters, there were so many hikers at camp the night before that there was practically nowhere to poop this morning without someone either 1) watching you or 2) running into you while you were mid-poop. We expected the campsite to be relatively full due to it being the closest one to Mather Pass, but geez, it was like every person hiking the JMT decided to stop at Lower Palisade Lakes. And it wasn’t even right on the lake!

J:  Either we had jambalaya for dinner the night before or I was just nervous about having zero privacy, but somehow I woke up at 5:30 am (about half an hour before almost everyone else) and practically ran out of the tent.  I beat the crowd and found a spot behind a huge rock far enough from the rest of the camp sites to take care of things pretty quickly.  

Once my ‘bizniss’ was taken care of (in case you were wondering, I was only seen by 1 person – that I know of), we moved relatively quickly to get out of camp, and if I recall correctly, this meant I didn’t have any morning coffee (I didn’t write that down in my journal, probably because I wanted to forget it, but I do recall this happening which added to said unhappiness). Also, it was the coldest morning we’d had, and my cheap ass cotton gloves were simply not doing the trick. Despite the fact that we were ascending, it took a good 30 minutes to warm up, and then, of course, we had to stop and shed a layer or two since we were just going up and up.

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shady, freezing north side of the pass with Palisade Lake in the background

On top of all that nonsense, this pass was really fucking hard. Or maybe it was hard because of those things? I don’t know – I just didn’t have my A game with me. More like a B-. It was a loooong 3.8 miles to the top, which was an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. It felt like it just kept going and going; you’d round one corner only to have another – it felt like we were hiking all around the pass, but never close to it. I remember looking up once and seeing Brittany and Courtney – they seemed so. far. away (probably because they were). They waved once, and I just wanted to shoot a harpoon at them. I’m only half-kidding here.

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view of the sunny, but steep south side of the pass

In case you’re dying of suspense – we finally made it to the top and it only took about 1.5 hours, which isn’t too shabby I suppose. Notice there are no pictures until then. We putzed around a little and left pretty soon because 1) there was not much room there and 2) we got cold again.

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And as the world turns here in JMT land, we started our descent, which was a little steeper than the trip up, and the wind really knocks you around on the way down. I think this is the descent where Jennifer opted for hiking sandals instead of her boots to see if that helped with going down, since that seems worse on the blisters and blisters in blisters. I’ll let her elaborate here though…

J:  I DID put my Chacos on to hike down the steep side of the pass.  I probably should have just hiked in my Chacos the whole time since my feet were still so swollen, but I was worried about getting too much dirt and debris in my open blisters causing infection.   So, I just tested it out on the downhill.  Which was awesome…until I stubbed my toe on a huge rock.  

This is what the downhill full of rocky switchbacks looked like (below).  See those ants at the bottom?  That’s probably Brittany and Courtney.  Most people are way faster going downhill, but that was probably my slowest part with my new blister friends.  The Chacos were definitely a good temporary solution though.

swtchbacks heading down mather

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Once you get a decent ways down, it starts looking pretty barren. But pretty quickly you get back into some trees and streams. We stopped at a nice little spot for lunch, meeting up with the rest of the group. I would have LOVED to have taken a nap at this quiet little place where we had lunch, but I was quickly outnumbered because everyone wanted a head start from the crowd for getting to our next stop in case it was as crowded as last night.

So – away we went.

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J:  We always started out hiking as a group from the top of the pass or from our lunch spot, but I pretty quickly typically ended up hiking by myself for most of the day.  I didn’t mind at all.  I could go at my own pace with my gimpy feet and not worry about anyone else. AND I could sing along to my tunes while I got lost in thought or in the crazy beautiful scenery.

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I don’t think I ever really got my groove back on Day 15, because the second part of the day was pretty hard too. I wasn’t ready for the incline already, and we had to ascend a couple thousand feet over the next two miles – it just never stops! Luckily, it was really pretty, which is what I said, and felt often. And also, I had the trail to myself, so I turned on the tunes, which certainly helped.

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I stopped at this spot (above) for a little snack (probably some Goldfish) and chilled out for a good 10 minutes, which felt nice. Jennifer and I were hiking separately at this point, and she came up a few minutes into my pit stop, but since we were so close to camp she trucked right on ahead and I met her there. This was just one of those times that I felt like I needed to sit and reflect on all the miles and the gorgeous scenery. And have a snack – duh.

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Marjorie Lake, with possibly Pinchot Pass in the back…

Needless to say, Marjorie Lake was drop dead gorgeous. We’d come to expect nothing but gorgeous campsites, and were never disappointed. It felt good to “let” our friends hike ahead of us, as we had full trust in them to find a beautiful vista to settle in at. 😉

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We’d gotten to camp early again (maybe not 2PM, but close), which gave us plenty of time to lounge around. Since we had nice, freshly ‘laundered’ clothes, we didn’t even have laundry to do! Andrew had found a leak in his sleeping pad, so he used it as a raft in the lake to try to locate the hole (well, and to float around – briefly).

J:  Don’t be fooled by the crystal clear blue water and sunshine.  That shit was freeeezzzing!  I think Heather was the only one who was smart enough not to get all the way in, but I thought it was worth it.  

At some point in the day, Samuel had sauntered past us and hiked with our group until camp. He stuck around and “sunned” (as he called it) for a while, then went on his way up and over Pinchot Pass – he was shooting for a free day at Rae Lakes, and wanted a head start to make sure that happened.

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In addition to bringing Love Letters, Brittany had also brought some dice, so we played Farkle, which was pretty fun, but it involved a lot of math that I hadn’t prepared for (math is hard when hiking). I probably lost count of my score after my first round but I tried to play it off ;).

J:  My score at Farkle was a consistent zero, so that math was pretty easy to keep track of.  It was nice but sort of weird having so much free time at camp.  Heather and I were used to hiking all day with longer breaks in between and then getting to camp with just enough time to set up, eat, and go to bed.  It was awesome to hang out and relax for a while, but I think we both decided we liked our hiking routine better with our breaks spread throughout the day.  

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At some point on this trail, our hiking friends turned into senior citizens and were eating dinner at like 5PM or earlier. I couldn’t bring myself to eat that early, but it was fun watching Brittany and Andrew have a race with their Jetboils. It’s the little things that keep you entertained at camp!

Fortunately our site was rather small, and it didn’t get nearly as crowded as we thought. There were a few people scattered here and there, but it was much quieter than the night before, which meant the next morning would be a breeze!

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Up next – Pinchot Pass, the Woods Creek suspension bridge, and liquid energy!


Day 15 details (August 8, 2015):

Start-finish: Lower Palisade Lake to Marjorie Lake
Daily miles: 10.8
Mileage tally: 174.8
Camp elevation: 11,050 ft
Hiking elevation: 1,984 ft gain; 1876 ft loss