John Muir Trail, Day 8: Lake Virginia to Vermilion Valley Resort

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

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I have to briefly continue the conversation from the last post, because Jennifer and I hung out together a couple of weeks ago and we were joking about the final section. I honestly did not remember the gigantic blow-up that we had, but it’s probably safe to say that it had something to do with my piss-poor tent-pitching skills (or at least, failure to meet Jennifer’s unusually high hygienic standards when it came to tent-pitching. Her husband’s nickname for her (“shit pig”) was not lived up to like I’d expected, and feared. I guess that’s a good thing, in many ways.). Anyway, I didn’t write anything about it in my journal, but I’m sure she was right. We were definitely in need of a physical and emotional break from the trail.

J:  here we go with the tent thing again… 🙂  I think the biggest issue was wanting a break from the long days of hiking, sore feet, and needing a beer!

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Not a bad view, eh? This is Lake Virginia first thing in the morning

Ok, with that covered, let’s get on to talking about the longest day in all of creation – Day 8 of the JMT. This was probably the earliest we’d actually gotten on the trail – 6:30am – because we knew we had some hardcore hiking to do. We weren’t sure if we’d see Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew at VVR that night, as their original plan was to arrive early the following morning, but we’d said our goodbyes the night before and knew we’d see them that day or the following at VVR.

Back before the big California drought, there used to be a giant lake (Edison) right near Vermilion Valley Resort, and you could wait at one end for a water taxi to take you straight in to the resort, saving tired hikers a good 4 miles of hiking, and getting them to a cold beer an hour or two quicker. Those days, we learned, were no more – the lake was so dried up that the taxi wasn’t even guaranteed to be running, and if it was, it wasn’t nearly as awesome as it was since it only covered about half of the lake.

I tell you this because it led us all to considering alternate routes in an effort to shave off a little time. The typical route on the JMT would take you up and over the first official pass of the JMT, Silver Pass, but it required a significant amount of elevation, and we wouldn’t get to it until the afternoon, which, to make this day even more awesome – it was threatening to rain again according to the weather when we checked at Red’s. So we’d done some research earlier and ultimately, Jennifer and I decided to re-route and head to VVR via Goodale Pass, hopefully saving some time and some precious miles.

Side note: We later learned that the husbands and other stalkers trackers of our route via the Spot device we carried were less-than-pleased this day, as there was concern we’d taken the “wrong” path and wandered off the JMT accidentally (this was one of my reasons against carrying that damn thing – unwarranted worry among friends and parents. clearly I lost that battle, didn’t I??!).

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heading down to Tully Hole, one of my favorite morning hikes.

Despite this being the longest day on earth, I have to admit that this was one of my favorite days, scenery-wise, up to this point. We started the morning with a short ascent (you know we always LOVE getting our blood pumping first thing!) and then began a beautiful descent into Tully Hole. The pictures never adequately show how truly amazing these views are – lush green trees, little rivers (streams?), and gorgeous mountains – I couldn’t stop staring down, but I realized I had to given the fact that the trail itself was pretty narrow.

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view down to Tully Hole

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okay, one more. I can’t help myself.

We eventually got far enough down that the beauty of that area around us was quickly overshadowed by a wet, muddy, mosquito-laden swamp – Tully Hole. Ugh. It wasn’t ugly, I mean, this is the JMT after all, but damn, I thought I’d escaped the mosquitoes. I couldn’t get through this area fast enough, only after we got out of “the hole”, we were met with a swift kick in the ass by means of an ascent up to Squaw Lake.

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Squaw Lake, a great spot for some trail mix!

We were really happy to get to Squaw Lake, and although we had a lot more hiking to do that day, we took advantage of the scenery and had a mosquito-free break. Brittany and Courtney had caught up to us by this point (surprise!), so we talked to them briefly – they were going the regular route over Silver Pass, still unsure if they’d go to VVR.

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and a bird bath for Brittany and Courtney 😉

J:  Look at how inviting that water looks!  By this time, the blisters on my feet were getting pretty bad.  It took me about 1/2 an hour each morning to bandage them up and get my feet into my shoes.  So while the idea of soaking my feet in the water or going for a swim in the crystal clear Squaw Lake in the background was SUPER tempting, the fact that I was running out of bandages trumped all that.  This spot, and the morning hike up to it, sure was beautiful though!

While reading about the alternate route to Goodale Pass, we’d become aware that the trail wasn’t well marked, and the last thing we wanted was to get lost on an already long day. So we walked super slow (slower than usual) and came across a blatantly obvious sign within a short period of time. Apparently a lot of people had missed the sign, so a shiny new one was put up just in time for our adventure. Shew!

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We saw the sign, and it opened up our eyes, we saw the sign!

The hike up to Goodale Pass was so different, terrain-wise, from any part of the trail we’d covered thus far. It was completely exposed, hot, unshaded, and dry. It was also fairly steep, so this was one of the times that Jennifer and I separated a little bit and turned on our own tunes for some motivation.

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heading up to Goodale

Before too long, we came across the clearing and a huge group of people sitting around like they didn’t have a care in the world. We happily stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes – they were day hikers who’d come up the other side of the pass. At this point, the weather was clear, the sun was shining, and the rest of the day was going to be a cake walk….

J:  I had a love/hate relationship with Goodale Pass. It was hot as balls going up it for some reason.  It might have been because we were climbing in the middle of the day instead of first thing in the morning like we’d gotten used to.  It made a huge difference. BUT, we passed a few lakes along the way and if you stopped to look back and check out the view (quite frequently like I did…for the view, not to catch my breath), it was pretty amazing.  You could see all three lakes right before we got to the top of the pass, but I don’t think I got a picture of it because the top sort of crept up on us and then the view was gone.  I sure as hell wasn’t going back down for a photo.  Not that the view at the top was really all that bad either…

Also, the group we met at the top assured us that it was only 6-8 miles back to VVR instead of the 10 miles we were planning, so we were more than excited about that.  Unfortunately, that was a load of bullshit.  BUT at that moment, we were relieved to think we’d be at VVR for the much-anticipated Saturday night BBQ!

I can’t believe I forgot that those day hikers were asshole liars. It’s like the most horrible version of the “mile/mile and a half” statements all of us hikers make (and yes, we did say that quite a few times!).

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gorgeous view at the pass. clear skies for days. or hours… womp womp.

The trip down and over the pass started out relatively uneventfully. It was open, grassy, a little more steep on the descent than we’d liked, but not too bad. And then we hit the woods, and the clouds appeared, getting darker by the second. Pretty soon (ok, maybe a couple of miles, but it felt fast) the rain came down and this quickly turned into a pretty miserable hike. Of course, it didn’t help that we were still gradually going downhill, which meant we couldn’t walk as fast as we wanted to since it was wet and slippery. So awesome. It also didn’t help that we weren’t sure how much farther we had to go, since this was a less-than-optimally-marked alternate trail. But we knew we were on the right path, and we knew we were getting closer and closer, and more soaked by the minute. But that free day was coming!

J:  Hiking downhill is typically pretty awesome compared to hiking uphill.  Not with blisters.  It seems like blisters hurt 25 times worse going downhill.  Add rain, hail, thunder/lighting forcing us to pack up the hiking poles that I was using as crutches (because we were afraid they’d attract lightning and kill us before we could eat the bbq), and the blisters on my feet hurt about 50 times more than usual.  So, yeah, no.  This was not a fun part of the day.  I’d go ahead and say it was the worst part of the trip so far.

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best sign of the day!

J:  The end is never the end…this sign was at the parking lot at the trail head.  We soon discovered it was another mile (or felt like a mile) to actually get to VVR.  We were SO close! And check out that fancy rain cover making its appearance again!

Finally, after literally 20 miles of hiking, we saw what can only be described as the hiker’s version of the Emerald City. We heard people singing, glasses clinking, music playing, and my oh my, we saw real freaking food. The coolest part was that we got a round of applause when we walked up – it was a mighty good feeling.

Not long after we practically threw our packs on the ground, (I hadn’t named her yet, but soon-to-be Sophie was a real bitch that day and she deserved it) we plopped down with a stranger who we later learned was hiking the JMT south-to-north and grabbed a beer and dinner. We were hoping for BBQ since it was Saturday which was supposedly “BBQ night”, but for whatever reason they didn’t have it that night (I honestly can’t remember why – maybe Jennifer does..). I don’t even know what I ate that night, but it hit the spot, even if it was overpriced and probably not really that great in the grand scheme of things – it wasn’t dehydrated, and it was washed down with cold beer!

J:  FREE cold beer (the 1st one anyway), beef brisket, potatoes au gratin, and apple pie a la mode. They didn’t have a full-out BBQ because they didn’t have enough volunteer staff to work (at least I think that was the lame reason), but I still remember what I ate.  The brisket was a rock and cost $20, but worth it.

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the outside “dining area” at VVR

About an hour after we arrived, Brittany and Courtney showed up – super tired and super wet, just like us. Andrew had made it a little earlier, because, you know – Andrew. All in all, we were all glad to be there and to have a completely free day with absolutely no hiking the following day. The hardest thing we had to do was shower and wash our clothes. And eat ;).


Day 8 (August 1, 2015):

Start-Finish: Lake Virginia to Vermilion Valley Resort
Daily Miles: ~18.0
Mileage Tally: 101.2
Camp elevation: 8,000 ft
Hiking Elevation: 2,247 ft gain; 4,803 ft loss

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John Muir Trail, Day 7: Red’s Meadow to Lake Virginia Inlet

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I’m sure I mentioned somewhere in this blog that both Jennifer and I kept journals along the way. Jennifer was better than me about writing in hers every night – I’d occasionally decide that I had something better to do, like concentrating really hard on making sure I stunk up the tent more than Jennifer after dinner. I have to proudly admit that I’m pretty sure I won those battles most nights, but when Jennifer competed, she competed hard. Our best contests were those when our new friends could hear us in the tent nearby; after our group bonding at Red’s Meadow, we pretty much stayed in the same spot as those guys every night, so the ‘fun’ was just getting started ;).

Anyway, I bring up the journals because I just read my post following Day 7’s hike. This was the first day we had worried about rain, and some reports had said possible storms that day, so we debated starting later in the day, but ultimately didn’t, and instead took advantage of getting out sooner since we didn’t have a tent to pack up, etc. As it turned out, that was a really smart move since we hiked over 15 miles on Day 7 – I’d hate to think of when we would have gotten to camp had we tried to wait for rain!

J: This was the first day we were up and out hiking before any of the rest of our hiking buddies.   It’s solely because we didn’t have any packing to do and knew we were slower hikers than them so got up early to get a much needed head start.  It was so nice to just wake up, put on our shoes, eat some pop-tarts (toasted!), and head out the door! 

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notice the distance to Mt Whitney – 165 miles to go! Also, we were walking away from showers and cold beer 😦

The first section of trail out of Red’s was more or less a continuation from some of the barren wasteland part of the hike from Day 6 – but this time the barren-ness was from a fire, not a wind storm. It has a really eerie vibe walking through it first thing in the morning, with the threat of rain not far away. But we continued on, hoping we’d be on the upside of that “chance” of rain.

J:  I thought this part of the trail, while a bit creepy, was also sort of beautiful.  I wished I knew anything about photography because the lighting from the storm clouds contrasting with the sometimes weirdly shaped trees was all sort of amazing.  Or we’d just seen so many “normal” pretty landscapes with all the lush forests, alpine lakes, and mountains that it was a nice contrast. We didn’t spend much time stopping to take photos anyway because of the fear of being above the treeline on top of the mountain when the thunderstorm hit. 

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Of course, it wasn’t long after this area that we started heading up in elevation and into a wooded area, where we found ourselves faced with a few drops of rain. Jennifer and I differed a little with regard to our rain preparedness – Jennifer had pre-fashioned a trash bag before leaving home that had holes perfectly cut for her backpack AND one for the tent below as well. I had borrowed Chris’ rain cover that came with his pack, unsure if it would really fit since neither of us had ever used it, or tested it in the rain. I really wasn’t in the mood to worry about rain until it was a serious downpour (stay tuned!), but I think Jennifer was secretly excited about her MacGyver-style rain cover, so she tied that thing on, playing it safe in the event that the rain really started coming down.

J:  I was a little excited that I’d saved some cash on a pack cover and my cheapo trash bag was working just as well.  Also…now I’m pretty excited to be compared to MacGyver!

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Jennifer’s “MacGyvered” rain cover.

Fortunately, the rain didn’t stick around for long that morning. I was probably more wet from fresh sweat than from rain, which was  good thing.

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Although we were both refreshed from a bed, shower, and milkshake the night before, we were both on the slower side for most of the day. Jennifer’s altitude sickness was long gone, but her blister situation was just getting started, and I had a little blister of my own from the long hike downhill the day before. For me though, the blister wasn’t as big a deal as the general soreness in my feet each morning that I learned would be a permanent situation from here on out (not to mention months after this trip). I was starting to appreciate packing what I thought was a generous supply of Ibuprofen.

J:  If you ever do this hike (or any thru-hike) pack more Leukotape, moleskin, or duct tape than you think you need.  I get blisters all the time from running, so I thought I was prepared.  I most definitely was not…more on that later. 

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There were a couple of notable rock structures along the JMT. The one above is clearly a turtle rock (you see it, right?), but the one later in the trail is even cooler. More on that in a few days (well, probably a few months if you think in real time of our writing pace….).

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view from camp, Lake Virginia, right before the sun set.

While the rain held off earlier that morning, it became clear later in the day that we weren’t going to stay lucky for long. We kept worrying about thunder and lightening since we were, you know, hiking on giant rocks, but by the time it had all started, we were only a couple of miles from our planned destination. Had we not had a 20-mile day ahead of us to get to our pre-reserved yurt (and ZERO DAY!), we probably would have stopped at the prior campsite, but we knew we’d need all the help we could get. After a decent day of incline, we finally made our way to Lake Virginia Inlet where we reunited with Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew. The lake itself was gorgeous, but we didn’t have a ton of time to relax before sunset, and definitely not time for a lot of photos.

We pretty much had just enough time to set up camp, share a giant bag of jambalaya (which “did not suck”, a phrase coined by Jennifer and used by us all routinely after this night when eating, doing, or seeing something awesome)…

J:  Heather failed to mention that we also had a bit of a blow-up while we were setting up camp.  I think the long days were getting to us and we were both in need of that zero day.  I was pissed at her, but that jambalaya definitely did not suck and made things a little bit better.

…and then the bottom fell out. Rain, thunder, lightening, and all – we were definitely not going to experience a rain-less JMT!  As much as that part did suck, I think we both had visions of a free day taking up most of our thoughts, so there wasn’t much that was going to stop us the next day, even if the rain continued.


Day 7 Details (July 31, 2015):

Start-Finish: Red’s Meadow to Lake Virginia Inlet
Daily Miles: 15.4
Mileage Tally: 83.2
Camp elevation: 10,330 ft
Hiking Elevation: 3,786 ft gain, 1,329 ft loss

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