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!


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.  


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.


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.

Donohue Pass - panoramic 1Donohue Pass - panoramic 2

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

John Muir Trail, Day 4: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Bridge

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J:  I’m hijacking this blog post!  Heather and I both kept a journal on this hiking adventure and Day 4 in my journal opens with “The day started shitty again with me feeling like crap.  This altitude thing better shake so I can actually enjoy this trip.”  It was on Day 4 that I realized I wasn’t feeling crappy because of anxiety or the burger and ice cream, but instead I had a touch of the altitude sickness.  I woke up again feeling nauseous.  Neither of us seemed to have any appetite (very weird), but knew we had to eat something to be able to make our new shorter hike of 10 miles to Lyell Fork Bridge.

H: Jennifer taking over this post was her kind way of telling me to ‘hurry the fuck up and let’s get this post out because it’s been over a month’. But I’m glad she did, because I was just starting to feel a little guilty about not posting. But not guilty enough to start writing. Ha!

My journal entry for Day 4 also mentions Jennifer’s altitude issues, and as I read it before typing here, I realized that I have neglected to mention that I had my own issues, especially around this time – I managed to get a cold starting on Day 2. So while that admittedly resulted in my being slower on the trail, it worked well since we were both slow for our own reasons. The most awesome result of the cold though, was the fact that I snored exactly every single night in that tent and I’m lucky Jennifer didn’t beat the shit out of me. I’m sure Chris would like to point out here that the snoring has continued since the JMT, and I have since bought nasal strips that I am forced to wear on occasion (lavender scented!). I’m sexy at night – think nasal strip, glasses, and my retainer as well as my most seducing pair of cotton pants and an old t-shirt.


The backpackers campground at Tuolumne was crowded (even though it doesn’t look like it from this photo).  We had dropped our packs at the first campsite we found the night before which turned out to be right near the water pump.  We kept meeting people as they came to get water and ran into Sean & Cassidy again (our father/daughter hiking buddies) and met our friend Cole for the first time.


There was supposedly a shortcut to get to the JMT at the back of the campground, so we headed out bright and early.  I should mention that a little extra time was spent in the real campground bathroom with actual toilets and sinks since we both knew it would be our last chance for at least a few days.  Yes, that means pooping in the woods would soon become a reality!

So…then we got lost in the woods trying to find the little connection trail “shortcut” to the JMT.  Not a great start to the day so far. We backtracked to the campground and eventually found the unmarked trail that was apparently right in front of our faces.  So much for a shortcut, but I’m betting it probably did save us at least a few extra steps in the long run.

We finally made it to the actual JMT.  Luckily you don’t have to go far before you reach a sign in Yosemite that confirms you’re in the right spot, on the right trail, and heading in the right direction. Done. Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of the first piece of turquoise duct tape being applied to H’s sunglasses when she knocked them loose putting her pack back on around this sign.

H: I have three ‘casualties’ written down in my journal at this juncture. The first is the fact that my ginormous backpack, recently resupplied with goodies from Tuolumne, knocked the shit out of my sunglasses, essentially breaking them and knocking out my left lens. Luckily they weren’t on my face at this time but around my neck thanks to my frat-boy croakies (although if they were, they probably wouldn’t have broken…). Stay tuned for plenty of pictures with janky shades. Also, Jennifer’s water bladder had already sprung a leak, which had started a couple of nights before. And finally, we were already down to sharing 1 Steripen because the one Jennifer’s sister had loaned her wasn’t working. It probably just needed a new battery, but when Jennifer tested it out at home, we didn’t realize that it was only going to sterilize about 10 liters, rather than 40 before needing a charge. As Jennifer said, the wonderful product that is duct tape saved the day for my glasses, and for the water bladder. And not to foreshadow too much into this amazing adventure we just started, but it wouldn’t be the last time we used that duct tape. Note to future through-hikers: PACK A LOT OF DUCT TAPE! I’d wrapped quite a few strips around my bear can – this was already proving to have been a good idea.

Tuolomne Meadow

The day through Tuolumne Meadows was actually one of the easiest, flattest hiking days we had.  It was beautiful, but HOT!

The trail followed a river through the meadow for most of the time and we were able to find a nice shady spot to eat our luxurious lunch of Ritz crackers and peanut butter. It was about the only thing that didn’t make me gag at the thought of eating with my queasy stomach.


The last mile or so of the hike was uphill, but at least it was shaded relief from the sun.  When we got to the bridge, we knew the camp site was near and were ready to dump our shit and relax for a bit.  We met two sisters who’d just set up camp (Brittany and “Kathleen” who we later realized was actually Courtney) and ran into our new friends Cole, Sean, and Cassidy again.  We didn’t know it at the time, but we ended up camping with this crew at the same spots most nights from here on out….our trail family was starting.  It’s a good thing we liked them!

H: Yeah, it’s really funny looking back at this day now that we know how much time we later spent with the people we were camping near at this site. Sean & Cassidy, Brittany & Courtney, and Cole were all camping here, although we probably exchanged no more than a few sentences of conversation with them each.


I got my damn pole stuck in the bridge.  Graceful, even on the trail.

Since we had decided to only hike 10 miles and it was relatively flat most of the day, we ended up getting to camp a little early.  Heather went down by the river to take some photos while I tried to get my shit together and figure out how to get over my altitude sickness….maybe whiskey?

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H: After we got settled in at camp, it was nice to sit back and relax a little. I remember having a little bit of time to read my Bon Appetit magazine (sorta dumb to bring a magazine full of all sorts of tasty food while we’re eating dehydrated meals and sterilizing water, but oh well!) and I think Jennifer and I actually had a little more of the whiskey (with powdered cider mix!) we’d been carrying but hadn’t touched since the first night. We were quickly realizing that, at least in the beginning, we rarely felt the urge to consume booze at the end of the day. This was totally unexpected, given that Chris and I would typically toss back boxed wine quite often after hiking prior to this trip. 

All in all, it felt nice to know we’d be crossing the first official pass of the JMT, Donahue, only 1 day behind our (very tentative) schedule. We were both hoping that following that accomplishment, we’d both be feeling more upbeat, with less sniffles and less altitude-related problems, and bigger appetites!

Day 4 Details (July 28, 2015):

Start-Finish: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Bridge
Daily Miles: 10
Total mileage tally: 42
Total JMT miles: 33.5
Camp elevation: 9,650 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1,339 ft gain, 377 ft loss

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