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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

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John Muir Trail, Day 16: Marjorie Lake to Rae Lakes

Link to our JMT page, with pre-hike posts and day-by-day action!

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As Jennifer said in the last post, we had a little side convo the day before and realized that we were both missing all of our fun little breaks while hiking, and neither of us felt that getting to camp at 2PM was worth it if we lost those moments in between. So today, we decided we’d get back to our routine, and just enjoy the whole day out on the trail. This was certainly one totally unforgettable and awesome day, that’s for sure!

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Marjorie in the morning. Isn’t she a beauty?

As usual, the views would continue to be beautiful, and every morning the mountains were different shades than the day before – but equally lovely.

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at Pinchot Pass, with Lake Marjorie below

We started the morning off with our typical climb up to another pass. Pinchot Pass was way better than Mather (in my opinion at least) and before long, we’d ascended the ~1,200 feet over the 2 miles or so. We tried to remember to take pictures looking in each direction, so above is the view from where we came.

J:  I don’t know if we were getting used to our routine of climbing over the passes first thing in the morning, or if we were well rested from the relaxing afternoon the day before, or if we were less stressed because there were so many more spots for private cat holes at camp today.  Whatever it was made for an “easy” climb up Pinchot Pass.

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There was a little more space up here, so we stuck around for a bit and took some pictures. There were some really interesting plants (bushes?) and the bright stuff on the rocks which is probably not that exciting to many of you, but I thought it was pretty cool.

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this man was straight chillin’ like he had no care in the world.

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We were looking so damn fine that day that we decided to take a few glamour shots facing south.

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J:  awkward pose…are my arms tired?

After our photo shoot and our regular Snickers bar we consumed at each pass, we were on our way. Our hiking group was planning to meet up at Arrowhead Lake, which after Pinchot Pass was about 12 miles away.

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our walk along Woods Creek

The first major section of trail was of course quite a large amount of downhill, which seemed to go on forever (as usual). It was a really hot day, and most of this section was unshaded, especially after the Sawmill Pass Junction. Jennifer and I had planned to do lunch at the Woods Creek Junction, which was about 7.5 miles from Pinchot, and ~3,600 feet down (12,130 feet to 8,510). I was really excited about getting to the Woods Creek suspension bridge – I’d seen some pictures of it before and of course read about it in Lizzy’s book and it sounded pretty badass. The section of trail between Sawmill Pass Jct and Woods Creek was really exceptional, despite the heat, and different from a lot of the trail we’d come to know – we spent most of the time walking along Woods Creek, with great views all around us.

J:  Its funny that while we were hiking the same trail sections each day, Heather and I had very different experiences.  Day 15 was pretty tough for Heather, but I was feeling alright that day. However, this section of the trail on Day 16 was pretty tough for me.  After Pinchot Pass, there were about 8 horrible miles of downhill in some unbearably hot sun.  We stopped at the only shady spot at Sawmill Pass Junction and managed to eat an entire pack of teriyaki pork jerky.  Heather mentioned that there were great views on the hike from the junction to the bridge, but I must have been grumpy because I don’t remember any of it.  All I remember is passing these two hiker dudes heading north who told us there were “tons of great swimming holes” near the bridge. New goal:  cross the badass suspension bridge, eat lunch, and cool the hell off in the water! 

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The suspension bridge was definitely pretty sweet. At first it looked a little daunting because it was high, rickety looking, and swaying. But if you follow the ‘one at a time’ rule, it’s totally fine once you’re on there.

Once we both crossed, we found a nice spot under the bridge and just chilled for a good hour. We ate our lunches, watched people cross the bridge, and stripped down some to sit in the water, letting the creek rush past us and cool us off some. I probably blinded a few people who were walking over the bridge because my white legs were fully exposed, but hey, no one fell, so I’ll toss it back as a win.

J:  BEST lunch spot ever.  Have I mentioned my love of all swimming holes yet?  My feet were heavily taped up for basically the first half of the hike, but now that I wasn’t using nearly as much bandaging it was easier to get my swollen feet out of my shoes and hop on in the water. Leaving this spot wasn’t easy, especially knowing the rest of the hike to camp was all uphill in more hot sun.

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Jennifer on the suspension bridge

The worst part about all of it? Well, it eventually came to an end and we had to get on up and get moving. We’d gone down as far as we could go that day, so the next section was the start of the ascent up to the next pass (Glen Pass) that we’d tackle the following day.

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not a bad spot for lunch and a dip

This section was no joke – we had about 2,000 feet of up to do over ~4 miles, at which point we’d be at our campsite for the night. By the time we left, it was well after 2PM (maybe even 3) and we were both totally dreading this section. We had realized the power of sports beans, but didn’t want to use them unless we absolutely needed to, because they were really helpful on the morning jaunts up the passes. So we finally broke out these liquid energy drops (MiO) that Jennifer had put in the resupply at VVR – we had it all this time but hadn’t used it yet. We figured, ‘why not give it a try here’? This is going to suck so bad, so let’s see if it helps…

Oh my. Gee whiz. Holy cow. I don’t know how, but they managed to squeeze a miracle in that tiny little bottle. It made my water so tasty (grape!) and I just drank and drank, and sang and sang, and climbed and climbed. Yes – since we really had no idea if this stuff would work or not, we also resorted to spacing out and turning on our respective tunes. I utilized the ‘motivational’ Spotify mix that Jennifer and I had put together, which was also magical. The combination of the energy mix, the tunes, and the again gorgeous scenery allowed both of us to absolutely and completely bust a mother fucking move. I had so much energy that I had to get rid of some, so I started dancing. Yes! Dancing. With my pack on. I even used my poles, swinging them in the air like it was my freaking job. At one point I stopped and waited for Jennifer, turned my tunes to one of my favorite motivators (ummm…Sexy Back. Clearly. thanks be to JT.), and just stood there and danced. I think it was the 52nd time Jennifer thought to herself (and out loud) that I was absolutely nuts, but she liked it. It got her moving too. There was no denying the power of the dance.

Of course at this point we were near a campsite and I turned around and saw people just staring. I didn’t even care. It was possibly one of my most happiest afternoons on the trail, and I was having a blast. And bringing sexy back… because duh. I mean, not that I left it anywhere..

J:  Heather IS crazy, but not because she was dancing on the trail.  We were both listening to the same Spotify mix (it’s all I had downloaded on my phone), but I had headphones in and Heather (saving weight like a super ultralight hiker) did not have any.  So when I caught up to her and saw her dancing, it wasn’t to the same beat as “Push It” so I was a little confused.  I mean, I thought she had more rhythm than that…

Those electrolytes were pretty fucking amazing though.  I can’t believe we hadn’t used them earlier!

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looking south to our next pass with Fin Dome in the back right

It wasn’t long at this level of energy that we made it to Arrowhead Lake and found our friends, who’d already eaten dinner and were pretty settled in. Jennifer and I bounced up to their site like drunken teenagers, and I’m sure they thought we’d stumbled upon some trail crack. Which I guess we did….

We originally were going to stop here, but Jennifer and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing and each said, “wanna keep going?”, and the answer was yes! We both really wanted to scope out Rae Lakes, and we knew we wouldn’t want to spend time there in the morning, so we waved goodbye to our friends (who continued to look at us like we were crazy) and trucked along, knocking back one more mile. We soon made it to Rae Lakes, and snagged one of the most amazing campsites ever.

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After we got our tent set up and all that basic stuff, we walked over to the lake and cleaned up some, doing our regular water filling and sterilizing, and taking a ton of pictures. I mean damn, this was so entirely worth that extra mile – it was completely and totally breathtaking. And for some reason, it wasn’t even crowded at all.

J:  Rae Lakes was probably one of my favorite campsites on the trail (I know I say that a lot, but it was pretty spectacular).  There were a lot of little tucked away campsites to give you some sense of privacy and hiking up and around the lake was absolutely gorgeous.  When I eventually go back to the Sierras for a shorter hike, I’d want to do the Rae Lakes Loop and spend a little more time there.

We met two girls who were hiking together and talked to them some. They were in need of some batteries (they thought) for their water sterilizer, but the batteries I’d offered up (and bartered for chap stick) didn’t work, so the deal never happened. Boo. That was becoming our biggest problem at this point – both of us were getting some really dry lips with the elevation, the wind, the sun, and the fact that we both just ran out of chapstick – one thing neither of us resupplied. Fingers crossed that Chris brought some!

Note, if you hike the JMT: 1) camp at Rae Lakes and 2) resupply chapstick!

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The other big event weighing on our minds? This was the day before we’d meet up with Chris! The closer and closer we got to that point, the more and more I thought about all the things that had to fall into place for this meet-up to work. We had the luxury of sending a couple of text messages to Chris a couple of nights ago (thanks to Courtney’s InReach), but we didn’t get to really check in with him – they were all about what supplies we needed (duct tape! wine!) and were extremely limited. And even though I knew he was going to be fine – it was still a little nerve-wracking. At the same time, we were both excited to see him the next day and both a little giddy the night before, realizing how cool it would be to see a familiar face after all of these days in the wilderness.

J:  One of the hardest parts of hiking the JMT for me (other than the damn blisters) was not having any contact with my husband or my family.  I didn’t go into this hike thinking that would even be a problem, but for whatever reason, it was driving me crazy.  Heather was obviously excited about getting to see her husband, Chris.  I was excited he was coming too, but also knew it was going to be a little bittersweet not having my husband, Jon show up right along with him.

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north view, the Painted Lady; Glen Pass out of sight to the right (I think)

Our original plan was to already be about 3 miles on the other side of the pass – near the Bullfrog Lake Junction. We were going to stay at Bullfrog on this night, then have a chill, almost ‘zero day’ there, other than walking without our packs to meet up with Chris around noon or so. But as we mentioned a couple of days ago, we preferred spreading out the miles and hiking/camping with friends, so as a result we had a few miles to go the next day. Since we didn’t camp with them tonight, we made sure we had a solid meet-up plan tomorrow in case we didn’t run into each other in the morning – which was to camp shortly after Vidette Meadow at upper Bubbs Creek.

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So after all the pictures and a lovely dehydrated dinner, one of our very favorite days on the JMT came to an end.

Next up? Glen Pass in the morning, and the much anticipated meet-up with Chris! It was going to be hard to sleep with all that excitement ahead ;).


Day 16 details (August 9, 2015):

Start-finish: Marjorie Lake to Rae Lakes
Daily miles: 15.6
Mileage tally: 190.4
Camp elevation: 10,590 ft
Hiking elevation: 2,684 ft gain; 3,388 ft loss