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.

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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.