John Muir Trail, Day 10: VVR to Marie Lake Outlet

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Leaving VVR on Day 10 was a little bit like leaving summer camp, except that you leave with people rather than leaving them behind (ok, except Cole – we left him behind forever! such sadness). Oh, and you actually like those people as opposed to the camp crew. Ok, fine. Maybe my one experience at summer camp was worse than most people’s – I just remember a lot of cattiness and way too many water sports, which I don’t prefer. That’s why I hike…

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Okay, so maybe it’s not like summer camp. Nonetheless, two things were true – 1) it was both exciting and scary to start the last half of this trip, knowing this was the last little bit of “luxury” we’d get for 10 days and 2) when we paid our “tab” at the register that morning (read Day 9 for background), I had this feeling akin to paying a bar tab in college after a night of heavy drinking – “wait, it’s how much?? I swear I didn’t drink that much”… I’m sure Chris had a hissy fit back home when that charge hit our account – I mean how do you spend hundreds of dollars in the freaking woods? Go to VVR, that’s how.

J:  That bill was a bit shocking, but then again, I did buy 12 individual band-aids for like $50.  Ok, so maybe that was an exaggeration, but it was a little ridiculous.  Even though it was a little pricey, I would still recommend stopping at VVR to anyone hiking the JMT.  Friendly staff/volunteers, good food, BEER, comfy yurt (or nice, close backpacker tent area), clean bathrooms/showers, laundry, and stocked supply store.  Just keep better tabs on the cost of everything than we did!

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try really hard not to look at Cole’s pants here. I dare you.

So before we hit the road, we took another group picture. Our family was shrinking! We were leaving Cole behind, and now it would just be the 5 of us until Chris arrived. I should mention here that there was another girl we met at VVR (can’t remember her name…Valerie? Vanessa? Why do I keep thinking it started with V? I guess it doesn’t matter..). She was doing the JMT in something like 10 days, so we didn’t see her again.

J:  It was Alyssa!  We also met Zane and Tamara, the couple from NC who make chocolate (so good). We hung out on the stoop all day while we were all doing laundry.   Those three were super fast, ultralight backpackers so we knew we wouldn’t see them again.  That part might be like summer camp…meeting cool people for a short time and then knowing we’ll never see them again?

Also, I have to call out a sexy new addition to the hike – Jennifer’s new ‘gaiters’ (leg socks). She really splurged on these at VVR – since she wears shorts most of the time, these were supposed to keep the dirt and rocks away, which, even though it might not sound like a big deal, can really be a big deal. I had a dirt tan and rashes for days after this trip because of the dirt, and I wore pants every day – so wearing shorts clearly makes that even worse. We saw quite a few people sporting them on the trail, but no ones were as bad ass as Jennifer’s. I mean – they’re camo – you can’t even see them…

Also, though I never saw the footage, Andrew took an amazing video of Cole when we were leaving. Since the trail head was a ways away from VVR, you get a ride in a truck that takes you to the starting point at Bear Creek Junction, and Cole made a totally cheesy dramatic run for the truck when we pulled out. I imagine it being one of the funnier things in life if I had the chance to watch it in slow motion, and with a perfect 80’s power ballad playing in the background.

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A horizontal rainbow!  What does it mean?

Alright, enough with the rambling. We’ve got to get this thing started. So we got to the trail head as early as we possibly could have. And of course our young whippersnapper friends hauled ass like they were in a race to the finish line as soon as we got out of the truck. Jennifer and I basically waived a “see ya later” and kept our regular pace. Of course, Jennifer will talk more about this in the days ahead, but while the resting at VVR did us both some good, there never would have been enough days to heal the blisters she was getting, so it wasn’t long before that pain kicked in again. Also, our packs were the heaviest this day than they’d ever be on this trip – so that was a major impact especially after a day of laziness. We all weighed our packs upon leaving VVR that day, and we were all terrified. My pack was normally in the mid-30s, but this day it was closer to 40 pounds. And we felt every ounce.

J:  I feel the need to fill in a little bit more background on the debate over the trail options out of VVR.  There were two trails heading out of VVR to connect back to the JMT.  Bear Ridge was shorter but steeper, versus Bear Creek which was about 3 miles longer and less steep.  All day at the “stoop” and later over whiskey, we had been debating as a group which trail to take.  I had gone to sleep that night thinking the group had reached a consensus to take the Bear Ridge trail, which was my preference.  The massive blisters forming on my feet were excited about a shorter hike, even if it was steeper.

I didn’t find out until we were in the truck heading to the trail head that the group had made a last minute change and we were headed to the Bear Creek trail head.  I was not excited, but just had to roll with it since we were committed at that point.   What’s another 3 miles on popping blisters?  Well, I was about to find out.  The locals at VVR did say it was the prettier of the two choices, so at least there would be distractions.

Bear Creek Trail was chock full of waterfalls and beautiful little vistas, so we stopped a little here and there to take some pictures, and during one of the stops we officially met our second set of JMT buddies – a group we called the “Tallahassee Lassies” because we’re cheesy like that. And unoriginal. They were a group of four men (age range probably 50s-60s?) from…..wait for it…. Tallahassee. They told us they do trips like this every year together, maybe not as big as the JMT, but something fun, boys only. I immediately decided to make it a life goal to procure close girlfriends I could do this with again in 30 years.

J:  I’m in!  Those guys were awesome.  I hope we’re in as good a shape and as adventurous as they are in 30 years (probably more like 20…we’re older than you think). 

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our lunch spot – rainbows were just too boring.

I guess we eventually decided we’d seen enough waterfalls, because when we decided we wanted lunch all of them were gone, and we ended up just dumping our stuff down in a nondescript section of the trail and eating right along the trail. We also needed to fill up our water at this point, so it was also here that we chose the hardest spot to get to for water – a teeny creek behind a bunch of briars. You know – starting off from a free day was too easy otherwise – we needed some challenges. Plus, every lunch and water hole can’t be exciting – what ever would we look forward to otherwise??!

I’m pretty sure we made the wiser choice by going the longer, less steep Bear Creek Trail that day as opposed to the shorter, steeper Bear Ridge Trail, but the mileage caught up to us, even if it was only a couple of miles longer. After about 10 miles on the side trail, we finally reached the junction to the JMT and took that opportunity to have a good snack and break. At the junction, we met a solo hiker who wasn’t hiking the JMT, but had been hiking the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. I didn’t write much about him in my journal (worse historian ever = me), but I remember him having some issue with one of his legs, and we were both pretty impressed that he’d made it as far as he had. He was good people – we chatted for 10 minutes or so, and then made our way south, happy to be back on the JMT and closer to camp.

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on the road/JMT again!

Once we were back on the actual JMT, we had about 6 miles to go before getting to our final stop for the night, Marie Lakes. That part of the trail was really gorgeous – lots of hiking right along Bear Creek, and we took quite a few breaks which made the day long, but really peaceful too, in a way.

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Bear Creek; I just realized this picture is nearly identical to Lizzy’s picture (p.129 in 5th edition)!

One of our favorite stops that day was along Bear Creek where there were a few nice waterfalls and a good place to sit. We filled up our water and just took advantage of a bright sunny spot, sitting to relax in the sun before the final jaunt.

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Given that we’d be hiking about 15 miles on our first day back on the trail, we thought about stopping a little earlier, around the Rose Lake Junction. We ultimately decided against it, since the following day we’d be going over Selden Pass and a decent ways further after that point. It was only a mile or so different, but we’d heard how beautiful Marie Lakes was, so we didn’t want to rush past it in the morning if we didn’t have to.

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We were not disappointed. I think we rolled into camp around 7 that night, certainly later than most days, but we were ok with it given how many times we stopped to enjoy the scenery. Trail life is really odd – even though it was still daylight, there were almost no hikers out at camp – everyone was already in their tents and probably going to sleep for the night. Our pattern wasn’t too far from that, especially on this half of the trip. We thought we saw Brittany and Courtney’s tent a ways away, so we figured we’d see them in the morning before we all took off. We did our normal routine of setting up the tent, cleaning up, and making dinner, but I allowed some time to take some pictures while the sun was setting, too. This section of trail was part of the John Muir Wilderness, and the scenery was definitely noticeably different from Ansel Adams Wilderness – fewer trees, more massive mountains, and more gorgeous expansive alpine lakes.

J: I know we say this a lot, but this day was one of the prettiest days of hiking so far. Horizontal rainbows, hiking along a creek all day, and topping it off at Marie Lakes for a gorgeous sunset.  

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All in all, it was a beautiful day, even though we were both already sore and tired and even more sore from the heavy packs we were now carrying. I was definitely starting to become used to taking 2 ibuprofens at night and 2 each morning as a result of the pain in my feet and mainly ankles each day and was happy that I had a fresh resupply from my VVR package. Jennifer’s blisters were also not better, and there was a lot of talk of exiting the trail during today’s hike, although we both truly hoped that wasn’t going to happen.

J:  I did have a little breakdown when we finally stopped for the night and I took my shoes off to reveal the damage from the long day of hiking on my blistered feet.  I wasn’t sure how much more my feet could take, but I was hoping for the best and really was just too stubborn to quit.

The next day, we decided we’d stop off at the Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), the final true resupply spot on the JMT. We hadn’t originally intended to go, but Jennifer wanted to play it safe and stock up again on blister supplies, and to see if there was anything more hardcore than what was available at VVR. We’d also go over Selden Pass and start to set ourselves up for the more difficult passes along the trail, but also some really notable spots, higher elevation, and amazing scenery.


Day 10 Details (August 3, 2015):

Start-Finish: VVR to Marie Lake Outlet
Daily Miles: 15.2
Mileage Tally: 114.9
Camp elevation: 10,550 ft
Hiking Elevation: 5,070 ft gain; 1,030 ft loss (approximate)

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

John Muir Trail, Day 9: Zero Day at VVR!

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

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BOOM BITCHES! We posted two days in one freaking week! Take that, internets. —

It’s hard to describe what it felt like to wake up on this ‘zero day’, knowing we didn’t have to take down the tent, find a “bathroom”, or worry about how far we’d get and how long it would take. All we had to do is shower, eat, and wash clothes. Oh, and find the resupplies we’d mailed to ourselves! In short, it felt pretty fucking awesome. We were very proud of ourselves for planning this day of rest, and even more proud of ourselves that we’d actually made it here.

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the yurt

Our living quarters consisted of a round canvas room (a yurt) with a kitchenette and a small outhouse right near the front door. It sounds simple, and it was, but it was so luxurious. The showers were back near the main check-in area at VVR and required quarters to access. They were also timed. We’d quickly learn that the folks at VVR would nickel and dime you everywhere they possibly could – nothing outside of the room itself and the first beer upon arrival was included in the rate. A band-aid would set you back 20 cents (and ask Jennifer – blister care adds up at that place), and a regular diner-style lunch was 20 bucks. They kept a tally on paper of all of your expenses, and we’d pay the day we checked out. This was smart, because it’s easier to rack up a tab if you aren’t paying as you go.

J:  I think my resupply of blister tape, 12 band-aids (yes, you paid for the individual band-aid), and antiseptic cost me about $50…ridiculous, but necessary.  Those folks know how to run a business in the middle of nowhere.   

The yurt was pretty awesome.  It was teeny tiny, but had a real bed and that was more than enough for our tired, beat up bodies.  We both slept so soundly that we didn’t even wake up to all the craziness that happened in the backpackers tent area the night before.  Apparently, one of the hikers got so drunk that he stumbled/fell onto his tent (with his buddy inside asleep) and puked all over their gear.  Needless to say, all the backpackers in the area woke up and were super pissed about it in the morning…especially the friend who got puked on that we met at the laundry room as he was trying to dry his $700 sleeping bag.  

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the view of the “lake” from the yurt

In the morning once we showered, we made our way to find the laundry facilities and the location of our resupply buckets. We found mine pretty easily, but Jennifer’s was buried back in the little shed the resupplies were stored in, which prompted both of us to freak out just a tad, considering her bucket held all the snacks we’d consume for the next 7 days. Two of our friends in SF, Beau and Sheena, has also sent us a care package. Even though we had to pay $20 for every package we had stored, it was well worth the extra few bucks to get a surprise from friends – it was really priceless, actually.

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our letter from friends

Once we had all of our packages in our possession and started laundry, we made our way back to the yurt and tore into it all. It was sorta like the feeling you got on Christmas day, especially if you were like me and already knew what you were getting anyway – it was just fun to open it nonetheless.

In addition to a bunch of awesome snacks (chocolate granola! more Snickers bars! miso soup! bacon jerky! potatoes that just required the addition of water!), we also had a nice letter from Beau and Sheena that was so perfectly timed, we thought they’d been spying on us. You see, Jennifer and I both knew that we’d get on each other’s nerves at some point. I mean, we were basically together nonstop and torturing our bodies along the way, so it’s not surprising that people who get along relatively well in the real world get annoyed with one another on the JMT. (Note again: for those of you planning this hike, or something similar, choose your hiking partner wisely! It can make or break this adventure!) That said, the words “stay good to each other” made us both start crying like little bitches. All in all, we’d actually gotten along pretty well up until this point, but the day away from the trail was well-timed not just from a physical standpoint, but also mentally. We just needed to refuel and regroup, and this letter reminded us of how awesome we both were, and how cool it was that we were doing this together. Then we proceeded to tear into the chocolate granola. Obvi.

J:  YES, that little extra care package was just enough to make us both feel better.  Like H said, we knew we’d annoy the shit out of each other at some point over stupid stuff, but we’d get over it as good friends do.  A few words to make us both tear up, hug it out, and then it was all out of our system.  Back to focusing on the food!

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resupply supplies

As you can see from the above picture, we had a decent amount of organizing to do that day, too. We’d been hiking long enough by this point to know what we did and didn’t want to eat any longer, as well as whether the serving sizes were the right size. So we laid it all out and tried our best to make sure that we only carried what we knew we’d eat for the next 7 days, keeping in mind that once we left VVR, we didn’t have a place to unload trash or unwanted food until we hit the end of the JMT. We ended up with a decent amount of extra food, and were able to hand some off to our buddies, and the rest went into the “free hiker bin” out front. So yeah, there was a free bin, but it generally contained old food and stuff that people didn’t want or recognize. I’m sure people appreciated our bags since they were labeled with the name of the dish, amount of water needed, and time require to rehydrate. Yes, friends, my OCD tendencies came through here, but I was totally ok with that.

The worst part about VVR is the absolute lack of cell signal throughout the property. Of course, they allowed you to buy internet in hourly increments (another $20) or for a day ($100). Total ripoff, right? Every so often, you could find a spot with service, but you had to talk fast and stay still. Using this very scientific method, we were both able to use one of our phones to talk for a few minutes at a time to Chris & Jon, and briefly to some family, but it ultimately was too frustratingly painful to do that for long. I eventually caved in and got an hour of wi-fi, and Chris and I texted back and forth for most of the hour to make sure we had everything in line for the meet-up with him (again, this was our last chance to talk to him before he met us).

J:  It was unexpectedly hard for me to have almost zero contact with my husband or my family during the last 15 days of the hike.  I think I needed my husband, my sisters, or my parents to give me an outsider’s opinion on my blister situation or a swift kick in the ass to encourage me to toughen up and finish this thing.  It seems stupid looking back on it now, but I was mentally struggling at this point and really starting to worry about my feet making it to the end.  At least there was cold beer and whiskey to ease the pain…for now.

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whisky on the porch with Cole

Of course, we also spent some time with our buddies. Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew had all arrived the day before, as did we, and Cole arrived super early the morning of our free day. He had reservations and a planned zero day the following day, so now he’d found himself with an extra day! Super cool; he’d considered hiking out with us the following day (ok, maybe he considered it for 2 seconds), but he was meeting his girlfriend later on, so it just made more sense for him to chill here, because ultimately he’d get stuck hanging out somewhere if he left with our group.

When we weren’t organizing our resupply or eating, we were doing laundry. There were only 2 washers and 2 dryers, so you kinda had to hover. As a result, we spent a few hours just hanging out on the stoop outside the laundry room. It was here that I was able to teach people about the TV show, 227, because I made a joke that us hanging outside on the stoop reminded me of that show. This is also where I totally revealed my age….and knack for finding quality tv.

J:  227!  I still can’t believe people didn’t catch that reference.  It’s off the meat rack, or whatever NC phrases you pulled out of your back pocket hanging on the stoop! 🙂

At the end of the night, we shared some of our whisky with the group outside of their tent/room/whatever you call it (picture above). We had a couple of options regarding our exit strategy the following morning, so we took some time to figure out what we all wanted to do, and decided we’d just all do the same thing and come to an agreement. Ultimately, we chose the route that was a little bit longer, but less steep. Who knew if it would be the better option – we’d soon find out, since we were getting up pretty early the next morning, with over 150 miles to go. Zero day was quickly coming to an end!


Day 9 Details (August 2, 2015):

Start-Finish: Vermilion Valley Resort
Daily Miles: ZERO!
Mileage Tally: 101.2
Camp elevation: 8,000 ft