Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 13, 2016

Backpacking the John Muir Trail, Part 3

Part 1 - Tuolumne to Red's Meadow

Part 2 - Red's Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch

Part 3 - DAYS 8-14 Muir Trail Ranch to Mount Whitney

Cue the drumroll, the easiest half of our hike on the John Muir Trail was now done.   In seven days, we' spent 2 nights in cabins, eaten 5 meals in restaurants, had two resupplies, and hiked 90 miles.    In the next seven days, we would need to hike 110 miles, while carrying all of our food for the week, as the passes and the elevation got higher and higher.   But we were feeling strong, rejuvenated from our night at the Muir Trail Ranch, and ready for some big days.

But we couldn't leave the Ranch without a last big meal of breakfast burritos and oatmeal.  I skipped the oatmeal (bleh), but the burritos were delicious.  We also could make sandwiches for lunch, and I snagged a bag of Cheetos!    Those sandwiches weren't going to make it until noon...that's for sure...

Day 8
With breakfast, it was 8 am when we finally straggled out of the Ranch, with backpacks that now weighed 28 pounds.  Yikes.  We were carrying about 1.5 pounds of food per day for 7 days, plus about 2 pounds of water.   And a couple of delicious sandwiches.  And a book.  I need to read.

Today we set our sights on Wanda Lake, which was about 18 miles up the trail, and a lot higher at 11,500 feet.   But our first five miles were flat, along the very scenic San Joaquin River.  Our sandwiches disappeared quickly at the first place I could find to stop and soak my feet.   I didn't have any blisters from walking, but I did have very dry feet and legs from the dust, dirt, and hard water.   I applied a bit of duct tape to the backs of my heels to keep my shoes from cutting through my skin.

The climbing started in earnest near Evolution Creek.  Up. Up. Up.  The dreaded creek crossing of Evolution was a piece of cake, given how late it was in the season.  We swapped to our flip-slops and it was only calf deep and pretty mellow.   Then more up, alongside a big meadow and lots more creek. The day is passing quickly and we have miles to go.   We are efficient at our stops, purifying water, slathering on sunscreen, dabbing a bit of chapstick, drinking more water, dumping electrolytes in so we drink even more, and grabbing easy snacks to eat while walking.

A steeper ascent and we are at Evolution Lake.  Tempting to stop and camp here, it's 4 pm but we have miles to go.  Fabian is here, has just taken a freezing swim in the lake, and he promises to be right behind us.   We push hard now, through the rocky high terrain, can we make Wanda lake by 6:30 so we still have time to cook and set up camp in daylight?     We do, but barely.  We meet Foreman, walking the wrong way, he had sussed out the other end of the lake but camping was sparse.  We joined a raft of other people, and we put our tents in any flat bare spot we could find in the area.  Fabian showed up soon and found a spot too.   Nobody had seen Ron all day, and we figured he was back a ways fishing.

Tonight we were cowboy camping, with just our bivy bags.  The stars should be out at and this high, there are no bugs.   The group gathered round for dinner, which for us was ramen and salami, some new flavors to keep our taste buds entertained.  A nice sunset gave us a sendoff and we crawled in our bivys and waited for the stars.  They were slow to come out, but mesmerizing, and I couldn't stop staring at them.  We eventually saw a satellite pass overhead, and Jim fell asleep, but I couldn't close my eyes.    Sleeping at 11,500 ft is difficult at best anyway.

The Muir Hut at Muir Pass 
Day 9

I woke up to ice from condensation on my sleeping bag inside my bivy bag.  Cold.  But so dry there was no dew at all. Muir Pass awaited us in the morning, but at under 12000 feet we didn't have far to go.   We ducked inside Muir Hut to get out of the stiff wind for a while, and found Foreman waiting there.   The three of us stuck together for a very long descent, almost 4000 feet down.   It was beautiful, but I'd seen so much beauty.   I focused on one step at a time down the sometimes very high rock steps.  And pitied the people coming up them the other way.

The Bear

Down in Le Conte canyon, we stopped for a photo with the Rock Monster, and saw a girl sitting by it reading a book.  She was contemplating quitting the trail for the third time.   These huge ascents and descents are no joke. We continued on only a few minutes, when in the lead, I croaked "BEAR!"  just leaving the trail was a pretty large black bear.  He was on a mission, didn't seem to care we were there, and went around us and then back on the trail heading uphill.    We did like all good tourists would and reached for our cameras.  Then we suddenly thought about the girl at the rock monster.  Foreman gallantly offered to go back and warn her.  Lucky he did because the bear went straight to her camp, and it turns out she is partially blind and had no peripheral vision.  She never saw the bear coming, and Foreman was able to scare it away across the stream.   Fabian behind us, would later see the bear with its' head in a tree eating honey from a beehive.

In the meantime, Jim and I followed obvious bear prints for almost 2 miles down the trail.   We got really good at spotting the prints even when we hadn't seen them for a while.   We were happy it was going the other way!

The deep valley was hot, and our pace got really slow.  At a break, we saw someone's bear canister left behind....we wanted to steal the tortillas but didn't know if the owner would return.  We met the owner days later...the can may still be sitting there and he is borrowing food from everyone!

Finally we started the uphill again with Foreman, and in the front, I adopted the "walk fast in the sun, slow in the shade" philosophy.  Even so, we could see that we weren't going to make our mileage goal for the day, which would had required us to ascend the dreaded "Golden Staircase" in the full heat of the afternoon sun.  Instead, we found one of the last campsites at the base of the climb and called it a day.   Still 16 miles but we could feel the pressure of needing to go further.

At the camp, we found Ron (!) who had been ahead of us all this time.  And he calls himself slow.   Fabian showed up too, so everyone was together, and the campsite was perfect.  Deep in the woods with a gurgling stream and a fire pit.  None of us had lit a fire due to all the restrictions, but with a perfect circle of trees around us, we gathered pine cones and soon had a nice blaze going.  We laughed like crazy and had a nice evening before pouring water on the coals.  We were still in bed before hiker midnight (9pm).

Day 10
In the morning we said goodbye to all our new friends.  Ron was slowing up to meet his family in a few days.   Fabian was slowing up to beg a little extra food and continue down the High Sierra Trail.  Foreman was meeting his cousin at Rae Lakes and hoped to see us on the final day, but he never showed.

We would pay for our weariness and slow pace of the yesterday, with the monster hike we had in store for us today.   First up was the Golden Staircase,  a series of switchbacks up somewhat steep cliffs.    Then we had not one but two 12,000 foot passes to summit before we could stop for the day.   Unfortunately my knee started hurting early on in the day, which made going down hill difficult.

Nevertheless, we were up the staircase in just a couple of hours and heading to Mather Pass.   Our rest breaks were short and efficient as we knew we needed to go far and fast today.   Despite knee pain, I could really power up the hills, but going downhill was another matter.  I finally gave in and took some Ibuprofen on top of the first pass, but the switchbacks down were agony.  I wondered how I was going to make it over 20 miles that day, and if I could even continue to finish the whole trail.   So I taught myself to favor my left knee and found ways to lean on my poles, use my other leg, and get by.  Luckily the trail flattened out, and we were back to 3 mph on a steady even trail across a rock meadow and down into the trees.   For 5 whole miles we had a fast trail, gradual decent, and no big rock steps.  We looked back later in the day and realized this saved our day...if it had been a slow difficult section we wouldn't have made the second pass.

I for one was happy to get to the bottom and start back up again, as uphills hurt less than downhills.   From 10000 feet we slowly climbed up to Pinchot Pass at 12000.   The lakes along the way were beautiful but we had places to be.  Aside from passing three hikers all wearing pink raincoats on our ascent, we didn't see anyone else.  At 5 pm most people prefer not to be starting the descend from a pass!  So we figured we were the last ones over for the day, until we met two men an hour later still heading up.  We figured it would be full dark just after they reached the summit of the trail.   Guess they are into night hiking.

I limped down the other side and we started looking for places to camp.  But given how badly we sleep at high elevations, we wanted to get lower first.  It would be another 4 miles until we found a tiny place to put the tent...camping spots were somewhat scarce.   After 21 miles, 5000 feet of climbing, and almost 12 hours of hiking, we hurried through the evening routine....put up tent, purify water, wash socks, soak feet, cook dinner, make tea, arrange air mattress, gather breakfast items, move bear canisters away, fall in bed and sleep.

Day 11
After 3 tough days it was hard to get moving in the morning, and we knew we had another 17 miles to do today.   Luckily we only had one pass waiting for us.  We started off with a downhill, and my knee felt ok to start the hike down.  It would hurt later but at least it didn't hurt now.   Still, we would drop down another couple thousand feet, knowing we would turn right around and go back up again to Glen Pass.  Today, that was disheartening.

I took point on the uphill and kept a steady pace, but we were both a little tired.  At the start of a string of lakes, I really wanted a break, and got grumpy that there were no rocks to sit on along the lakes, just weeds and grass and rushes.  I grumpily hiked another couple of miles to Rae Lakes, which were beautiful, just amazingly blue.  We stopped at the first available rock and took a decent break.  Jim was having a tough day too, and when we stopped, he just sat down and didn't move for about 10 minutes.   I was determined to wash my clothes, and put on my rain gear while I waded out in the lake to soak feet, give myself a hankie bath, and rinse my stinky t-shirt.   Jim eventually came around, and we purified more water, ate, drank, and enjoyed not moving for a while.    I really wanted him to say we should camp at these lakes, but alas, no.

Rae Lakes just got more beautiful as we hiked around them, and I could have stopped a dozen times along the way.  It's a popular backpacking destination, as long as you are willing to hike over a 12,000 foot pass to get here!   After walking along them for miles, and finishing across a narrow isthmus, the climb to Glen Pass began.  It's known as a nasty, rocky, high-stepping difficult ascent.   We were glad when it was over, and found the other side much more palatable.  Except for my knee.  I found myself almost coming to a stop to lower myself down the big steps, and our speed faltered.   The rest of the day passed in a haze.  My knee hurt, we kept going down and down.   The campsites at the bottom had no water.  We kept going down.  Finally Jim went ahead and found a really cool large camping area next to a river.  I dumped my pack and went to soak in the river.  I really wasn't capable of much more.

Day 12
Our reward for 4 days of hard hiking were several shorter days before our final ascent of Mount Whitney.  Today, we just needed to go 12 miles and get over a 13,000 foot pass.  That's all.   We made a new friend, Rich, as he was going our speed up the hills and left his hiking group behind.  Until he took off like a rabbit up the pass and left us behind too!    We found ourselves hiking faster and further while talking to Rich, until the pass began in earnest.  Then we dropped back to our favorite game of "take a breather" each time we climbed 100 ft in elevation.   But Forester Pass was very gently graded with few steps, and we ascended fairly easily.  The pass isn't much more than a notch in the ridge, with great views on both sides.  We found Rich waiting there, along with several other hiking groups.

The switchback descent felt fairly easily, and then it was a long walk along a high plateau.  Stunted trees appeared in the distance, but we were very high and not much else could grow.   I suddenly felt very weary as we sped along the flatish trail.   I repeated like a mantra, 4 miles to camp, just 4 miles.  It took forever.  My knee hurt.  It was WINDY, and the windy annoyed me and I couldn't get warm.  We finally reached a sparse bunch of trees and I needed a break.   The first campground was only about 1/2 mile away but I had to stop.  I sent Jim ahead to find a good place and sunk onto a rock.  I stayed there for a while in the sun trying to get warm and comfy.  Finally I struggled onward and found the tent already set up, in my favorite camp of the whole trip.   Next to a river running over flat rocks, they were free of anything slimy, with clear, warmish (read: not freezing) water.   Better yet, it was only 3 pm.  Camping at 3 pm...what a novel idea.

First again was a soak for my feet and knee.   Still cold, I put on all my waterproof clothes, grabbed my sit pad, and laid down on the rocks in the sunshine.  When the shadows moved, I switched to the other side of the stream and lay motionless again.  For hours.  I may have slept, or maybe just laid there in a fog of exhaustion.    When shade came for good I was finally warm, and could move enough to drink, eat and function again.  Rich and his group camped next to us, and we would see them the next night too.

I should mention that the skin on of the back my legs was getting really painful and sometimes would start bleeding?   Some of it was sunburn (I only wore shorts), but for the rest, I could only conclude that my dusty, dirty socks (which I washed and rotated every night) were wearing away the skin on my sock line.  My heels were dry, cracked, and painful too.  I used bandaids and chapstick on them occasionally (about the only first aid I had besides duct tape), which helped, but day by day they were getting dry, callused, bleeding, and sore.   Luckily I only had 2 days more to go, or I would have had to take further measures to stay healthy.

Day 13
After eating oatmeal every morning so far, we were more than sick of it.  By now we were just glad if we could choke it down.  So we put this morning's ration in a bag for Fabian, and Jim had ramen instead.  I mixed up a ration of creme brule from a Mountain House packet.   It tastes like vanilla pudding and it was surprisingly good.

Today would be the shortest day of this week, 11 miles with NO passes to cross at all.  Hallelujah.   All we had to do was get ourselves to Guitar Lake, the staging area for the final ascent of Mount Whitney and the finish down in Whitney Portal.   It was only about 10 miles, and rather flat, but it would be the hardest day of the whole hike for me.   After a nice walk across a high plateau, empty except for some stubborn twisted Bristlecone Pine trees, we had a short descent.  A tiny descent.   It set my knee screaming again, worse than ever.   I struggled to Crabtree Junction, where we left our extra food for Fabian in the bear box.

Grumpy and in pain, I sent Jim ahead so I could slow down and limp.  It was less than 3 miles to Guitar Lake, but it took forever.   All I could think of was the fact that tomorrow I would need to descent 6,000 feet to the finish of the trail.  How could I do that feeling like this?    So I struggled, rested, limped and finally made it to camp, where Rich and Jim were waiting for me on huge rocks.  People would camp everywhere around here, and a passing ranger estimated that there were 50-90 people camped at this lake and the one above us.  Everyone was spread out enough that it wasn't obvious, though.

Our tent is looking up at Mt. Whitney
The wind was strong.  We chose a tent spot sheltered by an L of two huge boulders.  The corner made a nice spot to cook dinner, too.   The wind died by the evening and it became calm and cool.  I put on all my clothes and tried to stay awake until it got dark.  I managed to finish my book, too!

Day 14
My hiking socks, as usual of late, were frozen solid at the end of my trekking poles in the morning.  (Why did I wash my socks on the last night?  I have no idea).   I wore my clean dry pair washed two nights ago instead, and finally for the first time put on my gloves to make breakfast.  It was cold.  We had an abbreviated breakfast.   I made hot drinks and Jim had mashed potatoes.   I had found a homemade packet of chocolate drink in the MTR buckets, and mixed it up to drink on the trail.  It had a shot of coffee in it, which actually didn't taste bad.   Did I mention it was still dark?  We started hiking at about 5 am, headlamps making a ribbon of light zigzagging up the mountain.

We didn't have far up to go, only about 2000 feet to the junction, and we took it very steady.  The trail was pretty smooth and not too steep, and we wondered how the trail crew kept it maintained amid the steep cliffs at this elevation.    As we climbed, the light grew until we could see a film of ice on the lakes below us.  It was cold, and windy, and at sunrise I felt sorry for everyone who had tried to get to the summit to see that magical moment in this freezing air.

At 13,600 feet we had to make a decision, to the summit of Mt. Whitney, or down to the finish.  Plenty of abandoned packs here said that many people had chosen the summit. We had kind of made our decision already...if my knee pain returned, then the trip to the summit would just add agony to the day.  The biting cold and wind made the choice easier.   As we stood at the junction, three day runners passed us going to the summit wearing shorts and tiny packs.  Arghh.

Mt. Whitney is the rightmost flat-ish summit
Finally around the corner of the wind, in the sun, and looking down on the eastern Sierra for the first time since we started the trail, it was calm and warm.  We stopped to snack and I took some Ibuprofen.  This was our summit for the day.  It was also a very short-lived warm spot.  Back on the trail heading down now, the wind was brutal and cold.  We hurried down, my knee feeling perfectly fine as if I had willed and begged it not to hurt today.   Passing us going up were myriads of day hikers, braving 22 miles round trip to the summit with 6,000 feet of ascent and descent.  They must have started at 1 or 2 in the morning to be so far up the trail at 7 in the morning.   I didn't envy them the headache they were going to get later from the altitude.

Down we went.  Down. Down. Down.  The trail never ended.  Rocks, lakes, rivers, views.  All I wanted was that bacon cheeseburger Jim promised me at Whitney Portal.   Step down, down, down.  More people going up.   It's late now, almost too late to be going up.  And finally, "that guy" going up while wearing blue jeans.  He may not make it, Jim says.

Finally, a view of a road.  Civilization!  Bacon cheeseburgers!   But we are still thousands of feet above it.   Now it's warm.   We pass more people, these with heavier packs going up to camp before ascending Whitney.  Finally we pass a few just starting the John Muir Trail.   This steep 6,000 feet of ascent is a hell of a way to start, loaded up with a weeks worth of food.  We are light.  We eat our final candy bar, drink a bit of water, and our bear cans are almost empty.

The switchbacks continue, now across a hot, sunbaked hillside.  We are going so fast we are flying down the trail.  My knee doesn't hurt at all.   14 miles today, and at the final switchback, we've done it in 5 hours 45 minutes.   Jim finishes the John Muir Trail for the 3rd time, swears "never again" for the 3rd time, and we go to the cafe to enjoy a soda and burger.   And it's good, really good.   Even better, a lady and her family immediately pick us up to take us to Lone Pine and our vehicle, rearranging the whole family and dog to fit us and our packs into a crowded SUV.   It's nice to travel so effortlessly, driving further in 20 minutes than our whole day of hiking.

We shower, sleep, eat again, and wash every filthy piece of clothing we had.  And vow not to hike that far ever again.   Until maybe next year.  The end.

Day 1 Tuolumne to Marie Lakes Trail  17 miles  8 hours
Day 2 Marie Lakes Trail to Rosalie Lake   12 Miles  6 hours
Day 3 Rosalie Lake to Reds Meadow 9 miles  3 hours
Day 4 Reds Meadow to Lake Virginia 15.5 miles  8 hours
Day 5 Lake Virginia to Lake Edison Trail 13 miles  7 hours
Day 6 Lake Edison Trail to Sallie Keyes Lakes 16 miles 8 hours
Day 7 Sallie Keyes Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch 5 miles 2 hours
Day 8 Muir Trail Ranch to Wanda Lake 18 miles 10 hours
Day 9 Wanda Lake to Deer Meadow 16 miles 8 hours
Day 10 Deer Meadow to Sawmill Pass Trail 21 miles 12 hours
Day 11 Sawmill Pass Trail to Vidette Meadow 17 miles 9 hours
Day 12 Vidette Meadow to Shepherd Pass Trail 12 miles 6 hours
Day 13 Shepherd Pass Trail to Guitar Lake 11 Miles 6 hours
Day 14 Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal 11.5 miles 6 hours
Cowboy camping at Wanda Lake
Muir Hut
Foreman warming up in the hut
This guy passing Jim has HUGE front bag(S) as well as a backpack!
More bear paws
A Pica on the rocks

Couldn't take enough photos of Rae Lakes

A pack train coming off a rough 12,000 foot pass

Forester Pass
My favorite campsite by an awesome creek
Bristlecone Pines

September 11, 2016

Backpacking the John Muir Trail, Part 2

DAYS 4-7   Red's Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch

Our fourth day on the John Muir trail was a clean, fresh start to the trip.  After lunch, dinner and breakfast at the Red's Meadow cafe, plus a couple of showers, a nice bed, and a rinse of our clothing, we set off for another three nights along the trail. We didn't need to smash our food to fit it in the bear canisters, but we still left a small pile of candy bars for the cleaning lady in our hotel room that we knew we couldn't eat along the way!

The trail out of Red's Meadow climbed gently for miles, passing through a burned section from the Rainbow fire some years before (named after waterfall near there).   Although we had no passes to climb today, we were starting at only 7,600 feet of elevation, the lowest we would get along the whole route.   There was no where to go but up, but at least it was a gradual up.   Once through the burn, we started long, lazy switchbacks up a hillside, passing two red volcanic cones on either side of the trail.  I found the day quite scenic, in a woodsy sort of way.  I even saw a weasel!

But the woods get old, and what I was really hoping for was a nice flowing stream with smooth rocks to sit on where we could take a nice mid-day break.  Hurrying to camp every day just to get bored waiting for the sun to set is a little overrated.

At Duck Pass Trail we found a nice rocky stream to take a break just when I felt like I was lagging.   I  sat on a rock and soaked my feet and legs in very cold water while we enjoyed the sunshine.   We also went about the myriad of tasks to keep us moving later in the day.   Although today we had time for a long stop, it's not always the case, and it pays to be efficient with gear.  So we purified water, dug out more snacks, put on sunscreen, found the lipgloss, and made sure we had what we needed handy so we wouldn't have to stop later to dig it out.

This time, it was only a few more miles to our camp for the night at Lake Victoria.  There was some steep hills (up and down) in our way, but the scenery got more scenic, and we were there by mid afternoon.  So were our friends, Fabrian and another couple, who had stopped there to cook lunch and have a swim.  Brrrr.   I never did manage to submerge myself in these freezing cold lakes.

The big meadow to the north side of the lake had many camping spots, hidden here and there by rocks and trees but dominated by the mountains around us.   We hung out and visited with everyone for a while, and commiserated on a sprained ankle.    Finding a nice campsite was simple later...we simply walked around the lake until we found one overlooking the lake.  It wouldn't always be that nice, or that easy.

By now our camp routines were getting pretty streamlined.  Jim would put up the tent while I got water bottles filled all the food stuff together.  Then I could sort out my supper, tea, olive oil, breakfast oatmeal, and coffee.   Every bit of gear and food would come out of our packs, and we used trash bags to keep it out of the dirt.  Inside the tent went all clothes, inflated air mattress, foam pads, headlamps, etc.  The empty pack went under my feet, not that it gave much padding!  We would then boil up hot water for each meal, add some olive oil for flavor and calories, and let them sit and rehydrate for a while.  In the meantime we boil up more water for tea.  We didn't always want to drink it, but it's a good way to get rehydrated after a hot day of hiking.   It's also a nice way to keep my hands warm as the air cools down.  After our evening meal, I would collect all the breakfast stuff (oatmeal, hot chocolate/coffee, spoons, ziploc cozies (to keep oatmeal warmer), and the stove.    Sometime before or after that, we would usually soak our feet again, and get our snacks ready for the next day.

Morning was the whole cooking routine over again, while we juggled packing with brushing our teeth and sipping coffee.   It was really hard to wake up before the sun came up....getting up into the cold and dark from a tent was hard for us, apparently.   Try as we might to speed up, the whole changing clothes/packing/cooking/eating/call of nature process in the morning always took us between 70-90 minutes every day.     Some people, to make this process faster, don't cook in the morning, just eat a cold breakfast bar or Carnation instant breakfast.   In fact, some people who want to go really fast don't bring a stove at all, just ready to eat foods and drink mixes.   It does take time to cook, but weight wise, I think dehydrated meals make up for the weight of the stove after a few days.  Plus it's just nice to have a hot meal out there.  Not to mention hot chocolate...my favorite!

That evening, we wowed a family of women hikers with show and tell of our light gear, and they vowed to chuck a few things at their next resupply so they could walk lighter and easier!   We enjoyed encountering other backpackers, but didn't usually see them more than a day before we passed their next campsite and continued further beyond.

So it was usually between 7:30 and 8:30 each morning when we finally rolled out of camp to start walking.  Day 5 was no exception, but we only had 13 miles to go.   Silver pass was in our way, at 10,900 feet, then it was down to Lake Edison Trail for the night, again dipping below 8000 feet.   This would prove to be a hard mental day for me.  My legs, which were still a little sore from the first few days of hiking, still hadn't recovered, and I just didn't feel like going fast at all.   The elevation first dropped us down 1000 feet, then up 1500, then down 3000.   Where's the flat, nice trail, I asked Jim rhetorically?!?   I tried to enjoy the high alpine lakes and the views behind us, but I was just having an off day.

Jim was going strong, found a hiker on the trail to talk to, and pulled ahead of me easily.  The descent seemed boring, I wasn't going very fast, and I didn't want to go fast, darn it!  Finally after the pass I told him to go ahead and find us a camp spot.   I thought I was going down forever, as I took big steps down the rocky trail and tried to think of reasons why I was out here walking, days from the nearest trailhead with uncomfortable sleeping gear and boring food.   I stopped to soak my feet, and finally meandered into camp some time later.

Our camp spot was actually really beautiful, deep in the woods, near a loud stream and the bridge junction to Vermillion Ranch on Lake Edison.  We didn't need a resupply here, so we would never even get to see the lake, which seemed quite large on the map.    I revived myself with my favorite dinner of the trip, smoked Salmon mixed into instant potatoes....and wished I had sent more of that in my resupply!

There were plenty of other people in camp, including all the usual faces we had been talking to along with a group of women on the 10 mile a day plan.   We also met Foreman, who was the first guy to have our same fast itinerary.  He had tried the trail twice before, quitting once for blisters, and getting driven out by a fire the second attempt.  Between the two, he had lost at least 50 pounds and gotten a lot lighter and faster.   He was anxious to finish this time, and we would camp together several nights along the trail.

I was ready to go the next morning on Day 6, which was lucky, because our first steps down the trail were on to the infamous Bear Ridge.  This steep ascent was the reason why we had stopped the night before, not wanting to go up in the afternoon heat.    In the cool morning, it wasn't so bad, even if it was 2000 feet of switchback ascents through the deep forest.   It was also the driest stretch of the trail, with about 5 miles without water.   That wasn't too tough for us for drinking, but the streams and lakes were some of the most scenic parts of the John Muir trail...this was dusty and rather monotonous.

At the top we met Ron and another guy taking a break.  We added him to the collection of people who would be heading to the Muir Trail Ranch resupply the same day as us, which was tomorrow now.  Ron claimed to be slow on the trail, but he seemed to underestimate himself.  Every time we met up with him later, he was already ahead of us, or passing us while we took a break!

Jim had been building me up for the cabin we had reserved at the Muir Trail Ranch.   With private hot springs, our resupply bucket, breakfasts and dinner cooked by award winning chefs, and a real bed to sleep in, I was looking forward to it.  Although let's face it I was excited to do anything rather than eat another boring meal out of a ziploc bag and sleep on the hard ground!  

So we would be walking longer today, in order to have a short walking into the Ranch the next morning.  This made sense to me, but scenery on the second half of the day was really gorgeous and I wanted to stop and camp in many places instead.  For our midday break, we found a river running over smooth rocks, with perfect places to walk into the water and soak while eating a snack.  It was cold water but warm air, and we stayed for quite a long time.   We were joined by Foreman and the couple with the sprained ankle, and passed by Ron (of course).

We eventually all continued on, finally arriving at Marie Lakes, probably my favorite place on the whole trail.  The lake was just gorgeous.  There was even a small rocky cove where the water "might"  have been a little warmer.    Unfortunately we couldn't camp here either....but the views of the lake just kept getting better and better as we powered up and over Seldon Pass, still just short of 11000 feet.  From the crest, it was only a couple of miles to Sallie Keyes lakes, where we finally found a campsite near the outlet of the lake.  Ron and Foreman joined us there, along with a lady heading Northbound.   We would see Fabian passing by early the next morning, and all get back together at the Ranch while happily sorting through our resupplies.

Sallie Keyes Lake might have been one of the warmer lakes, but it was windy and overcast when we arrived and I wasn't having any ideas of swimming.  After a soak, I put on my waterproof gear and down vest (I have trouble staying warm enough when it's windy and I'm tired) and sat on a log at the lake outlet.   There were trout swimming around all the submerged logs in the perfectly clear water, and I was mesmerized.

Day 7 was almost a rest day for us, otherwise known as a NERO (near Zero) day.   We just had 5 miles to get to Muir Trail Ranch, where we could get a shower, soak in the hot springs, wash our clothes, eat real food, and rest.    In those 5 miles, we dropped almost 2,500 feet of elevation in some never ending switchbacks.  Jim had walked ahead faster, and I found the sign junctions somewhat confusing, but eventually found my way down to the ranch.  Oddly enough, a horseback tour passed me, going up to our campsite for a day trip...that's a lot of up and down, even on a horse!

Arriving at the resupply point, it was entertaining to watch all of our newfound friends sort out the food they thought they might want to eat and had sent themselves a month ago.

Along the edge of the tent was a long row of buckets of extra food and toiletries.  We all pawed through these rejects for odds and ends which other people had brought too much of or had gotten sick of.    Our own resupply was pretty standard fare;  oatmeal for breakfast, candy bars/peanut butter/nuts for snacks, and Mountain House dinners.   My favorite dinner was Pad Thai, but I hadn't sent any in this resupply.   I really didn't like Beef Stroganoff but had three of them waiting for me :(  

With food laid out over every surface, we exchanged between hikers because everyone was bored with something or had packed too much.  Ron exchanged a bottle of wine for a hunk of cheese.   I gave away my 3 stroganoff dinners to a guy who said it was his favorite meal (?), and ended up with Ramen noodles, instant potatoes, and hard salami instead.  I changed my tea packets (sick of the flavor) for other varieties, and got a few more drink mix packets, which helped me drink more water during the day.  I also found the holy grail of snacks I had been wishing for, Nutella and Cheetos!  Our best tip of the day came from a Norwegian hiker, who said he was adding instant potatoes to his mountain house meals.  He dumped extra packages of potatoes into the buckets so I appropriated a few.  I did that almost every night the rest of the trip, and it was always  a winner.  But most of the giveaway buckets were filled with homemade or mystery packages of food.  Labeled or not, you're never sure what they are!   I think the selection might have been stripped more than usual, as a girl the day before arrived, but not her resupply bucket.  She managed to scavenge enough food to continue on just from the bucket extras.  We did go back later in the day and find a huge unopened package of pepperoni sticks, which turns out to have been my favorite snack ever.  We returned about half the package to the buckets and I sorely regretted that a few days later....

Once everyone had leisurely sorted their resupplies, they moved on to camp further up the trail.  Our cabin was ready too, so we could then wash our clothes, wash ourselves, explore the camp, and hope for the dinner bell to ring.   Two natural hot springs flow through, and were built into little private japanese garden pools complete with bathing area, views of the mountains, and privacy.  We chose the cooler of the two baths and soaked for a while.  It was so heavenly that we went back after dark to do it again!

Chicken Paella, salad, fresh bread and apple pie was on the menu for dinner, served buffet style in the small cook house.  We swapped hiking stories with our neighbors and enjoyed the fresh food and the fact that we were sitting on a chair to eat it!

Third and final section coming up soon...

Gear list at about 13 Pounds base weight
Z-Packs Arc Blast backpack        19 ounces
Z-Packs Duplex tent         19 ounces
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 Quilt         18 ounces
Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy        7 ounces
Thermarest NeoAir XLite air mattress        8 ounces
Gossamer Gear Thinlite 1/8 foam pad (for under air mattress) 2 ounces
Bearikade bear cans  (one Weekender size, one Expedition size)  31 and 36 ounces
Jetboil stove with one canister per resupply 16 ounces
Clothing included shorts, t-shirt, arm warmers, rain jacket, rain pants, wool sleeping clothes, gloves, extra socks, beanie, sun hat, down vest, flip-flops, and a fleece sweater.   Extras:  foam sit pad, lighter, toiletries, aquamira, 1 and 2 liter platypus collapsible water bottles, 1/2 liter Nalgene for hot drinks, watch, knife, book, headlamp, bandanna, map book  etc.   All of this weighed about 6 pounds

"I'm gonna work you like a rented llama!"
Day 1 Tuolumne to Marie Lakes Trail  17 miles  8 hours
Day 2 Marie Lakes Trail to Rosalie Lake   12 Miles  6 hours
Day 3 Rosalie Lake to Reds Meadow 9 miles  3 hours
Day 4 Reds Meadow to Lake Virginia 15.5 miles  8 hours
Day 5 Lake Virginia to Lake Edison Trail 13 miles  7 hours
Day 6 Lake Edison Trail to Sallie Keyes Lakes 16 miles 8 hours
Day 7 Sallie Keyes Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch 5 miles 2 hours
Day 8 Muir Trail Ranch to Wanda Lake 18 miles 10 hours
Day 9 Wanda Lake to Deer Meadow 16 miles 8 hours
Day 10 Deer Meadow to Sawmill Pass Trail 21 miles 12 hours
Day 11 Sawmill Pass Trail to Vidette Meadow 17 miles 9 hours
Day 12 Vidette Meadow to Shepherd Pass Trail 12 miles 6 hours
Day 13 Shepherd Pass Trail to Guitar Lake 11 Miles 6 hours
Day 14 Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal 11.5 miles 6 hours

The 1992 Rainbow Fire aftermath
Red Cone

Lake Virginia

A doe and two fauns look at Jim on the trail

A perfect spot to soak feet and relax

Sallie Keyes Lake
Hot springs at Muir Trail Ranch