Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 9, 2016

Backpacking the John Muir Trail, Aug 22-Sep 4, 2016

Jim and I love to backpack.  At least, we told each other we did, but in the last three years we hadn't managed to get out at all :(   That would need to change in order to prepare for a mighty 2 week journey in the Sierras.  (We would camp, but only for one night using out lightweight gear, and other nights car camping with the dog.  Hopefully it would be enough preparation!)

The John Muir Trail is a 220 mile backpacking trail amoung some of the highest peaks of California's Sierra Nevada.   The trail crosses no roads, and in some cases, it takes up to three days to walk out if there is a problem along the way.   Jim had done the trail twice before, so he knew what we needed to do to prepare, but it still took a couple of months to organize our gear, get our resupplies sent out, and figure out what foods would be edible yet light enough to carry.

We were starting out pretty light, our pack base weight was about 13 pounds without food or water. (A list of gear follows later) This was lower than almost everyone we met on the trail, and allowed us to go further and faster than the average hiker.  This was good, because of time restraints we would need to go far and fast every day with no rest days.  The normal backpacker does the trail in about 3 weeks, or about 10 miles a day.  We allowed ourselves 2 weeks, which would bump us up to about 15 miles a day.   On paper that didn't sound so bad, but the reality of high elevations, high passes, and rocky trails meant it would challenge us every step of the way.

Going southbound on the JMT, we knocked out the first 25 miles of the trail easily....we didn't do them!   Actually, we couldn't.  Our permit had us starting in Tuolumne Meadows, rather than the tradition start in Yosemite Valley.  We were grateful we had gotten a permit at all, which are in high demand, and happy to miss out on 6000 feet of climbing to start the route.

It was raining when we got off the bus in Tuolumne, where we picked up our permit, got a lecture from the ranger about all the things we shouldn't do in the wilderness, and settled into the hiker campground.  One last meal at the takeout restaurant for breakfast, and we were headed out for two weeks in the wilderness.   Sort of!  We actually had cabins booked at our resupply points, so we knew that twice along the way we could take a shower, get a good meal, and sleep in a real bed.

DAYS 1-3

The first section would only have us out on the trail for two nights before arriving in Red's Meadow near Mammoth, CA.   We got an easy start from Tuolumne by walking down the almost flat Lyell Canyon.   Then it rained, but not too much.   We waited it out under a tree, not wanting to ascend 11,000 foot Donahue Pass in a thunderstorm!   We eyed the camping spots at the lake below the pass longingly...it was a beautiful spot, but we were both feeling good, and wanted to get some more mileage under our feet.   So we muscled up and over the pass when the skies cleared, managing 17 miles for the day.  However, I was limping slowly by the end, as the bottom of one foot was very painful.   Jim went ahead to find a campsite and I came in a bit later.  No idea what happened, but the next day my foot felt better and caused very little trouble after that, thank goodness!

(Our daily itinerary is below if you want to know where we camped)

On Day 2 we had an easier time of it, no major passes, and plenty of nice scenery to enjoy, and less miles to walk.  Thousand Island Lake flashed by along with other lakes and streams with plenty of trout.  Jim wished he had brought his fishing pole to give us a fish dinner!   Along the way we met Fabian from Switzerland, who was traveling about our speed for the next week, so we would see him again here and there along the trail.     When we arrived at Rosalie Lake to spend the night, Jim just got the tent set up when it started raining for about an hour.  We jumped inside and hung out, hoping that it would clear enough to cook dinner.   Indeed it did, and we had a really nice evening, soaking our dirty feet in the lake, watching the fish, enjoying the sunshine.

The irony of high elevations and lots of exercise is that while you get to eat all you want, appetites are lower than normal, so I didn't really want to eat much.  Our basic daily rations consisted of oatmeal and hot chocolate/coffee for breakfast; candy bars, peanut butter and salty snacks for lunch throughout the day; and a rehydrated meal at night with hot tea.   We ate everything out of freezer ziploc bags and drank out of small Nalgene bottles.  Our Jetboil stove was only used to boil hot water, so we never had to clean it :)

On Day 3, we woke up with only 9 miles to go for our first resupply.  Because almost all of it was downhill and we were eager to get to our cabin, we knocked out the distance in just 3 hours!   Unfortunately that meant we arrived hours before our cabin was available.   But that just meant we could have a leisurely lunch in the cafe, get our resupply bucket and sort through it, and talk to the other hikers.  Fabian arrived in the afternoon, too, hanging out and sorting his food dressed in just a towel, while he washed every stitch of clothing he had brought!    It was entertaining for us to watch everyone sort their resupplies, as most had grossly overestimated how much they would eat, and also how much would fit in their bear canisters!  Due to the problems with bears, all food and toiletries have to fit inside the canisters, and are placed away from the tent at night.  I guess bears learn they can't get in them and leave humans alone.  We hope.

To be continued....

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

Devil's Postpile
Food storage at some campgrounds, to guard against bears

Pack mules along the trail 
Near Tuolumne Ranger station
Donahue Pass...our first and almost last snow
Shadow Lake
These guys had everything, including a large knife and air horn....

A couple at Red's Meadow sorting their resupply...waaay too much
Trees blown over in a microburst several years ago
Many makeshift logs for stream crossings

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