by Bill Finch
The loop trips were more exhausting and difficult than I had anticipated. In addition, 118 miles of hiking had netted only 41 miles of JMT. A look at Starr's Guide showed that loops to the north would have even higher ratios of total trail miles to JMT miles. Then, I got another inspiration. Why not just hike the entire JMT and fulfill a dream of more than 25 years? A check of Starr's Guide and some quick arithmetic showed that if I walked about 16 miles a day I could make it from Tuolumne Meadows to Whitney Portal in 13 days. I decided to pass up the Yosemite Valley segment, planning to pick it up at a later date. Even though I had recently hiked the JMT as far north as the middle fork of the Kings River, walking all the way to Whitney Portal added only four days to the trip. I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my old Sequoia Park haunts, too.
I hinted to my wife, Karen, that it would be easier to just hike the entire JMT in one piece rather than trying to pick it up in loops. After bringing it up for about the fourth time, she said, "Well, why don't you just go ahead and do it." Three days later, I was on the trail.
Karen dropped me off at the Tuolumne Meadows trail head at about 10 pm and I found a spot to sleep north of the road on a steep hillside. I was surprised to find no ready made flat spots since the trail head parking lot and surrounding area were posted "No Camping".
Day One 7/28/87 Tuesday
I woke up at 5:30, packed up and walked down to the trail head parking area. The camp table next to the Tuolumne Meadows wilderness permit kiosk was the perfect breakfast spot.
I was first in line to get a wilderness permit that morning. The girl who was working that day had never written permits before but it did not cause too much of a delay. I began hiking up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and was soon passed by a young woman from Normandy, France, a nurse's assistant on vacation She knew of Gilles de Rosny, a Frenchman Karen and I had met while living in Denver. Small world. We walked together for a while but she went on ahead since she was going from Tuolumne Meadows to Donohue Pass as a day hike. A meandering stream flows through much of the Lyell Fork valley and there are even a few trout in it. I passed several parties including 16 boy scouts from the San Diego area. Even though it was a dry year, the Lyell Glacier looked impressive.
Just this side of Donohue Pass, I met couple from Petaluma who were also walking to Mt. Whitney. We talked and hiked together for the rest of the afternoon and then camped in the same area about a mile above the Rush Creek trail junction. The trail on the south side of Donohue Pass was littered with obsidian chips that were deposited over the area during a fairly recent (prehistoric) explosive eruption at nearby Mono Craters.
I fished the small stream briefly without success and then had dinner. The Petalumans invited me over for after dinner socializing. We talked about our plans and exchanged ideas on equipment. They were planning on covering the entire John Muir Trail (JMT) in 21 days. They had already had bear trouble and lost a lot of food during their walk through Yosemite Valley. Stories about bear raids turned out to be the number one topic of conversation during the trip.
Day Two 7/29/87 Wednesday
In the morning I walked by the trail work that the CCC crew bragged about when we saw them yesterday afternoon. They have a right to be proud of their good work. Island Pass, one of the easiest passes on the JMT, led into some of the most beautiful country on the trail Dominating the view to the west are Banner Peak and later Mt. Ritter, the two most impressive mountains that are seen from the north part of the trail. Volcanic strata seen to the east are intriguing, but not nearly as breathtaking as the towering peaks to the west. Thousand Island Lake and its twin Garnet Lake to the south make perfect settings for admiring the peaks of the Ritter Range.
I tried day fishing for an hour on Garnet Lake but without luck. A camper I met there reported that he finds it to be one of the finest fishing spots in the Sierras but he usually fishes only in the morning and evening. Lakes and views on the up and down trail became less and less spectacular toward the south. As I came into view of Rosalie Lake a trout jumped what looked like three feet into the air and I let out a whoop, only to come upon a couple and their dog who had started setting up their gear in a perfect campsite overlooking the lake. With a little embarrassment, I explained my whoop. They were glad to know that there were fish in the lake since they had not seen any yet. We had a brief discussion about whether it was all right for dogs to eat squirrels then I continued on. Finally, at Gladys Lake, the trail departed the high lake country for the forested and mostly dry valley that leads to Devil's Postpile National Monument.
A hazy view of the Minarets could be seen as the trail approached Johnston Lake meadows where I had planned to stay that night. However, tales of beer and cheeseburgers from the night before kept me on the go. The trail was much more heavily used between the creek and Devil's Postpile. A new trail sign led me astray on a detour toward Rainbow Falls, but a check with a day hiker's map of the DPNM area got me back on the trail to Red's Meadows and my date with the infamous cafe. It felt good that I would have an extra dinner in my pack.
With a full stomach and my attitude readjusted, I prepared for a night's stay at the Red's Meadows camping facilities. I asked the young lady at the store about a camping spots. Actually, my first question was whether they had any problems with bears in the area. She replied that a bear made a visit to the area every night. I asked if the campground provided secure storage for campers' food but she did not know if such facilities as a bear cable or locker were available. I quickly bid her goodbye, not wanting to lose any of my food to the campground mascot, and walked three more miles up the trail to my second campsite of the trip which was beside the stream crossing at the foot of Crater Meadow.
Sizable blisters had developed on the balls of each foot next to my big toe in addition to the usual blisters between the small toe and the one next to it on my right foot. I soon concluded that the new super duper sox I had just bought were too large for the hiking boots I was wearing (a pair of Nike Approaches which performed flawlessly). I dismissed the possible conclusion that the blisters could have been caused by walking more than twenty miles that day with a heavy pack on my back.
I cleaned up, did laundry and got to bed at 8:30 or so. The coldest night of the trip followed, along with a bout of diarrhea that commenced at 3:30 in the morning I probably caught the flu from daughter Jane, who had suffered through it just a day or two before the start of the trip.
Day Three 7/30/87 Thursday
I awoke several more times during the night with diarrhea Finally, I got up for good at 5:30. The thermometer read -2 degrees C. The laundry I had washed just before going to bed was frozen stiff. The sox did not start to thaw out for another three or four hours. Fortunately, it turned out to be the coldest night of the trip. I risked eating breakfast and thanked God for sparing me from the vomiting part of the flu. Every meadow I came to until mid morning was mantled in frost. The trail became flatter and wandered through forest until Deer Creek crossing, a fine camp spot and the last water before Duck Creek. The trail between Deer Creek and the Duck Lake turnoff, although dry, offered some fine views of the Fish Creek Canyon and the Silver Divide, but it was one of the least scenic stretches of the entire JMT.
I met some hikers at the Duck Creek crossing and we talked about the second most common topic of conversation that came up during the trip, water quality. The leader of the group maintained that a 50 gallon water sample is needed to detect the presence of Giardia, the major pathogen in Sierran waters. Almost everyone I met during the trip was treating water, mostly with filters. First Need filters seemed to be the most popular. I wondered, not for the first time, if my loose bowels could be attributed to bad water.
After a long lunch stop at Duck Creek, I continued on to Purple Lake, a lovely spot where I had planned to stay, but it turned out to be a little too crowded for my taste. A steep climb brought me to Virginia Lake, a beautiful alpine gem. I set up camp on the north side of the lake in one of the finest camping spots of the entire trip. A man in his fifties and two twenty-year-olds, one his son, occupied the camp next door. We all tried our luck at fishing that evening. I had no success at first but then caught two fat rainbow trout on my first two casts with a Mepps spinner. I think that they are the first fish I have ever caught on a Mepps, reputedly one of the most deadly spinners in these waters. Further fishing yielded one more fish but since my neighbors only caught one among them they gave it to me. The trout were the key ingredient to the first of several trout and rice feasts that I enjoyed during the trip. The flesh of the fish was the reddest trout meat I have ever seen. The fish was so good,I gave my neighbors only a stingy taste of the sumptuous dish. We enjoyed an evening of socializing around the campfire. I got to bed a little later than usual. The effects of the flu were wearing off and I slept as well as on any night of the trip.
Day Four 7/31/87 Friday
The late start I got this day was the result of the late night and the foot surgery that I did in the morning. The medium weight wool sox that I brought showed promise of being exactly the right ones for the job. I was depending on them to withstand another 140 miles of walking.
A Swiss couple caught up with me just as I started to drop from Virginia Lake down in to Tully's Hole. We played leapfrog all day long. The odor of onions met us as we got closer to the meadow of Tully's Hole and I commented to them that there must be onions down below. I caught up with them again, and as I passed, I noticed that the woman had a bunch of onions tucked into the strapping on the side of her pack. I vowed that I would pay closer attention to my nose next time I smelled onions so I could harvest some for my dinner.
After crossing the new bridge over the tributary of Fish Creek, the trail climbed toward Silver Pass. The Swiss couple passed me again, and again I caught them. I found out that they were hiking from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney, about a 450 mile trip. They are currently residents of New Zealand where they work in a national park during season. They have hiked on every continent except Antarctica and they were planning a trip there next year. Before we knew it we had arrived at Silver Pass. The country surrounding the pass was characterized by the typical alpine splendor for which the Sierras are so renowned. I left the pass before the Swiss and met several groups going up to the pass. The last group consisted of five ladies, aged from thirties to sixties who were very much enjoying their trip in the mountains. I stopped for a foot soak and an extended break beside a large onion patch. I did not want those onions to get away from me this time. While I was dangling my feet in the stream, the Swiss couple passed by again. It looked like they were right on their methodical pace of 2.2 miles per hour which he had informed me they walked.
Later that afternoon, I passed them again and he tried to talk me into camping with them. I was tempted until I realized that the main reason he wanted me to stay with them was that it would be a confirmation of the best way to do the trip. I bid them "Goodbye" and he mockingly told me he would buy me a beer at Florence Lake. Bear Ridge, with what appeared to be a volcanic crater, was visible during the descent into Mono Creek Canyon.
A half a mile from the Mono Creek bridge, I saw the most heavily laden of all the travelers I met on my trip. The fellow's pack had so many things tied to the outside, it was double its original size. Perched on top in a cloth traveling case was a full sized guitar. He was hiking from Kennedy Meadow (the one in Sequoia National Forest) to Lake Tahoe. It looked like he and his traveling companion were having a great time on the trip. They had just completed a side trip all the way to Mono Hot Springs where they had spent a couple of days.
The country I passed through that day seemed abnormally dry which was to be expected in such a dry year. I ended up carrying up to a gallon or more of water through areas that I expected to be dry. It was generally worth carrying the extra weight.
I was half expecting to see a lot of people at the Mono Creek bridge but there was only one tent in view and I never saw its occupants. I heard the area has a reputation for bear attacks, so I picked a spot near a tree with a good branch for counterbalancing my food. The onions I gathered that afternoon were the base for a substantial stew. After I finished eating it I was so full that I thought for a while I would not have to cook any more dinner. After doing laundry and taking a bath in Mono Creek I was hungry enough to try my luck at fishing. A half an hour of diligent flailing netted me one golden trout. Just as I was about to call it quits, I caught another trout, this time a brown. Although they were not as fat as the rainbows from Virginia Lake, they contributed to a fine dinner. Well fed and bedded down on a nice sandy spot next to the creek, I slept soundly that night despite the threat of marauding bears.
Day Five 8/1/87 Saturday
I got on the trail early for a stretch of trail that I was told would be dry, steep, and boring with a reported 70 switchbacks. The climb up to Bear Ridge turned out to have plenty of water and only 55 switchbacks. The boring part was fairly accurate. I would rate it as one of the two truly boring stretches on the JMT.
The scenery improved dramatically during the descent into Bear Creek valley. I met no one on the trail until 11:30 and I did not even say hello to him since he was absorbed in the view of a lovely cascade in Bear Creek. I decided it wasn't a bad idea to take a break and enjoy the creek myself. Traffic picked up as a met a solitary rider leading a saddled horse. At the Lake Italy trail, I gathered wild onions while barely avoiding being sucked dry by several million voracious mosquitoes. There were so many of the hungry beasts I was forced to put on repellent.
I passed a couple from San Diego a little after noon and made a mental note that this beautiful area was a quick trip from a trail head very close to Fresno. The remainder of the hike up to Selden Pass seemed to take forever. It felt like the lakes below the pass should be right around the next corner for about two hours. Finally, I arrived at Marie Lake, one of the most spectacular alpine lakes imaginable. I rested briefly at the lake before beginning my final ascent toward Selden Pass. There were several campers at Marie Lake. It was surprising that a lake of such splendor so close to a trail head was not jammed full of visitors. The trip to the pass was a quick one and the view was fine.
Several hikers were climbing up from the other side. The first to arrive was a solo hiker, a carpenter in his twenties from Chula Vista. This dude was about as fit as anyone I saw during the entire trip. He had started from Mineral King and had averaged about twenty miles a day since then. Two incidents had forced him to leave the trail and return to civilization via Bishop Pass; he got raided by bears at Vidette Meadows and he blew out a pair of hiking boots. He was hoping to end his trip at Lake Tahoe. As the other hikers reached the top, I began my descent past Heart Lake to Sally Keyes Lakes where I planned to spend the night. The area was well populated but I managed to find a secluded spot on the western lake. As had become my custom, I had my afternoon tea which consisted of a cup of soup. A refreshing bath was followed by laundry duty.
I donned a fresh set of clothes and went fishing. A few casts in the upper lake brought no bites but it was still a little before the biting hour. I got to the lower lake just as the fish began to feed. I was very much regretting not bringing my fly and bubble outfit since there was so much surface feeding activity. But, I decided to do the best I could with spinners rather than returning to camp to get the fly and bubble. Using a Panther Martin, I soon hooked the largest golden trout I have ever caught. He was not more than ten inches long, but was he a fat one. As soon as I hooked him, he swam as fast as he could toward shore. It was all I could do to reel in the line fast enough to keep the line taut. Just as he reached shore he bent my pole double by charging away in the opposite direction. I finally brought him in after a brief battle close to shore and strung him on my catch line. I had played this whole scene to the majority of the residents of the lakes and a couple of them quickly got their poles together and joined me. The jumping became a surface feeding frenzy and we fishermen were whooping and hollering about how we had never seen more fish jumping at the same time in our lives. I caught one more golden and the two fish were so large I had to cut their heads off in order to fit them into my cooking pot. Needless to say, I enjoyed another delicious trout dinner that evening.
Day Six 8/2/87 Sunday
The next morning I was quickly on the trail and pounding my way down the steep trail to the south fork of the San Joaquin River. I passed the trail that forked to the hot springs in Blaney Meadows, one of the most famous camping spots on the trail . I decided to forgo the pleasures of the hot springs since I had been able to get clean enough by bathing in lakes and streams with the aid of a hot spit bath from a cooking pot full of hot water. I met two couples at the forks. The first was a young college age couple who had started the JMT from Mt. Whitney two weeks earlier. They had been raided by bears even though they are vegetarians. They warned me of the horrors of the mosquitoes of the meadows in Evolution Valley and suggested I hike on to Evolution Lake. The other pair was an older couple on a several day trip to Sally Keyes Lakes.
The trip up the valley from the forks to Piute Creek was hot, dry, dusty. The scenery and my mood improved as soon as I crossed the new Piute Creek Bridge into Kings Canyon National Park. The construction work was so recent that the scaffolding was still up under the bridge and tools were scattered all around the work area. The crew was enjoying a Sunday off. A mile or so up the trail where I had stopped to take a rock out of my shoe I was caught by a man carrying a day pack and walking at a good clip. He said he was hiking with the aid of a packer and two mules who were carrying his group's gear. I shared the trail with this fellow whose name was Dan, and with his sister Marie, her son Greg, and the packer, Dick, for the next several days. Greg caught up with me shortly after Dan passed and filled me in on more of the group's plans. At the Goddard Canyon Bridge, I talked to a group of hikers from Fresno who planned to climb Mt. Goddard and spend some time in that country. I spotted Greg taking a break beneath the bridge and joined him at creek side where I soaked my feet and had a lunch snack. While Greg and I were chatting Dick and the animals crossed over the bridge.
The climb up to Evolution Meadow passed beautiful cascades on Evolution Creek which can be enjoyed much better by walking next to the stream on the bedrock stream bed rather than on the nearby trail. The trail leveled out just below the crossing from the south bank to the north bank of Evolution Creek. This was the only major ford on the entire JMT. I got a chance to talk to the third member of the "light hikers", Marie, who preceded me across the creek. She assured me that the rocks were not sharp and that I could cross barefooted like she had. The rocks seemed to be sharper for me than they had been for her, probably because my pack contributed over 40 extra pounds to my poor feet.
Traffic continued to be thick for the rest of the day. I met a solo JMT hiker headed north and while we were talking, Em, the McClure Meadow Ranger came up the trail. It turned out we were only a few hundred yards from the Ranger Station. The three of us talked about the low water levels in the mountains and Em answered a question I had posed to several people since the beginning of the trip. I had seen a lot of avalanche damage in the last year or two and I wondered if anyone knew when it had happened and if it was associated with any one event in particular. She indicated that there had been 13 feet of snow accumulation during one week in February of 1986 and that the heavy snow was probably responsible for most of the damage. I asked Em to recommend a campsite that would avoid the mosquitoes of the meadows but that did not require me to hike all the way to Evolution Lake. I stayed at a spot that she recommended which was close to the cascades just east of where the trail begins its climb to Evolution Lake.
Cleanup and dinner went smoothly. The view could have been a little better and the falls a little less noisy, but otherwise it was a fine camping spot. An impressive peak called The Hermit dominates the view through the trees to the other side of the valley.
Day Seven 8/3/87 Monday
I got on the trail early and arrived at Evolution Lake during the morning calm while the lake's surface was still mirroring the surrounding scenery. The area at the mouth of the lake was a particularly popular camping spot. I noticed several nice spots for solo hikers or small parties between Colby Meadow and the lake. However, there are few spots that suit my taste between Evolution Lake and the other side of Muir Pass.
The climb up to Muir Pass was gentle and easy through increasingly more barren and stark country. The day was marked by clouds that threatened rain but never came through with any. Mount Goddard formed the backdrop for huge Wanda Lake. Wanda Lake and its sister Helen Lake on the other side of the pass looked like scenes of a planet just barely able to support human life. I took a brief lunch and photo stop at the Muir Pass shelter and enjoyed the gorgeous views of this particularly spectacular area. The hike down from the pass toward LeConte canyon was one of the most beautiful stretches along the entire trail. Every turn in the trail brought a new vista of spectacular metamorphic peaks and crags, crystal clear lakes, and feathery cascades. The climb up the pass from the south was much steeper and more difficult than the easy approach from the north. I met a group of five or six hikers in their sixties and seventies from Palo Alto and surrounding towns that were planning to hike the JMT in 41 days. They were a lively and interesting group and if they had not been going so slowly I would have tried to spend more time with them.
A little farther down the path, a repair crew was doing some work on a particularly nasty part of the trail at the head of LeConte canyon. There I crossed paths at the midway point of my trip with another solo JMT hiker coming from the south. He was an outdoors instructor at Yosemite who was planning on spending 14 days on the trip but he had little interest in talking, so we parted quickly.
Next, I talked to a woman from Reedley, then her husband, who were camped at the top of Big Pete Meadow. He was a counselor at Kings View Mental Hospital and a regular backpacker in these mountains. This was his wife's first big trip and she seemed to be enjoying it.
A little later, I saw Marie on the trail and she invited me to camp near their group's camp that night. She said they would be staying in Grouse Meadow that night, more than three miles farther than I had planned to go that day. When I got to Little Pete Meadow, there was little dense tree cover to protect me in case of rain, so, I decided to walk ahead and join them.
We camped in a grove of trees where the creek meanders closest to the trail in Grouse Meadow. Dan offered me a beer which was a welcome refreshment after a long hike. I caught three miserable golden trout despite the stream's location next to lots of traffic. The smallest trout was so skinny that I should not have bothered cooking him. The hook had torn him up badly so I felt obligated to eat him. Around the campfire that night, my second of the trip, they asked a lot of questions about geology and I did my best to answer them. The skies that had threatened rain all day cleared off and we did not see a drop of rain.
Day Eight 8/4/87 Tuesday
I left my hosts of the previous evening, who apparently always get a late start, and began the hike toward Mather Pass. At the junction of the trail with the Middle Fork of the Kings River Trail, all the rest of the trip became familiar territory. I had just been at this trail junction less than a month earlier while spending four days hiking a loop from Cedar Grove, up Woods Creek, over Pinchot and Mather Passes, down the middle fork of the Kings to Simpson Meadow, and returning by way of Granite Pass. I wondered what it would be like to tackle the steep switchbacks that climb from Deer Meadows to Palisades Lakes, an abrupt climb of almost 2,000 feet called the Golden Staircase. I did laundry at the base of the staircase and then started up. There was a lovely view down Palisade Creek toward Devils Crags. The ascent was much less difficult than I thought it would be and I was rewarded with great views of the Palisades as I approached lower Palisade Lake. Dan, Greg and finally Dick and the livestock caught up with me during my rest. I continued toward Mather Pass and was finally caught by Marie at the spot perched above upper Palisade Lake where I had camped three weeks earlier. We soon made the top of Mather pass where we enjoyed marvelous views of the Palisades and Upper Basin.
Also enjoying the views from Mather Pass were two fellows from Fresno, Greg a junior in geology at Fresno State and Dan a part time math instructor at Fresno State. I said goodbye to Dan, Greg, and Marie and joined in a conversation with these two. They had a lot to report. They had climbed Mt. Sill the day before and enjoyed its "best view of all Sierra summits." Dan had caught a 15 inch brook trout from one of the lakes near Mt. Sill. After a half an hour of nonstop talk, we decided it would be a good idea to head to a camp spot. They covered ground at a good rate but I was able to keep up without great difficulty. We talked a lot about scaling the "walk up" peaks in the Sierras. They assured me that I was capable of handling any of them, which may inspire me to try some more of them.
We camped just inside the trees along the South Fork of the Kings River in Upper Basin. We exchanged all kinds of information that evening. I was prepared for a poor night's sleep since the best spot I could find was on a patch of rough gravel. To my surprise the gravel was not a bad spot to sleep at all.
Day Nine 8/5/87 Wednesday
I had finished breakfast before I woke up Dan and Greg at six as they had asked me to the night before. When we parted, they gave me a bag of trail mix and a third of a dry salami, saying that they had brought too much food. As I left them, I realized I was really looking forward to talking to them about mountain experiences when I get back to Fresno.
I passed a large packer camp at the creek crossing. I found out later that day that the cook for the group was Dick's wife. At the prettiest of the Marjorie Lakes I stopped and ate much of the delicious trail mix that Greg had given me that morning. I passed a large group of hikers from LA which included a 61 year old grandfather on his first backpacking trip who was very proud of the fact that he was ahead of his two sons on their way to Pinchot Pass.
After a short stop at the pass, I hurried down to a small lake near the trail where I soaked my feet and took a long break. I enjoyed views of the red metamorphics west of the trail and Mt. Clarence King to the south. Dick came off the trail to say hello and to adjust the saddle on his horse. He asked if I would be staying with them that night near the Baxter Pass drift fence. I was not sure I would be going that far but I ended up spending the night with them again. The rest of the days hike consisted of a punishing downhill stretch of trail down the north fork of Woods Creek. I collected some wild onions for Dick because he said he did not know what they looked like. A crew was building a new bridge over Woods Creek to replace the one that was washed out recently. It was very hot at the crossing. The country had dried up dramatically in the three weeks since I had last passed through.
After a 20 minute break, I struggled up the trail. I finally found the group at a packer camp after a couple of hours of hot hiking. It was probably the rockiest, filthiest camp I have ever stayed at but it was not a bad spot for a group with livestock. Not only did I enjoy a beer with them that evening, but they talked me into sharing their dinner. The meal was nothing fancy, but it saved me a lot of time and energy that I would have put into making my own. We had a good talk around the campfire which was a little more festive since it was the last of their trip. They offered me some canned food that they had left over, but I turned them down because I did not want to carry the extra weight.
Day Ten 8/6/87 Thursday
I got a late start because it was hard to keep from socializing around the breakfast table. Since I was ahead of schedule, I planned on taking my time while walking through Rae Lakes country. Fin Dome was reflected in Dollar Lake. To the west was the impressive ridge that makes up the eastern boundary of the Gardiner Basin. As I was approaching the uppermost lakes, I met Julie McDonald, the Rae Lakes Ranger. Just as we met, an F-14 flew over, wings extended, at a very low altitude. She dropped everything and I helped her identify the plane. She called in the sighting on her radio shortly after another ranger to the north called in a sighting the same plane a few minutes earlier. I passed the uppermost of the Rae Lakes with its inviting island. Dick came along followed shortly after by the walkers and we all went our separate ways, the ranger to Twin Lakes on patrol and the rest of us toward Glen Pass.
On the way up to the pass I met a group of 16 high school students from Newport Beach. One of their leaders was a retired high school teacher and he agreed to send me a copy of his curriculum for a hiking class if I wrote him. The pass was much easier than last time since it was not covered with snow. The north side of the pass was the most exposed of all the passes I saw on the JMT and and in my opinion marks the divide between the more delicate scenery to the north and the grander and more open scenery to the south. The view of Rae Lakes Basin from the pass belied its delicate beauty. I waved goodbye to Dan, Greg, and Marie who were beginning their descent down the other side as I arrived at the top of the pass. They were planning to go out over Kearsarge Pass that afternoon. We had spent some enjoyable company together during the past four days. On the descent into Bubbs Creek canyon, I had a great view of East Vidette.
I meant to take the Bullfrog lake turnoff but I missed it. I did get a glimpse of the lake from the shortcut and it did not look like I missed a whole lot. The trail quickly dropped down into Vidette Meadows and "bear country." I had heard more stories about bear raids in this area than in any other place along the JMT so I decided I needed to hike as far toward Forester Pass as I possibly could in order to stay away from the center of their activity.
A few hundred yards from the Center Basin trail, I met a group of hikers who were looking for a packer and a food drop he was bringing to them. They were planning to soon complete the entire JMT in 40+ days. Since I had not seen their packer, they were not very interested in me, so I pushed on. The trail soon crossed the creek which flows out of Center Basin and I found a nice camping spot on the other side. I thought that it was the spot that Dick had recommended to me but it turned out that I was a few miles short of that spot which was up at the edge of the timber just below Forester Pass. I did not feel like fishing, so I ate one of my remaining meals with meat. Since I was far ahead of schedule, I made the decision to hike off the JMT the next day over to the head waters of the Kern River where our Boy Scout troop used to go more than 25 years ago.
Day Eleven 8/7/87 Friday
The trip up to Forester Pass was a solitary one. I said goodbye to Bubbs Creek canyon which was aglow in the early morning light. The white granite became more and more barren as I approached the pass. A CCC trail crew was doing some maintenance work on the trail, but I saw no one else on my way to the top. It was I different story once I got there. A man and his young son were resting after their climb from the other side. Within a few minutes a woman in her twenties followed behind me. Not only was the view to the north disappointing in its perspective, but was horrifying because of the red haze that blanketed most of the mountains. It was one of the most disgusting sights of the entire trip. The view to the south was much better. I had forgotten how broad and open the country south of the pass becomes. I spent a few minutes on top by myself after the others left until I was joined by a physicist from Palo Alto. He was carrying an ancient Kelty Pack which he said he had bought in 1964.
I quickly passed down to the valley below, glancing back toward Forester Pass. A short while later I passed by the Frog Ponds with Mt. Tyndall in the background. Soon, Mt. Whitney came into view in the distance. I struck out cross country toward the Kern River. I probably could have made it there just as fast by staying on the trail since the route I took passed over a large boulder field and then a series of ridges and valleys that are subparallel to the Kern. The Great Western Divide was a welcome sight.
When I finally arrived at a lake on the Kern I felt a little disoriented. I knew it was not the lake that our Boy Scout troop used to camp by, but I could not recall a lake between our camp spot and a larger lake upstream where we used to catch big fish. I hiked downstream and confirmed my hunch that that was where I would find our familiar camp. I returned up the west bank of the stream, passing the lake I had forgotten about, and soon arrived at the small lake that had yielded many large rainbow trout on our trips of more than 25 years ago. I had revisited the lake on a day hike out of Lake Reflection over 15 years ago, but it looked different even from that memory. It seemed so much smaller than before. I decided to try fishing at the lake, even though the sky was cloudy and a brisk wind was blowing. I did not get even a single bite in more than an hour and a half of continuous casting. To add insult to injury, I lost my large Superduper spinner, a duplicate of the one that had been so successful all those years ago.
The entire afternoon, I felt a lot of discomfort at being so far off the JMT since there was no way anyone would know to look for me here in case I got hurt. I returned to the JMT via the Lake South America trail and arrived at Tyndall Creek late that evening very relieved at my safe journey. I had not seen a soul since leaving the JMT and there was no one in sight that evening near my camping spot just inside the forest on Tyndall Creek.
Day Twelve 8/8/87 Saturday
The next day proved to be much more relaxed than the last. It was a low mileage day and the trip offered some of the best views that I can remember of old favorite and familiar territory including a vintage trail sign. I followed fresh bear tracks on the trail all the way to the north fork of Wright Creek. During the entire morning I saw only one party which was camped off the trail on the east side of the Bighorn Plateau. They were the only other people I saw until just before noon. Considering how busy the rest of the JMT had been I was surprised at how few people I saw during this day. I knew I was getting close to my day's destination when I arrived at Wallace Creek.
I had a long visit with the Ranger Dario at Crabtree Meadow who has been manning that station during the last five summers. He directed me to a camping spot just above Timberline Lake where I spent a leisurely afternoon preparing for my last day on the trail. The camp was south of Whitney Creek and had beautiful views in all directions. The Kaweah Peaks could be seen in the distance to the west, while Mt. Whitney dominated the eastern view. A spectacular sunset capped off one of the best days of the trip.
Day Thirteen 8/9/87 Sunday
Excited and anticipating my early start, I was up 3:20 and hiking toward the summit of Mt. Whitney a little after 4:30. A full moon lighted the path for the first hour and a half of the cool walk. Moonlight faded away as the moon dropped behind Mt. Hitchcock. The first rays of the rising sun gave forth enough light to continue the walk. It soon became warm enough to start shedding some of the layers of clothes I had put on to keep me warm in the early morning frost. Before long, the trail along the ridge to the summit came into view and soon I arrived at the trail junction and began the final ascent.
I arrived on the top of Mt. Whitney just before 8:30 and the summit was practically deserted. A couple there told me that 275 people had been up the day before, including a camera crew for Sports Illustrated, golfers making mile long drives off the top , kite flyers, and hang gliders. To top it off an F-4 had buzzed the mountain several times. Everything looked much the same as it did in 1961 with the exception of a new addition, the state's highest outhouse. Since it has no walls, the view must be better than that of any other Sierran outhouse. I took photos in every direction.
After a couple of hours enjoying the view and socializing it was time to descend to Whitney Portal, a steep downhill walk of more than 11 miles which involved an elevation loss of more than 6,000 feet. The trip down proved to be less physically difficult than I thought it would be. Instead, it turned out to be a shocking readjustment to "civilization." First of all, there were hundreds of people, gobs of them of every size, shape, and description imaginable. Scores of out-of-shape hikers were panting their way to intermediate camps located along the trail between Whitney Portal and the summit. The camps brought to mind mining boom towns.
As mid afternoon approached and with the intermediate camps behind, the number of people on the trail thinned out enough to enjoy the rest of the trip into Whitney Portal. It was with a great deal of joy that I heard daughters Anne and Jane whoop and holler as I approached the parking lot at the end of the trail. Karen was nearby with a shy and somewhat skeptical daughter Susan in her arms. Karen with her usual good sense and insight had made proper arrangements for the occasion by renting a motel room in Lone Pine where we stayed the night.
It was a great trip, well worth the time and effort that went into it. Actually, there was little sacrifice on my part. Karen did most of the sacrificing. At least one of the girls was sick the entire time I was gone and poor Karen was just about worn out by the time I finished the trip. I lost ten pounds but I expected to lose weight. I saw a lot of new country, including some that I plan to visit again. Some are lovely areas near trail heads that are only a few hours from Fresno. I came home relaxed and refreshed and ready to face the rigors of a new school year.
revised 12 February 2007