When you hear people talking about the John Muir Trail (JMT), they speak of it having a special aura. The impression created for prospective thru hikers is that the JMT ought be done as a whole from Yosemite to Whitney or vise versa for the full experience. While the aesthetics of the JMT is indeed inspiring, it in itself isn’t the reason for JMT’s aura. To that point, you really don’t need to do the JMT to witness the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the impression I came away with from both talking to the locals and personally experienced on my hike is that the JMT is only a glimpse of the wonderment within these mountains. “To really enjoy the aesthetics of these mountains, you just have to get off established trails into the many valleys,” said a local backpacker I met on the trail. Ofcourse, not everyone have the experience to plan something like that, but there are plenty of trails criss crossing the Sierra Nevadas that you can use to plan backpacking trips providing infinite aesthetics.
The combination of the number of people on the trail, everyone having the same frame of mind, having the same shared experience, and camping at similar spots makes it easy to bond and form friendships. It also makes for one of the best solo backpacking experiences as you are never really alone if you don’t want to be. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on several popular, remote, and usually longer duration hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, Walker’s Haute Route, and the O-Circuit in Torres Del Paine. To a greater extent, it is also similar to the city to city hostel backpacking travel experience where it’s easy to to meet new friends to explore the city. The JMT is just an expanded version allowing for a better chance for you to capture that aura.
The section heading out of Yosemite National Park and up Lyell Canyon out of Tuolumne Meadows is where many of these friendship and trail families start to form. The reasons that lead to this is that everyone have started to establish their prefered pace, you start to get out of the touristy crowds of the main Yosemite trails, the options of the track becomes singular or highway like as some locals say in jest, and there are specific stopping points that everyone tends to end up at. It was during this section that I met the friends I’d see throughout my hike in Chris, Diana, Cindy, and Bob.
This is part 3 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
We pick up my JMT adventures on day 4 having just completed my four day backpacking trip with my California friends within Yosemite (see part 2).
First, I obtained my JMT permit from the wilderness center in Yosemite Valley
and we had a celebratory dinner and beers from the well stocked Yosemite Valley grocery store. I had stored my food for the next few days in a bear box outside of our cars near the trailhead leaving a note saying when I’d pick it up. It was untouched when I reclaimed it.
Afterwards, Becky, Arnold, and Joey shuttled me to Tuolumne Meadows and dropped me off in front of the small store where we said our goodbyes. Thanks again y’all!
The smoke from the Ferguson fire was terrible throughout Yosemite Valley and for majority of Tioga Pass Road until we turned onto the last stretch into Tuolumne Meadows, which provided me with some relief. I dropped into the Tuolumne Meadow store to pick up some ice cream and kool-aid mix to add some flavor to my water before making my way to the backpackers campground before starting my actual JMT hike. The cost was once again USD$6 in cash.
Once I set up camp, I went through reorganizing and repackaging my food into my bear canister. This is where I first met Cindy and Diana, both solo hikers and ended up hiking together. They would be friends I’d hang out the most with on the trail and we’d finish on the same day.
While looking over my plans for this next section, between Lyell Canyon and Red’s Meadow Resort, I had roughly sketched out 4 days with one very short day (excel worksheet available at the JMT Yahoo! group – login required). I did this to give myself some leeway, but also trying to hit the good camping areas on this stretch. I also booked a night in Mammoth Lakes at the end of my day 8 or 4 days from this point for a possible nero, meaning spending majority of a day in town, where I would resupply. The extra time also helped with that.
My plan for how I’d approach each day was based on the possible afternoon smog from the Ferguson Fire. I figure I’d wake up early and knock some miles off early in the morning while I was still waking up. I’m usually not hungry when I first wake up. I’d then stop for a quick brunch. My major break and meal would be in the middle of the afternoon, when I’d suspect the smog to be the worst and it being the hottest. Afterwards, I’d hike whatever is left in the evening to reach my desired camp site.
My aim for day 5 of my hike, the first day on my actual JMT permit, was to get as close to Donahue Pass as possible. It marks the exit from Yosemite.
- Tuolumne Meadow to pond before Donahue Pass (C.02.14)
- distance: 13.7 miles
- elevation change: 2551 ft ascent & 619 ft descent
- time: 10:40 hours with breaks (6:00 hours moving time)
I left the campgrounds earlyish the next morning around 7:30 am under clear skies without any smoke, which was a pleasant surprise. I walked along Tioga Pass Road eastbound, crossing Tuolumne River before turning right at the junction for the Pacific Crest Trail that connects to the JMT.
The trail paralleled the road eastwards passing between the wilderness center and Puppy Dome and turning south near the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. It continued among the trees next to Dana Fork before crossing it over a bridge. There is a trail junction on both sides of the bridge, but the key marker to follow is toward Donahue Pass. At the next open area, there are two bridge crossings over Lyell Fork before joining with the official JMT at a junction.
The trail then reenters the forest continuing along at a gentle gain in elevation that’s not noticeable. Just before Rafferty Creek, there is a trail junction to the right that heads over Vogelsang Pass, but the JMT continues straight along Lyell Fork.
About 3 hours into my hike around 10:40 am, the JMT came close to the river and my stomach was growling. So It was as good place as any to stop for brunch and refill my water. The river rushing over the granite slab here was pretty cool.
For brunch, I had a Mountain House Scrambled Eggs (amazon affiliate link), which was very light but did taste like eggs. I would recommend just to buy powdered eggs in the future though to save money as it’s pretty much the same thing.
It was at this point that I realized I had left my spork in an unfinished meal in Becky’s car, so I’d have make due by drinking all my meals or use my knife until I reached Mammoth Lakes.
I established a nice water treatment routine at this point as well. It involved a 750ml gatorade bottle with an opening large enough for my steripen (amazon affiliate link) to sit in without falling in. This way, I could just set it down while it treated the water, stirring it every few seconds. This allow me to do other things during the 1-2 minute treatment time without having to wait for water or deal with possible filter clog. I’d treat it a couple of times for overkill before pouring it into my 1 L Smartwater bottle. My maximum water carry was a 1.75 L, which was plenty for majority of the hike. I’d camel up during the dry stretches.
After a 45 minute break, I continued making my way along Lyell Fork among the trees crossing an area of open granite once in a while.
The trail passes a junction for Ireland Lake/Evelyn Lake to the right, Ireland Creek, and another stream before curving closer to Lyell Fork. This is where the view also opens up showing the crystal clear Lyell Fork winding through the green meadows.
It isn’t long until the end of Lyell Canyon can be seen in the distance composed of Mount McClure and Mount Lyell.
Around 10 miles into Lyell Canyon, I reached Lyell Base Camp and the beginning of the steeper uphills. There are several camping areas spread out here (campsites based on Elizabeth Wenk’s book John Muir Trail – Amazon affiliate link: C.02.07 to C.02.09). Around C.02.09, there appear to be some former camping areas between the trail and Lyell Fork, but they are too close to the water for regulation purposes and there are signs saying the area is closed to recovery purposes. Wenk’s book specifies an area west of the trail for C.02.09 and more than 100 ft away from the river. This is also a good area to fill up on water as there won’t be any until the bridge after the upcoming switchbacks.
I started up the aggressive ascent with 12.8% grade over 1 mile just before 1pm and it wasn’t long until the trail was switchbacking in the open with the sun roasting me. Although the sun went away about a half hour into my climb, the ominous clouds that hid the sun was another worry. A NOBO PCT hiker took a look down the valley and said, “oh yea, you are going to get rained on hard.” The fast moving clouds put a prep in my step as I pushed for the next wooded area around the Footbridge across Lyell Fork.
As soon as my foot hit that footbridge, the sky started to open up with lightning and thunder. I quickly threw up my tent at one of the many camping areas (Wenk campsite: C.02.12) to ride out the storm. This is where I wished I had the actual groundsheet for my Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 (Amazon affiliate link) to allow for the quick shelter setup. The full setup didn’t take that much longer, but seconds count when you are racing the storm.
The initial force of the storm at this altitude was quite scary, though the time between lightning and never got around 5 seconds, representing the distance of the lightning strike. Despite the heavy thunder, lightning, and rain that followed for the next couple of hours, the timing of which happened to work out in my plans. I was expecting smog and heat instead.
The storm raged on for a couple hours and I was able to catch a nap cowering in my tent. I was ok with camping here should the storm continue on into the night, but it started to pass after a while. The reports from a couple PCT NOBOer coming down from Donahue said that the storm looked like it was heading back into the canyon, so I started to pack up. In the meantime, I cooked a Mountain House Homestyle Turkey Dinner Casserole (Amazon affiliate link) for my luner. It was pretty good, but felt like a light meal to me.
I resumed my climb toward upwards toward Donahue Pass 2:30 hours after the storm started at 4:30pm. The next section of trail was a 10.5% grade ascent switching back among the forest for a mile with an opening near the top where I could see the remnants of the storm down the canyon.
After a 45 minute climb, I reached Upper Lyell Base Camp (Wenk campsite: C.02.13). It was a nice area with some trees for shelter, a view of a pond surrounded by flowers with cascading coming down from the shelf above. I changed into my sandals and was getting ready to set up camp, until a few NOBO JMT hikers arrived. While talking with them, the words “a favorite spots on the trip” and “I should have stopped to camp there” was uttered regarding the the shelf above where we were located (Wenk campsite: C.02.14). With that and plenty of sunlight left, I picked up my pack and continued on. It was convenient I switched into my sandals to ford the Lyell Fork.
The trail upward to the shelf wasn’t as long as before and I climbed the next 0.7 miles with a 12.5% grade in 30 minutes. I was glad to have kept my Chacos on as a stream overan the trail at a couple points.
My reward was at the based of an unnamed pond situated below Lyell Glacier and Mount Lyell.
Looking around the pond, I was able to find several nice sandy areas up on a hill west of where the JMT crosses the mouth of Lyell Fork draining pond. From the hill, the Lyell Valley spread out below to the north and Mount Lyell and its glacier loomed to the south. the only negative you may consider is that it was very exposed and there was a stiff breeze, so head down hill with question weather.
The best of the camping spot on the hill is where I first met Bob, the veteran of 13 JMT hikes at the time and soon to be 14.
There were four others that camped in the area, NOBO JMT hikers John and his friend (sorry, forgot his name) and SOBO JMT hikers Danielle and Danny, which I never saw again after that night. It was good company all around still.
The sky was clear by the time hiker midnight came around, so I continued my trend of sleeping without the rain cover on my tent.
It was the first night on my trip I was able to see the massive array of stars as it was a smog free day.
My original plan for the day was to camp around Garnet Lake, but conversations regarding the difficulty and duration it takes to get down to Mammoth Lakes from Red’s Meadow from the previous night motivated try to get to Red’s earlier. Being ahead of schedule already, making it to Rosalie Lake instead was the stretch goal for the day.
- pond before Donahue Pass (C.02.14) to Garnet Lake
- distance: 13.0 miles (including 3 mile mistake)
- elevation change: 2078 ft ascent & 2886 ft descent
- time: 10:30 hours with breaks (6:00 hours moving time)
With previous day’s routine working out well for me, I decided to stick with it by having a snack when I woke up. My planned meal breaks would be a short brunch and a long luner in case of another afternoon storm or smog.
I didn’t get on my way until 8:15 am though. It seemed like 8 am give a take 30 minutes would be the earliest I’d be able to get on my way. Part of my delay was that I had some condensation form on my sleeping bag from the night before. This might have been to the dew point dropping, but it mostly seems to form where my bag touches the side wall of my tent. It might also due to my camp being higher up so the moisture from my breath condensing at a higher rate, however, that’s typically more of a problem with the rainfly on. Either way, part of the time was spend drying out my bag. Secondly on trail, everyone seems to have their time of day to have to take a dump, mine was always in the morning, which further contributed to my start time.
While on the subject of pooping, to dig a cat hole, I didn’t bring any extra equipment and just used my hiking stick and it was sufficient enough. Again, as regulations, packing out toilet paper was a requirement and I had a specific ziplock for that. Other containers, such as laundry jugs, were used by others I saw to carry out used toiletries and such.
After I packed up, I ate a Clif bar and was treating water at the Lyell Fork crossing when I ran into Cindy again. Both her and Diana was camped at the Footbridge the night before and they had much earlier starts than I did to make up time. They were delayed by the previous day’s storm as well and Diana had to get to Red’s on day 7 (tomorrow at that point) to meet up with a friend who was bringing her resupply the morning of day 8. Diana had already passed me at that point. With my water bottles full, we started up the rocky slope toward Donahue Pass.
I reached the pass in 40 minutes or so climbing a mile with a 10.1% grade and it was marked by the Ansel Adams Wilderness sign
and a small pond.
A few more steps across the pass and the view to the valley opens up. That’s pass number 1 down,
This was one of the few places where there was phone service, at least with my google fi. After calling Meg and taking a few more pictures, including this one of Rodgers Peak. I headed down in the valley.
It was a pleasant and gradual descent at -7.2% grade covering just above 3.6 miles into the Rush Creek drainage filled with blooming flowers, streams, and ponds. However, I could see storm clouds already starting to form overhead. I built up a pretty good pace on the downhills with all of that in mind. Along the way, I met up with Diana and updated her on Cindy’s progress. Afterwards, I cross the wider Rush Creek slightly upstream to avoid the ford and then passed the junction to Marie Lakes branching off to my right.
While I had noticed the Marie Lakes junction, I didn’t notice the next junction. Navigation on the JMT is typically pretty easy. At most junctions you just have to follow signs for the major landmarks that you know are coming up, many of them will have JMT scratched into them, and majority of the signs will have JMT actually labeled. Other than early season instances when the trail may be covered in snow, the only time someone can go off the JMT is when they are in their head and completely miss a sign.
So with the good pace that I had built up and be being in my head thinking about lunch, I missed the sign at the next junction. It was about 4 miles from Donahue Pass around 11:30 am that I unknowingly turned onto the Rush Creek trail toward Parker Pass. Part of the reason that I might have played into my mistake may have been the assumption that I thought the lake I saw coming down was Thousand Island Lake, which it wasn’t. The trail I took crossed over Rush Creek a couple of times with wooden planks and continued the slight descent that I had been following for the last couple hours. Pretty soon the Rush Creek that I’d been hiking by started to turn into a lake. After about a mile and half, several things started to point to my mistake. The first was that I stopped seeing hikers, the JMT is a busy highway as some locals like to say and you should never go miles without seeing people. Second, I had heard Thousand Island Lakes was very stunning and the lake that I was standing over wasn’t what I’d describe as stunning, especially with a dam at its outlet. And that’s when I looked at my GPS and noticed I was way off the JMT and the lake that was starting at was Waugh Lake. This is the trail utilized by SOBO alternative starts that doesn’t involve going over Donahue Pass and would meet up with the JMT at the junction that I missed.
The biggest hurdle about hiking and backpacking is the mental aspect of it, because it is just walking at the end of the day. That walking becomes more difficult when you are frustrated, scared, tired, or angry. My mindset before my realization was good and confident because I was in a nice hiking groove, I was staying head of storm, I was ahead of my planned mileage, and I was looking forward to lunch. That mindset turned to frustration and worry as I was now behind schedule, probably going to get dumped on by rain, lunch was going to get delayed, being an idiot who didn’t pay attention to the map, and being humbled by the trail.
Having been thrown off kelter, I practically and stupidly ran back uphills for 1.5 miles to the Parker Pass junction that I blew through trying to make up all the lost time in one go. Being in the wrong mindset out in the wild can lead to compounding mistakes in decision making, so it was good that I meet up with Bob and Cindy once I returned onto the JMT from my extra 3 mile and 1 hour excursion around 12:30 pm. By just being there and hiking with me, they helped center me once again.
Just before starting uphills, we passed the junction for Davis Lakes, which I quadruple checked. The uphill to Island Pass wasn’t really difficult at a grade of 7.3% over 1.5 miles, but felt much worse for me. I had claimed down enough to realize I was on an energy crash as I still hadn’t ate lunch and practically was running to get back on the trail. It was decided that a break was in order once we reached Island Pass.
When we reached Island Pass after an hour long climb over 1.4 miles, we found a nice area next to one of the ponds with the iconic Banner Peak coming into view (Wenk campsite: C.04.01). Diana and Chris joined us also as I went through the chores of treating water, making lunch, and soaking myself in the pond to cool off. For this at lunch, I had another Mountain House meal, I think it was lasagna (Amazon affiliate link), which was one of my favorites and very filling. Of Course I added some Sriracha (Amazon affiliate link), which I had a small bottle of, to it. After some napping, we were on our way as the storm clouds started to gather.
It started to drizzle as we made our way down to Thousand Island Lake.
Along the way, there was very few tree cover leading to great views of Banner Peak with the indeed beautiful Thousand Island Lake stretched out below. I can see why this was a favor of Ansel Adams even in the rain.
The rain was coming down on and off by the time we reached the end of the Thousand Island Lake where the JMT and the PCT diverged with the PCT heading down the River Trail. With the continuing rain, Bob decided to shortcut via the PCT and catch a ride via bus or hitch from Agnew Meadows to get to Red’s Meadow Resort that night. By doing so, he would try to see if there are any room opening at Red’s the following night. If so, I’d go in and split the cost of the room with him.
The rain stopped briefly at the end of Thousand Island Lakes allowing us to take some pictures.
Afterwards, we continued onwards believing that he worst was over. The trail started to regain some elevation and passing by Emerald Lake and Ruby Lake. All the while the skys threatened with us again with thunder and lightning.
The skies opened up on us with hail, thunder, lightning, and rain just after I refilled up my water bottle and was about to continue on. We ended up hiding under the trees at a closed camping area as noted by a sign (Wenk campsite: C.04.06) at the outlet of Ruby Lake
Chris, Diana, and Cindy attempted to continue on after about a half hour or so during what appeared to be a break in the storm since we were all getting very cold, but was quickly turned back with another bout of hail. They decided to go back further and call it a night by setting up camp between Ruby and Emerald lakes (Wenk campsite: C.04.05). I had remained behind and hunkered down when they attempted to go on, I don’t why I had the feeling that the storm wasn’t over at that point.
After the storm raged on for 1:15 minutes, it finally started break. I started up the switchbacks climbing about 0.4 miles at a grade of 11.7% to the Thousand Island/Garnet Lake Divide.
The rain had stopped completely as I started down toward Garnet Lake. On the way down, I reached what appeared to be a junction with the trail branching off to the right leading to a camping area. However, it wasn’t on any of my gps map and didn’t seem like the camping area I had originally planned to camp at (Wenk campsite: C.04.07). I decided I’d try to push further with there still being plenty of daylight.
However, my tune changed completely when the switchbacks reached the shores of Garnet Lake just before 7 pm and saw the amazing campsite (Wenk campsite: C.04.07).
Initially, I wasn’t quite sure if the camping spot was far enough from the outlet of Garnet Lake, but there were 4 people camped here already and it did look like it was just outside of the restriction circle based on the picture I had taken. It had given me pause because of the trail junction I had passed earlier with the trail branching off the JMT said to lead to a camping area, however one of the other camper confirmed that we were good.
After setting up my tent, I cooked a couple packs Korean NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup (Amazon affiliate link) for dinner, which is my favorite instant noodles for their spicy and flavor. Conveniently, the noodles come in a circular shape that fits perfectly in my pot so that I don’t have to break up the noodles. Luckily, the couple camping next to me let me borrow their spork. The noodle soup warmed me up nicely as I enjoyed a picturesque sunset with Banner Peak and Mount Ritter standing over the lake.
Before going to bed, I laid out my wet cloth hoping they’d dry overnight and pitched my tent with the rain covers in anticipation of possible dew and just in case the rain returned. It would be the first time I’d have my rain cover on overnight.
It was a trying day filled with compounding mistakes and harsh weather. The afternoon storms of the last two afternoons made me feel like I was hiking in Colorado instead of California. In the end, I finished at my original planned camping spot and it was gorgeous.
Having made plans with Bob to split a room at Red’s Meadow Resort, it meant I would skip my short that would end at Rosalie Lake. It also meant that it would be a longer day, so I planned on getting an early start.
- Garnet Lake to Red’s Meadow Resort
- distance: 14.4 miles
- elevation change: 2007 ft ascent & 4082 ft descent
- time: 10:00 hours with breaks (7:00 hours moving time)
For once I did wake up before sunrise, but once again I found my sleeping bag damp and my rain cover was wet. My cloth I hung up did not dry either overnight. They wouldn’t be dry until they got some sun meaning I didn’t break camp until 7:50am once again. At least I had a beautiful sunrise to gawk at.
While waiting my stuff to dry out, I cooked a my last dinner for breakfast since this was the last day in the wild for this current section. I went with my other favorite, Mountain House’s Chili Mac (Amazon affiliate link). It is filling and has plenty of flavor, though I still added some Sriracha to it. I also went ahead and took my morning constitution, followed by other chores like treating water. This is where I started to update my routine. I determined it doesn’t make sense to get up super early since nothing drys until the sun comes out and that during the time things dry out, I can do other chores and eat my biggest meal of the day so I’d be good for a long morning hiking. This would allow me to be more flexible regarding afternoon storms and such. I could stagger chores like boiling water time, water treatment time, drying stuff out, packing things up with eating and pooping so it would take me about an hour to get on my way.
Chris stopped by for a chat and also to gawk at the view when he passed by my camping area. He said he started very early and that he didn’t bother drying his stuff out. He was looking to get all the way to Red’s Meadow so that’s why he’s off to the early start. Hopefully, we’ll catch up on the way there or beforehand. He went ahead while the last of my stuff dried out in the sun.
That took until 7:50 am and I was eager to get on my way. The trail continued along the edge of the lake toward the outlet. There was a bridge at the outlet with junction directly after that. The more clear path is the Badger Lake trail branching off the JMT, which is an easier alternative you can take to end up at Agnew Meadows. I didn’t even notice the junction and took a few steps that way before realizing it was leading away from the lake. I quickly checked my gps and backtracked back to the junction to continue on the JMT. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
The JMT continued around the banks of Garnet Lake opposite my camp spot the previous night slowing gaining elevation. The views of the Banner and Ritter reflected on the still Garnet Lake continued to impress.
The JMT passes another camping area before turning away from Garnet Lake with some switchbacks. With a last glimpse at Banner and Ritter, the trail crosses a pass with a small pond about a mile and 30 minutes from the my camp the previous night. Next came the 2 mile long descent at about a -9.2% grade on the day into Shadow Creek drainage.
As I got closer to Shadow Creek after the steepest portions of the downhill, there are several camping areas and a trail junction with the Ediza Lake branching off to the right. Ediza Lake is said to be one of the prettiest lakes in the area and maybe worth the detour. If I had went with the original plan of a short day, I would have headed up that way.
Further up Ediza Lake trail are Iceberg Lake and Cecile Lake. The trail marked on caltopo ends at Cecile Lake, but if you can go off trail around Cecile Lake on its eastern bank, you end up at Minaret Lake and the Minaret trail. Continuing on the Minaret trail will reconnect with the JMT. So, this provides for a nice alternate in case you want to see Ediza Lake, Iceberg Lake, Cecile Lake, and Minaret Lake rather than Shadow Lake, Rosalie Lake, Gladys Lake, Castle Lake, and Lower Trinity Lake. This can also be utilized to form a greater loop hike within the Ansel Adam wilderness, which I’ll talk later in my impressions. However, there is a section of off trail needed to connect the two trails. I’d love to hear about it if anyone has done it.
When I reached the cascading Shadow Creek, I found Chris stopped for a break and drying out his stuff. After a brief chat, I continued on the JMT that followed Shadow Creek downwards until the junction before Shadow Lake. The JMT crosses the creek while the Shadow Creek trail branches off to the left. While there are no camping spots around the direct vicinity of Shadow Lake, the JMT curves away from the lake at this point and a couple of camping areas can be found among the forest. These were not noted in Wenk’s campsite list.
Afterward, the JMT curves back to follow the shores of Shadow Lake before starting up a long series of switchbacks. With the heavy climb of of 12.6% grade over a mile ahead of me, I filled up my water here and had a Snicker bar for some quick energy. However, I did not linger long at Shadow Lake as the mosquitos were out in full force here.
As I climbed, I noticed Chris on the switchbacks below me. Shouts of encouragement took places as we motivated each other in the climb.
I reach the apex of my climb around 11:30 am after a 1 hour climb and saw the JMT quickly headed directly for the gap. However, I had notice an outcrop overlooking Shadow Lake, so I took the dropped my pack and went off trail. It also allowed Chris to catch up with me. We enjoyed a view overlooking Shadow Lake drainage with Banner and Ritter visible once again.
Returning to the trail, we reached the banks of Roselie Lake shortly after. I had read that this was a great camping spot and had planned to end my day here in my original plans, though I thought it was a bit underwhelming so I was glad to pass through. It was still a nice spot, but didn’t compare to my spot at Garnet Lake.
The trail continued upwards after Rosalie Lake and I felt my stomach grumble. So we decided to stop for a quick lunch at Gladys Lake. My lunch consisted of salami wraps as it was all I had left. I found over the 7 days on the trail that wraps just didn’t provide me with enough sustenance, so it would be something I would change in my next resupply.
After Gladys Lake, we had one final climb on the day before the long downhills to Devils Postpile National Monument. We reached it at 12:45 pm.
The next 4 miles of downhill at a gentle -7.7% grade passed quickly as we chatted for majority of the way down. There was one junction on our way down toward Castle Lake and Emily Lake that branched off to our right. After passing the Trinity Lakes, there were very minimal water sources except of small trickling creeks. There was word of a bear on our way down, but we didn’t see any. The hiker telephone game passed between NOBO and SOBO hikers may have been serveral hours old.
The junction with Minaret Lake trail branching off to our right marked the end of our downhill. I was very hot and thirsty at that point. The crossing of Minaret Creek was ample enough to restify both of my issues. There were some logs and rocks that you may be able to make your way across the creek, but I foraged it as I was wet already from jumping in the creek. Immediately after crossing the creek, we passed the Beck Lake trail junction branching off to the right. The JMT then resumed it’s descent over a very sandy trail without any shade taking us into Devils Postpile National Monument.
I didn’t know what Devils Postpile National Monument was about beforehand, but Chris knew what he wanted to see. As such, he lead the way. At the junction where the PCT and the JMT rejoined, we took the other option leaving both the JMT and PCT down toward the Soda Springs and crossing the bridge over the Middle Fork San Joaquin River.
I got it as we came upon the Devils Postpile.
It was the same kind of hexagonal basalt columns I’d seen before, specifically the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. We spend a few minutes hiking the loop around Devils Postpile taking in the cool geological columns.
At this point, the skies were starting to look ominous again so we hurried along toward Red’s Meadow Resort
reaching the store area at 5pm.
At Red’s Meadow Resort (Red’s), I had cellphone reception again and received a message from Bob. He had continued on and was planning to camp at the Red Cones about 3 miles out of Red’s. Bob was able to make it in last night finding a hitch from Agnew Meadows. Asking about openings for rooms at Red’s the day before is your best chance, but Bob didn’t have any luck this time around so he headed out.
We debated about taking the bus into town that night, but we were not sure we’d be able to connect to town at the Main Lodge. Even though the last Red’s to Main Lodge at Mammoth Adventure Center/Ski Area Shuttle leaves at 7:45pm (Eastern Sierra Transit), the last shuttle from the Main Lodge to the town of Mammoth Lakes is at 5:30 via the MAS Bike shuttle (Mammoth Mountain). Even though it was 5pm when we arrive at Red’s, there was a long line for the bus down to the Main Lodge already with day hikers heading out of the park. We would have had to wait for several buses, making the prospect of us reaching the Main Lodge dubious at best. So we would camp at Red’s for the night and I’d find my way down to town tomorrow.
This quark in the shuttle schedule actually left a couple of JMT hikers stranded in the town of Mammoth Lakes that night as we would find out later. They had went to town to change their equipment and missed the last shuttle from town to the Main Lodge. I was glad I gave myself a full day in town at this point.
The prices at Red’s were quite expensive from the goods in the store, to services like showers (USD$5 for 5 minutes at a minimum and extra for additional minutes), to the food in the restaurant.
However, the camping fee for backpackers is pretty generous, which reflects the camping area for backpackers. There are 3 specific backpacker lots that are backpackers are crammed into. The cost of each lot is split between the backpackers there. I don’t know how much it was because we had no idea who paid initially and no one said anything. There is a bathroom nearby and 3 bearboxes with one serving as a hiker box full of left behind food and buckets. The annoying thing about the campgrounds was that it was 3/4 of a mile away from the store going over a hill. My service at the backpacker campgrounds was also much spottier in comparison to the main store area.
We set up our tents quickly as the distant lightning and thunder started. Fortunately, we only felt a few drops.
With our tents set up, we headed over to the restaurant, Mule House Cafe (tripadvisor), for dinner. They only open from 7am to 7pm, so keep that in mind if you are arriving late. The food was overpriced with a cheeseburger, side, and milkshake coming out to USD$30.50 including taxes and tip. The food wasn’t anything to write about, but the USD$10 dollar milkshake was worth it for me.
After dinner, I “washed up” in the bathroom, which had warm water also, to avoid the expensive shower and we hung around the store area for a while before heading back to the campsite. There was a fire going at the campsite so we hung out there for a bit before turning in for the night.
My plans for the next day is to get into the town of Mammoth Lakes, where I have a night booked at the Cinnamon Bear Hotel (Hotels.com). I had a couple possibilities of getting to town. The one I hoped for to catch a ride with Diana’s friend who was bring her resupply early the next morning when the road was open to all traffic, before 7am. However, Diana and Cindy hadn’t arrived yet by the time we headed to bed, so that was up in the air. Alternatively, I would take the USD$8 bus to the Main Lodge and another into town.
I ended up waking very early the next day and packed up in anticipation of catching a ride to town with Diana’s friend. It was good to see the Diana and Cindy had made it to camp. They had a long day hiking and didn’t get in until 1 am.
We met up with Diana’s friend, Leah, in front of the main store at Red’s around 6am. With the tough day Diana and Cindy had the previous day, it wasn’t long before they decided to join me heading to town. Chris was also quick to join us as well since he was regretting not trying to head down the day before and being unsatisfied with Red’s. After everyone packed up their tents, we were on our way. Thanks Leah for the ride to town!
From the curvy one lane road out of Devils Postpile National Monument, we could see the Minarets behind us. Though it was the hot shower and hot food ahead of us we were looking forward to.
Everyone was in good spirits as we enjoyed our zero day in town.
The area between Tuolumne Meadows and Red’s Meadow resort is the second uniquely distinguishable section on the JMT. While this section starts and leaves Yosemite National Park immediately and ends at Devils Postpile National Monument, you spend most of this section in Ansel Adam Wilderness and the many lakes that dot the terrain. The lakes with different shades provide a great complement to the peaks and forests making the section one of the most beloved on the JMT.
As I continue in my trip reports, it will become more evident that the JMT can be divided into 5 of these sections (if it is not already clear enough by how I divided up my trip reports). From an aesthetic perspective, each of these sections can be explored as their own backpacking trip. If you are in it for the aesthetics, then this approach might even be a better way to go about the JMT as you’ll see much more (see Caltopo loop idea – *Edit 2019-4-5: Complete Walker wrote about the off trail crossing between Iceberg Lake and Minaret Lake on his blog). Furthermore, you won’t need to plan for resupplies or find the time it takes to do the entirety of the JMT. This is a concept I’ll get to in my final impressions for this series as a whole.
From a thru hike perspective, this section of the JMT is where hikers come together and form the social aspects that make the JMT special to many. For me personally, this was where I met new friends in Cindy, Diana, Chris, and Bob. I’d spent the most time with them on the JMT.
Lastly, this section also allowed me to get into the routine that I would follow for the rest of the hike.
The total distance I covered from Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow Resort was 41.0 miles with 6636 feet of elevation gain and 7587 feet of elevation loss over 3 days. The complete track can be found on caltopo.
That bring my trip total to 76 miles with 12022 feet gain and 15569 feet loss in elevation.
views: 4. The many lakes in this section stood out tremendously providing contrast to the peaks and forests. My favorite portions of this section was indeed the views of Banner and Ritter over Thousand Island
and Garnet Lakes, especially during early mornings or late evenings when the surface of the water becomes a perfect mirror turning the world upside down.
My second favorite would be the clear streams winding through green meadows.
Lastly, the cool basalt rock formations of Devils Postpile provides another interesting feature in this section.
difficulty: 2. With 6636 feet of elevation gain and reaching a maximum of 11049 feet, this section was pretty moderate with slightly over 2000 feet of elevation gain each day. There were plenty of relative flat stretches with the worst gains working up to Donahue Pass and the switchbacks after Shadow Lake. The worst section of downhill was from Garnet Lake into Shadow Lake drainage. In terms of difficulties from the weather, afternoon storms and hail were the most punishing portion of the hike. However, I still made pretty good time.
technical: 1. Despite my error in navigation, the JMT is well marked and traveled. Just be careful being in your own head. You should know the major landmarks of the route at the very minimum and a map would be useful. I’d recommend have a trail map on your phone at least. No additional technical skills are needed beyond general backpacking and wilderness skills and knowledge unless it is a late snow year or you are attempting this early.