Paul and I finished the John Muir Trail about two weeks ago.. Our permit expired only five days ago (so we could have been out there much longer), but we ended up hiking at a pace we really enjoyed, and it happened to be a faster pace than either of us expected! But, let me back up and start from the beginning; I will try and give a small perspective of what our trip was like, focusing on certain aspects or fun stories, just because I couldn't possible write about the whole trip!
All of these pictures are from Paul and My iPhones
So, after my 20 some hours traveling on amtrak and other public transportation options, I arrived in the worshiped Yosemite National Park. As I was riding the bus into the park, I was starting to get a little car sick from all the windy roads, but I distinctly remember having a huge smile on my face regardless because of the scenery, especially the massive granite walls that went on forever!
I got dropped off in the middle of Yosemite and spent an hour or two just walking around and checking out some of the touristy parts, and then headed off to find the backpackers campground; it took me a while but I eventually found it and set my bag down. Paul wasn't going to get in until later that day so I just walked around the park and did some smaller hikes and explored for the rest of the day. After a while, I got a txt from paul, and basically, he wasn't sure if he was going to be able to make it in that evening, he was going to try, but he might not make it till the morning.
The funny thing about that detail, is that paul had our tent and our cooking pot, so I couldn't make food, and without a tent, I was planning on just sleeping out on top of the picnic table in camp. The backpackers camp in Yosemite is pretty popular, so people start setting up their tents as soon as they get there to claim a spot, but as I was just sitting at my picnic table eating, a girl not for from me who noticed that I had yet to set up a tent, started asking me if I had a tent; "No," I said; "a hammock?"; "No"; "A tarp?!"; "Nope," And so she came over and we started talking and I told her about Paul and how he had the tent, etc.. Her name was Tatum, and she was also hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) but solo, which was pretty cool.
Paul did end up showing up, he hitched a ride, late, from a couple who were from the Czech Republic. And we set up the tent and went to bed.
The next day was the big day, we officially start the hike!
Paul, Tatum and I walked the mile or so to the permit office, picked up our permits and hit the trail! Below is a picture of the three of us at the Happy Isles trail head, about to start our huge hike out of the valley!
We were so excited to start that we basically ran out of the valley. The first day or two is a tough hike from yosemite valley at around four thousand feet elevation, up to just short of ten thousand feet at cathedral pass. We hiked at such a fast pace that we had to take breaks every fifteen or twenty minutes! eventually we started to pace ourselves better, but all three of us were just excited.
The part of the trail that we were on for the first 5 or 6 miles is the same trail that everyone takes to hike up Half Dome, so there were a lot of day hikers as well, we were still in the midst of the Yosemite Zoo, stuffed full of tourists.
Tatum's permit only allowed her to go so far on her first day, possibly as an effort to space out hikers more, so about 4 miles in, she had to stop at a campsite for the night. But Paul and I had permits to hike Half Dome, so we ventured on.
Another mile or two later and we got to the Half Dome trail junction, so we decided to hike past the junction 10 or 15 minutes just to get away from the crowds, set up our tent, and then back track a tiny bit without packs and hike up half dome before the sun went down. Below is a picture of our first tent site of the trip:
After setting up the tent, and weighing the pros and cons of doing the half dome hike that night or the next morning, thinking about time and weather.. and even though there were some storms on the horizon, we decided to just go and do it. So after a 2 mile hike still gaining elevation, but just in the woods, we finally came to base where the granite starts to push out of the ground and form the majestic and famous Half Dome.
Paul and I got super lucky, because we were camping close, and didn't have to descent the 6 miles back to the valley floor, we had the ability to do the hike relatively late in the day, and avoid all the human traffic that usually lines the trail. We literally had the whole thing to our selves, we didn't see another person from the time we left the timber line till the time we went back down and were back below the treelike once again. Here is a picture of Paul who we made our way up the cables:
Being up on top of half dome was a pretty special experience; from the missile-like sounds that the birds made as they swooped, to the lone marmot and squirrel that lived on the top, and then the magnificent views and sheer cliff side.. it was very memorable.
We even managed to capture a picture of the two of us up top using a timer on my iPhone!
In the photo below, you can see a small paul in the distant cliff, sitting in the same spot he is in the above picture!
And then we headed back down, absolutely exhausted.. we slowly trekked back to camp, our legs were noodles and our minds fried, we made dinner and hit the hay.
Throughout the next day or two, we slowly found routines that worked.. stopping to eat our lunch (a variety of clif bars, pro bars and honey stingers) one bar at a time starting around 11 or 12 and having one per hour throughout the mid day. taking 5-10 min breaks and one or two longer breaks like the one below, especially when the weather was really nice!
I think this is our second campsite, which was just after Cathedral lakes, (we took pictures of some of the campsites, but forgot or neglected to take some of others..)
The second day was when we really started to realize our potential, in regards to milage we could cover in a day.. Although we only covered like 8 miles the first day (including half dome), I think we easily covered somewhere around 15 miles the second day! (For perspective on how much faster we were going, we had originally guessed that we would cover 6-12 miles per day).
After we got out of Yosemite Valley (still in the park technically) we entered Tualoeme Meadows, which was miles and miles of beautiful meadows nestled into a beautiful valley.
We also got into a pretty good routine for managing water; we would stop every couple hours at a creek or river and fill up about 1/2 to 1 Liter of water in a bottle (paul) or in a hydration bladder in my pack (me), and also drink about half a liter during the fill break so we wouldn't have to cary that extra little bit.
I think this may be the third campsite; almost, we camped up in a flat meadow up on that middle ridge on the right of the image:
Below is a picture of the same lake (looking down on it from up on that ridge):
I believe these are Indian Paintbrushes (someone please correct me if I am wrong), a beautiful wildflower that we found all over that sierras:
I love this picture of Paul; this was our first higher elevation camp, at about 9.5k feet.. I loved it because it was the first cool evening to fall asleep to, the previous nights were humid and hot evenings (yuck!)..
The next morning, we ran into Tatum and met another guy named Kevin! This is a picture on the top of Donahue Pass, where we left Yosemite National Park!
We hiked the rest of the trip with Tatum from here on out! Around this same time, as we descended Donahue pass, an awesome guy name Ryan caught up to us, we got to talking and discovered that Ryan is from Minnesota as well! We enjoyed chatting, as we hiked, about all sorts of stuff, including mutual friends we knew and places we both loved! Ryan also ended up hiking with us for the rest of the trip from here on out! (Here is a picture of Tatum and I)
Thousand Isles Lake, a great place to take a lunch break/ water supply/ skinny dip/ bath/ lounge!
Here we all stopped at a place called Rosalie Lake, a place we all will never forget (I'll get to that story in a second) but first, check out Ryan, who caught something like 28 trout here in just an hour or two (I think these were cutthroat trout here.)
I even threw a few casts and caught a couple fish!
But before we move on to the next camp/picture, I have to share a story.. We never got a picture of this campsite, and I wish I would have because it would make telling the story easier, but just Bear with me as I do my best (its a long story, and I am no writer, but I will try).
We went to bed that night, there was Pauly and I in our tent, Ryan in his, Tatum in hers, and Kevin in his, all in a relatively similar area. Our bear canisters (plastic bear proof bucket type canisters with screw on lids) were the usual 100 yards away.
Around 12:30, I wake up slightly, in a daze, and hear a rustle by Paul and I's backpacks which are just outside the tent, near the head of our tent. Half unconsciously, because I don't know what it was and if it was just someone out going to the bathroom I didn't want to wake everyone else up, I start slapping/thumping that ground with my hand as I am lying in my sleeping bag, I hit the ground as hard as I can about a dozen times, louder as I start to hear how big this thing could possibly be!
Instantly, Ryan (who is much more experienced than any of us) is out of his tent (he initially thought that the pounding was a bear trying to get into a bear canister) and he is ready to go, he quickly tells us that there is a bear and that it just ran up onto the small ridge about a hundred feet out.
I get out of the tent, headlamp on and see the eyes glowing, as we look more, we can see that it is a big bear, maybe 450lbs.. and then I yell, "It's got a pack! It's got someones pack!" and Immediately Ryan says "Lets go" and starts walking toward it.
I am dumbfounded.. but he quickly reassures me that its just a black bear, its scared of us, we are shining our bright headlamps at it so it can't see us well, and we just need to scare it away from the pack.
This is all happening quick, a minute or so. But in my red Crocs, my smart wool boxer briefs and my headlamp, I follow ryan, smashing big rocks on other rocks, yelling in deep voices, and eventually throwing rocks toward the bear.. we run at her and chase her up two more ridges and finally she drops the pack and takes off.
While this is happening, Paul, in a daze poked his head out of our tent, and asked Tatum, who was outside by now, what color the pack was.. Tatum said Red.. Paul's Pack.
We bring the pack back down to camp, and show Paul. The bear luckily had only damaged the small hip/waist belt pocket and the rest of the pack, including all of pauls contents were completely fine, not a tear anywhere besides the hip pocket! As we discover this, Paul smashes his hand onto his forehead and says "Shit, the chocolate bunny.."
He had accidentally left a Chocolate Bunny in that hip pocket. Luckily, it turned out okay, the hip/waist belt was still functional less the pocket itself.
So we are exhausted, its late, adrenaline and energy is going, we go to hang the pack, but can't find a great spot, so a mediocre spot will have to do. We want to go back to bed.
But as all of us snuggle back into our sleeping bags and try and think about calming down, we hear scratching, and then some growls. The bear is going for the pack. Great.
Ryan says from inside his tent; "Thats not good, lets go." and we all make our way out of our tents.
As we all start walking toward are that the pack it hung, Ryan exclaims; "there's two of em!" and starts running toward them (about 50-100 yards away) and they run away from him too. As crazy as it may sound (i still think its crazy) I started running with him, somehow, in the short day that I got to know Ryan, I trusted him a lot (maybe too much, haha) and we chased the two sets of glowing eyes up into a tree.
We yelled and threw rocks and tried our best to scare these two bears that were hidden up in the top of this tree, until I spotted a third bear. She was on the ground so we focused on her for a second and scared her off quickly.
We decided just to wait quietly, so the bears would com out of the tree and we could properly scare them away from the camp, and not go to sleep with two bears up in a tree 200 feet from camp! Meanwhile, Paul and Tatum went down to the lake to clean up the chocolate to eliminate more temptation.
As we wait, the bears start to move, so I shine my light back on them, and notice.. ohh shit.. they are just 2 baby cubs...
Two baby cubs, up in this tree, that we have been chucking rocks at, and terrifying, while the 450lb momma bear is down here on the ground! Yeah, we messed up! We quickly leave them alone, completely, and as we do this, we see the momma again, and make one last effort to show her we mean business, we flush her out one more time and then make our way back to camp.
Adrenaline going, Ryan Paul and I wait up for a while just to see what happens. The cubs are in a tree that is up over a ridge/hill and are out of sight but we can hear them crawl down the tree. And we hear the momma woof a few times and then its quiet. Until we start hearing her woof and growl a little bit every so often, and we can't figure out what is going to happen, is she really going to try and come back for more? Is she mad? What is going to happen?
Finally after maybe 20 minutes or something, Paul suggest something crazy; maybe its Kevin?
Kevin, who was, at the time, between us and where the bear was. He never got out of his tent, throughout this whole ordeal, of yelling and screaming and smashing rocks and throwing rocks and more yelling and more rocks. He stayed in his little Bivy Tent and never said a word and maybe (we will never know) was asleep the whole time.
So I slowly and quietly, not to wake him up, crawled over near his tent, listened, and sure enough.. Kevin was snoring, in a perfect, bear-like growl/woof...
So with Pauls pack, empty and sitting out between all of ours, with rocks stacked ontop so we would hear if she camp back for it (we really needed the pack if paul wanted to finish the hike), we all went back to bed. It was probably around 2 am at this point, and by 4, I decided it was fine to fully fall asleep instead of lying there with my eyes closed.
Man that was a long night.
But on with the trip! I think the next day we stopped in Reds Meadows, which basically consists of a cafe and store and then a horse stable and some cabins that people rent out. We got some lunch at the cafe, wandered through the general store, got some goodies out of the hiker bin and then evaluated our food rations. First, I'll mentions, that at locations like these, or ranger stations etc, they will have a bin or large 25 gallon bucket or bear box that hikers can take and leave whatever they would like, its unmonitored and any hiker can take as much as they feel is necessary (within reason). We found a few yummy things to swap out or replace things we had, and Paul snagged a neosporin and we all grabbed a travel size Aloe Vera to share (lots of sun in the high Sierras of California). Then we all had a grand old time as we went through our food, realizing that even if we didn't keep up our pace of 15-18 miles a day, we still had way to much food, so we consolidated and hopefully made a bunch of hikers happy by leaving a bunch of homemade (dehydrated) meals!
It was really good to have a meal and sit for a while and take a load off, especially after only getting 3 hours of sleep!
Later that day, we needed up coming across a couple square feet of downed tree and and forest floor that had caught fire, so as Ryan, Tatum and Paul worked to extinguish it, I hike to the nearest ranger station and informed them.
We got to the camp for that day nice and early, around 4 or 5pm, set up, ate some food, and I even got some fun fish to bite.
These alpine lakes are so beautiful, I love camping by them because you can take a dip and clean up a bit.. The sun always looks amazing when it sets and rises.. And I really like the cold nights, I really seem to sleep better! But the alpine mornings can be rough, the sun doesn't peak over the mountains and give us any heat until after we are done packing up and eating breakfast and everything, so that can be a bit cold on the fingers!
And then there was VVR (aka Vermillion Valley Resort)!
We ended up waking up a bit later than planned, we had about 8 miles and one small mountain pass to get to Thomas Edison Lake, where we would catch a ferry (small old aluminum fishing boat with a 9.9 outboard) across the lake, and we knew that the ferry only ran till 10:30 or 11 so we had to be quick. After practically running there, we walked across a huge portion of the lake that was dried up and then caught the boat to the other side, and then got into an old old van, sat on milk crates in the back and rattled our way up the not-very-road-like road to the resort.
VVR used to cater more to fishermen; it was a fishing destination, until the lake dried up several dozen feet in depth due to the drought. They always have welcomed through-hikers from the JMT and the PCT, but since the decline in fishing business, they really love the hikers now.
We got there and took advantage of the first free beverage, and opened a tab (not with a credit card, they just wrote down our name) and then went to set up our tents in the free camping area right next to the store and cafe!
The lunch at the cafe was awesome! And after scavenging through the hiker bins, we snacked and ate for most of the day, until dinner time, and we made a potluck style dinner with food from the bins. Lots of calories were consumed that day. And then we woke up, had an amazing breakfast at the cafe and took the van/boat back across the lake. Not that the spirits ever got very low, but VVR definitely refueled our bodies and minds tenfold, so we were all smiles and laughter after:
I do not have much else to say for the rest of this post, this post covers the first half, and in a short time, Ill write the second half. For now, enjoy a few more photos:
Until then, thanks for taking the time to read, leave a comment and check in soon! Kyle