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John Muir Trail (JMT) Thru-Hike 2009

222.4 miles; +55,000 vertical feet gained in elevation
August 22 - September 2, 2009
Dave Sholer, Jared Atkins


Day 1: August 22, 2009: 14.7 mi ; +6,251'
We spent the previous night at Yosemite Valley's backpacker camp. We woke up around 7am and got to the trailhead around 8am. It was a very clear, warm day. We got to Little Yosemite Valley around 10am. After we had broken off from the swarms off Half Dome hikers, the clouds got a little darker. By 3pm there were a few drops of rain, but they didn't last long. Dave surprised a pack of Coyotes just before the descent down to Sunrise. We got to Sunrise High Sierra Camp around 4:15pm, used the "non-guest" latrine, made couscous, filled up on water, and continued hiking again before 6pm. We had hoped to go further this evening, but after a mile of hiking the light rain started again a bit heavier this time. We decided to put up our shelter a little early and were under it by 7pm.

Day 2: August 23, 2009: 22.0 mi ; +4,193'
It rained throughout the night and continued after we woke. (To note: the GoLite Cave tarp held up beautifully during the rain, and we stayed warm and dry.) We briefly considered "waiting it out", but quickly realized that it was ending anytime soon. We got out from the tarp around 6:30am, broke down quickly, and were hiking by 6:45am. When we got to Tuolumne Meadows by around 9:30am, it was still raining. We stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station to ask for a weather report. They told us it would continue raining for another 2-3 days, which was not uplifting. We partly picked this time of the year because of the supposed lack of rain. We hiked on to Tuolumne Lodge, where they were very nice to us. We set up on the covered porch on the south side of the lodge, pulling out our tarp and groundcloth to dry them and our rain gear out under the shelter. We went inside the lodge (Tuolumne Lodge has a very small, rustic front area where snacks are sold. There are a few four-seater tables in the front room and a larger dining room in the back.) We must have looked pathetic, because they served us free coffee moments before charging the next guy in line. We ate some of our food inside while finishing the coffee, then decided to vacate the valuable real estate as we hadn't paid anything. We waited outside with our drying gear for a total of just under 3 hours. A good-sized bear came fairly close to us as he made a dash through the camp area near the lodge. The bear was being chased away by a couple employees. This was the only bear we saw on our trip, as much of the High Sierras is not good bear habitat. (Fortunately, with tougher bear canister requirements, it seems bears are staying away from some areas they really shouldn't be in.) We were given a couple apples from some girls who were also hiking the JMT and didn't want the fruit. We also took the opportunity to make dinner under the cover of the lodge as we new we wouldn't want to cook in the rain later in the day. As we were about to leave, we noticed that it had pretty much stopped raining. By 1:15pm, after a long break and after all of our gear had dried out nicely, we continued hiking in what soon became very nice weather. The rain had stopped, and within a few hours the sun made an appearance. Around 6:30pm, we got to a lake just shy of Donohue Pass where there were a few people camped. These people pointed out the creek crossing spot that had been flooded by the recent rain. While Jared had trekking poles and probably could have crossed with no damage but wet shoes, Dave decided not to cross without the trekking poles. Instead, we hiked around the creek and up a field of boulders near the waterfall. After a few minutes of scrambling, we had caught up with the JMT and continued up towards Donohue Pass. We crossed the pass just after 7pm, hiked down the backside about a mile, and set up the tarp in a meadowy area. It had been a fairly chilly day without the sun, and certainly felt as if a chilly night was ahead as we were camped at around 10,500'. We got to sleep around 8pm.

Day 3: August 24, 2009: 20.6 mi ; +3,500'
It was a cold night, with a little bit of wind. This was our first opportunity to use the new lightweight, fleece beanies and mittens that Dave made. It was around 34 deg F when we woke at 6am. We slowly broke camp in the cold and were hiking by 6:45am. At around 10:15am, we pumped water at Thousand Island Lake. We made Rosalie Lake by 2pm. We were planning to stay near Johnston Meadow, just shy of Devil's Postpile National Monument, but we hiked right past it without even seeing it (it's a bit to the north of the trail, and isn't obviously a meadow from the trail's view). We had couscous a couple miles shy of Devil's Postpile before continuing on into the Monument area. We first hiked straight to the Ranger Station to ask about where we could camp in the area. We got there around 6:15pm, but they closed at 5pm. We hiked on and saw the postpile, then hiked toward Red's Meadow campground. We found the campground host, who was actually a hippie janitor guy filling in for the usual hosts. We told us the fee collectors hadn't been very thorough lately and that we could pick any campsite and probably not get charged. We'd each already put many hundred dollars into the trip, so we were hoping to avoid extra unplanned expenses. We took a look at the *free* "naturally-powered" showers in the campground--the water comes straight from a naturally-heated spring up the hill. While a shower sounded nice, the showers looked less appealing than a public beach bathroom in Santa Cruz. They are orange with grimy rust, speckled with generations of all sorts of peeling paint, and generally unclean. They also didn't smell very good, which means something coming from two guys that were already not smelling wonderful. We headed back to our campsite, filled up on water, made a fire from some leftover wood we scavenged from empty sites, and got to sleep by 9:15pm.

Day 4: August 25, 2009: 17.1 mi ; +5,141'
It was a fairly warm night and we both slept well. We woke up at 6:30am, broke camp, cleaned up a tad in the campground bathrooms, and headed to Red's Meadow Resort area to have breakfast at the Mulehouse Cafe around 7:30am. The food was pretty good, although very expensive ($11 for 2 eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, and toast). There is a bathroom at the "resort" area with heated water that we used to wash our clothes (or really just "rinse") and wipe off our bodies. We picked up our resupply box (3 more days of food) at the General Store and organized our freshly-loaded packs. We finally got hiking at 10:45am. After the Cinder Cones, there is about a 6-7 mile section without water, so we filled up at the first creek after this dry section. We had planned to stay at Purple Lake, then planned to stay at Lake Virgina (the next lake), but ultimately decided to hike on to Tully Hole (Lake Virgina is beautiful, but very high in elevation. There was a strong breeze and we sensed a very cold night ahead if we didn't get lower in elevation), getting there just after sunset. We made couscous at camp while setting up the tarp in the only flat spot we could find just next to Fish Creek. We got to sleep by 8:30pm.

Day 5: August 26, 2009: 18.8 mi ; +4,912'
It was only a slightly chilly morning; we were hiking by 7:15am. We were at the top of Silver Pass by 10:25am. Several miles later, we stopped to pump water at Mott Creek. Everybody we saw and overhead seemed to be heading to Vermillion Resort, which we bypassed. We got to the Mono Creek Bridge (where we had planned to camp) by 1:15pm and continued up to Bear Ridge. The section from the creek up and over the ridge is dry, but we had plenty of water left when we got to the top around 3:15pm. The switchbacks go on for almost the full 4 miles to the top of the ridge before gradually heading down the backside. We made couscous at the Bear Creek Trail junction before hiking on another mile or so. We stopped a bit early because we found a really nice place to camp about 50 yds from the creek; it was complete with a fire ring. We pumped water from the creek, cleaned up our feet and socks, made a fire in the ring, and got to sleep around 9:45pm.

Day 6: August 27, 2009: 16.6 mi ; +2,873'
We woke up to around 41 deg F at 6:30am, so didn't get up until around 7:30am and didn't get hiking until 8:15am. We were on top of Seldon Pass by 10:15am, where we enjoyed a 45-minute break with Peter, a New Zealand-born 70-year who looks more like 50. From Seldon Pass, it's a very long way downhill to the Muir Trail Ranch cut-off trail (Note: the sign says "Florence Lake", not "Muir Trail Ranch"). We arrived at MTR just after 2pm and received our resupply bucket within a few minutes. Immediately, it was obvious that MTR does not care about backpackers. Backpackers seem a burden to them, even though MTR charges $50 (after shipping) just to receive and store a 5-gallon resupply bucket. With the amount of fees they collect coupled with the overpriced satellite internet use charge ($10 for 15 minutes), MTR makes a killing off of backpackers and doesn't know how to smile for it. They don't even let paying hikers use their bathroom, and pointed off their property when asked the best direction to head. The problem is there is no competition nearby, so they can act as rude and unhelpful as they'd like. We would certainly avoid this place if possible. MTR does, however, have several buckets filled with food/supplies that hikers don't want to carry anymore. We scored some beef jerky, tortillas, and tabasco sauce which we enjoyed while organizing our over-filled bear canisters. We ended up having to leave behind our Trader Joe's High Fiber-O's because they wouldn't fit in the bear canisters. We also bought a few ounces of denatured alcohol, even though we probably had enough to finish the trek (MTR charges a modest $0.20/ounce for denatured alcohol). After we finished resupplying, we were going to head to Blaney Hot Springs to relax and clean up a bit. This, however, requires crossing a very wide creek (~100+ feet) with very slippery rocks on the bottom. We didn't want to hurt an ankle, so we cleaned up on the side of the creek. We continued hiking again by 6pm and stopped a bit shy of King's Canyon National Park. We had some couscous, continued on for another 10 minutes, and found the best site we could in the rocky-soiled area. We got to sleep around 8:30pm.

Day 7: August 28, 2009: 19.9 mi ; +5,371'
We woke up around 6:30am. It was a fairly warm night and a warm morning. We were hiking by 7:15am and into King's Canyon National Park by 8am. We took a short break at the Goddard Canyon bridge before heading up into Evolution Meadow. We had to take our shoes and socks off to wade through a creek crossing at the start of Evolution Meadow (fortunately, this was the only time this was required during the entire trek). We took another short break near Colby Meadow and another brief break in beautiful Evolution Valley. We were on Muir Pass by 4:30pm, then headed down towards Helen Lake, where we had thought about staying. We still had over an hour of daylight left, and there aren't many flat, non-rocky places to camp near Helen Lake, so we continued downhill another mile or so. We ended up finding a small grassy area just off the trail and, at around 6:45pm, made some couscous and setup camp for the night. We were still fairly high in elevation and there was a bit of a breeze, so we were anticipating a cold night. We set up the tarp against the wind to hopefully keep us warmer.
Day 8: August 29, 2009: 18.0 mi ; +3,561'
It was actually a warm night, thanks to the well-pitched tarp. We didn't wake up until 7:30am, and were hiking by 8:15am. At around noon, we stopped to pump water from the creek. We also took the opportunity to rinse some clothes and even "bathe" ourselves in the creek. The water was obviously cold, so we didn't stay in for more than a couple of minutes. Still, it was very refreshing. We were hiking again by 1:15pm. We were (unusually) passed by 2 guys, both trail runners from nearby Bishop. One of the men was trying to beat the JMT record (under 3 days, 20 hours) and his friend was supporting him for the day. We leap-frogged with them for a couple of hours before they broke ahead at the "Golden Staircase" section. This section of switchbacks is actually longer and steeper than it seems on paper, leading all the way up to Palisade Lakes. This day was definitely the warmest, and we were doing this section (where there's very little shade) during the warmest part of the afternoon. We made couscous at the end of the second Palisade Lake, pumped some water from a small creek, and decided to camp nearby instead of a very late afternoon attempt at Mather Pass. There aren't many spots in this area, but we found a nice place and went to sleep by 8pm.
Day 9: August 30, 2009: 21.1 mi ; +5,332'
We woke up around 6:30am to a fairly warm 46 degrees F and were hiking by 7:15am. We had reached the top of Mather Pass by 8:45am and the top of Pinchot Pass by 1:15pm. After passing Twin Lakes, where we had planned on camping, we pumped water, cleaned up the feet, and kept hiking down the valley. After crossing the "Golden Gate Bridge of the High Sierras" at the South Lakes Trail junction (around 5:15pm), we made couscous. By 5:45pm we were hiking again, stopping after about 2 miles to make camp. We found a place with a fire pit, purposely stopping at such a place just below the 10,000' mark. We pitched our tarp a total of 3 times in camp, each time finding a better place. We made a fire and then got to sleep around 9:30pm.
Day 10: August 31, 2009: 23.8 mi ; +7,046'
We had planned to wake up at 5:45am, but overslept until 6:15am, waking up to a cool 41 degrees F. We were hiking by 7am and to the end of Rae Lakes by 8:45am. We were on Glen Pass before 10am, then headed downhill, reaching Bubbs Creek at noon. We spent an hour there, filtering water, washing feet/socks, and taking a breather. By 1:15pm we were hiking again, headed up towards Forester Pass, which we reached by 4:45pm. We stayed on top around 30 minutes before heading down into the valley on the south side. By 7:25pm, we had made it past the creek and to the established campsites past Shepard's Pass trail. We made couscous at 8pm just after dusk, then setup our tarp in the dark, getting to sleep around 8:30pm.
Day 11: Sept 1, 2009: 29.8 mi ; +7,116'
We slept until 6:30am and got hiking by 7am. We pumped water from Wallace Creek. We had made the Crabtree Ranger Station (where we were supposed to stay on the night of Day 11) by 10:25am. We decided to head up Whitney today instead of tomorrow. After talking to some older thru-hikers for 30-minutes, we headed to Guitar Lake. There were took a leisurely hour to top off our water and clean our feet. We left Guitar Lake at 1:15pm and were at the Trail Crest turn-off by 2:45pm. We made the summit of Mt. Whitney just after 4pm, which was 10 days, 8 hours after our start from Happy Isles. Dave's cell phone wasn't getting reception, so a nice gentleman offered his phone. This allowed us to call our gracious ride, Dave's dad, to let him know we were finishing earlier than expected. We told him we'd stay up at Trail Camp and then be down to Whitney Portal by around 10am the next morning. He was going to drive through Yosemite, but forest fires had closed CA-120, so he jumped in the car and started his 7-hour drive to pick us up. Our original plan was to stay on the summit for sunset before heading down to Trail Camp. We had headlamps, and it was just about a full moon, so we figured it would be safe to travel down after dark. However, we realized we had a couple of hours to waste before then. (After the last few people headed down, we were left as the only 2 people on the summit of Mt. Whitney. That is a very exciting feeling, knowing that you are the highest grounded person in the lower 48.) After hanging up the phone with Dave's dad, we changed our plans. Not wanting to wait around for sunset, and having the desire to finish our trip sooner, we made the decision to start heading down---and to hopefully get all the way out to Whitney Portal that night. We figured that Dave's dad would be arriving at Whitney Portal around 11pm, so we could get there before then, call him, and then drive home through the night. So at 5:30pm we started down from the summit. About 15 minutes down, we were very surpised to see someone coming up alone. It turned out to be the guy we had met on Forester Pass the evening before (in his 50s, he had started with a large group of guys, and was the only one remaining at the end. The rest had bailed out along the way.). He was very enthused to be heading to an empty summit to enjoy all to himself. As we descended, Dave realized he had pulled a muscle in his lower right calf, which caused each agonizing step to take much longer than normal. We had only been passed once or twice during the entire trek, so there was dual meaning to the pain as several day hikers (who had been hanging out at Trail Crest) passed us as they made their descent down the miles or grueling, steep switchbacks. We reached Trail Camp after dark, around 8pm. One of the guys we had met on the summit was waiting for us at Trail Camp. He was a German on holiday, dayhiking Whitney on his own. He didn't start until 10am that morning, and was behind schedule. He asked if he could hike with us, as he was a bit worried of hiking alone in the dark. So the three of us hiked all the way out to Whitney Portal, finally getting there around 10:45pm. It is a long way down; we couldn't imagine heading the other way with a 6-day supply of food (which is one option we considered for the trip). We were relieved to get to Whitney Portal, but soon realized that there was no cell reception and no payphones. In fact, there was no overview map of the area, so it took us a little while to deduce where to look for Dave's dad. We covered every parking lot, picnic area, and campground, having one of us hike through looking for the right car while the other stayed on the street. We flagged down any car that passed by, surely freaking out 4 or 5 false alarm cars. It was after midnight when we had "cleared" the last campground. We still had no phone reception and were reasonably certain that Dave's dad was not there yet. We'd hiked well over 30 miles at this point, but decided to keep hiking downhill along the road that leads to Lone Pine (~10 miles away). We reasoned that we would soon hit cell reception, and would eventually flag down Dave's dad as he drove up (although we weren't sure if he would be camping elsewhere that night, not expecting us until the next morning). Finally, just before 1am, we made a turn out of the canyon that blocked our cell reception and got ahold of Dave's dad. He was about 30 minutes away, so we told him where we'd be and plopped down on the side of the road, excited to have made the connection to get us home. We got picked up just after 1:30am and drove through the night, getting to Dave's house just after 9am. We all crashed for several hours before we each enjoyed a delicious In-N-Out burger.

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JMT Itinerary