In August 2019 Jeff, Michael and I returned to the John Muir Trail for the third straight year to complete it. Our friend John, and Michael’s brother Steve joined us. We flew into Las Vegas and drove in a van to Grandview Campground in Inyo National Forest. Campsites were limited, but we squeezed into one and spread out looking for flat-ish areas to set up tents. In the morning we caught sunrise from the top of a ridge which gave us a great view of all the Sierras we’d be hiking through in the next week. We drove into Bishop to pick up our permits. The chances of winning the lottery for a Whitney Portal exit permit was low enough that we opted to exit our hike through Horseshoe Meadow, so all we needed was an Inyo National Forest permit for Bishop Pass Trail. We headed to South Lake to start our hike, but got there too late to secure a parking spot. Michael and Steve dropped us at the trailhead, parked the van roadside by Parcher’s Resort, and walked back to the trailhead.
The hike out of South Lake was a repeat for Jeff, Michael, and I from the previous year but in reverse. That made it no less enjoyable. We climbed past the numerous lakes in the area, over Bishop Pass, and down through Dusy Basin. We noticed there was definitely more snow on the ground than the previous year. It was fun to share in John and Steve’s first experience hiking in the Sierras. We ended the day with the switchbacks leaving Dusy Basin and facing the enormous mountains of Kings Canyon National Park. We stopped at the same campsite just below the 10,000′ mark that was our final campsite of the previous year.
- Flight from Portland, Maine to Las Vegas, Nevada
- Rental from Las Vegas to Grandview Campground in Bishop, CA
- Camped overnight at Grandview Campground
- Drove to White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop, CA for permits
- Drove to South Lake in Bishop, CA
- Parked along South Lake Road near Parcher’s Resort
- Road walked to Bishop Pass Trailhead
- Hiked Bishop Pass Trail over Bishop Pass to 10,000′
- Camped just below 10,000′
Date: 03 August 2019
Distance: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2300′
On the second day Steve left us and hiked back over Bishop Pass to the rental van. Steve was our support crew for the first half of the hike and was planning to do day hikes. He would meet us at our resupply, where he would join us for the second half of the hike. The rest of us continued down to LeConte Canyon and set foot on the JMT again. We followed the trail south, jumped in the Palisade Creek to cool off and reached the Golden Staircase by afternoon. The Golden Staircase was a crushing ascent (see elevation profile below) from the canyon up to the Palisade Lakes. At one point Jeff and I stopped to nap in the shade. It was that draining. As we approached Lower Palisade Lake we saw Michael and John in the distance, but when we got to the lake they were nowhere to be seen. We continued on, figuring they had as well, and stopped when we found a nice campsite above Upper Palisade Lake. Heat, elevation, and dehydration hit us and we took naps after setting up our tents. A few hours later when we had not heard from Michael and John, and no one passing from the opposite direction had seen them, I decided to trail run back to Lower Palisade Lake to look for them at the sprawling camping area. I eventually found them camped over a ridge above the lake. After coordinating with them about meeting back up in the morning I ran back to where Jeff and I were camped.
- Hiked Bishop Pass Trail to intersection with John Muir Trail
- Left on John Muir Trail to Upper Palisade Lake
- Trail run to Lower Palisade Lake and back
- Camped at Upper Palisade Lake
Date: 04 August 2019
Distance: 16.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3400′
We met up with John and Michael at our campsite in the morning and then climbed up and over Mather Pass. Mather Pass was over 12,000′ and had great views. Beyond it we dropped down to the drainage of the South Fork Kings River. We followed the river to where it gathered at the bottom of a canyon and had to make a fairly deep and strong river crossing. I had my sunglasses tucked into my pack’s sternum strap, but on the other side I realized I lost them in the river. After another climb we made it to Lake Marjorie, our stop for the night. Jeff and I arrived first and squatted in the primo spot at the side of the lake. As we waited for the second half of our crew, a thru hiker showed up and set up his hammock right in our spot. “Epic” was quite a character and would dog us for a few days. After settling in and having dinner, we hiked to the top of the ridge overlooking the lake and watched sun set.
- Hiked John Muir Trail over Mather Pass to Lake Marjorie
- Camped at Lake Marjorie
Date: 05 August 2019
Distance: 10.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2300′
The next day started with the climb from Lake Marjorie and over Pinchot Pass, another pass over 12,000′. On the other side we hiked through sparse trees surrounded by the chirping alarms of marmots. After a snack break overlooking Twin Lakes we dropped into the canyon Woods Creek cut through, and eventually crossed a long suspension bridge over the creek. We stopped for lunch and water by the creek under the bridge, and then made the long climb past Dollar Lake to the amazing Rae Lakes. It seems each backpacking trip there is a section where I was nearly broken by exhaustion. For whatever reason the climb up to Dollar Lake was that section for this trip. I fell behind the others and dragged myself to the campsite by Middle Rae Lake. The black flies were out in full force as we ate dinner, and our site was visited by both a deer and Epic.
- Hiked John Muir Trail over Pinchot Pass to Rae Lakes
- Camped at Rae Lakes
Date: 06 August 2019
Distance: 14.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3100′
Day five started with sunrise lighting up Painted Lady, an impressive pyramidal peak between Rae Lakes and Glen Pass. We hike past it and criss-crossed our way around boulders to the top of Glen Pass, yet another pass around 12,000′. Like a lot of the high passes, the route didn’t follow the JMT as much as made a safe approach of the snowfield near the top. Glen Pass was a little unique in that the trail traversed the ridge a bit before descending past the small lakes on the other side. After passing Charolette Lake we left the JMT to hike over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley for our resupply. Kearsarge Pass Trail skirted along the edge of a ridge with views of lakes below and then switchbacked up to the pass. On the pass we had cell signal for the first time, so I got to talk to Lindsay before the long hike down to the parking lot. Steve met us along the way, and then we drove to a motel in Independence. After settling in, we drove up to Bishop to get a meal, go to a gear shop, and have a beer at Mountain Rambler Brewery. I tore a hole in my shorts while filtering water hiking down from Kearsarge Pass, so I got some used Patagonia shorts, replaced my lost sunglasses, and got some Dirty Girl gaiters. The awesome folks at Mammoth Gear Exchange even gave us the thru-hiker discount.
- Hiked John Muir Trail over Glen Pass to intersection with Kearsarge Pass Trail
- Left on Kearsarge Pass Trail over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley parking
- Motel room in Independence, CA
Date: 07 August 2019
Distance: 11.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2500′
After our night off the trail, Michael and Steve dropped the rest of us off at the Onion Valley parking lot, and drove down to Horseshoe Meadow to drop the van off at our trail exit. We had arranged a shuttle to bring them back to Onion Valley, so Jeff, John, and I hung out for the morning waiting for them. After we were asked to leave the campsite we were squatting in, we raided the hiker’s box where John made an impromptu lunch of tortilla, peanut butter, sun-dried tomatoes, and some sort of jerky that looked like dog snacks. It was hilarious. When the shuttle arrived we hiked back up to Kearsarge Pass and cut past the lakes we had seen from above the day before, and rejoined the JMT. We stopped at a large and nice looking campsite we saw on the descent to Bubb’s Creek. We set up camp and the a couple of us climbed up a nearby ridge to watch sun set against the amazing East Vidette, a Paramount-like mountain that commanded the view over Bubb’s Creek. Our campsite was just below 10,000′ and had an awesome fire ring, so we had a nice fire before going to bed.
- Car drop at Horseshoe Meadows parking on Horseshoe Meadows Road in Lone Pine, CA
- Shuttle to Onion Valley parking on Onion Valley Road in Independence, CA
- Hiked Kearsarge Pass Trail over Kearsarge Pass to intersection with Bullfrog Lake Trail
- Left on Bullfrog Lake Trail to intersection with John Muir Trail
- Left on John Muir Trail to campsite above Bubb’s Creek
- Camped above Bubb’s Creek
Date: 08 August 2019
Distance: 7.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2600′
In the morning we dropped the rest of the way down to Bubb’s Creek and followed it around East Vidette. It was a frosty morning with patches of ice along the creek. The morning was taken up by the impressive climb up Forester Pass, which was the highest point on the JMT and Pacific Crest Trail at over 13,000′. Again, the JMT went off course because of all the snow. It climbed up the ridge early instead of cutting through the snow around the lake to the north of the pass, and it seemed to stay on the ridge longer in order to traverse the snowfield near the pass rather than climb up through it. There were people backed up at the snowfields, unsure of their footing. We had a lot of experience with hiking through snow in New England, so we made short work of it. Jeff, John and I got to the pass in the morning and hung out for a while. We had good visibility of the trail below us, but could not see Michael and Steve. Jeff and John pushed on as I put on layers and made myself comfortable. I wanted to make sure they made the climb over giant boulders and through snowfields without issue. I sat on Forester Pass for several hours snacking and just taking it all in. For the most part I had it to myself, but people passed through now and again and we chatted. Once Michael and Steve caught up, I continued on while they took a short break. The south side of Forester Pass was an incredible switchback adventure along cliffs, but luckily lacked the snow of the north side. I sauntered across the Tyndall Creek drainage and caught my first sight of Mount Whitney over Mount Tyndall’s shoulder. As I approached the Tyndall Creek crossing, I found John resting by its shore and he lead me to our campsite for the night. Michael and Steve showed up shortly thereafter, we were all tired but buzzing with the excitement of the day.
- Hiked John Muir Trail over Forester Pass to Tyndall Creek
- Camped at Tyndall Creek
Date: 09 August 2019
Distance: 12.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3600′
First thing in the morning we crossed Tyndall Creek and made our way up to Bighorn Plateau, which was another unique geography that the JMT cut through. We saw many birds and even a distant coyote as we crossed the plateau, forded Wallace Creek, and approached Crabtree Meadow. Jeff, John and I again got ahead and cut through Crabtree Meadow to stop at the ranger station and tried to get a weather report for the next morning, when we’d be climbing Mount Whitney. The ranger was out, but the weather report from my Garmin looked favorable. We passed by the wag bag station, we were not entering or exiting from Whitney Portal so we were exempt from packing out our own feces. We continued on to Guitar Lake and found a site to the north of the lake that was large enough to hold us. The rest of the day was filled with hanging out, going fishing, and looking longingly up at Mount Whitney.
- Hiked John Muir Trail to intersection with Upper Crabtree Meadow Trail
- Right on Upper Crabtree Meadow Trail to ranger station and back
- Right on John Muir Trail to Guitar Lake
- Camped at Guitar Lake
Date: 10 August 2019
Distance: 11.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2400′
The next morning we got up at 1am in order to get to the summit of Mount Whitney for sunrise. The hike up in the dark was beautiful with a nearly full moon, stars overhead, and zigzagging headlamps below. Our pace was slow because of the elevation, I remember feeling lightheaded and being very exact with my foot placement. At one point we got off the trail after exiting a snowfield but we were close to the summit at that point, so there was no real danger. We got to the summit, and the official end of the JMT, well before sunrise and hunkered into a crevice out of the wind. We brought our sleeping bags to keep warm, and our stoves to make hot coffee and breakfast. When the sun rose we left the warmth of our sleeping bags for short periods of time to take photos and see the views. It was an amazing end to the official hike, but we had more miles to do to get to Horseshoe Meadow and our rental van. We headed back down the JMT to our campsite, and napped until around 11am. After resting we packed up our site and headed back past Crabtree Meadow and joined the Pacific Crest Trail south, making camp just on the other side of the Whitney Creek crossing. After setting up camp we explored the small gorge just down river of the crossing.
- Hiked John Muir Trail to summit of Mount Whitney and back
- Hike John Muir Trail to intersection with Upper Crabtree Meadow Trail
- Left on Upper Crabtree Meadow Trail to intersection with Lower Crabtree Meadow Trail
- Right on Lower Crabtree Meadow Trail to intersection with Pacific Crest Trail
- Left on Pacific Crest Trail to Whitney Creek campsite
- Camped at Whitney Creek
Date: 11 August 2019
Distance: 13.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3200′
The day after Mount Whitney we started hiking south on the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is one of the Triple Crown of long national scenic trails, along with the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. I have ambitions to eventually thru hike or section hike all three trails, and the PCT is the one I am most excited for. Jeff and I got a little early start in the morning and caught up with a thru hiker named Giraffe and chatted for a bit. Jeff kept pace with her as I fell behind a bit, but I found him waiting for me after the cool Rock Creek crossing (which involved crossing on the trunk of a fallen tree). Rock Creek was our last reliable water until our planned camping spot on Chicken Spring Lake, so it was a very dry midday hike. Jeff and I got to Chicken Spring Lake in early afternoon and got an okay spot among a few overnight hikers that came up from Horseshoe Meadow, a sign that our trip was nearly over. Jeff and I jumped in the lake, then I hiked over to Cottonwood Pass and was able to get cell signal and call Lindsay. I was settling in for a nap back at my tent when the rest of the crew showed up and wanted to push through to Horseshoe Meadow and end a day early. Jeff and I packed up our stuff and headed out, pausing at Cottonwood Pass to listen to a nearby band of coyotes yelping and howling. We caught up with the group at the bottom of the switchback below and we walked the last sandy miles to the van together.
With that our three year adventure of section hiking the John Muir Trail was over. 7 friends, 290 miles, almost 70,000′ elevation gain, numerous camp sites and vistas. Since we got off the trail a day early we got a motel room in Lone Pine, spent the next morning in Death Valley National Park, and ate and drank way too much in Las Vegas before flying back east. I hope to return one day to re-hike the whole JMT in one go, or to do the Sierra High Route.
- Hiked Pacific Crest Trail to Chicken Spring Lake and intersection with Cottonwood Pass Trail
- Left on Cottonwood Pass Trail to Horseshoe Meadow parking
Date: 12 August 2019
Distance: 19.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000′
Date: 03 – 13 August 2019
Distance: 129.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 28,400′