After our amazing 2017 John Muir Trail hike, Jeff, Michael and I couldn’t wait to get back for our second segment. Permits were easy this time because all we needed was an Inyo National Forest wilderness permit from Duck Pass Trail, which was a busy trail, but not compared to either end of the JMT: Yosemite National Park or Whitney Portal. This year my brother Brennan and his friend Igor joined us. I hadn’t done a backcountry hiking trip with them since 2014 and 2013 respectively, and now we got to experience one of the finest together. It also made spotting a vehicle at the end of our hike easier.
2018 was a bad year for forest fires in the Mammoth area, so there was some uncertainty as to whether the hike would be cancelled. Jeff, Michael, and I did not have a promising start to our trip when 395 through the mountains north of Mono Lake was stopped because a full cement truck rolled over. It had to be emptied and towed out of the ditch before traffic could resume. Things worked out for us in the end. Though we got to Mammoth Lakes late because of the cement truck, with some hunting we were able to get a campsite. A group had left because there was a high chance the campground would be evacuated in the middle of the night due to high winds and the nearby forest fire. There was no evacuation that night, and we weren’t much bothered by the smoke once we got over Duck Pass.
After Michael and I drove to South Lake in Bishop to pick up Brennan and Igor, who were spotting the exit vehicle, we got a midday start to our hike from the Duck Lake Pass trailhead in Coldwater Campground. It was exciting to head out on the JMT again, and to be able to share the experience with new people. The hike past the alpine lakes was crowded, but once we got over Duck Pass there were very few people. Since we started midday and all of us had flown from near sea level, we ended the short day by camping next to Pika Lake. After setting up camp, Michael and I went for a trail run along Pika and Duck lakes. After jumping in the lake to rinse off and eating dinner, we all enjoyed sunset over Duck Pass.
- Flight from Portland, ME to Reno, CA
- Car rental from Reno, CA to Mammoth Lakes
- Drive to South Lake in Bishop for car spot
- Drive back to Mammoth Lakes
- Parked car at Coldwater Campground Duck, Lake Pass trailhead
- Hike Duck Pass Trail to intersection with Pika Lake Trail
- Left on Pika Lake Trail to Pika Lake
- Camp at Pika Lake
- Trail Run along Pika Lake and Duck Lake and back
Date: 04 August 2018
Distance: 4.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000′
On the morning of day two we hiked around Duck Lake and took the short climb up to Duck Pass again to get some cell reception before our final approach to the JMT. The hike around Duck Lake was an amazing start to the trip. The trail skirted the lake high up along its steep shoreline and was flanked on the opposite side by mountain peaks. After dropping below Duck Lake’s outlet we set foot on the John Muir Trail. From the exit of last year’s trip, Jeff, Michael, and I had missed a good chunk of JMT miles between Reds Meadow and Duck Lake. Those wouldn’t be the only miles of the JMT we’d miss, but we were section hiking it and I’m pretty sure we hiked many more total miles than the trails full length, so we weren’t too concerned. Also, it was another reason to come back and to thru hike the whole trail. On the shady shore of Purple Lake we stopped for some lunch and Jeff nearly caught the largest trout any of us saw the whole trip. We had another short day as we set up camp at Lake Virginia. Michael and I went for another trail run that evening. We went to the far side of Lake Virginia and then scree-climbed to a ridge to see what was on the other side (more mountains). Maybe not the best choice as the scree was steep and in places the large rocks were unstable from soft sand. But we were careful and got a memorable and unique view of the surrounding area. Back at camp we got to enjoy sundown again, this time projected against the ridge that we had just climbed.
- Hike Pika Lake Trail to intersection with Duck Pass Trail
- Turn right on Duck Pass Trail to Duck Pass then back down to intersection with John Muir Trail
- Left on John Muir Trail to Lake Virginia
- Trail run John Muir Trail to bottom of ridge above Lake Virginia
- Bushwhack to ridge above Lake Virginia and back
- Right on John Muir Trail back to Lake Virginia
- Camp at Lake Virginia
Date: 05 August 2018
Distance: 9.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2600′
On day three we woke up to to freezing temperatures and covered in frost. The morning hike started with a steep climb down to Tully Hole. Jeff and Igor got ahead and stopped to fish in Fish Creek, I could see them like little dots below from the top of the switchbacks. After following Fish Creek through a canyon and crossing it on a dramatic bridge we began our climb to the Squaw Lakes. We were very exposed to the sun during the climb, but saw our first snow and experienced our first high pass when we reached Silver Pass at 10,900′. After Silver Pass and Silver Lake we dropped down below 9000′, crossed Mono Creek and stopped at the campsite just after the bridge. I was unsure if campfires were allow due to the wildfires, but we had a small one after the campers around us started their own.
- Hike John Muir Trail over Silver Pass to Mono Creek crossing
- Camp at Mono Creek campsite
Date: 06 August 2018
Distance: 13.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000′
Day four started with a big climb up and over Bear Ridge. It was a big climb, but the nearly level hike along the ridge in old growth forest after was a pleasure. We stopped for a snack before the descent to Bear Creek and were surprised to have some cell signal. It was a knee pounding drop to Bear Creek, so we stopped for lunch and to soak our feet. After lunch Brennan and Igor stayed back to nap in the shade while Michael, Jeff, and I made the long grueling climb up to Lou Beverly Lake. That afternoon was the hardest part of our 2018 JMT hike for me. It was a hot afternoon, the sun was in our faces, and there was little shade. Lou Beverly Lake turned out to be not as spectacular site as it sounded from some blog post I read while researching our hike, but was fairly cool nevertheless. The few sites along the lake were pretty wet and uneven, but we made camp on the flat rocks near its inlet. After setting up camp and resting we explored the lake and discovered that we could soak near the inlet but if we got further away the lake was only shin deep. In the photo below I was standing in the center of the lake. Once Brennan and Igor joined us we had dinner and hung out until dark.
- Hiked John Muir Trail to intersection with Sandpiper Lake Trail
- Left on Sandpiper Lake Trail to Lou Beverly Lake
- Camp at Lou Beverly Lake
Date: 07 August 2018
Distance: 11.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 3500′
On day five we started off toward the magnificent Marie Lake. I hiked with Brennan and Michael that morning and we stopped along the shore of the massive lake for a snack. After Marie Lake was the climb over Selden Pass, another high pass at 11,850′. At the pass we talked to a guy who was mulepacking. His family would slackpack each day while a mule company would set out ahead and make camp for them to return to at the end of the day. It sounded like the glamping equivalent to thruhiking, I’d never heard of such a thing. After Selden Pass were the spectacular Heart Lake and Sallie Keyes Lakes, followed by the seemingly endless switchbacks down to Muir Trail Ranch. We had paid the premium fee for sending resupply buckets to MTR, but the best part was going through a long line of categorized hiker buckets. They were filled with a wealth of trail foods that we were welcomed to engorge on and fill our packs with. After eating our fill and cramming our packs closed we crossed the South Fork San Joaquin River to the campsites next to the hot springs. After setting up camp we jumped from the rocks into Warm Lake. The lake was capped with warm water from the hot springs, but was frigid just below unless you found one of the springs. Afterward we sat in a hot spring that was little more than a hole in a muddy field, but was nevertheless wonderful. A quick rinse in the River led to an amazingly relaxed body, just in time for dinner and bed.
- Hiked Sandpiper Lake Trail to intersection with John Muir Trail
- Left on John Muir Trail over Selden Pass and to intersection with Sallie Keyes Cutoff Trail
- Right on Sallie Keyes Cutoff Trail to intersection with Florence Lake Trail
- Right to Muir Trail Ranch and back
- Right to South Fork San Joaquin River crossing and hot springs
- Camp at hot springs campsite
Date: 08 August 2018
Distance: 10.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1400′
We awoke on the sixth day refreshed from the hot springs and made our way back across the San Joaquin, down the trail and across a bridge into Kings Canyon National Park. It would be hard to choose a favorite part of the JMT, but that day of following the river through canyons and climbing past waterfalls to the Evolution Valley would definitely in contention. Not only did we experience some of the icons of the JMT like Muir Rock, and the Evolution River crossing, but we ended our day at the single most picturesque campsite along McClure Meadow. After setting up camp, I made a coffee and went to visit the ranger at the nearby station. The young surfer dude ranger was patching his air mattress with duct tape and described the trail ahead with phrases of fondness like: “the trail is cruiser” and “every turn’s a postcard”. When I got back to camp Jeff had caught a bunch of trout which was cooked over the fire to supplement our dinners. It was idyllic.
- Hiked across South Branch San Joaquin River to intersection with Florence Lake Trail
- Right on Florence Lake Trail to intersection with John Muir Trail
- Right on John Muir Trail to McClure Meadow
- Camped at McClure Meadow
Date: 09 August 2018
Distance: 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700′
On the seventh day we cruised up Evolution Valley and were graced by the beauty of Evolution Lake, whose rocky shores were surrounded by craggy peaks named after naturalists including Darwin. On the trail, it was another warm day with the sun in our faces as we hiked up to Wanda Lake. Though the day was short, I was feeling it as I set up my tent in the lee of a boulder and took a power nap. After eating a late lunch, Jeff, Michael, and I went for a hike to the summit of an unnamed peak to the east of Wanda Lake. From the summit we were surrounded by mountains as far as we could see.
- Hiked John Muir Trail to Wanda Lake
- Camped at Wanda Lake
- Bushwhacked nearby peak of 12262′
Date: 10 August 2018
Distance: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3100′
Our last day on the JMT started by climbing up to the highest point of the trail for this section, Muir Pass at just under 12,000′. We scoped out Muir Hut and got a group photo. The rest of the day was slow climb down from the pass along the Kings River and into Le Conte Canyon. We went from snow and talus past alpine lake to lush forests. We stopped for lunch next to the infamous Rock Monster and got to the end of the JMT for us this year, at the intersection with Bishop Pass Trail. While snacking near the ranger station a woman ran up looking for the ranger, who was out on patrol. Her mother has badly sprained her ankled and was resting it in Muir hut. Tina had run all the way down to see the ranger to get help. Luckily Igor had a satellite phone and they were able to reach rescue. We supplied Tina with a bunch of our snacks for her hike back up to her mother. A few weeks later Tina sent me an amazing video of them being flown by helicopter off the JMT from Muir Pass, a truly unique perspective of the mountains. We finished our day by hiking up Bishop Pass Trail to just below the 10,000′ mark at a campsite in the woods next to a brook. We had a campfire and settled in for our final evening of our trip.
- Hiked John Muir Trail over Muir Pass to intersection with Bishop Pass Trail
- Left on Bishop Pass Trail to 10,000′
- Camped at campsite just below 10,000′
Date: 11 August 2018
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1600′
Our final day began with a switchback out of Le Conte Canyon with amazing views of the mountains in Kings Canyon National Park. We hiked upwards all morning through the lush Dusy Basin and into the desert-like conditions south of Bishop Pass. We again found ourselves surrounded by amazing mountains like Isosceles Peak, Lightning Bolt Peak, and the third highest peak in the Sierras: the 14er North Palisade. The plan had been to hiker over Bishop Pass and find a campsite among the lakes on the other side for our final night. But once we got momentum (and past the pile of deer corpses killed in an earlier avalanche) we headed all the way out to South Lake parking lot and our vehicle. It was a good thing because a thunderstorm rolling in that evening. Instead of camping another night, we got a condo in Lake Tahoe. It was too small for the five of us, but we had been sleeping on the ground for the last nine night, and it had a hot tub. The next morning we enjoyed a drive around Lake Tahoe, visited some outdoor gear suppliers, saw the start of the Wester States 100, and headed back to Reno for our flights back to the east coast.
- Hiked Bishop Pass Trail over Bishop Pass to South Lake parking lot
Date: 12 August 2018
Distance: 10.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000′
Date: 04 – 12 August 2018
Distance: 91.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 20,900′