John Muir Trail 2016, 1st Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes
JMT 2016: First Section (7 days), Cottonwood to Rae Lakes
Day -1: We drove to Tuollumne Meadows and camped in the backpackers campground. This was our first night sleeping at 10,000', and even though we didn’t do anything physical, we hoped just spending the night at that elevation would help acclimate us. It was pretty uneventful, camping wise.
Our gear is listed here
below: Long Lake, our first days campsite
Day 0: We met our ride at the wilderness center, and left our car there. In the car we also left my SPOT beacon, my drinking cup and Luke’s fishing license. Gigi Delong drove us from Tuollumne to Bishop, where I got a new cup, and then to Big Pine where we got a 2 person permit for me and Jim, and Luke and Ian got their 2 person permit, and we had lunch with Gigi. Gigi was from South Africa and had been in Bishop in the hang glider scene for many years. She was into motorcycles, so she and Jim had something to talk about. Gigi drove us up the many big switchbacks to Cottonwood Campground at about 10,200’. We figured it would be good to get our second nights sleep at 10,000’, to help get acclimated. We’d start the hike in the morning and hike up to Long Lake at about 11,100’.
Day 1: We started early, all four of us hiking together. Little did we know that we would rarely hike as a group the rest of the trip. Our group was me, 66, my son Jim, 20 years old, and our two neighbor youths, Luke Wilnerd 17 and Ian Wilnerd 15. Jim had been on numerous week long hikes and many weekend hikes. Luke and Ian had been on lots of backpacks with their family. I had hiked the JMT in 1971, several section hikes in the late 60s, climbed some 200 peaks in the Sierra, did the Ptarmigan Traverse 3 times, climbed Rainier 6 times, Adams, Hood, St. Helen, Shasta, participated in Mountain Rescue and Nordic Ski Patrol groups. I've remained active in backpacking, with a week long hike each summer and 4 or 5 weekend backpacks. The first days hike was not a hard hike, gaining only 1000’ of elevation when we topped out at Lake 1 of the Cottonwood Lakes. I had been here twice before, and couldn’t help but think how the view of Langley had not changed, and the lake before us was the same. I think the log to our right had been there 45 years ago also.
We knew we were not far from Long lake and we trudged onward another mile or so, with very little elevation gain. We ate all our lunch food, and honey waffles were great. We finally got to Long Lake, and I was super exhausted. When I checked my blood sugar (I’m diabetic) at the camp we finally found, I was at 87 units. That is too low for me, and was part of why I was so exhausted. I was practically in a diabetic coma. We went around the lake clockwise, and found nice camping in some big rocks on the shore at the 3 o’clock position (where the outlet is at the 6 o’clock position). We got to camp at noon, had time for the boys to play some cards, and we rested up a bit in the sun. One of the life savers in our diet was to have a cup of Miso soup as soon as we got to camp, and we did it every day. Jim and I had a Pack-it Gourmet Big Un Burriro, our favorite meal, with 2 tortillas each. Jim and I could have eaten one whole pack each, or a dessert.
Day 2. We had granola and milk, and I had 2 packs of Via coffee with milk and sugar (energy) for breakfast. Jim had one Via. We were on the trail at 9 am, on top of New Army Pass at 11. It was about 2.5 miles to the pass. After a picture and a break, we headed down toward Soldier Lake and Rock Creek.
Below: same place, different sign and weather, taken in 1969
During the day we had stopped at the first water after the pass, and sat our packs on some rocks near the trail. A scout group joined us and put their packs among our packs, stepping on Jim’s sunglasses in the process. As we hiked on, Luke was ahead of the group, and stopped at a campsite among big rocks at a meadow through which Rock Creek meandered. When I came into sight I was glad to see him. We were within ¼ mile of where the trail joined the PCT. During the day I was unable to eat the Clif bar allocated for lunch of that day, and also couldn’t eat the tortilla I brought for lunch. The lunch food was sufficient to keep me stuffed.
The goal was to get as far as possible toward Crabtree Meadow, and as far as possible turned out to be a total of about 9-10 miles, where we camped at a meadow by Rock Creek. We were far from Crabtree Meadow, maybe 5 miles away.
At camp Jim and I had pasta with tomato sauce and smoked salmon, and I ate about 1.8 oz of the 2.5 oz of the pasta I had planned on eating. We had brought 2 packs of salmon to add to the pasta, but we found that 1 pack was plenty. All of our dinners were put together from things like pasta, rice, on quinoa. To that base we added a sauce and some kind of protein. Our evening meals were, by order of what we liked the most:
Big Un Burrito by Pack-It Gourmet, with 2 tortillas each.
Spaghetti with tomato sauce and freeze dried sausage granules
Pasta carbonara with bacon
Pasta Pesto with salmon
Pasta with Tomato sauce
Scalloped potatoes with bacon
Mac and cheese with bacon
Jim and I did some laundry in a stuff sack with water and soap. Then we set up the camera slider and took some videos alongside and in Rock Creek. There were a few mosquitoes, but very few. There had been very few mosquitoes all day, even though the hikers we met in Bridgeport and Mammoth had warned us of massive swarms of mosquitoes. They had been in the spot where we now were about 2 weeks earlier, and the mosquitoes were that much fewer in the two weeks. I was relieved that all of my systems were working ok: knees, hips and back. I had been afraid something would snap or pop, and incapacitate me. Luckily, my only issue was being tired at the end of the day (real tired).
Day 3 – Jim and I were up at 7, and packed up so we headed off without Luke and Ian. We told them we’d wait for them at the PCT junction, and we waited 1.5 hours for them there. We didn’t realize that this would be the pattern for most of the 22 day hike. We hiked along the meadow at Rock Creek, and shortly started the uphill grind to Guyot Pass. We were planning to top off with water at Guyot Creek, near the top of the pass. When we got there it was almost dry, but we found a place where we could dip one cup of water at a time, to put in our gravity filter. From Guyot Pass, Luke and Ian hiked ahead. The area around Guyot Pass was a strange place, with no bushes or grasses, and with big pine trees in white gravelly covering. It wasn’t soil, it was gravel. Below: me and the strange terrain of Guyot flat.
For lunch today I had plenty: 1 salmon pack from dinner last night, 1 tortilla, 2 cliff bars, pepperoni sticks, pistachio, Banana chips, and dried mango.
We got in to camp at Crabtree Meadow at 2, so it was a pretty short day that we would have to make for in mileage on a later day. The elevation gain was about 1765’. We had mac and cheese for dinner, preceded by Miso soup. I couldn’t eat my half of the mac and cheese, and Jim got extra or we gave some to the perpetually hungry Luke and Ian. There were a few mosquitoes at Crabtree, but they were not bad.
Our camp was near the beautiful creek, and near a big flat top rock. The rock was owned by a family of fat marmots, and they were fearless about hanging out there. They had covered the top of the rock with marmot drops, and I looked out over the meadow and saw another 20 or so marmots over the large meadow. I realized that there were probably 50 marmots there, and they each produced as many marmot drops as our family, and the poop was rinsed by rain into the creek. The creek still looked beautiful, but I definitely filtered any water we got out of it. The plan was for Jim to head up to Whitney the next morning, like at 4 am or something. Luke and Ian could join Jim if they wanted to.
Day 4 – Jim got up a 4 am, and took my camera and both of my hiking poles, so our Tarptent became a tarp laying over me. Luke and Ian accompanied him on his trip to the top of Mt. Whitney. My plan was to rest and recuperate from the effort of the past few days. I walked around the meadow and took pictures and set up the motor driven slider, using my cell phone as a time lapse camera. Below is my video on the camera slider. Details of its construction are here.
The boys got back about 3 pm, and we did a little video interview of how their day had gone, which is below.
Below is a shot Jim took from the Whitney trail.
Day 5 – From Crabtree Meadow we headed to Wallace Creek, 4.7 miles away, and then left the JMT for a side trip to Wallace Lake. I had hiked in the area of Wales and Wallace Lake on the 1971 JMT, and I hoped we’d have time to visit Tulainyo Lake, but our meager mileage the 2nd day of the trip had used up the layover day I had planned. We hiked up Wallace Creek pretty much cross country, and got to Wallace Lake after about 4 miles and 1200’ of elevation gain. The sun was incredibly bright at that elevation, and all we could do was seek shade. We had left Crabtree Mdw at 8 am, and got to Wallace Lake at 2 pm. Luke did a lot of fishing, caught at least one fair sized one, and Jim and I had pasta carbonara for dinner. My sunglasses came apart due to a lost screw in the frame, and I was able to reconnect the frame with dental floss.
Day 6 – We hiked down to the JMT from Wallace Lake, then headed toward Tyndall Creek. The Bighorn Plateau was otherworldly, and we got our last view of Whitney. At Tyndall Creek there were a lot of scout groups, and we continued on. The map showed a lake to the left of the trail, about 400-500’ higher than the trail and .5 miles off the trail, so we headed there and had it all to ourselves. Jim and I had scalloped potatoes and bacon, which we ate sitting our comfy chairs looking at an incredible view, but it was pretty windy. We had hiked 8.5 miles and Jim developed his first blister. I didn’t have any foot issues the whole trip, but Luke had blisters almost from day 1, and Ian had foot issues also. They ended up wearing running shoes and carrying their boots for most of the trip. That night Jim and I didn’t put up the tent, but used it as a ground cloth. There was no sign of rain, no mosquitoes, so why not?
Day 7 – Jim and I headed for Forester Pass, leaving Ian and Luke to catch up later. A big guided group led by Zoom and _______, of California Alpine Guides, were headed up Forester a bit behind us, and I was impressed that such a large group could all be in pretty good shape. Below: our crew just below the top of Forester Pass.
Jim on the top of Forester Pass.
After a bit of rest on the pass, we headed down just as the CAG group arrived. We continued toward our goal of Vidette Meadow, for a total mileage of 12.1 miles for the day. We were tired at Vidette Meadow. In fact, I was tired at the end of every day, so I’ll quit saying I was tired.
Day 8 – Jim and I were up at 6 am, on the trail by 7:15 am. We headed out fast to try and intercept our horse packers who planned to meet us at Charlotte Lake. We polished off the 1200’ gain to the sandy clearing above Charlotte Lake. Jim waited there, and I walked down to Charlotte Lake to make sure the horse packers hadn’t beaten us to the lake. Back at the trail intersection, we waited another hour and the horse packer showed up with our 4 plastic buckets of food, and took our trash. Luke and Ian showed up in time to get their trash onto a mule saddlebag. There was only one problem: the deal had been for the packers to bring us a resupply of fuel, and they didn’t! We had 7 days to hike to the next resupply and no fuel!! Are you kidding me? The horse cowboy, Reeve, said another string would be heading up later that day, so Jim waited for the second string to show up, which took at least another 2 hours.
I went ahead, and started up Glen Pass. Early on I realized that I had left the camera tripod down with Jim’s pack and I waited for him to show up. He had found the tripod, and saved me the trip down to retrieve it. Jim had waited for the second pack string, but they didn't have any fuel for us either. Dang, we were screwed. We headed up Glen pass already tired, and got to Rae Lakes shortly before the shadow of the ridge to the west put our camp in shadow. Jim and I swam in the lake, and washed clothes. I washed all my clothes, so they were wet all night and part of the next day. Again we slept on top of the flattened tent, and saw the stars.
Below: heading to the top of Glen Pass.
Below: Rae Lakes, where we camped on the isthmus.
Next: on to MTR!