Day 7 – Lake Virginia

7/27 – Red’s Meadow to Lake Virginia
16 miles and 7,600′ to 10,338

Man we made it really, really far today. Super far considering my calves and feet were killing me two days ago and I had serious thoughts of quitting the trail.  The zero day in Mammoth lakes definitely helped in recouping and relaxing. I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure I  have plantar facitiis. I get sharp pains through my heels when I flex my feet.  Pretty disappointing as I really did try to train with multiple 15 miles hikes back at home and 5 miles at night during the work week.  The new insoles we picked up in Mammoth are helping. Well, I hope they help. The gear shop in Mammoth was well stocked and everyone was super informative.  I guess they get a lot of PCT and JMT hikers.  They immediately pointed out that I have high arches and pronate my ankles and that my shoes were the right ones for me.  Rather than trying brand new shoes a quarter of the way in, he recommended supportive insoles and to stretch my calves a bunch.  We also picked up a new Snow Peak titanium cook pot, an ursak, and some super sweet sun sleeves.

While the rest day in Mammoth with the soft bed and cheeseburgers was super nice, being in town gave me anxiety. Making decisions about shoes and insoles felt like a life or death situation. Then sitting early this morning in Mammoth waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the trail my heart was racing. I felt like I was wasting valuable time on the trail and taking a day off made me some kind of imposter. Especially since we have so many more miles to cover.

SO it could be the rest day or the new gear but today felt really good.  We covered more miles than ever before and still had time for a good hot lunch and hot dinner.  I can’t believe we covered 16 miles; basically a full page of one of our maps.  The John Muir Trail takes practice in terms of figuring out how to quickly pack up in the morning, do chores efficiently, eat more food in the middle of the day, and when to camel up on water.  Maybe it just took us 7 days on the trail to figure it all out.

The scenery changes with every mile and every pass.  This morning at Red’s Meadow the scenery was a nice pine forest with ferns and flower meadows.  All through Devil’s Post Pile and Red’s there were a huge number of the trees snapped in half and downed.  Apparently there was a giant wind storm in winter 2011. A local told us that “the jet stream touched down” with 100 mph winds. Unsure to the validity of that statement, but it had to be super windy to knock thousands of trees over like match sticks.  We passed a couple cinder cones and climbed steadily for 4 miles crossing over Crater Creek a couple times and getting a fantastic view of Cascade Valley.  We climbed some more to Duck Lake outlet and chatted with a mom and her two young daughters resting and soaking their feet in the cool water.  They were going about 7 miles a day, so half our pace. She went to Bishop O’Dowd so we played the “do you know so and so” name game. They were wearing big boots and were suffering from some giant blisters on their feet.

We soon made it to Purple lake were a lot of people were setting up camp for the night. It was only 4:30 at that point so we decided to push up a little higher to Lake Virginia at 10,330. This was one of my favorite campsites of the trip. The climb between Purple Lake and Lake Virginia went past a no name 11,000 foot peak with a giant moraine with boulders actively tumbling down the side. It’s a pretty cool sight and sound to watch giant boulders just rolling down and bouncing around.  Plus, gotta love that there are 11,000 foot peaks with no name.

Tomorrow we go over Silver Pass at 10,900!

reds cone
Red’s Cinder Cone
crazy downed trees
Downed Trees near Red’s Meadow


Climbing out of Red's Meadow
Climbing out of Red’s Meadow




Looks like Glacial polish to me


My camping buddy
Feeling clean and rested


Sierra wild flowers
Sierra wild flowers
View of Cascade Valley
The climb between Purple Lake and Lake Virginia
The climb between Purple Lake and Lake Virginia
Unnamed 11,000' peak with big ol' boulders
Unnamed 11,000′ peak with big ol’ boulders
Moon rise over Lake Virginia
Moon rise over Lake Virginia


Lake Virginia
Dang that’s pretty. Lake Virginia
Filtering water
Pump water or DIE.



Day 6 – Mammoth Lakes

7/26 Mammoth Lakes

We took a zero day.  That means we didn’t do any miles on the trail. We hadn’t planned on taking a day off the trail, but between the burned cook pot and my cramping feet and calves we decided to go into town.  We had a leisurely morning at Red’s Meadow.  Ate breakfast with two JMT hikers, one from Germany and another that went by the trail name White Fox (we don’t have trail names yet). The German hiker was lamenting that in America we make all sorts of accommodations for camper vans and people wishing to visit the outdoors in their giant trucks but if you are a hiker and just want to pitch a tent you are looked down upon. He had a point. All the hikers were squished into a spot of dirt no more than 1,000 square feet and we were surrounded on all sides by trucks and RVs. I think it may have something to do with American towns wanting to cut down on vagrants or transients so there are laws about when and where you can pitch a tent.  White Fox gave us some tips on rubbing your feet with olive oil to stave off blisters.

After packing up our gear, we headed up the hill to the Red’s Meadow main general store to pay for a real shower and pick up our re-supply box. The shower felt very odd. My skin was super tight and almost painful from the soap. I guess an odd outcome of not showering for 6 days.

Emma and Steve walked into Red’s around noon and soon after Dick and Manuela showed up.  They must of camped at one of the upper lakes and didn’t push for a crazy 16 mile day like we did.  They all looked a bit dusty from the downgrade into Red’s Meadow. Emma and Steve planned far ahead and actually had a room booked at Red’s Meadow. Steve was dreaming up the cheeseburger and milkshake they were going to eat at the cafe.

In addition to the general store with all kinds of goodies like chapstick and bandaids, there are hiker bins were people dump stuff that they can’t fit in their bear can.  I fished out more Dr. Brommer’s soap, crystal light drink mix, and batteries for our tiny Sony camera.  Kinda funny that there were the perfect batteries for free as I spent $14 bucks at CVS picking up extras.  I repacked our bear cans (for some reason I have better spacial capacity planning abilities to shove everything in there) and hopped on the shuttle to head into Mammoth by around noon.

The shuttle dropped us off literally in the center of a summer festival. I think it was called brews and blues, complete with a B-52 cover band. The crowds, sounds, and smells were jarring to say the least.  I felt super weird to be wandering around the festival with my pack on, in my gaiters, and hiking poles.

After making a couple phone calls to different gear shops to see who carried SnowPeak, we took another shuttle to Mammoth Mountaineering Shop to pick up a new cook pot.  I also tested out new shoes.  My calf pain has grown into full blown plantar fasciitis with sharp shooting pains through my heel when I stand up for the first time in the morning.  YAY! Honestly, I don’t think any amount of training would of staved off an injury. Apparently I pronate A LOT and my feet are just wiggling around. The guy at the shop recommended a more supportive insert and to not switch out shoes mid way through the hike.  He could see the anxiety on my face as I tried on different shoes and talked me out of switching and risking crazy blisters. We also picked up a kevlar bear bag to use after our second resupply in Muir Trail Ranch as we are worried about fitting 12 days of food in our bear cans, they are rated to hold 8 days of food :).  We probably spent close to $200 at the gear shop; I really should tally up how much we’ve spent on gear for this trip, but it’s a vacation, right??

We took the shuttle back into town to find an early dinner. As we wandered around the square a woman came right on up to us and asked if we were hiking the PCT. She was a “trail angel” and wanted to make sure we had a place to sleep.  It was super sweet of her.  We found a brewery style place for beer and sliders settled in for a relaxed meal. Kevin pulled out all our maps to review the terrain ahead and the waitress commented that she’s climbed Mt. Whitney a couple times. She said she typically starts her hike at midnight, makes it to the summit by dawn and is off the mountain before any rangers can stop her to check for her non existent permit. She also recommended a couple side hikes to hot springs. Sounded amazing, maybe next time we do the JMT.

So now we are holed up in the Mammoth lodge in an extremely comfortable bed.  We did our laundry in the sink and took another shower. When I dried myself off with the towel I was still able to wipe dirt of my legs. Amazing.


Red's Meadow Resort
Red’s Meadow Resort
Hiker Bins
Hiker Bins aka free goodies.
"can be dusty" thanks
Thanks for the warning map. “Can be very dusty”.


Day 5 – Red’s Meadow

7/25 Ruby Lake to Red’s Meadow
16.5 miles

Ruby Lake was a beautiful camp site.  Kevin has this app on his phone that shows all the good established sites.  It was up on a rocky bluff overlooking the small emerald colored Ruby Lake.  I guess they call it Ruby as there are red colored cliffs rising out of the far side. We had a good, and large breakfast, and managed to pack up and be on our way by 8:30. That might be the earliest we’ve broken camp thus far. We then passed Garnet lake which looked surprisingly a lot like Thousand Island lake. Long lake butting up to a base of a mountain dotted with tiny islands. I’ve spied those Mount Ritter on the edge of our Yosemite map many times and always marveled at how long it would take to get there. And yesterday I managed to walk right on past them.

Between every lake was a small pass. I’ve learned to really pace myself going up and over to not make my heart race.  The scenery, rocks, trees, even the chipmunks change with every mile.  From Garnet lake we dropped down over 1,000 feet to Shadow Creek Bride.  We took a long lunch and rehydrated a meal.  We had planned to eat two rehydrated meals for dinner but found it too much food so we are now splitting them up to make one hot meal for lunch. It was so good! Unstuffed bell peppers.  For the most part our dehydrated meals are really great. I’ve been adding more salt to my food to try and avoid leg cramps. Eating a big lunch really helped our mood and we pushed over on over a couple more climbs, past lakes Rosalie, Gladys, and Trinity.  Then, checking Kevin’s watch we realized we could make it all the way down to Red’s Meadow that night if we pushed really hard.  Yesterday night Red’s Meadow seemed another day away but at 3:30 we figured we only had 5.5 more miles to go of mostly down so we decided to push for it.  All the way down we were dreaming up ideas of sleeping in a bed in Mammoth Lakes, taking a shower, and a never ending french toast buffet.  Those thoughts powered me over the 5.5 DUSTY miles.  My god it was dusty. We ran out of water mid way down the grade. Did I mention the dust? I could scrap it off my legs in chunks.  Well we made it to Red’s by 7:20, just in time to see the last shuttle to Mammoth pull up to the visitor shot. We were elated and a little in disbelief. We bought tickets for the shuttle and got on. I started calling hotels in Mammoth Lakes only to quickly find that the entire town was sold out. We had forgotten it was a Saturday and Mammoth is a popular vacation town.  Goodbye dreams of a real bed. Goodbye dreams of never ending french toast buffet. So now we are camped in the noisy backpackers site next to diesel generators and power stroke giant trucks.  Oh well. At least we get a camp shower tomorrow.  We may go into town and rest up a bit and buy a new cook pot.

We are officially 1/4 done with the trail.  Every day is a long adventure with big highs and lows, in elevation and emotions.

Ruby Lake, High Sierra
Ruby Lake in the morning


Garnet Lake, High Sierra
Garnet Lake, High Sierra and Banner Peak
Someone's tiny home
Someone’s tiny home
Looks like a sasquatch!
Looks like a sasquatch!
Rosalie Lake
I think this is Rosalie Lake
John Muir Trail
Lots of up and down today!
John Muir Trail
In the trees late in the afternoon.
Devils Postpile
Devils Postpile
Entering Devils Postpile National Monument
Entering Devils Postpile National Monument
I was hot and dusty. But we made it.


Day 4 – Ruby Lake

7/24 – Lyell Canyon – Ruby Lake
11.5 miles and two passes.

Today was less miles today that I had hoped for, but we made it over two passes! Donahue Pass at 11,050 and Island pass at 10,200.  The next higher pass than Donahue isn’t until Muir Pass much later in trip.  We’ve gone a total of 43 miles or so. This is an adventure full of ups and really big downs.  I felt strong going over Donahue and really happy that we had literally walked through Yosemite National Park and into Inyo Forest.

We started the day just below Donahue pass along side Lyell Creek near where the water fall from Kuna Creek comes in.  We packed up early and opted to have breakfast after a mile or so on the trail.  We found a nice shady spot for breakfast and did some laundry. Socks and undies!  Also, I’m getting pretty good at digging cat holes.  Sorry for the TMI but it’s part of the experience!

Lyell Canyon quickly disappear behind us and the scenery changed to switchback and lodgepole pines.  On our way up the switchback we encountered two women that were hiking the JMT south to north (most go north to south). I asked them if they had seen any pikas yet and they exclaimed that they had no idea what a pika was but had seen hundreds of marmots. They also taught me the practice of naming marmots with hillbilly names like Cleetus or Billy Bob as marmots look rather hillbilly. They do! So from this point on Kevin and I began the practice of naming every marmot we saw A-Z.  We retroactively named the one we saw yesterday Abel.

The trail opened to a couple bench lakes and crossed over the creek a couple times.  The mountains were jagged teeth dotted with snow high up.  We even heard a couple rock falls.  There were a bunch of people on top of the pass so we took a quick picture and started hiking down for another hour or so to find a good lunch spot.  I’m still having a hard time putting food in my mouth.  Perhaps it’s because lunch is nothing but Clif bars and salami, but we are barely eating half of what we budgeted for each day.  The lack of food is definitely contributing to my mood.  I seem to bonk every day.  Going over Island pass I think I twisted my ankle and then my calves cramped up majorly from all the climbing so I slowed way down the last couple miles making us stop at Ruby Lake rather than going on to Garnet.  The pain and cramps really got me down and I’m starting to doubt I’ll be able to do this trail.  I think we just didn’t give ourselves enough time. 13-15 mile days are a lot. Most folks go 10-12 miles a day. We seem to be getting into camp around 6 pm every day and barely enjoying the views.  Kevin and I agreed to evaluate how my ankle feels tomorrow after a good night sleep.

Oh and in the process of cooking dinner I swatted a mosquito and managed to knocked my meal into the dirt and burst into tears.  This after the night before last where Kevin burnt dinner.  So, not the best evening but I guess it is all part of the adventure.

In positive news we saw our first official pika and a bunch of marmots.  Able, Billy Bob, Cleetus, Dale, Earl, Francine, Garth, Herman, Ignatius, Jesse, K.C., and Lyell were all spotted today.

Tomorrow Red’s Meadow!

Lyell Canyon
Early morning fog in Lyell Canyon
Lyell Canyon
Gaining some elevation. Looking back north on Lyell Canyon.
John Muir Trail
Day 4 with no shower. We look so clean.
Donahue Pass, John Muir Trail
First peak at Donahue Pass
Lyell Creek
Trail crosses over Lyell Creek to the right, then back again to the left atop that bench.
Donahue pass
Donahue pass is up and to the left.
Looking north back towards Yosemite.
On top of Donahue Pass, Yosemite
Made it! 11,056′. NBD. Not pictured: snickers bar.
Mt. Lyell
Mt. Lyell in the distance.
Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak
Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak


Day 3 – Lyell Canyon

7/23 – Upper Cathedral Lake to Kuna Creek in Lyell Canyon.
15 miles

Today was a lot of things.

Today was our first 15 mile day on the trail.  I’ve done 22 mile days, but never with a full pack on.

Today was also the first time I saw a marmot. We named him Abel.

AND today was the day that we burned our Snow Peak titanium cooking pot. I think we totally ruined it. More on that later

So today we woke up around 6:30. Kevin slept poorly so we snoozed a bit.  The tent was soaked. We camped close to the Cathedral Lake as it was pretty but made everything damp.  Lesson learned.  Lakes = morning moisture. So it took us a bit longer to pack everything up as we wanted to let the sunlight hit and dry out the tent before cramming it into a bag. We started down from upper Cathedral Lake around 9 am. It was downhill all the way to the Tuolumne Meadows Grill.  The sound of cars and the day hikers coming up the trail was a bit jarring.  Turns out it takes a long time to get through the meadow. Almost three miles just to get to the store.  Originally, I thought I would want to eat a cheeseburger and fries when I made it to the grill, but when I got there I had no appetite.  Kevin went into the store and bought us 3 bananas, a green apple, and sweet iced tea.  We hung out on the picnic tables outside and received some great advice from a long time JMT and PCT hiker.  He said slow and steady is the way to go.  Keep your heart rate below 120 BPM and you can make it up any mountain. Good advice dude!

From the grill, we pushed on to get out of Tuolumne and the crowds and make our big right hand turn to start actually head south into Lyell Canyon.

The canyon is really lovely.  It is a long slow incline up and runs along side the creek. We spotted our first marmot hanging out on a rock. They just sit on rocks, sunning themselves.  Not sure why they do that but it is dang cute. We ran into a group of hikers headed up to one of the high sierra camps

We decided in an effort to clock more miles that we would eat dinner early along Lyell Creek in the canyon around 5pm and then keep going for another hour or two before setting up camp for the night.  We headed down towards the creek to find a nice spot for dinner and to pump water.  Sadly, the mosquitos were also down by the creek. Another lesson learned.  I think I’m up to 20 bites now and it’s only day 3. So we start setting up to make dinner and I’m busy swatting mosquitos away and tying the bug net tighter on my head (how do they still get inside the bug net?) and Kevin asks me how much water to make the meal. I say a cup and 3/4 which is the amount for one packaged meal.  He has two packaged meals in the pot. We soon notice white smoke and a burning smell emerging from the pot.  It burned so fast!  We really tried hard to salvage the dinner by picking out the burned chunks but it tasted just awful.  It was supposed to be Mexican style beans and rice with tortilla but it seriously tasted like a cigarette butt. I managed to stomach a couple bites because I knew I needed the calories and we have been eating far less than our allotment because we just don’t feel hungry.  I feel exhausted at times and bonk going up hills but my stomach just isn’t registering hungry.  We decided to trash what was left of dinner (means we have to carry it till Red’s Meadow) and eat Snickers and tortillas for dinner. Oh well.

As the sun started to set we met a couple from Oregon, Manuela and Dick. It was their first day on the trail as they came in at Tuolomne Meadow.  Turns out the Happy Isles permit was hard to come by! We then passed a big group of Sierra Club hikers and I grumbled to Kevin how annoying Sierra Club people are, hiking in giant groups, taking up all the good camp sites, and then Kevin informed me that we are Sierra Club members. HA!

At this point it was getting on in the evening, close to 7 pm and it seemed all the good campsites were taken. Kevin had downloaded an app on his phone that pointed out all the good campsites. Thankfully we were able to climb up the side of the hill a ways and find a spot for the night.

Tomorrow Donahue Pass and Island Pass!

Why are you so fuzzy!
Why are you so fuzzy!
Tuolumne Meadow and view of Lembert Dome
Tuolumne Meadow and view of Lembert Dome
Tuolumne Meadow
Tuolumne Meadow
Our first Marmot! His name is Abel
Our first Marmot! His name is Abel
Hi Marmot.
Hi Marmot.
Lyell Canyon looking north
Lyell Canyon looking north
Hiding from the mosquitoes. Patagonia Houdini jacket actually very useful in this pursuit.
Hiding from the mosquitoes. Patagonia Houdini jacket actually very useful in this pursuit.