Saturday July 30, 2016
McGee Pass Trailhead to just above Tully Lake. 15 miles. 5,000 feet of elevation gain 2,500 loss.
The short version of the day goes like this….I walked up hill for 7 hours gaining 5,000 feet in elevation and then after I reached McGee Pass I walked down hill for 2 hours and found a place to camp. In between I saw some great things. The End.
And now for the details. Phew first that was a lot of miles and a lot of elevation gain on my first day out! I left the motel 6 in Mammoth at daybreak and as I walked to the Looney Bean, no not looney bin, I saw a bear rummaging in the dumpster. That’ll probably be the only bear I see the whole trip! After enjoying a delicious Americano with an inch of non fat steamed milk and an almond scone I met my shuttle driver who dropped me off at the trailhead. By 7:15 I was hiking. The first part of this trail is in exposed hot hot sun and I knew I needed to hit it early. It was a great decision as I was able to hike partway in the shade for a few miles.
With 5.5 days of food and 2 liters of water my pack weighed 30 pounds. I could feel it getting lighter as I drank drank drank…only to get heavy again at the next water stop. Because of my big blister problems on my earlier backpack I taped my heels and I’m happy to report zero blisters! I’m going to tape them again tomorrow just to be sure!
As I mentioned earlier I walked uphill for 7 hours! After the first 3 miles the trail was all new to me and I enjoyed gaining the benches as the creek thundered by. The wildflowers were just stunning and most of the meadows were still green! I would pop out on a bench and be treated to an array of dazzling colors. In one small meadow the colors reminded me of a spilled bag of skittles. The colors were so vivid. I stopped a lot to marvel at the beauty. And while I was stopped I noticed that the clouds were gathering quickly and I began my endless debate about whether or not it would rain.
While I was eating lunch, above Big McGee Lake the ranger came by and asked all the requisite questions, “where are you going, do you have a bear canister and can I see your permit.” When she looked at my permit she said, ” wow you have an amazing trip here!” We chatted for a while and as we did the clouds continued to build. She told me it was another 3 miles to the top of the pass, all exposed and if I was going, I better hurry. It was then that I found out the map I was using to calculate mileage was seriously wrong….it was much further than I thought. These are the national geographic maps which are notorious for underestimating the mileage. UGH.
I continued up the trail but stopped after 500 feet as the clouds looked very threatening. I knew for sure I didn’t want to be on an exposed 12,000 foot pass if it was going to thunder and lightening. I rested for another hour all the while watching the clouds. I really needed the rest too! The clouds seemed to be in a holding pattern so I hightailed it up, up, up! Hightailing it while walking on talus that clinks like crystal, while carrying a 30 pound pack on the first day of a 22 day trip, gaining 2,000 feet in 2 miles, walking across snow….being careful not to posthole is a challenge. I met several groups of people hiking down and one group that was on a 30 mile day hike, yes day hike from Duck Pass trailhead. They had 12 more miles to go, all downhill and two of them were really limping.
On the last switchback to the pass I stopped and took a photo of Sky pilot, a flower that only grows above 11,000 feet! And of course I tipped my pole to pilot Kathy.
It was so windy on the top of the pass I didn’t even luxuriate in my accomplishment…I just contained down the other side where the green meadows and meandering creeks of Tully Hole awaited.
Several switchbacks below the pass I came across 4 people sprawled on the trail in various states of exhaustion. They were also heading down and when I told them I had started at the trailhead this morning they just couldn’t believe it. They had started from just below Big McGee Lake this morning and were now looking for the first place to camp. I assured them I would leave the first spot for them….and I didn’t want to tell them I was headed 3 more miles down the trail. But I was getting tired too and the idea of stopping was sounding good. I passed the first campsite, a small site nestled under the white bark pine, next to a roaring waterfall and a green meadowy swamp….a mosquitos paradise. I dunked my head, got water and moved on. Far below I could see Tully Lake and that was still my goal for the night…. Unless, unless of course I came upon an epic site then I would stop. But it had to be epic. Up on a bench, with a view and a breeze to keep the mosquitos away and close to water. Epic I tell you epic. I walked for 15 more minutes and noticed a side trail which I could tell was going to lead to an epic site! And epic it is…meeting all my criteria. 4:15 is a great time to stop especially after a day like today. I jumped in the water, swelled down my feet and studied the maps all the while luxuriating in the epic ness of my first day on the trail!
July 31, 2016
Above Tully Lake to junction of Wilbur May Lake. 12ish miles.
All the beautiful elevation I gained was lost this morning as I plunged into the grassy floor of Tully Hole. Before I started my descent I hooked a sharp left and scrambled up the meadow benches to Tully Lake. It was a beautiful lake surrounded by a mosquito infested meadow.
Once I reached the bottom of Tully Hole I connected with the JMT and immediately ran into lots of backpackers. After yesterday’s grueling hike I was pretty tired and going up hill was exhausting. But uphill I went gaining back 1500 feet. I arrived at Squaw lake where there were probably 25 backpackers having lunch. I was disheartened to see illegal fire pits and a tent set up in the meadow.
Meanwhile on the western side of the Sierra, Rich and Nancy are hiking up the Goodale Pass trail to meet me for a few days of fun. I hung out on the shores of the lake hoping they would arrive so we could camp at this beautiful windswept lake. Soon another group arrived and took what looked to be the only site. I wasn’t sure if Rich and Nancy were ahead of me or behind me, so I pressed on to our agreed upon meeting place. It was the longest 2 miles and I kept stopping to look at the map because I thought for sure I was in the wrong place. Finally I arrived at the trail junction to Wilbur May Lake which was our agreed upon meet up spot. I
dropped my pack and strolled the remaining half mile to the lake to look for feasible camp spots. The lake was surrounded by a grassy marsh full of stunning wild flowers….and likely mosquitos as soon as the wind stopped. Not a great place to camp.
Back at the trail junction I searched around on the granite rock benches for a good spot with a breeze to help mitigate the mosquitos. I found the perfect spot a few hundred feet off the trail and above the creek. I put my trekking poles on the corner of the switchback so Rich and Nancy would know to stop.
As I was setting up my tent I heard the clicking and clanking of hiking poles….the tell tail sign of someone hiking either up or down the trail. Then I heard the exclamation if delight as Nano shouted, “Yeah, Bren’s trekking poles!” They both collapsed in a state of exhaustion….they had a similar day to my day yesterday. They both wished we had decided to camp at Lake of The Lone Indian and they too wondered if I was ahead or behind. And Rich pointed out that if I had purchased the new Delorme In Reach, like him, we would have been able to send each other a message saying “STOP AT THE LAKE OF THE LONE INDIAN!” But no, I had to stay with the SPOT and make things complicated.
August 1, 2016. Junction of Wilbur May Lake to Peter Pande Lake. 2 miles.
Yup that’s right today was a big 2 mile day! And what a great day it was! I’m writing this post as I sit in my tent watching the last light of the day dwindle and reflect from Graveyard and Silver Peaks onto the lake. Peter Pande Lake is a beautiful jewel tucked under the Silver Divide. Our campsite is nestled between the pines and granite rocks that run right into the lake. The shore of the lake alternates between granite, trees and sandy beaches. And we have the whole place to ourselves! “Ours, I tell you, all this is ours!”
There has been a nice breeze all day that has kept the mosquitos at bay. But as soon as the wind died down around 8 the mosquitos were relentless and we had to retreat to our tents.
Rich and I hiked around the lake and then up the slabs to Anna Lake…another beautiful lake surrounded by huge rock blocks. On the way up the slabs Rich made a comment about maybe not wanting to hike the High Sierra Route because it would be scrambling and climbing like this all the way. And on the way down the granite slabs as we studied the formations of the glaciers and he commented,” this is amazing! I can’t wait to hike the High Trail.”
I also found my first partial balloon of this trip. It wasn’t a Mylar balloon….just a regular blue helium blue with a frayed blue ribbon.
After our excursion I stopped at one of the sandy beaches and went swimming. So refreshing and so nice to get the grime off!
I’ve been to a lot of Sierra lakes and I have to say this is one of my favorites and I could imagine coming back here. It was also wonderful to have a relaxing day after two long days.
The other great thing is that it has been warm enough to sleep without Pea Pod’s shell (rainfly) and I’ve been able to watch the stars every night as well as the first rays of light early in the morning. LOVE THAT!
Tuesday August 2, 2016
Peter Pande Lake to Lake of the Lone Indian 5 miles.
Yup another short day today! Had a leisurely morning at Peter Pande lake which for me included a morning swim! I loved waking up early, sitting up in my sleeping bag and checking on the progress of the light as it illuminated the lake. Just gorgeous!
When we got to lake of the Lone Indian there was someone camped in the spot the three of us had been eyeing. We were a bit disappointed as we didn’t see any other sites. We sat under a rock overhang that provided shade while we ate our lunch and discussed our options. When Rich came back from talking to the two campers he said they told him Peter Pande lake was named after a friend of theirs. So of course I said, ” how do you get a lake named after you? I want that.” And ever witty Nancy quipped, “but you do have a lake named after you, Snit Lake!” We all had a good belly laugh at that. And Nancy was right, Snit Lake was named after me when the three of us were hiking the JMT in the record snow year of 2011. Rich picked out a great place to camp, out of the snowbanks and mud, close to water with a view and our own private pond! And I, I had a melt down and got all mad. Hence the name Snit Lake. We joke about Snit Lake often!
After lunch we hunted around the rock benches above the lake and found a great campsite with a view of the lake and privacy. We were glad about the privacy part because a large group came in and set up way too close to the first people in the site we were all coveting!
Spent the afternoon dunking in the lake and playing cards. The three of us get along so well and laugh a lot. It was great to have these days together and also to relax. I enjoyed my easy miles these last two days as I have some back to back high mile days coming up.
Nancy has finally discovered some backpacking food that doesn’t upset her stomach and now at mealtimes she is so happy! She has been having soup and also Mac and cheese. Mac and cheese every night…. We all had a good laugh at that because on the first backpack trip the three of us went on I had Mac and cheese every night and they teased the heck outta me! See Mac and cheese is good!
I got another blister on my heel, for cryin out loud! I have no idea what is up with the blisters. I wonder if my new propensity for blisters is a “gift of older age” that my mom refers to! Much to Rich’s delight he was able to DR. It up with tincture and mole skin. He assured me the reddish brown tincture, which acts like a second skin, would adhere to my skin for weeks, even with being in the water as much as I am. Nancy assured me the moleskin would stay on my feet through several days of swelling them down. I wasn’t so sure, but trust them implicitly! And they both remarked how in all the years we’ve been hiking they never seen me with a blister! Boo!!!
Wednesday August 3, 2016
Lake of the Lone Indian to Iva Bell Hot Springs. 13.5 miles.
At the trail Junction Rich and Nancy went right, back to the trailhead and I went left continuing my great Sierra Traverse. I was sorry to see them go! I retraced 3 miles on the JMT that I had done two days ago. I passed Squaw Lake where only one tent was set up. Sadly it was in the meadow. As I descended the bench below Squaw Lake I could see Mt Ritter, Mt Banner and the Minarets in the far distance. I will be hiking below these iconic mountains on the second part of my three part Sierra traverse. It was early and I only saw 4 people before making a sharp left on the trail that would take me into Cascade Valley. The people I passed on the JMT had ginormous packs, it looked like they were going on an Arctic expedition and I wondered what the heck was in their packs! Truth be told, I actually wanted to paw through their packs to find out! But it was early and I had a long hot day ahead.
I descended 3,650 feet today. I started off early in the morning looking down on the trees and by lunch time I was on the forest floor looking up at the understory of the forest. Fish Creek was roaring and I made two easy creek crossings in swallow frigid water. I met 2 other people on the Cascade Valley trail also headed to Iva Bell Hot Springs.
When I stopped for lunch at a cascading waterfall they passed me and got to the hot springs first taking the site I was dreaming of getting. That site is nestled under the firs with it’s own pool. They told me I could share their site. We are the only 3 people here so far and I took the large granite rock above the more communal pool. I hunted around for more pools as I’ve heard their are several up on the steep hillside. I found one that a tree fell into several years ago in the Big Blow Down…it had a nice campsite and I thought about camping there but I didn’t want to have to walk across the wet mucky grass when I went for a soak. I climbed up the steep hillside and found another campsite and hot springs…the water was so hot I could hardly leave my hand in it.
Back at my communal, but private hot springs I took a long soak. Ahhhhh feels beyond wonderful. I’m very relaxed and as soon as the pool is in the shade I’m going to take another soak. There is a great breeze blowing which is keeping the mosquitos at bay. I’m leaning against my pack, boots off, watching the view, listening to the wind, the waterfalls and creek while writing this post.
And I got another blister! And the mole skin pealed off taking the tincture with it! And this was before I even took a soak! I’m only mentioning the blisters because it is such an anomaly for me to have them!
And I lost my hat today! It either fell off my pack or it never made it onto my pack this morning. Well of all the possible things I could loose, losing my hat isn’t so bad… especially since I found that hat on the trail about 10 years ago! I really liked the way it fit and I was wanting it this afternoon when I was coming down the last switchbacks with the blazing sun pounding on my face! Tomorrow I will be in Reds Meadow and I can buy another hat! I also hate the fact that I “littered” on the trail. Maybe the same squirrels who made off with my sunglasses a few years back will use the hat as a giant sleeping bag or even couch!
Several more groups of people have arrived…..I even hear someone now as I’m writing this in my tent at 8:30. I was able to get in 3 long private soaks, even one right before I climbed into my tent. I talked with someone who comes here often and she told me there are four consecutive pools way up top and campsites too. While we were talking I saw someone moving around up there. She also said the heat in the pools are always changing but the ones up top are pretty hot. I just think it is so cool that hot water is coming out of the earth right hear. How cool is that? I mean hot! My plan for tomorrow is to get up early and soak in the pool before anyone else and before my long hike to Red’s.
Thursday August 4, 2016
Iva Bell Hot Springs to Red’s Meadow. 14 or 16 miles depending on which map you have!
I was reading in my tent last night when I saw a flashlight and heard some people setting up camp on the next rock over. Next I saw their flashlight at the creek, probably getting water I thought. Ok no worries. But then the annoying pulsating light kept flashing in my eyes and u kept thinking, “what the heck?! What the heck??!” Rich and Nancy and I use the pulsating flashlight in the morning to signal,”yes, I’m up!” But I knew this wasn’t that signal!
Finally I looked out the other side of my tent and saw another headlamp making its way up the trail. Ah, I get it now!
I awoke at 3 am to the pitter patter of dancing raindrops on my sleeping bag. “What? Rain? Now. Ugh.” I rolled over and pretended I didn’t hear the rain. But it persisted and soon as I was outside scrambling around putting the rainfly over Pea pod.
It rained off and on until I crawled out of my tent at 5:45 and scampered over to the hot springs for an early morning soak. Too bad I cannot have this at every campsite for the rest of the trip! Now it is 6:45 and I’m finishing the last of my coffee and then down the trail I will go!
It was a long hot HOT up and down, up and down hike to Red’s Meadow. I drank so much water, fizzy drinks and lemonade I’m surprised I didn’t float up and down the trail. The sweat has just been pouring off of me, running down my face and into my eyes….which creates a whole different problem. My poor eyes!
Finally I arrive at Red’s Meadow at 2 pm and collapse on the cool lawn!?! Red’s is a bustling cacophony of thru hikers, weekend backpackers, car campers and day hikers. The backpackers sit on the lawn, the stumps and the tables their resupply packages exploding around them. We study maps, calculate mileage,trade trail tails and rummage through our new food supply marveling at what we thought we might eat. And then, and then we pack our bear canister. Often all the food in our resupply box doesn’t fit in the bear canister and so we leave it for other hikers to take and trade.
It’s fun to trade or take the discards from other hikers. I scored 4 packets of crystal light, which normally I find disgusting, but on the trail has been tasting wonderful. I did a great job with my resupply box this time and was able to fit everything in the bear canister! Yeah planning pays off!
I also took a shower, washing my body, my clothes and my hair with the Ivory soap that was provided. Wow did that feel great! Then I sat on the lawn and watched and talked to other backpackers. I love that! Everyone is so interesting and I talk with people I might not meet in my day to day world. Again we swap trail stories and discuss gear an immediate sense of community is formed. Most of the backpackers at Red’s are hiking the JMT; there are a few late PCTers,( pacific crest trail) and a few people like myself cobbling together trips in less traveled trails.
As the afternoon begins to fade I sit at the counter of the Mule House Cafe and eat a delicious burger and the best fruit salad ever. Later, I wander down to the backpackers camp and find a spot amongst all the other tents to set up Pea Pod. I visit with more people and watch them go through their resupply packages and pack their bear canisters. As the last light begins to fade I crawl into Pea Pod and fall asleep.
This concludes part 1 of my 3 part series.
This blog post was typed trail side on my eye-phone, with my index finger one letter at a time!
Stay tuned for Part 2