THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL
PART FIVE:† KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Muir Trail Ranch to Forrester Pass
The next segment of our trip took us from Muir Trail Ranch through Kings Canyon National Park to the border of Sequoia National Park at Forrester Pass.† This was probably the most challenging part of the entire trip, as we had to start out from Muir Trail Ranch with heavy packs due to carrying ten days worth of food.† We spent 7 1/2 days hiking 80 miles in Kings Canyon, leaving us with 2 1/2 days and 31 miles to go in Sequoia National Park.†
MOONDANCE / FAIRIES ON THE WATER
I woke to the pitter patter of rain on my tent fly again the next morning.† Sigh.† The wet weather made us lazy, and we got a later start than normal.† The rain finally stopped at 7:15, and we took our time making breakfast and drying our gear.† With those delays, we didnít even get on the trail until 9:45.† We followed it to the Silver Bridge, where we crossed over lovely Paiute Creek and into Kings Canyon National Park.† From there, we hiked up into a rocky, open canyon along the roaring South Fork of the San Joaquin River.† As we walked, we passed some impressive cascades below soaring cliffs.†
A bit later, we crossed the river on a high, sturdy bridge.† Farther on, we stopped at a tributary stream for lunch.† Molly and Rosa caught up to us there, but decided to continue on.† A friend of Mollyís was working with a trail crew nearby, and she was in charge of their food.† She had promised Molly and Rosa a free lunch, and they werenít about to pass that up.†
After lunch, we continued upstream, before crossing the river again on a wooden bridge.† We passed a final campsite, and began a steep climb along cascading Evolution Creek.† Our goal was to reach the hanging valley above, but the climb was a grunt with heavy packs.† Part of the way up, I caught a glimpse of an impressive waterfall away from the trail.† I couldnít resist the temptation to drop my pack for a closer look.† I hiked down closer to the creek, and was rewarded with a nice view of a lovely triple falls.† In most places, this waterfall wouldíve been a major attraction.† Here, amid the vast splendor of the Sierras, it isnít even named!
We resumed the hike, and climbed to the mouth of the hanging valley.† The grade finally eased there, and the trail led us to the most difficult stream crossing of the entire trip.† The ford of Evolution Creek is infamous for being long, deep, and potentially dangerous in high water.† When we reached the creek, we met a group of hikers that had just crossed from the other side.† They hadnít had any problems, which was encouraging.† Bob went across first, and I followed.† The water was nearly waist deep, but the current was gentle.† On the other hand, it was extremely cold!† Reaching the far shore was quite a relief.† I was particularly glad when my testicles re-descended later that evening.
Beyond the ford, we managed a tricky rock hop of a tributary.† Shortly thereafter, we reached the edge of McClure Meadow.† We found a spectacular campsite here, a short distance from Evolution Creek.† From the site, we had a dramatic view up the valley to the peaks surrounding Evolution Basin, including Mount Mendel, Mount Darwin, and Mount Spencer.† It was only 4:30, but there was no way we could pass this site up!† A few rumbles of thunder convinced us to stay.† We managed to get camp set up and do some laundry before the next storm struck.† The rain didnít last long, but it eliminated any hope of our clothes drying by the next morning.
The weather cleared that evening, and I dined on ham and mac Ďní cheese for dinner.† Meanwhile, Bob ate his first of many freeze dried dinners.† We spent the evening hours enjoying the view from camp while watching dozens of trout jump a mere arms-length away.† That evening, we were treated to breathtaking alpenglow on the high peaks surrounding the valley.† Later, an amazing full moon rose above the peaks at the head of the valley.† The moonlight reflected off the water, its sparkling light dancing like fairies in the shadows of the night.
DO THE EVOLUTION
We were up at 6 the next morning in anticipation of a big day.† We had cold cereal for breakfast, which was slightly disappointing given the chilly morning.† On the upside, the granola cereal was exceptionally easy to prepare.† We had each meal in a ziplock bag, along with powdered milk.† Making breakfast only required adding water to the bag.† With no cooking or cleaning, we were able to break camp much earlier than after a standard oatmeal breakfast.† Plus, we quickly discovered that the granola cereal gave us a lot more energy than oatmeal.† On our oatmeal mornings, we typically stopped for a snack after a couple of miles.† This wasnít the case with the granola, as it often kept us going until lunchtime.
We were on the trail by 7:30, and got a nice warm up hike to Colby Meadow.† On the way, I was subjected to a hideous fashion statement by Bob.† He had washed most of his clothes the previous afternoon, and they were all still damp in the morning.† He hiked out of McClure Meadow wearing a bizarre combination of long underwear and rain gear.† Meanwhile, his wet pants and other clothes were strapped to the outside of his pack.† I was only a little embarrassed when we passed other hikers.
We passed a pair of deer before we began the climb out of Evolution Valley.† We managed a tricky rock hop of Darwin Creek, and began another demanding climb.† The grunt ended at a bench, and gentle hiking through subalpine country brought us to Evolution Lake.† This area was beautiful, but it would only get better!† We hiked around Evolution Lake before climbing beyond the last of the trees above Sapphire Lake.† From here, we wandered from one alpine tarn to another, under the gaze of dozens of soaring, jagged peaks. †We reached a series of tarns below Wanda Lake and paused there for lunch in the sunshine.† After eating, we took a bit of time to bathe and wash our hair using my collapsible bucket.
Originally I had planned for a short day ending at Sapphire Lake.† We had reached that spot before noon though, and had decided to press on.† Now we were well above treeline, past most of the likely campsites.† By passing Sapphire Lake, we were largely committed to hiking beyond Muir Pass, which was still several miles away.†
After lunch we made a long but easy rock hop of Wanda Lakeís outlet stream before climbing to Wanda Lake.† The scenery here was exceptional, even against the standards of the rest of JMT.† The country was vast and open, with nothing but snow, rock, and water in every direction.† We passed Wanda Lake, and enjoyed breathtaking views of the glaciers on Mount Solomons and the Goddard Divide.† From here, we began the final hump towards the crest of Muir Pass.† The views of Evolution Basin behind us provided inspiration, and we reached Muir Pass around 3pm.† There is an emergency stone shelter at the pass, and we stopped there for a break.† Inside, we found a family of marmots living in the fireplace and chimney.† They were very tame, but we had to guard our food closely.†
We didnít linger long at the pass, thanks to building clouds.† We began the descent of the far side as thunder began rumbling behind us.†† The next stretch of trail proved to be one of the hardest parts of the whole trip.† We descended steeply through snow, water, rocks, and mud.† There were a couple of tricky creek crossings, and the snow and boulders made for difficult footing.† The worst part of the hike was through a nasty, rocky gully.† Ultimately, the descent from the pass proved to be more difficult than the climb!† To make matters worse, there werenít any reasonable camping options, and we were forced to hike on beyond the point of exhaustion.† Well after we passed Helen Lake, we passed a group heading up.† They asked us if there were any campsites ahead, and we warned them that they would probably have to hike well beyond Muir Pass.† Despite our warning, they continued on.
Luckily for us, the afternoon thunderstorms moved away from us, and we dodged another day of rain.† We hiked on down below treeline, before we finally found a nice campsite on a bench a bit before Starr Camp.† From this spot, we had a nice view of a cascading waterfall on the Middle Fork of the Kings River.† When we arrived, we spotted a pair of deer grazing on the hillside below the falls.† This was a really nice spot to spend the evening, as the sound of the waterfall was soothing.† It may have been a better spot than we deserved, as we were so exhausted we wouldíve happily settled for a less appealing site!† We fed on freeze dried dinners that night, and fatigue drove us to bed early.
ONE STEP CLOSER
I woke up sore the next morning.† I was still exhausted, too, despite getting ten hours of sleep.† As a result, I spent most of the day in the wrong frame of mind.† As I plodded down the trail, my mind cycled through an endless series of negative thoughts.† I fantasized about all of the wonderful foods I didnít have access to, like pizza, and cheeseburgers, and French fries, and beer, and even fresh vegetables.† I focused on the heat, and my aching legs, and my suddenly upset stomach.† I dwelled on being home sick; missing my wife, my stereo, and my dog.† And for the first time all trip, I began to think about getting to the end.† For a day, I abandoned my normal mantra of living in the moment and enjoying what was in front of me.
This isnít to say that there werenít any highlights along this stretch of trail.† We enjoyed many fine views of LeConte Canyon, particularly from Little Pete Meadow and Big Pete Meadow.† Grouse Meadows provided a scenic and sunny spot for lunch.† Believe it or not, we even saw a family of grouse there.† Despite those highlights, and a pleasant sunny day, negativity ruled my mind.† By the time we started up the trail along Palisades Creek, Iíd had enough.† Unfortunately, the trail leading to Deer Meadows proved to be a bitch.† Most of the JMT had been in great shape, but not this part.† Fallen trees blocked the trail in many places, and on a couple of occasions we had to bushwhack well off the trail to get through.† This wouldíve been tedious if our legs had been fresh.† On this day, it was awful.† It was a huge relief to collapse into camp near Deer Meadows.† This left us at the base of the Golden Staircase, which might be the JMTís most notorious climb.
Rather than providing a more detailed account of the days hike, Iíll leave you with the words to a song that was running through my mind all day. †It really seems to reflect my mentality from that day.† Iím dedicating this to my wife, Christy, who I missed more than anything.† Even Cheeseburgers.
ďWhen the sunlight
hits the top of the ridge
and the day is winding down
Iíll be rolling on back to your arms
Iíll be coming 'round
when the sun goes down
they say the darkest hour is right before dawn
Iíve lived to find that is true
but somehow it donít seem so bad
now that Iíve found you
now that I found you
Iím one step closer
your love is coming into view
Iím one step closer to heaven
one step closer to you
we went down to the riverís edge
and we walked along the sand
laid down in its shadowy bed
the water rushed past our heads
I thought of something you said
and that brought me back to a high mountain lake
in the west where I first met you
now all around walls are coming down
our love still stands true
our love is still standing
Iím one step closer
your love is coming into view
Iím one step closer to heaven
one step closer to youĒ
From ďOne Step CloserĒ, by The String Cheese Incident
THE GOLDEN STAIRCASE
I felt much better the next morning, after an afternoon of relaxation and a decent nightís sleep.† It was a good thing, too, because we were facing one of the toughest days of the whole trip.† First weíd have to climb 1800í up the Golden Staircase to Lower Palisade Lake.† Weíd get a brief reprieve there, before another 1200í climb to Mather Pass.
We had cold cereal for breakfast and got on the trail by 7:20.† The beginning of the hike was tedious, as we slogged through a wet, buggy jungle.† This area is called Deer Meadow, but I have no idea why.† We passed through many nice meadows along the JMT, but this wasnít one of them.
We rock hopped braided Glacier Creek and passed two decent campsites before beginning the climb.† As we emerged from the woods, the view of the climb ahead was obscured by the brilliant rays of the rising sun.† This may have been a mercy, as sometimes itís better to just stare at your feet and plod along.† The lower part of the climb was overgrown in places, but this eventually gave way to an incredible section of trail carved out of the granite cliffs.† When viewed from a distance, this stretch of trail must look improbable, if not downright impossible.† The engineering that was required to create this route is staggering.† It truly was a testament to the power of man Ė and dynamite.† Iím glad this trail is here now, because a path like this would never be built in this day and age.
We were treated to nearly constant views of the valley behind us as we hiked.† The climb really wasnít as bad as anticipated.† Camping near Deer Meadows proved to be wise strategy, as it allowed us to tackle the Golden Staircase in the cool morning air, when our legs were reasonably fresh.
We reached Lower Palisade Lake in time for a mid-morning break.† The view here was fantastic as we gazed across the lake towards the towering peaks of the Palisades.† Over the course of the trip, only the Ritter Range matched the Palisades in beauty to me.† Those peaks along the Sierra Crest seem to pierce the sky.† Even after hiking uphill all morning, we had to crane our necks to view them.
After a lengthy break, we enjoyed a gentle stroll around Lower Palisade Lake.† Another climb followed, and we ended up hiking well above Upper Palisade Lake.† From there, we endured another rocky climb to Mather Pass.† This one seemed eternal, even though it was less of a climb than the Golden Staircase.† No doubt the staircase took a lot out of us, leaving us a bit short of energy for the final push to the top.† We probably shouldíve stopped for lunch, or at least a break, but I was eager to reach the crest.† Fortunately, the constant views of the Palisades and the Palisade Lakes provided frequent excuses to take photo breaks.† We finally reached the top at 12:45, in time for a late lunch.† We wolfed down our usual mid-day meal of German bread and peanut butter and relaxed in the sun.† The view from this pass is outstanding in both directions, and we werenít in any hurry to leave it behind.† In fact, this was probably the most scenic pass of the entire trail.
We enjoyed our leisurely late lunch before making an easy descent into the Upper Basin.† This was a beautiful area, as we seemed to be completely surrounded by mountains.† We continued to descend gently, but stopped at a creek crossing near treeline for water and a break in the sun.† From there, we dropped down into the woods and continued on down to the South Fork of the Kings River.† From the river, the trail heads back up, climbing to Pinchot Pass.† It was late afternoon, and we were still running about a Ĺ day ahead of our original plan, and neither of us was interested in doing another climb this day.† There were a couple of possible campsites near the river, but they were occupied.† We decided to cross the river and look for a spot on the far side.† Crossing where the trail meets the river wouldíve required a significant ford.† However, we found a note under a rock that suggested crossing on logs a short distance upstream.
We headed that way, and found an assortment of fallen trees spanning the river.† Crossing them was awkward, particularly in one area at a small island.† Getting across there required us to bushwhack through a tangle of limbs, all while balancing on the log.† Once through that spot, the rest of the crossing was easy.† We explored the far side of the river in search of a campsite.† Options were pretty limited though.† There was one good spot, but it was occupied.† I was too tired to put a lot of effort into scouting out a spot, so we ended up taking a marginal spot away from the river close to the trail.† This site was pretty much unremarkable in every way.† The only thing memorable about it was the mosquitoes, which were some of the worst weíd seen since the early part of the trip.†
We ate freeze dried dinners again that night, which was pretty typical for the last 9 nights of the trip.† During the first 2 weeks, we focused on bringing nutritious and tasty meals.† My reasoning was that it would be critical to eat well early on, so as to avoid getting run down later in the trip.† Plus, we were able to resupply every three days during the first half of the trip, so we could afford to carry a little more weight.† For the last half of the trip though, pack weight was the critical factor.† Freeze dried dinners worked ok for us, but on future long trips Iíll probably rely more on dehydrating my own meals.† We learned a lot about dehydrating prior to this trip, and weíll be using what we learned more in the future.
ICE CREAM MAN
Initially, when I sat down to write this, I couldnít remember a single thing about this day.† My mind was a total blank.† I guess thatís an indication of just how long this trip was.† Itís a good thing I take notes as I go!
We got up early the next morning and made it out of camp by 7:30. †We only had a 2000í climb ahead of us on this day, which was a nice change after the big humps over Muir Pass and Mather Pass.† Unfortunately, we woke to cloudy skies and light drizzle.† I think Bob and I were both afraid that it might be the beginning of another string of 5 straight rainy days.† If that were the case, the foul weather would last almost to the end of the trip.† The drizzle ended by the time we got on the trail, but the steel grey sky warned of more to come.
We made a short climb out of the valley, and then enjoyed a scenic stroll past a series of subalpine lakes, including Lake Marjorie.† Beyond the lakes, we made the rocky but reasonably easy climb to Pinchot Pass.† Along the way, we spotted two deer well above treeline.† It was odd to see them so high up, with no apparent source of food nearby.
We reached Pinchot Pass at 10:45.† The day was still overcast, but thus far there had been neither rain nor thunder.† It was a bit of a relief to have that pass behind us well before noon.† We made a quick descent to an open area with scattered lakes.† We continued ahead, but stopped for lunch along the trail just before treeline.† From there, we began an abrupt descent towards Woods Creek.†† This stretch of trail was rocky and occasionally steep, and plagued with a bad case of the PUDS (pointless ups and downs).† We saw more people than usual along here, and at one point, I thought I heard music.† I mustíve been delirious, because the distant music started to sound like the approach of the ice cream man.† I was about to start digging through my pack in search of cash when a work crew with a line of mules came around a bend in the trail ahead.† The music Iíd heard was from the bells hanging around the necks of the mules.† Bob and I shared a chuckle as we stepped aside to allow the trail crew to pass.
That afternoon, we finally reached Woods Creek.† We followed this rollicking stream down through a rocky gorge.† We passed a number of cascades, and at least one significant waterfall along the way.† We finally reached a major junction and an impressive swinging bridge spanning the creek.† We crossed the bridge, and found a large but somewhat crowded camping area.† At this point, we had a decision to make.
We were now more than Ĺ day ahead of schedule.† My original plan had been to spend the next night at Rae Lakes, which was 6 miles ahead.† If we wanted to push ourselves, we could continue on to Rae Lakes, leaving us a full day ahead of schedule.† If we camped where we were, and continued at our present rate, we would blow through the Rae Lakes area around noon the next day, and end up camping in the next valley.† I was a little disgruntled about our recent habit of camping in the valleys, as that is something I had originally planned to avoid.† The valleys were usually crowded and buggy, and were always at the bottom of the next big climb.† My original strategy had been to camp each night part of the way up each climb.† That way, we could tackle each pass early in the morning when our legs were fresh and the weather was better.† One way or another, I wanted to get back on that schedule.† Also, I really wanted to camp in the Rae Lakes area, as that region was reputed to be one of nicest places along the JMT.
After a brief debate, we decided that there was no good reason to try to finish the trail early.† Our travel arrangements were already set, so an early finish offered no real advantages.† Taking another layover day was also an option, but ultimately we settled on a compromise.† We decided to camp near Woods Creek that night, and make a half-day hike to Rae Lakes the next morning.† That would put us back on schedule, and give us an afternoon to enjoy the Rae Lakes basin.
Camping near Woods Creek required us to find a site that wasnít already occupied.† Bob and I scouted around, and this time I was the one to find a nice spot.† I hiked over a minor knob, away from the creek, and found a nice secluded spot in Lodgepole and Juniper on the far side.† We were a ways from water and the bear boxes, but it was nice to have some privacy.† We set up camp, and were briefly pestered by light rain.† It didnít amount to much though, and we even managed a campfire that night.† It was a rare opportunity to enjoy one, as we usually camped in areas where they werenít allowed.† The fire added a lot to the camping experience, and we relaxed with another game of cards before heading to bed.
THE FISH SLAPPING INCIDENT
We were up early again the next morning, even though we were only planning on hiking six miles that day.† At this point, we couldnít have slept in if we had tried.† I went for an early morning stroll back across the swinging bridge, and visited the pit toilet just beyond.† I wasnít about to pass up that opportunity, as I was growing weary of digging holes.† Bob, on the other hand, considered the pit toilet too far away, and went with the usual routine.† Then again, Bob seemed to enjoy digging holes.† I wouldnít be surprised if his wife had to train him to stay out of their garden after he returned home!
We had our oatmeal and broke camp at 8.† We began a substantial climb out of the Woods Creek valley, bound for Rae Lakes.† We passed a number of hikers on the way up, including one interesting group.† It was an older couple from California, carrying monster loads in 1970ís era external frame backpacks.† They were dressed like cowboys, and I couldnít figure out where their horses were.† They couldíve at least used a pack animal, although technically they already had one.† Accompanying them was a Mexican teenage boy carrying another huge pack.† It didnít appear that he was related to them, although I suppose you never know.† Bob and I spent most of the rest of the climb to Dollar Lake debating what their relationship was.† Could he have been some kind of Mexican Sherpa?
We were climbing along the South Fork of Woods Creek when we crossed a small tributary.† Bob paused there, and I looked back to see what he was doing.† He had spotted a small trout that was stranded in a tiny pool in the nearly dry streambed.† Bob asked me to stop for a minute, and proceeded to try to rescue the fish.† He scooped the fish out of the pool, but proceeded to juggle it as it flopped around in his hands.† Suddenly the fish squirted free and bounced and wriggled across the trail.† Bob chased after it, looking like a drunken competitor in a greased pig wrestling contest.† Heíd stoop over and grab, only to have it squirt free again.† I personally found this whole display to be extremely entertaining.† I donít think he ever corralled the fish, but he did manage to chase it into the main creek.† Presumably, the fish survived the whole incident.
This raises a question.† If Bob was a fisherman and he was keeping score, would his tally for the morning be -1?
I congratulated Bob for doing a good deed.† I wouldíve shaken his hand, except that he smelled a bit fishy.† For the rest of the day, it seemed like passing hikers were reluctant to speak with him.
We reached Dollar Lake at 10:15 and took a break.† We had a fine view of soaring Fin Dome from here.† From there, we passed through a gorgeous subalpine area featuring grassy meadows, lazy streams, and peaceful tarns.† After that, we passed above Arrowhead Lake, which is another subalpine gem.† We reached the lowest of the Rae Lakes at 11:30 and considered stopping at the first group of campsites there.† They were good sites, but it was still early, and I was holding out for a 5-star site.† We hiked on, and a few minutes later I scouted ahead without my pack.† After a bit of exploring, I found a spectacular spot on a knob overlooking the outlet of the Middle Rae Lake.† We had a dramatic view of the middle and lower lakes from there.† We were also surrounded by staggering peaks, including Black Mountain, Dragon Peak, The Painted Lady, and Fin Dome.† As soon as I found this spot, I knew we had to spend the night there.
We set up camp and had a relaxing lunch.† Then we swam and bathed, and did some laundry.† This was wonderful for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Bob smelled less like fish afterwards. †We followed that up with some sunbathing, which was pleasant except for strong winds whipping across the lake.†
That afternoon, we took a short walk through the Rae Lakes area.† We followed the JMT above the Middle Rae Lake, passing a rangerís cabin and a large camping area.† We continued from there, exploring the Upper Rae Lake as far as the outlet.† As we rambled, we noticed several other groups camped in the area, but nobody was near us.
We eventually returned to camp, where we spent a relaxing evening enjoying the spectacular scenery.† We were treated to a lovely sunset, and I dined on the last of the mac-n-cheese and ham.† It was a nice change from the usual freeze dried meals.
I slept well, but woke up damp.† Iíd left the rain fly off my tent the night before, as the sky had been cloud-free.† There had been no rain, but we had been soaked with heavy dew.† This was a surprise to me, as Iíd thought the Sierraís too dry for dew.† To make matters worse, it was only 34 degrees, and most of our gear was frosty, as well as wet.† Luckily, it was a clear morning, and once the sun cleared the mountains to our east, everything would dry out rapidly.
We had oatmeal for breakfast, and took our time breaking camp.† I was certainly not in any hurry to pack up wet gear.† As a result, Bob hit the trail ahead of me.† A few minutes after leaving, he surprised me by returning to camp.† He had run into Molly and Rosa, and apparently Rosa was having problems with her feet.† I gathered up my gear, and we walked over to their campsite, which was a few minutes up the trail.
We hadnít seen Molly and Rosa since parting ways with them the morning after our final resupply at Muir Trail Ranch.† We had gotten ahead of them, and they hadnít caught up until the previous afternoon.† Of course, we were camped well off the trail, so we hadnít seen each other when they passed by.† On several occasions we had wondered if we would run into them again.† Now we had, but it was under unfortunate circumstances.
Rosa had been having trouble with blisters throughout the trip, due to ill-fitting boots.† Unfortunately the problem had gone from bad to worse, as some of the blisters had become infected.† Molly had already checked the ranger station nearby, but nobody was home.† Apparently the ranger was out patrolling.† I gave Rosa my Neosporin, and they decided to try to hike over Glenn Pass to Charlotte Lake, where there is another ranger station.† From there, they would decide whether to continue the trip or to bail out over Kearsarge Pass.
We wished them well and hit the trail.† We didnít get going until 10AM, but the dayís hike wasnít terribly difficult.† Most of the climb to Glenn Pass was reasonable, although the final ascent was steep and rocky.† We were treated to a nice view from the top, but harsh winds discouraged us from lounging around up there.† It was also a bit crowded, with several other hikers at the pass and more on their way up.† We decided to keep moving, and headed down to a small, rockbound lake for water and lunch.† We chatted with more hikers there, and met the ranger who was returning to the cabin at Rae Lakes.† We spoke with her about Molly and Rosa, and she told us she would keep an eye out for them on the trail.
By the time we resumed the hike, the day was getting late, and we still had a lot of ground to cover.† Unfortunately, it seemed like we kept getting pulled into conversations along the trail.† Overall, this day featured too much talking and not enough walking!† The Rae Lakes area is part of a popular backpacking loop in Kings Canyon National Park, and we were seeing far more people than we had encountered prior to Woods Creek.
We descended below treeline, and passed high above lovely Charlotte Lake.† From there we descended through the woods and reached multiple junctions.† The first side trail led to Kearsarge Pass, and the next to Charlotte Lake.† We took a break at the third junction, and I did a quick side trip from there up to Bullfrog Lake.† When we met Rob and Laura at the Vermillion Valley Resort, they had mentioned that it was a must-see.† Even though we were a bit behind schedule, it looked like it was only an easy Ĺ mile away.†
I jogged up there in about 10 minutes, and found that Laura and Rob had been right.† Bullfrog Lake is a beautiful tarn with the Kearsarge Pinnacles as a backdrop.† If Iíd had more time, I wouldíve explored the Kearsarge Lakes as well.† I guess thatís something for another trip.
I rejoined Bob, and we made the steep descent to Bubbs Creek.† From there, we hiked upstream along the creek, passing numerous campsites.† We couldíve stopped at one of these sites, but we still had plenty of daylight, and I wanted to make a little more progress before calling it a day.† Forrester Pass was ahead of us, and I wanted to knock out part of the climb before the end of the day.† At 13,200í Forrester is the highest Pass on both the JMT and PCT.† Getting part of it out of the way that afternoon would put us in good position to finish it the following morning.
We stopped one more time for water, before rock hopping Center Basin Creek.† From there, we endured one final climb to treeline.† There we found a nice spot on a small bench under Whitebark Pines, high above Bubbs Creek.† There was a small stream here, and it was a breezy area, which eliminated the bugs.† We arrived late in the evening, giving us just enough time to set up camp and eat dinner before dark.† That night, I consumed another freeze dried dinner.† This time I went with Jamaican Rice and Chicken, which was ok, but it didnít come with a doobie, mon.
We managed an early start the next morning for the climb to Forrester Pass.† It was cold that morning, which made it difficult to pack up and get moving.† Despite this, we got on the trail by 7:30.† In his haste, Bob left his spoon sitting on a rock.† I picked it up, but didnít mention it.† Later that day, he confessed to me that he was worried that heíd forgotten his spoon.† I had hoped to keep my secret until he discovered it missing at dinner time, but I couldnít suppress a grin.† He was pretty relieved when I told Iíd found it.† Eating freeze dried dinners, oatmeal, and granola cereal without a spoon wouldíve been a lot of fun.
Initially we hiked in the shade, which was chilly despite the uphill grade.† That changed in a hurry though, once the sun rose above the mountains.† By that afternoon, it was downright hot.† In fact, at one point Bob checked his thermometer, and it read 85 degrees!† Temperatures that high at an altitude of 11K are nearly unheard of.
We passed several pretty lakes on the climb.† One was an unbelievable, almost ethereal, blue.† The mountains were impressive, too, particularly the rocky spire of Junction Peak.† As we climbed, we watched the moon drop behind Mount Stanford.
There were two snow-covered slopes along the way.† These werenít particularly tricky, but did require a bit of caution.† We made it across both without incident, and reached the pass by 10:30.† We loitered there for a bit, before crossing into Sequoia National Park to begin the final leg of our trip.
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