We took the 8:00 bus out of Mammoth Lakes to get back to Tuolumne Meadows. I picked up my package with food there and sent out my sleeping bag. Will be using my new 10-degree quilt from here on out.
At this point, we joined the John Muir Trail, which is a 200-something mile trail from Yosemite to Mt Whitney. The PCT and the JMt are largely identical. This stretch is considered the High Sierra and the most spectacular part of the PCT. The JMT is basically a series of passes: you go up to a high pass and then back down into a valley just to go up over the next pass. The tricky thing is plan out the days such that you don’t have to camp too high up because it’s cold up there. We tried to camp below 10,000′ and were mostly successful.
Most people hike the JMT southbound because the lower passes are up north and you kind of work your way up to Forrester Pass, which is the highest point on the PCT, and then finish by summiting Mt Whitney (which is where the JMT ends but it’s not technically part of the PCT). It’s pretty awesome because all the passes are high enough that you get above the tree line. There are very pretty high-altitude lakes in an almost extraterrestrial landscape.
We made our way over the first pass – Donohue Pass – on day 80. There was still some snow, which made everything extra pretty. The pass itself was not too bad and took is up to 11,073′.
We pushed on and ended up in Reds Meadows just before they closed the kitchen. We stayed at the campground there.
We had breakfast at Reds Meadows the next morning and learned that the Muir Trail Ranch is going to close soon. So we had to reconsider some of our timing and carry out a bit more food. We left Reds with heavy packs around 9:30 and pushed hard to make it over Silver Pass that day. We got to the top of the 10,781′ pass just in time for sunset, which was magical…
It got cold as soon as the sun had set and we had to night-hike a bit to get below 10,000′ and make camp for the night.
I felt tired and exhausted the next morning and it took me until after lunch to pull myself together and burn some miles. The nights are cold and my quilt is not quite enough to keep me warm. Long hiking days and cumulative sleep loss are not ideal conditions. Views like these more than make up for it, though, so I am not complaining.
We got to the Muir Trail Ranch around 18:00 and setup camp. We descended all the way to less than 8,000′ so the night wasn’t quite as cold.
We slept in a bit because the Ranch didn’t open until 8:00. They had an insane “hiker box”:
Buckets of food. People hiking the JMT ship food out here but often too much so they left some behind. We were there on closing day for the season so a lot of food had accumulated. There was one whole bucket for oatmeal. 😀
We got some extra food and were on our way up Muir Pass. The approach to it was gorgeous and the view from 11,969′ was amazing!
This was another day on which we didn’t even hike 25 miles but that felt like a 30+ mile day. The elevation makes everything a lot harder… it’s okay, though, if this is where you have your lunch break:
The next day, we tackled Mather Pass. It had a pretty steep approach. The nights are still cold but the days got much warmer again. Great hiking weather and a fantastic workout for your quads and calves. This stretch is still park of Kings Canyon National Park, which has been ridiculously pretty…
Pinchot Pass and Glen Pass
We made a big push for two passes in a day. After Mather Pass, the trail only dropped down to just above 10,000′. We camped as low as possible and went up over the 12,106′ Pinchot Pass the next morning.
Then we made our way down to 8,780′ just to get back up and over Glen Pass at 11,949′. I mentally prepared myself in the morning for an above average amount of discomfort and exertion but it was actually okay. Still above average, but not as bad as I had thought. We got treated to a spectacular sunset while descending from Glen Pass:
That night, we made camp at the trail junction to Kearsarge Pass. We left the PCT/JMT via a 9mi side trail to get to a trailhead/parking lot and hitch-hike to Bishop.
So the next morning we went over Kearsarge Pass…
… and we are now in Bishop. Didn’t do any ‘trail miles’ on Day 86, just the 9 miles to get off trail. We’ll spent Sunday/Day 87 in Bishop and then go back to Independence on Monday to pick up our food from the post office and get back on trail (that is: try to hitch back up to the trailhead and hike the 9mi back to the PCT/JMT.
As you can see, the High Sierra is absolutely stunning. It feels surreal and is almost overwhelmingly beautiful. I which those peaks and valleys were spread out across the trail. Now it’s hard to keep them apart in my memory… but I took about a million pictures so I think that’ll help.
The next update will include the highest point on the PCT – Forester Pass – as well as a side trip up the highest mountain in the continental U.S. – my feet are already itchy and I can’t wait to get back into the mountains. I know I’ll be cold because I can’t really fix my sleeping bag situation but a little discomfort is worth the show Nature is putting on for us. Besides, I have an increasingly bushy beard to protect me so I should be fine!