*This post is from my 2014 JMT thru hike. I began 7/25/14 and finished 8/9/14. Missed the beginning? Read it here!*
I awake surprisingly warm after a night of cowboy camping. We quickly eat breakfast and begin to make our way out of camp. Eric is especially excited to get to Evolution Lake today. Not only is it a beautiful spot, but he's meeting a friend there. Eric is kind of a gear junky too so it's nice to have a conversation with him rather than just answering questions about gear, like I often find myself doing.
Getting to Evolution Lake doesn't come without work. Today we hike up 2500 feet of elevation gain. As we go, I get a rush of energy and just keep pushing my way up the trail. I don't stop for much time as I make my way toward the lake. John and I hike for a bit, but the switchbacks start to get the best of him.
"Single push!" I yell up to John for encouragement. The trail continues to push upward with seemingly never ending switchbacks.
"I think this trail is bigger than the both of us," John replies. "Are you sure we're still on the JMT? I didn't think we had this much elevation gain."
"I'm pretty sure. I'm going to continue for a bit. I think we're good," I reply.
I see two hikers coming down and double check with them. We're, of course, still on the JMT.
"If you see a guy with a green flannel shirt, can you tell him he's going the right way?" I ask.
"Ha, we'll tell him to turn around!" they kid.
After another set of switchbacks, I see Evolution Lake. I make my way around the left side of the lake, following the trail to a good spot for lunch. I refill my Platypus and have a snack. I wait for quite a while before I see anyone else.
Soon my new trail family comes down toward the lake, a few at a time.
Once our hour long lunch break is over, we say farewell to Eric who is expecting a friend in the next hour or two. Muir Pass, here we come!
As we head over, I begin talking to a couple. The conversation leads to my empty resupply barrel and the mystery bear canister!
On day 6 I came across a bear canister with a clawed lid at the intersection of Vermillion Valley Resort.
I finally find out what really happened! The couple tells me how they camped six miles from Vermillion Valley Resort and set up camp before hiking another six miles for some food and beer at VVR. Upon their return to camp, they find one bear canister moved and another is gone. They search the entire area and figure it must have been pushed into a nearby stream. They hike downstream, but have no luck finding it.
Later on, another hiker uses the bathroom upstream from where the couple camped and finds it! It is clawed up and looks as if a bear rolled it uphill. This hiker places it at the intersection in hopes someone will find it.
It was nice to have the mystery solved. I later heard that a pair of hikers were exiting near VVR and were mailing the bucket back to its owners.
We begin to make our way to Muir Pass. At 11,978 feet, it will be the tallest pass thus far. We have over 2,000 feet of elevation gain before we can enter Muir Hut on top of the pass.
After a steep ascent to Wanda Lake, the trail begins to transition from dirt to gravel and chunks of granite. Along the way we meet three baby grouses and their mother. She simply waddles away when we approach. We wait a little while for the babies to move, but need to scoot by as they sit in the middle of the trail.
On the ascent, we meet a larger group of French hikers. We greet them, but don't get a hello in return. One gives a simple nod instead. We've encountered a few people on the trail that don't speak English, or at least aren't fluent. One hiker from Japan was hiking the trail solo and knew very few words. He seemed to be getting by just fine.
I pass by the French group and see Uncle-Nephew further up. When I talked to them at the hot springs, they weren't sure if they would finish the trail. They go at a steady pace and seem to be handling the weather now that they're out of their tents!
The climb up Muir Pass is tough. Being from the East Coast, I'm not used to switchbacks. They do make some of the climbs more manageable, but often I feel like the climbs are just moderately steep forever. I'd rather just push up a really steep section quickly and enjoy a flatter section after. I guess I like variety. My knee isn't doing too great and two-thirds of the way up, it starts to rain. At first it's light, but it takes only minutes for the storm to take over. Fuck. I need to make my way up quick. I look up and see Uncle-Nephew pushing hard for the summit. I use one of my methods for getting up a difficult section- counting steps.
I have a few rules to using this method. The first is I must stick to the number I pick and must keep up my pace. The second rule is if I look ahead I add another 50 steps. I have a ways to go: 400 steps until I can stop. One, two, three... I focus on my breath and counting my steps, making sure to keep my head down and push forward with every step. Meaningful steps, I think to myself.
Right before my 300th step, I look up to check Uncle-Nephew's progress. If they're close to the hut it means I am. They turn right following yet another switchback. 50 more steps for me. The sky lets out a grumble.
527 steps later and I swing right toward Muir Hut. I swing the door open and find John inside. It's dark as I make my way over to the stone bench. I can tell he's been here for a while. I remove my rain jacket and replace it with my down. Minutes after I arrive, Uncle-Nephew decide to make their way down the pass, in the thunderstorm. I guess they're over the rain.
Soon Kayla and Andy arrive and the group of French hikers enter shortly after. Each person in their group opens the door making the hut even cooler for the hour we occupy the hut.
"It's cool that we get to use the hut as it was intended," Kayla states. It is pretty cool indeed. The Muir Hut was built in 1931 and has been standing ever since. I shift over to the left to avoid a drip. The inside of the hut is very wet as the roof is leaking in many locations. We talk amongst ourselves and the French don't say a word to us. One of the women translates the sign inside the hut to her friends. I begin to think they know more English than we thought.
I step outside for a few moments and feel hail coming down. We decide to wait out the storm and find a spot to camp a couple miles down.
I return inside and find the French group putting on their rain gear. One woman puts on a rain jacket, rain pants, and a poncho on top. They head out as the hail stops.
We begin to pack up as well and make the descent down Muir Pass. As we hike, I wonder where Uncle-Nephew decide to camp and how their hike was in the storm.
Passing Helen Lake at 5:30 pm, we make plans to camp at the best campground we come across. I see green on my Harrison map a few miles from Helen Lake.
Two miles later, John stops. "We're camping here. I can't go any further today."
I count three spaces big enough for our tents. I guess it will do. I begin setting up my tent, but the ground is incredibly hard.
"We're camping here tonight?" Kayla asks.
"Yeah, John's pretty tired," I reply as I wrap a guyline around a large rock. This is definitely the worst my shelter has been set up, but it'll have to do. The thin layer of dirt disguises the rock we are camping on. No one is able to stake their tents down.
During dinner we take in the views. This pond is nameless on the map, but it sure is pretty. John decided to carry nine days worth of food from Muir Trail Ranch so we decide to make two of the dinners he's carrying. Another night of double dinners!
It's not long before I am in my tent, looking over the maps for tomorrow and journaling. Camp is above 11,000 feet and cool, but with my down jacket and silk liner, I stay warm. I soon fall asleep to the steady fall of rain.
Within a few hours I'm already awake. My tent shakes violently and I'm afraid my 4.1 ounce trekking pole and sad setup won't hold. This continues for a while followed by heavy rain and bright flashes of lightening. I suddenly have a love/hate relationship with my tent. I am impressed with how well it is staying up, but cursing myself for not setting up the front lower. Through the bug netting I see lightening strike the unnamed pond a couple dozen feet from me. The rain slows and the wind picks up. The pattern continues throughout the night. I spend the night wide eyed wondering if anyone else is awake to see this.