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the heat of life in the handful of dust

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the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby edhyatt » Sat May 02, 2015 11:59 pm

the heat of life in the handful of dust - John Muir Trail


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Gamrie, a fishing village and perhaps an incongruous place to go back and forward to the Sierra…looking out over the sea to an oil rig at sunset, the foreshore exposed, my family in the background, steak, twice-fried chips, avocado salad, Rioja and Bordeaux somehow have transported me back to the Sierra….perhaps it is a welcome escape!

I’m lost in the Sierras again as I write this trip from 2008 up – sucked into their mythology and towering majesty, conjuring visions of the Range of Light, Evolution Lakes, the Black Divide and the bleak grandeur of time above treeline. There is a fair amount of anxiety here too – harsh country – fitness levels, the need for ‘ooommph’, the fear of failure, the psychological load of being alone and highly self-reliant….I’m heading back…and I’m not sure if I have it in me to cast myself into the unforgiving wilderness of landscape, mind, and memory.

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Yosemite Valley to Tuolomne Meadows

The Yosemite Valley is Paradise Lost – or rather sacrificed and abandoned to concessions – cheap food, poor service, thousands of people. Yet as in all things a few hundred metres makes the difference and you can leave it all behind……few will puff far beyond the falls and into the wilderness beyond.

The beauty and I have queued together since 03.30 – leaving our little (and basic) tent cabin early.

Not so cold. Various other miscreants waiting…by opening time some 30 are assembled…for, not enough permits; little matter, we are first!

Packs packed. Loads relatively light (the beauty girl), a tad more with a 1kg bear canister (Mr Me). This is a really busy trailhead for those wishing to gawp at the falls and Half Dome – although as is true in life, 500m from the start everybody almost disappears.

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The altitude necessitates a slow pace, the valley is syrupy close and the fresher air of elevation can’t come soon enough.

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We descended this path many years ago when it was iced up – the views of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap still stun.

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A late start and a hard climb from the valley floor make for a short day and we reach Little Yosemite Valley campground with relief and amusement; the latter from encountering a ‘perfect’ ranger – who looks like a cross between Tin-Tin and a (youthful) Malborough advert – he’s great fun, looks about 14 years old, and is sleeping at the site to scare away bears. Later that night we hear him shouting at one; he’s got a paintball gun that fires bean bags.

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Backwoods comfort-station – stinks.

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The morning entails a further climb and a nice short day to one of the High Sierra Camps (there are a few in the Park and they are booked up months in advance). Lots of folk around as this section of trail is used for the ascent of Half Dome – you need a permit for that too.

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The first distant sight of the very impressive Cathedral Peak is quite something; in a couple of weeks we will be lamenting all this ‘blue-sky, white-rock’ sameness.

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We might have drifted slightly off-course to Disneyland as I swear this is Bambi…

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A ‘comfortable’ night’s site.

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The trail is permanently elusive as we head across Long Meadows (some startlingly original nomenclature in these parts).

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Bambi again. ‘Where’s your mother?’ I cry.

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From here it is a relatively easy descent to Tuolumne Meadows where we hop the Yarts bus down to Mammoth Lakes for a food resupply – and more to the point a day off, a bed, a shower and some food-not-dried. Also a chance to help with my acclimatisation - the beauty girl is rather vexingly not bothered by elevation – while (in)action man is!


Tuolomne Meadows to Mammoth

We both like Mammoth Lakes so devise a cunning plan to resupply here again quite soon; no way is the allure of the Cajun style Mahi Mahi breakfast at the Good Life Café influencing us. But it is back to the teeming realties of Tuolumne Meadows on the bus for now.

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Another short day of 10 miles (will it ever be thus?). Lyell Canyon provides easy walking and we pitch next to a small series of lakes nestling under the 11,056’ Donohue Pass; the tent blends into the landscape of grey rocks easily.

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There is a 72 year-old guy here who is doing the PCT – wow.

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It seems 72 year olds are lazy and we are at the top of the pass before we see movement from his tent in the morning.

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From the pass there are expansive views to all horizons – I think this is the Ritter Range.

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Banner Peak.

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Mammoth to Vermillion Valley

Oh so easy to tarry in the fleshpots of Mammoth….so we do….then we tarry a while longer. Try to leave but I break a pole – most annoyingly the section is completely replaced by the local outfitter (you get way better warranties in the US than the UK) in about 10 minutes and so we must away.

Our exit is via Duck lake (no there weren’t –not that I saw).

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The roomy confines of our BA Copper Spur III – a close-to-self-supporting tent that was useful to us as we always (when possible) chose to camp out of trees and away from bugs and that more annoying species – people.

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The well-named Tully Hole is a swarming nest of skeeters and it is good to escape (if this kind of speed might be deemed escape) to the higher climbs (sic) of Squaw Lake and then the 10,900’ Silver Pass, passing the evocatively named Warrior, Papoose, and Chief Lakes (bit of a theme there) en route.

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….and breathe

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Thank God for inflatable mats as we choose our bed for the night….the beauty girl likes a firm mattress…

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The morning is a shortish walk to the jetty and then boat ride across Lake Thomas A Edison to the Vermillion Valley resort, a bed, shower, food, and resupply. It’s not the glittering sort of ‘resort’ but neither is it the ‘last resort’ – out here it is welcome.

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Exceptionally pretty.

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Luck, luck, luck, luck, lucky….there is a bed…(or two) available; many camp or there are a few cabins.

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Unlucky – two full bear canisters to hoist onto my trembling shoulders the next day.

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Vermillion Valley to Whitney Portal

Now this pack is heavy; grindingly heavy…the sort of ‘I don’t want to take the **** off now I’ve got it on heavy’. I reckon I’ve got about 30+ Kgs to carry – 24 days food (12x2) – most annoyingly we don’t eat all of it!

There’s nothing from here to Whitney Portal….apart from trees, rock, water and sky. No roads. No buildings. No food. No nothing.

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Rather than take the ferry again we choose to climb up back onto the trail via Bear Ridge.

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…. it’s all Baywatch out here in the wilds….

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…or perhaps ‘whale watch’…

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We join the JMT and pretty soon stop – life is heavy.

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…ulp

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The magnificence of Selden Pass (10,900’) is the first viewpoint of the day, but first the unreal blues of sky and lake must be negotiated…

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The shores of Marie Lake with Selden pass evident in the distance.

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Proof.

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The intrepid one forges on….the finest travelling companion.

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On this day we have to cross the Muir Pass – named after the man himself. After the ‘usual’ start you climb into a desolation of rock and boulders, a stark and empty landscape riven with shadows counterpointed with the odd strip of gritty old snow.

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McClure Meadow.

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Thunderheads roil threateningly and a sombre feel steals into the day. A slightly uncomfortable place to be as the sun slips behind the clouds and temperatures drop.

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OK, so there is one building.

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The Muir hut has marked the Muir Pass (11,995’) since the Sierra Club built it in 1930.

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Gripped by the chill we drop down towards Helen Lake and a magical nights camp.

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Think that is Mt Powell in the distance.

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The cold keeps us moving at a good pace for the early part of the day as we drop down in deep shadows over old snow and talus towards Little Pete and Big Pete Meadows and then into Le Conte Canyon to pitch just below the Golden Staircase.

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Sadly we are thwarted in out attempts to ascend the Golden Staircase (a rather grandiosely named yet well—engineered path) by a torn contact lens. An unhappy camp in mosquito heaven ensues…even the tent looks dejected.

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Away early and quickly warming at the start of an ascent that will take us over 3,000’ over Mather Pass and into the open basins beyond.
Le Conte Canyon.

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We meet some fishermen descending from a cold night at the Palisade Lakes.

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Double pretty.

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The trail rears up (metaphorically) to ease us over the highest point thus far, the 12,100’ Mather Pass.

Oh dear.

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At the top we meet a couple doing the Sierra High Route – a 200 mile off-trail alternative to the JMT that takes in some Class 3 passes. That chance meeting results in me writing this up as Roper’s guide to that route graces my desk; plans are afoot (sic).

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The vastness of Upper Basin.

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Switchbacks.

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Camp in Upper Basin, Split Mountain (?) beyond.

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Spot the tent.

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Dawn breaks stark and cold.
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Descending towards the Kings River.

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Today we merely need to ease ourselves over the blip that is Pinchot Pass at 12,130’ - it arrives ere long and with little climbing of note.


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A fine pitch towards the edge of a steep escarpment.

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Light night time entertainment.

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A few miles in the morning see us on this nausea inducing and rather bouncy suspension bridge across Woods Creek – a pretty unpleasant experience in rapidly gaining one’s sea-legs.

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The rather magnificent Fin Dome occupies the horizon for a good slice of the day.

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Rae Lakes is a veritable metropolis after the empty trail, many camping – but we manage to find a great spot.

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Climbing up to Glen Pass at 11,978’ (a veritable minnow) is a bit of a lung-buster somewhat exacerbated by having to carry water….err, there are a lot of Lakes around?

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At the top it’s all fashion parade…

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…or not

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The indefatigable beauty girl adds a touch of class, completely eclipsing the scenery.

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The final countdown (cue music) the soaring wonder that is Forrester Pass.

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The lightly laden soar…

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The heavily laden sore…

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Junction Peak.

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At 13,180’ Forrester pass is quite something; the saddle is a fine perch with views reaching across the ranges. We are forced to tarry here a while as they are blasting sections of the trail lower down. One of the trail crew gives us a banana….FRUIT, fresh FRUIT !

Silly pack. Idiot grin.

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You wish…

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I’ve taken better pictures….but the beauty girl amidst the stony deserts below Diamond Mesa is a favourite memory of living life.

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…and she goes

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Dirty, bronzed, chubby, puzzled.

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Oh my, oh my. A poo bag.

In the Whitney zone – everything has to be packed out…

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At Guitar Lake we mooch over the options; as it is quite early we decide to leave the crowds behind and push on to a higher lake so as to cut the ascent of Mt Whitney on our (supposedly) penultimate day.

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Dearie me.

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Mount Whitney – 14,496’

And this is it. It was not meant to be but once over Whitney there was a drive in both of us to finish, to sleep in a bed, step into a shower, eat a pizza, drink a beer – or two, sip some wine, wear cleaner clothes, watch CNN – and so it went.

The range of light lives up to its name.

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She’s off like a cork from a champagne bottle….so much better at altitude than me…dammit, gnash gnash…

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Trailcrest

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We drop our packs and hope the marmots won’t chew them; then it is off between the rocky ridges towards Whitney summit.

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Slowcoach.

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Down, and then some down followed by down. We’ve climbed 3,250’ but the descent is closer to 6,300’. Endless switchbacks without rhyme or reason as we spin down into a cauldron of heat, dust and pain.

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Then Whitney Portal.


I’ll be there again.

New steps to take.

I carry the beauty in my heart.



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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby The Other Tom » Sun May 03, 2015 5:10 am

Wow ! A great trip report and pics. Thanks for posting.
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby sekihiker » Sun May 03, 2015 9:38 am

Some of the best photos and best photo choices to maintain interest in your excellent report. Thanks.
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby Jimr » Sun May 03, 2015 9:52 am

I second that! Very nice report.
What?!
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby Rockyroad » Sun May 03, 2015 6:04 pm

Very entertaining narrative and photos. Thanks for posting!
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby JWreno » Sun May 03, 2015 6:22 pm

I love your report with the great pictures. I have done 3 full JMTs, northbound in 2008 and 2011 and southbound in 2014. Your report was a pleasant reminder on how much I enjoyed these trips. This year we only have time for a 9 day trip so we are going to do a piece of the Sierra High Route from McGee Pass to Piute Pass. It only about 50 miles but it will involve much new route finding and probably fewer people day to day. Just reserved my permit so I am stoked. I will bring my GPS with the route track loaded. We did a section of the Sierra High Router from Thousand Isles to Blue Lake pass in 2005 without the GPS help. It was a challenge finding the route strictly by the route description in Steve Rouper's book. One of the days we only made it about 5 miles.
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby edhyatt » Mon May 04, 2015 3:44 pm

Thanks for the kind comments - appreciated.

I'm back this summer (flying into Reno) to do the Tahoe Rim Trail then try the Sierra High Route - looking forward to finding breathing difficult :)
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby JWreno » Mon May 04, 2015 6:04 pm

I did the Tahoe Rim Trail with my son in July of 2009 and spent 16 days to finish the trail. We started at Spooner Summit with enough water to get us through the first day/overnight and to a store near Kingsbury Grade. Water wasn't much of an issue again until after Tahoe City. We carried a days worth until Brockway Summit where I met my wife for additional water and a nice meal. It was pretty dry from Brockway Summit until Mt Rose Hwy. There was a bit of water from Mt Rose Hwy to Spooner Summit.

We basically carried all the water we needed for a day worth of hiking on the first day and the last 3 days. My wife met use once each day on the last 3 days for water resupply and food for the day. With the daily resupply on the last 3 days we could drop our clothing and food weight way down to accommodate a lot of water. We carried 2 MSR bags plus a 32 on water bottle each on the dry days.

This winter was a 100 year record for lack of snow pack. Conditions will be dry the northern half of the TRT.
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby edhyatt » Wed May 06, 2015 11:51 am

Thanks for that - I'll look at the options for getting water - never really a problem in the UK!

The water restrictions in California (public, not commercial agriculture) have made it into the UK media in the last couple of days.....
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby maverick » Wed May 06, 2015 11:58 am

Thank you for taking the time to put this together and posting it here on HST, wonderful TR and pictures Ed. :thumbsup:
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Re: the heat of life in the handful of dust

Postby copeg » Wed May 06, 2015 12:49 pm

Thanks for putting this together and posting! What a great read and photos, and conjured up a lot of memories from when I did the JMT back in '03.
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