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TR: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:05 am

Snowshoes, like an ice axe, are helpful in only a few sections. (An axe is only necessary for around .5-1.0+- mile on Lamarck, Mather, Glen & Forester, so you carry an extra piece of gear the whole way for just a few miles of use. Of course, not having an axe is not an option - way too exposed and dangerous. Thought experiment: barefoot for the pass sections, but you have an axe vs boots, but no climbing/self arrest device. I would pick being barefoot.)

Snowshoes wouldn't have helped in Darwin canyon, because we couldn't walk across the semi-frozen lakes. Rather, we were constantly climbing & descending boulders & cliffs that ringed the lake shorelines with mixed snow/ice. In those types of conditions, micro-spikes really excel because you can keep them on through short dry sections, unlike crampons which would have needed to constantly be taken off & then put back on. Actually, crampons weren't necessary at all for this trip, because we never climbed directly up any headwalls - always a vertical traverse on each of the passes.

(Brian) Schmalz started his PCT hike out of Cottonwood pass the day we exited @ Kearsarge. Since I had a DeLorme, I added him as a contact to give him an update on conditions while on the trail. He too was undecided with regard to boots/crampons vs runners/spikes. He was following our breadcrumbs and could see we were on schedule ie going slow. (Seems like everyone expected us to come out a day early.) He sent a text to the effect of "lots of snow?", to which I replied: "snow in every form - solid, soft & melted". In another text, I finally sent: "no boots runners+spikes feet wet all day".

The one possible section where snowshoes would have been nice to have was the short 6 mile stretch from Evo lake to Muir - but only in the afternoon. In the early morning, the surface was so hard you could literally run across it, as we ended up doing from Wanda up to the Muir hut early the next morning. It was just the nature of the hike - the need to make miles and be in position for the next pass early the next morning - that we would cross some sections in the afternoon with soft snow. As long as it's anticipated and built into the hike plan, then you should be ok.

In our case, it was more than anticipated - it was the source of constant discussion for weeks/months leading up to the hike. But since we knew we only needed to get to the Muir hut by the end of day 2, we actually had plenty of time, no matter how slow we went.



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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Bluewater » Mon Jun 13, 2016 3:16 pm

fishmonger wrote:Did you ever consider bringing along snow shoes or touring ski (yes weight, but how many hours saved from Evolution Lake to Muir Hut)? Really appreciate the report, because it reveals a lot of detail about conditions with snow levels I have always hoped to find myself on during an early season JMT hike. A trip like that would mean many miles below the snow line and then just as many above.


As we were post holing through Evo basin in the second half of the day I was thinking the same thing, some 22" Northern Lights snowshoes would have been perfect (lightweight, basic traction with just enough floatation). . .but we were able to follow some good boot tracks from the recent PCT'ers which really saved the day. I was especially happy to find tracks from someone with the same length between steps and I could really make easy miles for a while.

After Evo the snow became less of an issue the farther south we went. The late afternoon sections were still a challenge, but the post holing was minimal. The section that climbs up from the South Fork Kings up toward Lake Marjorie was a frustrating mixture of trail then tall clumps of snow to climb, but the snow was stable and relatively solid even late in the day.

In the end I think it made sense to leave the snowshoes at home, mainly due to the ability to follow existing tracks. If it was all virgin snow snowshoes would have been a must:)
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Bluewater » Mon Jun 13, 2016 5:22 pm

A few more from day 2:

Karl approaching Lamarck Col:

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Darwin Canyon:

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Slow travel through Darwin Canyon:

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Darwin Bench:

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Finally in Evolution Basin:

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Sunset over Wanda Lake:

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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:10 am

For those curious why I bestowed the trail name "Lead Dog" on BlueWater - when it seems like he was behind me some of the time - is because he was so busy taking all of these beautiful pictures. I'd get ahead while he went off trail, finding a nook, knoll, etc, all in order to take the perfect photo. He'd then catch up and set a nice steady pace until a new area caught his fancy.

Of course, he was pretty smart to let me lead the way through Evolution basin, because I had full knee gaiters and could post-hole with impunity. Actually, it was good mix of hiking styles/preferences that lent itself to this arrangement. I tend to just keep going until I reach my destination, while Andy is good about pacing, resting and jamming. So, knowing we only had 3-4 hours to get to our destination, I just put my head down and hiked. It helped that there were some boot tracks from the very few NOBO PCT trekkers that had made it through ie you can just step in their compressed steps. But, you still end up post-holing a bit. However, it didn't matter - it was all about reaching our stop point.

If you refer to the spreadsheet link, you can see it took us 3.5 hours to go 5 miles - to Wanda lake. As it was growing later, it was obvious we weren't going to get to Muir. Or, we could push it, but for what reason? By stopping 1.5 miles short, we could easily make it up the next morning on the hard packed snow. And that's exactly what we did. About half-way around Wanda, Andy looked up and saw bare bluff ridge overlooking the lake that had some melt-off ie a source of water. I was prepared to boil, and didn't really want to climb, but it wasn't that far up. Turned out to be a great spot - among everything else, LeadDog is the ultimate good rest stop & camp spot locator.

View of Wanda from our bivy spot
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A perfect backdrop for dinner
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jun 14, 2016 10:16 am

Day 3 - 6/2/2106
Wanda lake - Muir Pass - Palisades waterfall
17.6 miles

The underlying foundation for the success of this hike was the necessity of staying on plan & needing to make our designated mileage waypoints each day. Day 3 was always planned as a higher mileage day - we needed to get over 12k Muir, then drop down through LeConte canyon to 8K Simpson meadow, and then hike back up & Palisades creek in order to be positioned for Mather pass on day 4.

That meant hitting the high passes in the early morning under optimal conditions, but it also meant periodically hiking in soft(er) snow on the descent. Even worse, it entailed re-gaining elevation from the low points (Simpson meadow, SF Kings, Woods creek, et al) in the hot afternoon along exposed sections of the trail.

To understand this context, I need to share a little bit of personal information: I'm a morning person. My prime time hiking hours are from 4am to noon. In those 8 hours, on a clear trail, I can regularly hike 20+ miles no sweat. Elevation gain doesn't seem to matter - I've charged up the 6k Shepherd. But after lunch time, I'm a shell shocked wreck. I just cannot seem to move, and if it's hot & exposed, it's even worse. Worse, like I'm lucky if I can manage 50 steps without needing a small breather. :-({|= No kidding - ask Andy.

Now Andy, he's the reverse: his prime time is around noon/4pm to midnight - a true night owl. (Ask him about his musician days.) It's sort of funny, because we were discussing some Taboose/Sawmill/Baxter hikes along the way. I'd suggest driving up to the east side early and start before dawn, while Lead Dog was in favor of leaving SoCal at night and beginning to hike upon arrival. Perfect hiking partners, right?

So, let's go back to the early alpine starts necessary to get up & over the passes. The second day, when we needed to get over Lamarck col, wasn't a big deal, because we were so close to the top. So, we slept in until around 6am, and got going by 6:30am. Andy's bivy was around 30 yards away, and as I was rustling around, I sort of spoke loudly to make sure he was awake and getting up. 6:00 wasn't too bad, and since the sun was already coming up, he was good to go. Not bouncing of the walls like me, but serviceable.

For Muir, we agreed on a 5:30 wake-up and 6am start time. This extra 1/2 hour was just touching the limits, so I had to speak a little louder - sort of purposely like "IT"S A BEAUTIFUL MORNING!". You can provide guess where this eventually leads, to the point of a muttered "shut up mother f--ker!" (Or, was that the next morning?) Still, we were up and packed, so I took off. The conditions were absolutely perfect - hard packed snow/ice, smooth surface. There wasn't any reason to step into each boot step, so I just raced along outside the tracks.

According to my chart, it took me around 45 minutes to reach the 1.4 miles to the Muir hut. When I arrived, there were 6 PCT hikers who had just arrived from the south. They had left Monster rock at 3:30am - also driven by the desire to avoid post holing. They were happy with their progress and stoked to hear that it was only 6 miles to the beginning of Evolution valley and the end of snow. (At least, for a short while.)

Looking back towards Wanda
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Requisite hut shot
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Perfect early morning hiking conditions - looking south towards Helen, LeConte and the middle fork drainage
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Jimr » Tue Jun 14, 2016 11:20 am

LOL
So Andy, do you like a hot cup of coffee in the morning?
What?!
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jun 14, 2016 5:42 pm

A PCT blogger's take on Mather (he crossed 5 days after us). Looking at this photo is sort of amazing, because the entire headwall and foreground area was under snow when we crossed. So, consider that when reading his account; maybe a little dramatic, but Mather & Glen were definitely the "real deal".

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Mather Pass I dislike you
http://hikingwithjason.com/day-48-mathe ... slike-you/
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Rockyroad » Wed Jun 15, 2016 12:04 am

I've delayed reading this thread up to now because I wanted to make sure I had enough uninterrupted time to slowly absorb the story and photos. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventures.
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby alpinemike » Wed Jun 15, 2016 10:04 pm

Hobbes, I really enjoyed reading about your experience with trying to get Andy up that early. :) I am no early person by any means... I tend to hike similarly to how Andy does. But it was very comedic when he and I were in Darwin Bench and I kept saying it was 10 degrees... Andy didn't answer which meant I knew he was definitely into sleeping a bit longer!

You guys definitely look like you had an amazing trip! Sleeping out every night must have been amazing. Can't wait to read more and I really wish I could have joined!
Never put off a backpacking trip for tomorrow, if you can do it today...
Alpine Mike-

http://mikhailkorotkinphotography.com/
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Bluewater » Wed Jun 15, 2016 10:38 pm

Jimr wrote:LOL
So Andy, do you like a hot cup of coffee in the morning?


Guilty as charged:). I like a cup of coffee, back to sleep, read for a bit, have some breakfast, stretch, take a mid-morning nap then meditate. . . :rock:

That's Hobbes leading the charge to Muir Pass:

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And on the descent toward Helen Lake:

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Looking back toward Muir Pass from Helen Lake:

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Helen Lake:

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The outlet of Helen Lake:

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One of my favorite meadows on the way down from Muir Pass:

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Hobbes after a (very) brisk bath:

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Camp on a small plateau at the top of the waterfall overlooking Deer Meadow (Tenacious D had joined us by this time):

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Homemade backpack and quilt:

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This guy was my watchful dinner companion:

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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:53 am

Day 3 - 6/2/2106
continued

The hike down to LeConte from the Muir hut was truly amazing. It's such a beautiful place at any time, but to be absolutely by yourself in those types of conditions was a whole different level. Unlike all the other high passes (Forester, Glen, Pinchot, & Mather) which have fairly rigid and defined paths - especially in the snow - both sides of Muir allow you to wander quite a bit. As we were descending by Helen, Andy took a slightly different route to get close to the shoreline. When I looked backed, I took a shot, which turned out to be one of my favorite photos of the entire trip:

Andy all alone by Helen
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The entire hike is seemingly summed up in this one picture: the isolation, the grandeur, the sense of smallness - this is what we experienced pretty much every day all by ourselves.

Mike: One of my key rationales for this hike was "take back the hike". In other words, due to crowding, permits, etc, so many experienced hikers have seemingly abandoned the original - and in many respects - premier locations in the Sierra. Or, people don't want to plod along a heavily defined trail. So, my solution was to simply go when not too many people would be around. Pretty much complete snow coverage solves the trail "problem" and adds an interesting reconnoitering challenge + need for additional skills.

You can do this in the fall, of course, but the days are shorter, and - my opinion - fall is best along the coast. Spring at the coast however tends to be cold, damp & foggy, yet the Sierra are just warming up. Combine warm(er) weather with longer days and alpine conditions and you have a recipe for exactly what Andy & I experienced. And I don't think this is a one-off; I've been doing shorter versions for a few years.

But, it's a narrow window - maybe 6 weeks max - May through early June. Still, I could see this becoming a "thing", much like the SHR. We could have added Forester to Whitney, we could have left out of Mammoth, or if the Tioga road has just opened, you could add that section. It's easy to mix & match (ie enter/exit), or do the entire distance. The only people you will meet are a handful of intrepid NOBO PCT trekkers, and that's usually a small number and clumped at the passes early in the morning.

---

As we descended down to LeConte, we began to walk through the respective transition zones. As you initially leave the 100% arctic conditions, you begin to get a little melt-off, with the resulting snow bridges. Back and forth you weave, maybe following tracks, maybe forging your own path. Because you're still above tree-line, it's all pure line-of-sight dead reckoning. But, slowly but surely, the snow gives way to green, and by 10.7k, you're back on trail finally ready to take off spikes, tights & gaiters.

Looking back as we drop down to LeConte
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Slowly melting
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Slowly, slowly
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Closer
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Ah, spring green
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Day 3 for us was a link day - it has the furthest distance to travel between two major passes: the 22 miles between Muir & Mather (PCT miles 838.6 & 816.9). After leaving the snow just before Monster rock (PCT mile 833.5), we had 11 miles until the first steps of the Golden staircase and the Palisades waterfall (PCT mile 822.4) where the snow would begin again. The low point of the trail is the Simpson meadow junction @ 8k, so you drop from 12k Muir down to 8k Simpson, then hike back up to 12k Mather.

What makes spring snow travel a challenge, of course, is that you need to hit the passes at prime time: 7am-9am. So, if it's 22 miles between passes, you've got to do the miles in some form or fashion (unless you take an extra day), regardless of how you feel. As I mentioned upstream, I can put up miles in the early morning until around noon, but during the heat/lull of the afternoon I'm an absolute wreck. Any other time of year, or any other route, I could simply design a plan where I was climbing in the morning and resting or descending in the afternoon. But you don't have that option on this hike - perhaps one of the key challenges besides the obvious snow travel.

So, let's go over day 3 schedule: begin hiking @ 6am to get over Muir, reach Monster rock 5-6+- hours later (I don't count hanging around a bit talking to other hikers). Now it's 11-12 noon - beginning to near witching hour. Ah, but we're at 9.5k, and we get to hike downhill to Simpson meadow @ 8k, which take a little under 3 hrs. So, we get to Simpson meadow around 2:30pm and it's 84 degrees - in the shade. Along the exposed sections of the trail (thankfully, mostly under tree canopy), with the sun bouncing off the granite cliffs, it's hotter - maybe a lot hotter.

Regardless, I'm now in full melt-down mode. As I mentioned earlier, Andy is the king of finding both great camping/bivy locations as well as excellent rest stops. So, he sees this clearing right below the old washed out Palisades creek bridge where we can sit down, get out of the sun & rest a bit. Even better, it's got a small backwater whirlpool that has somehow formed just feet away from a very full flowing Palisades creek. In fact, Pali is running at certain death levels - one slip and you're a gonna, for sure.

But there's no way I'm not going in - I'm way overheated, I'm tired, and well, I'm going in. As a water guy, I'm familiar with the feeling of turbulence & weightlessness in heavy surf situations, so my spidey senses were on full maximum alert. So, leaving my shoes on for extra traction (believe it or not, they had dried from the morning's snow/fords), I carefully got about a foot away from shore and did a 'push up' type of dunk to get fully immersed. (There was no way I was going in any deeper or nearer to the main current.) The water of course was fresh snow melt, so the freezing cold water felt exhilarating. I quickly jumped up, out and clambered onto a nice smooth boulder - much like a wet cat. Here's another take on the photo LeadDog took moments later:

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Words cannot describe how good this felt just sunning myself on a hot rock in the middle of rapidly flowing Palisades creek.
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Bluewater » Fri Jun 24, 2016 1:56 pm

The next morning our group of three was up early and ready to hit Mather Pass before the snow got soft.

We headed up the Golden Staircase and made good time through the outlet area below Palisade Lake (one of my favorite areas along the trail). . . It was in this area that the footsteps from the dog in the group ahead of us became more pronounced. They must have hiked well into the late afternoon because the little dog prints were deep, he must have suffered through miles of doggy post holing.

Sunrise from the top of the Golden Staircase:

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Mather Pass from Palisade Lake:

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We eventually caught up to the group with the dog. We expected to see a young strong dog, but this poor old dog was limping and had a gray beard:

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Starting the climb to Mather Pass:

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Bluewater and Tenacious D taking a break on top:

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A snowy descent into Upper Basin:

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The middle section of Upper Basin was flooded in some areas and the creek crossing were deep. This is Tenacious D crossing barefoot:

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Unfortunately he post holed barefoot in deep snow just after crossing the river and got a deep cut on his ankle. He seemed unaffected by the injury while we helped search for supplies in his first aid kit, but he was out of all disinfectants. He pushed it closed while I helped him wrap a bandage around his ankle. He refused any more help and just put his pants and boots back on. After a while we let him know where we planned to camp that night and parted ways, not really expecting to see him again.

The hike up to Lake Marjorie was a challenging way to end the day. Short sections of trail were constantly interrupted by large piles of snow, creating a roller coaster effect while also climbing 1,000' to the lake. But once we passed treeline things got easier and we made it to a familiar camp spot just below Lake Marjorie. This would be the third time I have camped in this same spot.

Hobbes grinning after the late afternoon uphill grind:

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The view from this spot made a nice backdrop during a relaxed dinner. Hobbes and I share an appreciation for an early bedtime after a long day:

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Then just as we were ready to call it a day and climb into our sleeping bags. . . Tenacious D shows up! We couldn't believe he made it!!

I forgot to mention the river crossing earlier that day at the South Fork Kings River was dangerously high and it appeared to be at full spring melt levels. Hobbes found a spot downstream from the trail crossing where the river split into three "smaller" rivers and after we watched a small group of PCT'ers cross we carefully made the crossing. It was the strongest river crossing I've ever made. After making the crossing I just figured Tenacious D would turn back and hike out via the Taboose trail. But he was standing in front of us smiling.

He told us the story of how he found a log crossing about 1/4 mile upstream and how he was able to make the crossing without taking off his boots, pants etc.

Hobbes gave him some fuel (he was out) to make dinner. . . then he unpacked a CAN of tomato sauce for his spaghetti. Old school.

Hobbes & Tenacious D camping near Lake Marjorie:

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