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TR: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Sun Jun 12, 2016 8:05 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 2:16 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 4:22 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 9:10 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 9:16 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 10:20 am

LOL
So Andy, do you like a hot cup of coffee in the morning?
Believing is seeing.
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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jun 14, 2016 4:42 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 » Tue Jun 14, 2016 11:04 pm

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 9:04 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-

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Re: JMT Spring Traverse 2016

Postby Bluewater » Wed Jun 15, 2016 9:38 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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