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TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

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TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby cloudlesssky » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:10 pm

I fulfilled a 50th birthday present to myself by hiking the JMT from Tuolumne to Mt Whitney. I’d planned about 13 days but felt really good and finished in 9. Here are the particulars:

Day 1 – Tuolumne to Ruby Lake. It was beautiful weather when I started up Lyell Canyon, but then clouds rolled in and eventually thunder claps. Started raining about 1330. I got a break in the weather and crossed Donahue Pass. I eventually found a campsite in a small area below the trail south of Ruby Lake. The sun came out just long enough to give me a double rainbow, then it rained off and on all night.

Day 2 – Ruby Lake to Deer Creek Crossing. The sun was out and it was beautiful (thank God!) I hiked through the blowdown area near Devil’s Postpile. The trail was 100% clear (thank you forest service, volunteers, et al). Picked up some supplies at Reds Meadow Store before moving along. Deer Creek crossing was a very nice campsite.

Day 3 – Deer Creek Crossing to Quail Meadow. This was a nice day hiking the long traverse past Purple Lake and Lake Virginia and then down into Tully Hole. Then about 1330 I was just starting the climb towards Silver Pass and I heard a clap of thunder and the clouds opened up. I stepped under a tree and saw a few other people in the vicinity head for cover. It thundered and rained in sheets for about an hour then stopped long enough for several of us (including a man with a Mandolin and another with a Martin Backpacker guitar!) to race over Silver Pass. I’d planned to stop at Pocket Meadow (which looked to have a few nice campsites) but decided to hike on to Quail Meadow. It rained there off and on during the night.

Day 4 – Quail Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). This was a beautiful day. I wasn’t prepared for the 2000’ climb out of Quail Meadow (VVR) but it was early in the morning so once that was behind me the day was a breeze. Rosemarie meadow was a beautiful stop to water up (although the water was sort of odd – it actually left me with a weird dry feeling in my mouth). Crossing Seldon Pass was sort of a non-event: I got to the top and thought “That’s it?” I scrambled down to MTR just before closing and resupplied then headed down the trail to a campsite perched above the San Joaquin river.

Day 5 – MTR to Starrs Camp south of Muir Pass. The hike from MTR up through Evolution Valley was beautiful. I’d never seen it but heard about it since I was a kid. Spectacular is the best word. I was so in awe I completely missed the Ranger station in McClure meadow. I headed up Muir Pass and set up camp on a knoll above a tarn a couple miles south of the pass (“Starrs Camp”). It was an awesome spot that I found based on directions in Elizabeth Wenk’s “John Muir Trail” book (I cut out the North to South section and brought it along). At the end of the day I was totally exhausted – the extra food I’d picked up at MTR really made a difference in my load.

Day 6 – Starrs Camp to Bench Lake junction. This was another completely beautiful day. I hiked down through Le Conte Canyon and then up over Mather Pass and eventually camped at a tarn near the Bench Lake Junction. There was bear scat on the trail in Le Conte Canyon and I’m sure I heard and smelled one in the bushes next to the trail (I didn’t wait around to see it though). This was my closest and only encounter with a bear this trip. My campsite that night was awesome: it had a clear view all the way back up to Mather Pass. Another good call from Ms. Wenk.

Day 7 – Bench Lake junction to Charlotte Lake. I got an early start and was at the summit of Pinchot Pass by 0800.The weather was beautiful. I dropped down to Woods Creek junction and then up to Rae Lakes (which I find some of the most beautiful in the Sierras). This is my normal stomping grounds, so I felt comfortable here. I was hoping to make it over Glen Pass on this day and I did. Unfortunately I decided to camp at Charlotte Lake which might as well be a KOA campground – everyone was nice but after a week of campsites > ½ mile apart, 50 ft seemed real close. I should have gone on to Vidette meadows but I was really tired.

Day 8 – Charlotte Lake to Guitar Lake. Another beautiful day. I was dreading Forester Pass. I’d never been over it and all I knew was the summit altitude 13,180 ft! It turned out to be a piece of cake. From the north the trail is really well engineered. Minimal of the dreaded “steps”, more a consistent grade that allows you to get a rhythm going. I did meet up with a pack train on the way down, but that was actually interesting to watch as they climbed up. From Forester summit south is just a different kind of environment: much drier and more barren. It’s such a contrast from the north side of the pass. I ended up dragging myself to Guitar lake for the night so I’d save myself 700 ft of climbing in the morning.

Day 9 – Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney summit (and exit to Whitney Portals). I couldn’t sleep at all so I got up at 0130, ate breakfast (Turkey Tetrazzini – I was running low on choices and also getting really hungry by this point), and broke camp. I made the summit by 0500 and found the hut in the clouds. There was a teacher from the UK in the hut waiting for sunrise and we chatted until it started getting light. The clouds came and went and the sun came up and we got a really beautiful show. It was a great way to finish the official trail. I hiked out by noon and ate a burger and drank sodas with several other JMT finishers I’d met over the past couple days.

All in all I was very fortunate:

My body held up.
There were nearly zero bugs the entire trip.
Only 1 wet crossing in Evolution Valley.
Relatively cool cloudy afternoons with only a couple days of real rain.

Now the question is what to do for my 51st birthday…



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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby gary c. » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:45 pm

That is covering some ground in a short amount of time, great way to celebrate a birthday.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray
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TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby Bluewater » Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:44 am

Thanks for your JMT TR, and happy b-day. Your story brought back many memories of the JMT last summer. 9 days is an impressive pace. Congratulations. Any insight into the gear you used? You must have stayed lightweight/UL to have kept up the daily mileage.
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby The Other Tom » Thu Aug 30, 2012 3:50 am

Wow, you really made some miles in a short time. It would take me 3X longer than you to hike the JMT, but I like to hike slowly and take in the views. Glad you had a good time.
What to do for your 51st ? PCT ?
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby cloudlesssky » Thu Aug 30, 2012 5:59 am

Bluewater wrote:... Any insight into the gear you used? You must have stayed lightweight/UL to have kept up the daily mileage.


I tried to keep my pack at or below 30 lbs but stay ready for most trail situations. It was just below 30 when I left and I weighed it on the scale at MTR after my resupply and it said 32 (I think it weighed a couple lbs light). When I exited at Whitney Portal it weighed 25 (very low on food, 1/2 water).

Pack: Osprey Exos 58 - good for swallowing the Bearvault 500, also very comfortable for me
Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek - last minute change out to save more weight, worked OK
Bag: REI Sub Kilo - too warm for the summer
Matress - Exped Synmat UL - cushy comfort (I'm a side sleeper) at low weight
A couple "luxuries": Inmarsat Isatphone Pro and Spot GPS - mostly for my wife/daughter's peace of mind, but it was really nice to talk to them each evening as well
I have a comprehensive packout list in MS Excel if anyone is interested.

Another key to higher mileage is longer days. I'd try to be on the trail by 0630 (I'm an early riser). And I'd hike a steady pace until 1700 or 1800. Each night I'd look ahead and plan a 17-18 mi day, check campsites in Ms. Wenk's book and then look for a stretch campsite further down the trail; and then each day I'd hit the 17-18 mi site at about 1500 and decide to keep going (I get bored sitting around camp). I never felt rushed.

Lightening your load is definitely the way to go. It's easy to do and you can do it while you replace gear, a piece at a time. I had a lot of empathy for those carrying 40, 50 and 60 lb packs.
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby Moonwalker » Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:13 am

Please post the MS Excel packout list. Welcome to the 50's! Sounds like a great trip. To do 20 mi days (!?) you must have been in pretty good shape to start, even with the light pack. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby orbitor » Thu Aug 30, 2012 3:11 pm

Congratulations on a fabulous birthday present!
Please post or email your gear list - I am planning on doing the JMT next year and can use a comparison.
Thanks!
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby cgundersen » Sun Sep 02, 2012 1:46 pm

cloudlessky,
Yep, that's a very impressive pace, and it should have given you some great ideas for places to visit for 51, 52, etc. Ionian basin and Darwin Bench as flanks to Evolution Valley come to mind. I was mesmerized earlier this summer in Upper Basin (below Mather Pass) and the huge, adjacent basins encompassing Amphitheather Lake and Marion Lake. Likewise, Kaweah Basin is a spectacularly secluded area that I can't wait to get back to. Or, if you want the parallel challenge to the JMT, try the High Route (or, a chunk of it). So many gorgeous areas, so little time.....though roguephotonic seems to have the formula for the time issue!
cg
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby cloudlesssky » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:09 pm

Moonwalker wrote:Please post the MS Excel packout list. Welcome to the 50's! Sounds like a great trip. To do 20 mi days (!?) you must have been in pretty good shape to start, even with the light pack. Thanks for sharing!


I did try to be ready for this hike. I did several longer day hikes (15+ miles) and a 3-day Rae Lakes loop (from Onion Valley) hike earlier in the summer. I found during the trip that I felt stronger each day.

I've tried to attach my gearlist here. Hope it works (never done this before).

Lightweight Gear List JMT.xls
Gear List for JMT
(36 KiB) Downloaded 74 times
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby windknot » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:03 pm

Congrats! Thanks for the report.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby Guy Cooper » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:01 pm

Wow I hope I can do that type of trip when I am 50. I was out there the same time period (left Florence on Aug 12) and covered a similar amount of trail in 15 days but I deviated from the JMT quite a bit. I highly recommend Bench Lake, it's so close to the JMT and truly one of the prettiest places I have ever been, possibly the prettiest lake I have seen in the Sierra (but I have a lot of ground to cover up there before that holds much weight) and I hear the x country routes around there are really special. Congratulations!
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Re: TR – JMT Tuolumne to Mt Whitney 8/12-8/20

Postby cloudlesssky » Tue Sep 04, 2012 8:02 pm

Guy Cooper wrote:... I highly recommend Bench Lake, it's so close to the JMT and truly one of the prettiest places I have ever been, possibly the prettiest lake I have seen in the Sierra ...

A guy on the trail told me the same thing, but by the time I got to that point I was near 26mi for the day and all I wanted to do was to set up camp, eat, call home and pass out. A ~2mi detour to Bench Lake just wasn't in the cards. So I set up camp on a knoll above a tarn just beyond the junction.

As I sat down on my Bearvault 500 to eat my dinner I happened to look up and see the most incredible view; probably the best view from any of my campsites on the JMT. I sat there for maybe 30 minutes staring in awe. Fortunately my camera was in my pocket or I probably wouldn't have snapped a picture.

IMG_0410.JPG
Near Bench Lake Jct looking back at Mather Pass.
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