Along with my dad and a brother, we backpacked a 56-mile section hike of the John Muir Trail from August 7th to 10th, 2019 starting from Reds Meadow, visiting Devils Postpile National Monument, and traveling through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, and Yosemite National Park.
After flying into San Francisco the night before, my dad and I met up with my brother and in the morning drove to Yosemite Valley. We left our car in the backpacker lot near Happy Isles. Ignore and drive around the sign blocking the road saying it’s closed. We took the YARTS from Yosemite to Mammoth, picked up our permit from the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center night box, got dinner, and stayed in a hotel room in Mammoth for the night.
Reds Meadow to Garnet Lake. We hired an early morning shuttle to the John Muir Trail North trailhead at the Devils Postpile National Monument (thanks Paul from East Side Sierra Shuttle!). You’re not allowed to drive into the area during hours when the Devils Postpile/Reds Meadow bus is running (typically 7am-7pm), but we got there very early and set off right before sunrise. We wanted to start here to visit the Devils Postpile National Monument. It’s one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt – nearly perfectly hexagonal “posts” of basalt. Really cool spot!
Turning back towards the trail, we immediately crossed the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and were treated to a beautiful morning meadow scene.
Our only significant water crossing of the trip came at Minaret Creek shortly after exiting Devils Postpile. Apparently the log bridge washed away a few years ago.
Due to the high snow fall year and late melt, mosquitos were out in full force even in August. With long pants, long sleeves, hat, sun gloves, and a mosquito head net, we were fine as long we kept moving. I did once forget I was wearing a headnet and spit a disgusting amount of phlegm right into it. Yuck.
Along the way, we passed several alpine lakes – Rosalie Lake, Shadow Lake, and finally Garnet Lake, where we ended the day.
This was my favorite campsite of the trip, maybe because after today, I got sicker and sicker.
The campsite was crowded, but the sunrise was spectacular, with Banner Peak and Mount Ritter glowing red and reflecting in the mirror-like still water.
8/7/19 journal notes
Hiked from Reds Meadow to Garnet Lake. Went for a swim. Needless to say, it was freezing cold. But fun! Amazing camp site with a view of Banner Peak + Mt. Ritter. The trail was fun but it hurt. Dad absolutely rocked it. He's in great shape. Today we did about 12 miles. We put the whiskey flasks/pouches in the lake to cool them down. Smart move, Fran!
Garnet Lake to Ireland Creek. More lakes! Today we passed Ruby Lake and then Thousand Island Lake. So many small islands. Maybe not a thousand, though.
We passed the beautiful Rush Creek then began the long, grueling hike towards and over Donahue Pass.
It was a high snow year, but by the time we went in early August, there were only a few short sections of snow remaining.
8/8/19 journal notes
Garnet Lake to Ireland Creek. Got my ass kicked today. I might be getting sick. Usual allergy stuff plus body is worn down. Highlight was Thousand Island Lake, Donahue Pass, and Lyell Canyon. Ranger checked permits at the top of Donahue Pass. Had only a few feet of snow at the top of Donahue Pass. Had cell reception and was able to call Stephanie.
Ireland Creek to Upper Cathedral Lake. We started the day with instant coffee to take the edge off a chilly morning.
We broke camp and hustled to make it to Tuolumne Meadows where we were looking forward to some greasy cheeseburgers from the grill. There was frost on the grass along Lyell Canyon that melted as the sun peeked over the mountains.
Along the way, we passed a trail maintenance crew including a mule carrying chainsaws.
By 10am, we had reached Tuolumne Meadows.
8/9/19 journal notes
Ireland Creek to Upper Cathedral Lake. Slept like crap. Woke up, thermometer registered 35. We made quick progress on the flat trail, arriving at Tuolumne Meadows around 10am. We waited until the grill started serving lunch. We each had a cheeseburger, potato wedges, and Haagen Dazs bar. Also picked up some snacks and charged up the battery. We took off around noon. Steep ascent to Cathedral Pass kicked my butt. Kept coughing. Ranger stopped us to check our permit. He asked who was the "responsible party" and everyone joked that I was - but only on paper.
Arrived at Upper Cathedral Lake and found a great camp site with a view of Cathedral Peak. No mosquitos. Washed some clothes in the lake. Scrambled up the side of a mountain to get some nice views during sunset - orange glow! Slept terribly. Nearly threw up from choking on phlegm. I probably kept everyone awake at night. Slept with puffy jacket and my head under the quilt. Oh, Lyell Canyon and Tuolumne Meadows are beautiful.
Upper Cathedral Lake to Happy Isles. This day was originally supposed to be split into 2 days, with a stop at the Little Yosemite Valley campground. But my sinus infection was getting worse and I had to get off the trail so we pushed through and finished our hike today. Along the way, some black-tailed prairie dogs kept watch as we walked by.
Most of the trail was relatively unremarkable. One particular section had been burned by a fire several years ago and was blanketed in wildflowers that were reclaiming the forest.
8/10/19 journal notes
Upper Cathedral Lake to Happy Isles. Woke up cold and feeling like shit. Barely slept. Now it's obvious I'm getting sick. Probably a sinus infection. Coughed up huge, thick, gooey clumps of green phlegm. Yuck.
We were initially planning to hike to Little Yosemite Valley, camp the night, and do the last 5 miles the next day. But I just felt horrible and asked if we could try to finish it all today. I needed to get drugs + get off the trail. They both agreed. It was a long (19 mile) day, but almost all of it was downhill. We started the day at 7am and by 3:30pm we were done.
Much of the trail was through burnt forest. Really cool to see it regenerate with wildflowers and other plants that normally wouldn't have a chance under a dense canopy. We got a nice view of Half Dome, but otherwise this section wasn't as scenic until we reached Nevada Falls. Dad and Fran went down the JMT and I followed the Mist Trail. Wow! It is steep. And there are sooo many day hikers and casual tourists. Lots of stares and it was dicey going down in parts. Both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls were spectacular. Rainbows from the spraying mist. Very refreshing!
We finished by getting pizza and beer. The pizza was some of the worst I've ever had but I inhaled half a pie. We also took showers before dinner which was a smart idea for everyone's sake. Wow we were a disgusting mess. Drove home and got back to S.F. around 11pm.
Except for getting sick, it was such a fun trip. Next time, take way less food. Wasn't very hungry most of the time. The pace felt aggressive. Need to be in better shape or take it slower and spread things out. Bring Sudafed and Nyquil next time.