Tuesday, January 6

9 Days in the Sierra Nevada Mts

I'm fairly certain that this plan, this story, this idea per say was hatched over several beers at some tucked away bar back in Los Angeles, late in 2013. A close friend had decided he was going to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) as a celebration of receiving his Masters degree & it would be the ultimate escape.

A few months had past & a small collection of us that had been backpacking together for years agreed to make the trip work in various ways. Starting then in early 2014, weekly meetings revolved around gear talk, excel sheet planning, endless topo map fixation & more beers. As summer came to be, menus were being talked about, resupply buckets getting packed & it was only a matter of time before that glimmer of an idea was a reality.

| Video! Press Play |

In the grand scheme of this trip I was only able to get away from work for 10 days of grand totaly that was going to be a 25 day trip. So I can only speak for a portion of the experience. The other three had started in Yosemite on September 3rd, just as a fire broke out in the valley. Fortunately they were ahead of it without any downturn. After summiting Half Dome they spent several days hiking to Devils Postpile Monument/Red's Meadows & gorged on glorious food & good times. At this point one friend had developed fairly bad foot problems & opted to rest his feet for some time. Thus two friends set out for three days to reach Vermillion Valley Resort where we would be waiting to pick them up for a zero day (no miles).

| Looking up Bear Canyon |

Back in the city, waking well before dawn on the 13th of September, two of us drove the lonely 99 Hwy out to the Western Sierras. Then onto the one lane fun-fest (sarcasm) that is the road to VVR. Sure as can be, those dudes were waiting & enjoying the hospitality at the Ranch. They had also gained a new friend from Germany that had just finished his degree & came to California to backpack & see the west. Scooping them up, we snagged a car camping spot & set about relaxing till continuing on the JMT.

| Bear Canyon |

| Henry Shires Tarptent Contrail | Opsrey Exos 48 w/o hood |

Morning of the 15th finds us snapping group shots at the trailhead & ready to get some miles behind us on the trail. For me though, this was just the beginning. Setting out on the Bear Creek Cut Off trail near VVR turned out to be great advice given by past travelers. Rising up & over a medium sized ridge the trail drops down into the Bear Creek drainage & slowly ascends all the way up the canyon. Along the way there were the most wonderful swimming holes that we didn't take advantage of just due to time. Although, this area would be an amazing short trip or long weekend in the future.

| Hiking towards Selden Pass |

From the beginning of the day large white clouds dotted the sky constantly blowing north east. Never too threatening, but worth noticing for camp site choice later in the day. After a stiff climb out of the canyon we called it a night in some trees near the upper reaches of Bear Creek along the JMT. I was finally on the trail, that storied place, the one we had been planning for all those months.

| Selden Pass in the distance, low spot, middle of photo |
| Lake Marie |
Without fail, as the sun went down the clouds opened up & rain came down. But the rain soon turned to hail. Not really expected, but with good shelter amongst a stand of trees we had a decent cover from the downfall. My shelter is a Henry Shires Tarptent Contrail & within one day of the JMT it was already seeing more weather than two years using it in the local LA mountains dished out. I stared at the tent seams, crossing my fingers that my seam-sealing job was done to standards to keep from leaking.

| Heart Lake in the distance |

The next morning life was back to normal & we set about making breakfast then headed out. Within the first two minutes of walking I spotted a bear about forty feet off trail, just meandering along the rocks. After noticing us, his attitude didn't change so we stood & watched him walk down canyon. This trip was already paying off, hail on the first day, bear on the second. Today's goal was to climb up to Selden Pass & then drop a couple thousand feet down to Muir Trail Ranch. Along the way to the pass I saw several different groups of backpackers, even two northbound JMT hikers.

| Blayney Hot Springs |

Like anything worth the effort every mountain pass along the trail is worth ever second paid climbing up to views that are waiting. the North side of Selden Pass had stunning Lake Marie with an exceptional jagged backdrop & to the south a narrow passage leading far down to an incredibly deep valley. The wind was howling & high fives were plentiful. Heart Lake is just below the pass & is aptly named. Leading to a wonderful lake side trail running next to Sallie Keyes Lakes. Further down, the trail dives into the forest for miles, opening only in a small quiet meadow. Pausing here I saw several young deer grazing together & it was just one of those moments that really makes the backcountry special.

| San Joaquin River |
| Milky Way over Muir Trail Ranch |

The switchbacks dropping off the upper bench & down to Muir Trail Ranch seemed to last an eternity. The valley floor couldn't come soon enough. But there was talk of natural hot springs & that kept us all moving. Arriving along the shores of the San Juaqin River, just outside Muir Trail Ranch (backwoods Resort/Horse Ranch) we set up camp with lots of good new friends around. We planned to pick up our resupply buckets in the morning. For now we grabbed our essentials, forded the river & found a large meadow that had several natural hot spring tubs. Easing in with the others, stories of the trail began to fly, old timers handing out advice, young bucks talking of trail gear, but the only thing no one discussed was how sore we all were. It had vanished in the liquid magic. The night ended with some group games & star gazing with the Milky Way in full show.

| Donation bins |

| Resupply at Muir Trail Ranch |
The next morning we sorted our food, fuel, gear & donated a fair amount to the hiker bins (extra supplies) of what was unneeded. We each took turns weighing our packs with eight days of food. Clocked in around 32 lbs for myself. Felt good in a bad way. Setting out we navigated through  stunning Goddard Canyon, the trail following the river just twenty feet above. Crossing a wooden footbridge we entered Kings Canyon National Park. Life doesn't get much better.

| Goddard Canyon |

I was getting anxious because I knew we were getting much closer to the Evolution Valley area, a special place in the mountains I have been wanting to see for many years now. Tomorrow would be the day. For now a stiff climb out of the canyon took us to the mouth of Evolution Valley. Camping lower in the meadow, tomorrow would be one of my best days of hiking ever.

| Goddard Canyon |

| Evolution Meadow Sunset |

Waking early I set out by myself to really embrace this day. Within a bit I had my first amazing views, the sun was just rising over an expansive valley that opened up to the most beautiful winding river, edged with golden grass as far as I could see. The valley rising high to sharp granite peaks, named after some of the most prolific scientific thinkers from history. Hiking further up Evolution Valley it was only more elating. I rested against a rock, the Hermit (12,328ft) guarded over the north end of this glaciated basin exploded upwards before me. The rest of the group arrived & we ate lunch. Best damn morning of 2014 hands down.

| Evolution Valley |
| Evolution Valley |

Packing up we climbed from Evolution Valley up into Evolution Basin, heading above tree line. Along the way we met the infamous Don Miguel, the siren of the mountains. A wonderful old gentleman hiking the JMT, setting the slow pace record for the year & loving every moment of his pilgrimage. Skirting around almost every side of Evolution Lake was a beautiful way to spend the mid afternoon. Opting to call it a day at Saphire Lake was our best bet this far above the trees. My tent alone needs ground we can stake into & northbound travelers warned us that might be tricky up higher.

| The Hermit |

| The crew above Evolution Valley |

| Evolution Lake |
 The wind never let up the whole evening our group cooked dinner, tried to converse & filtered water. Then the clouds started to appear. All afternoon people on the trail had be talking rain & here we were, blowing in the wind without a grove of trees in sight. Eventually at the the late hour of 7pm (ha!) we all just climbed in our respective tents & gave in to whatever Mother Nature would bring our way. Sometime after midnight I got up to use the restroom, no rain had fallen & the night sky was blanketed in a mass of stars like I had never seen. It was so impressive I snagged my camera, tripod & down jacket to try and capture something. The wind was still relentless, I huddled in a rock alcove trying to get out of the wind will the 30 second exposures counted off.

| Looking over Evolution Lake |

| Sapphire Lake |
I had set my alarm for 5:30am, we had a big day & knew it would be hard to get going due to the elements. After some milling about we were up & gone a bit after 6:30, the sun hadn't broken over the mountains yet & the morning was brisk in the wind. At this point hiking was much warmer than standing around. I was proud of my clothing choices by this time on the trail because I had gone with exceptionally light versus guaranteed strength. Using the ultralight MontBell Dynamo Wind Pants was more than enough, layered with the Ice Breakers thermal bottoms. I was pleased to only need a two and half ounce pair of pants & running shorts the entire trip. Smart layering will get the job done.

We crested the last granite shelf that held Wanda Lake, a most stunning alpine lake surrounded by an absolutely barren rock landscape. Named after one of John Muir's daughter it held the gate key to Muir Pass, our mornings objective & much sought after goal. A long ramp of granite lead to the pass & we arrived much quicker than I had anticipated. Setting our packs down we all gawked at the most beautiful little stone hut that held some of the best real estate in the mountains. Muir Hut was build in 1933 in recognition of the famous conservationist & legend of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir.

| Heading towards Muir Pass |

| Wanda Lake |

After many photos were snapped, we dawned our packs & left the hut behind. We were at 11,955ft at this point very deep in a granite cirque with amazing summits surrounding us, but out next goal was just shy of 4,000ft below us in Le Conte Canyon & we knew it was going to be a long haul down. The scenery began to change as we rambled downhill, past several bright blue lakes, connected by the most idealic stream that slowly grew to a nice sized river. In the final sections down to the canyon floor the water plunges over a wonderful granite waterfall with views for miles into the long forest canyon.

| Amigos |

We were treated with another JMT treat upon arriving at the forest floor. The great rock monster was there waiting to devour any hiker trash that came close. Me managed to get out with only a scratch or two...

| Looking in Le Conte Canyon |

| Monster!! |
It was getting late in the afternoon & we were nearing the Le Conte backcountry ranger station. At this point in the trip two injuries got the better of us in one day. For several days now I had been wearing my knee brace & nursing an injury that has come & gone for the last year. At this point our friend also suffered a bad foot injury that threatened an end. We decided to camp in the area & see how things looked in the morning.

| Sweaty & bummed on my knee |

The next morning some extremely tough, but smart, decisions were made. Both my friend & I decided to back track some & take the Bishop Pass trail out & find a ride into town while Carlos headed on south to Palisade Lakes. All that sounds fine, but it just so happens the trail out of the mountains is the biggest climb we could have possibly come across to attempt in one day. We were at 8,500ft & needed to hike 6 miles to reach 11,980ft in a far off basin we wouldn't see for several hours.

| Dusy Basin look towards Bishop Pass |
| East side of Bishop Pass |
The initial climb out of the valley was a pretty physically demanding trail, consistent switchbacks took us far up above Le Conte right next to a wonderful cascade. At one point there is a foot bridge that cross a magnificent waterfall that towers far over head. Motivation increased once reaching Dusy Basin, things were going well & my knee was still going strong. The trail seems to meander heading towards the pass that stays out of sight for most of the climb. Extremely jagged peaks surround the whole area, Mt Agassiz dominate the pack. Making the final push to Bishop Pass we breathed a sigh of relief, it was 1:30pm & we had knocked out all the gain in a bit over 4 hours.

Though beautiful, we both dreaded the next 6 miles of downhill that was to come. The initial switchbacks that lead down the east side of the pass are a wonder of trail mechanics that impress the heck out of every person we spoke with. Clinging to the mountain granite, views spread out for miles over several marvelous alpine lakes. Further down the valley tundra & small trees are beginning to show. We continue on down the trail chatting up anyone we see heading towards the trailhead, in hopes that we may be able to hitch a ride with them.

| In Bishop |

After passing an amazing amount of lakes, at times walking right on their shoreline, we emerge onto the paved lot that holds about 20 cars. Things were looking up, we would definitely get a ride. Not twenty minutes went by & a nice day hiker from San Diego offered up some space & we sped off to the town of Bishop for pizza & beer. That night we wandered the town, we were vagabonds in the park & eventually settled into one of the two bars in town. After meeting enough people at that place, we crossed the street & checked out bar number two, another slow going fun time. Eventually our savior, in the form of an incredibly nice friend who drove all the way from LA on a moments call (no one expected the injury bail out), swooped us up & we drove all through the night back to the city.

| Onion Valley |

| Robinson Lake |

A day or so passed & a caravan of cars was heading back up the 395 via the 14, set about on our next leg of the journey. We had hopes that our injuries would subside & continuing on the trail would be an option. There was still several days of car camping to test it out. Our friend that had continued on the trail hiked out via Kearsarge Pass & met us for a relaxing few days off the trail in Onion Valley.  The usual glutenous experience ensued that is car camping with large amounts of food, warm fires, cold beer & great friends. On the last day, a hike up to Robinson Lake warned me that my knee was not ready for more backpacking though. I was really beaten down by this fact, but last year I spent 3 months in a knee brace & knew I could avoid it by making the right choice now. Wishing our friend luck, he set out solo to make it to Mt. Whitney.

Packing up we headed back to the city once again on the 395, bummed I wasn't in the backcountry. Although, there was still time to enjoy the Sierras. My parents had rented a cabin in Little Lakes Valley in the Mammoth region & suggested I come stay with them. So I packed all my stuff back into the car for the third time, hopped on the 14 freeway, then made the junction onto the 395 & sped north arriving sometime around 8pm to a fun little place tucked away high in the woods.

| Little Lakes Valley |

My parents & I spent time catching up about the trip & what we should do for the days to come. Over night snow had fallen lightly, just dusting everything perfectly. My Dad & I hiked up the valley enjoying all the scenery with it's new coating of white fluff. It was also a bit of scouting for another trip I have in mind for another summer. More snow began to fall adding a wonderful element to the outing on the trail. That afternoon we had lunch in Mammoth & got a drink at the brewery. Love their 395 IPA. A day earlier than expected I got a call from our friend saying he had arrived at Whitney Portal & was hitching a ride into Lone Pine. Cheers! He had completed the JMT!

That evening I left Little Lakes Valley on the 395 to pick up Carlos in Lone Pine, with the goal of eventually making back to LA that night. After a celebratory beer in town we both hopped in my car & made our way through the night back to city life.