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Welcome to Phil Reed’s backpacking blog!

PHOTO ALBUMS

PHOTO ALBUMS

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VIDEOS

 

“Phil·os·o·phy”

 noun: philosophy

1.  A theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.”don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, that’s my philosophy”

2.   What a person is likely to hear listening to Phil ‘wax poetically’ around a campfire.

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If the posts are old, that’s because I either haven’t been out recently or there wasn’t anything interesting to rant about!

You can view our trip photos from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers over at http://www.meetup.com/OCBackpackers/photos/

While you’re here you can view my personal web photos at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/100284807835224819162

Here’s the link to my trips on youtube http://www.youtube.com/user/PHILREEDSHIKES

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Philreedshikes Photo Albums

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We’re Back! John Muir Trail (JMT)!

Well, we’re back!  Geardog and I finally completed* the JMT on 18 July 16.

2016 photo album link: https://goo.gl/photos/GnmJDygbtc4KdEcP8

2015 photo album link: https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipOqRnI0riiSiTr7pKoi1CdEFiItN0cAx0DzHcrU

I’m going to turn 64 in a few weeks, and the trip was, uh, a bit tough on me.  I was in pretty good shape, walking about 7 miles a day, mixed with a 17 degree inclined treadmill in my study, up until about 3 weeks prior to flying out, when I developed a massive shin splint on my left shin.  So I stopped walking altogether, and thank God, that did the trick and it went away and hasn’t returned and I had absolutely no physical issues.  Well sort of.  On day 3, when we had just gone over Pinchot Pass, I hit some sort of “wall” and had zero energy, so we didn’t make that days goal, so we basically became 1 day behind.  I’m chalking that one up to acclimatization.

We actually started our JMT attempt last year (August 2015), north bound, from about 20 miles south of Mt Whitney, at Cottonwood/Horseshoe Meadows.  Unfortunately the Rough Fire in Kings Canyon NP was creating so much smoke, I had trouble breathing and combined with the hot weather, I was just dragging, so we bailed at our first re-supply point over Kearsarge Pass into Independence, Ca.  We stayed for a few nights at the Mt Williamson Hotel before flying home.  But we had fun and were determined to return and finish.  Man, it was a long year planning and waiting and waiting.

note:  I mention ‘north bound’ because the trail runs north-south from Yosemite Valley to the the summit of Mt Whitney, for a total of 211 miles.  The popular starting point is in Yosemite Valley, however, that popularity has forced the NP to have lottery for permits, which are now extremely hard to get.  There is also a lottery for permits to start at Mt Whitney.  There is no problem getting a permit for the JMT at almost every other entry point/trail head, and I had  no problem getting us permits to start our hike at Horseshoe Meadows, about 20 miles south of Mt Whitney.  Also, add in 14 miles for going over Kearsarge Pass twice for our re-supply and re-start.

DSC01961Above – Smoke view from Kearsarge Pass August 201511891097_841882112554275_8453471096773743118_n

Above – afternoon smoke view, below – same view in the morning (Independence, Ca)

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This year (July 2016) we flew into Mammoth Lakes, Ca (again), stayed overnight at the Shilo Inn, then the following morning caught the Easter Sierra Transit Bus  ($11.50) to Lone Pine where we picked up our permit and caught a shuttle ($80) to the Onion Valley forest service campground at about 9000′ where we camped for 2 nights to acclimatize ($20).  The following morning we were up and over Kearsage Pass (again!), but this time the skies were clear and we were able to take lots of pix.(with no smoke and hazy skies this time).DSC02165

Above – Kearsarge Pass July 2016

Hiking north bound we had the sun basically at our backs the entire trip, which was very nice.  We walked about 10 miles per day, which is about my max.

The mornings were very cold, averaging about 38-40f every single day with a few mornings approaching 32f.  Day temps averaged in the 60’s most of the time, peaking for a few hours in the low 80’s, then rapidly cooling off as the sun started its decent in the west.

Mosquitoes were a variable problem, huge at times, non-existent at times.  I used Skin-So-Soft bug juice with picareden from Avon, which the mosquitoes just HATED! thank god.  But I wished I had had a spray attachment to cover more skin area.

Our first resupply was at Muir Trail Ranch.  They had a couple of cabins available when we walked in and Geardog was able to snag 2 nights, so that was nice.  We were able to wash our clothes and eat some very good meals.

I wasn’t eating as much as I had planned, so I donated quite a bit to the ‘communal’ food bins.

By the time we got to Red’s for our second re-supply, the food I wasn’t eating was piling up so I tried to mail some home.

About 2pm at Red’s, I got a wild hair and jumped on the bus from Red’s to Mammoth in hopes of mailing a box home.  HOWEVER, the bus took about an hour to get to the Mammoth ski upper area, where I had to catch another bus down the mountain to the town, then yet another bus, this time the free city shuttle to rush to the post office.  I was told the last bus up the mountain to catch the Red’s shuttle was at 5pm so I was stressing big time!  I walked into the PO at 4:05 and wouldn’t you know it, the mother f*ckers were CLOSED! GOD DAMN!

So, very dejectedly, and looking like a homeless person, filthy, unshaven, I start the series of buses back up the mountain.  Then trail magic happened.  The nice lady bus driver of the bus to Red’s volunteered to mail the box for me!  I asked her to stuff the contents into a ‘if it fits, it ships’ priority flat rate box($18), gave her $25 and crossed my fingers.  Well, I received the box just 2 days after returning to Virginia!  THANK YOU TRAIL ANGEL!!

The weather was terrific.  Walking north bound was great, sun never in our eyes.  We walked down the ‘golden staircase’ instead of up (joy!) and down the north side of Donahue Pass into Yosemite which was a royal bitch, so glad we were not going up!

I will say this, huge crowds on the JMT.  Geardog made a game of counting the number of folks we passed while walking, the daily tally was always approaching 100!

When at Red’s, the neighboring little forest service campsite area, which I guess is the de-facto PCT/JMT hikers camp, quickly filled up creating a crowded mess.  About 25-30 tents crammed into an area of 4 small adjacent campsites.  The good part, the campground host didn’t bother to collect the fees.  But instead of staying 2 nights, we stayed just 1 night.

This year I brought tons of sun block and was able to hike mostly in shorts and a tee shirt.  The trails are covered with a pulverized powdered dirt and at the end of each day my legs were absolutely covered in grime and I needed to wash every night in a stream, where we both took the opportunity to wash out socks, shirts, hats, pants, whatever needed to be rinsed.

But since we made camp almost every day between 2-3, we had plenty of time to dry our stuff before the sun dipped below the towering ridge-lines.

We would mill around till about 6, eat, then retire to our tents, generally about 7pm.  I surely needed the long rest.

We got up everyday at 5am, packed up, ate breakfast, then hit the trail promptly at 7am. We took a short pause for a snack about 10am, then had about an 30-45 min  lunch around noon.  Geardog could have easily covered 5 more miles per day, but I was spent after about 10-11 miles and needed the rest; I’m just getting too old for this shit.

Of note were the swarms of mosquitoes that hit us at most every stream crossing during the middle segments.  If we stopped to change shoes, we were swarmed.  On the other side, we were swarmed.  If possible, geardog would cross over any log that was felled over the creek, and there were many.  A few were quite an act of death defying balance!  At one point I even reminded him that we were in the middle of no where and I didn’t like him taking these ‘unnecessary risks’, but a risk to one person, may not be to another, but thank goodness, he never fell.  Sometimes, I would plow through the stream in my trail runners and just let them dry out.

I want to mention that although the trail is somewhat crowded with JMT’ers and PCT’ers, you are really isolated and out in the middle of bum-f*ck Egypt.  Once you get away from the trail head, you reach a point of no return, if someone gets injured.  You either keep marching forward or backtrack to your trail head or try to get to a new trail head or possibly a distant ranger station. The trail heads are no bargain either, 20 miles at least in any direction, likely over an un-maintained trail and more than likely over a remote pass…good luck.  And once at the trail head, you are still 20 miles from the nearest town.  Another option, a distress satellite beacon, which alerts rescuers to your grid coordinate.  Geardog had one.  I made him show me how to operate it, in case he fell off one of the logs he was tip toeing across (sure, if I could recover his pack from the raging torrent!)

One thing about the JMT, you can’t carry all of your food, you will need to resupply, and NP regulations now require everyone to carry all their food in an approved bear canister.  The largest of these can only hold about seven days of food (if you’re lucky and are good at cramming).

We carried 6 days of food from Horseshoe Meadows then resupplied first in Independence, Ca, going the 7 miles one way over Kearsarge Pass.  We then carried 6 days from Onion Valley, the trail head below Kearsarge Pass, to Muir Trail Ranch.  Then we carried about 5 days of food from MTR to Red’s Meadow Resort (this is where I had the bus tragedy).  From there we carried 5 days of food to get us to Yosemite Valley.  Our original schedule had put us into Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite on a Sunday when the PO would have been closed or we could have sent 2 days of food there and carried only 3 days of food to Tuolumne Meadows.  As it turned out, our earlier delay had us arriving at TM when the PO was open, but by then it didn’t matter.  At TM I caught the bus back to Mammoth due to the plane reservations for 2 days later, I wasn’t sure I could make it back in time.  Geardog, a much faster hiker, went for the Valley, and made it back to Mammoth in the nick of time!

 

 

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JMT 2016 Prep Continues

I’m tracking PCT thru hikers and viewing their progress and especially their photos .

Right now the photos are showing snow that is still pretty deep with only 16 days until ‘wheels up.’

However, this entire post is a test of the WordPress app and the difficulty of writing about post one letter at a time!

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2015 IN REVIEW

January – (26-28 Dec actually)      – Cold Mountain backpack, 2 nights

February                                            – Backpacking 101 course

– Ski trip to Keystone, Colorado, 7 days, 5 days skiing

March                                                 – 2 nights camping with scouts, Camp Rock Enon

April                                                    – Three Ridges backpack 2 nights

– Outer Banks, NC (Scouts) 2 nights camping

May                                                     – Grand Canyon backpack, 5 nights, 6 days hiking

– Crabtree Falls (VA) camping 2 nights (scouts)

June                                                   – Tinker Cliffs-McAfee Knob backpacking, 2 nights

– Scout Camp, 6 nights

July                                                     – Dolly Sods backpack, 3 nights

– AT Section hike, North Carolina, 6 nights backpacking

August                                                -PCT/JMT High Sierra’s California, backpack, 7  nights,

(forest fire shortened)

– Tar Jack Ridge AT Section Hike, 2 nights backpacking

September                                          – Dolly Sods backpacking 2 nights

October                                               – Newport News Park Orienteering training (scouts),

2 nights camping

November                                            – Grayson Highlands backpack 2 nights

December                                            – Nothing so far

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Grayson Highlands-Mt Rogers National Recreation Area Backpack November 2015

We missed our October hike to the Graysons area due to massive rainstorms so we rescheduled to November.

Of course the leaves were down and we had a chance of weather.

Grayson Highlands State Park is adjacent to Mt Rogers National Recreation Area and is located in the far western part of Virginia.  Mt Rogers, at 5729′,  is the highest point in VA, and most of the hiking is right around 5000′.

The Appalachian Trail runs thru the MRNRA and turns south to make a large “U” thru Graysons.

GHSP (Grayson Highland State Park) and the MRA are home to several herds of wild ponies, and in spring thru fall,  a herd of Texas Longhorn  cattle.

But the best part of this area is that you can make a 3 day backpacking trip in an area with little or no tree tunnels. You are hiking thru and over a series of high (5000′) meadows, bare ridges, and rolling hills.

It was around 65F when Mike and Paula drove up from Virginia Beach to pick me up and start the 7 hours drive to Graysons.

We stopped in Newport News and linked up with Jen, Mike and Heather for the convoy.

The weather was forecast to  be in the 50’s and then drop to the 30’s for both nights, so we had a heads-up that we needed to be a bit prepared for our first cold hike of this season.

There had also been a wind advisory earlier in the week and that’s just the sort of thing you breeze (ha ha) right over when looking at the forecast.

Seven hours later we pull into the Park gate and Anna, from Roanoke, pulls in at the same time.  At the Backpackers Lot, we find Zack already there and changing clothes out of the back of the car.

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At that point we realize that we shouldn’t have disregarded the bit about wind conditions.

My temp gauge hanging from my pack was reading 36F and was dropping but the winds were surely giving us a wind chill in the low 20’s! Yikes!  No worries about getting hot and sweaty on the hike to the campsite!

Despite leaving Hampton at 0900, we didn’t arrive at the campsite until sunset, so tents were erected by headlamp. (it dawned on me at that moment, temps now in the 20’s, that I took out my spare headlamp batteries for the JMT and hadn’t replaced them, causing me to worry about this most of the weekend).

Paul and friends, whom had arrived earlier, had collected a huge amount of dead-fall so we had a great campfire while we cooked diner, again, under headlamps.

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I brought 2 liters of Gluh Wein (Zach carried 1liter for me), so after dinner we heated up 1 liter.  It was all gone in a second and was a big hit.  Probably any warm beverage is a hit in temps in the 20’s and a gusting steady wind.

That night, my temp gauge minimum reading was 22 under my vestibule, quite a unexpected for a “fall” hike.  However, everyone was prepared and we suffered no casualties, but we did have several water hoses and bottles tops freeze up.

On Saturday we took our usual route following the AT as it wound South East then turning North East leaving the trees as we went uphill into scrub vegetation, cresting over a hill and getting the magnificent views we came for, then dropping down into a valley, passing thru the “Scales”, a rather large stock corral, where we stopped for lunch.  We had great sunshine all day, but the temps were still in the upper 30’s with steady wind.

We needed to kill some time at the Scales since we only had about a 5 mile day, so I coerced several folks into letting me give a map reading class.  That killed about 30 minutes.

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Leaving the Scales, the AT heads north up out of the little valley goes into the trees and up to about 5000′ then drops over a hilltop going down to the next shelter and then to the highway that bounds the recreation area.

Also leaving the Scales, the Crest Trail parallels the AT up to the 5000′ elev then turns due West in the direction of our campsite for Saturday, Rhododendron Gap and Wilson Ridge.  The Crest Trail is primarily a horse trail on an old road but the big difference it doesn’t dive into the forest so you have the spectacular views of the valley below while you walk.

So as we left the Scales, half the group continued up on the AT where they would eventually link to yet another trail, the Pine Mountain Trail, also at the 5000′ point (a busy trail junction indeed!), turning West and paralleling the Crest Trail again and separated by only a few hundred yards, but in the trees.  So I guess you’re trading the views for a wind block (?).

Note:  It’s a bit hard to explain, but the Pine Mountain Trail used to be the AT until it (the AT) was re-routed South at Rhodo Gap so it would loop around and into Graysons, going south then east (where we picked it up), then north (where it goes thru Scales) up over the 5000′ junction where it links back with it’s old self.

So my group heads west on the Crest Trail and the great views.  Well, the sun was shining and the trail had been repaired so the walking was greatly improved, so we had an excellent time and took many photos.

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We checked out the spring just before the campsite, it was good, then

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arrived at the most magnificent campsite in VA. and set up tents.

About 30 minutes later, the other group arrived.

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Tents up, water purified, bear hangs skipped, wood collected, fire started, meals cooked, gluh wein drank, yadda yadda yadda.

As I head to my tent, really early, but a while after sunset, a freaking herd of ponies enters our campsite to graze, and apparently mate, right over my tent.  Fortunately for me, Buff notices that their friskiness is leading a pair dangerously close to my tent and yells them off, more or less.  Thanks Buff!

Next morning, super cold, a few incidents of water freezing, great sunrise, lots of photos, great breakfast, pack up and head out.

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Hiked to Rhodo Gap,

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hiked over and along Wilson Ridge,

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noticed the park had new trail signs making it much easier to find the right trail, in the mish-mash of trails, back to the back packers parking lot.

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Then off to Marion and the McAdoo Restaurant for a very very nice feast, then everybody headed home.

The end.

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JMT August 2015 Attempt (Fire Shortened) Reflections

Lone Pine

If you ever make it to Lone Pine, Ca, be sure to visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum, over 200 western B films were shot just behind Lone Pine in the Alabama Hills.

Lone Pine is the town at the highway junction for Whitney Portal, a term for the trail head and control point for permits to either hike up Mt Whitney or enter the Sequoia National Park/John Muir Wilderness at that point and start the John Muir Trail, with or without hiking up Whitney.

Lone Pine is also the town for the Cottonwood trail head just south of the Whitney Portal, but about 20 or so hiking miles on the PCT  from Cottonwood to Crabtree Meadows.

We stayed at the “Historic Dow Villa” hotel, a very nice elder hotel which once hosted the movie star VIPs filming in the Alabama Hills.  We stayed in the William Boyd aka “Hopalong Cassidy” room.  Very nice hotel but no food, but there’s a nice place to have breakfast next door.

Shuttle

We needed to get from the airfield at Mammoth Lakes to our hotel in Lone Pine.  Then from Lone Pine to the Cottonwood trail head.  And, if all went well, from Yosemite back to Mammoth Lakes to fly out.  The charge for the the two of us was a whopping $750!!!  There is a bus that travels the 385 corridor in Owens Valley and that may be an option for next time.  The taxi (if you forget to arrange a shuttle with your hotel) from the Mammoth Lakes airfield to the Shilo Inn is $17 per person.

Food resupply

We initially carried 7 days of food in bear canisters.  We sent food to the Mt Williamson hotel (7 days), Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) (7 days), Reds (4 days) and the Yosemite Tuolumne Post Office (2 days).  We lost the food at MTR and Reds due to their return policy.  Still waiting to see if the post office at Tuolumn will return my food package.

The food I picked up at the Mt Williamson hotel was put in my pack and shipped home.

Food

I don’t know what I was thinking, thinking I would eat oatmeal and raisins 22 days straight.  That lasted about 3 days before I started picking the raisins out of the baggie and eating granola bars.

I spent a lot of time adding up each days food to try to reach 2000 calories per day.  I reached it by adding lots of peanut butter packets (1 each Jiff per day), flour tortilla (2 per day), mixed nuts (about 1 hand full per day), a little chocolate (1 hershey Mr. Goodbars, xlarge for 7 days). and 3 mozzarella string cheese per day.

I think the only thing I’d change is a little more variety for breakfast, maybe mix up flavors of instant oatmeal, maybe some grits, possibly pop tarts.

The weight of my canister loaded for 7 days was 12.5 lbs.  The canister weighs 2.6 lbs so the seven days of food was about 1.5 lbs per day which surprised me.  I repackaged everything into ziplocks because I’m lazy and didn’t want to wash a bowl every night, but got real tired eating out of a bag every meal.

If I had increased the number of calories per day, I’m not sure how the increased volume would have fit into the canister!

My pack weighed, without canister+food, about 21 lbs, so the food brought it up to around 33 lbs, the last minute crap (maps, sunglasses, etc.), probably brought it up to a max wt of 35 lbs. (incl 1 liter water)

My dinner meals were primarily from Hawk Vittles and worked pretty well. Cooking or should I say re-hydrating, was indeed problematic, especially at camps above 11,250 and again at 12,500.  When I started using my beanie as a cozy the process worked A LOT BETTER and the food turned out much better.

Weather/Clothing

There were two types of hikers, those with long sleeves, long pants, wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and those in t-shirts and shorts.

I wanted to be in the latter category.

The backs of my hands started to sunburn before I remembered to use sun block.  So here’s what I observed:  if you’re going to wear shorts/t-shirts (and it was hot!), you need to carry a LOT OF SUN BLOCK!!!  I was doomed to long sleeves/long pants because my small vial of sun block would not have made it doing more than my hands and face-neck area.

Water

My biggest concern was how much water I would need to carry.  I had paid attention to the postings and guidebooks on those stretches with little or no water.  Only once or twice was I worried enough to carry more than 1 liter so I carried 2 liters, used only 1 or 1.5 l.  I’m going to say there was plenty of water and those ‘dry areas’ no more than 1.5-2 liters is required.

My 4 liter gravity filter (my 1 of 2 luxury items) is a hassle to filter just 1 liter on the trail, so we used Rich’s steripen on the trail and my platypus in camp.

Equipment

Feathered Friends 20F 900 fill down bag (1lb) was way too hot.  30F quilt would have sufficed.  The only time my bag was comfortable was when the night temps dropped down into the upper 40’s in the pre-dawn hours.

Everywhere we camped the ground was able to take the tent stakes, not like the Grand Canyon corridor where the sites must have concrete under the dirt and people were bending or snapping tent stakes trying to pound them in with rocks.

A kilt probably would have worked fine, although I’m sure I would have been washing the fine dust out of my crotch area each night at camp.  That said, every day at camp I would give myself a full body ‘once over’ with a wet bandanna sitting on the edge of the creek or lake.  The air was so dry, you would be dry about 2 minutes after soaking yourself.

My Keene low top hiking boots with heavy duty insert worked fine.  I think anything lighter would have not been supportive, given the sporadic rocky stretches.

Trail

God bless California trail blazers/maintainers!  They sure know the definition of switchbacks and aren’t afraid to build them.  Colorado could learn a lesson or two on how to build a trail up to a pass.

Our shuttle driver warned us that the trails in the high Sierra’s were harder/rockier than the AT (or so he had heard).  That was bullshit.  When you take altitude out of the equation, the AT, IMO, is still the king of sharp rocks and randomness.  The trails were well built, wide, graded, and well maintained, typical ‘western’ trails.  I felt the ‘hardest’ trail condition, although very flat, was a  2 day stretch, pummeled by horse and mule trains into sand, like walking on beach, not providing much purchase to each step, requiring a little more effort over the long run.

That’s not to say going over a pass was easy, but that wasn’t the fault of the trail, blame the altitude.  The trails over the passes had wonderful switch backs.  In some places the nature of the rock required the building of rather large steps and/or picking your way thru rubble deliberately placed to stop erosion, but totally apropos to the terrain.

Smoke

Don’t hike in it.  Smoke killed the trip.  I felt tired and drained in the smoke.  You can’t take photos of fantastic vistas, well, you can, but all you get is a smoke shot.  Never got to the point of coughing, but the smoke was making my eyes hurt even as we went to bed.

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(UPDATED) JMT THRU-HIKE ENDED BY MASSIVE WILDFIRE IN KINGS CANYON NP

Note:  this is my very initial trip report.  I will undoubtedly add more details on our logistics and lessons learned as I get to it.

Photo Link

As our plane flew from LAX to Mammoth Lakes you could look out the window and see the flames of a huge wild fire in the mountains. Wow, I thought, glad that’s not where I’m going!

Farther north, as we approached Mammoth Lakes I was hoping the pilot was familiar with this small landing field – as you couldn’t see the runway from the smoke!  Rumors were that this smoke was from a ‘smaller’ fire that was pretty much contained, nothing to worry about.

The next morning as we got ready for our shuttle to Lone Pine the sky was clear again and all was looking good, very good!

This was the acclimatization part of the trip.  Twelve hours or so and one night at Mammoth Lakes (7900′), drive to Lone Pine, Ca (3700′), hotel overnight, visit the Motion Picture Museum celebrating the hundreds of movies filmed in the Alabama Hills or on the vast prairie with the Sierras in the background.  Then shuttle to the trailhead at Cottonwood (10,023′).

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One night about 1  mile past the campground, then a short day over Cottonwood Pass (11,145′) and 1 night at Chicken Spring Lake (11,280).  I was going to make damn sure I acclimatized right for this trip.  Last summer (2014) in the Bridger Wilderness of Wyoming, I rushed it and spent several days feeling like shit before I finally got my full wind, and then the trip was about over!

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These first days were great, if not really hot, even at 11,000′.  Not the cool nights forecast.  If it did get cool, it was always just before dawn (duh) after a long night of burning up.  Well, maybe, that’s what you get when you bring a no-shit 20F bag!

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Anyway, the skies were blue and the days clear and very warm.  Surprising how intense the sun can feel at 11,000′ and the temps only in the 70’s!

When we finally got to serious walking, the sky was still blue and all was good with the world.  I could breathe great and felt great!  The time spent getting used to the altitude had really worked, it’s great being retired and having plenty of time!

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My only complaint, if one has complaints in the MOST SPECTACULAR SCENERY IN THESE UNITED STATES, is that this early section of the PCT (we would not hit the JMT until we reached Crabtree Meadowns), was also a horse trail, very sandy and as I walked behind Rich, I was literally getting covered by the dust he was kicking  up, a very fine, brown dust.

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(I’m going to summarize to get this posted)

When we reached Forester Pass (13,200′) the smoke to the north west had become pretty evident.

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South of the pass, skies were pretty clear.  Up on the pass, around noon, smoke had filled the valley, killing any chance of epic photos.

This started the trend we’d see for the next few days, clear early mornings, little or no wind, then about mid to late morning, the wind would pick up bringing in the smoke.  Around noon the smoke was all around and just past noon, the sun was blotted out.  Around midnight the smoke dissipated and one could see the stars again.

Our highest camp at this point was just below Forester Pass, at 12,500′, WOW!.  Even the smallest of camp chores left me a bit winded.

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Very few photo ops descending into Bubbs Creek and Vidette Meadow.  As we got further into the valley, the smoke got worse and it seemed, to me, much hotter.  This is when I started to really drag for the first time.  At the time I felt it was the heat draining me, but it was the smoke/heat combination.

We were headed ultimately over Kearsarge Pass (11, 834′) to Onion Valley trailhead, where we’d link up with our shuttle into Independence, Ca for our first resupply.

So because I was dragging, we went on past Bull Frog Lake and set up camp at one of the upper Kearsarge Lakes, so we could hit the pass early, leaving us enough time to meet the shuttle the next day at 1pm.

Here we met a group who confirmed the rumor we heard about a very large fire here in Kings Canyon NP which was filling the entire area with smoke.  This turns out to be the “Rough” fire, which is still burning out of control, causing evacuations, a full week later as I write this.

We consider bailing, but decide to wait until we get to the hotel in Independence before making any decisions.

As I said, we decided to get u  p early to give us enough time to get over Kearsarge Pass and down to Onion Valley trailhead to catch our shuttle at 1pm, else we’d have to hitch hike down to Independence (16 miles).

We got up at 4 a.m. (YIKES!) and hit the trail about 5:30 a.m.  Funny story, around 5-ish, just after having a bite to eat with headlamps – in the pitch dark -, I hear, the, um, call of nature, so off I go, being able to see only what my headlamp reveals, down among the rocks and boulders to find a nice ‘spot’.  Well wouldn’t you know it, each time I find a good boulder to go behind, there’s a tent that popped up in the night, other hikers leaving the smoke I guess….so I, trying to be courteous and not leave any morning breakfast ‘surprises’ take off once again, in the dark to find solitude, each time with an increased sense of urgency, ahem.  Each time I’m looking back to glimpse the reflective tape on Rich’s bear vault to keep my bearing and not get too lost.  We’ll after – doing my duty – I look back and find that Rich has apparently moved or packed his bear vault because the reflection which I could still make out at over 100 yards had disappeared, what to do now?  I called out and thank goodness Rich heard me and responded.

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So anyway, we hit the trail, thankfully full of energy and surprisingly make the pass by about 0630 (about 1 mile and 800′ elev gain), snap some photos at the top then make the 5 miles to the trail head by about 9-ish, great time, but now a long wait(?), luckily I had cell reception and got hold of our shuttle who had just dropped off that mornings fare, who then turned around and picked us up about 30 minutes later (yeah!).

They had our room ready (Mt Williamson Hotel) so we were able to get our clothes washed, our resupply food was waiting in the room, and take much needed showers!

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That afternoon the mountains became obscured by the smoke (Rich’s photo’s above) and our hostess (Strider) and owner of the hotel was telling us about the fire and the fact she was using a respirator to deliver food resupply further down the trail!  That about did it for me, I was in no mood to hike in the smoke.  The fire was forcing evacuations and had burned by then several homes and businesses in the area and was (is) marching closer and closer to the JMT.  Rich later decided that in this case, discretion was definitely the better part of valor and decided to bail with me.  Rich is an extremely strong hiker/mountain climber whose trail name should be ‘Superman’.

To be continued….

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