Monthly Archives: August 2015

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….