Tuesday, June 21, 2016

JMT Resupply Planning

Planning your resupplies for the John Muir Trail is, to say the least, a pain in the butt. The up side to doing it is: you're going to hike the John Muir Trail! So it's at least a little exciting to prepare for your trip.

Last time around I planned to hike the whole thing, start to finish, with 3 resupplies at Tuolumne Meadows (TM), Red's, and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I didn't hike all of that - it's a long story - but I'm going back to finish it up this year. In fact, I'm hiking my favorite part of the trail in its entirety in addition to finishing what I didn't do last time. I'm going from Tuolumne Meadows to Charlotte Lake, then over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley. I swore I'd never do Glen Pass again since I've already done it twice but, well... it's happening.

Last time around, I messed up when planning my food. I packed things I didn't like to eat. I bonked a few times. I planned to go from MTR to Whitney Portal without a resupply in the middle. My plans just sort of sucked all around. So here's what I learned:

  • I get really sad any time I have to carry more than 5 days of food at a time.
  • I don't actually really like Snickers.
  • I don't like trail mix at all.
  • Dried fruit gets really unappealing really fast, but if I have to eat any of it, prunes are my favorites.
  • It's nice to have a cup of tea at night.
  • Cheese and jelly beans are pretty much my favorite trail foods. I would live on them if I could.
  • The brewery in Mammoth is awesome. I am absolutely eating there when I reach Red's. No need to pack dinner that night.
  • The food at Red's is atrocious. I'd rather eat my dehydrated crap than what they've got. (Note to others reading this: I'm a foodie. If you aren't into organic, healthy, pasture-raised, whole grain, free range, hippie foods, you'll probably like their food just fine. But I don't.)
  • The food at VVR is amazing. Eat there.
  • You've probably heard it said already but MTR won't feed you unless you are a paying guest. Really.
  • However, the hiker bins at MTR are a place to find wonderful treasures and deliciousness.
  • The lodge at Tuolumne Meadows, which is right on the trail, sells these amazing breakfast burritos to go, but it's even nicer to eat there if you have time. If you started in the Valley, then by the time you reach it, you will REALLY appreciate their little fruit salad cups.
  • Good To-Go brand meals are delicious, despite the high price. The best one I had was Herbed Mushroom Risotto. However, I suspect the chili made me fart.
  • DO NOT take the ultralight people's advice and repackage your meals if you are eating curry!! That shit gets ALL OVER EVERYTHING and then all of your food tastes like curry.
  • If you DO feel the need to repackage your curry-flavored meals, pack up your neutral flavored food FIRST. Start with the most neutral tasting foods, get those squared away, and THEN handle the more flavorful stuff.
  • Adding a few dried herbs to basic, boring dehydrated meals available for purchase can really help them taste better.
  • Adding cheese to dried bean dishes REALLY helps it out.
  • Oatmeal tastes like paste after three weeks of having it for breakfast. I think adding sugar helps.
  • Granola, on the other hand, was too sugary-sweet for me for breakfast. I tried that on a subsequent backpack after the JMT and it was gross.
  • Mary Jane's Farm has some good meals but they all tend to use different permutations of the same so you can get sick of them easily even if you've packed different meals. For example, Curry in a Hurry is just Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice with cheese. The same cheese that is in Chilimac and Cheesy Noodle Casserole, which are also almost identical to one another. Some of the Mary Jane's meals were too salty (Chilimac and Cheesy Noodle Casserole) and others (Black Bean and Corn Chowder) weren't salty enough. I fixed that by mixing them together.
  • Variety is IMPORTANT!!!! Last year I bought 2 Mary Jane's Farm meals in bulk and planned to eat them on many nights. It got gross by Day 2. Switch up your food, because if your food isn't appealing and you can't eat it, well... that's a big problem for multiple reasons.
  • One set of batteries in my Petzl headlamp was enough for the whole trip, although I still brought spare batteries anyway. My old Black Diamond headlamp constantly turned on in my pack and that thing ate batteries constantly.
  • As a female, one roll of toilet paper lasted approximately 8 days on the trail.

So.... here goes planning for this year. I am going to drive up to Mammoth, drop a resupply box at Red's, grab YARTS to Tuolumne, and start there. Then I'll hike out Kearsarge, hitch a ride to Independence or Lone Pine, and grab ESTA back to my car in Mammoth. The only resupply that needs to go out ahead of time is therefore the big, stupid MTR bucket that makes me angry at MTR even as I look at it, since they are so unfriendly to hikers and they charge so damn much. But that's the price I am paying to avoid carrying too many days of food at once.

So here's what I need:

  • TM to Red's: 3 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 3 dinners (getting a burrito at the Lodge in Tuolumne for 1 breakfast)
  • Red's to MTR: 5 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 5 dinners (Taking a zero in Mammoth, eating dinner out, and eating a dinner and a breakfast at VVR)
  • MTR to Kearsarge: 8 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 7 dinners (Taking a zero at MTR so it's OK if a full day's worth of food is kind of heavy or bulky because I'll eat it there.)

So here's the plan:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, again, even though it tastes like paste. I'm packing brown sugar in a separate bag so I can add it to my oatmeal to taste each morning. Last year I tried mixing in the sugar ahead of time and I didn't add enough. Starbucks Via again as my coffee. It's gross. But the other options are worse.

Lunches: On my zero at MTR I'm going to have cooked veggie quinoa and wild Alaskan salmon. I don't want to carry around a fishy-smelling salmon wrapper, so that's something to eat where I can toss out the packaging. Otherwise, I've got cheese, salami, Jelly Bellies, bars (still looking for the kind I want to get for this year), Amy's brand candy bars, prunes, and olives. I only got a few packages of olives. They are a brand called Oloves and I've tried them. They are tasty. I don't know what kind of cheese I'm going to get yet. I might send one kind that is very shelf-stable in the MTR resupply and then bring something like an aged cheddar for the first part of the trip. I've got the salami already. It's a brand called Olli and it tastes good.

Dinner: I've got a mix of things for dinners. I've got five nights of Good To-Go brand. Three of them are the Herbed Mushroom Risotto, one Indian Vegetable Korma, and one Thai Curry. I'm going to repackage the risotto, but not the other stuff. The down-side to this brand is the packaging is obnoxiously huge and inflexible, and hard to shove in a bear can. For the remaining nights I'm going to have dehydrated soups I got from the bulk bins at my local food co-op. I'm going to be mixing it up between split pea, corn, black bean, refried beans, and curried lentil. I'm adding thyme, rosemary, cayenne, and dried kale leaves to several of them. I also added a dried shiitake mushroom or two to one of the split pea packages. I'm bringing dehydrated veggies separately and adding them to my food. I think I might also mix some of the black beans into the refried beans to take the flavor down a notch because I've tasted this stuff and it's a little over the top with the seasoning. The black beans, on the other hand, are nice and bland. For tea, I bring coca tea. It's good for altitude and you can buy it online from Peru.

Non-Food Items: Omnifix for blisters, any other first aid items, a roll of toilet paper in the MTR resupply. Dr. Bronner's soap in the MTR resupply. Trail maps for the next section of the trail after each resupply. Tampons... still need to work out when I'll need those. Hopefully not at all. And I'll buy fuel when I get there, so I think that's it!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

PCT Miles 42 to 49

This post goes from the South Boundary of Burnt Rancheria Campground at mile 41.6 to where the the GATR road at Penny Pines where there is water at the Noble Canyon Trailhead at mile 48.9. I did it in two out-and-back hikes, stopping and then starting again at mile 44.7, where the PCT meets the Big Laguna Trail. If you take the turn-off for the Big Laguna Trail, it's 0.5 mi to a parking lot on Sunrise Highway. There's no water or anything else useful there, just a parking lot. The Big Laguna Trail parking is not listed in the PCT Guidebook I'm using but if you're a day-hiker looking to do a part of the trail or a thru-hiker who might need to get to the highway to hitch a ride somewhere, it's useful to know.

This post will go from south to north (a.k.a. NOBO) beginning just north of the southern boundary of Burnt Rancheria Campground. The trail here overlaps with the Desert View Trail, which has numerical markers along the way:

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About mile 41.8

It's a pretty stretch of trail at sunset:

Mt Laguna Sunset

Black Oak at Sunset

Well, it's a pretty stretch of trail all the time. The leaves in the photo above, by the way, are Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii. You saw a lot of live oaks at lower elevations, but up here on Mt. Laguna and at mid elevations throughout the state, you'll see black oaks. You might also see a granary tree, a tree where an Acorn Woodpecker has stored the acorns of the Black Oak:

Granary Tree

You come to the water at Burnt Rancheria campground, which has a spur trail to the campground itself. But the water is right on the trail. It is at PCT Mile 42.3 and it is only available when the campground is open, May to October. Here is what it looks like:

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If you take the spur trail to Burnt Rancheria, it lets out at campsite #76... which isn't useful info necessarily if you are a PCT thru-hiker, but if you are looking to do a day hike or section hike on the PCT starting at Burnt Rancheria, it's good to know.

Keep going along, and you hit the spot where the Desert View trail leaves the PCT. It's well-marked with signs.

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You can see the huge drop down into the desert:

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At mile 43, you come to the Mt. Laguna resupply at a paved road to Stephenson Peak, near Desert View Picnic Area. It is marked with signs:

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You're at an unnamed, unmarked paved road, which is just off of Sunrise Highway:

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If you are looking for this spot from Sunrise Highway, it's near address 703.

You can see this thing that looks like Epcot Center:

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Once you get back on the trail, keep going to another paved road at mile 43.6. This is also unnamed and unmarked. From Sunrise Highway, it is blocked off to cars:

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It has this thing (not quite a sign) to the north:

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And to the south:

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And it is nearest to this address:

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Walk past the gate and there is a nice sign telling you the PCT is here:

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The trail is marked at either side of the road:

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Just over a mile up the trail, you hit the junction with the Big Laguna Trail at PCT mile 44.7:

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If you need to get back to Sunrise Highway, take the turn-off for the Big Laguna Trail (leaving the PCT), and you'll reach a parking lot at Sunrise Highway half a mile away.

I passed a Coulter Pine with its huge cones:

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I took this photo of a Coulter Pine cone next to my hiking boot, so you can see the size of it:

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Yeah. Seriously. The size of pineapples.

Here's the trailhead for the Big Laguna Trail:

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And some nice maps:

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Big Laguna Trail is near Mile 25 of Sunrise Highway, and you can see where it hits the PCT just northeast of the highway. The "You Are Here" arrow is pointing to the Big Laguna Trail trailhead.

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Here is another map, for the rest of this section of the trail covered here:

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The "You Are Here" arrow points to the Penny Pines parking area.

As you can see, the PCT remains east of the highway, toward the desert. It goes away from Sunrise Highway for a ways, and then comes back toward it and goes alongside it for a bit, until it reaches Penny Pines.

This was not my favorite section of trail. As you continue on past the Big Laguna Trail turnoff, you walk through a lovely area shaded by oaks and pines and protected from wind. You don't see it until you are past it, but you are walking around this peak to your east, and it is doing a great service shielding you from the wind. I think it's Monument Peak.

Woods
Lovely, shady woods.

Monument Peak
A view of Monument Peak once you've hiked past it heading NOBO.

After you reach the other side of the peak, there are a few turnoffs toward the desert but you keep going straight. Now, and until you reach Penny Pines, there is nothing shielding you from the wind. And boy is it windy. The vegetation is all short, and you can see that it burned in the past and it once was a bit taller. It seems like a catch-22: there's no shielding from the wind because the vegetation is short, and the vegetation remains short because of the dang wind.

The wildflowers change too. There's no more Diamond Clarkia, no more Chinese Houses, and no more Grand Collomia here. I saw gorgeous early June flower displays, and it made me sad that few thru-hikers would get to see some of my favorites, like Scarlet Larkspur. Then - right after I thought that, a thru-hiker came past me. He started on June 11. Well... it's not how I'd go about thru-hiking the PCT but at least he got to see the scarlet larkspurs that way.

By the way, this is not cool:

Graffiti

Leave our beautiful manzanitas alone if you are lucky enough to hike among them, please.

I see Giant Four O'Clocks, a flower that grows above 3000 feet in desert transition ecosystems here:

Giant Four O'Clock

Giant Four O'Clock

Giant Four O'Clock

And short-lobe phacelia:

Short Lobe Phacelia

Short Lobe Phacelia

You'll notice you're in an area that burned relatively recently:

Burned Area

You pass a turn-off to Foster Point:

Sign for Foster Point

A cute little California Kingsnake crossed the trail:

California Kingsnake

And there's a nice view of the desert:

Desert View

On the trail, there's Yerba Santa growing:

Yerba Santa

And this little flower:

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You are still in an area that has obviously burned:

Burned Trees

Burned Area

As you continue to hike back toward the road, you see this observation point from a distance:

Observation Point at Sunrise Highway

You can't walk straight there, without going steep down and back up. If you look at the highway just south of there, you can see where you're headed. The trail kind of switchbacks around this area where the elevation drops off steeply, before bringing you to the road:

Sunrise Highway from the PCT

From there you go past the observation point, which I don't think is marked on any maps I've seen:

Observation Point at Sunrise Highway

The trail has a cement bench there, and there's also a trail from the PCT to the observation point (and the highway).

Bench on the PCT

From here on out, the trail basically hugs the road. Due to the steep drop-off however, the trail goes below the highway and you can't even see the road from the trail. But it's just above you. And... now you start to pass several of my favorite flowers.

Scarlet Larkspur, which typically bloom in early June:

Scarlet Larkspur

And a purple variety of Larkspur:

Larkspur

Turn around and you'll see the burned area you just switchbacked through:

Burned Area

When you are about to Penny Pines, here's your view of the desert:

View of the Desert

If you look south to the area of the mountains you just came from, you see this:

The View from the Trail

The gorgeous fuchsia blooms of the wild peas are now giving way to peas themselves:

Wild Peas

And more scarlet larkspur:

Scarlet Larkspur

Scarlet Larkspur

Scarlet Larkspur

(If you can't tell, I really like this flower.)

During this last bit of this section, you'll see blooming ceanothus during much of the spring, but they are done blooming by now. Now there are lots of California thistles, Yerba Santa, and morning glories, which grow on vines have white flowers and leaves shaped like arrowheads.

When you reach the Penny Pines turnoff, the guidebook says there is a "GATR road." Well, whatever that is, it just looks like trail. Not even a very long trail. You're practically at the road already. And it is delightfully well-marked. You'll want to follow this sign, to your left:

Trail Sign

Were you to skip the water and continue forward, you'd follow this sign toward Garnet Peak:

PCT Sign

Assuming you want water, hang that left and go to the road. There are actually two trailheads at the Penny Pines parking area that get you to the PCT.

This one:

Trail Sign

Which is near this thing:

Penny Pines

And this one:

Trail Sign

The trail sign marked "Water" send you to the latter. You can still see the radio tower and the Epcot looking thing from the road.

Radio Tower

View from Penny Pines

Not that you'll have any serious land nav situations here, but those are nice landmarks to have if you did. Or, if you're a newbie to land nav, those are good to use for compass and map practice.

In any case, look across the street for the water. There's a large board with signs and a map, and the faucet is nearby, very low to the ground. I've seen thru-hikers camped here. It's a nice place to camp, and certainly a handy spot to be after a stretch without much water when the campgrounds aren't open and before the next bit, which has a water cache at Pioneer Mall (mile 52.7) followed by 24.9 miles without water. When I was there in March the ground was covered in Baby Blue Eyes and California Buttercups. Now this were Common Goldenstars all over:

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For all of my posts on the PCT, click here