Saturday, July 23, 2016

JMT Tuolumne to Reds: Day 2

Lyell Canyon to the Rush Creek Junction
Miles: 10.1
Elevation Gain: 2210 ft

My friends woke me up when they got up - at 6:30am. There was no way I was getting up with them. At a quarter to eight they told me they were heading out. They were going to hike at least to the Marie Lakes junction, and ideally to the Rush Creek Junction. They'd put out a bandana on the trail to mark where they had camped so I could find them. And they left.

I went back to sleep, expecting my tent to eventually get baking hot and drive me out of it, as it always does when the sun beats down on it. But it didn't. I was in the shade, and my tent stayed cool. Around 9:30, I got up.

The bugs were still bad. I cooked breakfast and took care of all of my chores in the sun, where the mosquitoes did not bother me as much. It was strange suddenly rediscovering old routines I had not done in a year.

I have to pack my water first in a pocket for it in my pack. Next is my sleeping bag, on the bottom of the pack. Then my bear can on top of that, my sleeping pad to one side of the bear can, and my down jacket on the other side. Everything else goes in after that, and I close up the main compartment of the pack. Food for the day and other things I might need as I hike go in the outside pockets: AquaMira, soap, my trowel, toilet paper, bug repellent, my notebook and pen, my mosquito net outfit, and my sun gloves.

But where were my sun gloves? I couldn't find them. I'd look for them later, I figured.

To get everything done as efficiently as possible so I could pack in the right order, I let the air out of my sleeping pad while I was still on top of it, rolled up my sleeping bag and put it in the stuff sack, and then I got up and dressed. Normally I would put on my camp shoes, but with the mosquitoes as they were, I put on my socks and hiking boots. I also put on my mosquito jacket and pants.

Once out of my tent, I began by mixing the Part A and Part B drops of AquaMira, which take 5 minutes to react. Then I went to the river to get water.

When I came back, I filled my pot with water, lit my stove, and put the pot on to boil. While it was going, I filled my bladder with water and added the AquaMira drops. Then I checked my watch, and put the full water bladder in my pack. It required 15 minutes before the water was safe to drink.

Next, I got out my breakfast food: a bag of oatmeal and chia seeds, a bag of brown sugar, a bag of raisins, and a packet of Starbucks Via instant coffee. The coffee's gross, by the way, but it's less gross than other brands of instant coffee I've tried. The oatmeal is gross too.

While waiting for the water to boil, I divided the food in my bear can into two groups: Stuff I needed to eat during the day - cheese, salami, jellybeans, and a bar - and stuff I didn't. Everything that I wasn't eating during the day went back into the bear can.

The water boiled and I turned it off. I'd already put the Starbucks Via into my mug, so I poured enough water in there to fill up the mug. Then I put oatmeal, raisins, and brown sugar into the remaining water in the pot and mixed it with my titanium spork. I really don't understand the purpose of using a spork while backpacking. I never use the fork part of it. It's basically a stupid looking spoon with a dumb name.

I accidentally spilled too much sugar into my oatmeal, and I ate it all anyway. It tasted like overly sweetened paste with a mild hint of taco seasoning. Another bag in my bear can contained refried beans and smelled strongly of taco seasoning. I guess it's a mistake to bring anything with strong spices in a ziplock baggy unless you want your oatmeal to taste like it for the entire trip. Last year I brought curry and my oatmeal tasted of curry.

With my oatmeal eaten and coffee drunk, I washed my dishes with some of the remaining water in my collapsible bucket. Then I washed the underwear I wore the day before and poured out the rest of the water, hoping the bucket would dry. I like to do my laundry in the evenings if I can, but I was just too dead tired the night before to bother. I wasn't willing to wear dirty underwear, but I didn't bother washing my shirt or socks. Neither really smelled that bad and I just couldn't deal with them.

Now I was ready to close my bear can and begin packing. First I put in my sleeping bag, then the bear can. I rolled up my sleeping pad and put it to one side of the bear can, and stuffed my jacket in on the other. Then I added the rest of my clothing, except for my wet, clean undewear, and my bucket (still a bit wet). I put my fuel and my lighter inside my pot, and packed my pot. Then I closed up my pack.

I packed most everything else in the outside front pocket. I attached my camp shoes by their straps to my mug, which has a carabiner as a handle, and attached the mug to the outside of my pack. I tied my bandana to the outside as well. I hung my underwear off of the pack to dry as I hiked.

Then I put on my hat, set my camera (in its case) and trekking poles next to my full pack, and put away my tent. I attached the tent to the outside of my pack, and I was ready to go. I put on my pack, attached my camera case to my hip belt, grabbed my poles, and set off. It was comforting to have a routine to fall back on in the morning. It took me an hour to get ready even though I felt like I'd done everything at a relaxed pace.

The first 2.5 miles or so were basically flat. The scenery was very much like that of the previous day - lush meadows, sometimes with standing water where mosquitoes were breeding, and nice views of the river and of the canyon and mountains around us.

Standing Water in the Meadow
Standing Water in the Meadow

Lyell Fork
Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River

Lyell Fork


Lyell Canyon

View from Lyell Canyon

At 2.5 miles, I started the climb. Steep, stone steps going up 700 feet in a mile. I stopped to entertain myself by taking pictures.


Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

Boisduval's Blue Butterfly
Boisduval's Blue butterfly



Pussypaws, which really does look like a cat's paws. I first encountered this flower in Yosemite, on my first trip there, so now it always reminds me of Yosemite. More than any other flower except for perhaps Mountain Jewelflower (Streptanthus tortuosus), when I get to Yosemite and notice pussypaws, after not thinking about it since my last trip there, I always feel like "Oh yeah... I'm home again."


At 9700 feet and 3.5 miles into the day's hike (10.4 mi from Tuolumne Backpacker's Camp), the trail stops climbing and goes down 50 feet to Lyell Fork Bridge, a wooden bridge across the river. I stopped and sat there, eating a bar and some jellybeans. Jellybeans feel like such a luxury on the trail, with each one a different flavor.

After the bridge, the trail began climbing again. This was it. I was going up to 11,060 feet, the top of Donohue Pass. It was about 1400 vertical feet from the bridge. I told myself to just get to 10,000 feet and focus on that for the moment. I think about altitude in chunks of 100 feet at a time, using my altimeter on my watch to keep track. Each time I go up another 100 feet, I tell myself, "400 to go," "300 to go," and so on.

Before long, another trail habit kicked in. I noticed a spot and identified it as a good place to go #2. It looked like an easy place to dig a hole, sufficiently away from water, and not in an area so full of mosquitoes that my butt would get eaten. I didn't want to stop though. I had just stopped.

A few more minutes along, I noticed another good spot. I'd better stop. I would have to sooner or later. So I did.

The trail went consistently up hill, although it was never again as steep as it was during the mile before the bridge. I saw some guys camped at Upper Lyell, about a mile past the bridge, where you have to cross the river again but now without a bridge. It was a nice campsite. The river there was surrounded by paintbrushes blooming so thickly that the ground looked red. I refilled my water before going on.

Already I was above 10,000 feet, and I rallied myself to get to 10,500 feet. But before I reached it, I realized I had already gone 700 feet up, and I was halfway up Donohue from the bridge. That had to count for something. I looked at my watch, and calculated I'd get to the top of the pass by about 2:30pm, and I'd get to camp by about 5:30pm. That wasn't bad.

I passed some marmots and took a few pictures.


Then I passed some other backpackers who were sitting down, having just come over the pass from the other direction. We chatted for a bit, and our conversation set me back a bit. Maybe I wouldn't reach the pass until 3pm. Then I wouldn't get to camp until 6pm. I felt hurried, and yet I couldn't go any faster than my usual pace. Even as I hiked, I began to get a cramp in my side, and I knew I had to just slow down and breathe. I would get to camp when I got there, a torturous realization for an impatient person like me. I wanted to get there in time to do laundry and wash up before the mosquitoes came out.

I stopped to chat with another person coming past me in the opposite direction. He said snow covered the trail in some parts, but I could go around it by scrambling on rocks if I preferred. No, I didn't prefer, I thought. But then he said to be careful of the snow in one part, because it wasn't safe to step there. I couldn't tell where he was referring to. Maybe I'd have to scramble. Wouldn't there be footprints in the snow to follow?

When I reached the snow, there were no footprints. I just went around it. I lost the trail for a moment, then found it again. Then there was more snow, and it happened again, but now I did not find the trail as easily. I saw some women coming over the pass toward me, so I headed to where they were walking, since they were on the trail.

"It's just up there," one of them said. "You did it."

I followed the trail to where they had come from. I kept expecting to go down the other side, but there was a flat section on top to hike across first. And there was more snow. I stepped around it again.

When I reached the other side, it was clear I was no longer on any sort of trail. And, in a cruel irony, I'd lost my map. I always keep it in my camera case, along with notes about where I'm going. I've done this whenever I backpack and I've only lost two maps ever. The same map. This one. I lost it last summer while hiking this part of the JMT, then I replaced it with a new one, and now I lost it again this summer. Maybe I need to reconsider where I keep my map.

I saw two groups of people coming up from the other side. One was quite far from me, to my right. The other one was to my right as well, but closer.

"Is the trail over there?" one asked.

"No," I told him.

"I think they are on the trail," he said, pointing at the other group.

He pointed to my left and said that the trail came from over there. Just go around those rocks, he said, it's around there. I told him how to get to the top of the pass, where I had come from. There was a wooden sign up there, making it easier to spot from a distance.

I looked around and tried to figure out where the heck I was. Off in the distance to the slight left, I saw a mountain with ski slopes. That must be Mammoth. If I looked all the way to my left, I saw what I assumed were the Minarets. I must be heading in the general direction of the ski slopes, I guessed. The view, by the way, was magnificent.

I began scrambling down rocks toward where the man said the trail was. I didn't want to damage the fragile alpine vegetation, but it was difficult. I cut my leg on a rock and it hurt. I knew it would bleed, and feared I had torn my brand new hiking pants too. Damn.

I guess it was a choice between damaging the fragile alpine vegetation and damaging my own body. I decided if I had to choose, I'd better protect my own body. Eventually, I saw the trail, and made my way to it. Once there, I couldn't tell which direction I was to go on it. I took a guess, and headed that way. Before long, the trail was going down hill, and I had clearly gone the right way.

The people coming up this side of the pass all wore mosquito head nets. I ran into a PCTer, and we chatted a while. He introduced himself as Gandalf, and gave me the trail name Jellybean, after my preferred trail food. I told him about the services available in Tuolumne, where he was going.

"Don't take this the wrong way," he said, "But I love you."

I went on my way again, now sure I would get to camp later than I wished. 6pm, maybe 6:30pm even.

Another group came up, and a man told me that the valley he had come from, that I was hiking to, was the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life. I thought to myself, "Then you must have never been to Rae Lakes or McClure Meadow," but I said, "Is it worth the mosquitoes?"

"No," he said.

The rest of the hike was just a long, hard slog to complete my 10 miles and get to camp. The mosquitoes were awful. I wore my bug suit the whole way. I hoped my friends had gotten tired early and camped at the Marie Lakes Junction, but they hadn't.

When I knew I must almost be to the Rush Lake Junction, I saw a large group of campers with a campfire. I called out my friends' names.

"What?" a bearded man I assumed was a PCTer called back.

"I'm just checking if you were my friends," I said.

"We can be," he said.

I smiled, but kept going. When I reached the Rush Lake Junction, I saw my friend's bandana right at the sign. I looked to my left, and there they were.

It was a nice little camp, and I hurried over. They came out of their tents wearing their bug suits over their pajamas, and immediately began helping me. I pitched my tent, and one of them got me water and began cooking my dinner while the other blew up my sleeping pad for me. I was overwhelmed by their kindness. I love these friends because they are fun to be with, but there is something more there. These are good, loving, generous people who I can trust fully. I told them that I'd hike with them to Agnew Meadows instead of splitting with them to go to Reds. I rarely get to see them, and it was insane to sacrifice spending time with them just to be able to say I'd hiked every inch of the official JMT. Besides, taking their shortcut with them would only cut 5 miles from the trip. And, Agnew Meadows is full of wildflowers.

The bugs were so bad that I could barely stand to be outside long enough to eat my dinner. I went with my "treat" meal - Wild Mushroom Risotto by the brand Good To Go, which costs too much to eat every night but tastes better than any other backpacking food I've ever eaten. It was amazing.

I wanted to stay out and hang out with my friends, who were willing to brave the bugs to hang out with me, but the mosquitoes were too much. They were biting me everywhere my body touched the bug suit, mostly on my legs. After my dishes were washed, I went into my tent without doing laundry or going to the bathroom or washing myself. I'm sure I stunk. I changed into my clean underwear and my dirty-but-less-dirty-than-the-one-I-was-wearing shirt, and went to bed. I realized I had only peed twice that whole day. I probably did not drink enough water.

This was the hardest day of this portion of our trip, and the hardest day of my friends' entire trip, since they were going home from Agnew Meadows. But at least we'd made it over Donohue, at last.

Friday, July 22, 2016

JMT Tuolumne to Reds: Day 1

Tuolumne Meadows into Lyell Canyon
Miles: 7.0
Elevation Gain: 240 feet
Deer: 7, including 2 bucks
Bears: 0
Bad Decisions About Hitchhiking: 1

I woke up in Tuolumne's backpacker's campground to my alarm at 8am on July 17, on a mission to reach the Lodge by 9am so I could have breakfast. Real breakfast. With fruit and coffee. Not oatmeal. I bring oatmeal as my breakfast when I backpack but I hate it. I bring it because I can't come up with a better idea. (The Grill also serves breakfast, but I wanted the nice little fruit cup at the Lodge before going out on the trail and eating no fresh fruit for weeks.)

I got dressed, left my gear and my tent, and hurried to the shuttle. I reached Tioga Rd to watch a shuttle leaving and I chased it for a moment, as if that would somehow make it stop. A man nearby who was washing a white car called to me, "You want a ride? I can take you."

Great. It was just a mile walk to the Lodge, but I walk slowly, and I wanted food. I thanked him and walked to the passenger side of his car.

As I opened the door, music blasted out, with a man singing about Jesus. Great.

"Johnny Cash," the man explained, as he turned it down. Phew.

Then he began moving items off the passenger seat of his car, exposing a handgun. Shit. "Sorry," he apologized, as he moved it. Well, it was just a mile to the Lodge. I guess if he had really wanted to shoot me that wouldn't have mattered, since he could have driven right past the Lodge to wherever, and in retrospect it was dumb to get in the car, but I did.

As it turned out, he just wanted to talk about his sad life. He had married, and divorced. He was lonely. But he was glad to be in Yosemite. He came there for two weeks every summer. He loved it. The best two weeks of every year. He'd probably hiked 5000 miles in the park, he said. I just let him talk, and thanked him for the ride when he let me out at the Lodge.

Breakfast was OK. In the context of the food I'd be eating for the next 2 weeks, it was spectacular. But the coffee was lousy, and the syrup they served with their pancakes was fake. I got the pancakes anyway, but put butter and brown sugar on them instead of the fake syrup, plus the fruit cup I'd been craving. For the record, pancakes with butter and brown sugar tastes good.

I had until about 1:15pm to get ready to start the trail. That was when my friends were arriving. I met them on the trail last year, and we had to skip this portion of the trail because of weather. I hadn't seen them since, and was looking forward to hiking with them again.

My friends were coming in on a YARTS bus, assuming they didn't miss the bus, and the bus arrived around 1:15pm to the store. Then they had to catch a shuttle to the Lodge, although I hoped they'd either walk or hitchhike if the shuttle did not come quickly, and I feared they would do neither. They aren't the sort of people who hitchhike, and they wouldn't know yet that the shuttle drivers had basically tossed out the schedule they were supposed to be following. Since I had no cell reception, I couldn't tell them that either.

I decided to walk back to camp on the JMT, to do that section of the trail in the daytime and enjoy it. I had my camera with me - I'd left hundreds of dollars of gear unguarded in the backpacker's camp, but I never left my camera anywhere. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting my smelly gear, but I could imagine someone wanting my camera.

Along the trail, I saw Belding's ground squirrels scurrying around, tons of blue dragonflies, purple asters, white daisies, a purple penstemon that I first saw in the meadows of Yosemite's high country but can't remember the name of, and even some larkspur. This section of trail also offers great views of Unicorn Peak, Cathedral Peak, and Lembert Dome.


Belding's Ground Squirrel
Belding's Ground Squirrel

PCT Sign
This section of JMT is also part of the PCT






As I walked into the campground, I saw a hiker leaving and I asked if he was on the PCT. He stopped cold and said, "Do I know you?"

I looked at him. A petite man with a Go-Lite pack... Oh shit. I almost said "San Bernardino Peak" but I probed my memory further. First his last name came to me. Then his first. "Adam?" I said. Then I reminded him where we met. He recalled my name too.

I asked about his PCT hike, which I'm sure was going well - first because I was running into him at mile 942, and second because he is perhaps the most incredible backpacker I have ever met in person. He told me he'd done a 38 mile day recently. I don't doubt it.

I didn't bring up what was really on my mind. That I met him on a backpacking trip through a Meetup group in which several people were very unfriendly to me for an entire weekend, and then I was kicked out of the group because some of the people did not like my "strong personality." Some of the people in the group had liked me just fine. One even asked me out afterwards. Out of the entire group, there were only two people I did not like. One guy because he talked nonstop about subjects that bored me, and a woman who clearly disliked me from the moment I introduced myself without giving me a chance.

I liked Adam. I liked him a lot. But the experience was painful, and I wasn't sure if he was one of the people who had complained about me, and who had kicked me out of the group.

The irony is that last year, on my first day of hiking the JMT, as I hiked up the Mist Trail, I ran into three other people from this group coming down the trail. They all pretended to be friendly. It was the leader of the group who had kicked me out, the woman who disliked me from the start, and another guy who I thought seemed cool but who never wanted to talk to me, so perhaps he disliked me too. It was like getting punched in the gut, trying to walk up this trail feeling happy and confident that I'd make friends, and running into those three. And now, on day one of this year's trip, I ran into a fourth.

Adam went on his way, and I went to my tent and packed. Then I went to the store and waited for the shuttle. The only available seat was next to Adam and a girl he was sitting with, who he introduced by her trail name, Sunshine. We chatted a bit about the trail, and then the shuttle came. It was free last year, and now it costs money. The mile ride to the Lodge cost a buck. I handed it over.

Once at the Lodge, I had two hours to wait. I waited inside at first, and then went outside to sit at the shuttle stop. A shuttle came and went, but my friends couldn't have been on that one. It would have left the store minutes before they arrived. I would have to wait another half an hour. I continued to sit on a rock and watch a Stellar's Jay hop around near the dumpster looking for food.

Half an hour later, another shuttle came and went. My friends did not get off. They weren't coming. I wouldn't be able to find out what happened until later. It was nearly 2pm, and I wanted to go 9.6 miles on the trail if I could. Odds were that I already couldn't. It was too late. Either way, it was time to go.

I walked back to the front desk and left a note for my friends that I had waited and then started up the trail. They hiked faster than me. If they showed up late, they would catch up to me. I hoped they would. I considered hitting the trail and then decided to make one last trip to the last flush toilet I would see for days.

As I sat down on the toilet, a wave of dread came over me. "I don't want to do this hike," I thought. I don't want to carry my pack. I don't want to go over Donohue Pass, or Muir Pass, or Mather Pass, or any of the other passes. I did want to stop at VVR and drink their beer and eat their food and sit around their campfire, but I didn't want to do what I had to do to get there.

But, I was here in Yosemite, with an itinerary, a full pack, and enough dehydrated food to get to Red's Meadow, with resupplies already paid for and ready for me along the way. I had to do it whether I wanted to or not. Maybe if I just started walking, this feeling would go away, and I'd enjoy it at some point.

I washed my hands, dried them on my shirt, and walked back to the front desk, where I'd left my pack. I thought I saw irises, and began to ask an employee if the purple flowers 30 yards away were irises. I never heard his reply though, because my friends practically pounced on me with a hug. They arrived! We were going together! At least for the first few days we were going together. They were going to Agnew Meadows via Shadow Lake, and I planned to take the JMT to Reds. We would have three days together before they split from me and then left the trail altogether while I continued.

We hadn't seen each other for a year, and everyone talked at once. "Guess what! We hitchhiked here!" told me. "You're KIDDING!" I said. "I thought there was no chance you'd do that." It kind of felt like the moment at the end of The Sound of Music where the nuns reveal that they removed parts of the Nazis cars to let the Von Trapps get away. I was thrilled that they did it - but shocked because it was so out of their character.

The YARTS bus they took was late because of a long line at the park entrance, and they missed the shuttle by seconds. So the hustled a ride from some tourists with a car. When they reached the Lodge they didn't see me. They saw my stuff, but I had a new pack so they didn't recognize it. Then they saw my camera, and they knew I was there.

Joyfully, we set off in Lyell Canyon. The last time we'd done this hike it was in the pouring rain and it was miserable. Now it was sunny and perfect. I didn't stop to take pictures, because we were in a hurry to get where we were going, given our late start. We saw 7 deer, including a few bucks with antlers. We also ran into a ranger who checked our permits and bear cans. She didn't seem very convinced that we knew what we were doing and we were following all regulations, despite our assurances that we'd done the trail before and knew the ropes. While we stood there with her, pulling out permits and bear cans, the mosquitoes began biting me.

The bugs weren't awful - yet - but they were certainly present. If we stood still in the shade, I'd get eaten. As long as we kept going or stayed in the sun, I was OK. My friends seem less delicious than I am, so they had less trouble. They might have put on repellent too. I didn't, yet, even though I brought it. I brought Picaridin instead of DEET because DEET ruins gear. I really, really, really did not want to spray myself though, and get Picaridin all over my gear and into the pristine environment of the High Sierras. I also brought a full mosquito net suit to keep the bugs off and I hoped to rely on that alone. For now, though, I could just keep moving, smack the bugs that landed on me, and take my breaks in the sun.

We passed the rock slide four miles from Tuolumne that marks the start of where you are allowed to camp. Then we passed the junction to Vogelsang. The trail was mostly flat but at least two of us were pretty tired already. Maybe 9.6 miles of hiking all the way to Lyell Forks Bridge wasn't going to happen. We started looking for a good campsite and decided to stop when we found something good.

We found a great spot almost immediately, maybe half a mile past the Vogelsang junction. We'd hiked about 5.9 miles from the Lodge (7.0 from Backpackers Camp) to an elevation of 8910 feet, with only 240 feet of elevation gain from the Lodge. The location was just east of the trail toward the river, in a shaded area under pines, with easy access to water and a fire ring. If you are using Elizabeth Wenk's book, she calls this campsite CAMP_02.05.

"Think a fire would help with the bugs?" I asked. The mosquitoes were already all over me. My friends thought that it would. They set to work pitching their tents, and I got straight to work on a campfire. Once it seemed like it was going, I started pitching my own tent. Then the fire went out. I got it re-established, then went back to pitching my tent. Before long, we all had our tents pitched, our gear inside, our mosquito net suits on, and a roaring campfire.

I chose to eat black bean and corn chowder for dinner that night. I'd save my "treat" meal, wild mushroom risotto, for the next day, when we hiked over Donohue Pass. But the altitude or the hiking or the anxiety or all three had affected my appetite, and I could only eat about half of my food. Grateful for the fire, I burned the rest, preventing it from causing a problem with bears, and also saving myself the trouble of packing it out as trash.

Well after dark, which was a late bedtime for us while backpacking, we put out the fire and went to bed. Tomorrow would be a long, hard day.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

JMT Tuolumne to Reds: Day 0

This summer I intended to hike the JMT between Tuolumne Meadows and Kearsarge Pass. Spoiler alert: I only hiked from Tuolumne to Reds. You'll soon understand why. But back to my story, which started with my original plan to hike over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley.

Half the battle with figuring out a JMT plan is working out transportation to one trailhead and home from another trailhead that is very, very far away from where you started. The advantage of the section I picked was both are on the eastern side of the Sierras, and there is public transportation from Independence to Mammoth and from Mammoth to Tuolumne Meadows (or to Yosemite Valley if you prefer). However, the public trans from Independence to Mammoth runs infrequently and not on weekends, and the YARTS bus from Mammoth to Tuolumne goes 3 times daily, but the latest bus leaves at something like 11:15am. Also, there is the matter of getting from Onion Valley to Independence after your hike if you leave a car in Independence. Odds are you can hitch a ride down the hill pretty easily, but it does introduce some uncertainty to your plans.

In most scenarios, you have to spend a night in Mammoth if you are taking public trans from Lone Pine or Independence to Yosemite. This is a good opportunity to drop a resupply box off at Reds instead of mailing it. And, as luck would have it, a trail angel offered to go with me to drop my car at Onion Valley and then drive me to Reds. Angel is the right word for her!!!!!

I drove up from San Diego and snapped this shot of a Joshua Tree on 395:

Joshua Tree

All went well until the trail angel (did I mention she is an angel?) dropped me at Red's. I'd left my camera in my car all the way back at Onion Valley. She drove up there the next day, got my camera, and brought it to me in Mammoth. I'd spend the night at Reds, dropped my resupply box, and took the shuttle up into town and then the free shuttle to the Village for breakfast and cell reception. (I have T-Mobile... there is absolutely CRAP reception in the Sierras if you have T-Mobile.) She met me in Mammoth and suggested she run me up to Tuolumne since I needed to get there and she had time. The English language lacks words to describe the generosity and goodness of this woman.

I set up camp in the Backpackers Campground, and then spent the rest of the day exploring Tuolumne, which I did not get to do last year because it was raining buckets and hailing the entire time I was there. It's a pretty place. I started at the Grill, where I was told the soft serve is good. It's no Ben and Jerry's or anything, but just about anything edible tastes gourmet after a long, hard hike. The menu gave me a laugh because it lists the calories, probably with the intention of allowing diners to choose low-cal food if they wish, but hikers will look at it and get excited that they could eat 1020 calories from the pancakes, and more if they add bacon.


I sat outside waiting for the shuttle to go to Tenaya Lake, because I've never been there but always wanted to. I took this pic as I waited.

Pine Resin
Pine resin on a tree

The time the shuttle was due came and went. Another 10 minutes passed. No shuttle. I just started walking along Tioga Rd in the general direction of Tenaya Lake. It was a stupid idea because the lake is not close, and there was no way I was walking there and back since I wanted to come back in time to buy dinner. I brought dehydrated food but gave that night's meal to a PCTer whose resupply did not arrive, so I had to buy something to eat either before the Grill closed at 5 or the Lodge closed at 8 something. Sooner or later, I needed to get on a shuttle if I was going to reach Tenaya Lake.

The walk along Tioga Rd was pretty.

Tuolume Meadows

Something Dome

I passed the Visitor's Center and kept going. A shuttle went by, stopped at a stop just beyond me, and went. Another shuttle came and this time I waved at it like a crazy person and the driver pulled over and waited for me. The shuttle was empty and she took me straight to Tenaya Lake. I found out later they are charging for the shuttle now, but she didn't charge me. She told me that they've given up bothering with any sort of schedule, and they are just sort of showing up at places whenever they get there. She said she'd make 2 last stops at Tenaya Lake, and I should get out to the road by 5:15 or 6:15 if I wanted to be on them.

I intended to go walk around the lake and take pictures. When I got there, I saw the light was lousy and there were tourists swimming along the eastern shore, making many would-be decent shots impossible. I played around with my camera and did what I could.

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Then I got back to the shuttle stop before 5:15 and I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I stuck my thumb out. And waited. And waited. I'm sure the people driving past me in their Audis and SUVs are all respectable people who would never pick up a hitchhiker. The people in the hippie van who passed me though... that made me mad. What are they doing in a hippie van if they aren't going to pick up hikers in need of a ride? It's not like normal hitchhiking. We're all in a national park, and I'm dressed like a backpacker with a camping backpack and trekking poles. It's pretty obvious that I'm no ax murderer, and neither are the tourists in cars I was trying to get a ride from.

Finally, after waiting a half an hour and realizing I was at risk of missing my dinner, I began asking people getting into their cars at the Tenaya parking lot if they were going toward the Lodge and if they would drop me there. A Ukrainian climber who now lives in the Bay Area offered to take me. He wasn't familiar with the Lodge and was happy to know about it. He was also a photographer so we discussed where to take good photos and find good light for them in Tuolumne.

The Lodge requires reservations and their meals aren't cheap. They are, however, delicious. I was on a mission to eat some fruits and vegetables for dinner since I wouldn't see any of those for a long, long time while I was backpacking. They seat you family style, so you have the opportunity of meeting new people at each meal there. I sat next to a guy from Philly I didn't talk to at all, and a lawyer from Virginia who I had a great conversation with about backpacking and family law mediation.

Before leaving, I asked an older man at the table what he planned to do the next day. "Hike Mt. Dana," he replied. I took that as a joke, an unexpected and funny joke, almost as if he'd replied that he was going to climb Mt. Everest. "You do that!" I said back. (I saw him the next day, sitting at a table outside the Lodge with his wife all afternoon... I was dying to go ask him if he made it up Mt. Dana but thought it might be rude to bother them.)

Then I put on my mosquito net jacket (with a full hood that covers your entire head) and mosquito net pants and walked back to the campground on the John Muir Trail. We were starting the trail at the Lodge the next day, so if I was going to hike this part of the trail, I'd better do it now. Or I could do it the next morning, but we'd planned to hike 9.6 miles, and I figured that was enough. It was too dark to take pictures when I set out, and then entirely dark by the time I reached the campground, but I could still see that it was a pretty stretch of trail with some nice views of Unicorn Peak and Cathedral Peak.

I expected a campfire and cameraderie at the Backpacker's Camp, but there was nothing doing there. I guess that would have to come later on the trail, when everyone hangs out together, instead of only with the group they came with.

I reached my tent, got in, and went to sleep. And that was Day 0 of this round of JMT hiking.

Monday, July 4, 2016

JMT Planning: Mosquitoes

This is my third year hiking in the Sierras. The previous two were years of extremely low snow levels. The result was: easy water crossings (I never even got my feet wet) and nearly no mosquitoes. I brought a headnet and used it... twice.

On the JMT last year, the areas of bad mosquitoes were Sunrise Creek, Tully Hole, and Bear Ridge to Marie Lake. That was it. The easy solution was to just hike quickly through them and not camp there. Reports are that this year that's not the case. It sounds as if the little fuckers are making up for several years of blood sucking all at once.

The easy options for dealing with mosquitoes are: hike late in the season (August, September); wear repellent; and wear pesticide-impregnated clothing. I am not doing any of those things.

I'd hike late if I could, but I can't. So that's out. I'm starting July 18, finishing August 4. I suppose the only consolation here is that maybe the bugs will diminish as the trip goes on, and there will be fewer of them when I finish in August than when I start in July.

I actually have a full outfit of pesticide clothing. I wore it in Kenya, near Lake Victoria. When it comes to malaria, African sleeping sickness, and who knows what all else, I'm not f***ing around. The only other time I wore it was when looking for mushrooms in an area with lots of ticks and Lyme disease.

But I don't want to go to a place I love and wish to protect and to bring toxic, man-made chemicals with me. I also don't want to get that stuff all over my sleeping bag, tent, and other gear. That's also why I cover my skin and wear a hat instead of using sunblock. The hat's ugly, but it does the job without polluting the lakes.

Given that I'm not doing any of the obvious things to prevent the mosquitoes from wrecking my hike, and that I have tried pretty much every natural repellent without much luck (I'm too delicious), here's the plan.

  1. Wear Light Colors: I'm sure it won't make the difference between getting bitten a lot vs. not at all, but it can't hurt. "They" (expert websites and such) say light colors are better than dark. I'm not sure, but it could have to do with helping you keep cool, because heat attracts mosquitoes.

  2. Bug Net Shirt and Pants: The brand is Coghlan's. You can find it easily online. The whole thing cost $23 with free shipping on Amazon. It doesn't have insecticide in it. There's a more expensive version in another brand that does have insecticide in it. The more expensive version also has mitts that cover your hands. The one I got doesn't. But the one I got does have a little zipper near your mouth so you can upzip that to eat while wearing it. The top is 4 oz. I didn't check the weight of the bottoms. I don't care. I'm bringing it and wearing it.

    If you don't want to opt for this, at least wear loose-fitting long sleeves and pants. Mosquitoes can bite through fabric, but only if the fabric is right up against your skin.

  3. Brimmed Hat: Keeps the headnet off your face, so the little f***ers can't bite you through it.

  4. Gaiters: Why not. Can't hurt, right? The rest of me will be pretty well covered except for my hands. The bug pants go down to your ankles. Mosquitoes can bite through your socks. But if they can't access your socks...

  5. Gloves: To cover the only bare part of my body. But what kind of gloves? Is there a fabric that works well? Apparently mosquitoes bite easily through thin fabrics. I can attest to this. I've already got thick, wool gloves for warmth. Do I wear those or something else? So I looked into...

  6. Woven Fabrics: Woven fabric instead of knits help a bit. Mosquitoes apparently bite through knits easier than they bite through a tight weave. This post recommends nylon and polyester. (Can I say how much I friggin' hate wearing nylon and polyester?) It also adds that they aren't breathable. (No, they aren't. Part of why I hate them.) The post adds that a blend with a bit of Spandex will help, because nylon and polyester on their own aren't stretchy. Time to go see about those gloves, as much as I really don't want to hike with gloves on. Particularly not with thick gloves made of non-breathable nylon or polyester.

  7. Wear Thick Enough Fabrics: Apparently a mosquito's proboscis is 2.5 to 3.5 mm and it sticks half to two-thirds of that into you. That means that fabric that is 2.5mm thick will prevent most bites. That sounds pretty unpleasant for hiking in during the daytime, but I am considering just wearing my thick wool gloves each day instead of buying new ones. Bike gloves will be thick in the palms but probably not elsewhere.

  8. Camp Somewhere With a Breeze: Mosquitoes aren't strong fliers. A nice breeze will help a bit. I'll be honest though, my preference is to...

  9. Camp Above the Bugs: Why camp amid them when you can camp above them? It depends how high they go? Thousand Island Lake, which is notoriously buggy, is at 9830 ft. That's not good. I often camped above 10,000 ft last year, but I rarely camped above 11,000 ft. I think the only time I did, in fact, was probably my last two nights, just before Mt. Whitney and at Trail Camp on Mt. Whitney. And I'm exiting at Kearsarge this time so I won't even do Whitney.

  10. Get In Tent Before Dusk: This was a part of my strategy last year for sure. I would finish hiking around 5pm generally, set up camp, eat, and get my butt in my tent before dusk. You can't cook inside your tent unless you want to burn the thing down, and I'd rather not even cook in my vestibule. So I prefer to finish cooking before dusk. This is useful for dealing with the cold too. I'd rather get inside my sleeping bag and start warming it up BEFORE it's freezing outside.

  11. "Natural" Repellent: I'm on the fence about whether this is even worth the weight. I've done the research. In tests, certain essential oils were all successful against bugs. Adding vanillin makes a natural concoction or even DEET last longer than it would otherwise. But the natural stuff is not long lasting, so you have to keep spraying it. That's what the data says. My own experience is that the bugs ate me up anyway. I taste really, really good.