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:
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 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.
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.
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.