South Lake Trailhead to Long Lake
Elevation Gain: 900 ft
Day one started late. I knew it would start a little late. I didn't realize HOW late. The friend who was driving me to the trailhead had commitments until 2pm. The original plan was that we'd caravan up to Onion Valley, drop my car off, and then drive over to Bishop Pass and start hiking together. She'd do an out and back as a day hike, and I'd keep going and camp. I'd found some faulty info on the internet that said it was 5 miles to the top of the pass, and another 6 to the JMT. Based on that, I planned to go 3.5 miles to a lake and stop for the night, so I could go over the pass to the JMT the next day.
Then I checked my map.
According to my map, which I trust more than the internet, it's 6 miles to to the top of the pass, and another 6.8 to the JMT. Well, I thought. I could still do this. It's just an extra two miles. I also had a "just in case" plan - if I couldn't make it 3.5 miles for some reason, there was a lake I could stop at 2 miles in. These distances were based on the faulty internet information, so I hoped they were at least somewhat correct. And, in retrospect, I can't tell you if the distances were correct, but there ARE lakes as you hike up the pass, and you can camp there. At least that much is accurate.
The night before my car had broken and we'd had it towed to Bishop. Now we wouldn't have to go up to Onion Valley to drop my car off at least. But I had a new problem. I had stuff with me that I wasn't taking backpacking: my laptop, the clothes I wore the day before I started hiking, and a few other things. I'd intended to leave them in my car. Now what?
Also, I'd planned to drive my now-broken car around that morning to get breakfast, a fuel canister, and a lighter. Instead, I sat in my hotel room until checkout time, and outside it in the blazing heat of Independence afterward. Finally, I asked if I could sit inside the room I'd checked out of until my friend came. The woman running the motel said yes. I was still hungry, but at least I wasn't as hot.
The friend I was waiting for was volunteering at the Mt. Williamson hotel. A driver from that hotel came to where I was staying to drop off hikers, and the woman running my hotel asked if he could run me back to Mt. Williamson. He said yes.
Back at Mt. Williamson, I stood waiting in the air conditioned office, and pillaged the hiker buckets for a bit of food. My friend showed up and gave me a few apples too. She still had a bit of work to do before we could go.
When she was ready, I told her about my two problems. 1. Find a place to store my stuff and 2. Buy fuel and a lighter. Okay, and 3. Coffee and food.
My friend suggested we leave my stuff with the Toyota place that was fixing my car. I didn't have any better ideas, so I agreed. (She couldn't take it for me because she was leaving her volunteer job before I got back.) She said Mt. Williamson sold fuel. We discussed it and decided I needed a large canister for this trip. She took my money, ran inside, and then came back and handed my money to me. She thought the fuel there was expensive. We could get it somewhere else. We headed to Bishop.
My first priority was coffee. We stopped at a gas station, and I got terrible gas station coffee and drank it. Then we drove to Bishop.
There, we stopped by Perry Motors to talk to them about my car. It was parked pitifully in the middle of their shop, still broken. They hadn't looked at it yet. I'd called earlier to try to update them on my situation. I was going to be hiking for a week and completely off the grid. I asked them to fix it enough to drive safely home to San Diego, but no more than that. And then charge me for it. And don't try to call me mid-week to ask me what I want, because I can't answer the phone. Just do it.
Maybe that's a bad strategy for car repairs, but I didn't see another way to go about it. I wasn't sitting around in Bishop for a week paying for motel rooms. I might as well go do the hike, where I wouldn't have to pay for food and lodging. And I needed my car to be ready when I finished hiking.
They agreed to fix the car without attempting to communicate with me while I was gone. The guy fixing it seemed to think it could be mice that got into it while it was parked at the trailhead for a week during my last trip. He said I could leave my stuff inside the car while I hiked. I didn't feel good about leaving my laptop there, but I did it. On a last minute whim, I took my iPod with me for the hike. I never do that, but it was either going to sit in a car where I was nervous about it, or it was going with me. And I was halfway through a good audiobook.
From there, we went to a coffee shop, the Looney Bean. I got a latte and a bagel with cream cheese. Then we drove toward the South Lake Trailhead. It was already late. We were halfway there when I remembered that I needed fuel and a lighter. So we turned around and drove back into Bishop. We found a "sporting goods" store that seemed solely devoted to killing living things with both guns or fishing poles. Well, at least they'd have what I needed. I went in, got it, and came back to the car. Then we set off - AGAIN - for the trailhead.
The South Lake Trailhead is very high up. It's 9800 feet, and the pass itself is 11,980. As we drove up, it began to hail. Then it stopped. Then it rained. My friend and I joked that I should have brought rain pants, and that my rain jacket was all wrong - a running joke between us at the expense of a hiker she met who liked to tell everyone their rain gear was wrong. But as I got my rain gear on and hit the trail, the rain stopped.
I was barely a foot up the trail before I had my camera out to take pictures of fireweed:
I still can't seem to get a satisfactory picture of that plant, but I love it, so I keep trying.
Fireweed buds in the rain
The mosquitoes swarmed me immediately. I pulled out my bug spray, which I hate using, and sprayed myself down. I normally don't even bring it with me, but this year was just so bad for bugs and I didn't see another way to get through the hike.
The trail was beautiful as I went up. There was a steep section that went up several hundred feet toward the beginning, but then it became less steep. I took lots of photos, but many weren't great because I was somewhat frantic and hurried both to get my miles in for the day and to avoid standing still long enough for the mosquitoes to get me worse than they already were.
And then, I saw it: columbines. Not the usual red and yellow kind though. These were Coville's Columbines. I went kind of nuts with joy.
Bishop Pass is absolutely covered with Coville's Columbines. So is Mather Pass, although I didn't know it yet. I was in heaven. My photos do not do these flowers justice.
I kept going along the trail until I reached a lake. I estimated I'd gone about two miles, and now it was dusk. I'd started really late in the day. The mosquitoes got worse and worse, and they did not seem to notice that I was wearing repellent. Before long, I started looking for a place to hang out for a few hours until it was dark and the worst of the bugs had passed.
I scrambled over some rocks off the trail and looked for a flat spot without too many rocks on the ground. Then I noticed some actual campsites. I went to one, threw my pack on the ground, dumped out my tent, unzipped the door, and put it over me like a dress. I let the open door fall to the ground around my feet, forming a seal from the mosquitoes. Then I sat down without breaking the seal, took off my shoes, kicked them out the door, pulled my feet in, and zipped the door.
After a few very boring minutes of sitting, I wiggled over to my pack and brought it into my unpitched tent. Then I pulled out my iPod and began listening to my audiobook - The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. I had the mesh of the tent door over my face, and I could see the mosquitoes outside trying to get me. Every time I looked to see if it was dark enough and cold enough yet, and if the bugs had gone away, they were still there. I saw a small swarm of them hovering over me.
I'd intended to get up later. To hike more. Or at least to pitch my tent and make dinner. Instead, as the night grew colder, I took out my sleeping bag and got in it. Then I took out my bear can and ate 3 Babybel cheeses as my dinner, and put the bear can outside of the tent. Last, I blew up my sleeping pad and put it under me. Then I fell asleep.
I spent my first night on the trail, alone, about a mile and a half short of my destination for the day, sleeping in an unpitched tent with only cheese for dinner. But at least I was safe from those mosquitoes.
You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.