Dusy Basin to JMT Trail Mile 143, Past Middle Fork Kings Junction
Elevation Gain: 650 ft
I woke up my third day on the trail in the middle of Dusy Basin. I wasn't sure where. By my initial estimates, I'd gone four of the 6.8 miles between the top of Bishop Pass and the John Muir Trail before a thunderstorm began and I decided it was unsafe to keep going the day before. After looking at the map, I was less sure. For once, my notes were useless. I normally used Elizabeth Wenk's data, from her guidebook to the John Muir Trail, but this time I'd used information from the internet that was obviously wrong. It said it was 11 miles from the South Lake Trailhead, over Bishop Pass, to the JMT. My map said it was 12.8.
I made breakfast, washed all of my clothes, packed up, hanging my wet clothes outside my pack, and hit the trail. After going maybe 50 yards, I realized I'd forgotten my new sun gloves. I reluctantly went back to get them, and shoved them in my pocket instead of putting them on because I was so mad at them for making me go back for them.
I needed to get water. The water I'd gathered the day before was full of pond scum and I wanted to find a cleaner source to fill my bladder with. If I was using a filter, it wouldn't matter, but I was using AquaMira. My options were drinking sterilized pond scum, or finding a cleaner water source.
It's amazing how thirsty you get - almost instantly - when you don't have any water. It was just a matter of minutes, really, that I wouldn't have water. Yet, I felt absolutely parched. I found a better source of water, running water, and filled up my bladder. I added the AquaMira and checked my watch. I got back on the trail and continued checking my watch. I would wait an eternity, then check my watch, and find out only a minute had passed. At last, 15 minutes had passed and I could drink.
Another hiker passed me, and we chatted. He was doing the South Lake to North Lake loop that goes in Bishop Pass and out Piute Pass. I told him I met someone who was doing that the day before. "He's in my group," he said. "We're a bit spread out."
A college aged boy passed me too. He wasn't very friendly, and he carried a fancy camera.
I wasn't sure how many miles I had to go to the JMT junction. Two? Three? Four? I hoped it was two. After I reached the junction, I would head south. It was three miles to the Middle Fork Kings junction, where I had planned to camp the night before. So it was three miles plus something just to reach where I'd intended to camp yesterday. After that, it was another four miles to the base of the Golden Staircase, and two miles up the Golden Staircase. So, six miles from where I meant to camp yesterday to the top of the Golden Staircase, plus three miles of JMT after I reached it, plus two or three or four miles just to get to the JMT. In other words, the top of the Golden Staircase was nine miles plus the distance to the JMT. Shit. And it was another four miles beyond that to the top of Mather Pass, and then yet another mile before there was a place to camp on the other side of it.
I got the numbers confused in my head, and told myself I was going over the pass today. I was going to do it. I told someone else I ran into and they looked at me like I was crazy. But I could do it, I thought.
As I kept hiking, I realized a few things. First, my camping spot the night before was more than two miles from the JMT. I'd already been hiking for what must have been two miles and I was nowhere near the JMT. Second, I wasn't getting over Mather Pass that day as planned.
Well, that was OK. I planned a bit of wiggle room in my schedule. I'd go to the top of the Golden Staircase. That was a total of - what - 11 miles? 12 miles? 13 miles? I could do that. And I'd eat that good meal I was saving for when I got over Mather Pass tonight, in celebration of getting up the staircase. I'd eat the other good meal I brought tomorrow, after going over Mather.
The weather was hot, and the trail just kept going down, down, down. There was water to the left, sometimes waterfalls, and in a few places the trail was surrounded by ferns and it felt like hiking in a steamy tropical forest. Or in the humid summer of the Midwest. Which is exactly where I don't want to hike, precisely because it's too hot and too humid to be enjoyable. And too buggy. This place was buggy too.
There was an abundance of a flower I liked. Sneezeweed, I think.
The college age boy stopped to take a photo of a waterfall with his fancy camera. I went past him without saying anything, because he was unfriendly. Before long, he was on my heels again, and I let him pass, again without a word. This time he said, "Thanks."
As I went down, what seemed like scores of others came up. They were all coming from LeConte Canyon, where the trail bottoms out at about 8000 feet. Bishop Pass is around 12,000 feet. With the nasty hot weather, they had a rotten day ahead of them.
A few boys who I assumed were Boy Scouts passed me. One of them was carrying a large skull he'd found. He thought it was a horse skull. I couldn't imagine being in good enough spirits to go up this trail in this heat AND carrying a heavy skull with me.
A bit later, I saw a grown man talking to a young boy. He asked if I'd seen some young boys up ahead. "Would they have been carrying a horse's skull?" I asked. "Yes," he said. We joked that they were boys, and I said he was lucky it was just a skull and not a live snake. He said, "I can't guarantee they don't have one hidden in their packs."
As I continued, I could tell he was giving the boy with him a pep talk. The kid was sick of going up hill in the heat (I didn't blame him!) and the adult was trying to convince him to keep going. Poor kid. That would have been me as a kid, for sure. I was always the slow one on hikes, and adults tried pep talks and even bribery, typically with no success at all, because I wasn't dumb enough or desperate enough to kill myself physically just to earn a measly Jolly Rancher.
I pulled out one of my bars, one that had moringa in it or some other superfood. It was the only edible item I'd brought without tasting it in advance. As always, that was a mistake. I took a bite and spat it out. I couldn't even swallow it, it was so gross.
The trail stressed me out more and more as I went. Since I didn't make my miles the day before, I was counting everything until I reached the JMT as "zero." Then I'd start counting actual miles of progress for the day. But these miles that didn't count were long and they were taking a long time. I was good and upset by the time I finally reached the John Muir Trail at the bottom of LeConte Canyon. The elevation was 8740. I had to go down another 700 feet before I started my climb up toward Mather Pass. That stressed me out too, because I was worried about the climb up Mather already, and every step I took down instead of up freaked me out even more. (Yes, if you're wondering, I DO have an anxiety problem.)
I saw a group sitting and eating nearby. It was two of the guys I'd talked to on the trail, the ones doing the South Lake to North Lake trip, and the unfriendly college kid, who was apparently the son of one of them. I asked if I could join them, and sat with them to have lunch.
Then - finally! - I met some JMTers. I'd met people who had done the trip I was doing but in reverse, hiking in Kearsarge and out Bishop. I'd met people doing the South Lake to North Lake trip, or others hiking in Bishop and going north on the JMT, but this was the first time I was in a position to meet anyone doing the JMT SOBO. Anyone I could camp with and hang out with over the next several days of my hike.
Elliott and Amber were doing the entire JMT SOBO, but hiking out over Taboose Pass to resupply in Big Pine. They planned to camp at the base of the Golden Staircase they said. "Not the top?" I asked. "Well, maybe," they said. "But probably the base." I hoped I would see them again. And I worried that perhaps my plan to go up the Golden Staircase that day was not realistic.
After a long lunch, I got up and headed south on the JMT. I put on an audiobook, Loving Day by Mat Johnson, because I was struggling with the heat and the hiking and my anxiety, and it helped a bit. At least it made hiking more enjoyable. I did the three miles down to the Middle Fork Kings junction, and kept going. I worried that there would be a water crossing - "Middle Fork Kings" sounded like a real river - but there wasn't. Then the trail went up hill.
Feeling lousy, I decided to drink more water. My stomach had been upset all day. Before long, the water came back up. Thankfully, it was just water. That means the calories I managed to get down me stayed down. But I thought I should look for somewhere to camp relatively soon. After getting sick, my stomach remained extremely queasy.
The terrain was steep and I didn't see any good campsites. I saw a few packs near the trail, and walked over to investigate. It was three hikers going for a swim. I couldn't imagine taking a long enough break from hiking to swim. It seemed like too much of a commitment, getting my clothes wet and then drying them again. Or taking them off and then putting them on again. I took off my shoes and put my feet in the water for a few minutes but the mosquitoes came after me. Then I got up again, put my shoes back on, and kept hiking.
Next, I ran into a group of women who had a large campsite near the river. I stopped to ask them how far we were from the base of the Golden Staircase. I wanted to get as close as possible to it before stopping for the day. I also did not want to intrude on their group by crashing with them.
There was some confusion about where exactly we were, or whether there were any more good campsites up the trail. I thought about it and got up to leave. But I really felt sick. I shouldn't keep hiking while sick. I asked if I could stay and they said yes.
They were a group out of Vegas, and most of them were runners. All were women, and it was their first time on the JMT. They began the same day I did, with the same basic itinerary, but they started in the morning, whereas I started around 5pm the same day. They made their miles the first day, and the second. Then the sky opened up, and all of their stuff got soaked. It took them a while to dry off their things this morning, and a ranger told them it would rain again at 2pm, so they stopped early and camped. Then it didn't rain. Now they were behind, like I was.
They were such lovely women, and it was so nice to have company for the first time on this trip. As it would turn out, this was the only time I camped with anyone else on the entire trip.
I filled my bucket with water, washed up (trying to get all the bug repellent off my body before getting in my sleeping bag), and then put my mesh "bug suit" on to prevent mosquitoes from biting me.
I'd planned to go up the Golden Staircase and then eat my celebratory meal - Wild Mushroom Risotto by Good To-Go - but I hadn't even made it to the base of the Golden Staircase. I decided to eat it anyway. I could consider this carbo loading, to give me the energy for my hike the next day.
I don't think I realized it at the time, but I'd hiked almost 10 miles that day. I'd fallen so far short of my goal that I felt like I hadn't gone very far at all. The women planned to go over Mather Pass the next day too, and they would also camp in Upper Basin. I hoped I would see them there. Now that I'd reached the JMT, I was finally with my "trail family" again. I felt good. Except, of course, for my queasy stomach.
You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.