From Just Past Pinchot Pass to Rae Lakes
Elevation Gain: 2140 ft
I woke up at my campsite at the bottom of Pinchot Pass around 8am, like usual. Like the day before, other hikers who had camped before the pass had just gone over it, and they were hiking past me. I got some water and made breakfast and coffee and filled my water bladder. As nasty as my oatmeal and coffee are, skipping them the day before was a mistake. Oatmeal tastes like paste on the trail. I put some brown sugar on it. Now it tasted like brown sugar sweetened paste.
As I got ready to go, a man stopped and chatted. His name was Jim, and he was from Idaho. His wife, Sandy, was slower than he was, and she was coming along behind him. He was waiting for her. Sandy caught up, and all three of us set off. I began chatting with her as she went. She said that she liked to take her time and take pictures. In Evolution Valley, her husband was in a hurry to get over the pass because he was afraid the weather might turn bad. She went slowly and took photos as Evolution Valley is perhaps the most beautiful part of the entire trail, and he waited for her on top of the pass. The weather was fine. On top of the pass, she indulged in her very favorite trail luxury: filling her water bladder with snow and drinking ice water.
Sandy stopped to take a picture, and I went ahead. I ran into them again several times throughout the day, but did not hike with them after that.
The first milestone we would reach was Sawmill Pass junction, which was 3.8 miles from the top of Pinchot Pass. Then we would hike alongside Woods Creek for a ways, and come to a bridge across it after another 3.8 miles (7.6 miles from Pinchot Pass). From Woods Creek, it was 4.1 miles to Dollar Lake, 5.1 to Arrowhead Lake, 6.1 to the ranger station, and just a bit beyond that to where I hoped to camp. The trail was all downhill to Woods Creek and uphill after that.
I had hiked this section last year, from Woods Creek onward. I remembered the uphill being gentle. Still, the elevation gain between the bridge over Woods Creek, at 8500 ft, and Rae Lakes, at 10,500 ft, was considerable. I was stressed out about going as far as I would have to go, and stressed out about the elevation gain. The heat was not helping. The trail was so much hotter this year than last year. At night and in the early mornings the warmer temperatures were pleasant, but during the rest of the day they made hiking a struggle.
Unlike the day before, I pulled out my camera when I saw a nice butterfly, and continued taking pictures throughout the day.
Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly
I saw monkshood in several places on this part of the trail, a flower I love but had not seen much of during the trip.
I ran into some other hikers resting at Sawmill Pass Junction. I saw the Texans go past, and the Japanese woman I'd see the day before. She introduced herself as Emiko and said she planned to camp at Dollar Lake. The couple from Idaho planned to go to Rae Lakes. They had all camped at Lake Marjorie the night before, and I thought surely the logical destination for them would be Woods Creek. It would not be a long day for them (under 10 miles) but the alternative, Rae Lakes, meant at least a 15 mile day, since you aren't allowed to camp at Dollar Lake. Emiko had done this math too, so when others told her the no camping rule at Dollar Lake, she was not happy about it.
This was why I'd gone over Pinchot Pass late in the evening like a crazy person the night before. Because I wanted to make it to Middle Rae Lake, to the bear boxes there, and I did not want to have a 16 mile day. I was already coping poorly enough with my 13 mile day.
I did OK as far as about Sawmill Pass Junction. But then I started getting upset. It was really hot out. The trail went alongside Woods Creek, which was often pretty far below the trail. The creek was interrupted by several waterfalls, which were beautiful, but frustrating. I wanted to dive in that water. I wanted to swallow it all to cool my body and quench my thirst. Instead, I could just look at it as I continued hiking in the heat. The fact that I was going downhill served to just stress me out more, because I knew I had 2000 feet of elevation gain hanging over my head later.
I passed a ranger, who asked if I had any questions or if she could do anything for me. "Make the trail shorter?" I suggested. I was too miserable to hike, but nowhere near needing to be airlifted out. And those are your two options - you are sick or injured enough to require an airlift, or you hike out on your own two feet. I kept stumbling onward.
At last, I reached the bridge at Woods Creek. I stopped and rested, and began talking to a couple who were there. The man had red hair and a beard, just like the man who was snotty to me the morning before. As we talked, it became clear that he was NOT the snotty guy. The two were documentary filmmakers from LA, and they were lovely. They were hiking out the next day over Kearsarge too. However, as filmmakers, they were in a hurry to make it to Rae Lakes before it got dark out, because they wanted to film it.
Rae Lakes is gorgeous, but I was so exhausted and sick of hiking, that I just did not even care. I'd seen it, it's beautiful, and I just wanted comfort. A shower, air conditioning, and a bed sounded good.
After sitting around for a while at Woods Creek, I continued on. Later, I passed another creek, probably Baxter Creek, and I sat down for a bit. I put my entire face in the water and considered eating dinner but I wasn't hungry yet. I took a few photos as I rested.
White Rein Orchids
I stopped the next time the trail crossed a creek again. Again I considered having dinner, but I did not feel like pulling out all of my stuff in order to cook it. I ate a candy bar and just sat. I wanted to sit until the sun went down and it was not so horribly hot. I began to worry about drinking too much water and exhausting my body's electrolytes. The aged cheddar I brought with me had deteriorated so much I was not willing to eat it anymore, and the only other salty foods I had left were one more dinner, to eat that night, and one tiny Babybel cheese, which I would eat the next day.
At that creek, I noticed what I thought were red bees. After looking at the photos, I don't think they are actually bees though. I can't figure out what they are. I did not get a very good close up shot. I sat at the creek with my feet in the water for a while, sitting right next to the flowers where the bugs were hanging out, trying to get a better photo, but I couldn't.
I'd successfully kept the mosquitoes away from my feet during the entire hike, and now the mosquitoes began to get their revenge. I had not used repellent for the past day and a half, because the bugs were getting better, but dusk was approaching and I was sitting by a creek. I put my socks and shoes on and headed on. I estimated it was just another mile to Dollar Lake.
Just like I'd remembered it, the elevation gain between Woods Creek and Rae Lakes was gradual and relatively painless. It was a nice hike, and it was nice to be on familiar ground. I remembered landmarks as I passed them. I saw some corn lilies and took a photo because they were in bloom. Most of the corn lilies I saw on my hike were not blooming:
At last - at long last - Fin Dome came into view:
It's not a great picture, but I took it anyway to commemorate the moment. I was so happy! The sight of Fin Dome meant I was almost done with my long day.
I saw a few people camped at Dollar Lake, next to the No Camping signs. I headed over and asked one of them if I could eat dinner there. Her name was Heather and she was very inviting. Emiko was camped nearby and she came over to join us. She said the ranger told her she could camp there, and I'm sure she was telling the truth.
It turned out both of them were running out of food, so I gave them whatever I could - one packet of coffee, lots of oatmeal I hadn't eaten with sugar and raisins to go with it, some jelly beans, and a bar that tasted so bad I would rather starve to death than eat it. I was honest about how bad that last bar tasted, but Emiko said she liked them. I reserved one more portion of oatmeal and coffee for myself, plus a small amount of jelly beans, a Babybel cheese, two more bars, and a bag of prunes.
I didn't really have enough food for myself left, but the truth about what I gave away is that my stomach had been so upset on the trip, I wouldn't have been able to eat any of it anyway. I'm able to eat cheese and candy pretty well on the trail. And my dinners. Everything else, I seem to have trouble eating.
At 8pm, I got up to hike the last two miles or so to where I wanted to camp. I hurried past Dollar and Arrowhead Lake, passing a literal swarm of mosquitoes in one place as I went. I saw a buck near Arrowhead Lake. Fin Dome grew closer and closer. Then it was dark, and I could only see the trail in front of my face, with my headlamp. I thought I saw fireflies, but it turned out they were the glowing eyes of deer. There were so many deer at Rae Lakes after dark!
Finally, I almost walked right into a sign on the trail that I knew pointed to the ranger's station. My campsite was less than a mile away. I started keeping an eye out for another sign. The next sign would be to my campsite.
I began worrying a bit about finding water. Well, not finding it. I knew where it was. I knew that once I put my pack down and pitched my tent, I didn't want to go get water from the places where I already knew I could find it. I didn't want to walk that far, or search in the dark.
Fortunately, a spring or perhaps a stream of snow melt flowed across the trail. Whatever it was, it was perfect. I took out my metal mug and drank several mugs full - untreated. I just didn't even have it in me to fuss with the AquaMira drops, and this was either snow melt or spring water. And if I got sick at this point, I would be home already when it happened. Then I pulled out my collapsible bucket and filled it with as much water as I could. I carried it the rest of the way with me.
I got worried for a minute that I'd passed the campsite, and decided if that was the case, then I would camp in my "secret spot," a secluded campsite up a small hill on Upper Rae Lake. But then the sign appeared pointing to the campsite I'd been looking for. I walked straight up the hill and dropped my stuff down, pitching my tent in the exact same spot where I camped the year before.
Before getting in bed, I fully washed my body, but not my hair, with the water from my bucket. It was so warm in the Sierras this summer that it was comfortable to be naked while washing with cold water at 9pm. By this time at night last year, I would have needed to wear all of my layers and my down jacket, and I would have still been cold.
During those 13 miles, my pants and underwear had begun to chafe my rear end up pretty badly. I figured that the least I could do was keep it all clean, and pouring ice cold water on it might help a bit in itself. I would have been a strange sight if anyone had seen me, leaning back on a rock I sat on, pouring ice water down my sore crack.
At last, I was done with everything I needed to do, and I was clean, and I could go to sleep. My whole body ached. As I fell asleep, I wondered if I had enough calories left in the food I was carrying to complete the hike I had to do the next day. I set my alarm for 5am, hoping to get an early start before the sun made hiking miserable. I got to Rae Lakes too late to see it, and if I left that early, I would have come and gone without seeing it at all. Rae Lakes is so beautiful, and yet, I was too exhausted to care.
For the first time during my trip, I was hungry when I went to bed. Dinner had been good, but I wanted more food. My stomach had been rejecting food since I'd gotten on the trail. It was a probably a good sign to be hungry - but inconvenient because there was nothing left to eat.
That night, I got up and peed. It was the first time I had to wake up and pee during my entire trip. It was the first time I peed a lot, and not just a small amount of concentrated yellow. I'd been drinking a normal amount this whole time, but with the hot weather, I was dehydrated all the same. I barely had any salty foods left, and I hoped I could finish the hike without running into trouble with electrolytes.
I was so ready to be done with the trail.
You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.