While reading one night last winter I heard Candy ask a familiar question, "Are you on that backpacking website again". I was reading another article on Backpackinglight and dreaming about hiking the John Muir Trail. The stories and photographs of the strenuous trails and amazing lakes, mountains and valleys had me mesmerized. . . and the ultralight gear. I had become a gearhead. I spent the six months since then getting my permits and planning this trip as just one of three along the JMT for the summer. This trip was to be a practice run, a shakedown of my gear and ability to hike 15 miles a day consecutively for several days in a row. There would be physical limits to test, including gaining over a mile of elevation in the first day and a half. In the final week before the trip I finished making a lightweight down quilt, a bivy and a windshirt. All of the lightest fabrics had been ordered online and finally used to make a bivy out of 0.51 ozsyd cuben fiber and Momentum 55, a quilt using 900 fill proof down and Momentum 50 and a windshirt with hood out of Momentum 90. All the good stuff. But none of it really mattered if my hours of corrective excercise didn't pay off and I had to bail early due to knee problems. Memories of limping down the last two miles from the top of Mt. San Gorgonio were fresh in my head.
The plan was to do a four day 60 mile solo loop hike in Yosemite starting at the Happy Isles trailhead. The first day my permit limited travel to the campsite at Little Yosemite Valley. It's only a five mile hike from the long term parking lot the the LYV camp, so I used most of the day to drive from Laguna Beach to Yosemite. The second day I would hike to Cathedral Lakes. Day three I would follow the JMT down to Tuolumne Meadows and then up Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang. Day four I would climb Vogelsang Peak and over the pass to Merced Lake and the final day I would hike out. According to the topo map the total mileage turned out to be 59.5 miles which included about 7 miles of offtrail route finding and climbing.
Day zero had arrived and I was finally on the road to the permit office in Yosemite Valley. I got the permit office at 4:45, just 15 minutes before closing. The ranger was pleasant and polite as usual. I threaded my way through the throngs of tourists to the Happy Isles long term parking lot. Along the way I heard an exasperated father say to his family, "O.K., . . . so I guess that means that I'm the one who's wrong again". Oh man. I wouldn't miss leaving civilization behind. After parking and doing a quick gear check I was on the way. Let the journey begin. At 5:30 pm I had about three hours to get to the camp ground in Little Yosemite Valley before dark. As I quickly walked the 0.7 miles from the parking lot I came across the first familiar road mark.
It was already getting a little dark and I shared the trail with almost all people heading toward me on their way back down toward the valley. The cool late afternoon/early evening temps made for an enjoyable hike toward the JMT/Mist Trail junction. I had hiked this portion of the JMT almost 15 years earlier during a day trip to Half Dome. I decided to try the Mist Trial this time. Soon the first view of Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail came into view:
Finally I was being soaked by the water from the falls. "Full on single rainbow".
Three people were washed over this waterfall the day before. They slipped while posing for pictures after standing on a rock IN the water about 25 feet from the precipice. After an unsuccesfull search for the bodies the rangers had just reopened the Mist Trail.
I enjoyed some solitude as the trail was empty after Vernal Falls. My pack weighed about 14 lbs which included all my gear and food for the next 4 1/2 days.
I got to the base of Nevada Falls just before sunset.
By the time I arrived at LYV most of the sites were already taken and everybody seemed to be getting into their tents for the night. After searching around for a while in the dark I found a stealth spot under some trees and shared the closest bear box with a couple that was already asleep. In the morning it turned out the guy in the couple spoke very limited english, but after a short broken conversation he got his wife who explained, "He likes the gear". Oh yeah, another gearhead. We both understood the language of ultralight hiking gear and he laughed as he picked up my 1 lb sleeping bag/quilt and 6 oz cuben backpack. By 6:30 am I was on the trail and heading up toward the JMT/Clouds Rest junction.
The final view of the back of Half Dome from the JMT:
I stopped in this area for two hours doing some stretching on a rock. A hiker walked by and asked, "doing some Yosemite Yoga?". I thought that was perfect, Yosemite Yoga. It ended up being just what I had needed and I had no muscle or joint problems at all the entire trip.
The hike up the switchbacks to the top of Sunrise Mountain made for a strenuous hour but I just kept my slow and steady pace and made it to the top in good spirits. I had been trading the lead along the way with a group of six guys, all in their late teens or early twenties. They were carrying heavy traditional gear and looked exhausted on their 5 mile hike from Clouds Rest junction to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. At one break they asked where I was headed. They looked surprised when I went through my itenerary for the next few days. Cathedral Lakes, Tuolumne Meadows, Vogelsang, Merced Lake. . . all thanks to some ultralight techniques.
The trail levels out for a while along the top of Sunrise Mountain and the first views of Echo Peak and Matthes Crest come into view:
Next I was in Long Meadow and talking with a few other hikers at Sunrise High Sierra camp. It was the middle of the day and I was looking forward to seeing Echo and Cathedral Peaks after a nice long afternoon nap.
By 6:00 pm I had reached one of the campsites near lower Cathedral Lake. I asked a group how to get to the lakefront and they told me I would need water shoes to cross the large swampish area which lead to the granite lakefront. After a while I heard one of the guys say something that I would end up hearing many times on this trip, "Oh, you're one of those ultralight guys". As I waded knee high in one of the creeks leading to the lake one of the ladies asked, "do you have a sleeping bag in there?".
Alpenglow on Cathedral Peak.
Sunset on Cathedral Peak.
I slept under the stars by Cathedral Lake that night. The sunset was amazing. The outside of my bivy was wet from the moisture in the wind which was blowing toward me off the lake. It didn't leak inside, but there was a lot of condensation inside the bivy and on the outside of my quilt. Even though some of the water dripped on my head in the morning, the inside of the quilt was completely dry. It must have been below freezing that night because there was ice on the outside of the bivy at night but I was warm and cozy inside. I dried everything out in the morning and was on my way to Tuolumne Meadows.
Drying out some gear in the morning after a night on the shore of Cathedral Lake.
On the way down from Cathedral Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows I passed many freshly showered day hikers on their way up to the lakes.
If you are reading this as part of the JMT 2011 Trip Report please go to:
JMT 2011 Trip Report Section Two
Or, just check out the next part of this trip. . .
I was making good time and soon I was leaving the John Muir Trail and heading up toward Vogelsang from Lyell Canyon. Here is the first view of Mt. Fletcher and Vogelsang from Rafferty Creek:
I camped in a meadow near Fletcher Lake at the end of the third day:
In the morning of day four I took a closer look at the snow on Volgelsang and remembered the ranger told me that Vogelsang Pass was "100% snow". Breakfast somehow raised my spirits and I decided to at least head up to the lake and see if it was passable. This is a view of Vogelsang with the empty high sierra camp in the foreground:
Vogelsang high sierra camp.
Vogelsang peak is in the middle. My plan was to climb up the snow field on the left side then follow the ridge to the top. During a normal summer this area would have been easily accessable but the unusually large amount of snow meant that I would be digging foot holds into the snow on the way up. It turns out that the lake was still covered with ice in places and the pass was 100% snow.