Friday, January 18, 2013

HST/JMT Segment #3: Vermillion Valley Resort To Happy Isles

High Sierra Trail & John Muir Trail, Segment Three: 101.4 Miles, +15,500'
August 16, 2012: To Lake Virginia, 17.6 Miles, +5,000'
Woke up feeling great after a good nights rest.  I was on the trail at 0700 hours. The JMT heads north from Mono Creek over Silver Pass, but due to the lack of a boat ride and wanting to get all the way to Lake Virginia today I opted for the path less traveled; Goodale Pass. The trail skirts the north side of the lake for about a mile before heading north towards the creepy sounding but beautiful Graveyard Meadow.  I would have the trail all to myself for many miles, this is a very low traffic area as most keep to the JMT.  I passed through meadows, creeks, mountainous valleys and finally above treeline to Goodale Pass. Up until now I was hopeful of a storm free day but seeing the other side of the pass quickly dashed those dreams, clouds, lots of puffy clouds. I would be happy getting to camp dry, then let it storm. I started down the north side of the pass soaking in the views towards Mt. Ritter and Mt. Banner. I could see a lot of the terrain I would cover the next few days. I was quite pleased with my diversion trail especially looking down at Lake of the Lone Indian, what a beauty of a lake. It wasn't much longer until I was on the JMT again heading down down down to Fish Creek. It was in this vicinity that I first witnessed the power of the November 30, 2011 epic wind storm....
On November 30, 2011 an epic windstorm blew down from Minnesota and took aim at the Central Sierra Nevada. Mammoth Mountain reported consistent winds of 175 MPH with gusts over 200 MPH for four straight hours. The ancient trees in the Sierra Nevada can handle all types of weather including big wind, but this storm was different. Most storms come in from the northwest and the tree root systems are built up strong to compensate as such. The November 30th incident came from the northeast where the trees were most vulnerable and as a result thousands of trees were blown over in that four hour stretch. The entire Sierra Nevada got hit, but the Middle Fork San Joaquin drainage got it the most. From Fish Creek through Devils Postpile there were thousand of downed trees, an awesome sight indeed. Ground crews were still working to clear all the trails including the JMT and PCT.
As I crossed the bridge going over Fish Creek I had reached my low spot before heading up to Lake Virginia. It is a long southerly exposed trail gaining 1,500' to the lake. The clouds had blocked out the sun for the day which made the uphill climb cooler and nicer, well as long as it didn't storm on me. I was content to get to camp without getting wet and I knew I was going to be cutting it close. I crested the high point and headed north towards Lake Virginia. The skies all around were getting darker and I picked up the pace even more. At 1430 hours I made it to the lake and was able to set up dry, great success. As soon as my rain fly was secure the first drops hit and it didn't stop for three hours as booming thunder, lightning and rain kept me company. I was happy and dry in my tent reading my Star Wars books on my Nook. I was able to come out of my tent and have a dry dinner at 1800 hours, Beef Stroganoff and Tortilla Soup, the perfect dinner for the moment. Surprisingly I had no neighbors, last year when I was here there were at least twenty people but today the lake was all mine. I went to bed happy and dry, this was the last "big push" day of the trip, five thousand feet of climbing would make for a good nights rest.

Entering A New Wilderness To Start The Day

View North From Goodale Pass

Mt. Ritter & Banner Peak Make Their First Appearance

Lake Of The Lone Indian

Mt. Ritter & Banner Peak

Dark Clouds Have Emerged

The Silver Divide

Time To Hunker Down Again......
August 17, 2012: To Reds Meadow Backpackers Campground: 16.1 Miles, +1,300'
I woke up feeling great, my physical and mental state of mind were great. A good nights rest does wonders out here. I was excited to start the day for two big reasons. First was the phone call to the wife, always look forward to that out here and second was the greasy hamburger that awaited at the Reds Meadow Grill. I was off on the trail at 0630 hours and as usual, the skies were clouding up even at this early hour. I made great time over mostly mild terrain compared to yesterdays gain. The closer I got to Mammoth, the more downed trees there were. It was sad to see so many majestic giants down but at the same time it was a natural event and who am I to question Mother Nature. I was equally intrigued at the trees that did not blow down, out of a cluster of ten trees that blew over there would be one left standing. 
I started to see more people as moved closer and closer to Reds Meadow. Around Deer Creek my phone started receiving messages so I was able to call Judy which was great. I made it to the Reds Meadow area at 12:30 and proceeded to the backpackers campground a quarter mile past the grill and store. Last year when I was here the campsite was full of backpackers but today it was just me and it would remain that way all day and night, I thought it was strange. I could hear distant thunder so I quickly set up my tent. Once I was set up I made my way to the grill to order a greasy, tasty and delicious hamburger and oh did it hit the spot.
After a couple rounds of ice cold diet coke at the grill, I made my way over to the store where I stocked up on fresh peaches, Reeces Cups and Fritos. I got an update on the weather and more of the same was forecast. The good news on the weather front was it was sunny right here and now so I made my way back to camp to dry out some gear. I spent the afternoon reading and planning for the last few days of the trek. I went back to the grill for a tri-tip, mashed potato, veggies, fresh salad, diet coke and ice cream dinner for only $15, what a deal.  I would sleep good tonight.

Silver Divide Reflected Off Lake Virginia

Silver Divide

Fish Creek Drainage

Red Cones

Mt. Ritter & Banner Peak

November 30th Aftermath

Rainbow Fire Aftermath
August 18, 2012: To Thousand Island Lake, 15.7 Miles, +2,800'
I woke up bright and early with the intention of getting to another camp dry. The skies were clear and I was on my way at 0700. I made a quick pit stop to see the Devils Postpile and was happy I did. It is an unusual volcanic feature that is worth seeing. From here I had a decision to make, take the JMT proper or take the PCT. Both trails met up at Thousand Island Lake and as I had been on that stretch of JMT last year I decided for the new scenery and took the PCT northbound. I made great time up the River Trail and before too long was at Agnew Meadows. The skies were getting darker and darker with clouds but I felt I could make it to camp before the daily afternoon show began. I made it to Thousand Island Lake at 1215 hours. I felt good, I had beat the rain and it was actually partly sunny so I set up camp and took a swim in the lake, did some laundry and dried out by the sun, what a feeling. I had my camp all in order when the really dark nasty and noisy clouds appeared behind Banner Peak.
I actually did not mind the first raindrops and distant booms of thunder, I was all toasty warm and dry, my plan was to ride out the storm in the safety of my tent. This is how it went for a couple of hours, the booms got closer, the rain got heavier, the winds grew stronger and minutes turned to hours. I remember it vividly when the first directly overhead thunder head cracked off, just incredibly loud and vicious. With it came the hail, driving hail. This kept up for hours. The hail was building up like a moat around my tent, when the hail began to come in sideways is when it caused me trouble. The splashes that made it under the rain fly were getting stuff inside the rain fly wet, mainly my boots, backpack and mesh around my tent. Condensation was building from within too, me being in the tent for five hours, the humidity outside were causing issues. My relaxing afternoon was spent trying to keep everything dry while the thunderous claps continued above. 
At 1800 hours I gave up the idea of the storm stopping and cooked dinner inside my vestibule. The storm finally stopped at 1930 hours, six straight violent hours.  I got out of my tent to take an assessment of the storm and quickly realized how bad it really was. I could hear rushing water about 300 yards from my tent and saw a flash flood coming off a slope into the lake. In another direction I saw a river of hail flowing into the lake. Two gentleman had their tent completely fail (collapse) during the storm and took refuge with some other backpackers. Another guy had his boots and bear box wash out from his site and were now in the lake. The slopes all around looked like fresh fallen snow occurred. My gear was wet, but nothing too bad. It was getting dark which meant nothing would dry very much overnight. I had some desert and crawled into my sleeping bag that I battled all those hours to keep dry and warm. Oh boy, what a storm.

The Devils Postpile

Mammoth Mountain

Banner Peak

Nifty Campsite

Clouds Building

Calm Before The Storm
August 19, 2012: To Tuolomne Meadows Backpackers Campground, 21.2 Miles, +2,300'
After a chilly night of rest I was up and ready to go 0626 hours. I was treated to a glorious sunrise and reflection off of Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak. I packed up my gear wet and headed north up the JMT. I was really hoping for a peaceful day as today was a long push to Tuolomne Meadows. The major obstacle today was Donohue Pass, after that it is a long long downhill journey down beautiful Lyell Canyon. First things first, the skies were already cloudy at sunrise which I took as a bad sign so I made my way hastily towards Island Pass. The view of Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter from there was awesome. I passed some other backpackers making breakfast along the way and exchanged our tales of thunderstorm terror from the night before, apparently it was just as if not more violent here.
Last year when I backpacked through this area it was all snow and tricky snow bridges, so it all seemed brand new to me this go round. I made great time and at 1030 hours I was atop Donahue Pass, the gateway to Yosemite National Park. It felt good to be this far but I had my eye on the brewing storm to my southwest. Based on my thunderstorm experiences the past two weeks I was mentally prepared for the worst which wasn't a good thing, so much of the beauty of the trail was lost to thunderstorm prep aka hike faster.
The journey south from Donahue Pass takes me by the Lyell Forks then Lyell Canyon. It is one of the great spots in all the Sierra Nevada, I will be back to climb Mt. Lyell someday but also to take a couple of extra days to explore and relax here, a very special place. The skies were very dark and angry looking south from where I had come but sunny and inviting to the north where I was going. Before too long I was down in the canyon in glorious sunshine, it felt so good. The sun would accompany me all the way to Tuolomne Meadows making today one of the better weather days.  
As I crossed the bridges just before Tioga Road a great sense of relief and accomplishment came over me. I wasn't finished but I was really close and after the bouts with Mother Nature I had been through I needed a sense of relief so I went with it. I made a quick pit stop at the wilderness center to get my Half Dome permit stamp but it turns out I did not need one. My permit was issued by Sequoia National Park which permits me to climb Half Dome, good to know. I made it to the backpackers campground at 1400 hours and it was still sunny and warm. I quickly set up so that everything would dry out. By 1530 hours I was completely dry and happy, onward camp store and grill :).
The next hour of my life was a great one. Double Hamburger, Fries, Coke, Ice Cream, Chicken Sandwich, More Fries, More Coke and another Ice Cream. I was really enjoying the store and grill. It was really sinking in that I had come this far and only had two days to go. I sat and chatted with a family who were just getting started on the southbound JMT and I gave them all the gory details of my journey, but gave them some confidence about the river crossings and passes. I grabbed some bonus snacks (Margarita in a bottle, Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich, M&M's, Two Plums, Gatorade, Reeses Cups, Junior Mints and Fritos) and headed back to camp. I called Judy and shared the good news, I would be home in less than forty eight hours. It was a truly surreal feeling.

Sunrise Over Thousand Island Lake

Banner Peak Reflection

Banner Peak Close Up

Sunrise Was A Beauty Today

Storm Aftermath

Heading North To Donahue Pass

Lyell Canyon From Donahue Pass

Northern Yosemite High Country

Mt. Lyell

T-Storms Building Over Mt. Lyell

Deer & Fawn In Lyell Canyon
August 20, 2012: To Clouds Rest Junction, 18.8 Miles, +2,100'
I opted for a late start today so I could partake in the grill one more time. I slept in all the way until 0615 hours :o. The grill opened at 0800 hours and I was there appetite in hand. Pancakes, Bacon, Eggs and Toast never tasted so good. After breakfast I grabbed a king size Reeses Cup for the final desert of the trip and hit the trail at 0900 hours. I tried to shortcut my way through the campground but ended up in dense forest so I lost a little bit of time detouring back to the JMT. Once on the trail I cruised up to Cathedral Lakes in no time at all it seemed. I heeded the warning of many hikers and filled up my water here, it would be the last water until my camp tonight, fourteen miles from here. The drought year had shut down some of the High Sierra Camps including Sunrise. Last year I camped at Sunrise on day one of my JMT journey and what a difference a year makes. The meadow was lush, green and water was plentiful, this year there was no water, the creek was completely dry and the meadow was brown.
I made my way up and over the last uphill of the trip and cruised on down dry Sunrise Creek admiring the views of the Merced drainage to my left and Clouds Rest and Half Dome ahead of me. I arrived to my camp for the night at 1515 hours. This was it, last night of the trip. I was barely able to get enough water from the creek to fill my bottles and have dinner. I saved a Chicken a la King with Noodles for the last dinner of the trip. The Reeses Cup's I bought at the Tuolomne Meadows Store was a great treat to end the day. I was ready to complete this journey. I fell asleep peacefully until yelling and screaming at midnight awoke me. Apparently a bear was spotted a couple of sites over and was wrecking havoc. Three individuals came through my site headlamps blaring looking for the bear. I got out of my tent to take a look around. I never saw a bear but made sure my site was extra bear proof and tried to fall asleep again.

Cathedral Lake

Cathedral Peak

The Clark Range

Dome Overlooking Sunrise Meadow

Sunrise Meadow

Matthes Crest

Half Dome

August 21, 2012: To Half Dome & Curry Village, 12.0 Miles, +2,000'
The alarm sounded at 0400 hours and I was excited and roaring to go. I hit the trail at 0500 hours and quickly walked the half mile to the Half Dome cutoff and dropped my pack off the trail. I felt light as a feather hiking up the trail with just my camera, water, jacket and snacks. My plan was to get to the summit in time to see the sunrise. I made it to the base of the sub dome just as the first hints of the new day appeared in the east. I powered up the steep section of switchbacks and was at the base of the cables at 0615 hours. To my surprise I was all alone, I had the cables all to myself so I naturally tried to set a PR going up. Seven minutes and fifteen seconds later I succeeded and was at the summit of Half Dome, I even made it before the sunrise :). I did not have the summit to myself, a group of hikers from Little Yosemite Valley had been up here for at least an hour prior to my arrival, but I did not mind the company at all. I got to photograph and video the rising sun in all its glory and it felt good, I was finally here, I was on top of Half Dome after three hundred plus miles and nearly three weeks of travel, I was filled with emotion. I sent off my SPOT message, took some more photos and headed back down the cable and eventually to my pack at the JMT junction.
I was relieved to find my pack intact after the bear stories from this area. I headed down the last six miles of my journey passing many many Half Dome day hikers, some happy to say good morning, some so out of breath they couldn't talk if they wanted to. The last few miles were a blur and I was excited to get back and reminiscing about my adventure at the same time. I was really looking forward to a shower and a teriyaki turkey burger. I made my way down the last of the trail and walked the short distance to Curry Village and arrived at my truck at 1100 hours. My GPS read 312.0 miles with 57,200' of elevation gain. I was excited to see that my truck was still here in one piece three weeks to the day after dropping it off and even more excited when it started right up. 
I drove over to Housekeeping and took a long hot shower. While taking my shower I was overcome with emotion and had a private moment of tears, joy and thanks to God for delivering me across this epic adventure safely and soundly. I was indeed grateful. After my shower I drove over to the village for my long awaited Teriyaki Turkey Burger and Sweet Potato Fries. It truly hit the spot. I was ready to drive the long five hours home. I was greeted at home to a surprise welcome back that my lovely wife had put together for me, it capped off a great day and a great journey.

Half Dome Awaits

Empty Cables :)

On The Summit In Time For Sunrise
My Daughter Had This Bandana Made For Me & I Carried It All The Way

My Special Edition Bandana


Early Morning Light On The Summit

Yosemite Valley

Half Dome Shadow

Yosemite Valley

Feeling Good, Almost Done

Top Of Nevada Falls

Half Dome & Nevada Falls

I Did It !!!!!!

What A Journey

1 comment:

  1. What a great report Jim! As ever you take some of the best Sierra photos I've seen: your exposure, WB, and color are impeccable!!!