John Muir Trail and Death Valley 
Monday, September 12, 2016, 09:14 PM - Trips
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I linked up with my Dad for a backpacking trip from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows stretch of the JMT. We rented a car and cruised up to a little campsite at the Grandview Campground in Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest outside of Big Pine, CA. We arrived at about 10pm on a Saturday, so it was no surprise all the spot were taken. I worked my charm with one of the campers and we popped our tent up on the side of the meadow for a quick rest. The next morning, we headed into Mammoth Lakes and hiked the Sierra High Route from Crystal Lake TH to a red pumice cone and cliff face that overlooked all the lakes in the valley. Dad did great, even with the altitude - but I was carrying all the gear. We returned to town to finish our last minute shopping and have a flight at Mammoth Brewing--complete with a metal/rock band.





The following morning my Dad went to the ranger station extra early to make sure he was first in line for the JMT passes and we easily secured a pass to hike to Tuolumne for the next day. At the ski area hotel we met John, Andy, and Dave--all of whom were classmates at my Dad's high school in St. Louis and hiking the full JMT. After hotel room beer, my dad and I drove down to Red's Meadows to camp and hike around the Devil's Postpile area. While the photos of the national monument didn't impress me much, I did really enjoy checking out the postpile and seeing the basalt columns up close. They were formed when a lake of lava solidified in the valley.



The following morning, I dropped the car off at the ski area where our shuttle from Tuolumne would drop us off in 4 days, and shuttled back into Red's Meadow. The 5 of us tossed our packs on and headed into the Sierras. The 3 hiking veterans were in serious shape after 17 days on trail and they didn't waste time in out-climbing us. I hung back with my Dad and we slowly worked our way up to Trinity Lakes for lunch. My Dad was taking rest breaks every 10 minutes or so on the climb, so I moved his bear canister into my bag in exchange for the tent, which shaved about 5 lbs off his pack weight. We continued our haul up to Rosalie Lake for the night. Since my Dad was taking his time, I took the opportunity to talk with other hikers (and as my hiking colleagues noticed, I seemed to talk especially long with the solo female variety). We finally made the drop into camp at Rosalie Lake and set up camp overlooking the lake. Andy and Dave pulled out the fly rods and managed to snag a nice Rainbow Trout for dinner.






The following morning, the crew woke early and quickly packed up camp - you get fairly efficient after 18 days! We dropped into Shadow Lake and then crossed a pass to Garnet Lake. The crew of 3 left Dad and I straight-away again and it became clear that we wouldn't be hiking with them at all. I knew this bummed my Dad out because he was hoping to spend time with John. But I was there to keep my Dad company and we explored the Sierras at our own pace. We slowly climbed up another pass, by Ruby and Emerald Lakes, and rested at Thousand Island Lake for lunch. There wasn't much cover here so we hunkered down under a bush to eat sausage and cheese sandwiches, pistachios, and energy bars. Island Pass wasn't too bad, but down at Rush Creek Trail we expected to see the gang camped out--so when we didn't, my Dad struggled to keep going up toward Donohue. Then the rain rolled in. We layered up in rain gear and trudged uphill in hopes of finding our compatriots. After about an hour we did find the camp and my Dad got to drop his pack! We filtered water, setup the tent, cooked dinner, pulled out the whiskey, and before long, high spirits were returned to all.







The next day, we tackled Donohue Pass and Dad was in surprisingly strong form. After snapping a couple photos on top, we carefully moved down into Lyell Canyon. The trail dropped and dropped into the valley. The bear canisters still felt really heavy, so I suggested we eat lunch along the creek. With the hardest part over, we took our time cruising and watched the deer and chipmunks in the blue bird day. At the Ireland Lake turnoff, we found a note addressed to us from the other 3 guys. They were in a rush to finish off the trail and decided to push past our camp to Tuolumne that night. My Dad wasn't going to cover the last 5.5 miles so it was a sad we wouldn't share our last night on the trail with the crew. At least we scored a nice campsite in the valley where we could finished off the whiskey and eat a so-so dehydrated dinner with a delicious apple pie dessert. It was nice to have this quality time with Dad to talk about my career, plans for world domination, etc.





The following day we finished off the hike to Tuolumne Meadows in the morning sun. The thing to do apparently was to indulge on burgers and frosties at the Grill, so that's exactly what we did. Then went to Tenaya Lake to relax on the beach for a couple hours. From that vantage point, I could tell there was certainly a lot of climbing in the area and I was wishing I had my rack and a trad partner to go exploring. Maybe next time. Dad and I took the first shuttle back to Mammoth, helped few other JMT trekkers hitchhike to their condo, and then drove south to Taboose Creek Campground for the night. The next morning, we found a 60-year-old man heading to the highway - he bailed on the JMT after struggling with the altitude, so we gave him a lift down to Lone Pine where his truck was waiting. He vowed to go back and finish the trail next year. These older folks are definitely tougher than I am!





It's so rare that you can calibrate your altimeter with a beer.

Dad and I turned our sights East and drove into Death Valley. As we descended toward Stovepipe Wells the temperatures climbed from the 90s to ~110. We decided to take a hike in Mosaic Canyon, but when we weren't in the shade it was HOT, "but a dry heat." The canyon did have some nice polished marble slot canyon surfaces... that you could fry an egg on. We hiked the Salt Creek Trail (somehow a fish lives there, even though it was bone dry), checked out the Borax Works, and then found some shelter in the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We ate lunch in the AC in the rental car because it was too hot to sit outside. On our way out of the park, we completed the Artists Drive, hiked to the Natural Bridge (at this point it was 117F!), and walked around Badwater (the lowest elevation in the US at -282 ft). I was thrilled to see the temperatures drop into the double digits as we exited the park - who goes to Death Valley in the middle of the summer?










We tried to get a spot to camp at McWilliams Campground by the Lee Canyon Ski Area, but it was full. Fortunately, Dad spotted a rustic camp area and we snagged a free spot nearby, right about (36.342202, -115.646307) if you're interested. In the morning, we did the Bristlecone hike around to the ski area, spent a couple hours cruising the Las Vegas Strip, and then I caught my flight back to the real world.





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