In part 2 of my JMT trip run-down, I have my first close(-ish) encounter with a backcountry airlift and wallow in a lazy zero day at Upper Palisade Lake. Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.
Day 5 was relatively short and easy thanks to the extra hours I put in climbing out of Quail Meadow at the end of Day 4. I was able to relax with only 15 miles to cover before Muir Trail Ranch. Fortunately so, as the section around Marie Lakes and over Selden Pass was one of the prettiest yet.
I made Muir Trail Ranch around 4pm. I was there for my next resupply and had seriously mixed emotions about that. Food drops are always a double-edged sword. If you’ve done things right, you have almost no food left so you’re somewhat excited about the resupply. It means you get to eat. Yet your pack is never lighter than heading into a resupply. That leads to a certain level of trauma as you add all that weight back to your pack.
I needed food for four days until I could connect with Taylor on the 19th, but seeing my pack weight jump from 22 lbs to over 32 lbs (with the addition of four days of food and a 1.5 liters water) was heartbreaking. Not quite so heartbreaking that I didn’t snag three bags of dehydrated mangoes that were languishing in the oversupply buckets that line wall at MTR, but still difficult.
Adjusting to my newly heavy pack, I stopped for the night less than a mile out of MTR at the Blayney Meadow Hot Springs, a nice campground across the Kern River that boasts a pair of hot springs and a hot springs-fed lake.
The combination of the short day and the hot springs left me refreshed when I hit the trail the next morning. I also benefitted from the fact that I was heading into familiar territory and knew that the upcoming Evolution Valley, home to a spectacular set of lakes leading up to Muir Pass (Upper and Lower Evolution, Sapphire, Wanda), is one of the best places on the trail.
My goal was Upper Evolution Lake, a gorgeous high-altitude alpine lake that is less crowded than the Lower Evolution. The hike through the valley was as nice as I remembered. It also gave me the opportunity, as I passed Colby Meadows, to play the first installment of “Hey, I’ve camped there before,” a game that would keep me company the rest of the hike.
I pulled into camp early after covering just more than 20 miles. I soaked in the scenery over another cold dinner of jerky, dehydrated fruit, homemade trail mix (almonds, raisins, peanut M&Ms), and a Hammer Recoverite shake. One of my weight-saving strategies for this hike was to ditch my stove and the hot meals that go with it.
I can’t say I regretted it. Even so, the fact that it wasn’t as monotonous as expected didn’t prevent me from looking forward to the 19th when my friend Taylor would arrive with a resupply that contained my stove and some hot hot food.
I cowboy-camped that night (no tarp, just a sleeping bag), which I do whenever possible. I was entertained as I drifted off to sleep by a cascade of shooting stars leftover from the recent Perseid meteor shower. Staring at shooting stars as you drift off is much less effective than counting sheep but is infinitely more enjoyable.
The next morning brought me bright and early to Sapphire and Wanda Lakes as I approached Muir Pass. It also gave me a front row seat to something that would turn into serious trail gossip in the next several days. Near Wanda Lake, a pair of women were stopped just off the trail. One was seated on the hillside and the other was talking into a satellite phone, which was weird. When I asked how they were doing, all I got back was an unenthusiastic “okay.” Weird again, but not quite strange enough for me think something was really wrong.
I would find out later that one of the women had altitude sickness and a strained achilles. For her, that was enough to warrant a helicopter trip off the trail.
This got a lot of play on trail over the next few days. You never know what’s going on with someone, but the group of JMT’ers I’d gotten to know thought it odd that she called in a helicopter when she appeared to be free from serious difficulty and hadn’t asked anyone along the trail for help. Backcountry airlifts are rarely a first resort.
I cleared Muir Pass shortly after passing the women and began the long, enervating miles down Le Conte Canyon and then up Palisade Canyon. These were some of the toughest miles on the trail due to the stifling heat and blistering sun.
Finally, the undending hours ascending from 8,070 feet led me to the Golden Staircase, the climb up to the Palisade Lakes (10,500 ft). With one last burst of energy, I made the lakes and fell into camp in a cloud of dust.
One of the best days of the trip. I woke up late and moved camp from Lower Palisade to Upper Palisade, a draining march of … 0.9 miles … maybe. From there, more hard work as I labored through a tough schedule of soaking in the lake, napping, eating, more napping and more eating. It was everything a zero day should be.
Normally I wouldn’t have eaten quite so much, but I had my resupply meeting with Taylor the next day. I was determined to carry as little food into the Bench Lake junction as possible. By the time I was done, I had my stash down to just a couple bars, some homemade trail mix, and a bit of dried fruit to get me through the next day’s breakfast and the 8 miles left to our meeting point. Perfect!
Continue to Part 3