16.07.99 - 4.08.99
It starts here. Up at 05:00, lifted the cargo bags into the car. As they really only contain our packed rucsacs and boots how are we to carry the weight on our backs? Left the house at 05:45 in the pouring rain and arrived at the airport car park at 07:20. The bus dropped us at Manchester Terminal 3 at 08:07. Met Jane, Keith (husband), Gill (daughter) and Tim (son-in-law) and killed time until the 10:45 flight to Chicago. Left at 12:10, hitch in the paper work, so they said. Uneventful flight, but we didn't make up the time so we were landing in Chicago at 14:30, the time we were due to fly out to Los Angeles! Caught the next connection at 16:00, Alan and I on one flight and Jane and the others on another. Goodness knows where our luggage was. We all arrived safely at L.A. and so did our luggage, rather to our surprise. Where were they to deliver it to if it had been missing?
Collected the car, an eight seater Chevrolet, very comfortable and plenty of room for all our luggage. Only Jane and Keith were insured to drive which quite suited us! Our first stop was a supermarket to get food for the first part of the trip (we had brought some with us as had Jane and Co.), $72 and I thought food was cheap in the U.S.A.
Jane and Keith shared the driving through the night for the 300 or so miles to the gate of Yosemite National Park. We arrived at about 02:30 on Saturday.
We all dozed, or even slept, in the van until 05:00, by which time we were stiff and quite uncomfortable. We drove a little way to a car park and then went for a walk through a Sequoia grove. Very impressive, but I was more impressed by the size of the cones. There were notices every where prohibiting the removal of the cones or standing close to the trees, all very regimented. Douglas Squirrels (chickadees) were running everywhere in the early morning light. We saw a few chipmunks also. I hadn't realized that they were so small. Walt Disney has a lot to answer for.
We then drove to Yosemite Village and got ourselves organized with a campsite at the backpackers camp and then the highlight of the day for Jane, a full American breakfast. Small stacks, bacon, sausage, eggs, juice and coffee for five, coffee and toast for me. I was practising the principle of carbohydrate loading for the rigours ahead.
We convinced the Ranger that we knew what we were letting ourselves in for and collected our permit. Alan and I also had a copy in case we were separated from the others at any time. In his turn the Ranger convinced us that we needed a bear box to protect our food. We agreed that we would hire two, one for each probable sub party, Jane, Gill, Tim and Alan and I. They weigh 3-4 lbs. each. More weight. While I was enjoying a brief pleasurable view of the Ansel Adam's gallery (I bought a print, which Keith kept in the car until the end), Alan bought five Colman gas canisters for our gas burner. We also had a meths Trangia with a Gaz converter to cover most possibilities, these we left in the car.
As a note, we over-estimated the amount of gas we needed, three canisters would have been enough as we consumed rather less food and hot drinks than expected.
I then "bagged" the food we had bought, for ease of carrying and using, putting some in bags for Keith to deliver to us at Tuolumne Meadows and Red's Meadow.
We compared notes with three British men who were on the next site to us and were also starting the JMT tomorrow.
Later, a swim in the Yosemite River, which was freezing. Too cold and the current too strong for any real swimming but welcome for the chance to cool off and get vaguely clean, possibly for the last time for 15 days! We all met in one of the café s for our dinner. I had a huge salad (vegetarians have problems) and Alan had roast beef and vegetables. Bed by 20:30.
This is it, today we really start. Up at 05:45, breakfasted, packed and caught the bus to Happy Isle trail head where the JMT starts. Obligatory photos at the sign and by 07:20 we were walking. The trail was asphalt to begin with and this rather jarred to me. One of the great wilderness trails should not be asphalt! This soon gave way to earth and rock so harmony was restored. As someone who likes to start the day with ascents, rather than have them at the end of the day, I enjoyed the steady climb and soon settled into a steady rhythm. We met plenty of people as this was also the trail to Half Dome. In fact we were soon looking at these very lightly loaded people with envy. Some seemed to be carrying only water.
As the trail zig-zagged we had great views of Half Dome and Nevada Fall. The holiday was looking promising. We passed and were passed in turn by the three British men who we dubbed "The Three Musketeers", we never got to know their names. The five of us soon settled into our own way of walking, as a twosome and a threesome. About three miles from Sunrise camp the trail went very steeply uphill which made both Alan and I struggle and we arrived at the camp about thirty minutes after the others. Alan quickly erected the tent, while I put the gourmet touch to cheese rolls and cup-a-soup! Jane and Gill had something similar but Tim just flaked out in their tent as soon as it was pitched. The big decision of the evening was "Where to hide the bear boxes". This took place every night, and it was usually not too far away, wedged in a rock or under a tree or something. We were all in bed/tent/sleeping bags by 20:00. It was quite cold as soon as the sun disappeared.
This was actually a "proper" campsite with a tap and a composting toilet. Luxury.
Height ascended: 5,930 ft. Height descended: 830 ft. Distanced walked: 15.6 miles
I was cold in the night, perhaps I should have brought my 4/5 season sleeping bag. There was frost on the tent when we got up at 05:45. It was quite chilly packing everything up and making breakfast, muesli and two dried bananas for Alan. We didn't have tea and coffee this morning but decided that this was a mistake as the drinks would have helped to warm us up. We started walking at 07:00 and to start with it was all on the flat and we were walking in the shade. However the sky was a brilliant blue which promised well for the rest of the day. We soon left the meadow behind and started the climb to Cathedral Pass (9,730 ft). We saw campers at Cathedral Lake (lower?) and thought it a beautiful place to camp - for about two minutes. That was how long it took for the mosquitos to find us.
Alan was going very badly today and was seriously considering abandoning the walk and spending the rest of the holiday with Keith. I tried not to dwell on this as it meant that I would have to give up as well.
Keith had walked up from Tuolumne Meadows to meet us and to tell us where the van and his tent were. The others walked on, while we had a rest, knowing that we would have no problems as Keith had told us where to turn off the JMT and his site number. Unfortunately we forgot the site number and the final directions so although we arrived at the camping ground not long after the others, it took another thirty minutes of scouting around before we saw Keith looking for us! We spent about two hours here, packing the food Keith had brought and a quick trip to the store for Mars bars for Alan and an ice cream for me. The store didn't have Mars Bars but had Milky Ways, which turned out to be Mars Bars in disguise, so I bought enough for five or six days. Alan was so restored by the chocolate and a can of Sprite that he decided to continue, at least to Red's Meadow.
The afternoon walk was along the Lyell Canyon, following Lyell Fork Creek. It was mostly flat and there was a profusion of flowers, mainly blues and lilacs. The lupins were quite small and dainty, much prettier than the gross ones we see in the gardens at home. We stopped to cook food between 16:30 and 17:30, pasta with cup-a-soup for sauce, followed by dried fruit. This was to be our main meal for the next "n" days. We walked for another hour and then pitched the tent, near enough to water for Jane and I to indulge our passion for washing without too much bother. Mosquitoes drove us into the tents by 19:30.
Height ascended: 1,640 ft. Height descended: 2,100 ft. Distanced walked: 17 miles
Quite a heavy frost on the fly sheet of the tent, do we really want to get up? Of course we did and were on our way by 07:15. I wore both my fleecy shirt and my fleece jacket at first but soon warmed enough to remove the jacket. I always wore my shorts despite carrying a lightweight pair of long trousers. I don't know what hidden ingredient was in Alan's breakfast but he was in good form today. We were soon starting the ascent of Donohue Pass. The scenery was overwhelming, steep and rocky and then beautiful hanging valleys complete with their own little lakes, all worth a stop if one could afford the time. We were almost at the top of the pass when we met a Ranger descending. Quite chatty and warned us that it was cold on the top and we would need jackets. Off he went with the statutary "Have a good day" and continued upwards across a small snow field. The top of the pass (11,056 ft) was breathtaking. We settled down to wait for the others, taking out our sleeping bags to air them and to drape over us to keep warm. A friendly marmot came to inspect us and have his photo taken. A couple called Debbie & John stopped for a chat and tried to persuade us to take a deviation from the conventional route to avoid a boring bit and have a night in a hotel! Of course we weren't even tempted! We exchanged e-mail addresses and they continued downwards. The top of the pass marked the boundary between Yosemite Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Soon Jane, Gill and Tim arrived and we all started the descent. Lunch was decreed and so another stop. The next part was so completely different with beautiful green meadows and a winding river and lakes. We saw a few horses and riders. I got as far out of their way as possible on a narrow trail! Lots of mosquitoes today and they were quite a bother. Mosiguard worked well so long as we remembered to keep applying it. Up and over Island Pass (10,200 ft.) and down to Thousand Island Lake, an exaggeration but the sentiment was clear. We had previously arranged to stop at 17:00 and found a pleasant place on the descent from Ruby Lake. While looking, we met a man with a plastic bag with four or five live trout which he had caught. Alan was a bit slow in not offering to buy one. It emerged that he was a supporter of Newcastle United! We had finished our meal and still no sign of the others. We decided that one of us would retrace our steps back towards Ruby Lake to see if we could find them. At that moment Jane appeared walking up towards us from ahead. They had taken a wrong turning, following horse droppings, and had come around below us while we were waiting. They had their meal while we continued onwards, after agreeing that we would find a campsite on the far side of Garnet Lake before we started another ascent. It was a very windy, sloping site but we were close to the lake. It was very cold for washing but very refreshing. The wind helped to keep the mosquitoes at bay but we were in our sleeping bags by 19:30
Height ascended: 3,740 ft. Height descended: 2,970 ft. Distanced walked: 16 miles
Frost on the tent again. It was quite a cold night and I didn't sleep well. Being on a slope didn't help either. We left at 07:15 and were climbing straight away. Both Alan and I seem to prefer this as we get into 'our stride' more easily. Passing through forestry and many lakes, Shadow, Rosalie, Gladys and Trinity, again in to mosquito country. We stopped at 11:00, as agreed, and the others arrived about 11:30. We decided that four hours was too long without meeting and we would cut it down to two hours or so in future. We soon met Keith at yet another lake, Johnston. He had walked from Reds Meadow to meet us. Jane went for a dip in a creek but Keith had promised us warm showers at the camp site and that appeared a better option. We dumped our rucsacs in the car at the Ranger station and then continued past The Devils Postpile (basalt columns similar to the Devils Causeway in N. Ireland), to the campsite. Ice cream and then the free hot showers. These were fed from a hot spring and were a bit gritty but warm and wonderful. We dropped the dirty clothes on the floor and just trampled to wash them. It made us feel better but I don't think that the clothes were much cleaner! Canned soup, natchos with dips followed by hot dogs for the others, with wine, rounded off the day.
Height ascended: 1,660 ft. Height descended: 3,710 ft. Distanced walked: 14.5 miles
Keith took our rucsacs to the trailhead in the car (about 0.5 mile), before he headed off and we continued on our way a little later than usual, 07:45! The ascent was very desolate, through forest which had been burnt the previous year. We had a brief glimpse of Red Cones but were not tempted to deviate for a closer look. We met "The Three Musketeers" again, in fact we'd been playing leap frog with them since the start. They pointed out a rattlesnake to Jane, Gill and Tim but we'd passed it. Apparently it was in a squirrel's hole. We must have stepped over it!
From Deer Creek to Duck Creek, six miles, was very arid (this was the part that Debbie had advised us to avoid), and the path just snaked along the side of the hill. It was very hot as we were exposed most of the way. Filled the water bottles at a tiny creek as a back up, but emptied them again at Duck Creek which was flowing freely. I slipped in the crossing and got one foot and the seat of my shorts wet. They soon dried on the next uphill climb. The fishermen we had been seeing all day decided to stop at Purple Lake as it looked a likely place for fish! Beautiful. We continued climbing up to Lake Virginia. At the far end we stopped to cook our meal and for Jane and I to have a swim. It was very cold. It seemed a shame to leave this spot but we wanted to push on so we would make sure of being in time for the ferry tomorrow. We were told the following day that the horses which were tethered with some campers had escaped and had to be rounded up in the night, creating a lot of noise and disturbance.
We finally left about 18:00. It was downhill, now, all the way to Tully Hole, hard on the knees and it seemed endless with all the zig zags. Alan raced on to find a campsite and I think this one had the distinction of being the worst. The mosquitos were awful and were everywhere. Alan said that he had never put a tent up so quickly. I was some way behind and by the time I arrived all I had to do was to find a suitable place for the bear box, try and hide the extra food that wouldn't fit inside it and throw myself and belongings into the tent. I even abandoned all thoughts of a wash!
Height ascended: 4,056 ft. Height descended: 2,280 ft. Distanced walked: 19 miles
Mosquitos are much more sluggish in the morning. I think the cold has something to do with it. Because it was slightly warmer than it had been, no frost on the flysheet. The hidden food was untouched, except for a hole in the stuff sac where some small rodent had tried an entry. I think it was unsuccessful as none of the packets had teeth marks. Despite our expected short day we were ready and walking by 06:50. The climb was steady up to Silver Pass (10,900 ft). We reached it at 09:45 and waited for the others to catch up, entertained again by a friendly marmot. Is it the same one racing past us in the night, ready to meet us at a suitable place? Passing through beautiful green meadows, with meandering creeks and huge boulders, we saw plenty of lizards and chipmunks playing and sunning themselves. We stopped to talk to two men who had come off the morning ferry from Vermilion. They told us that the afternoon ferry would leave the lakeside at 16:45 to take us to the resort. The owners of the resort would make us very welcome. We stopped under a tree on the only level bit of ground we could find for lunch. We stayed from 12:00 - 13:15, as we knew that we had plenty of time in hand. Sauntering to the Edison Lake we arrived at 14:45. Sauntering, we found, was quite hard work. We sunbathed, swam in the lake and chatted with the other walkers as they arrived. "The Three Musketeers" were there as were others we had previously spoken to but had no names! The boat arrived at 16:45, complete with Keith, who had managed to get the car along the dirt tracks that lead to Vermilion Valley Resort. The ferry was $15 return, to be paid when we finally settled up before leaving the resort. It was a bit wet as the wind was making the lake choppy. We registered at the store where, we were told, we could have a free beer/drink as we were through-JMT walkers. We were also entitled to a free bunk in the tented cabin. There were only eight bunks and they were allocated on a "first come, first served" basis. We decided that we would rather use our tents.
Keith had collected our two parcels that had been delivered to the resort so we spent about an hour sorting out the food and re-packing where applicable. The only hitch with our food was only four packets of vegetable cup-a-soup, the rest were cream of chicken and chicken noodle. Apparently vegetarian means no beef to an American.
A shower pack was $5 and included a large towel, flannel and a bar of soap, plus the hot shower of course. It was wonderful despite having to put back grubby clothes.
For those who are interested I washed my under clothes every day and my socks on alternate days. The T-shirt (Karrimor, man made fibres treated with an anti-bacterial something!) was washed when the occasion presented itself and the shorts never. Alan's things were washed whenever he remembered to ask me.
We ate in the café, which was very good after I had explained that I was a vegetarian and that really meant no meat and no fish. I had a huge salad followed by an ice cream. Alan had salmon, salad, frys, Mexican beans and garlic bread followed by berry pie with ice cream. We also had our free drinks, a Bud and an ice cold Guinness. Very late to bed, 21:15.
Height ascended: 2,100 ft. Height descended: 3,760 ft. Distanced walked: 13.4 miles
Very leisurely in getting up and getting organized as we were told that the ferry was at 09:00. However, an extra one was running at 08:30, which we just caught. We waved goodbye to Keith, who we wouldn't see again until Whitney Portal, nine days away!. The stay at Vermilion cost us $100 all in. Most of the other walkers who had arrived with us were having a rest day but we had decided that we would rather cut our daily mileage than rest. The trip down the lake was much calmer than yesterday's trip and it was very pleasant. The walk back to where we rejoined the JMT trail was much easier than yesterday in the heat and we soon reached the junction. We met work parties who were mending bridges and also a Ranger who asked to see our permit. We were glad that we had organized to have a duplicate from the Ranger at Yosemite. Climbing up the switch back took until 11:30 and had fifty-three turns. Our sacs were now at their heaviest as we were carrying nine days of food. I had six and Alan had three plus today's lunch and snacks. The walk along Bear Creek was very pretty and offered plenty of places to stop for our afternoon break but we resisted until 15:15 which was the pre-arranged meeting time. However, the others had not appeared by 15:50 and as we were getting worried Alan went back along the trail to find them. He was furious when he discovered that they had stopped a few minutes short of us. Continuing on our way we passed through large patches of lupins and gooseberry bushes. No gooseberries though. After stopping for tea we pushed on hard uphill until 18:30 when just by good luck and speed we were on the shore of Marie Lake which was so beautiful that we wanted to cry. The others were soon with us and approved of the site. It would have been all the same if they hadn't as no one was going any further that night. I managed total immersion in the lake before the sun disappeared and it became cold. Then to bed.
Height ascended: 3,950 ft. Height descended: 1,140 ft. Distanced walked: 14.8 miles
Marie Lake was so beautiful that we were reluctant to leave. It would have been good to remain here for a few extra hours or even a day or two but we had to press on to keep to the schedule. We quickly reached the top of the Seldon Pass (10,900 ft), where again the views were spectacular. I think we were becoming a little blasé about views, as they didn't seem to be making the same impact. The descent was quite steep to begin with and then it levelled out into another lush meadow with little streams and carpets of flowers. This didn't last for long as we began the steep descent to the junction with the trail to the Muir Ranch. We met and chatted to a solo woman who was walking South to North. We collected our tub of goodies from the Muir Ranch and used the table in their garden to sort it out. No vegetarian soups so I would be having plain pasta for three days.
We filled our water bottles from a tap, having been assured that it was "good, sweet spring water", visited their flushing toilet and continued on our way. The plan was to find the hot springs and have lunch and a long soak. We didn't find the springs. We knew that they were over the river but didn't fancy the crossing so we just paddled and then continued on our way. Both Alan and I had a bad afternoon. It was very hot and the way was mundane through dense forest, with nothing to take our minds off the plod that we felt it had become. The others passed us and decided on the tea spot in Franklin Meadow immediately before the path forked to Goddard Canyon and Evolution Valley. It was amazing the difference in Alan's and my progress, perhaps because it was now cooler and we were ascending again. We passed the old ford of the river and then found a good campsite.
Height ascended: 2,510 ft. Height descended: 3,800 ft. Distanced walked: 16.1 miles
Half an hour after setting off we had to ford Evolution River. It was very cold but not difficult as it was quite shallow with a sandy bottom. Evolution Meadows were pretty but we were glad to start the ascent to Muir Pass. We saw quite a few camping places at Evolution Lake, which were also very pretty but I think that they might have quite a few mosquitoe in the evenings. We met a group of climbers who were going our way as far as Muir Pass and exchanged the usual pleasantries. I think I would like to have a go at scrambling on some of these hills. The rock looks really sharp and jagged. Stopped for an early lunch at Sapphire Lake where we had a swim and sunbathed. We washed our t-shirts and had nearly dried them by the time we left. The climb up to the pass was easy. The hardest part was running the gauntlet of mosquitos at Wanda Lake which rose in great clouds and were quite vicious. Muir Pass (11,955 ft) was busy with the most people we were to see until towards the end of the walk. There is a stone hut on the pass, a memorial to John Muir, to shelter walkers from inclement weather. Apparently storms can blow here with very little warning. We spent about an hour on the top admiring the view and passing the time of day with the other walkers and climbers. The way down was steep with a lot of loose rocks which made the going more difficult. At one point Alan got cross at me for going off the path, but it appeared to me be an easier way. We also had to cross a small snowfield on which Jane was not very happy. I don't think her shoes gave her much grip or support. It was on this stage that my KSB3 boots split over the right big toe joint. We stopped for tea at the second unnamed lake after Helen Lake (named after one of J.M's daughters). There was a good camp site here but we decided to press on. Perhaps this was a mistake as the site we later chose was not very good. No spectacular views, but we did share it with a couple of llamas! These were being used by some fishermen as pack animals. The men suggested we put our food close to the llamas, as bears would not come near them. Trustingly we did and our food was safe. Perhaps no bears would have come anyway. We shall never know.
Height ascended: 3,160 ft. Height descended: 2,170 ft. Distanced walked: 14.5 miles
Quite a tricky descent to start the day. I managed to fall crossing a creek and bruised my right thumb, little finger and right hip. I also got my foot wet. Did not enjoy the morning as the way was through trees and scrub. We didn't even find the special bathing pool that Jane had read about. We kept passing and re-passing "Bill and Ben", not their real names but we never did introduce ourselves. Their packs weighed between 60 and 65 lbs. All the Americans we saw had much bigger packs than we did. I wonder what they had that we didn't. Likewise, what did we have that Jane and Gill didn't?
The afternoon was hot and the haul up to Palisade Lakes was long and slow with many switchbacks. This is the renowned Golden Staircase that was the last part of the trail to be constructed and it had to be blasted out of the rock. I thought that I was doing well keeping in sight with Alan at most changes of direction. It transpired later that what I thought was him waving that he'd seen me was him just wiping away sweat etc. We met the only unpleasant person on the whole trip who took great delight in telling us, separately, in a very nasty way that the worst was still to come. I saw an abandoned/lost tent later and was uncharitable enough to hope that it had fallen from his pack and he hadn't noticed. We stopped at Lower Palisade Lake for tea, then continued to above the upper lake to make a camp. We saw some girls without packs while we were looking for a site and "Bill and Ben" later told us that they were running the JMT in five days! Perhaps the abandoned tent had been left for them? We found a beautiful site overlooking the lake and about 200 ft above it. With great resolve Alan and I went down and had a skinny dip and wash, if you can call it a wash, as trying to get mosquito repellent, sun screen and dust off without soap is rather difficult. It made us feel better though. The little climb back up to the camp was quite difficult! It became rather cloudy and we thought it might rain but it soon cleared up.
Later in our tent Alan realized that allowing for the time difference it was now his daughter Emma's 21st birthday, so we sang "Happy Birthday" and named the site Emma Haven in her honour.
Height ascended: 2,990 ft. Height descended: 2,510 ft. Distanced walked: 15 miles
Another "Happy Birthday" to Emma, but this time sung by all of us!
Up and over Mather Pass (12,100 ft) by 08:30, fairly easy after yesterday's climb up to Palisade Lakes. The initial descent was quite steep but it soon became long and gradual. We started our next ascent before lunch, Jane was hoping to get a swim in the river but Gill wanted to press on for the ascent of Pinchot Pass. Saw "Bill and Ben" briefly and exchanged a few words. Reached Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft) by 14:30 as it was easier than we had expected. We stopped for an early tea near Twin Lakes. While we were resting a few people passed who were looking for suitable camp sites so we decided that we had better start looking ourselves in case all the suitable sites were occupied. This took longer than expected and we had to clear the site to make it more comfortable. We were close to water at Woods Creek but it was a little difficult to reach. We managed though.
Height ascended: 3,480 ft. Height descended: 4,700 ft. Distanced walked: 17 miles
We were very sluggish this morning. Perhaps yesterday's 17 miles were harder than we had thought. My morning ritual now included putting sticky plaster both on the inside and outside of my boot to keep out the stones! We left at 07:00 and it was downhill as far as the Woods Creek crossing. This was a very well designed suspension bridge which had replaced ones that had been washed away in various floods. Lets hope that this one will stand the test of time. Only one person was allowed onto the bridge at a time and it resonated quite alarmingly. Here we saw our first large bear box since leaving Reds Meadow. Apparently the further south one goes the more of a nuisance bears become. It was now uphill again, but through forestry and scrub. I still prefer the open rock and hillsides. We had arranged to stop for lunch at Rae Lakes as a swim seemed to be a good idea. We arrived at 11:30 at lower Rae Lake and this seemed to be a good place to stop as it had a little beach which made access easy. Both Alan and I had totally immersed ourselves and were laying in the sun, looking at Fin Dome by the time the others arrived. I was wearing my bikini and Alan was in his underpants. We washed our t-shirts while Jane went for a proper swim (at least half a dozen strokes), but Gill eventually decided that it was too cold. With dry and cleaner t-shirts we dragged ourselves away at about 13:00 to start the long slog up Glen Pass. Again Alan and I found it hard going, we decided that it was the "afternoon" climb rather than the "morning" climb syndrome. Before we reached the top of the pass we met a man who had walked from Mexico! He was on the Pacific Crest Trail which didn't intend walking in one go. It's about 2,000 miles. On top of the Glen Pass (11,978 ft) we met two more men who were walking the Rae Lakes round - 45 miles. They had a rather horrific tale of a bear which had torn one of the pockets on his rucsac. It was empty, and outside the tent, but the bear must have smelt something interesting. It ran away when they shouted at it.
It was a very steep descent and very loose which made it more difficult. It was also quite exposed in placesbut perhaps we noticed it more as we felt less secure underfoot. We had our meal in an open area at the turn off of the track to Charlotte Lake. There was no water but we had enough with us to make our meal. There was then the long descent to Lower Vidette Meadow, another bear box and quite a few tents and campers. There was still plenty of room for us without being too near other people. I found a relatively secluded spot for my wash. Jane also found it so it couldn't have been really all that secluded!
Height ascended: 3,950 ft Height descended: 3,920 ft Distanced walked: 14.5 miles
I didn't sleep at all well, had a very restless night and was quite glad to get up in the morning. Level walking through the rest of the Lower Meadow, and then ascending to Upper Vidette Meadow where there were more bear boxes and campsites. It was getting busy. The path was now ascending all the way to Forrester Pass (13,180 ft) but the path was very well graded. This pass is the highest pas that is actually part of the JMT. Near the top the path went through a snowfield but a slight diversion was found to bypass it. The others were there first and waited for us. It was very windy and quite chilly. However as it was 12:00 we decided to eat our lunch on the top, perched on little ledges over large drops. We didn't dawdle as I soon became cold. Alan helped me up with my rucsac and I almost over balanced which could have had rather nasty consequences. It rather destroyed my confidence and as my feet were so cold that I couldn't feel the path properly I was very worried and glad to reach the bottom. It was the first time on the trail that I had felt this way. There was now a long walk through an alpine meadow with sweet scented blue flowers. We also met a couple who hadn't seen any one for the previous five days! The weather was now becoming quite threatening despite Alan telling all those on the summit that we were in for good weather as the clouds were the right sort. Thunder was now rumbling all around us and it was getting darker and darker. When we caught up with the others it was decided that we would hurry along and pitch our tents at Tyndall Creek where there was a bear box. We would then sit out the storm and make a decision about continuing later. We had the tents up at 15:00 just as the first large raindrops fell. It was slightly nerve racking with only a thin material layer between us and the heavy rain and the thunder. I kept thinking "what if....". Fortunately "what if..." didn't happen. The rain stopped about 17:45, the sun came out and "dried up all the rain". We cooked our meal and decided not to go any further today. Looking back towards Forrester Pass we could see that fresh snow had fallen and I for one was glad that we hadn't been caught up there in the storm.
The campsite was very nice with running water nearby, a bear box and very few mosquitoes.
Height ascended: 3,560 ft. Height descended: 2,190 ft. Distanced walked: 12 miles
Part of yesterday's plan had been to have a swim in Frog Pond, but the storm put a stop to that. We reached Frog Pond after about an hour of walking and it really looked an idyllic spot for a swim. It was a beautiful blue pond in the middle of a lush green meadow but there was no thought of stopping for a swim this morning as it was still quite cold and we wanted to push on as the end was in sight. Downhill now to Wallace Creek where the High Sierra trail joined us. In Crabtree Meadow we saw two notices. One about two Palimo horses and two mules that had escaped in the area and if sighted, could their position be reported to the Ranger. The other notice stated that part of the JMT would be closed for renovation at some dates in August and September. Fortunately for us the first August date was a few days hence. What would we have done? What could we have done except camped, sat it out, and got very hungry. We stopped for lunch, and having the bit between our teeth now we decided that we would forgo the proposed swim at Timberline Lake and press on to Guitar Lake. Having reached Guitar Lake we had decisions to make. This was the last sure point for water until we were on the way down to Whitney Portal so sense, the book and lots of other walkers decided to camp here. However it was only 14:00 which seemed much too early to stop. The book said that there were a couple of waterless campsites just below Trail Crest at 13,200 ft. Would we risk these being free and continue, carrying enough water to take us through to the following day? Between the five of us we were carrying 12 litres of water so that shouldn't be a problem. It was agreed that we would carry on. The trail up to Trail Crest was very well graded , with the usual long zig-zags for a little height gained. I was going well and thought of suggesting that we would continue to the summit and camp there, but a look at the other members of the party made me decide to leave it as a thought, not a proposal. It was some where on this stretch that Alan had a wonderful conversation with two walkers. It went along the following lines.
"How're you doing?"
"How are you doing?"
Classic literature, it wasn't but it embodied the whole spirit of the walk.
When we reached the Trail Crest (13,480 ft) at 17:00 we found that Keith had been there a few hours earlier and left Jane a note. It was a pity that we had missed him as it was his and Jane's wedding anniversary. We followed the path a little way towards Mt. Whitney and found the camp sites that had been built on a couple of ledges. They were empty! They were absolutely idyllic with fantastic views over the whole valley where we were higher than everything else except Mt. Whitney, which was behind and 1,000 ft above us. Alan was extremely tired and almost collapsed rather than sat down. I think that we were all a little emotional as we were so near the end. Food restored us all and for the first time on the whole trip it was warm enough for us all to sit and enjoy the views without being eaten alive. We even did some of Jane's crosswords that she had brought. I found it quite cold in the night, but perhaps it was because I couldn't sleep that I noticed it.
Height ascended: 4,330 ft. Height descended: 1,980 ft. Distanced walked: 14.8 miles
Alan and I had decided that we weren't going to wait for breakfast, so just carrying our almost empty rucsacs we left the tent and started the final ascent. Jane came with us, leaving poor Tim almost choking on his museli at Gill's urgings to hurry up. The last 1,000 ft seemed to be easy, no problems with the altitude and by 07:30 Jane was on the summit of Mt Whitney (14,495 ft), the end of the John Muir Trail.
It was quite an emotional moment. We took photos of her and she of us. We were the highest people in the whole of the contiguous United States. Gill and Tim arrived and more photos were taken.
We got talking to a man who had left Whitney Portal at 01:00 to arrive at the top about half an hour after us. Alan had read that there was a toilet on the summit and had taken his toilet roll so he could use it. He didn't find it, perhaps it was locked inside the hut. We didn't want to leave, but despite the sun it was still very cold so we signed the book and made our way back down to the campsite. The adrenaline had gone, the trail was ended. We still had to pack up and walk another 8.3 miles to Whitney Portal. We slowly packed everything and eventually we had no more reason to delay starting the final hurdle, the 6,100 ft of descent. We met many people on our way down, they were on the way up to the summit as it is a popular weekend walk. As down gives way to up we were frequently stopping on the very loose and exposed path to allow them to pass. It was a bit of a shock to see all those people. We stopped for lunch about 12:00, our last of Rivitas and gungy cheese from a tube and then just strolled on down. We arrived at the car park at 14:45, met the others, had an ice cream, Sprite, a shower and changed into cleanish clothes. Chatted to other trail walkers we recognised. Apparently the "Three Musketeers" were about half a day behind us. No news of "Bill and Ben" though.
Keith then drove us to the campsite, where we pitched the tents for the last time
Keith had brought food for a barbecue, steak, chicken legs, cheese, fruit and pink "champagne". Bed at 20:00. We heard noises and shouting of "Bear, bear", about 22:30 but ignored them.
Height ascended: 1,390 ft Height descended: 6,270 ft Distanced walked: 13.1 miles
A bear had broken into a car at the next camp lot below us, broken the windows and left claw marks on the door. There had been no food in the car and, in fact, it was empty. That was the nearest we came to a bear. As we were driving out at 08:00 we saw a couple more cars with broken windows so the bears must have been quite active in the night. Lone Pine for breakfast and post our little bear boxes back to Yosemite. I had become quite attached to mine but not enough to pay the $75 to keep it!
Alan's breakfast was sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, Sprite and then strawberries and cream. The others all had something similar except Gill who wanted soft-boiled eggs which weren't on the menu. She had them though. I had coffee and orange juice. We left at 10:00 and were in L.A. car rental at 13:15. We said our goodbyes, left the others sorting out their change of car while we caught the shuttle bus to the airport. We left most of our luggage in lockers at the airport then tried to get somewhere to stay for the night. The Banana Bunkhouse, which we had fancied because we liked the name, was full.. Our next choice of Travel Lodge was no problem and we were collected by a free bus and were checking in by 14:30. A shower was our first priority. They were wonderful and so were the large white fluffy towels. Not quite so white by the time we had finished! We found the hotel diner and had enormous ice creams. We had never seen a banana split as large as the one Alan had. I was more modest with just two scoops of ice cream but even that was too big. I ate it out of pure greed. The hotel was quite nice but there didn't seem to be any way of walking anywhere so we just mooched around until it was time to eat again. Well we did have a lot of catching up to do. Back to the diner. There was a slight problem again, no vegetarian meals. After a great discussion with the waitress, who was very helpful, it was decided that I could have two side salads with some bread thrown in. Alan had soup, side salad, rice and steak with a sauce, bread and then fruit yoghurt and huge pancakes. We even had a glass of beer each, really decadent. We were quite entertained by a group of men and the repartee between them and their waitress at the next table. It was all very good humoured.
We were quite late to bed 21:30. I had a restless night, perhaps I wasn't used to a soft bed and no fresh air.
Going home, (Chicago O'Hare).
We were up by 07:00. We were restless. Another long shower, just for the novelty. Decided to miss breakfast and head straight for the airport. When we settled our bill, last night's meal had not been added, but the ice cream had been. We queried this with the hotel's receptionist, but she wasn't bothered as it was the diner's problem, not hers. It meant that we ended up with a free meal but, unfortunately, the helpful waitress didn't get her tip. Free bus to the airport where we collected our left luggage. I had a Starbucks coffee, again, greed but it was lovely. Our plane left on time, at 11:04 and after an uneventful flight we landed at Chicago, again on time. Wandered around, killing time, looking at books, duty free etc. Alan had a peppered turkey roll and I had a frozen yoghurt. All the servings are large and I, for one found it difficult to finish. Again, our flight to Manchester left on time.
Another uneventful flight and landing. By 09:00 we had collected our car and were on the way home, arriving about 12:00 and first calling at Kendal to leave our films to be developed. We were then faced with the usual pile of mail, most of it junk. Unpacking was quickly completed, mainly by dumping most of it on the floor to be washed.
A wonderful holiday, when can we go again.
Distance walked: about 220 miles with friend Jane and her daughter, Gill, and son-in-law, Tim.
Time taken: 15 days from Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal.
Total ascent: 48,423 ft.
Total descent: 44,328 ft.
Weather: Blazing blue skies and very hot during the day, and cold at night sufficient to freeze condensation on the tent fly sheet. One afternoon of thunder and rain lasting about an hour and a half.
Tent: Trisar Ultra.
Boots: Alan wore his trusty Manta M4s, which are now going into well deserved retirement. I wore my KSB 3s which started to fall apart and were dumped at the end of the trail. Neither of us suffered more than minor foot problems.
Packs: Alan used a brand new Lowe-Alpine Frontier 75+15 which proved very comfortable indeed but please Lowe get those poppers sorted out. I used my six year old Karrimor Jaguar 65L. We reckon the maximum weight carried was about 40-45 lbs.
Maps: The Tom Harrison strip maps proved more than adequate. In fact maps aren't essential but add greatly to the interest. With a bit of technical wizardry Alan managed to overlay a UTM grid on to the maps which made use of the GPS feasible. Again, not necessary but added to the interest and we like to know where we're eating and sleeping. (The 1999 edition of these maps already have the UTM grid.)
Food: We lived on muesli, dried fruit, pasta, powdered soup, crisp bread, primula cheese and chocolate bars. We arranged one food drop and the greatest food quantity we had to carry was nine days worth.We over estimated on the food we ate but under estimated on the amount we should have eaten. Alan's virtual collapse at the end of the day on the 31st July was probably partly due to malnutrition!
Drink: We both carried 2 litre Platypuses plus a 1 litre Sigg of iodised water. Alan's Platypus was laced with energy powder. I don't believe in chemical aids.
Mosquitos: Mosi-Guard proved very effective but we resigned ourselves to being bitten quite a lot. The Rangers recommended 100% DEET!
Dust and Dirt:We've never been so continuously dirty in our lives or as dirty. The trail was very dusty in places and walking too close to the person in front guaranteed a dust shower. As we were sticky with sweat, sun block and insect repellant the results were not very pleasant.
Bears: We hired bear cannisters at Yosemite Valley and had no problems. Others did. Our policy was to cook near the end of the day and then walk for another hour before camping, thus avoiding food smells where we slept. At our final camp, at Whitney Portal, a car was savaged by a bear seeking food.
Stove: Go-Gas Camping Stove using three 225g gas cartridges.
Cameras: Alan used a Minolta Vectis S1 with a 25-150mm zoom. I have a Canon Ixus Z70 with a 23-69mm zoom. Film was Kodak Ultra APS 200 ASA, 40 exp. Despite the heat, cold and dust both performed perfectly and we returned with about 400 prints.
Health: No problems apart from abnormally bloody nose mucus and weight loss, about 12 lbs for Alan and 7 lbs for me. On returning to civilisation we both felt very weak and found normal walking difficult. Two weeks later we seemed to have recovered but we did gorge ourselves on return.
Best moment: Summiting Mount Whitney, 14,494 ft, at 07:30 after a breathless night camping on a shelf at about 13,500.
Worst moment: Midday on day two when Alan decided it was time to stop pretending he was 35 and to start behaving his rightful 62. Fortunately a Sprite and a Milky Way (U.K. Mars Bar in disguise) put him straight.
Thanks: To Jane, for organising the trip so well. To Keith, for his unfailing and unflappable backup. To Gill and Tim, for being there.
Conclusion: Fifteen days is far too short a time to absorb what must be some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery in the world. There were places where just to sit for a week would have been too short. Some of the locals were amazed at our speed and the lightness of our packs but there is a trade-off between speed and weight because the slower the pace the more food has to be packed. We would love to go back and savour some of the best bits but at least we did it, and of that we are very proud.