Daniel's Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project

The Great Spirit Path

Hiking the JMT - A Day by Day Report

We did it! We hiked the John Muir Trail and now I"m back home. I'm still overwhelmed by all the impressions. Walking the JMT was a once in a life time experience for me. Doing it with my twin brother and my father made it even more special.

Right now I don't even know, how to describe what you see, hear and smell next to a creek's waterfall in an alpine meadow, when you slowly fall asleep in your sleeping bag after a long day of walking over a pass. I guess I will see, while I'm writing the following day by day accounts of our hike. When you scroll down to see the pictures you might want to magnify this page to see all the details. Can you see the snake's eye under water that tries to eat my trout? On my browser I press 3 or 4 times "CTRL" and "+" at the same time to magnify.

This table and the picture below might help you to get an impression of the overall achievement of hiking the JMT. Keep scrolling to see a day by day account.

Description DistanceElev Gain El. Loss Time
Sunrise - Long Meadow 6.27 1,915 736 5:27:30
Long Meadow - Lyell Canyon 14.27 1,266 1,766 9:06:52
Lyell Canyon - Rush Creek 11.97 2,411 1,611

 9:14:44

Rush Creek - Rosalie Lake 11.11 2,225 2,483 9:11:53
Rosalie Lake - Boundary Creek 11.03 1,285 2,583 9:39:38
Boundary Creek - Purple Lake 12.22 2,796 891 9:00:33
Purple Lake - Silver Pass Creek 11.66 2,477 2,778 9:45:33
Silver Pass Creek - Lake Edison 10.36 148 2,130 5:53:39
Lake Edison - Bear Creek 13.25 2,775 1,365 11:58:07
Bear Creek - Sally Keyes Lakes 8.2 1,811 744 8:01:19
Sally Keyes Lakes - Muir Trail Ranch 5.04 107 2,597 1:48:48
Muir Trail Ranch - McClure Meadow 11.08 2,354 416 7:07:36
McClure Meadow - M Fork Kings River 13.47 2,719 1,645 10:16:58
M Fork Kings River - Palisade Creek 11.94 991 2,777 8:18:23
Palisade Creek - South Fork Kings River 11.61 3,264 1,982 8:35:05
South Fork Kings River - Baxter Creek 14.54 2,981 3,689 9:26:51
Baxter Creek - Bubbs Creek 11.75 3,138 2,628 10:09:57
Bubbs Creek - Wallace Creek 15.93 3,701 3,261 9:58:15
Wallace Creek - Mt. Whitney 11:59 4,623 752 9:49:54
Mt. Whitney - Whitney Portal 10.04 338 6,475 6:57:01
 TOTAL 227.33 43,325 43,309 169:48

 

Day  1 - 7/24 - Sunrise to Long Meadow

We picked up our permit yesterday and stayed in the backpacker's camp.  We could only get a permit for Sunrise, but we  did the hike from Happy Isles to Sunrise a month earlier. We take the shuttle from Tuolumne Meadows to Tenaya Lake and start our long journey on the JMT by crossing the outlet. What a difference to doing it last month. This time we don't wade in waist deep water but instead walk on stepping stones.

We reach Sunrise Lakes early and I take a swim. We then decide to add our second short day to our hike and continue to Cathedral Lakes.

As we approach the Cathedral Pass, a thunderstorm moves in and we get stuck at the Long Meadow. We make camp at the Echo Creek crossing below the Columbia Finger where lightening strikes several times.

There were lots of mosquitoes despite the rain and the wind. We have a nice campfire in the rain and enjoy our first night on the trail.

 

Day 2 - 7/25 - Long Meadow to Lyell Canyon

It still rains a little this morning but there is no thunder and we head towards Cathedral Pass. Although we didn't plan it, we can't help and eat a burger at the Tuolumne Store & Grill when we pass it. I also buy sunflower seeds, because it is very entertaing to eat them while hiking. It is funny to see our car at the wilderness permit office. We use that opportunity to say good-bye to several items in our packs. Each of us leaves at least a pound of stuff behind.  We are lucky to be at the car, when a thunderstorm hits. We sit warm and dry in the car until the storm is over.

Because of the no-camping zone around Tuolumne Meadows we have a long day today and hike 14 miles until we reach the part of Lyell Canyon where camping is finally allowed. 

There are some huge trout in the creek. We try to catch them, but we get only 10 inchers.  

 

 

I see a snake swimming across a little pond area. We have a very relaxed trout dinner. This is a lot of fun!

Day 3 - 7/26 - Lyell Canyon to Rush Creek

 

 

Right at the end of Lyell Canyon our permit gets checked by a ranger. I see bear scratch marks on a tree, right before we start our ascent up to Donohue Pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a little overcast today, but we didn't get any rain. I was glad there was not a third thunderstorm today, because I really wanted to get over Donohue Pass. The pass was easier than I thought. In the end it was just a very long ascent.

 

Day 4 - 7/27 - Rush Creek to Rosalie Lake

 

The moon was really bright that night and it was like a flashlight shining in our eyes. So I woke up a couple of times during the night and was staring at the moon.

My dad took a shower in the morning in a freezing water fall to get all the dirt off of him. We had lunch on top of Island Pass and enjoyed the nice view. We pass several beautiful lakes during our hike (Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Shadow Lake, Rosalie Lake) and decide to fish for trout. Philipp also decides to go for a swim in Thousand Island Lake. He said it is not too cold, but I decide to hold out until Red's Meadow for the hot spring fed showers.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The biggest of the four trout I catch at Shadow Lake is a 13 incher. We fry it on a rock when we camp at Rosalie Lake and it tastes very yummy.

 

Day 5 - 7/28 - Rosalie Lake to Boundary Creek

 

 

Today we visited "The Devil's Postpile" and went to Red's Meadow to pick up our re-supplies. But before that we took long showers at the hot spring fed showers. That was so refreshing. At the cafe we had a big burger and endless soda. Michelle is leaving us today,  so now it is just Philipp my dad and me.

 

 

 

 

 

We did not want to sleep in the backpackers camp and decide to hike a couple of miles through the burn zone of the 1992 Rainbow fire to Boundary Creek. Very much to our suprise we find that the water at the spring is carbonated. We mix it with Gatorade powder and enjoy sparkling soda.

 

Day 6 - 7/29 - Boundary Creek to Purple Lake

 

We first filled up our water bladders with the great carbonated water and then hiked to the Duck Lake outlet, where we had dinner.

 

 

 

We then decided to continue another 2.3 miles to Purple Lake to go fishing there. Purple Lake was a very beautiful lake full of fish (and mosquitoes). I still don’t really know why it was called Purple Lake -- may be because of the flowers. Philipp and I went fishing and caught trout that we had for dinner. Again it was very yummy.

 

Day 7 - 7/30 - Purple Lake to Silver Pass Creek

 

We first passed Lake Virginia, which was the most beautiful sight.

 

 

 

 

  

 

Later on we stopped at Fish Creek for a lunch break and some fishing. The creek really deserves its name. Every cast was a bite and we got 10 trout.

 

 

 

Originally we planned to camp at Squaw Lake and fish there too, but since we can't have a camp fire above 10,000 feet elevation, we decide to hike an extra 3 miles  over Silver Pass and go down to Silver Pass Creek. That way we had again yummy trout for dinner. These trout are such a treat!

Day 8 - 7/31 - Silver Pass Creek to Lake Edison

 

This was an easy day, because we went already yesterday across Silver Pass. Daddy suggests that we take the ferry across Lake Edison to check out Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR). We can't resist the thought of a big burger and say yes. So we spend a couple of hours fishing at the lake while we wait for the afternoon ferry and I get some of my summer reading done. Although VVR advertises "First night and first beer free for trhough hikers" we didn't get either. They were so nice to give us a soda instead of the beer, but the 8 bunk beds in that one tent cabin were already all taken by people on the morning ferry. We are lucky it is BBQ night and we get a big combo plate with tri-tip, ribs, chicken, corn, beans and potato salad. Wow! I see 7 shooting stars when I lay in my sleeping bag and listen to the generator, while trying to fall asleep.

 While the food was really great, the service at VVR was equally bad. The waitress was hitting on every available man and as a result had no time to serve 15 year old boys. She later was really unfriendly and flippant with our dad. We discover that VVR is a money sink, where you get nickeled and dimed for everything ($6 for a shower in a dark, dirty restroom, $6 for washing your clothes, $2/min for telephone or internet, etc.). In the end they even insist to charge us more than the advertised price for the ferry.

The sign that is posted at the dock clearly says $10, but the owner charges $33 for the three of us and insists that he raised the price already last year. When my dad points out that state law requires that he charges us the posted price, the owner laughs and says that sign is far away on the other side of the lake and he couldn't change it. He just runs my dads credit card and doesn't give it back before my dad signs the slip.

How hard can it really be to exchange a paper printed sign that is stapled to a tree at the ferry dock, if you go there twice day to pick up customers? We certainly won't be visiting this unfriendly VVR ever again.

Day 9 - 8/1 - Lake Edison to Bear Creek

 

We leave VVR on foot, cross the dam and take the Bear Creek Cut-off Trail to get to the Bear Creek Trail. Bear Creek is a wonderful place. Every turn brings a new waterfall with new fishing holes. There are huge trout to be seen in the deep pools, but we catch only smaller ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most exciting thing happens, when a snake tries to eat our fish.

I go swimming in the creek to wash myself and it feels very good.  We  fish way too long, so we have dinner at the creek and cook the fish there, before we start on a night hike to our camp site.

Day 10 - 8/2 - Bear Creek to Sally Keyes Lakes

 

Today we hiked over Selden Pass, which was not bad. We first went fishing at Heart Lake, where we each caught trout. Afterwards we hiked to Sallie Keyes Lakes. There we experienced in the evening the wildest thing ever. It seems like all the trout in the lake came to within 20 feet of shore and the water is literally boiling. They are all rushing into the reeds and jumping wildly. There must be a hatch of some insect going on.

 

The trout bite very agressively and each cast gets us a fish. We find a fire place with a grill and prepare our fish on it. The golden trout turn out so nice! I slept good that night and see again a shooting star.

Day 11 - 8/3 - Sally Keyes Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch

Today we are picking up our re-supply for the next 10 days at Muir Trail Ranch. Somehow we will have to fit all the food, we mailed in a bucket, into our bear canister.  I managed to fit most of it, but I had to give up my extra stuff like peanut butter. Between the three of us we leave a full bucket of food there for the hiker's barrel. Our dad has a surprise for us. He booked a tent cabin stay at MTR in advance. Wow!

As guests of MTR we get unlimited lemonade and ice tea. Philipp and I are all the time in the kitchen for new lemonade. The staff at MTR is super friendly and knows every guest by name. We also use the really clean bathrooms and the washer to wash our clothes. Tracy shows us around and explains all the facilities. I like the lounge with all the books and love the two outside baths. They have a beautiful view over the San Joaquin River and are fed by hot springs. One bath is 98 F warm and the other 107 F hot. Sitting in there is wonderfully relaxing and we use the baths several times during our stay.

The staff cooks a big dinner for all guests and we all eat together. During dinner we meet Barbara and her daughter Alix. Unfortunately they have to leave the trail, because Barbara is not feeling well.  The dinner was meatloaf with potatoes and broccolie and a salad. For desert we got a lemon pie. The cook is really doing an awesome job. Philipp and I started afterwards a campfire for every one there and prepared marsh mallows and popcorn at the fire. Eventually I go to sleep in a real bed. How nice!

 

 

 

We would love to come back to this place. May be we take our four little sisters here. Then we could all go together on day hikes. The girls could also go on horseback rides and we could go trout fishing ...

 

 

 

Day 12 - 8/4 - Muir Trail Ranch to McClure Meadow

 

We get a super breakfast. You can order any quantity you want of fresh blueberry butter milk pancakes, eggs to order, breakfast sausage, cereal, yoghur and fruit. It all tastes so great.  There is also a sandwich bar with lots of different breads, meats and cheeses where you can pack your own lunch. There are also chips, candy bars and fruit. It is hard to leave this place. We talk forever with the different friendly staff members (Tracy, Brianna, Pat, Herb & others) and put a "Frohes Wandern" (Happy Hiking) sign on the door of the storage shed where all the buckets with food are stored. Finally after 12 pm we get going with full packs. The load is the heaviest we will carry on our whole trip and our backs are clearly noticing it. The hike along the Joaquin River is beautiful. We see so many waterfalls and stop often to look at the formations the water carved into the side walls of the canyon.

 

 

After crossing Evolution Creek with no problems, we finally stop at McClure Meadow and go trout fishing. Again we have fresh trout over a campfire for dinner.

Day 13 - 8/5 - McClure Meadow to Middle Fork Kings River

At the first dawn of light a coyote starts to howl and all of a sudden all of Evolution Valley is echoing with howling coyotes. It comes from everywhere, it is an eerie way to wake up. I have never before heard such a "concert".  

We first stop at Evolution Lake to fish. There is fantastic trout fishing at Evolution Lake. Philipp catches 20 fish, but we release them all, because we will stay too high for a camp fire.

 

 

We then go over Muir Pass and admire the nice emergency shelter. Up there we meet someone (Mike) who knew my website and who tracked our progress before he left. He knew that we were ahead of plan and was surprised that Philipp didn't leave the trail at Red's Meadow but is still with my dad and me.

Day 14 - 8/6 - Middle Fork Kings River to Palisade Creek

 

Today was a very easy hike as we did not cross a pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stop for lunch in LeConte Canyon and smoke the trout we catch in our Caldera cone during the long break. The smoked trout is delicious. Later on we fish at Palisade Creek while daddy takes a swim and washes his clothes. Finally we camp at Deer Meadow, where we grill trout for dinner. Like every day we see during our hike a lot of flowers and animals. Here are some examples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 15 - 8/7 - Palisade Creek to South Fork Kings River

 

Today we walked up the “Golden Staircase” up to Palisade Lakes and later crossed Mather Pass. This was our first day with more than 3,000 ft of climb. We fished at the first Palisade Lake and caught several trout. A ranger tells us al ong the way that the next few days a series of thunderstorms will come through and advises us to go over the passes early. Right after we go over Mather pass we see lightening and hear thunder. It then rains a little bit on us. After sleeping for two weeks without a tent, Philipp and I are too lazy to set up the tent and only use the rain fly to stay dry.

Day 16 - 8/8 - South Fork Kings River to Baxter Creek

 

We hear about the Perseid Meteor Shower. It will peak during the night of the 11th. We discuss, wether it would be a good idea to try to summit Mt. Whitney on the evening of the 11th to watch the meteor shower from the top of the world.

 

We will see how the next couple of days go and make a decision once we see the weather at Mt. Whitney. We cross  Pinchot Pass and instead of camping at the Woods Creek crossing with its hanging bridge we hike another 2.5 miles to Baxter Creek. There we fish and have again trout for dinner.

Day 17 - 8/9 - Baxter Creek to Bubbs Creek

 

We stop at Rae Lakes for lunch and some fishing. It is fantastic. We get over 20 trout and decide to keep 11 for dinner. The fishing is so great that we spend more time than planned. Philipp also takes a swim in the lake.

 

 

We finally hike over Glen Pass. Instead of stopping at Charlotte Lake we continue to Upper Vidette Meadow along Bubbs Creek. We stay right below 10,000 feet so we can still cook the fish. There is a bear box at that location with an unopened pack of spaghetti and an unopened pack of fig bars. We cook spaghetti with the 11 trout and have fig bars for dessert. What a wonderful treat!

Day 18 - 8/10 - Bubbs Creek to Wallace Creek

 

Today we over Forester Pass which is at 13,200 feet the tallest pass on the JMT. It is a relatively easy ascent up and only the last ½ mile has switch backs. On the way down we pass Tyndell Creek and go the extra 4.4 miles to Wallace Creek. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 It is amazing to see how dry the other side of Forester Pass is. It is a long day with 16 miles, but we should be able to be tomorrow on top of Mt. Whitney for the meteor shower.

Day 19 - 8/11 - Wallace Creek to Mt. Whitney

 

Today we woke up with our sleeping bags and our backpacks frozen over. The water in our water bottles is also frozen. and we can't drink from the frozen water bladders. It was the coldest night yet. Today we want to spend the night on top of Mt. Whitney to see the shooting stars. At the Crabtree Meadow ranger station we pick up the famous wag bags. Let's hope I don't need to go :) We stop at Timberline Lake for lunch and decide to cook all our food for the rest of the day and tomorrow morning, because there is no water on Mt. Whitney. At Guitar Lake we fill our water bladders to the brink and and start our final ascent to the top of Mt. Whitney. We got to the top right before sunset and watch the best sunset ever. After the sun is gone it gets very fast pretty cold. We wear all our clothes and cuddle up in our sleeping bags. With the unobstructed 360 view of the clear night sky we see an endless stream of stars falling from the sky. We see over 100 and fall around 3 am asleep. Our dad is cuddled between us to stay warm while we watch the meteor shower.  He gets pretty emotional and tells us in several ways how much he loves us. As if we wouldn't know ...

 

 

 

At 5:30 am we are up again to see the sunrise. This too is breathtaking. I feel like I experience the triple crown on top of Mt. Whitney - sunset, meteor shower and sunrise. What a wonderful finish of the John Muir Trail. Now we just have to walk down to Whitney Portal and it will all be over -- I don't know whether to look forward to it or be sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we pack up our gear we find ladybugs and an interesting moth -- right there on top of Mt. Whitney.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 20 - 8/12 - Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal

 

Of course the meteor shower and the sunrise happened this morning, but I somehow felt it was part of yesterday's ascent of Mt. Whitney.

The hike down to Whitney Portal is somehow never ending. The icicles we see along the way are proof of how cold the night was. But cuddled together laying behind a boulder to be protected from the wind we were absolutely fine on top of Mt. Whitney. We replenish our water at Trail Camp and keep going down when all of a sudden my mom and my girlfriend are on the trail. At first I'm confused and surprised at the same time and didn't believe my eyes. They had tracked our progress on my website via SPOT and seen that we would be back two days earlier. It is fun to hike the last three miles down with them. There is so much to tell them. So many sights and impressions to share. Finally at Whitney Portal we weigh our backpacks. Philipp and I weigh in at 35 lbs, while daddy's backpack weighs in at 28 lbs. And he was even carrying some community gear for us, while we didn't carry anything for him. Each of us was carrying roughly 17 lbs of food in addition to that when we left Muir Trail Ranch. Wow! At the store we order the biggest burger, called Mooseburger. It has lots of bacon on it and I'm not able to finish it.

Summary

I set out on the JMT as a fundraising walk for my Eagle Scout Project. I found way more than I ever could ask for. The sights and impressions along the JMT are magical. The countless animals, flowers, waterfalls, trees, mountains, meadows and creeks left lasting impressions on me. My brother and I are fairly close -- after all we are twins, but this got us even closer together. I experienced my dad in a way I had not seen him before. I realized that he is not "mean" when he is parenting me, but really just trying to help me to become a responsible adult. I also found a deep connection to the poem that started it all. While going up a hard pass, my dad all of a sudden said "I walk with the wind behind me - inspired, with glad heart". It was so uplifting. Later on he recited the whole poem and pointed it all out right there on the JMT - the grass, the birds, the water, the trees, the up and the down, the sun, the stars, the canyons, the mountain and the hill -- and that we were strong brothers. Somehow the circle closed itself. I had arrived at the beginning, but found a deeper meaning and insight into it.