“That’s what was great about him. He tried. Not many do.”
Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Perhaps some people think that a couple of 65 year old people hiking the John Muir Trail are out of their mind, and if not successful, would criticize all of the decisions that were made, just like many critics of Chris McCandless in the book Into the Wild.
We were those 65 year old people and while we think we make rational decisions and plan our way carefully you never know all the variables that can confront you when you are all alone in the wilderness.
The first leg of our journey (see previous post) didn’t seem like we were too far removed from civilization and we’ve done lot’s of 5 to 8 day backpack trips before. Plus, our son accompanied us on the first leg so it didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. Heading into the second and third leg of our journey was a lot more sobering … it seemed that we were in fact going “into the wild” … a longer stretch, more remote than anything we had ever done before.
Here’s our itinerary for the second leg.
Section 2: Onion Valley Trail Head to Muir Trail Ranch
Day 7 (Sept 13, 2019): Onion Valley Trail Head via Kearsarge Pass (11,835 feet) to Kearsarge Lakes (10,700 feet). 6.0 miles.
We began to climb immediately with heavy packs but were fresh from a good sleep, a shower and breakfast that we didn’t have to cook ourselves (at Mount Williamson Motel in Independence). We made it up and over the pass in good time, once again rewarded with outstanding vistas and perfect weather. We decided to make it a short hiking day and spent the afternoon and night at Kearsarge Lakes. A very good decision because it would be my favorite camp spot on our entire trip. It probably helped that we set up in the sun, lazed around tanning and sipping tea down by the lake shore.
Day 8 (Sept 14, 2019): Kearsarge Lakes via Glenn Pass (11,978 feet) to Woods Creek (8492 feet). 13.0 miles.
Our longest day so far … and dare I say, another cloudless sky. All of my research had reinforced the goal of getting over the passes as early as possible and before early afternoon in order to reduce the risk of being caught in thunderstorms. So far, so good … no clouds, no hint of any inclement weather at any point of our journey.
Woods creek (known for the suspension bridge crossing it) had ample camping spots.
Day 9 (Sept 15, 2019): Woods Creek via Pinchot Pass (12,130 feet) to Kings River (9800 feet). 14 miles.
We were rewarded today by flowers along the trail at elevations (just below the pass) that surprised us, and in mid September to boot. We got over the pass around 2 pm and on the way to Kings Creek passed many beautiful lakes and many appealing places to set up camp … but we were now on a strict schedule so on to Kings Creek we went.
This would turn out to be the only campground where we had any mosquito issues. They weren’t horrible but we had been spoiled by having none to deal with so far on our journey.
Day 10 (Sept 16, 2019): Kings River via Mather Pass (12,130 feet) to Deer Meadow (8000 feet estimate). 11 Miles.
Today the weather turned nasty on us with strong winds and some snow pellets that fortunately did not materialize into anything significant. The hike up to the pass was windy and cold and we arrived around 11 am. After a short visit at the top we hustled down the other side on what we affectionately called “Orthopedic rocks” … rocky trails that threaten to twist an ankle, break a leg, throw out a knee, punishing the bottom of your feet and keeps Orthopedic surgeons in business. Picturesque rock formations greeted us on the way down , eventually having to hike down the “Golden Staircase”, a long vertical decline with short back and forth switchbacks that I think of as a much more rustic and difficult version of Walter’s Wiggles in Zion Park.
We camped at Deer Meadow and joined a single hiker from Independence. It was great to exchange trail notes.
Day 11 (Sept 17, 2019): Deer Meadow (no pass today) to Starr Camp. 10.6 Miles.
Today’s objective was to put in some miles so we could summit Muir Pass early the following day. The nasty weather from yesterday was short lived and we hiked in the shade of alpine forests and were wowed by waterfalls alongside the trail.
Starr Camp turned out to be another spectacular favorite camp location. I was even able to take a bath and dry off while the sun was still warm and shining.
Day 12 (Sept 18, 2019): Starr Camp via Muir Pass (11955 feet) to McLure Meadow. 13 miles.
Muir Pass is windswept and completely barren. In fact much of Evolution Basin on the way down from the pass is desolate and rocky. I loved it because of it’s open feeling … Doris, not so much. Muir Pass is known for the hiker hut at the top of the pass which is a welcome shelter for those caught in storms at the pass. Indeed, we heard stories from hikers who had to take shelter in it from the day before.
We picked McLure Meadow mainly to ensure we were close enough the the Muir Trail Ranch to get to our resupply bucket before they closed.
Day 13 (Sept 19, 2019): McLure Meadow (all downhill) to Muir Trail Ranch. 11 miles. Resupply at Muir Trail Ranch.
Our resupply bucket was waiting for us. No creatures (or border inspectors) had invaded the bucket. We had mailed it from Canada five weeks earlier to make sure it would get to the Ranch before we did.
The camping spot just up the hill from the camp was blah …. but visiting with two young female hikers from Canada made for a nice evening. We would see these two hikers periodically for the rest of our journey. One of them developed stress fractures on her feet and had to exit the trail early. She was in a lot of pain. We were grateful to have made it so far without any injuries.
Final Thoughts on Section 2.
Basically, one pass per day. That seemed to work well for us and we manged the distances without any difficulty. The daylight hours continue to get shorter so we had less time to hike, set up camp, and have dinner before nightfall.