Hike Report
High Sierra Trail and John Muir Trail
July 28-August 17, 2013
21 days -- 271 miles

In 1969 my father took me to Sequoia National Park. We backpacked from Lodgepole Campground, spending two nights at Twin Lakes.

Upon our return to Lodgepole we attended a park ranger campfire. The ranger showed slides from a hike he had taken on something called the John Muir Trail. I knew then and there that I had to hike that trail someday. I didn't even know where it was, but I was going to do it. And I did -- and then some -- just 44 short years later.

I know most of you will tire of my comments and just enjoy the pictures. And that's OK. I write these reports for my descendants. I hope someday my grandchildren or great grandchildren or beyond will read this and want to do the same hike. And I hope that by doing so, they will feel like they know me a little better. And I hope when that time comes, these trails will still be just as wild as they are now.

Other hikes

My route.

My plan was to complete the hike in 23 days. I would pick up a resupply at Muir Trail Ranch. This is my resupply food.

Food ready to be shipped to Muir Trail Ranch.

As I start my hike, I would have to carry 14 days of food. Technically, it's supposed to all fit in a bear can. No way. But I knew there would be bear boxes for the first 10 days so I wasn't too worried about it.

Pre-hike buzzcut.

The journey begins. Step 1: ORD to LAX.

Step 2: LAX to Visalia. The pilots seem kinda young....

Approaching Visalia.

Visalia Municipal Airport.

Step 3: Nutrition.

I met Michael Bailey and Wayne Dill two years ago while hiking the High Sierra Trail. They came to Sequoia today to see me off on my trip. They hiked with me for awhile.

Me on the shuttle bus with my much too heavy pack. I estimate it was about 65 pounds, given the weight I paid to have it shipped to my hotel in Visalia.

The beginning of the High Sierra Trail at Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park.

Wayne and I resting on the trail to Mehrten Creek.

Michael reenacts the sharing of the cheese and salami, a lifesaving show of kindness two years ago when I was woefully ill-prepared to hike the High Sierra Trail and they shared their cheese and salami -- and more -- with me.

Yum. Note over stuffed pack in background.

Michael, Wayne, and I talked about my load. Michael offered to take some items back home for me, and mail them to my mom as I would be going there after my hike. We took out probably five pounds. (Thanks Mike.)

My friends left me at Mehrten Creek and headed back to their car. I am on my own. Alone. Will I be able to fulfill my dream? I tried this same thing last year, but only made it 85 miles.

I feel much stronger than last year. Last year I spent the first night at Nine Mile creek. I stop there and meet two really nice guys. I was tempted to spend the evening with them, but I felt the need to prove to myself that I am, indeed, stronger than last year. So I push on. I spend the night at Bearpaw campground.

That was a rough night. I had severe cramps in the evening. Both thighs, both calves, all at once. So painful I almost screamed for help from neighboring hikers (not that they could have done anything about it.) I turned over repeatedly and stretched, trying to get rid of the cramps. They lasted about a full minute and left me breathless. Happened three times. Until they had happened I had forgotten that the same thing had happened last year as well on the first night of my hike. Anyway, I was up early and on the trail. This is just past the Lone Pine creek bridge.

Between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lake.

Between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lake.

Between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lake. The trail goes right over the top of this waterfall.

Between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lake.

Hamilton Lake. There is only one other person here: other hikers have already left. I stop for a wonderfully refreshing swim.

After my swim, I leave Hamilton Lake and head for Precipice Lake.

Above Hamilton Lake.

Outlet from Precipice Lake.

My lunch for all 21 days of this hike: whole wheat tortilla, sausage, cheese, mayo, and mustard. I never got tired of it. I think I could have eaten it for breakfast and dinner too! In every long distance hike I have ever taken, there was a food craving throughout the hike. There were no such cravings this time: I think my body got what it needed: fat! (But I still lost about twenty pounds on this hike.)

Precipice Lake.

Precipice Lake. It is shaded by the mountain: I have heard that some years it never thaws.

I camped at Precipice Lake. I stopped here because I felt I was going to have cramping again. Later I regretted stopping as I really wasn't tired and I had five hours of sunlight. I could have easily made it to Big Arroyo campsite. (Indeed I did have one more cramp attack that night. Thankfully it would be the last one.) For gear nuts, the tent is a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo. A very good tent, though just a tiny bit too small for me. Nevertheless it served me well. I think the new model has sides which are just slightly taller, and that would be nice.

Walking towards Kaweah Gap but looking back towards Precipice, which cannot be seen. One of those two peaks is Eagle Scout Peak.

Large creek about three miles below Kaweah Gap, above Big Arroyo.

Morraine Lake. The water level is really low.

Morraine Lake. I had a nice swim here. Water was warm. After my swim I decided to continue hiking, headed for Kern Hot Springs.

Sky Parlor Meadow, shortly after Morraine Lake. I felt great until I was about a mile from the Kern River. Then I kinda bonked. But I pushed on to Kern Hot Springs. I was relieved when I got there.

This is my campsite at Kern Hot Springs. I slept out in the open about a third of the time. When I was packing for my trip, I decided at the last minute to throw in a space blanket for use as a ground cloth. Not recommended: these things tear so easily. It was at Kern Hot Springs where I met the Chico nurses: a group of friends most of whom are ER nurses at Enloe Hospital in Chico, CA. What a great bunch of people. They were very nice to me and offered me a lot of encouragement.

The next morning I was one of the first people to hit the trail. I felt great. But yesterday's 17 miles caught up with me and when I reached Junction Meadow after nine miles I hit the wall. I had nothing left. Nothing. I thought I was done, my trip was over. I took a long break, but felt no strength at all. I knew I had a difficult four mile stretch ahead of me, uphill every step of the way, and I knew I couldn't do it. I unpacked my pack, rolled out my sleeping bag, and tried to get some sleep. But I couldn't sleep. I drank a lot of water, and ate quite a bit of food. Nothing helped. Other hikers went by. Including the Chico nurses. I was really feeling sorry for myself. I don't know why: my schedule called for sleeping here. But it was very early in the day. I should be able to go on. According to my journal, "Sad. Very sad."

Finally, with about three hours of daylight left, I decided to go for it. The trail should be much cooler now. I walked slow but deliberately. And I made it without incident. I made it to Wallace Creek, where the High Sierra Trail meets the John Muir Trail (from here to Whitney they are the same trail.)

The first person I see at Wallace Creek is a young man in slippers and a bathrobe. That's a first on the trail! Spencer was leaning against a rock reading his scriptures. I could see that he, too, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Mormon, like me. We introduced ourselves to each other and as we did so his Bishop walked over. We too introduced ourselves and the Bishop told me they were just about to have their evening devotional and asked if I would like to join them. Oh, you bet! That devotional was just what I needed after such a demoralizing day. Thanks Spencer. Thanks, Bishop.

LDS young Men and their leaders, from Walnut, CA. After the devotional the Bishop said, "Brother Qualls, if you don't mind, I'd like for each of our boys to line up and shake your hand." I was really taken aback by this. But they did, and so did their leaders. I may never know why their Bishop felt impressed to do that. Maybe just being kind. Like I said, I will probably never know.

The next morning I left Wallace Creek and headed for Crabtree Meadow. It's only about four miles, but I would rest there in anticipation of climbing Mt. Whitney the next day.

Between Wallace Creek and Crabtree. I love this section of the trail.

Between Wallace Creek and Crabtree.

Between Wallace Creek and Crabtree.

Between Wallace Creek and Crabtree.

Between Wallace Creek and Crabtree.

Sandy Meadow, between Wallace Creek and Crabtree.

Some guys I met the night before at Wallace Creek. They were nice to me. Just about everyone in the mountains is nice. The guy in the red shorts had "ICON" tattoed on his arm. His name is Daniel. Interesting guy. An artist whose chosen medium is doors. He likes to paint doors and give them away.

Imagine my surprise when I got to Crabtree and was reunited with the Chico nurses!

Matt and Harpreet Sheller, two of Chico's finest.

Lining up for backrubs, while Erica sits on her rock. The Chico nurses left Crabtree late in the afternoon to camp at Guitar Lake. I stayed at Crabtree. I missed them as soon as they were gone. I am not very good at being alone.


The ranger station was off limits as it was being rebuilt. We saw this helicopter come in bringing supplies. By the way, the mountain on the left side is the back of Mt. Whitney.

Crabtree Meadow is dry. Very dry.

The next morning I was up early to climb Whitney. I left my tent and pack at Crabtree, taking just some essentials with me: water, iodine, fleece, hat, gloves, lunch, flashlight, all in a small day pack I had brought for this purpose (and which served as the stuff sack for my sleeping bag.) I went past Timberline Lake, and when I reached Guitar Lake, I saw ICON just waking up.

It was great to be hiking without a pack. I felt strong. This is looking down on Hitchcock Lakes.

There's Whitney!

Me, with Whitney in the background.

At this point the trail is about four feet wide, with steep drops on both sides!

So nice to see Matt again!

Matt and Harpreet. The Chico nurses were leaving Whitney as I was making my final approach. Each greeted me with encouragement. What a great group of people. Be proud, city of Chico.

Hitchcock Lakes from the Whitney trail.

Hitchcock Lakes from the Whitney trail.

Me just below the summit of Mt. Whitney.

I made it. As you can see on this plaque, Mt. Whitney is officially the eastern terminus of the High Sierra Trail, and the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail. I have completed the High Sierra Trail. Now I will return to Crabtree Meadow, and Wallace Creek, and continue north on the John Muir Trail to Yosemite.

Mountaintop marmot. There's got to be an easier place to make a living.

Smithsonian hut on Whitney (phone photo).

View from the top. Approximately southeast.

View from the top. East towards Lone Pine.

View from the top. Approximately northwest.

Leaving Whitney. I had carried my hiking poles up here, planning to use them on the way down. But one of them would not lock in the extended position, so it was useless weight at this point. It would be almost 100 miles before I would see a trash can, so I asked a day hiker at the top if he would be so kind as to take it down for me and dispose of it, and he said he would. So I began my descent, with one hiking stick. I really only needed one: it held up my tent.

Leaving Whitney

Aptly named Guitar Lake. And the very small lake beyond it is Timberline Lake. And beyond that is Crabtree Meadow.


Amazing trail construction.

Back to Guitar Lake. At this point I feel fantastic, almost skipping along the trail. Confidence is high. But my experience with long distance hiking is that it is a real physical and emotional roller coaster ride.

Another look at the back of Whitney (left).

Timberline Lake.

Timberline Lake.

When I got back to Crabtree I prepared dinner. Absolutely no fires allowed along the trail this year. All I ever use a stove for is to boil water, so a Jet Boil stove is perfect. It never failed me, and is miserly with the fuel. Great product, but I want to buy the smaller model for my next hike, just to save space.

I decide to go back to Wallace Creek for the night. That would put me in a good place for making it over Forester Pass the next day. But after having climbed Whitney, once I put my still-too-heavy pack on, I tire quickly. I struggled to make it to Wallace Creek. I got there shortly before dark, and sleep in the same place I slept two nights ago.

Notice I have my fleece over my shoulders and under my straps. The shoulder straps on this backpack are killing me. This pack just isn't built for the load I am carrying. I will end up wearing my fleece on my shoulders for the remainer of this trip. And I will abandon the backpack when I get home.

The next morning, between Wright Creek and Bighorn Plateau.

Bighorn Plateau.

Bighorn Plateau.

Bighorn Plateau, looking towards Forester Pass.

Two other northbound hikes -- Richard and Aaron. I saw them briefly again two days later, then not at all. I was hoping to see more of them -- they seemed like real nice guys.

Me between Tyndell Creek and Forester Pass.

Between Tyndell Creek and Forester Pass.

Between Tyndell Creek and Forester Pass.

Between Tyndell Creek and Forester Pass. Not sure, but I think the flat peak in the distance is Mt. Whitney.

Approaching Forester Pass.

Approaching Forester Pass.

That notch is Forester pass.

Small lake just below (south of) Forester Pass.

That's the pass. From here, you cannot even see the trail, but it's there.

Gaining altitude, looking south.

Plaque on a rock. I missed it when I went up Forester last year, and it would be real easy to miss if you are walking down (south). One month shy of his 19th birthday.

You can barely see the trail to the left of the lake.

The Forester Pass trail is trail engineering raised to whole new level.

Is this heaven??? I'm walking up Forester, heads down, when I see these women waiting for me to pass. (Uphill traffic has the right of way.) I said, "You guys are waiting for me?" and the woman in front said, "We're not just waiting for you: we're going to cheer for you as you pass." Indeed, I got a high five from each of them. Aren't they beautiful? Better than any Hollywood celebrity.

Amazing trail.

It is cool to get up high and see how far you've come, and farther.

How 'bout that trail, huh?

Almost to the top.

Made it. This is my second time over Forester Pass, having done so for the first time last year.

The view from the top of the pass, looking south.

The view from the top of the pass, looking north.

Lunch on Forester: sausage and cheese wrap of course!

Going down.

Last year I camped at the near (north) end of this lake. But I decide to push on. I had hoped to make it to Vidette Meadow, but my energy gave out at Center Basin creek. Perhaps for good reason...

There were half a dozen small clusters of tents scattered around the Center Basin campsite. I found a place to sleep for the night. I was really tired -- much more so than I thought I would be. I introduced myself to the three people camped next to me: Jim Short, Kyle Short (Jim's son), and Morris (don't remember his last name). They told me there was one more person in their party, but he (Paul, 67 years old) had gone off fishing at a nearby lake.

Around 9pm it was dark and it was cold and we became concerned because Paul was not back yet. Jim was confident that Paul was a competent outdoorsman. But why wasn't he back? Was he injured? As time went on we became more concerned. I went around to the other tents in the area asking if anyone had a satellite phone, but no one did. I carry a SPOT (emergency) transmitter and I told the others that I would "push the button" if they thought I should. Kyle and Morris were in favor of it. Jim was hesitant because he was afraid of the cost, saying that Paul was man of modest means. I went back to my site and decided to pray about it. I knelt in prayer, expecting to receive a "don't worry about it", but instead having the strong impression that I should press the button.

I went back to the others, who were already in their tents and told them, "I have prayed about this, and I think you should do the same. My answer was that I should push the button." Jim expressed concern about the cost, but I told him "I don't know what the procedures are, and I don't know what the costs are. I am not a wealthy man, but if this costs a couple thousand dollars, but saves a man's life, I will pay for it." Kyle agreed, and asked his father "What would you do if it was me out there?" Jim said he would not hesitate to push the button. And so the decision was made.

At 10:30pm I pushed the button.

But my SPOT transmitter is a one-way device. All we could do was wait. Would someone come to us that night? The next morning? On foot? On horse? By helicopter? Kyle took this photo of me waiting for someone to show up.

Eventually I fell asleep -- a fitful sleep -- and woke to hear someone calling my name. It was a ranger, with a flashlight, at Jim's tent, looking for me. In my half-asleep, adrenaline heavy state, I foolishly ran over to Jim's tent...barefooted...something I would never do under normal circumstances. I stepped on a tent stake and cut my toe. Lucky the stake didn't go through my foot!

The ranger, Rick Sanger, began assessing the situation. He asked questions. Lots of questions. He was so thorough. He was so professional. There was no doubt this man knew what he was doing. Rick had hiked to us, alone and in the dark, from the ranger station at Charlotte Lake, about four miles away. He arrived less than three hours after I had pushed the button. When I pushed the button, a distress signal was sent to a satellite, which then relayed my exact location to SPOT's offices. They relayed my position and my medical information (which I had already recorded on their website when I registered my device) to Kings Canyon headquarters, and they notified Rick's station. They contacted their own medical staff, and based on my medical history (cellulitis), they decided to have Rick go to me right away rather than wait until the morning. But it wasn't about me, it was about Paul. Rick was completely understanding. He was in radio contact with headquarters, told them I was ok, told them about Paul, and based on Paul's age and the fact that he was alone, they decided to go looking for Paul in the dark. Kyle is young and strong, and he offered to go with Rick, and Rick agreed that that would be a good idea. So off they went.

They came back, with Paul, about two hours later. Paul had attempted to take a different route back to camp to avoid heavy brush. He found the trail, but it was about a hundred feet below him down a steep cliff. By now his daylight was running out, and soon so did the batteries in his headlamp. Anyway, he was found safe and escorted back to camp. Everyone went back to sleep, including the ranger who had carried a backpack this entire time.

That was a very emotional evening. And the emotion in writing about it is one of the reasons why it has taken me seven months to write this report. I will never know for sure if I did the right thing in pressing the button. I think I did. I think I correctly interpreted the response to my prayer, and I acted accordingly. But Satan whispers doubt in my ear. Damn him! I am not looking for any kind of praise for what I did. It is just very humbling to think that perhaps I was an instrument in the Lord's hands in saving someone. Humbling and frightening. Frightening because how awful would it be if the Lord needs me again and I am not ready?

The next morning. Back: Me, Paul, Rick Sanger, Kyle Short. Front: Jim Short, Morris.

Mario, a southbound JMT hiker. One of several I disturbed the night before while looking for a satellite phone. Nice guy.

A beautiful creek near Vidette Meadows. As good a place as any to wash my feet. I have some concern about my toe which was cut last night.

It would appear my concern was well founded. Toe nail is gone.

After washing. Now I am nervous. My cellulitis infections usually start with an open sore on my feet. Well, all I can do is clean it, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and move on. The bandages would fall off that night. I would replace them with duct tape, which stayed in place until the end of my hike. No, I never checked it again until my hike was over.

The northbound climb to Glen Pass is just dreadful. It begins with a very steep first mile.

It continues uphill every step of the way to this point, where the trail goes right to Kersarge Pass and Onion Valley, left to Charlotte Lake, and straight ahead to Glen Pass.

Looking down to Charlotte Lake.

Just some spectacular Kings Canyon scenery....

Then the trail climbs and climbs and climbs. This part of the trail completely kicked my ass last year. I did a little better this year. Might have done better still if I had had more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep last night.

I don't know why, but I think Glen Pass is much harder than Forester Pass.

Looking north from Glen Pass into the Rae Lakes basin.

Just a slightly different angle,still generally north.

This rock is known as The Painted Lady.

The trail skirts the shore of Upper Rae Lake, with the Painted Lady in the background. I had planned to hike to Lower Rae Lake, but steep downhills just kill me. I made it as far as the Middle Rae Lake campsite and collapsed there.

The next morning I felt pretty good. I was looking forward to a repeat of last year's swim in Dollar Lake. This is Fin Dome behind Lower Rae Lake. So amazing.

I think this is Arrowhead Lake.

Dollar Lake, with Fin Dome in the background. Time for a swim. The water felt great! But...oh no! As I was swimming, I came up out of the water with the realization that I had left my SPOT transmitter at Middle Rae Lake! Ugh! I have to have that transmitter! I send an "OK" signal every night and every morning so my family knows I am alright. If I stop signalling, they will likely send the park service looking for me. And what if I get cellulitis again? Or if someone else needs help? I have no choice but to go back for it, and if it isn't there, I will have no choice but to end my trip.

I walk a short distance from the lake and empty my pack. This is so that if any animals smell my food, they won't tear up my pack trying to get to it. I take my small pack with me, with water, iodine, and my fleece. It is about two and half miles back to Middle Rae lakes. Oh, it feels so good to walk without a pack! I make excellent time.

There it is, right where I left it. Still blinking my "OK" signal. Thank God. Now I hurry back to Dollar Lake, hoping my gear hasn't been bothered.

My gear had not been bothered. But there are other people here now, so I will not bother swimming again. Someone snaps my picture.

And now, my favorite trail lunch!

I leave Dollar Lake and continue down to Woods Creek, home of this amazing suspension bridge. This is a milestone of sorts, as I have just crossed the 100 mile mark -- the longest hike of my life. But I feel very somber. This is the same place where I decided to leave the trail last year. I tell a woman who is camping next to me that this place "has bad mojo for me." Despite the fact that everything is fine, I feel like leaving the trail. It just feels wrong to be away from my family this long. What if they need me? But then I imagine a phone call home.

"Hi, it's me." "Hello." "How's it going?" "Fine." "What's new?" "Nothing."

No, I cannot leave the trail. I will regret it and resent it. When I left home, they wanted me to succeed. I have to assume they still do. But I am lonely. I wish I had a friend.

About that time, this big guy comes walking down the trail, looking for a place to spend the night. There are a lot of people camped here, but I point out a place very close to me where he is welcome to stay. Within ten minutes of meeting Dan we find out that we are both Mormons.

Dan McInnes had started the JMT from Whitney Portal. His companion had rolled his ankle on the second day out so he went back to Whitney Portal. Dan has been hiking alone since then.

We are both done hiking alone.

Each morning during breakfast I pack my lunch, which consists of my wrap, a bag of M&Ms, cashews, almonds, dried apricots, caramels, and smarties, two drink mixes, and a package of peanut butter crackers. Mostly I nibble throughout the day. Breakfast every morning was oatmeal, prunes, and hot chocolate -- except for the last two days when I simply refused to eat anymore oatmeal!

I think the bright orange cord was someone's way of saying "Don't step here."

Mountain near the Woods Creek bridge.

Trail sign. Trail is generally well marked except where you need signs, then there are none. When I commented on this to a ranger I was told they try to keep the trail signs to a minimum so as not to detract from the wilderness experience. And yet you have a suspension bridge worthy of a Disneyland "D" ticket???

Woods Creek between the suspension bridge and Pinchot Pass.

Woods Creek between the suspension bridge and Pinchot Pass.

I ran into Becky and Lauren about half way between the suspension bridge and Pinchot Pass. They asked me, half apologetic and half frantic, if I had any spare propane. Seems they had gone off trail for a resupply, and bought fuel, but when they returned to the trail the seal on the fuel canister failed and all of their propane leaked out. Well, turns out that clear back at Lodgepole, when I got my permit, and after the ranger told me no fires, I bought a second can of fuel. And I had been carrying it all this time. So I gave them the can I had been using -- it still had plenty of fuel -- and I kept the new can (which lasted for the remainder of the trip and still had plenty of fuel.) They were so grateful. One of them exclaimed "Tonight we get our coffee hot!" I had to laugh at the irony: hot coffee courtesy of a Mormon!

The geology of Pinchot Pass is very colorful -- more so than any other pass.

Long uphill climb. There is no "level" on the John Muir Trail. You are always either going up or going down.

Sometimes it feels as though the trails to the passes are layed out by the same people who design the lines at Disneyland. You think you are there, only to find another room another line; another mountain left to climb.

I was glad for this small lake because I was running low on water. There really is no shortage of water on the JMT. But you cannot be foolish. Take advantage of the water you see. I drank 8-10 liters of water per day.

Looking back over the terrain I have crossed. Not there yet.

Me at the top of Pinchot Pass.

And here comes Dan. Blending in left of center. We were pretty compatible hikers. I was usually a little faster on the uphills, and he was a little faster on the downhills.

Looking north from Pinchot Pass.

Unnamed (I think) lake just north of Pinchot Pass.

Unnamed (I think) lake just north of Pinchot Pass.

Dan leads as we head down to the South Fork of the Kings River.

Our campsite at the South Fork of the Kings River. This may have been the most crowded area we camped at. Northbounders camp here in anticipation of climbing Mather Pass the next day, while southbounders camp here in anticipation of climbing Pinchot Pass. As big as these mountains are, you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to find a flat space big enough for two small tents! We were so crowded here that there wasn't room to stake both tents, so I just tied mine off to the top of his. However, this was one of my favorite campsites. I slept like a baby here. For one thing, I was sleeping on duff instead of granite. For another thing, there was the Benadryl....

The next morning we crossed the river and began our climb to Mather Pass. This turned out to be much easier than I had expected. Or maybe after 114 miles I was just getting stronger.

Just south of Mather Pass. Gorgeous, huh?

Me, same place.

I am always so intrigued by the odd placement of huge random boulders. God is great.

This is looking back towards Pinchot Pass.

Mather Pass. I made it.

And here comes Dan.

Looking north from Mather Pass. This felt kinda weird. When you look around you and all you see is mountains, and you know first hand that behind those are more mountains, and behind those even more still, well, it may be hard to understand, but I actually felt a little claustrophobic here. It was unlike any feeling I have ever had before.

We descended Mather Pass (which I suspect is much more fun than ascending it), and while walking above Upper Palisade Lake, came upon the first of several trail crews we would see on this trip. I thanked the two women working here, at which one of them, Yvonne, says to me "Nice shades." I said, "Girl, I got these at the Dollar Store." She said, "Well, then I need to get to the Dollar Store." Well let me tell you this place is hell-and-gone from the nearest Dollar Store! So I told her, "You see that blue zip case on the back of my pack? Open that up for me will you?" She did and handed me my spare pair of sunglasses, and I handed them back to her. "Here you go." So this is me and Yvonne with our matching sunglasses. Best dollar I spent all summer.

Approaching Lower Palisade Lake.

Dan at Lower Palisade Lake.

We have to go down there. How? By a series of switchbacks known as the Golden Staircase. These switchbacks are a curiosity if you are going down. I'm sure they are hell if you are going up.

It's easy to imagine that hiking the other direction must be more difficult. I wonder if other hikers feel this way? Mather northbound was easy, but southbound it must be horrible. Do southbounders feel the same way about, say, Glen Pass, or Silver Pass? (Maybe in a coming year I will find out first hand.)

We camped somewhere near the place indicated on the map as Deer Meadow. I didn't see anything resembling a meadow. Dan has an air mattress, and this bag is something sold at pool supply stores for blowing up mattresses. It has a nozzle at one end and is open at the other. You just pull it open to catch air, and then roll it up. Inflates his mattress in no time!


I see you.

Very large tree where the JMT meets the Middle Fork trail.

Grouse Meadow.

Me at Grouse Meadow.

Grouse Meadow.

Le Conte Canyon.

Bridge near Bishop Pass trail.

You know that rail was straight when they built that bridge. I wonder what happened. Large rock? Large tree?

Near Little Pete meadow, I think. You see, they don't ever put up a sign saying "This is the meadow you see on your map."

Monster rock.


Someone had built some really comfortable seats here. Well, as comfortable as a granite seat can be anyway.

After Monster rock, the trail up Muir Pass became much steeper. Climbing out of Le Conte Canyon was tough. We passed this meadow, planning to camp at Medium Lake. But when we got to Medium Lake we could not find a place to camp. Just rocks everywhere. I found an area which looked promising, but then found a laminated index card saying not to camp in that area because of the endangered yellow legged frogs which lived there. We were too tired to go forward (uphill) so reluctantly we headed back down hill. Just as we crossed a small creek, I decided to look up above the creek.

That was when we came upon this well hidden campsite. It was perfect!

Hmmm...looks like I may have had another wrap for dinner. Or maybe that was a lunch left-over.

Whatever duct tape cannot fix, hot chocolate can.

At this point I am feeling quite content. I have gone 137.8 miles, so I am past my half way mark!

Dan gets water from the creek below our site. There were, indeed, yellow legged frogs there.

Helen Lake.

Helen Lake.

Helen Lake.

Just below (south of) Muir Pass.

Muir Pass, looking north.

Me at Muir Pass Hut.

Me at Muir Pass Hut in 1972.

Dan and me at Muir Pass Hut.

Wanda Lake.

Wanda Lake.

How could I not take his picture?

Sapphire Lake?

Evolution Lake.

Beginning our descent to Colby Meadow.

Colby Meadow or McClure Meadow. Not sure which. I think it is Colby Meadow and I think the rock is called "The Hermit".

Dan crossing Evolution Creek.

Waterfall on Evolution Creek.

Waterfall on Evolution Creek.

We camped where the JMT meets the San Joaquin River and the Goddard Canyon trail. We walked 18.6 miles today. We met these three guys from Fresno. Very friendly. A friend of their's was already in his tent, sick from something.

Dan and I prayed together everyday: I said the morning prayer and Dan said the evening prayer. When we prayed that evening, we included the sick hiker in our prayer. I later told one of the men that we had done so and he was very appreciative. The next morning their friend did, indeed, feel better. They were ready before we were, but they had a prayer circle before they started each morning, so they asked us if we would like to join them, and we did. It was nice, six men, hands joined, heads bowed, in this beautiful place.

We would follow the San Joaquin river for several miles that morning.

Me on a bridge over the San Joaquin river.

And me on another bridge over the San Joaquin river.

It is a wild river for sure. Many cascades and small waterfalls.

Headed to Muir Trail Ranch.

Good luck.

Leaving Kings Canyon National Park and entering the John Muir Wilderness.

Random trail sign. I think the aged ones are beautiful.

Picking up our resupply buckets at Muir Trail Ranch.

Awnings and tables for sorting your resupply and repacking your pack.

Same bucket you saw at the top of this page. It was early in the day. We've only hiked about six miles today. We could easily have continued on, but Dan suddenly became sick. So much so that he was considering leaving the trail. We decided to camp near the ranch that night.

We set up camp near the river across from Blaney Hot Springs. Here Dan is crossing the river and we are going to go find the hot springs.

All this fuss about hot springs and this is it? You can see the disappointment in Dan's face.

Murky or not, we decided to go in. It felt nice. Not great, but nice. Dan decided to go back to the camp. I wanted to look around a bit.

That's when I found the real hot springs just a hundred feet or so from the mud hole we had been soaking in!

Now that's more like it!

The next morning we began our climb to Seldon Pass. This is Sallie Keyes Lake.

Those are (both) Sallie Keyes Lakes.

Heart Lake.

Looking down (north) on Marie Lake from Seldon Pass. I think Seldon Pass is one of the prettiest of the passes.

A swim in Marie Lake. Wonderful. After my swim we continued on. That night we camped about a quarter mile west of the JMT, just off the Bear Creek Trail.

The next morning included a long set of switchbacks down to the Lake Edison trail. Shortly before that trail we went through a beautiful grove of aspens. I think they were the only aspens on the entire hike.

Aspen grove.

But in the Sierras, what goes down most certainly will go up, so we then began our climb to Silver Pass. Having said that, I'm not sure which lake this is....

Me on Silver Pass. I stood on Silver Pass on my first hike on the JMT in 1971. 42 years ago!

I think this is Chief Lake.

Our campsite at Squaw Lake.

I think this is the longest my beard has ever been. It's been 16 or 17 days since I shaved. I've never had much facial hair. And where did all that gray come from???

"Alpine glow" at Squaw Lake.

"Alpine glow" at Squaw Lake. Interesting...I recently read a book wherein the author referred to alpine glow at Squaw Lake.

This was one of my favorite nights because it was a comfortable night and our tents were close together and Dan and I talked for awhile about our hike and about spiritual things. I told him I still didn't know what, if anything, I was supposed to learn from this hike, but still hoped to find out.

A pleasant, contemplative night at 10,296 feet.

Squaw Lake the next morning.

Tulley Hole.

Tulley Hole.

Virginia Lake. In my opinion, one of the prettiest lakes on the JMT.

I swam here in 1971, so of course I had to swim here again!

Looking up and thanking God. How blessed I am to have been in this place not once but twice in my lifetime.

The trail from Virginia Lake to Purple Lake.

Purple Lake. Dan and I felt good today. Altitude was lower, and the trail was more downhill than uphill. We decided to push on to Reds Meadows Resort where we could make phone calls and buy some food.

Cinder cone.

Area devastated by a wind storm and fire.

The deer seem to like it.

It was dark when we finally arrived at Reds Meadow Resort. I think we covered 21.6 miles today -- the longest of our hike. It was nice to have cell coverage and talk briefly to family. I took this picture with my phone and posted it to my Facebook page.

Dan really enjoyed his breakfast the next morning.

Yes, I enjoyed the breakfast. But not as much as I enjoyed the Pepsi.

It was so nice to use a flush toilet. And so strange to see myself in a mirror for the first time in two and a half weeks.

Where did all that gray come from??? I blame my daughters.

After breakfast, Dan paid $7 for a shower and he took a long one. He's earned it. I didn't bother because I knew after fifteen minutes on the trail I would be stinky and sweaty again anyway! I made more constructive use of my time: I went to the small store there and bought an 8 oz bag of Fritos Scoops and three 20 oz bottles of Pepsi. And I finished all of it by the time Dan finished his shower!

We left Reds Meadows on what would prove to be the hottest day of our hike. The heat hit both of us hard.

Creek crossing near the Beck Lakes Trail.

Gladys Lake. Time for another swim.

I had a profoundly spiritual experience here, which I will be happy to share privately with people who believe in profoundly spiritual experiences.

I only got "lost" twice in 271 miles. In both cases, it was near civilization: Reds Meadows and Tuolumne Meadows. In both cases there were too many trails and too few signs. I mentioned the lack of signage to a ranger who told me they try to keep the signage to a minimum to preserve the wilderness feel. Oh really? Then how come EVERY SINGLE TIME we hit 10,000 feet, we see one of these signs? NO WOOD FIRES PAST THIS POINT is the most frequent sign on these trails. It really got to be a joke every time we saw one.

I think this was Rosalie Lake.

Leaving Shadow Lake and starting an unexpectedly difficult and long climb. There is an unnamed pass between Shadow Lake and Garnet Lake. It's much more difficult than Island Pass and deserves a name. Sucky Pass works for me. (I was tired.)

The creek above Shadow Lake is pretty amazing.

Approaching Garnet Lake. Sun fading quickly.

There were a lot of people camped at Garnet Lake. It was difficult to find a campsite, but we found a real nice one on the north side of the lake. It was the only time on this entire trip where we had to find a campsite by flashlight.

Garnet Lake in the morning, with iconic Mt. Banner and Mt. Ritter in the background.

Not sure...Emerald Lake?

Thousand Island Lake.

Thousand Island Lake.

Small unnamed lake at Island Pass (10,221').

Sign at Donohue Pass (11,073'). No wood to burn even if you were inclined to do so.

Just below (north of) Donohue Pass, looking down into Lyell Canyon. We will camp way down there tonight.

Don't remember his name. We camped next to him, his sister, and his girlfriend at Lyell Fork Base Camp (9,003'). They were just starting their southbound JMT hike. This is a special backpacking guitar. I think he said it only weighed two pounds. His sister would be starting college in the fall in British Columbia. I asked, "Why British Columbia?" She replied, "Great skiing." Oh, to be so young again.

Lyell Canyon meadow. Probably close to five miles long.

One of the old signs. See the fleece again? I hate this backpack.

A wonderful swim in the creek in lower Lyell Canyon. The creek widened here and slowed enough to make swimming safe. The water was about ten feet deep here.

As I mentioned before, the signage around the civilized areas was terrible. Eventually we found our way to the grill at Tuolumne Meadows, but I'm sure we walked at least two miles farther than we had to! Dan had a double cheeseburger and a Pepsi, but I had a double cheeseburger AND a chili dog AND a Pepsi. The bill was $34. It's like eating at Disneyland. But it tasted so good to us. The service was slow but they made the mistake of giving us our drink glasses first. Fine with me, take your time! I had at least five glasses of Pepsi before I was served. And two more during my meal. So delightful!

Kinda fun being the filthy hiker trash among all the clean and pretty tourists.

At Tuolumne Meadows we met Alex Ketley, a northbounder we had seen before. We hiked together to Cathedral Lake, which required a couple of miles on the road and then a very steep climb to the lake.

Alex and Dan at Cathedral Lake. Alex is a dance choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet. You meet all kinds of people on the JMT!

Cathedral Peak. Dan and I spent our last night on the trail at Upper Cathedral Lake.

The next morning, leaving Cathedral Lake and headed towards Cathedral Pass.

Big mountains, big spaces. Yosemite grandeur.

I was on my way down from Sunrise Pass when I met Bryan who was on his way up. He was just starting his southbound hike. This was his second day. Bryan was using a huge tree branch as a cane. He said "I trained hard for this, but my back is killing me." Poor kid. I gave him my remaining hiking pole and wished him well on his trek.

First glimpse of Half Dome. It is not on the JMT and we did not climb it. I have a terrible fear of heights: I wasn't going to let a potential Half Dome incident sour my experience. (I did climb Half Dome in 1973).

Yosemite does "feel" different than the rest of the trail.

Down to single digits. This is real now.

This is the only snake I saw this year.

This is the only snake I saw this year.

Half Dome.

At the top of Nevada Falls, looking down into Yosemite Valley.

Liberty Cap.

Liberty Cap and Half Dome.

Nevada Falls.

I did it.

Correction. WE did it. I don't think I would have made it without Dan. We both agree that we were meant to do this together: there were too many "coincidences" that put us together when and where we met. Thank you, Dan.

I did not wear boots. I wore New Balance running shoes. Most thru hikers do not wear boots. My shoes were still in great shape, but really, really dirty, and quite frankly, I was done with them.

Time for sandals. My feet are a mess, but not bad for 271 miles.

We took the YARTS bus from Curry Village to Merced, then took the Amtrak to Southern California the next day.

Copyright © 2014 by Bill Qualls. Last updated December 17, 2014. All rights reserved.