Thursday, August 13, 2015

John Muir Trail 2015: Piute Creek to LeConte Canyon, and Back over Bishop Pass

Day 5:  Reflection on Wanda Lake
This year's JMT trip was 7 days again, 58 miles, encompassing the northern part of Kings Canyon NP. This is our longest segment yet, returning over Piute Pass to restart our progress down the JMT.
This trip is also commonly referred to as the North Lake-South Lake 'loop', even though it's an end-to-end trip with beginning and ending trailheads not far from each other on Bishop Creek.
Day 2 In Humphreys Basin
After a thunderstorm on Day 1 prevented our crossing 11,423' Piute Pass, Day 2 is a 14-mile day to catch up, but skies were clear.
Day 2 on a creek crossing in Humphreys Basin
At the end of Day 2, we reach the San Joaquin River's south fork and camp by Piute Creek at 8000'.
Day 3 on the footbridge over the San Joaquin
On Day 3 we follow the trail up the San Joaquin, reaching the mouth of Evolution Creek and starting the big climb into Evolution Basin that will eventually lead us over Muir Pass.
Evolution Creek at end of Day 3
Day 4 in Upper Evolution Basin
Our fourth campsite at elevation 10,852 at Wanda Lake was very scenic, with our tents on pads set among glacial boulders. I even found some obsidian tool flakes here, evidence of early native American trading.
A very scenic campsite at Wanda Lake
Day 5: Looking down at Wanda Lake on Muir Pass ascent
On reaching 11,955' Muir Pass, we toast John Muir at the summit hut before dropping into upper LeConte Canyon.
Day 5 on Muir Pass
Rock monster demands to be fed!
On Day 6 we awake in the forest in LeConte Canyon, hike down to our trail junction at the backcountry ranger station, and leave the JMT for the Bishop Pass Trail. We haul the 2000' of switchbacks up into Dusy Basin for our final night on the trail.

Day 7: morning breaks over the Palisades
Day 7: Breakfast in Dusy Basin
Day 7: Scenic Upper Dusy Basin
Day 7: we cross 11,972' Bishop Pass
Dusy Basin was a photographic delight: a wide, high glacial basin floored with alpine flowers, beneath the spear-like Palisades and white fluffy clouds.
Upper Dusy Basin
We're now 75% complete with the JMT. Next year is the rest of Yosemite, then in 2017 the big 8-day segment behind the Palisades - 68 miles with no resupply.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

First real pack trip: 35 years ago this month

So this week while on the JMT, I remembered that my first pack trip was 35 years ago this month. It was 1980, I was 19, had just finished high school, and though I was no longer a boy scout, I went on this trip with my old Troop 281 of Hygiene Colorado. Actually, my dad and I set up the shuttle.
So the group split and started on both sides of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which straddles the Continental Divide south of Rocky Mountain National Park, crossing 12,550' Pawnee Pass, with a key swap at Pawnee Lake.
Yeah that's me
Backpacking fashion of the 70s was dirty blue jeans, a baseball cap, and a bright orange external frame. My addition to the look was the same western boots I spent every day in. Yeah, it was the only footwear I had, so my feet didn't blister. And to honest, at 19, physical discomfort is not really so noticeable anyway. You also have no compunction about walking across log bridges in such smooth-soled footwear with a teetering frame pack on.
With Scott and Eric on Pawnee Pass. It was cold and starting to rain. Of course. That same sign still stands today.
We spent three days to hike from Brainard Lake to Monarch Lake, with overnights at Pawnee Lake and Crater Lake, about 20 miles probably. At the time it felt like a huge trip, to cross over the divide on foot and come out on the other side. We met my dad and my brother Shawn at Pawnee Lake and swapped keys. One of my fondest memories is from Crater Lake, sleeping under a sky filthy with stars.

Crater Lake. From left: Scott Story, Scott Hill, Roger Brickman, me, Eric McRobie, Don Brickman. Photo by Bruce Story.
My cook stove was the size of a small coffee can, and fueled probably weighed over 3 lbs, my poly-fill bag was just warm enough, and I had no tent. Afterward, shuttling back across Trail Ridge Road in RMNP in the daily hailstorm, I was glad to not be out in it anymore, but that trip was my start in backpacking. The next month I climbed Longs Peak on an overnight with Bruce and Scott Story, and then I started planning my own trips.
Big thanks are owed to Scoutmaster Don Brickman and Bruce Story, wherever they are, for setting up this first trip.  Bruce took these photos too, and I remember him fondly for being a great dad to his kids and a friend to the rest of us. Sadly, Roger Brickman died in 2006 of a brain tumor, leaving his wife and two daughters behind.  And like many troops, Hygiene Troop 281 has apparently dissolved in the last couple of years due to declining membership. But I hope that the contributions of the dads who led it are still felt in the lives of the young men who participated.