September 2, 2014
Traveled: Garnet Lake to Reds Meadow Resort
“Divine beauty all. Here I could stay tethered forever with just bread and water, nor would I be lonely; loved friends and neighbors, as love for everything increased, would seem all the nearer however many the miles and mountains between us.”
– John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierras
Like a 6 year old on Christmas morning, I was awake long before the sun was up. The excitement for my resupply, fresh food, clean laundry, and a night in a real bed could not be contained in my 15 degree mummy sleeping bag.
After fidgeting in my tent for about 30 minutes, I finally unzipped my door to the outside world to be greeted by a glassy and pristine Garnet Lake on my doorstep. A living, liquid, mirror. I’ve never woken to such a beautiful view as that. It won the prize.
It was 6:00am, the sun was still below the horizon, and I was the only one up and about. I ventured out to collect the bear canisters, and start my morning routine. Patrick and Friz emerged not long after. Breakfasts were made, packs were filled – then BOOM. The rising sun hit Mount Ritter like an orange spotlight. It was a scene that had me slightly convinced that God put that mountain in this precise spot, solely for the purpose of catching the sunrise everyday.
As we left camp about an hour later, the Ritter Range was still aglow. We stopped at the outlet before the bridge to take photos, before heading onward toward Mammoth.
I spent the morning excitedly gushing over the hotel room I had waiting for me at Reds, and the guys decided they might try and get to Reds early to see if there were any available rooms they could share. We were all feeling the itch of civilization calling.
We spent the cool morning heading toward Shadow Lake talking miles, and planning, and logistics. Patrick was still not sure what he should do about his tough schedule (that he was now behind on), Friz was starting to debate his plans, and I was starting to feel a bit bummed that I would probably be saying goodbye to these guys shortly after Reds as they both hustled ahead on some 20 mile days to stay on schedule.
Descending down along Shadow Creek, the landscape started to change dramatically again, the rocks and landscape around us looked clearly volcanic. Friz and I flew downhill together talking and getting to know each other. Essentially we talked about cats and music, which in the grand-scheme of things, might be two of the only things that matter in life. It felt good to lay all the important things (cats and music) out on the table early on. My heart warmed upon finding out that Jeff had admirable taste in music – and also played music himself – and judging by the influences he named, I knew I might actually like it.*
We stopped at a quiet little turn along Shadow Creek to wait for Patrick. This spot made me wish I had some sort of floatation device, a book, and a cold beverage.
Shadow Lake was pristine, and I could clearly see why camping was prohibited there. We took some photos and ate some snacks.
We had been slightly dreading this point, as in our study of our maps the night before we saw that there was a steep climb out of Shadow Lake to Rosalie Lake. I decided to stay back and get some water before the climb, and the guys went ahead.
The climb up to Rosalie was decently tolerable – long well-graded switchbacks, in the shade, under good tree cover, I realized it was my first time hiking alone since yesterday morning. While it was nice to move at my own slow pace uphill, it was a bit monotonous (more about my slow uphill asthma battle in the days to come…). I decided to put the weight of the iPod I was carrying to use – but not to listen to music. Oh, no. This iPod would be used to play one thing, and one thing only, on this hike: almost 50 hours of the Game of Thrones (Book 3) A Storm of Swords audiobook. That, my friend, is a stellar way to preoccupy oneself on a long boring climb.
The view from the top looked over an emerald blue Rosalie Lake. It was super windy.
Friz was waiting for me and said that Patrick had gone down to the lake shore for water, and he was heading down to join him. They continued ahead, while I ate several snacks and admired the excessively breezy view. I had some extra Pure bars and ProBars still in my bear canister…no point in bringing the extra ounces with me since I had a box of food waiting for me in 9 miles.
9 miles to go.
About an hour later I turned on my phone to find that I had service. I stopped and called my husband. While talking to him, I sat under a tree to get shelter from the wind. While talking to him, I got up and saw that I had picked probably the most sketchy tree around to sit under, as the root system was lifted and was surely getting ready to fall at any moment. I had to take a photo to document my spectacular choice for a spot to rest.
I continued on. It started to get super hot, the wind was howling, and the air was noticeably drier. Not that much further up the trail I ran out of water. Not good. It was so hot and dry that I didn’t even notice that I had been drinking way more water than usual. I looked over my maps, and the next reliable source of water could be 6 miles ahead. So not good, especially because I was already thirsty.
I had no choice but to fly down the dusty trail as fast as I safely could. It was so dry, and the trail was sandy and dusty. I passed several dry creeks and was worried that the water source I was seeing on the map would be dry too.
The forest in this area was also a huge mess, with broken and uprooted trees everywhere from The Devils Windstorm in November 2011. This rare wind event with winds estimated at 180 mph, and over 14 hours of sustained winds of 125 mph(!), brought down more than 10,000 trees in the Sierras that made the JMT and PCT impassible – though the trail is now clear (mostly – I had to climb around 3 fallen trees over the trail in this area) the forest is still a graveyard of uprooted trees. For anyone with a weather-fascination this is a really interesting lecture:
Almost two hours later, I reached Minaret Creek. I was definitely dehydrated, and was beyond-relieved to have finally found a water source. I stopped, took off my shoes and socks, and soaked my tired, hot, feet. I had been wearing toe socks (I swear by them for blister prevention), but had busted through the big toe of one of the socks, and it was sorta cutting off the circulation to the tip of my big toe. Thankfully I had mailed myself a clean pair of socks in my resupply. I drank excessive amounts of water and sat in the shade feeling totally exhausted. I was so ready to be done walking for the day.
The last 3 miles felt never-ending. The heat and wind sucked the energy out of me. I was looking forward to stopping at Devils Postpile before Reds Meadow, but I had missed the turn somewhere (the network of trails in this area has a reputation for being confusing) and ended up only with a distant view of it (and a great view of the backside of Mammoth Mountain). By this point I was over it. Done, done, done. The last two miles felt like torture – hot, dusty, never-ending.
When I finally reached the paved road and entrance to Reds Meadow I nearly broke into tears out of relief.
I heard Friz and Patrick shout my name and saw them ahead relaxing in chairs, with cold beers in-hand, surrounded by other hikers sorting their supplies on tables. The good news: they were able to get a room! The bad news: the restaurant was already closed. My fresh food dreams were momentarily crushed.
I ventured to the store and got my precious resupply box and the key to my motel room and with few words went straight to my room to rip open my box, take off my sweaty dirty clothes, and take the most amazing shower of my life (I had mailed myself sample sizes of shampoo, conditioner, face & body wash and lotion – I was prepared). I threw away my socks with the busted toe, and put on the fresh new ones. I drank the bottle of coconut water I mailed myself. I emerged feeling like a new woman.
We all shared a load of laundry and tried to figure out our next move. While we sat around Reds, we had noticed a Mammoth-bound bus arrive at the bus stop in front of the resort, so we decided we would just take the next bus to Mammoth and grab some food and find a Walgreens for some supplies.
Our bus dreams were quickly shattered when the driver informed us that this was the last bus and we would have no way back to the Reds that night.
We got off the bus.
We were still determined to get to town. We were craving a cooked meal. We needed a Walgreens. We wanted cell phone signals, and somewhere to celebrate how clean and nearly presentable we were. Town was calling.
Insert a break in the story…Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how our transportation magic went down, without potentially getting someone in trouble. But, we experienced some great trail magic that night. Trail magic that will always make for a good story to tell – but not on the internet.
We happily ended up jumping back on the last bus to Mammoth, and we ate real food at a real restaurant. We then, with the help of some good ‘ol fashioned tail magic, also made a trip to Walgreens where Patrick and I got some icy hot and other pain relievers, I bought an iPod charger (that ended up not working), and Patrick bought himself some camp shoes (which were actually a pair of old-lady slippers). After our shopping spree, with much gratitude to our trail angel, we were driven back to Reds. It ended up being a great night.
When I got back to my room, I brushed my teeth and washed my face with running water, used toilet paper and a toilet that flushed, plugged in my electronic items to charge (oh, the little luxuries), and I poured over my maps and schedule trying to figure out if there was any way I could keep up with Patrick and Friz’s pace.
Over dinner we had talked about potential plans. I had planned the next day to veer off the JMT and head to Iva Bell Hot Springs for the night. Iva Bell was one of the spots on this hike I was looking forward to the most. I was dearly looking forward to sleeping by a hot springs, set into the side of a mountain, and soaking my tired body and feet all night long. Keeping up with Friz and Patrick would mean giving that up. They were trying to talk me into two 20-mile days to get to Muir Trail Ranch with them. I knew that would be a tough two days, and wasn’t sure I wanted to rush that fast. …yet a huge part of me wanted to summit Mt. Whitney with these guys. We all seemed to hike really well together, and I really enjoyed their company – yet, I knew I had to hike my own hike. I was torn, and decided I would see how I felt in the morning.
I crawled in my real bed, called my husband to say goodnight and tell him of the adventure of our day, and popped a melatonin and slept so so so good.
*Note: a couple days walk down the trail, while taking a lunch break wearing the new “camp shoes” he bought at Walgreens, Patrick would earn the trail name of Slippers. I was still tentatively False Hope. Not forever though…
love your style of writing!
enjoying your trip.. Can’t wait to hear the ‘rest of the story’. At 60 yrs young I want to hike the JMT.
You should definitely do it, Carol! It is definitely a beautiful adventure! (and I met a guy along the trail that was hiking it solo for his 70th birthday! How cool is that?!)
I love reading about your trip! My husband and I are hiking the trail this summer and will very likely follow your itinerary! Thank you for sharing! Oh, and what gorgeous photos!
Thanks so much Katie! You guys are going to have such an awesome adventure! What dates are you hitting the trail?