Last year my friend was fortunate to secure a permit to hike a portion of the John Muir Trail. Our luck stemmed from our choosing to embark on the hike the last week of September and the first week of October. The shoulder season sees a lot less hiker, but for good reason – the weather is much less stable.
We found the logistics surrounding a multi-week backpacking trip to be surprisingly complex. We stashed our car at the end point in Onion Valley and were picked up by MAWS Transportation. They gave us a ride to The Westin Monache Resort in Mammoth where we spent the night. The next day MAWS picked us up and gave us a ride to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center. We spent the night at the backpackers campground but before the sun set I squeezed in an hour or two fishing the nearby creek under the shadow of the majestic Lembert Dome. The next day we stepped off on our backpacking trip with the rising sun.
Our hiking party consisted of myself, my good friend Chad, and Chad’s uncle Jim. Day 1 was going smoothly until we reached the foot of the first pass. Jim, an avid hiker and world traveler was having a really hard time with the altitude. Eight hours into the day and we had only covered five or six miles. Around 3pm Jim made the hard call to bail. We moved some gear around and Jim headed back to Tuolumne Meadows while Chad & I continued south.
Day 4 we made it to Quail Meadow but the weather forecast was looking very ominous for the next four or five days with snow (1-2″ a day for four or five days), high winds (40-80mph), and cold (temps in the low single digits Fahrenheit) in the forecast. It was hard to believe though as the weather on day four was bordering on hot without a single cloud in the sky. We put Chad’s satellite phone to good use that night and devised a plan to exit early via Mono Pass.
Day 5 dawned cold, cloudy, and wet. As we ascended Mono Creek Valley the rain turned to snow and the winds picked up considerably. At one point as we were nearing Mono Pass a gust of wind came out of nowhere and threw me to the ground. I had never been knocked to the ground before by the wind it was a crazy experience. It was bitterly cold, we had packed for a cold fall hike not a winter storm hike. We were glad that we had opted to bail early as the last half of our hike had us negotiating six 11,000’+ passes.
We never made it to our resupply at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), which was quite a bummer as I had put in A LOT of work prepping food for all three of us, getting it to fit into two 5 gallon buckets, and mailing it off before the deadline. Thankfully MTR was kind enough to return our two buckets.
This year I am planning to complete the two sections we have yet to bag – Edison Lake to Shepherds Pass and Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. The last one is only 30 miles or so and the thought is to do it in one day with trail running packs. The longer section should be fairly easy to get a permit for as we will not be starting in Yosemite where it is much harder to get a permit. God willing it will happen this summer…