The John Muir trail – part 2 – Reds Meadow to Kings Canyon

Day 7 Reds Meadow –  Duck Lake Creek

After a huge pancake breakfast and some shopping we headed back into the wilderness. Leaving behind Reds Meadow we climbed up a dusty tufa slope. This area has experienced a huge fire (the rainbow fire) several years ago and much of the path crosses the burned out trees.

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The path eventually enters back into live forest and at the top of the slope it reaches a small brook. We passed between two red tufa hills which can be climbed for a great view and lots of red tufa.

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Swallow Tail butterfly on the Red Cones

From here the path continues through the forest in what is considered one of the least interesting parts of the entire JMT. In autumn there is no water from here all the way to   lake. Earlier in the season a few small seeps can be found along the way. In July 2010 I camped by one of these seeps. It was a memorable night as I realized that I must have been the only human being for miles and miles. I don’t recall feeling lonely. I was rather amazed by the thought that as it is very rare to experiences such a remarkable solitude. I assume that most people never do. Earlier in the evening I met three guys with long red beards who reminded me of gnomes. They were on a full PCT venture and they wondered whether they already passed the 10000 ft elevation mark so that they are allowed to light a fire.

The view of from this path is very restricted. Here and there it was possible to get a glimpse between the trees at some far away mountains. Black clouds built up over these mountains giving rise to a dramatic thunderstorm.

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When we at last arrived at the Duck Creek crossing we realized that we had a yet another narrow escaper and that the storm had soaked our planned campsite.

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Once we sorted out our site we had some opportunity to witness and photograph some of the most colorful clouds imaginable.

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Day 8 Purple Lake – Lake Virginia – Tully Hole – Silver Pass – Quail Meadow

We broke camp ascending gently towards lovely purple lake. This lake is just below 10000 ft and is surrounded by a lovely forest.

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Purple Lake

By the lake we met a hiker who survived only on fishing but he was out of luck for the last three days. In July 2010 I  met here a large group of horse mounted photographers. The JMT serves also as a horse trail. While we met horses only very rarely but did see their droppings all along. In fact they are the major source of water pollution as no other live stock lives at these altitudes.

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Parting from the hungry fisherman and crossing the outlet of purple lake we climbed up a ridge.

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At its top the trail follows a rock glacier where the ancient ice is covered below the talus. From the ridge the path descended to lovely Virginia lake. In spring this was green meadow but now in September it turned into bright yellow.

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Lake Virginia

Eran is drying our tent by Lake Virginia

Eran is drying our tent by Lake Virginia

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We crossed another ridge and ascended into a Tully Hole. After following cascade valley for a while we started our long climb towards Silver pass. The path meandered among several small lakes whose names chief lake, squaw lake and warrior lake testify to the original inhabitants of these mountains. The views from the top of the pass were wonderful.

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Chief Lake from Silver Pass

We descend into silver pass creek passing several small lakes. The final part of the creek goes down very steeply on magnificent rock plates along a series of water falls into the North fork. From here we had watched the volcanic knob in the red dusk light.

The Volcanic Knob

The Volcanic Knob

Eran was in a bit of a hurry so we continued for a further three kilometers down the North fork to Quail meadow. From here it is possible to exit to the resupply station at the Vermillion resort. Normally this can be done by boat but the water level was very low this year. We had no plan to resupply at Vermillion but met three people from San Luis Obispo who invited us to camp with them.

Day 9 Quail Meadow – Bear Creek – Magie Lake

The ascend to the ridge south of Quail meadow is long and dry, probably one of the few laps along the trail where you have to carry some water.

I counted 200 rings

I counted 200 rings

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From the top of the ridge the trail becomes much more humid and lush and we saw our first autumn colors.

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The trail dips into Bear Creek where we enjoyed gliding down on the rock plates of the shallow river and photographing the small cascades.

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Small trails branch out from the main trail to several lakes and we met a guy who went fishing in some of these remote and lonely lakes.

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The trail followed the creek all the way to the double Magie Lake which is one the loveliest campsites along the trip. The lake is above 10500 ft so we were in for a cold and frosty night but enjoyed magnificent dusk and dawn light.

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Day 10 Magie Lake – Muir Trail Ranch

After enjoying the dawn light and after the sun thawed the frost off our tent we headed along the lakes to the low Selden pass. From here it was all downhill passed the small Heart Lake in between the large Sally Keyes Lakes. Here we reentered the forest that we left behind yesterday. The switchbacks down to Muir Trail Ranch where our resupply waited for us seemed endless. It is always a great joy to arrive here. Our five gallon bucket with all the delicacies we shipped waited here. But even without sending anything here it is possible to resupply here for free. Most hikers send a surplus of supplies and once they realize that they don’t fit into their bear canisters and that they are to heavy to carry they kindly leave them behind in a well organized line of buckets. This is that thus a great place to get some extra yummy stuff and almost everything you might need down the trail. Eran even got a brand new pair of top brand hiking pants. There is also a small shop and flimsy internet connection to send a mail to the dear ones at home.

It gets even better, on the other side of the river is the Shooting Star Meadow with several hot springs. Early in the season crossing the river requires hiking up river to a huge log over the gorge – a rather precarious enterprise. Now in September we just had to walk through the wide and ice-cold river. The crossing was however well worth it and Eran was ready to stay the night. Soaking under the amazing starry night and crystal clear Milky Way in the hot spring was and almost mystical experience. The meadow lived up to its name and we saw several shooting stars. Though I assume the name of the meadow derives from the shooting star flowers.

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

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Day 11 Piute Creek Brigde – MecClure Meadow – Evolution Basin

Leaving behind all the goodies of the farm and the hot springs we walked up the South fork of the San Joaquin river. After a while we reached a huge suspension bridge over the Piute Creek The border of the huge Inyo and Sierra National Forests in which we walked since leaving Yosemite National Park at Donohue Pass six days ago. We crossed the bridge into Kings Canyon National Park in which we will spend the rest of our hike.

The path continued along the river which was at times rather narrow until it opened up into a small grove in full blast of yellow autumn colors.

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At the confluence with Evolution Creek the path left the South Fork and started to climb steeply up to Evolution Basin. We passed several rockpools connected by gushing waterfalls until we reached the basin. Here we had to wade through the water but as the river here is wide, shallow and mellow this was easy enough. We followed along the magical bank of evolution basin passing the McClure Meadow ranger station.

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I was delighted to meet Dave, the same kind and friendly ranger I met there two years ago. Apparently he has manned this post for several summers while during the rest of the year he lives and works as a builder in Santa Cruz. This seems a rather lonely job but it enables him to witness how the entire season from early spring to late autumn is rushing through the wonderful basin in less than three months. After a short chat with Dave we continued up the valley just and camped just before the path starts to climb up to evolution lake. Here we spent the night together with a few other hikers, including our friends from San Luis Obispo.

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Day 12 Evolution Lake – Muir Pass – La Conte Canyon – Middle Fork of Kings River

We broke camp and climbed up to evolution lake.

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The path here goes high up along a series of large and tantalizing blue lakes surrounded by stark grey mountains. The mountains are named after the fathers of genetics and evolution – Darwin, Mendel, Lamark, Spencer and Goethe.In July 2010 I camped with several other hikers on a level spot by one of these lakes. I arrived after a slightly rainy day and decided to stop here. Being high up and without any trees and rocks it was a bit problematic. The rainy weather brought with it some impressive alpenglow.

Alpenglow by Evolution Lake

Alpenglow by Evolution Lake

At night we endured a massive thunderstorm and I was scared that my tent will be hit by a lightning. Thunderstorms happen pretty often in the Sierra however rarely at night. I and the rest of us survived. Today the weather was nice and clear and we reached the Muir Pass with ease.

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At the top is a small stone hut designed to protect hikers from sudden storms. We met several people including a guy from the US Geolocial Survey who gave us some explanation about the different types of mountains and rocks that unfolded before us.

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Erin our companion for much of the trek basking in the sun on Muir Pass

Back in July 2010 I had to cross large snowfields and to search for the path both on the way up and down from the pass.

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Snow on Muir Pass in July 2010

The descend from the pass was pleasant and pretty. At first we passed several lakes with stupendous blue color and gradually we entered the Middle Fork of the Kings River.

We passed yet another ranger station greeting the ranger and found some place to camp.

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