Coed Brenin Enduro 2014

Coed Brenin Enduro 2014

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Muir Pass - end of the road

I'm guessing that we all left Muir Trail Ranch with different thoughts zipping around our heads. I started to think about the fact that in a couple of days we would be separating, Abi and myself turning back and hiking out so that we could fly back to the UK, and Janet and Rob carrying on for an extra week to the end of the trail.
The happy bunch

hike time!!
Initially we made slow steady progress because our bags were again loaded up with food, we had a mere 4 days worth, but Janet and Rob were labouring under 10 days worth of food (heavy packs for sure). It was beautiful heading up towards McClure Meadows, but took all day. We passed through 2/3 gates, and I have no idea why there were gates, because it was all mountain terrain, no grazing animals etc. Maybe just land boundaries/ownership.

Abi braving the river crossing!

When we finally got near to McClure the scenery was mind blowing, beautiful meadows, lightly forested on the edges and a river flowing from the cirque of giant Peaks standing guard at the far end of the valley - wow.
McClure Meadow/Evolution Valley

Rob, and great evening light

nice sunset
On our last night camping together we celebrated by sharing a big pan of 'dehydrated/packet potatoes' that Rob had 'nabbed' from a hiker barrel - delicious. It rained in the night and the weather the next day (our last hiking together) was very grey and overcast. In summary very British, and this seemed very fitting and atmospheric.

The scenery got more and more dramatic as we headed higher and passed beautiful lake after beautiful lake. We had to stop a couple of times to put on our waterproofs. Brian and Kevin both made me smile with their comical (but practical) poncho's (but ensured good photo's)!

The bunch in tasteful rain gear!

Above Evolution Lake

Abi taking in the view

The 'BritTrain' powering on... (thanks for the pics Maggie and Brian)
From Wanda Lake we spotted the roof of the Muir Pass shelter on the distant sky line. When we'd planned the hike in the UK, we had carefully worked out that Abi and I could get to Muir Pass, then turn around and hike for 2 days to get to civilisation (of sorts). On paper it seemed very fitting that this would be our end point on the trail, arguably the most iconic pass on the trail, dedicated to the great man himself, and when we arrived it didn't disappoint. We hung out in the shelter and had a cup of tea (of course) before saying our goodbyes and turning back down the trail. It was a very poignant and sad time for us, and we dearly wished we could have carried on, but sadly not this time.

Janet, Rob, Abi, German guy (!) and me at Muir Pass

As we headed back with heavy hearts we dawdled, and kept looking back to the pass. We camped this night above Evolution Lake with no one else around and watched the stars appear (a great spot). The next 2 days passed quite quickly as we headed back to Muir Ranch, then cut off the JMT to Florence Lake and got a water taxi to a 'resort' that basically consisted of a shop that sold, chocolate, crisps, T-shirts, gifts and microwave burritos (weird but good).
4 becomes 2, heading back

Our camp after the group split - beautiful spot at 11,000ft

Very old Juniper Tree, and Abi!

First sight of Florence Lake (after losing the trail earlier)

Now, where's he ferry,can you see the lorry/truck? I've put a red line above it. It was our only clue as to which bit to head to!
Radioing for the ferry (speedboat)

Goodbye trail, back to civilisation (well a road) on the far side of the lake
Camped near a car park on our last night was quite a sad affair, and we struggled to muster up an appetite for our last camp meal 'Mary Janes, Mac and Cheese' (disgusting), so we finished the clif bars and waited for our shuttle to arrive the next day to take us on the interesting (single track road) 3 hour drive to Fresno, and onward home.

Well sadly for me this is the last blog post about our time on the JMT. Almost immediately when back in the 'normal' life/routine of work, jobs etc in many respects it seems like you were never away. But I do find that I have been drifting off and dreaming of those halcyon days on the JMT. It was a magical time and I hope we can get back out there again soon.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The JMT Part 3 - Reds Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch

Trail names:  I'd heard that people on the big hikes like the PCT (2600 mile) have/use trail names, for example a guy from Kendal uses milky (he's a milkman!). You can assign (!) yourself a name or be named by others on the trail. We met ipod at VVR (thanks for the bars man), Snort (she snorts when she laughs apparently) and Huff and Puff (a great couple who huff and puff as they hike uphill - brilliant). Coming from the UK this practise is a little strange, but on reflection I like the sheer child like fun of it. I guess some are forming an alternative trail identity, importantly how they wish to be interpreted with these names. Maybe also it links into the escapism and simple existence that you experience on the trail too. I'd love to study the sociology of it. We gave ourselves joke trail names but didn't really use them, for example Abi was Nose Bleed, because she kept getting nose bleeds, and one of us was Potty Mouth, but that's another story.....

Anyways (like how I did that? Anyways, now I'm not sure if it is more American or Canadian - I'd need a local to let me know?!). Anyways, back to our hike.......

From Red Meadows we waddled uphill (double cheeseburger) to Deer Creek through an area previously burnt out by fire. Deer Creek was reasonably busy (4-5 parties) because its a natural place to camp (by water, next water 5 miles). A family with 2/3 children (can't remember!) and 2 horses also arrived and camped, heading North on the JMT. We drifted off to sleep listening to the horses bells jingling all night long (I guess to warn bears).
Leaving Reds Meadow, going through an area previously burnt by forest fire

Camp at Deer Creek

The next section was great, a long traversing path (?5 miles) with great views over the range. Lake Virginia was of particular note on this stretch of the trail. Its also very spectacular when you suddenly arrive at a vantage point overlooking the Tully Hole (meadows) far far below. Eventually we camped after big  metal bridge with great views of a massive pyramid shaped mountain that appeared to have cool (but hard) climbing on it (must look it up!).

The great panorama trail

Lunch stop at Purple Lake

Lake Virginia, the views opened out here
Camp in the spooky woods after the metal bridge/Tully Hole

Last evening light on the mountain
Heading up to Goodale Pass next day

We'd heard at Reds that the ferry at Edison Lake had stopped running 10 days earlier, which would have meant another 5 miles on top of our 12 mile day to get to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) for our first and only zero day (American term for a rest day - you go zero miles!). Because of this it made much more sense (more direct) to go over Goodale Pass as we'd heard from numerous people that the walk along Edison Lake (now drained for the year) was a slog. This was a beautiful route, once off the JMT the trails got quieter, wilder and less well maintained. I'd love to know the story behind the Graveyard Meadows area that we passed through (anyone?).
Spooky but beautiful graveyard valley

Lunch time (peanut butter again)
Arrived at VVR a broken man after a 15 mile day (tired +++). What a cool place, an oasis for the weary hiker. After pitching the tent we opened a tab and had a delicious meal. Worth the the detour for sure and we were all ready for a rest day here. With the boat not running to get back on route we could either hike the lake shore (horrid), go up Bear Ridge (everyone said it was hot, shadeless, no water, no fun) or go up Bear Creek. We did the latter and the trail went up a great verdant valley with plunge pools in the river and plenty of shade (it was mega hot). Unusual weather, with a fogginess due to the smoke from the rim fire, hazing out the hills.
Finally a zero (rest) day at VVR

Cool signs
Lake Edison (drained) - wheres all the water gone....

This next section should again be called the 'Lake Distict', one beautiful lake after another as we crossed Seldon Pass (10,900ft) and started the 3400ft descent to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR - they like abbreviations on the here). We started to see day trippers coming up from the ranch at this point.

Marie Lake (I think!)

Looking back down at the Lake from the Seldon Pass

Next valley, now just 3,300ft of descent to Muir Trail Ranch

MTR is an unusual operation, a ranch 'off grid' that has loads of horses, has rooms and claims to be 'your wilderness basecamp'! Also its half way along the JMT and the last place that you can post yourself a food resupply before the last 100 miles of hiking. We collected a resupply here and it costs $55 for this service (MTR charge). They must make a good income from this, some days in the short summer season (the ranch closes and is derelict in the winter due to the snow) they have over a 100 buckets/hikers a day. 100 x $55 = $5,500 per day - nice.

I'd heard people on the trail saying that this is a rip off, but to get your parcel to MTR they have to collect it from the Post Office, drive for 1.5-2 hours on a single track road, either water taxi it across Florence Lake or pack it around the shore on horses (4 miles), then either drive it 5 miles over the most extreme road you'll ever see in a ex military 4x4 lorry, or again pack it in on horses and then finally catalogue it and store it in the bucket shed! I think its worth every cent of the $55, having travelled this route!

The hiker resupply operation is run by Pat a real character, very nice but also very formidable (she told me no ticket no bucket as I frantically searched for my pickup ticket!). She'd worked on the footpaths in this area for many years and had been at MTR for 12 years (I think), we had a great chat about climbing and she said she has always wanted to visit Wales, and asked me about the mountains here and why they are so special - I hope she fulfills her dream.

After sorting out our food, we forded the river (exciting) and soaked in the nearby hot springs. I enjoyed it however you are basically sitting in a hot murky, muddy puddle, not sure if we would rush back.....

Pat, Queen of the buckets at Muir Ranch, she runs a tight ship (shed)

Benches with shade to sort out your food resupplies
Catching up with diaries at camp just South of Muir Ranch

P.S. Don't worry the next post is the final one about the JMT!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The JMT Part 2 - Tuolumne Meadows to Reds Meadow

Bears - As mentioned earlier I'm not overly comfortable in bear country. I haven't had any particularly bad encounters, but to a 'Brit' it just doesn't seem natural being in a country and sleeping in a tent with these big lumps of muscle wandering around (and Rangers always insist that they are not a threat as long as you do a-z). I think that my fear stems from when I climbed in this area with my good friend Steve. Steve was pro bear and would often drag me from the campsite to see the bears in the woods 20m from camp 4 (insisting we get far too close to get a good picture). Enough was enough one night after an 8 hr climbing day (El Cap, East Buttress 5.10b), I was asleep in my tent, but awoken by banging and Steve. At a camp next to us a big bear was raiding the next door bear locker/barbecue (left open). It seemed unconcerned by the banging/people as it grabbed food and wandered past my tent. I also remember watching the sunset from Lembert Dome (Tuolumne) and walking down afterwards in the dark and hearing a bear crashing through the undergrowth and growling close by. After these experiences (I could list more!) I mostly slept in our hire car on these climbing trips (and got teased for it). 

Anyway back to the JMT....... Day 4 nearly spoilt the trip (for me). I woke up requiring excessive explosive toilet visits and feeling very rubbish (not sure if it was the heat, altitude, water or food). Last night the smoke had drifted in from the nearby 'Rim Fire', but I'd felt well. I couldn't hike and this created a dilemma. J&R had to carry on (and left with vague plans of meeting up again) and stick to their timetable and I felt like I needed a day off in the tent. Abi was understandably sad and worried as we hadn't envisaged splitting as a group at this early stage.

Great evening light [it was also smokey from the nearby 'Rim Fire'] streaming through the trees at Tuolomne (Rob looking cool)

By midday I had to make a decision, and even though I felt awful (if I'd been at home I wouldn't have moved) I decided to carry on a see how we did. We slowly headed up Lyell Canyon, resting every 20 mins. I wasn't eating either so it was a battle of wills. Even in my depleted state I could appreciate that Lyell Canyon was amazing, a 10 mile long Canyon, big river and meadows at its centre surrounded by Peaks. We met an inspirational lady part way up who was going on a 'spirit quest' into the wilds for 6 days and her profound words kept me going. Because we were slow, and had set off late dusk was falling as we eventually got near the end of the Canyon. In the short sections of trees we hollered out in case of bears (and saw some bear 'scat' on the trail).

Heading up the beautiful but seemingly endless Lyell Canyon

Feeling ill as the sun starts to disappear

We'd hoped to catch up with J&R that night, but after 10 miles up the valley, it was getting dark and the trail started to go uphill (1000ft climb). This is when we bumped into Brian and Maggie. Brian saved me that day by 'popping' up when I felt I was done and inviting us down to camp near them just off the Trail, he even lit us a fire and left us some wood (thanks guys).

Glad to have made camp after a long day
Next morning we got up early, no breakfast (I felt on the mend at least) and rushed up the Trail hoping to catch J&R before they left their camp. They were very happy and surprised to see us and after we hadn't showed the night before and they weren't sure where or when we would see them again. We headed up and over Donahue Pass (11,056ft) and the scenery got even more spectacular and alpine. Before this Pass is where we first bumped into 'Alaska Man'. We later found out we was called Kevin, but this lovely, friendly Alaskan Park Ranger on a year off will always be 'Alaska Man' in my mind (sorry Kevin). He recounted a brilliant John Muir tale as we sat and rested by an alpine Lake.

Meeting Kevin 'Alaska Man' as we get into the Alpine zone (note the glaciers behind)

Near the top of Donahue Pass with views back to the impressive but long Lyell Canyon from the day before

Top of the pass and entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness

We soon started getting iconic views of Banner Peak, and Mount Ritter (notable Sierra Peaks) as we headed on. The rock/geology was changing from igneous (The granite of Yosemite area) to a metamorphic landscape (more fractured/loose, dark in colour, jagged). This section I think of as the 'lake district', with Garnet Leak, Thousand Island Lake, Emerald, Ruby etc etc. The views from Island Pass (10,203ft) particularly memorable as was the high wind! I could have spent a day looking at the scenery from this point if time had allowed us the luxury. We pushed on and stealth camped at Garnet Lake (don't ask) out of the wind. At this point my MSR filter didn't really work, filtering 1ltr took 30-40 mins (later fixed). Robs Katadyn filter worked much better and didn't give him problems the whole trip. All the Americans seemed to be using 'gravity' systems which were slow but much lighter.

One of many great log bridge crossings

I could have spent a day here on Island Pass looking at the views
Abi saved the day by spotting this beastie (2-3") trying to get into Janet's bag

View down to Thousand Island Lake
One of many 'paddles' in the many Lakes!
After a cold windy night its all down hill (lots) now to Red's Meadow. Another great day with great views. Went through an area with big trees blown across the trail (blowdowns) and cleared. It reminded me that Tanya had said that last year when they did the PCT sometimes they spent a whole day going through a section of 'blowdowns' that hadn't been cleared. Must have been really tough, on the 180 miles we hiked only 2-3 tree's were across the trail and 100's had been cleared.

First light on Banner/Ritter from Garnet Lake

Must need big chainsws to keep these trails open
Harsh when the only food is me (sweat)
A great night at Reds around the fire watching the stars
 I'd been here before and had promised the group a memorable experience in the free geothermal hot showers. Wrong! They had been closed 3 years earlier because they cannot effectively be monitored for safe water quality by environmental health (sad). Red's Meadow is a cool stop after another 'bunch' of days on the Trail. There's a store, cafe, campground and Ranger station (linked by road to the town of Mammoth). We picked up our first resupply package (yay - it was here), had a shower and gorged in the cafe. Discovered 'a la mode' - basically they seem to sell fruit pie 'a la mode' all over this area and it is 'in the style', meaning basically you get a scoop of ice cream with it! Used the first hiker buckets, we put in loads of clif bars as we had far too many, and I sadly put a pair of old sandals in as I was carrying 3 pairs of footwear due to a pre-hike injury. We also took a couple of meals out of the bucket!

Just arrived, time to big up the mail (food parcel) and see what goodies are in the hiker barrel

Darn good burger (double)

Classic Americana decor in the cafe!
 So all going well after the illness scare (I was worried it was Giardi). We were all starting to feel acclimated (American term we kept hearing/were always asked about) at this point, and the routine on the trail of getting up, eating, hiking, eating, camping, eating and sleeping was becoming second nature and pleasurable for its simplicity...........but will it continue....... (of course it will, sorry next blog post soon!).