Saturday, August 14, 2010

Duck Pass to Squaw Lake on the JMT

I returned to the High Sierra to complete the PCT once and for all. (Until I start again, that is.) Here's my journal of the final section between Mammoth and Bishop.

I had nightmares where I was swept away in scary creeks. The section between Bishop Pass and Duck Pass was a section I skipped in 2008. I was afraid of all the scary creeks listed in the guide book. Statements like "one slip could be fatal" just did not make me want to continue. In fact, I exited the trail over Bishop Pass, rented a car and went home. I quit the trail rather than continue. But I went back a few days later and eventually made my way to Mt. Shasta.

In 2009 I attempted to complete the Bishop Pass to Duck Pass section but it was actively snowing every day when I came through. I decided against it. Now it was time to go. I figured mid-August should be safer. Still, I had nightmares anticipating this section of the trail.

I decided head southbound since it was easier to get a permit for Duck Pass than Bishop Pass.

After work on Friday, I drove all the way from Santa Barbara to a BLM campground just outside of Bishop. I slept outdoors in the desert under a sky full of stars. At first light, I completed the drive to Mammoth and picked up my permit at the ranger station. I parked in the Park & Ride and took the public transportation to the Duck Pass trailhead. Finally I was on the trail ready to complete the PCT!

I hiked up the trail to Duck Pass, an easy pass. The trail was full of dayhikers, trail runners and backpackers overloaded with heavy packs. Only the trail runners went faster than me. All the backpackers seemed to think I was a day hiker because my pack was so small.

I stopped at Purple Lake for lunch. There were dozens of people there including several fisherman from Minnesota. I guess they just don't get enough fishing!

I met a ranger on the trail who asked if I had a bear canister. He was suspicious of my light pack. I had the Bearicade Weekender, the small clear bear canister. Not being a hungry thru-hiker I was able to fit my food easily. I also planned to supplement my food with a burger at VVR.

After lunch I hiked on to Lake Virginia where I caused some nude sunbathers to get dressed. They shouldn't have bothered. I don't mind skinny dipping.

Lake Virginia was really pretty. The water did look inviting. It had grassy lawns around the lake and flowers bloomed in the meadows.

I told the rangers that my first night on my itinerary would be Tully Hole.

My experience with the whole permit thing in the past was that you had to give the rangers a list of places you planned to camp each night. The places had to be named places on the map. This was a ridiculous requirement because most places named on maps were lakes and if you don't like to camp at lakes (I try to avoid them because of mosquitoes, cold and dampness), you are out of luck giving them an itinerary. So I made up a bunch of BS places I planned to stay. The first one was Tully Hole.

I assumed Tully Hole would be mosquito-infested and indeed it was. It was a meadow at the bottom of a canyon. There was a large, very loud creek roaring down a canyon and meandering through the meadow, and a smaller very large creek tumbling down the side of the mountain to meet the larger one. I reached Tully Hole much too early to camp so I continued on, following a creek toward a bridge.

As I descended toward the bridge, I walked through ferns and flowers in a lovely forest. It reminded me of northern California, but nice as the High Sierra is, it cannot do as well at the whole northern California thing as northern California can.

At the bridge there was a nice breeze blowing the mosquitoes away. It seemed like a nice place to camp. I sat down to think about it. There appeared to be only one campsite and people were already staying there, so I only rested for a little while before continuing on.

Now I climbed through pleasant greens and wildflowers. I considered every possible stop but didn't find a place that spoke to me.

I met a man named Greg with a Gossamer Gear G4 pack like the one I used on my 1800 mile section last year. He was hiking the whole JMT. He looked like he might have just retired and was now getting to do the things he'd put off his whole life. He was friendly and we talked for a while. Soon I lost him as I climbed.

I climbed and climbed. It looked like I was approaching some kind of rock bench. I climbed up to it and discovered a pretty sub-alpine lake. It seemed very nice here so I washed up in the outflow and got ready to set up my camp, violating my no lake camping rule. Greg arrived and he decided to stay here, too. Another JMT hiker named Steve appeared from behind some bushes and stopped over to chat with us. I could see another man way up above the lake on the hill.

We all camped behind secret nooks where we couldn't see each other. Except maybe everybody could see me. My little nook wasn't quite as hidden as it could have been.

I put up my homemade mosquito net tent after considerable trial and error. I made it myself and I am not an expert sewer. It has no door and no floor. The only way to get in is to lift a corner and climb under. But it seemed to work well.

I attempted to light my esbit stove for dinner. I went through a half a box of wooden matches trying to light the esbit. I only brought one box of matches so this worried me. Tomorrow I would be going to VVR so I planned to buy some lighters.

The mosquitoes were out but they weren't like the Oregon mosquitoes. I sat in my mosquito net tent, played my Strumstick. I watched fish jump in the lake and the alpenglow color the rocky cliffs. I fell asleep under the stars and a bright, setting moon.

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