Depth of Field Blending, by Marc Dilley


Photoshop layers can also be used to improve the depth of field in the final image, in addition to improving the dynamic range. In this image, shot pre-dawn in a meadow of Camas Lilies in North Central Washington, I wanted all of the flower heads in the field to be in razor-sharp focus, as well as the horizon. The flower head at left is very close to my lens, so getting it in focus meant most everything else in the scene would be blurry. An additional complication was that the meadow was much darker than the sky, or in other words, the dynamic range of the scene was way beyond the capability of the camera sensor.

To solve these issues, I worked on one at a time:

1) Depth of field: With the camera rigid on a tripod, and the controls set to expose well for the meadow (petals on the high side, but not too bright, washing out the color), I took a series of shots all at the same exposure, varying only the focus distance. For this particular subject I shot five times, each shot focused slightly more forward of the last. The final shot was at infinity.

2) Dynamic range: Sky exposures – if the sky is clear, one shot may be enough, but if it is an active sky with lots of clouds and sun flecks, multiple exposures may be needed. For this image I got by with one… but I hedged my bets as always and bracketed the exposures. Note that if you only shoot one exposure, and in processing you find that you need more exposure latitude, you may be able to “multiple process”. This technique simply treats your single exposure as though it is many exposures: you process it once in Camera Raw and shunt it into Photoshop, then return to Bridge and process the file in Camera Raw again to your new requirements and shunt this second copy to Photoshop as #2 in the stack. And so forth.

Back in the office: Take all of the meadow exposures and process them exactly the same. At this point you will want to get color temperature, tint, exposure and petal color reasonably close. As always, process conservatively; at this point your shots should be saturated but on the low side of contrast. If you are familiar with histograms, you want neither right or left toes touching the vertical end bars of the graph. Once you are satisfied, return them to Bridge.

Back in Bridge, highlight all of them. Then choose Tools>Photoshop>Load files into Photoshop layers. All of your exposures will appear in a stack in Photoshop. Highlight the entire stack (click on the lowest one, hold down the Shift key and click the top layer). Then go to Edit>Auto Align Layers…>Auto   Next,  Edit>Auto Blend Layers>Stack Images  Photoshop recognizes out-of-focus pixel clusters, those with the greatest circles of confusion, and masks them out. Once you are satisfied with the result, flatten the stack. You can then return to Bridge and process the sky exposure(s) and bring them into Photoshop as a layer in the Lilies file. Before proceeding, make positively certain that you are done with your sky file in Camera Raw, because the next step will permanently sever the bond and there will be no returning. Reason: the flattened Lilies layer and the Sky layer must be Auto-Aligned before they can be blended together. However, Smart Objects cannot be aligned, so they must be rasterized first, which strips them of the ability to return to Camera Raw. To do this, simply hover over the comment (right-hand) part of the layer banner, right click and choose rasterize layer from the menu. Add a mask, and you now have all of Photoshop’s tools at your command.

For some incredible photos see Marc’s website,

Adventures in Food Packing

I’m getting ready to hike the John Muir Trail with son Jim in July.  We have to carry all food in bear canisters, and we pick up food drops at three points along the way.  In past week long backpacks I have weighed the food I take, weigh what I bring back, and thus have a good idea of how much food in ounces I will actually eat per day.  Typically I eat all I can at rest breaks, and at dinner I eat to the point of gagging.  This food was all I could eat (per day) on the last week long backpack, to Thousand Island Lake in the Sierra. It came to about 2500 calories per day, and weighed just less than 2 pounds per day.


beef jerky: 1.3 oz per day

dates: 2 oz

payday candy bar: .5 oz

dried kiwis: 1.3 oz

triscuit crackers: 1.1 oz

gouda cheese: 2 oz

yogurt covered raisins: 1.4

breakfast: 2 instant oatmeal

via coffee

cocoa: a cup after dinner

dinner is typically pasta dishes: 2.25 oz pasta per meal, plus a sauce, and a meat ingredient such as bacon or freeze dried Sausage Granules.

for the JMT I’ll have the same calories for the first week, and for later weeks I’ll bump the protein and calories up a bit, for a 3000 calorie per day menu.  That will be:

beef jerky: 3 oz per day

dates: 2 oz

payday candy bar: .5 oz

Clif bar Builder for extra protein: 2.4 oz

dried peaches and mangoes: 2 oz

Ritz crackers: 1.5 oz

gouda cheese: 2 oz

yogurt covered raisins: 2

breakfast: 2 instant oatmeal

gatoraid drink mix: 1.5 oz

via coffee

cocoa: a cup after dinner

pasta in dinners: 2.5 oz pasta per meal, plus a sauce, and a meat ingredient such as bacon or freeze dried Sausage Granules.

This results in 60 g of protein, 3000 cal, and 30 oz in weight per day.  In the food portions in the last 1/3 of the trip I’ll bump up the portions a bit, and we’ll also eat some fish along the way.

In packing up a weeks worth of food in a bear canister, I tried putting each day’s lunch in a separate baggie, with each ingredient in a snack size baggie.  I also tried packing Raisin Bran Crunch and milk for breakfasts.  Just the breakfasts and lunches looked like this in a bear canister:


Dang, not much room left for dinners!

So I put the week’s worth of lunch foods in baggies for each ingredient, like one bag for jerky, one for dates, etc.  I also cut the jerky into 1/2″ squares, which made them more compact. I also had 2 instant oatmeal packs for breakfasts.  The same number of lunches and dinners now looks like this in the bear canister:


Much better.  I could save even more room if I put all the oatmeal into one baggie, but I don’t think I’ll have to do that.  There is now plenty of room for 3 two man dinners.  Jim will carry the other 3 dinners we’ll need for the week. The bear canister is a 12.5 inch tall Bearikade.

Using Exposure Layering to Making Great Mountain (or any kind of) Pictures

by Marc Dilley

Marc Dilley Photography


I am so in awe of old hiking buddy Marc Dilley’s photography expertise, and he agreed to write a few blog posts on how he achieves the incredible images on Marc Dilley Photography.  Marc and I did a lot of hiking together in Washington, where Marc lives in Leavenworth.

Says Marc:

I am using this image of Colchuck Lake in the Cascade Mountains of Washington to discuss some basic elements of exposure, composition and how those two field skills relate to processing an exposure (or, in this case, two exposures).

Let’s begin with exposure. Note that every element of this image is properly exposed: you can make out detail in the mid tones such as the boulders, trees and driftwood but also in the brightest parts of the sky and the shadowy areas. If you have shot much in the mountain environment, even with a top quality full-frame DSLR, you know that blocked shadows and clipped highlights are unavoidable. The dynamic range of the scene, that is, the brightness range from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, is too great for the sensor to record. If you expose to get detail in the shadows then the highlights will be hopelessly overexposed in a white, confused mass. You have all seen this – with their tiny sensors, phone cameras are quite susceptible to this (there is a direct correlation between sensor size, or more precisely pixel size, and image quality). Conversely, if your exposure is made for detail in the highlight areas of the scene, then the shadows and most likely the dark mid tones will be black or disturbingly dark.

Unlike the old film days, with digital photography there is a way to mitigate this issue. As above, make two exposures, one correctly exposing the highlights and one correctly exposing the shadows. Note that these two exposures absolutely must be shot with a tripod, or on a boulder. Now, here is where you need a good working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop. I am not aware of any other photo processing software that would allow a photographer to manipulate exposures in the following popular and well regarded technique, and that includes Adobe Lightroom.

Note that this exposure layering method is different than HDR (high dynamic range). One indication of this is that the current version of Photoshop, Photoshop CC, has its own HDR routine that you can access under File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro.

If you want to go the HDR route understand that all your images will have a certain look to them….   note the haloing that is quite obvious in most of the shots. If you like that dreamy look HDR will produce it every time. If, on the other hand, the final image is produced with exposure layering, you can determine the fill depth yourself, how much feathering on the haloing, and even custom process each image in the stack. Differential processing is critical if you have parts of an image in the shade and parts in sun – warm color temp for sun and cool color temp in the shade – but you could continue with this and change the tint, hue, contrast, vibrance, etc. HDR software would blend this into a melting stew.

One more digression before we move along. If your camera will output images in Raw, you should take advantage of this feature. I’ll leave a talk on Raw for another time but suffice it to say that shooting in Raw will give you unmatched potential over jpeg, period. Another absolute: get on the website and sign up for Lightroom or Photoshop. It will cost you about $25/month and if you are serious about photography it will be the best $$ you will ever spend. There are good reasons why Photoshop is the gold standard for all photo artists – don’t shop around for competing software. The learning curve is steep, but You Tube has hundreds of helpful videos; if you seek truly professional instruction look up

On to the technique:  Photoshop allows you to “stack” distinct exposures -one on top of another- in the same work file. Just like a stack of cards, only the exposure on the top can be seen. But… Photoshop provides a neat and incredibly powerful structure that rides along with each exposure – the Mask. The Mask controls how much of it’s respective exposure will be visible. A pure white mask allows all the exposure to be seen; a pure black hides all the exposure; a neutral 50% gray mask makes the exposure ghostly half-transparent. After I stacked the cloud exposure (the darker shot where the bright highlights were exposed properly) on top of the land/water/cliff exposure, I took my paintbrush tool and carefully painted black pigment over the land portions of the cloud exposure mask, hiding all of it’s darker areas and revealing the well exposed parts of the land/water/cliff exposure below. I then painted back and forth with various shades of gray to adjust the blend then moved on to contrast and color adjustments, finishing off with dust removal, some minor chroma and noise.

A final note: some of you may use or may have heard of the HDR technique. HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography, is to some degree or another an automated process whereby three or more exposures (in register) are shunted into HDR software and pops out a fully cooked image with good tonality in all areas of the scene. HDR images have a unique look to them and you either like it or you don’t. They are distinct enough from traditionally made images that most photo forums place HDR images in their own category. HDR has it’s place but for full creative control you must jump in and learn to use layers.

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, Preparation

In recent times, hikers on the JMT have seriously lighter loads than we used in the 1970s, and covered many more miles than we did. In 1971 my younger brother Mike and I planned a 29 day trip on the JMT, with 12 people.  Some people might be interested in our trip as a view into backpacking technology in those days.

Chris Hughes


Chris Hughes


Conrad Lowry


John Laine, Kevin Anderson, Nancy facing away.


Chuck Ringrose and Bob Shaver and the 10 lb rope we carried!!!!


Wes Little washing up.



Being literary sorts, we had reading material.


John Laine


Chris Hughes doing survival fishing.  We were hungry most of the trip, and relied on our fisherman to supplement our menu.


That fish is big enough to keep, and we needed it.  Fry that sucker!

Steve Siebert

Steve Siebert after a food drop, with bacon, bisquick, fish frying, life is good.

We used foam pads as a sleeping pad, as there was no Thermarest or any other deluxe sleeping pad.  There were no internal frame packs then, and we used Kelty external frame packs if we had the dough, or REI Cruisers, or other Kelty knock offs.  We didn’t routinely carry stoves, and no GPS of course.

For tents we mostly used a tube of plastic called a tube tent, which was about 8 feet long, and formed a triangle with the floor being about 4 feet wide.  We only strung up the tube tents between trees when it threatened rain. There were no polypro or other synthetic clothes,  and I thought I was being very innovative to have a short sleeved nylon knit shirt to wear.  Mostly we wore cotton or wool clothes, with cotton being OK as long as it could be dried.  For rain gear we had ponchos of coated nylon.

Being students, our food was the cheapest we could get, and Mike and I planned the food based on our experience with weekend backpacks.  We didn’t reckon for bigger eaters than us, nor for a big increase in appetite which hit everyone after a week on the trail.  We packed up all the food for 12 people for 28 days before we left, and a week’s worth of food was delivered to us at three trailheads along the way.  We used steel Army Ranger cooksets, one for each of the 3 cook groups of 4 people.  These great cooksets had two nesting pots, and a fry pan lid.  Each cook group had a small grill in a cloth bag, and the pots were in cloth bag.  We cooked over open fires, so the pots were filthy with soot.   We didn’t use water filters in those days, and giardia was not a problem.

We didn’t use bear canisters, and didn’t hang our food, and never had a problem with bears. There were no permits, and I don’t remember seeing a ranger on the whole 28 day trip.  We didn’t do much training before the trip, and got in shape on the trail.  Some of us were runners in high school or college, and generally fit.  By the third week we were strong, and on the fourth week we were in great shape. The notes that follow are from the journal I kept on the trip.


day 1 S  Toulumne Meadows to Rafferty Creek

day 2 S  Rafferty Creek to below Lyell Creek

day 3 M  Lyell Creek, over Donahue and Island Pass, to Thousand island Lake

day 4 T  Layover Day, relaxing

day 5 W Thousand Island Lake to below Lake Ediza

day 6 T layover day, we climbed Mt. Ritter and Banner Pk.

day 7 F lake Ediza to Trinity Lakes

day 8 S to Devils Postpile, get food drop, hike 2 miles out of DP

day 9 S to Purple Lake

day 10 M over Silver Pass, to Quail Meadow

day 11 T to Lake Marie

day 12 W over Selmer Pass to Evolution Valley

day 13 T over “Shit for Brains” Pass, to Midnight Lake

day 14 F to Lake Sabrina, get ride to South Lake

day 15 S to Saddlerock Lake

day 16 S Over Bishop Pass, climbed Agassiz, cross country to Barrett lakes

day 16 M layover, climbed Polomonium, Sill

day 17 T cross country to Palisade Lake

day 18 W over Mather Pass to Lake Marjorie

day 19 T: over Pinchot Pass to Rae lakes

day 20 F To Onion Valley, over Glen, Kearsarge Passes

day 21 S to Flower Lake

day 22 S over Kearsearge Pass to Bubbs Creek

day 23 M over Forester Pass to Wright lakes

day 24 T Layover, climbed Tunnabora, Bernard

day 25 W another layover for Group A, to Wallace lakes for Group B.  Climbed Russell, Constitution,

day 26 T To Hitchcock lake for Group A, layover at Wallace for Group B

day 27 F over Trail Crest to the Portal, to summit of Whitney, spent the night on Whitney

day 28 S out to trail head Group A, down to Whitney Portal Group B

The backpack of the John Muir Trail began as a two man trip, just my brother Mike and I.  I turned 21 on the first day of the hike.  My brother was 18.  A group from our YMCA sponsored hiking club had attempted the JMT starting at Whitney the year before.  They were Paul Hungerford, Bruce Cyr, and George Runner.  Their packs were enormous, and the heavy mountaineering boots killed their feet.  They bailed at Kearsarge Pass I think.  We wanted to finish the trail, so we decided to start at the north, Tuollumne Meadows, and head south.  At that time the trail was not particularly famous, there was no internet, few books on the route, and no tradition had been established for doing the route, and there was no way to find out about resupply options.  We did have topo maps and knew how to use them.

The closer we got to the planning state, the more we found other interested people. It reached five or six and we decided to make it a Y’s Hikers trip in order to be insured with the Y. Almost immediately we had a party of 12 or possibly 16. The extra four were Scouts and when Mike refused to put them in one cook group they dropped out. We decided to charge everyone $50 each, for 28 days worth of food, plus gas for the transportation to the trailhead and back.  We were all students and we were trying to keep it inexpensive, but that was ridiculous.  if we had charged $100, we could have eaten a lot better.  This is a letter from Mike to me when I was still off at college, and he was in Lancaster starting to get things organized.


Here’s the signup $50 paid:

Kevin Anderson (15 years old)


John Laine

$10 deposit Chris Hughes

Robert Bouclin

Tomlinson (age 14 but really wants to go and went on shakedown hike

Lowry, Conrad


Wes Little

Madeline Payne (ah yes, Gordon’s has put in a mountaineering line. Wipe out for Eaton! Wally to help buy food wholesale. Cheep. Good equipment. The jacket sold for $25 at last meeting to Payne)

Antonia Reeves

Plus two kids who want to wait until an Explorer Scout trip is scratched (they won’t commit themselves yet so neither would I on Oking them).

The first 11 seem alright to me, though Antonia Reeves and Robert Conchil weren’t on shakedown. The other two will have to commit themselves and $10 by next hiker meeting. I don’t really think 13 would be too many (+Sue? Is she going part?). Also Byron might go part with us. Que responde es? Shakedown was to Kern Peak with Wally Henry – an ickey trip, but it found a leader (I stayed home).

On food—I can get egg noodles and macaroni from the Wrangler cheep cheep cheep. All dehydrated, good for perhaps two meals on each 7 day segment. John Laine said any grits and he’ll wipe us both out (cream of wheat!). Will hold Y meeting and demand deposits, hand out medical slips and plan what support trips can be run. Powells volunteered their van for the shuffle, but with 13 people and packs it alone just won’t hack it. Drivers are you, Laine, the rest illegal. Don Shaw wants everyone to become Y members ($2) for insurance, so we probably should go along with that. I propose a split group when we hit the N. Pal Sill area—with peak baggers and trail-o-phobes taking last years route. We can hassle that out on the trail.

Rob Culbertson was drafted into the Army and Kevin Anderson into the Treasury. They still mail bank notices to 2121. Its frustrating!. Kevin A’s parents are willing to drop off food—how about Primmer? Still in? Logistics are going to be interesting! Where do we keep the food that is to be taken up to us?

Boy, have you got problems


I got out of school the week before we were to leave, and the week before the trip was when 95% of the work on the food was done. Our itinerary was planned and we already had our food drops in order. Of all the preparations I guess the food was the most work.

After the menu was made we had to buy enormous quantities of food, enough for 12 people for 27 days. These supplies purchased, we took over the facilities of the Palmdale Y for the week. The five or six steady workers became quite expert at food packing and accomplished the largest food packing in the history of the Y’s Hikers club, with no major problems. By Thursday our bundles were lined up along 3 ½ walls of the room, all in order and ready for the food drops. We had one big bag for each of the 3 cook groups, for each week.  We would start out with one of the bags per cook group. They were bundled and stored in Mike’s bedroom, till they were picked up and delivered by our support parties, the Powells, the Peca’s, and Ken Primmer.

2. Tuollumne Meadows to Reds Meadow, the first week

3. Red’s Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

4. South Lake to Onion Valley

5. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, Tuollumne to Reds Meadows

1. Preparation

2. Tuiollumne Meadows to Reds Meadows

We got started on the trip on Saturday, driven by our friends the Mike and Jeanie Powell up the Owen’s Valley to Tuollumne Meadows, at the top of Tioga Pass.

hughesjmt001.10 .

Once dropped off, all we had to do we hike 227 miles through the roughest mountain country, and the most beautiful, in the North American Continent. We got on the trail by late afternoon, and reached a camp on Rafferty Creek by evening. We were all tired, even though it was a short day, because none of us were used to the heavy packs and none of us were in shape for that high elevation.

My girlfriend Beth drove up from Modesto, and I hiked back down to the Meadows to meet her and spend the night there. I got up early and bombed up to Rafferty Creek but the troops had already split. We finally met Conrad, John, and Mike. The whole group had apparently gone up Rafferty Creek rather than up the Canyon of the Toulumne, which was our route. We had all been fooled the evening before when reading the map. When the mistake was discovered, Conrad dropped his pack and ran up the trail to catch Chuck, but never caught up with him. Since no one had seen him leave camp that morning we all hoped that he would realize his mistake and come back down the trail, to rejoin the JMT.

We went back the trail ourselves to the Lyell River, where Beth left us and headed back down to Toullumne Meadows, and we started up Lyell Canyon. Reports told us that one group of 4 was ahead of us, and a larger group ahead of them. We knew the smaller group was ours and hoped the other included Chuck.  Cruising along all afternoon we caught sight of Chris Hughes a few times but never caught up with them till camp that night at the headwaters of the Lyell River, a campsite arranged the day before. We made camp and hoped that Chuck would make it in and that everything was all right with the people that were with hJMT1971141im. They did show up shortly after us, after climbing up Rafferty Creek and then hiking cross country to our camp on the Lyell. He and everyone was quite tired, and we set about supper and a good nights sleep.

Our itinerary for the trip was not planned for each day of the week. We picked three high and about equally spaced trailheads for our food drops, arranged for the food to be delivered to the trailheads on each Saturday, and the itinerary between food drops we figured out as we went. That allowed us to adjust the pace of the trip, and choose layover days for the best areas we found, or the best fishing or climbing, or to avoid mosquitoes. This loose itinerary worked out very well.   One thing Mike and I didn’t anticipate was the urge of the hikers to get to the next food drop as early as possible, even a day or so early. Sometimes just making it in time was tough, but it was always nice to get a hamburger and shake, and take our clothes to a laundromat to get them washed.

Donahue Pass

Monday: From Lyell Creek we headed for Donahue Pass, where we had lunch. The view of Lyell was quite good, and Chuck and I headed off from there to climb Donahue Peak. We agreed on a place to meet the others at Thousand Island lake, and wished them a good trip as we headed for the peak. The peak was an easy one, but it gave us a late start for Thousand Island Lake.   We were wet from the snow when we crossed the Woods Creek Valley, a very secluded and peaceful place. Going up Island Pass I was really tired and we reached camp totally exhausted. The main group had beaten us to camp by only a few minutes, so we all hustled around for supper. As evening deepened the imposing view of Banner was spectacular. The peak really dominates the area, appearing to be an Everest from our camp.


Tuesday:  Everyone was ready for a day of loafing and I sure was.  Nancy loaned me a book that John was carrying, and with the book I hiked back over to the lovely Rush Creek and spent the day reading and fishing.  I had a fish hook, some leader, and cheese from my lunches, and I would float the cheese by hand into one pool after another.  I got a lot of hits, and caught several fish.  I think it was the most fun fishing I’ve ever done in my life.  I returned in the evening, and found that everyone had used the day to fish, wash clothes, read, write, and sleep. Several had gone off and spent the day alone as I had.JMT1971128

Above: Conrad Lowry sacked out at camp.  This shows how we used the tube tents most nights, and the foam sleeping pads we had. We thought they were great.  Somebody has set up a clothes line.


Wednesday. This was really a fun day. We got a late start from Thousand Island lake and traversed past Purple and Shadow Lakes toward the trail that branched off to go to beautiful Lake Ediza.   A few of us were alternately bombing and going slow, and we all had lunch at Shadow Lake.   The entertainment for lunch was provided by John and Nancy. We had passed a group of girls and John was full of plans and ideas of meeting the girls, which didn’t make Nancy happy. Below: Garnet Lake, mostly frozen over.

day 5.2 Garnet Lk. hughesjmt027ps

The group of girls hiked past as we ate lunch and made no reply to John’s warm greeting. What he did get was a rock thrown by his girlfriend Nancy.  After a long lunch we climbed a hill to the valley below Lake Ediza. Chuck and I stopped at a falls for the others to catch up and had a nice shower and rest. When the rest of the group caught up several more had showers in the falls before we headed up toward Lake Ediza. About ½ mile below the lake we found a really nice campsite near the deep and silent stream. After some exploring we found a meadow and marsh area really thick with wild onions, which we set about harvesting. My cook group, Chuck, Madelyne, Wes Little and myself had enough to fry them into a good vegetable dish and added some fish caught at Thousand Island Lake that we had carried with us.

Nancy taking her shower in ice water:


We had a campfire and cooked popcorn and most groups had breads or cakes before retiring.   Chuck was given the task of baking bread for our group, and really burned it badly. He made up for it later in the trip by turning out a series of flawless breads.

We cooked in groups of 4, and each group had a steel army ranger cookset. This set had a pair of nesting pots, with wire bails. The lid was a shallow frying pan, with wire handles that folded against the side of the pan. By putting water in the outer pot, and bread mix inside the inner pot, we made a double boiler, and could cook bread and cake mixes. We always camped in wooded areas in those days, and had wood fires. Stoves were an optional kind of thing, and only Conrad and Chris had a stove on this trip. We baked by putting the nested pots on a bed of coals, and then we put coals on the lid to heat the top of the mix. With practice, the breads could be baked perfectly, and were delicious. Each cook group also had a grill with three wires, which would be placed between two rocks with a fire under it. The outer pot became black from the smoke and the cook set was carried in a cloth bag.

Thursday:  Ah, its time to get down to some serious climbing. John, Chuck, and I planned to climb Mt. Ritter from Lake Ediza.  We started out early, reaching Lake Ediza at dawn. We went around the south end of the lake and soon found ourselves kicking steps up the glacier. We were heading for the notch between the two peaks of Ritter and Banner, both 14,000 foot peaks. Earlier that Spring three out of a party of four Sierra Club climbers were caught by a storm on Ritter and the three froze, the fourth one got out. We were carrying a newspaper clipping about the tragedy to leave in the register. All the prominent Sierra peaks had a metal register on their top, which opened to reveal a hardbound book in most cases. The tradition was that each climber signed the register, and could describe the weather or the trip, where they were from, and whatever else they wanted to say. The full registers were replaced with new books periodically by Sierra Club members.

All the way to the notch we ascended the snow field by kicking steps in the snow. At the notch we looked at the north side of Ritter and it looked really hard to me. From the notch we were about 500 vertical feet to the summit of either mountain. John wanted to stay but we talked him into continuing for a ways.


We started up the most prominent chute and climbed it’s ice until it became quite steep and terminated. Chuck and I both had ice axes. At that point John had had enough and waited for us there.

Chuck and I climbed up and left out of the coular into the coular to the left. We just traversed across the top of this one to a ramp leading to the top. Three belayed pitches across the coular and 3 up the ramp. At the top of the ramp it was boulder hopping to the peak across boulders and wind fluted snow. We signed and read the register as we huddled from the wind. To the west we could see Half Dome and Yosemite, north were the big lakes of the Owens Valley: Mono, Crowley, and Owens. South was the whole of the Sierra and a tiny bump that I recognized as Mt. Whitney, our destination some 200 miles away.

Too bad it was too cold to really enjoy the view. After a quick lunch we started down, picked up John on the way, much shaken from 3 hours alone on an exposed coular, and had a long wet glissade to the notch between Ritter and Banner. At the notch Chuck began running up the south face of Banner, scrambling up the peak like a madman. John and I waited for him and we was to the top of Banner and back down in no time at all. The glissade from the notch to the bottom of the glacier was very fast and John especially enjoyed it. The trip down to Ediza and home to camp was uneventful, but Lake Ediza is a beautiful area.


Friday: Not much ground to cover, and we got off to a late start. From Ediza the trail took us by Shadow Lake and through rather uneventful country toward the small, marshy, Trinity Lakes, our destination for the night. We had lunch together on rocks, and met an old man and his daughter who were doing the Muir Trail also. She was a student at Berkeley and not bad looking at all.  She wasn’t John’s type, we all decided; too brainy. Apparently her father was beginning to have problems with his legs and was becoming discouraged. He’s a tough old guy and I hope he makes it.

After lunch Conrad and I lagged behind, talking. We were overtaken by a group of four middle aged fishermen.

“Hello, where you headed?” they asked.

“The Postpile. How about yourselves.”

“Same. Have those ice picks come in any good or you?” They were referring to our ice axes, which several of our group were carrying.

“On Donahue Pass they were life savers, and we used them climbing Mt. Ritter also.”

“Oh. Say, has that mob from Toullumne passed you? A big party doing the Muir Trail.”

And thus was born the name of infamy that spread terror in the hearts of backpackers far and wide. Mothers would tell their kids “you’d better eat your spinach or the Toullumne Mob will get you.” That may be an exaggeration, but the name stuck with us and seemed to fit. This perhaps the start of a feeling of group unity, a feeling that would grow after we’d weathered a few storms together. We were the Mob, or the Toullumne Mob.

We reached the Trinity lakes and spent the afternoon sitting around, throwing rocks into the water, and other intellectual pursuits. John, Kevin, Madylin and Wes were not here and had presumably missed the lakes and gone bombing down toward the Postpile. Mike put on some running shoes and ran after them, passing John and Wes and going on after Kevin and Madylin.

Meanwhile Mike had returned. He had run down Kevin and Madelyn, and they were on their way back to Trinity lakes. Kevin showed up shortly and said that Madelyn was far back and having a hard time of it. Mike had left the two of them at a trail crossing, the other trail going deep into the heart of the Minarets. This was also the last time Kevin had seen her, since he left before she was ready to go.

When she didn’t show up for a while more, Chuck went to help her carry her pack up. It was fully dark by now. After 40 minutes Chuck hadn’t returned so I went after them, with Nancy waiting supper for our return. I ran down the trail to the trail crossing Mike had told me about, then on towards the Postpile. What had happened, had I missed them somehow? Had they gone on down to the Postpile for the night? Had they taken the wrong trail? When I reached a river crossing too dangerous to cross at night I headed back, calling all the way. About a mile from Trinity Lakes Mike met me. They hadn’t shown up at camp either, so all we could do was wait until morning. We assumed they were together, and Chuck could handle any emergency that came up.

We had an uneasy night of wondering about Madelyn. It was at this time that I was really struck with my responsibility. No matter what happened, I was responsible for the safety of eleven people. I cursed myself for not having made a stronger point earlier about not going off without a map and with no idea of where you were going.

Saturday: Early in the morning Chuck came into camp.

“Where did you find Madelyn, and where is she now, at the Postpile?”

“I never found her. I spent the night at the river. Ran all way down to the Postpile and couldn’t cross the river on my way back. No sign of her here?”

“Damn! We thought you would have found her and you two would have spent the night somewhere together. How the Hell could she get off the trail, anyhow?”

We knew that she had food so if she didn’t panic she would be OK. I packed up and took off down the trail, agreeing to meet Mike and the others at the Postpile, where we could search the place if she hadn’t been found. At the trail crossing some fishermen had seen a girl in red windpants heading down that morning. Yes, she had come from the Minarets trail.

I bombed on, and found her at the trail heading into the Postpile. She was fine, but shaken after spending the night alone on the wrong fork of the trail. She had discovered her mistake the next morning, and waited for us on the bridge when I found her. God, what a relief! We went on to the Postpile and I bought her breakfast at the café while we waited for the others. Apparently when Mike and Kevin left her they were so close to the fork that they assumed she would either remember the way she came or read the sign. She did neither, and hiked up the wrong fork until overtaken by darkness.

I filled her in on the happenings of the evening, and she really felt bad about causing us concern. She said that she had really learned something and would be more careful next time. Chuck and Mike arrived, followed shortly by the group. A few of us had breakfast and bought hot showers, and everyone made a raid on the store, resupplying for the coming week. It was becoming obvious the the food we had packed up for the trip would keep us alive, but to be full and satisfied we needed to buy supplement food in the form of bread mixes and extra lunch foods.

Something new for us that we tried on this trip was rotating cook groups every food drop. We hoped to put everyone with everyone else at least once. That would also allow us to avoid very large personality clashes.  At the food drop, the new cook groups had to get together and divide their community gear (cook sets and grills) and food as evenly as possible, with each member carrying several meal bags.  Each meal was a self contained bag, with drinks (cocoa), dessert, and main course for four people in one bag.  For lunches, each person had a separate lunch bag for each day, and in each bag was a complete lunch for one.  That way, no matter where people were, they had their lunch for the day. They could also easily throw a lunch in a daypack for a day hike on a layover day.

At the food drop we had to pack our trail lunches, which included meat (dried beef), a chunk of cheese, peanuts, raisins, candy bar, and iced tea mix. A lot of people were buying extra food such as dried milk, French bread, pudding, bread mixes for baking, and extra candy for lunches.   The showers were really heaven and after the showers we went back to the store in time to see several pies being devoured by almost stuffed hikers. We had lunch there, and waited for the Powells, who should have been there by midmorning. I walked down to the lower campground to see if they showed up, and was joined a while later by Madelyn. We waited and waited, and the Powell’s van finally showed up at 2:00.  We hopped in and drove to the Postpile store and proceeded to sort, divide and pack our food for the coming week.By 3 or so clouds had built up and by four we were ready to take off.  We wanted to get away from the Postpile a few miles and make camp before it rained.

The packs were heavy but everyone was in good spirits on the climb out of the valley of the Devils Postpile.

We found a small spring and hurriedly made camp, putting up tube tents and making fires. We had passed through an area of deep dark wooks, where is was very quiet and kind of spooky. I’ve heard these woods have been burned up in a forest fire in later years. We had a good meal of fresh meat and vegetables before retiring early to bed.  Everyone was in good shape for rain protection before it started raining , tents up and gear covered.


Next posts on this hike

3. Red’s Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

4. South Lake to Onion Valley

5. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, Reds Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

1. Preparing for the hike

2. Tuollumne Meadows to Reds Meadow, the first week

3. Reds Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

Saturday: We got our food drop at Red’s Meadows, and we had hiked a few miles out of Red’s to camp Saturday night. Sunday was the first of increasingly hard days.  We had eight miles to go to Purple Lake and a lot of elevation to gain, so we got an early start. We spread out but kept a steady pace past Red Cones and on.  Below: Red Cones.

day 9.1.a Red Cones hughesjmt050

Madelyn was really slow and I stayed back with her.  We piddled along all day and got to Purple lake two hours before dark.  There the fishermen, long deprived of fishing, were off doing their thing.  Everyone was quite tired and fearing rain, most slept in tube tents.

A lottery has developed. Wes and Steve Jepson have a three man tent and so will allow one person to sleep in it on a night threatening rain.  Lots were drawn, and numbers assigning turns to sleep in it.  I got a very low number, so I’m kind of out of it.  High numbers were Chuck and Nancy.  Now they can wait till they think it will rain and use their tent turn.  They can also save their turn and sell it for food.  Chuck used up his turn this night, and it didn’t even rain.

As evening deepened around Purple lake the clouds were doing some fantastic things to the peaks on the other side of the lake.  They swirled and lifted, revealing peaks then engulfing them, sometimes letting in brilliant shafts of the now orange setting sun.

day 9.16.a purple Lake hughesjmt066

Monday.  Big day ahead. Twelve miles and a pass to cover.  Yikes, 4 miles more then yesterday, and that day just about did Madelyn in.  We tore out of camp like lions, sprinting over the ridge and down down down into Tully Hole.  I was last to leave camp, and hiked along till I caught up with the Mob at the hole. Here we realized that Steve wasn’t among us.  He had left before I, and I even directed him to the trail.  This was a key day and a several hour delay would blow the schedule of the week to bits. There was an alternate trail that he could have taken, so Chuck and I were going to do a pincher movement, Mike staying with the group.  Just before we started the search good old Steve came ambling down the hill.  He had gotten off the trail and had been trying to catch up all morning.

Much relieved, we continued and caught up with the others for lunch at a small lake below Silver pass. Mike pulled something in his groin when stepping over a stream, but it seemed to be better after a rest and lunch.  The lake was small and nice, just below the big ice fields that we would be climbing in the afternoon.

Chief Lake below Silver Pass

day 10.6 .a Chief Lake near Silver Pass  hughesjmt073

Nancy was having problems and so was Madelyn, so they took off early.  They had burnt out on the pass and were really wiped out by the time the top was reached. We were really strung out now, and Conrad, Steve, John and I were pretty far back.  We were angling down, hoping to make Quail meadows by dark.

Steve topping out on Silver Pass

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Below: the view from Silver Pass

day 10.10 .a Silver Pass hughesjmt077

Several miles the other side of the pass Steve said that he hadn’t seen Mike come over the pass.  I didn’t even know that he’d hurt himself at that point.  John, Conrad and I headed back up, leaving our packs at a fisherman’s camp.  At the pass, no Mike.  We went down the other side and found Mike where Steve had last seen him.  He had pulled a muscle in his groin when he was leaping across rocks in the stream. He could walk slowly, but couldn’t carry his pack up the snow field.  John carried his pack up and we kicked steps for him and he slowly reached the top of the pass.

When we reached our packs on the other side of the pass we divided up his pack and slowly headed down, with Mike carrying only his empty pack frame.  After a while John and Conrad left us, traveling ahead to bring up a cookset and food in case we didn’t make it to camp.  Without weight and going downhill, Mike’s pulled groin seemed to improve and pretty soon we were moving along at a pretty good clip.  I was prepared to stop and camp for the night whenever he had had enough, but he only got stronger. Below: Silver Pass Lake

day 10.12 .a Silver Pass Lake hughesjmt079

By the time it was dark we were moving at a slow steady pace, taking stops to rest Mike’s groin muscle.  An hour or so after John and Conrad left us we had crossed a river and were doing switchbacks when we heard voices in the pitch black of night.  We yelled, thinking it was our people at Quail Meadows.  We continued down, and shortly met John and Conrad at a large river (run off swollen Mono Creek).  They had been unable to cross it, after searching up and down for a log or rocks to use to cross.  We were really tired by now, and thought the only way to get across was to wade it, even though it was very dark, the water was swift and ice cold.   John started across and we yelled at him to come back for one end of my 120’ climbing rope.  Then he again started across with our flashlights shining on the rushing water.

In the middle it was over knee deep and moving fast. The ice axe helped balance and he made it across and tied the rope to a tree.  Then Conrad and Mike went across, clipped in to the rope so they wouldn’t be washed away.  They made across safely.  I went last, the way lighted by flashlights from the other side, and attached to the end of the rope. The water was like ice and the current really strong.

On the other side we all felt tired and weak, and slowly trudged the ¾ miles or so to camp at Quail Meadows, where we were greeted with surprised looks.  The three of us had hiked 17+ miles that day, the others 12 miles.  If was now ten o’clock and they had eaten long ago, assuming that we would camp with Mike somewhere.  The girls made cocoa for us and we had some soup before bed.  The girls had really had a hard day also and Madelyn especially.  The plan would be for Mike and Madelyn to go out to Lake Thomas A Edison to the West, a hike of 5-6 miles. There they would call someone from Lancaster for a ride home, and come back up with the next food drop, both of them thus missing the super mileage of the next week, and hopefully recovering to rejoin us later.

Tuesday:  Sunrise on Quail Meadow was beautiful.  We were in fairly low elevations again, and the meadow was a carpet of grasses and flowers.  Nancy had also decided to go out with Mike.  I really didn’t think she could keep up the pace we would have to maintain to make our next food drop, which was at South Lake.

Wes and I headed down to the lake with them, and left them on the shore to wait for a ferry which we learned later never came.  Wes and I said goodbye and then rocketed up the trail after the others, our destination Lake Marie.  After going straight up a mountain for an hour or so, I passed Chuck, coming back after a compass he had left at a rest stop a ways back.  He told me the others would be at lunch by now, so I cruised on, passing his pack shortly where he had left it.

The lunch spot was at a ranger cabin on a very nice stream.  The ranger was a wilderness patrolman, and Chuck and I talked to him a long time about how he got the job, what his duties were, and how we could get the job, etc. This was the only ranger we saw on the whole 29 day trip.

After lunch the Mob bombed off, and Chuck and I brought up the rear.  He had just moved from China lake, where he had been on the China lake Mountain Rescue Group.  He had lots of reasons for moving from there, including a woman, Cark Heller, the rescue group, a masters at SD State, and various and sundry reasons.  Also Chuck had become tired of being single and knew that there were no eligible young ladies in China lake and he would never meet any climbing the way he did.  I got the impression that he is as dedicated to climbing as my climbing mentor Wally, climbing every weekend and doing little else.

We reached Lake Marie before sunset, and camped with a fantastic view of the Seven Gables and the Silver Pass area we had just crossed.  We were going through this country much too fast to really discover it. But it couldn’t be helped this week.  I made a note that next time I did this trail, to make a food drop at Lake Thomas A. Edison and go more slowly through the Evolution Valley.  It would be worth the time. At that time there was no VVR or MTR, at least that I knew about. There was no internet to research resupply options, and no books on the route, and I didn’t know anybody who had done the trail. We were figuring it out as we went, in the context of packs so heavy that college athletes were exhausted after 10-15 mile days.

day 11.14 .a Marie Lake hughesjmt093

Lake Marie, above.

At Lake Marie, the fisher folk were pulling out monsters. Steve was doing the best, and since Steve and I were in one cook group we said that we’d get supper ready if he just kept pulling them out.  Every cook group had a fisherman and got some fish for supper and breakfast. This lake was quite beautiful and would be very nice for a layover day.  The fishing continued, with everyone having good luck.  We were in cook groups of 3 now that Mike, Madelyn and Nancy had left, and we had more food than we could eat, and nobody complained about that. Each cook group carried a plastic bottle with a couple cubes of butter, which was perfect for cooking the fish. The bottle had a threaded lid, so the butter would not leak out if it melted.


We had a group meeting to discuss the plans for the week and confirmed a plan first proposed at Purple lake.  The facts were that we wouldn’t be able to make the next food drop by staying on the JMT and going over Bishop Pass to South Lake.  We could only make it by going cross country over the crest near Mt. Darwin, and down to Lake Sabrina, then getting rides around to South lake by Saturday.  The hike Wednesday was the key to the whole ball of wax.  We had to get over Selmer Pass and as deep into the Evolution Valley as we could, at least to its first meadow.

Wed: We left Lake Marie, and looked back at the iced over lake from the trail above. How the heck did we catch fish with so much ice on the lake?  I don’t know!

day 12.1 Marie Lake .a hughesjmt095

We topped out on Selmer Pass at 10:00 or so, hiking through Heart Lakes, and down down to the San Joaquin river.   The day was nice and cool with pleasant cloud cover but no rain.  We met lots of fishermen and saw little of each other, we were so spread out.  Some people wanted to visit a hot springs off the main JMT, (where Muir Trail Ranch is now) but were unable to cross the river to reach it because it was so full of spring runoff.  Chuck bombed far ahead and we never saw him until we all got together at the first meadow in the Evolution Valley.  Then we hiked as a group to a good campsite.  The day had been more then 12 miles but we all felt pretty good. I think we were getting in shape and the extra food didn’t hurt any. Below: meadow in the Evolution Valley.

day 12.18 Evolution Valley .a hughesjmt112

Thursday: This day we would see what we were made of.  After 4 miles on the trail, and passing by Evolution and Sapphire lake, we regrouped for a snack and started on the cross country jaunt over a notch between Mt. Darwin and Hickel. I think our route was to lake 11398, then to lake 11808, over the ridge and down to lake 12345 (unnamed lakes on USGS topos).  Our destination for the night was Midnight Lake. Below: Evolution Lake.

day 13.4 .a2.jpg

The “pass” was dubbed Shit for Brains Pass by John.  Chuck had been over it twice and Mike and I had been over it once.  When Mike and I did it we came from the other side and called it “one way pass”.  We would be going the wrong way on One Way Pass today.  We called it “one way” because the tilt of the rock caused all the ledges to slope downward, and they were covered by loose gravel on the rock, which made the footing very unstable. Kevin called the pass was name Hungry Packer Pass. Below is Mt. Huxley, and our route was more or less the low point of the ridge to the left of Huxley.  There was no trail, but we didn’t need no stinking trail.  We really didn’t know what we were getting into.

day 13.7 .a Mt. Huxley hughesjmt119

We stayed together and headed first to a cirque lake below the notch, and from there straight up.  Some of the hikers had little experience on this kind of stuff but everyone remained calm and put one foot in front of the other. We were all much relieved when we did the last move onto the top of the ridge.

day 13.10b .a. IMG3965

day 13.10c .a IMG1787

day 13.10f .a IMG1690

day 13.23a .a. IMG232

There was no trail on either side of the “Pass”.  On the other side of the pass a snow field came all the way to the top, covering all the sloping gravel covered steps that Mike and I had experienced, and after a short rest we glissaded and slid down.  From there it was boulder hopping for several hours to Midnight lake, camp for the night.  We figured we were in pretty good shape to get to Lake Sabrina the next day.  A short hike would get us there, and from there we had a day to get to South Lake and our food drop.

The camp at Midnight lake was quite a rest since we knew that we had done the hard stuff of the week, and the hardest week of the trip.  The Mob really did well on the 2nd and 3rd class rock route.

Friday:  We slept in and consumed as much food as possible so we wouldn’t be carrying it down with us.  Before we left for Sabrina in small groups of 2-4, we put on the cleanest clothes we had, Conrad sporting a never been worn red jersey.  The rest of us made do as best we could.  After starting we pretty much bombed down. Since it was a long weekend lots of day trippers and weekend backpackers were coming up the trail as we bombed down.  We must have looked a sight, with patched clothes, filthy packs, clothes and faces, tanned like Indians or burned and peeling, two weeks of beard, etc.

Chuck and I bombed down together, getting comments from clean hikers like “there’s another one Mommy,” or “a fellow just like you passed a minute ago”, referring to Conrad.  Also “there’s another muscle man,” referring to tank tops or fishnet shirts.  We stopped and talked to several people but usually just passed with a greetings.  At Lake Sabrina we entered a new world.  Conrad and I walked on the wooden dam, passing fishermen and little kids and feeling like visitors from another time.  We dropped packs and regrouped at the cafe for lunch, keeping the cook busy for quite a while. We consumed a lot of food.

The plan was to hitchhike in groups of 2-3 around to South Lake, where we would regroup at the dam and spend the night.  As we had a boisterous lunch we got to talking with some fishermen who offered us a ride to South lake.  Four of us loaded up, Conrad and Kevin already having gotten rides and left. The young fisherman turned to be a Vietnam vet, and proceeded to fill us in on his Army days. In the middle of Claymore mines and humping 9 day patrols we saw Conrad and Kevin on the roadside.  Their ride had gotten them halfway and then took another road.  The vet stopped and we somehow crammed two more packs and people into the car.

As we got out at South lake an old man in shorts bounced up to us.

“Where are you fellas headed?” he asked.

“We’re going to spend the night here and then go to Onion Valley.” I replied.

“It just so happens I’m the camp host, and I’ve been saving a campground for a group just like yours.”  He was a Sierra Clubber from way back, with pins from the Sierra Peaks Section and the 100 Peaks Section in his hat.  It turned out that I had met him on an SPS trip with the Sierra Club. He knew a lot of older SPS climbers, like my climbing mentor Wally Henry, Glen Lougee, Ed lane, Dan Eaton, and just about everyone that I could remember in the SPS from being on a few trips with them as a guest of Wally.

The old time mountaineer was Ed Alcott.  He and his wife were working for the Sierra Club and Forest Service here at South Lake as camp coordinators.  We told him about our trip, and he said he could tell we weren’t the usual weekenders by our looks.  Alcott was at one time a real pioneer of mountaineering, with tremendous experience in climbing all over the Sierra, and he remains active in leadership in the Sierra club and especially the SPS and 100 Peaks Sections.

He showed us a campsite that was hidden from the crowds at the parking lot.  It was on the lake shore and so hidden among rocks and trees that no one ever found it.  We settled in for the night and Ed and I talked about climbing some of the same Sierra peaks.  When Chuck arrived he knew Ed and they talked about Chuck’s upcoming expedition to Peru. When Ed left to join his wife at their trailer for supper he sent his greetings to Wally and wished us a good trip.

It was still fairly early in the afternoon so Chuck, John, and I got everyone’s clothes together for a trop to the Laundromat.  We filled two packs with very nasty clothes, and headed for a laundry 5 or 6 miles down the road. We arrived at the small town laundry and put our clothes in the machines, 4 of them.  Chuck put all his clothes in, and was left naked.  John and I kept out our track shorts.  John and I went tot he one café in town to get soap and ice cream, leaving Chuck jaybird naked in the Laundromat.

We walked into the café weaning only track shorts, bearded and probably pretty nasty in appearance.  We had a cone, bought soap, then I bought a cone for Chuck and hit the road back to the laundry.  In the laundry Chuck was hiding in the back room.  Apparently a lady had surprised him in his birthday suit, and he thought she was returning with the cops at my approach.  He had gotten Conrad’s half washed sweat pants out and was wearing them around.

He took his cone and ate it sitting on a washer reading a book.  I took a chair and planted myself at the door as a lookout, and wrote some letters.  I wrote to Sue and thanked her for the candy and food she had sent up with the last food drop, and wrote of the happenings of two weeks to Beth.

We were a pretty odd trio.  I was on the porch of the local laundry wearing track shorts.  John was in track shorts, down at the café rolling dice with the customers and undoubtedly mooching coffee or beer, or candy, and chuck was sitting in soaking wet sweat pants, eating an ice cream cone that melted over his knuckles, and reading the Wall Street Journal. The final touch was when chuck looked up and yelled “Number 1!, Number 1! My stock has gone up since last week!!”.  Just then his washing machine started to buck and I broke out laughing at him.

I went down to the café and John joined Chuck at the machines. The water in the front loader had turned brown, and looked like root beer.  At the café I had a delicious apple pie and milk.  Fantastic!  John came back down and said that Chuck had ordered dinner at the café on the hiway for us, and four of the Mob had come down to eat supper also, leaving only Conrad and Steve at the packs.

We gathered at the café and Chuck and I had showers and washed up. Dinner was chicken with all the trimmings, plus a really nice looking waitress.  John made a total ass of himself trying to flirt with her.

We got a ride in the bed of a pickup back to camp, and I forgot my papers and Starr’s guide in the pickup when we got out.  Damn!  At camp, Conrad and Steve were pissed.  We really hadn’t planned to have a wonderful dinner while they ate dehydrated food, honest.  They didn’t buy it and were pissed as hell. They threw their scalloped potatoes in the ground and stamped on them, threw their dehydrated peas at us and were only more infuriated when one of us would grin and pat his stomach or burp.  All John could do was lean against a tree and sign contentedly, holding his stomach aching with chicken and potatoes.

To make it up to them they were promised a free breakfast and show at the café the next morning, but they still felt betrayed.  I guess if we were thinking we would have brought them something.


Letter from Mike:



Made it out to the phone at Shaver lake—41 miles.  Hiked 7-10, hitch-hiked the rest.  Girls darn near drove me nuts’—“will we starve to death?””lets just go on to Fresno!”  Aggravated blisters on pavement hike—pretty bad now.  Sue came Wed 12:00 and picked us up, home again by 6:30.  Mom and Dad due next week.  I’ll be up Onion Valley if I can coerce Ken into taking 2 more people (Madeline and I). Big troubles with Peca expedition, but it you get this, they’ve been worked out.  Gaad! Never again!

$150 cask left—with $60 owed to Y, plus Powell’s van and other little trips.  Not very unlikely we’ll need another $5 or $10 a head to cover it, but don’t know for sure yet.  $150 in Y’s Hikers treasury we might have to dig into.

First day home was a blast. In prep for Mom I had to vacuum rug, clean up, do dishes—I’ll make some girl a good wife.

I enclosed what extra food I could find to beef up you post hell week week.  Not much, but it will help.

Mom and Dad bought 10 acres in Palisade, near Bedford’s they wrote.  The three month stay in Colo lasted 2 weeks, they’ll be home soon. They went back to Kansas , Grandpa’s, Billies, The Carlton picnic and all.

Peca leaves tomorrow night (Fri) for S. Lake, and I’m gonna attempt to help get things in order here—so, see you at O. Valley. Sorry I couldn’t make it up there, but I couldn’t hike far with you and Peca looks pretty cramped for room (and I bet someone’s coming back from your group.. am I right?  Siebert, Jepson, or Little?  I’m anxious to hear how the infightings been going.


You clean and full bro.



God it was good to be full of good food.  What a peaceful sleep we had!

4. South Lake to Onion Valley

5. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, South Lake to Onion Valley

1. Preparing for the hike

2. Tuollumne Meadows to Reds Meadow, the first week

3. Reds Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

4. South Lake to Onion Valley

Saturday: Conrad and Steve left early for their promised breakfast and we all slept in. Some folks from our home town of Lancaster CA showed up, the Peca brothers.  They arrived early, accompanied by Madelyn, Nancy, and Wendy’s brother Clay. Madelyn was going with the Pecas on a two day trip, then would rejoin us the next week at Onion Valley. Mike was still out of it. Besides blisters which were still healing. we had lost one of his boots in getting him off Silver Pass. Oops.

The Peca’s, about six in their party, planned to go over Bishop Pass, on over Thunderbolt Pass, a cross country route, and camp at the Barrett Lakes on the other side. This was a very hard trip for his group of young boys and 3 girls. They charged off with our best wishes, and we leisurely set about our food packing over watermelon and trail lunches. Our food was in bulk containers, and each cook group had a big trash sack to sort through, organize, and package into baggies, and divide between cook group members.

day 15 SCA514.a

During the packing Conrad went off to buy something at the store and when he returned Beth was with him, much to my surprise. At Yosemite she had said that the drive over would be too long and she wouldn’t be able to make it to South Lake. I agreed that the southern food drops were too far to drive from Modesto. She had driven up anyway and arrived that morning. It was a good thing she had met Conrad at Toullumne so they recognized each other.

She joined us for lunch, as did Ed Alcott and his wife, and we finished up packing food and rearranging cook groups. Beth and I walked down to her car and got her little rucksack together for an overnight camp. She would accompany us to Saddlerock lake for the night, then she would hike back to South lake on Sunday, and drive home to Modesto.

We left the parking lot in the afternoon, reaching Saddlerock lake after a leisurely hike up. Beth was really hard put to make it, no matter how slow she and I went. We got to camp an hour behind the first groups and set about making fires as the sun went down. Beth, Nancy, Chuck and I ate together at a camp in trees by the lake shore. Beth and I slept in a stand of trees near camp after a short fire at the other two groups’ camps. People enjoyed the bacon, butter, and Bisquick they had bought at South Lake, and a few fresh fish made for a feast.

day 15 Steve Siebert

Sunday: We had a long day ahead today, so much as I would have liked to spend the day with Beth we had to be off. The others took off before I, and I walked Beth down partway to South lake. After leaving her I charged up Bishop Pass, hoping to catch up to the Mob by noon. On the way I passed the Peca’s, strung out and wiped out. They had been unable to cross  Thunderbolt Pass the day before, and had bivouacked below it.  No wood, no water, no grass to sleep on. The group had eaten cold food and two of the young boys were quite tired and cold. Madelyn apparently had been one of the strongest of the group, an out of shape girl being the main hindrance. They would camp the night at Saddlerock, then hike down to South Lake.

Letter from Beth to Mike, July 4, 1971

Dear Mike: I told Bob I would drop you a little line. First of all, I’d like to devote a sentence of two to my observations of the trip. I have never seen Bob so edgy and uptight. He has always been easy going and level headed. He said he hoped you would be well enough to join the trip at Onion Valley or at least come up for a visit on the food drop. I believe he needs a little of your brotherly companionship. This is not what I am supposed to write so I’ll get down to other things.

The group needs more dried milk. Conrad and Steve tried to buy some at South Lake but other packers had bought out the general store. So they are going to do without for awhile.

Susan might like to know that Robert had written a letter to her. But when he lost his Starr’s Guide at South lake the letter and notes and everything else was also lost. So she is not forgotten. He really appreciated the candy. And, he appreciated your dividing up the cheese. It did save them time.

Well, enough’s enough. I’d hope your leg is OK, Mike, and Susan’s job is going well.


Beth Millerman

I caught up with the group at the top of Bishop Pass, where they were eating lunch. Chuck was just leaving with three others to climb nearby Mt. Agassiz.

day 16 IMG5150

The rest of us had a leisurely lunch before we started on the cross country jaunt over Thunderbolt pass to Barret lakes. This pass is not in the climbers guide but is a good shortcut to the Barret lakes in Palisade Basin. This route would give a camp at high elevation on the back side of the Palisade peaks.  Our route would avoid Dusy Basin, the Golden Staircase, and a lot of trail along LeConte Canyon. We had hiked it the previous year on a 9 day trip. Below: North Palisade and Thunderbolt peaks from the top of Mt Agassiz.

day 16.2.a. Sill and N Palisade from Agassiz hughesjmt134

Nancy had rejoined the Mob for the last two weeks.  She was really having a hard time keeping up and we stopped to rest quite a bit. Those of us who had been hiking steadily were getting in pretty good shape, with all the 10,000 passes and heavy packs. On the top of Thunderbolt pass were three packs and the camps of some climbers. We waited here for an hour and a half, snacking and waiting for Chuck and the others who had climbed Agassiz with him. We finally saw them coming from much higher than we had come from, and they acknowledged our yells.

At their approach we packed up and headed down the ice fields toward Barrett lakes, romping down and sliding all the way. Above the lake I stopped to guide Chuck and crew to the camp. John and the others went on to pick a good camp site. I was enjoying the sunshine and being alone until Chuck showed up on the pass. I flashed them with a mirror and they homed in on me, then we went on down to camp at the snowy Barrett Lake.

At the lake we found the lake clear of ice and dry ground around its edge. We began gathering wood before dark.

We had lots of food tonight. Chuck, Conrad and I sat around our fire and talked until late into the night. I am truly thankful for Conrad’s constant tranquility. He is never up tight, always helpful, and always one to be counted on in an emergency.

Monday: A quick breakfast for Chuck and I, then off we went for the U notch, a notch in the ridge between North Palisade and Polomonium Peaks. From this side, the south side, it was mostly scree and talus climbing until the upper third, then onto some more solid rock and talus. At the U Notch we met some other climbers, a group of three Sierra Clubbers climbing North Palisade, and a pair of hot dog rock climbers who knew little about mountaineering.

At the U notch we had a good view of the Palisade Glacier, since from the U notch to the north was about straight down to the Palisade Glacier thousands of feet straight own.

day 17.a SCA338

From there we would climb below and upon the ridge of the Palisades to the east, to Polomonium Peak. The first pitch looked reasonable so I led it, hoping to give Chuck the fearsome appearing second lead. The pitch was quite exposed and after 80-90 feet I anchored with slings and belayed Chuck up. Then he did a pitch about the same as the first, with fairly easy moves and solid handholds, but very exposed. The third pitch took me over a jagged notch and to a very small belay spot on a blank wall, very exposed. Chuck followed and a few feet before reaching my belay spot climbed up a crack for 10 feet, then up some 3rd class for 20 feet. It’s a good thing he’s climbed this route before, because the route is impossible to find by using the climbers guide. The crack Chuck led was definitely 5th class and exposed, though he used no protection, and anchored himself with ‘biners and slings. From here I led through house sized boulders, over the tops and between them, to within 20 feet of the summit. Chuck led the last move onto the summit block of Polomonium Peak, and we rested. The summit block was dining table sized, and flat, one side vertical to the glacier below. I definitely didn’t hang my feet over the edge, and could barely peek over the edge.

day 17.1.a climbing Polomonium IMG127 - Copy

We watched the rock climbers 400 yards to the west, on the other side of the U notch.

“What’s the big peak over there?” they asked.

“That is North Palisade. It’s only a scramble from where you are. You ought to go climb it.” They had already done the hard part of the climb, climbing the glacier and the wall of the U notch. They sure didn’t know much about the area if they didn’t know they were on North Palisade, the most dominant and difficult peak in the area. Mike and I had climbed it last year, so I preferred climbing a peak I hadn’t climbed before, like Polomonium. One of them rapelled down to the U notch. When he was down the one that was left called down to him for instructions on how to rappel. Oh boy, that is a very dangerous thing to do with no practice. I guess they weren’t so experienced at rock climbing after all.

We had a short snack on the windy summit, then crossed a fluted snow field (8” fluting) and began the down climb of a notch in the ridge. This was definitely 4th class and exposed, and coming down last and without protection was uncomfortable. From the bottom of this notch we continued with 3rd class scrambling below the crest of the ridge, galloping to the summit of Sill in 30 minutes or so. It was really great to be climbing hard at 14,000 feet and not being really tired, just breathing strongly. On the peak of Sill we opened the register and what the Hell? A book but no pencil! A quick assessment showed us having as writing materials: water, powdered tea, chocolate, coffee powder, and hard candy. One letter at a time I wrote the date and our names with water, then sprinkled instant coffee on the wet letter. The effect was rather distinctive, looking like curdled, dried blood.

From Sill we bombed down to the east in the large bowl created by Sill and the peak we had named Sucker Peak when we had climbed it previously with Wally, thinking it was Sill. Then we traversed around the shoulder of the rock to the south , and came around at a point to the east of the Barrett lakes. Here the snow was soft and we could tell that our planned route over the cross country pass of last years 9 day trip would be very hard with the snow cover of this year. We sloshed our way back down to the Barrett Lakes and had supper before dark. A conference concerning routes resulted in a change of plans. Because of the snow cover at this elevation, we would bomb straight down and rejoin the Muir Trail some 3 miles below the Palisade Lakes rather than stay high on the cross country route that had been so nice last year. By this route we would join the JMT above the Golden Staircase.

Tuesday: We all got up early for a change and got a good start. We stayed together in the morning, hoping to reach the John Muir Trail by noon. In midmorning Chuck and Wes got separated from the main group and went bombing away. We got together above the JMT and had a quiet rest and lunch on Palisade Creek. I left early after lunch and hiked alone almost to the Palisade lakes, where I stopped to write letters as the others passed. This trail is really beautiful with flowers and flowing water, perhaps the best country covered on the trip so far.

day 18 IMG264

We reached the Palisade Lakes at mid afternoon and spent an afternoon in the sun, writing letters and sleeping. Camp was open, spread out, protected and lovely in a stand of pines. Cheesecake for dessert but not enough food to fill us. We had a good campfire into the night talking about fencing and swimming then went to be bed hungry. The trouble was, I couldn’t bitch about the food because I had planned it. Sorry about that folks. The moon tonight was so bright you could actually read a book by it. A very lovely view of the lakes and the moon. Hungry as hell.

day 18.6.a Upper Palisade Lk. hughesjmt143

Wednesday: We hoped to make much mileage today, if possible crossing both Mather and Pinchot passes. We were on top of Mather by 10:00 and the Mob bombed off toward Pinchot Pass as Chuck and I split off to climb Split Mountain.Below: Palisade Lakes from Mather Pass.

day 19.3.a Palisade Lakes from Mather Pass hughesjmt146

Below: Climbing the North side of Mather Pass.

day 19.4.a Mather Pass hughesjmt145

Below: looking S from Mather Pass

day 19.5.a So. from Mather Pass hughesjmt147

below: Mather Pass looking North

day 19.7 S. side of Mather Pass hughesjmt149

Below: Split Mountain

day 19.6.a Split Mtn. hughesjmt148

I wasn’t going to climb Split since I had already climbed it twice, and had broken my foot on it the previous year when a loose rock rolled down and smashed my foot. Split Mtn was a big pile of loose rocks, with no solid sections like the granite of the Palisades. I waited at the lake below it and spent 3 or 4 hours napping, waiting for Chuck. At 2:00 I talked to some climbers coming down and they said Chuck had jogged past them on the way to Split and then was on his way down before they reached the peak. Last seen he was bounding toward Split’s sister peak, Prater, which I had climbed before also.

Chuck returned to my lake an hour or so later, and we left for Pinchot Pass at 4:00. We steamed across the high plateau and didn’t stop until we reached the Kings River. Here Chuck stopped to eat and said he was really wiped out. I don’t why, I was feeling just fine. From the river we climbed out of its gorge and on toward Pinchot Pass. We would not make it before night and would possibly have to camp on this side of it the way things were going. We planned to stop and rest at Marjorie lake below the Pass and when we saw the world famous Toullumne Mob there we blessed them and dropped our weary butts for a rest.

day 19.13 Lk. Marjorie hughesjmt159

Apparently Nancy had been wiped out on the climb out of the Kings River and Conrad had decided she wouldn’t make it over the pass and down to camp on the other side before dark. They had left the King’s river at 4:00, and made camp at 5:00. We arrived at 6:00. We had enough food to eat tonight, and Chuck, Nancy and I made two far out fruit cakes with chocolate topping. We raided our trail lunches for raisins, peanuts and chocolate for the cakes.  This lake is very high and with very little wood. I wouldn’t camp here again if I needed a wood fire.


Thursday: We tore over Pinchot Pass like a group of anemic turtles, with Steve and I bringing up the rear. On the top we watched a pilot buzz the Woods lake Valley below, again and again. He was mostly below us in elevation. Chuck and I went from the Pass to climb Pinchot Peak, a small peak near the pass. Below: Chuck topping out on Pinchot Pass, Lake Marjorie behind.


Chuck and I ambled down toward the Rae lakes. The scenery around Woods lake is quite lovely and we moved slowly. On the climb toward Rae lake we started moving out and flew on as dusk deepened. At the lakes we didn’t see our people, but the hordes of scouts kept pointing us on toward the isthmus dividing the lake. We almost missed our group, which was camped on the top of a hill in the center of the isthmus. The mosquitoes were bad, but got fewer as evening deepened. We had fires late into the night with puddings for dessert and Chuck burnt our popcorn by trying to cook it on a Primus gas stove. Below: Chuck (l) and me (Bob Shaver, R)

day 21 SCA596

Below: Rae Lakes, Painted Lady Pk behind

day 20.12 Rae Lakes Painted Lady hughesjmt170 - Copy

Friday: The plan for today was to get up before dawn and have a sunrise breakfast on the first pass of the day, Glenn Pass. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Well, for the first time Chuck and I were the last out of the sac, last to break camp, etc. We got up at our usual time, shortly after dawn, and by then most of the group was packed and leaving. We got up and headed for Glenn Pass, all of us arriving at 8:00 or so for a breakfast cooked on primus stoves. The side of Glenn Pass which we came up was partly covered with snow, and for the exercise Chuck went straight up the snow rather than on the trail.  After a short breakfast we bombed down Glenn Pass and headed for Kearsarge Pass.

Below: Glenn Pass

day 21.1 Glenn Pass hughesjmt171

We ambled through the dry wooded area and explored some side trails. We had agreed to meet at the last water before the pass for lunch, and everyone gathered there at 2:00 or so except Chuck. Lunch was very leisurely, but no Chuck as of 3:00. The others left and I stayed to wait for Chuck, since several people had seen him behind us during the day. At 4:00, no Chuck, so I started back, jogging the 4 miles to the top of Glenn Pass. I jogged back and at our lunch spot where I had left my pack I met some hikers who bore a message from the Mob.  Chuck had gotten ahead of us during the afternoon and everyone was on route to Onion Valley. That was a relief, but I had just jogged 8 miles in addition to the days mileage.

By now it was dark and I was tired. By the top of Kearsarge Pass I was really tired, and nearing total exhaustion as I drifted down the other side. Chuck met me when I was half way down, on his way up after me. At our camp in the campground at Onion Valley we had been rejoined by Madelyn accompanied by two of her friends. They brought beer and a party was in progress. We cooked supper and consumed as much food as was possible, then everyone drifted over to the Onion Valley store. Inside were the cowboys who ran the pack outfit, and we sat around telling lies about the trip and drinking beer. As the night wore on the refreshment flowed, and the cowboys sang a few cowboy songs. Kevin was becoming friendly, in a 15 year old Mormonish way, with the maybe 17 year old waitress. The height of the evening came in the chug-a-lug contest. John and Man Mountain Steve drank against three cowboys, and Steve shut them all down.

At that we left, all but Kevin, that is, who stayed for a few minutes to talk with the waitress. After 5 minutes I thought I should go extricate him, since after all it was a YMCA trip, and I don’t think his parents planned on him getting drunk, much less getting laid. I thought he would probably hate me the rest of his life. I went in said we should go. He and I back to camp, swaying all over the road. We were all dispersed among the sage brush, sleeping under the stars. I had visions of Kevin’s parents showing up, and wondering what the hell kind YMCA trip we ran. I had a feeling that some parents might show up tomorrow to resupply clothes and food. As Kevin and I staggered toward camp, a car pulled up that looked suspiciously familiar. A window came down and my Mom’s head came out and said “Hi, Bob.” I tried very hard to talk rationally and not with any slurs, and got in the car to talk for a while. Kevin went on to camp and beer cans there were hurriedly collected and stashed. Back in the car I chatted with Mom and Dad. They had returned from Colorado where they had bought property. Mike was coming back on the hike for the last week, his groin muscle apparently doing better and with a new pair of boots supplied by Kelty.

Ken was also on his way to join us for the last week. Jim Lawrence and Roger Bell were coming for a weekend backpack in the area.

John came down from camp and said hi to my folks, then I went with him back to camp. Kevin’s parents were on their way, we learned, and would have a cow if they found their 15 year old son drunk. I told him they were coming and to start thinking of getting sober. Actually he had only had four beers, but that was more than he had ever had, and he was definitely tipsy. We were all in bed my 11:00, and just as I was getting comfortable lying in the desert sand between sagebrush, a figure was over my head whispering “is this the Muir Trail group from Lancaster?”

“Yes” I said as I slid deeper into my bag. “Where is Kevin Anderson?” the man asked.  The air was silent except for a wind in the sage around us. “I think he’s over that way,” I directed them. The man found him and they talked in low tones for a few minutes before he left.

“Hey, Kevin, what did your Dad say?” someone asked.

“He said my Mother and brother are here and will have breakfast with me in Independence tomorrow.”

“Is that all?”

“Yeah. I don’t think he smelled my breath. He didn’t say anything.”

We finally got settled down again and I let the wind off the desert take me off to sleep.

5. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971 Onion Valley to Mt Whitney

1. Preparing for the hike

2. Tuollumne Meadows to Reds Meadow, the first week

3. Reds Meadow to South Lake via Lake Sabrina

4. South Lake to Onion Valley

5. Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

Saturday: The morning after our drinking party with the Onion Valley horse packer/cowboys, we went in the cars of Ken Primmer, my folks and Kevin’s family to Big Pine for breakfast, and to restock on extra food and to replace worn out equipment. I had a fantastic greasy breakfast, and it totally filled me. We milled around town buying socks and shirts, and lots of breads, cakes, pudding, powdered milk, and candy, to supplement our prepacked menu. We had a milkshake at Austin’s Drug Store in Independence.

day 22.1 SCA506

We then returned to Onion Valley by noon, bought more food at the store, and proceeded about the large job of unpacking our food bundles and dividing them up into cook groups. It seemed that all the pressure was off me now that Ken and Mike were with us. Chuck had told us the previous night that he would not be going on for the last week, but would go get his car and go home. He had basically been driven off by hostile personality of John.

Sometime in the afternoon we were finally ready, and ambled the two or three miles to Flower lake. There we discussed plans for the week, the fisher folk fished, and we just lazed in the sun.  At supper we had spaghetti and Steve Jepson spilled 100% of our spaghetti on the ground. We dined on bread pudding and drinks. Steve felt very bad, we felt very hungry. This is the only picture I have of our dinner that night, spaghetti in the dirt. You have no idea what a disaster that felt like. We picked at and got a little out of the dirt.

day 22.2 CA.backpack.Muirtrail.b.w.03

Sunday: The plan was to get over Kearsarge Pass and as for up Bubbs Creek as the highest wooded campsite. Ken, Kevin, Mike and I left early and hiked fast to the Bubbs Creek area. Ken and Mike had much trouble keeping up with Kevin and I, because we were in awesome shape and used to the heavy packs. At Bubbs Creek we dropped packs and climbed University Peak, a big scree pile. The run down was fast and furious, with lots of rocks in your socks. Back at the packs we found an unintelligible note from Conrad, something about right turns and river crossings. We found them at a camp half a mile upstream from us, and we set about a filling supper with dessert. We hoped to get an early start on Forester Pass, so we went to bed 23.3 SCA511


Monday: “If we’re going to get an early start, we’d better get up,” said Madelyn to me.

“What time is it? Its still dark!” I said sleepily.

“5:00” said Madelyn.

“Christ!” I exclaimed, and rolled in my bag to catch at least another hour of sleep.

Madelyn wasn’t making any friends on this Monday morning. After trying to get me up she went to the members of her cook group. She told Conrad that she was going to the stream for water and if he wasn’t up she’d pour water on him. He wasn’t up so she did pour water on him, a full quart of ice cold water, and from his own water bottle at that! Later that day Madelyn requested to be in another cook group, so we put her in with me and food spilling Steve Jepson!

After the excitement of Conrad’s baptism we did get a good start and churned up Forester Pass. We met a large pack train coming down this side of the pass with the brand of a triangle inside a circle, which we learned was three corner round. They had spent two or three days cutting the path in the snow fields for their mules to get down. It sure is easier to be on two legs once in a while. On the pass we had lunch and Ken found a pure white Polomonium, the purest white I’ve ever see this high altitude plant, which is usually blue.

Below: looking at Forester Pass from Bubbs Creek.

day 24.0 Forester Pass hughesjmt188

Below: from the top of Forester Pass looking South

day 24.5 looking s from Forrester Pass hughesjmt195 - Copy

From the top of Forester we straggled out and headed for the night’s destination: the first water and wood on the other side, the Wright lakes. As a group we hiked very slowly this afternoon, although Ken and Mike and I did some bombing as we left 30 minutes behind everyone from the pass and passed everyone before Wright lakes. We were all fairly tired at these lakes, and lazed around a few hours before supper. The fishermen scouted the area and saw a few fish in holes to be tried the next day, which was a layover.

day 24.11 Tyndall from Tyndall Creek  hughesjmt200

day 24.15 Bighorn Plateau hughesjmt204

Tuesday: Today’s layover was to be a good chance for everyone to get away from everyone else. Mike left early.

Mike and I planned to meet at one of the high Wright Lakes, but when Ken and I got there he wasn’t to be seen. I sunned while Ken fished, and after an hour or so we heard a shout, very far away. It was Mike, but he was very high up on a wall to the south of the lake.

Ken stayed and I went up to meet Mike. He had found a section of rocks which was pulling away from the main wall in a 20 foot slice, just like a piece of cheese being cut off a block. Where it was coming off a trough was formed, ten feet deep vertical walls that looked like Mayan masonry. We were joined at the stoneworks by Kevin, who had been hiking by himself in the area. This young fellow is very mature for his age, and will be a fine mountaineer if he keeps it up.

day 25 SCA342

We all speculated about the mysterious stone walled trench, then headed together toward Bernard Pk. This was a class 1 walkup, but the view was fantastic. In the registers, which dated back to the 1920s, we found lots of Norman Clyde signatures, 3 or 4. There was no wind, and the view of Whitney was very good. To the north east stood the mighty Mt. Williamson, a very imposing peak from any angle. To the west the Kaweahs shimmered in the distance across the Kern Trench. We had lunch and ran out of our short supply of water, then headed down through much scree and a field of nice polomoniums.

Below: Kevin and I (Bob Shaver) on Bernard, Mt. Whitney behind us. I looked up Kevin some years ago via this new fangled thing called the internet, and found him.  We have done a week long backpack every since, and he has seen my son Jim from about age 14 to 19 on these trips. One our trip to the Sierra in 2015, we were joined by Jim, my daughter Laura, wife Tuckie, and Kevin and his daughter Jenna, and our old buddy Conrad.

day 27 IMG1661

Back at camp we found that the fishing had been fantastic, and Kevin hurried to go get some fish at a higher lake. Ken had caught lots of fish, thrown most of them back and apparently all the cook groups had enough to add to their meals.

The topic of the evening was what our plans for the next few days would be. The itinerary decided by the group at Flower lake would have us move the next day to the Wallace lakes for a layover there, then to the top of Whitney friday night, and down to the cars on Sat.  Some people thought that the trip from Wallace to Whitney was too hard. This group wanted another layover here at Wright lakes, Thursday to Hitchcock lake, Fri over trail crest to the portal.

Some of us didn’t care for this plan because it would mean a layover in the same place for two days, plus missing the beautiful scenery, climbing, and fishing of the Wallace lakes, where we had been before a few years earlier on a 9 day trip. Its advantage was that it evened out the mileage. The final split was mostly old time hikers opposed to newer hikers, and the perfect solution was the splitting into two groups. To go to Wallace lakes were Ken, Mike, me, Chris Hughes, and Conrad. We were to meet the others at the top of Whitney and spend the night there, then hike down to the Whitney Portal together.

Wednesday: After a fast breakfast came the parting of the ways. We got one cookset together, and the five of us took off for Wallace Lakes. Conrad and Chris were sorry that the other two fishermen, Steve and Kevin, would not enjoy the incredible fishing we hoped to find. We cross countried most of the way, and found the camp that we had used several years earlier when with Wally Henry and Jim Lawrence. There we dropped packs and took lunch to the upper Wallace lakes. There we fished, sat, and sunned.

Below: Ken Primmer, Conrad

day 25 JMT1971091



day 25 SCA513 day 25 SCA518 day 25.20 mt. Hale Wales Lake hughesjmt229 - Copy day 26 JMT1971161 day 26 SCA522

The fish were spawning and the outlet was a black mass of fish that churned the water white when they were startled. I caught one by hand by swimming in the stream and grabbing a trout slowly by the gills in a rocky pocket. That evening we had very large trout, as many as the five of us could eat. Mike headed over toward Wales lake, where he took pictures and hiked till evening. The area was much drier than when we had been here last, but the view of the Kaweahs was fantastic.


day 25 JMT1971072

Thursday: The plan was for Mike and I to climb by priorities: Russell, Constitution, Carillon, and Possibly Tunnabora. Ken and Chris wanted to climb Bernard, and bake cakes in the afternoon, and Conrad wanted to fish and bake. Mike and I left and hiked up the granite trough below Wales lake where two years earlier we had left Wendy and Byron when we climbed Constitution.

Wales lake looked the same as always, spectacular. At Tulainyo Lake the clouds were dark above us and a cold wind whipped us.

below: Mt. Russell, with the darker top of Whitney peeking up to the left of Russell.

day 25.4 Russel with Whitney behind hughesjmt217

Below: looking down at Tulyinyo Lake from part way up  Russel.

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Below: this was our little cave near the top of Mt. Russel in which we sheltered from the wind and rain, looking down at Tulyinyo Lake.

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Me in our little cave near the top of Russell.  DOING LAUNDRY?

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On top of Mt. Russell, with Tulyinyo Lake and Mt. Tunnabora and Mt. Williamson behind.

day 27 SCA565

To climb Russell we went up a 3rd class rock wall south of the lake, then hung a sharp right and started on some exposed 2nd and 3rd class to the first summit. This we signed in at the register, and continued to the true summit as the clouds swirled in on us, then were swept away by wind. The main mass of clouds was over Mt. Whitney, and I was watching for lightning there. Usually all the clouds that reached the summit of Russell were wisps and fragments of the big clouds massed over Mt. Whitney. We took the register to an overhang and read it over lunch, interrupted by runs out to look at rainbows and rain on the Kaweahs and Owens Valley and stuff like that. We got a small amount of rain and small hail.  Mt. Russel and Tulainyo Lk, from Mt. Tunnabora

The register was a good one, rich in old time climbers and mountain history. In 1943, the register said, a man signed in, followed by the signature of a ranger looking for the same man, who went missing. The ranger assumed he had headed down the north face and would look there for him. The next entry was a further explanation. The Ranger had found the man’s body at the bottom of the north face, which he had tried to descend and had apparently fallen to his death. We had passed the place where he fell, and would pass it again on the way out. That was kind of creepy.

When the clouds cleared for a minute we packed up and left, moving as fast as possible while remaining safely on the rock and the route. Before going to Tulainyo Lake we climbed nearby Carillon Pk, signed in fast, and continued to Constitution Pk.

day 27 JMT1971159 - Copy

There we found that one Raul DeSoto had climbed the peak since our ascent in 1969, and left a piece of paper. We left a notebook and pencil in a bandaid can and entered our ascent of 1969 as the first recorded ascent, entering DeSoto after us, then adding an explanation of the placing of the register. We covered the register with a few rocks on the highest point, which is where other climbers would look first for it.

We descended down Constitution, crossed to Tunnabora Pk., and drew in the awesome view of the entire Owens Valley below us.

Tulainyo Lake and Mt. Carrillion from Tunnabora.

day 25.14 Tulyinyo and peak  hughesjmt225ps

Near exhaustion we started back to camp, which we reached before dark. There we were surprised by the fantastic breads Ken had baked, one with chocolate topping that he had made out of the chocolate bars from our lunches. We had one bread for supper as the sun turned the Kaweah Peaks orange, and after supper made another bread, the best of all, that we planned to carry with two others to the top of Mt. Whitney the next day. After the bread baking we went to bed, planning to get up early for the long day to the top of Mount Whitney.

day 27 SCA241

Friday: It had rained a little bit during the night and when we got up shortly after first light the clouds were resting on the peaks of the crest and the Kaweah ridge. During breakfast a rainbow formed that arced across the entire valley we were camped in, and the day promised a cool hike as we started the two miles of cross country down to the John Muir Trail. There we talked with passing Sierra Clubbers and continued in intermittent sunshine toward Crabtree.  We had rain before we reached Crabtree meadows, and at the last wood below the pass we sat down and cooked dinner, planning to eat trail lunches and our breads on the top of Mt. 28 IMG1655 - Copy


day 28.4 Wallace Lk camp  hughesjmt252 - Copy

After dinner in the middle of the day, we gathered wood and filled our packs to overflowing with all the wood we could carry, planning to use it to cook with on top of Whitney. With packs heavier than anything we started up the pass, stopping at a stream to fill every container we had with water. We trudged in a cold breeze for a long time, and after seemingly endless switchbacks reached Trail Crest, the top of the pass. From there it was a mile or so of more of less level walking to the peak. As we reached Trail Crest we met Steve, John and Nancy going down the other side of the portals. They and the rest of the group had decided not to spend a night on the peak in bad weather, probably a sane decision, but not the most rewarding. We were well enough equipped to survive any weather, although rain or snow would certainly be uncomfortable. The five of us had been looking forward to sleeping on the top too much to give up the plan.

day 28.11 IMG248

As we regrouped at Trail Crest the cloud cover showed signs of breaking up, and the sun finally fought its way through to us. The warmth was really a blessing as we hauled on packs and continued carrying these water and wood filled packs at 14,000+ feet, toward the top of Mt. Whitney about a mile away and 200 feet higher than us. Below Muir Peak Chris, Ken and Mike dropped packs and went to climb the “little “ 14,000 bump.

day 28.12 near the top of Whitney hughesjmt259



day 28.11d  IMG1654 - Copy

Conrad was becoming sick from the exertion and elevation, almost to the point of throwing up, so I stayed with him, thinking I’d have time to climb Muir on the way out in the morning. Conrad and I continued slowly on the sky trail toward Whitney, battered between the pinnacles and notches with very strong winds. At one notch we found thousands of small squares of colored paper with an inscription in Tibetan (?) and mysterious figures dancing across the page. As we puzzled over them the turtle back of Whitney was bathed in a gold light, and we stumbled on, halfway expecting a holy revelation at the summit. As Conrad and I did the last switchback onto the summit the three tigers came steaming up behind us. Conrad stopped to rest and I went on with Ken to the register at the cabin. We signed in and went off to look for a campsite as clouds raged around the peak whipped by super winds.  On the top of Whitney it was a flat area with a stone hut. The surrounding area was flat, with large rocks raised only a few feet above a bed of smaller rocks, so we just got away from a larger group that was camping near the cabin, and hoped that

1. it wouldn’t rain or snow

2. the wind would quit

3. the sun would come out

We were all too cold to make a fire and not hungry enough for it to be worth the effort, so we just curled around a rock and ate trail lunches in our sleeping bags.

Ken lost a contact lens just before the sun went down, so we all froze our butts trying to find it. When we did (it was in his cuff) the sun had turned the west a beautiful orange, with clouds lined in gold that made a cold night seem like a small price to pay for such a sight.

day 28.11c  IMG1653 - Copy

I found a far out place to sleep. It was a rock slab that had a space under it just big enough for all of me but one leg. I put my tube tent around me and my bag, and wormed my way in, leaving my head out till it started raining later that night. When I was fully inside it was like a tiny cave, but water ran down from the ceiling of the cave and slowly, over a period of hours,  soaked my down sleeping bag. I couldn’t see the world outside and slept in spurts till dawn. I dreamed that Beth had come to see me, and was too cold to sleep. She came over to my bag to get in with me and be warm. She shook my shoulder to wake me….

“Bob, Bob” said Chris Hughes, shaking my shoulder.

“What?” I said, unzipping my bag to let Beth in.

“Bob, there’s snow all over and its falling fast,” said Chris.

“Damn! Lets get out of here before the trail is covered!” What a disappointment! It was Chris instead of Beth.

As I worked my way out of the rock crack I saw a world of gray and white, with the sky engulfed in clouds and the ground muffled in 2 inches of snow. The wind was strong and cold. Everyone was getting up, and we hurriedly dumped the 400 pounds of wood out of our packs, poured out 65 gallons of water, and either stuffed our sleeping bags in stuff sacs, or just jammed then into our now empty packs. I saw Ken fooling with his fishing pole, trying to get it in his pack, then in exasperation he just snapped it in half and jammed it in his pack. Within ten minutes we were off down the trail, ponchos flapping in the wind and everyone soaked. We had 18 miles to hike to reach the car.

The snowline was very high, above trail crest, and from there we were splattered by rain. On the switchbacks the water was inches deep and after a time we gave up trying to keep out feet dry, and just went splashing through puddles.

The water on the trail finally did my boots in, and the sole of one boot came loose from the arch to the toe. I had to throw it out and drag it back to walk in it, and even so I often turned in under. We bombed down to Trail Camp, and stopped there for a rest and to eat one of our breads. I took my boots off and put on running shoes. The place was alive with a group of scouts, with tube tents all over the place and kids running around everyplace. We must have looked like something strange, ponchos over huge packs, bearded and brandishing ice axes. We continued down and finally the clouds cleared and the rain stopped in Bighorn meadows.

We were not in the mood to stop and take off our ponchos, and we just barreled down the trail looking very out of place, but feeling like it was the people coming up carrying Coleman lanterns and thermos jugs who were out of place. The day trippers were amazing in the assortment of trivia that they hauled up the trail, from lawn chairs to Coleman stoves and picnic baskets.

Gravity pulled us down and down, and we finally reached Whitney Portals and rejoined the rest of our group. They had spend the night, gone to the cabin of an acquaintance but they were locked out.  They were rained on, and had missed the spectacle of the Whitney sunset. They found it hard to believe that if we were to do it again, we would chose to spend the night on Whitney and hike out in the rain. The last day and night was the best of the trip, especially since I was with people who had shared many experiences and good times in the mountains before. We all felt very good about a difficult job well done.

I was also very glad that the endless hassle was over and swore never to do it again, at least with a big group. The only way is with a small group of good friends. We piled in cars and headed to the store at Olancha, tanked up on food, and went out to Dirty Sox hot springs for a splash.

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Mike Shaver, Wes Little, Conrad Lowry, Ken Primmer, Bob Shaver, Chris Hughes, John Lane, Kevin Anderson, Nancy Hall, Steve Siebert, Steve Jepson, Madylin Paine

We had hiked 227 miles, climbed 17 peaks, and backpacked for 28 days. Some clean clothes and a shower would be nice.

Notes immediately after the trip for next time:

1. fewer people, 6 at most, 4 would fine. A one week trip conditioning trip might help before the longer one.

2. More food. The quality of ours was OK, but there just wasn’t enough for the big guys or for when we were really burning lots of calories.

3. the food drops were OK once we got them organized, but it would be nice to simplify them, perhaps buying at stores wherever we came out, perhaps mailing packaged drops to post offices. (MTR and VVR didn’t exist them, that I knew of).

4. it would be nice to take five or six weeks instead of 4. More time should be spent in the Evolution area for sure, also the Palisades. The pace of the last week was good.

“Kind of Light” Backpacking Gear list

My base weight (pack weight without food, water and fuel) has been decreasing steadily, and for a weekend or a week long trip presently comes to about 15 lbs. My go-to gear at present is listed below, and comes to just over 15 lbs. This is definitely not ultralight, but its as close as I might get to ultralight.  Daughter Laura shown below, has nothing to do with this post, but she looks better than I do. From our fall 2015 trip to Thousand Island Lake.



Category Brand of Item Weight (oz) Comment
Packing Golite Jam 40L 32 See ULA, Osprey, REI
Pack cover 3.8
STS Dry bag 4.3 Shower, and for washing clothes


Tarptent Squall II  and 6 stakes 48.8 2 man tent
WM Megalite 28.9 Rated to 32 d., down
Big Agnes pad 20.8 Sturdier than Neoair
Packed Clothing GoLite Rain Coat 13 No longer made
WM down jacket 13.4 Lighter than fleece
1 pr socks 2 oz wool blend
1 t shirt 6.4 synthetic
1 long sleeve shirt 8.1 Button up, nylon
Patagonia fleece gloves 1.7
STS headnet 1 For mosquitoes in early season
Knit hat 1.8 For sleeping
Hydration Aqua mira and MSR tablets 1.8
Water bottle Smart Water from grocery store
Cooking 900 ml Snow Pk pot 6.3 With rubber straps
TD Sidewinder Cone, stove, simmer ring 2.8
Salt and pepper 1 Tiny container
Bic lighter .8 At least 2 plus a fire striker
Dish soap, scrubber pad .2 Tiny bottle
cup 2.9 plastic
bowl 2.4 plastic
spoon .6 plastic
Camera Sony a6000, 10-18mm lens 21.3 Heavy but worth it
Mics Knife and sheath 2.5 Homemade
First aid kit 3.1
Toilet paper 2 oz 2 oz per 4 days
Sun block .6 In tiny bottle
Repair kit 1.3 With duct tape, patch kit and glue
Toiletries kit 4.4
Compass 2.2 With mirror
Petzl Headlamp 1
Sun glasses and case 3.5
cord 2 Braided Dacron fishing line 135#
Total minimum 248.16 oz
15 lb 6 oz

Helle Temagami for an Eagle Scout

Helle is a maker of super nice knives in a variety of styles.  They made a Temagami model in collaboration with Les Stroud, and its a hunting knife with a Scandi grind.  Les is an outdoorsman of “Survivorman” TV show fame.  One thing about Les, he always has a pretty decent knife, and he can always start a fire.  It has a half tang, so its as strong as a full tang knife, but a little lighter.  One claim is that when you grasp it in the winter your fingers don’t touch the tang on the bottom side, so you have less heat loss to the bare metal.


I wanted to make a knife for a young man who had earned his Eagle rank in scouting.   Tomio had been with us on a number of week long backpacks, and Jim and I had become great friends with him and his Dad, Gary Fujino.  Tomio had done some deer hunting, so I thought a hunting knife would be great for him.  The Temagami seems like an awesome hunting knife, and costs $180.  They also sell a Temagami knife blank, which is the finished and sharpened blade with no handle, and I got one at Ragnar Forge for something like $25.

Having the partial tang presented a different challenge in knife making, quite a little more complicated than putting scales on a full tank knife.  I found a piece of birdseye maple (in the free hardwood floor samples) and cut a slot for the handle along one side.  I drew a handle shape that was a bit slimmer than the stock Temagami, because Tomio’s hand is a bit smaller than average.  It bolted up ok with Corby bolts, but that was just the start. Corby bolts are brass and file down with the wood, and provide extra strength to keeping the handle on the knife.  They cost about $3 each.


After glueing and bolting, the shape of the handle was formed by removing stock.  It turned out OK, and I gave it to him after his Eagle ceremony.  That knife should last his lifetime.

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My Preferred Cooksets and stove systems

I’m on about the 4th Caldera cone cooking system, and maybe the 10th stove I’ve used overall, so I thought I’d share what is the best of all the stoves I’ve used in 45+ years of backpacking.  The Fusion Sidewinder Ti-Tri split cone stove system, made by Trail Designs, the maker of Caldera Cone stove […]

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Building a Quinzee for Winter Camping

If the snow is not deep enough for a snow trench, a quinzee is another option for a snow shelter.  A quinzee requires about 5 times as much work to make as a snow trench, but its somewhat fool proof.  If all the snow you have is 8″, you can still make a quinzee.  Some […]

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Nemo Dagger 2 Freestanding Tent

Jim (my son) and I got to use a Nemo Dagger 2 on a 6 day trip in the Sawtooths, and I also used it on a 5 day hike in the Sierra with Tuckie.  Here are my thoughts. The tent without the fly is shown below.  Most “two man” tents are really very roomy […]

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Gifts for the Ultralight backpacker

Buying gifts for the ultralight backpacker can be difficult, because you don’t want to buy stuff that she/he won’t like.  So here are my picks for cool things for the ultralight or lightweight backpacker, or for a person heading in that direction. Petzl e+LITE headlamp: One always wants a 300 lumen flashlight, but we also […]

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Building a Snow Trench for Winter Camping

If you are camping in the winter, a shelter made of snow is tremendously warmer than sleeping in a tent. Different types of snow allow different kinds of snow structures to be built.  One very practical shelter for when the snow is deep is a snow trench.  How much time you have, if a storm […]

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Sierra Nevada, Thousand Island Lake

We had a family backpack in 2015, in which wife Tuckie, son Jim and girlfriend Jenna, myself, Kevin Anderson and his daughter Jenna, and Kevin and my old hiking partner Conrad participated.  The destination for the first day was Thousand Island Lake, in the Mammoth area.  We were reminded of how out of shape we […]

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Swiss Army Knife project

Swiss Army knives will do about anything, but they aren’t good hammers.  My friend Sill used his as a hammer one time too many, and both handles had broken.  This was a knife given to him by his mother 40 years ago. Sill just finished hiking the Camino in Spain, and posted his thoughts on […]

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The Best Backpacking Meal – Pasta Carbonara

This meal displaces the previous best meal I had known of, which was scalloped potatoes with bacon and asparagus pieces.  The new best meal is pasta carbonara, with bacon.  The ingredients and directions for a meal for two are: 5 oz angel hair pasta (more for big eaters.  I can eat 2.3 oz, Kevin can […]

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Keeping Your Devices Charged in the Field

I recently had a chance to try out the TinyCharger5, by  The TinyCharger5 is a lightweight solar panel that has more surface area than a lot of other solar panels for travelers, and its very lightweight.  I used it in conjunction with a soundlogic XT power cell (battery pack), and the solar panel charged […]

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Big Boulder Lakes, Idaho

The White Cloud Range is the neighbor range to the Sawtooths, and the WCs have some places that equal or surpass the more famous Sawtooths. The Big Boulder Lakes are a gem in any range, and Sapphire might be the most beautiful lake I have seen in Idaho. The photo below is of Sapphire Lake, […]

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