Cottonwood to Shepherd Pass, 7 day Sierra Hike, 1969

This would be called a section hike today, because we hiked on a section of the famous John Muir Trail.  We called it a Sierra hike in those days, because we tried to avoid the JMT, and enjoy lakes and valleys not on the JMT.  When you hike the JMT you rarely have the energy to get into these areas, and just have to focus on doing the JMT mileage.  We fished, climbed peaks, goofed off, and explored.  We cooked bread and fish over open fires.  Below: view of Langley from the Cottonwood Lakes. I swear this tree is still there in 2016, 45 years later.


Our itinerary:

Sat: depart Cottonwood roadhead and proceed up Cottonwood Creek past Golden Trout Camp to South Fork Lakes area for camp (5 miles).

Sun: Ascend basin to New Army Pass for commanding view of Kern Basin and Trench as well as the Owens alley and Sierra Crest. Descent into Rock Creek basin past Rock Creek Lake, down the canyon to the 9600 ft elevation for camp (9.5 miles).

Mon: Cross Guyot Creek to Guyot Pass. Hike to Crabtree Meadow and up the creek to Crabtree Lakes for camp (9 miles). Layover day here.

Wed: hike back down Crabtree Creek to the meadow and join John Muir Trail. Proceeding North to Wallace Creek and climb Wallace Creek valley to timberline campsite (9 miles) near Wallace Lake. Layover at Wallace Lake.

Fri: return to John Muir Trail and hike to Wright Creek, hike up the creek to timberline for camp (6 miles).

Sat: cross country over the ridge dividing Wright and Tyndall Creeks until we meet the Shepherd Pass Trail. Then proceed over Shepherd Pass and descend to Anvil Camp (5 miles.

Sun: Descend the eastern Sierra escarpment to the Symmes Creek roadhead. (7 miles) .
We started hiking before noon from the Cottonwood Pack Station.  As we ascended we paralleled Cottonwood Creek much of the way and had lunch on its banks. Byron, Wendy, and I got started late after lunch and ambled slowly up the trail.  For quite a while it had been threatening to rain and finally it burst on us.  We put on our ponchos and continued for a short distance.  At a convenient log we sat to wait out the storm in comfort.  Byron’s waterproof jacket wasn’t enough to keep him dry so he wrapped up in a tube tent and we just sat in the rain, immensely enjoying the storm.  Soon two couples came down the trail on horseback, obviously fleeing the storm and having a miserable time in the rain.

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We decided to get to camp fast and get out of the mosquitoes so the three of us rocketed up the trail.  We met the others where they had stopped to rest and four or five of us went up a small ridge and had a nice rest with a good view of Langely and some twisted foxtail pine trunks.

When we returned to our packs the others had gone and we joined them shortly at camp.  This was near South Fork Lake, although the lake was not in sight.  Our camp was in large well spaced trees with a thick carpet of pine needles and debris.  We shared a fire with Wally’s group for a supper.  Before supper Wendy, Mike and myself hiked a few miles to Muir Lake.  At the lake we had the fantastic reflections we had hoped for but were being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

The lake and the meadow area around it proved to be awesomely beautiful as I remembered from a trip there a few years earlier. What a fantastic place and who better to share it with than Mike and Wendy. Even though I was prepared as to what to expect I found it hard to believe the view we had seen.  We reluctantly returned to camp, where the others were ready to eat.  Beef stroganoff for supper flavored by Wendy’s bell peppers.  The clouds had abated and we spent a quiet night under the pines. Below: our breakfast: fritters, bacon, eggs, no stove.


Sunday: Breakfast of delicious egg omelets cooked by Wendy, spiced with cheese and bell peppers.  Bacon next,  and then deep fat fried biscuits (which we called Sierra fritters) and honey.  Wally, Conrad, and Byron left early to climb Cirque peak by a cross country route.  Wendy and I were the last to leave camp.  We went slowly cross country to Long Lake, where we rejoined the trail.  After some small lakes and waterfalls above the lake the trail became very dry and hot.  We took many rest stops before we rejoined the others on top of Army Pass.  From the pass we could see Wally and crew on Cirque peak, and had a very good view of Mt. Whitney and Langely.  The rocks on the pass showed horizontal cracks from the release of pressure when the very heavy.  glaciers melted off them. below: near the top of Army Pass.


Below: Army Pass, Mt. Langley


We strung out on the descent of Army Pass with Wendy and myself pretty much at the rear, and we regrouped at a small stream for lunch.  We talked a little about geology with Ron Bisio before he split.  For once Wendy and I weren’t last to leave, but were followed by Jim.  We entered a nice green valley and we stopped and waited for Jim.  He and I took pictures of the stream before the three of us continued.  As Jim left to catch up to the main group we found ourselves alone with the mosquitoes in some cathedral like groves of trees.  We then entered a glacial valley with very steep walls, still alone and I took some pictures of a chipmunk as the skeeters were just killing us. We were in Rock Creek.

We continued toward the head of the valley, by a lake with a very deep blue color and met the others as they turned around and started back down.  Apparently we had missed the trail back where I was taking pictures of the chipmunk and taken a wrong turn up the dead end valley.  We found the right trail but found that it was largely destroyed by the hard winter.  We went down through brush to a large meadow on Rock Creek, still pursued by mosquitoes.  We came to a stream we couldn’t cross, so I went upstream to look for a crossing. We could find no way so just waded across by the side of a perfectly still lake, with large trees on either side and billowy clouds reflected in the water.  Fantastic.


We were all beginning to tire as evening deepened and were all anxious for camp.  We passed through an avalanche area and onto a meadow where we were again confronted with a stream.  This we took off our boots and waded the knee deep rushing water.  Very cold and with sharp rocks, but we were rewarded by a refreshing wade and rest stop. We took off and shortly met Wally at Big Rock Creek. He, Byron and Conrad had come straight from Cirque Peak and Wally directed us up the other bank of the creek to camp.  We rested a bit them prepared supper after a swim.  We had supper of chili mac with taco sauce and pumpernickel break.  He finally joined us but didn’t eat much.  Conrad caught fish, nine in less than an hour, but poor Tim didn’t have such luck.  That night Wendy, Byron and I had a good view of the myriads of stars of the Milky Way, and saw a constellation we had named on another backpack, the Chickenfoot constellation.


Monday: This morning I ate with Wally, Byron and Bill Bridwell so Wally, Byron and myself could get an early start for an unnamed peak south of us.  We got off to a good start after a meager breakfast of french (melba) toast.  We crossed a couple of streams and then began to really haul on the rocky slope.  Wally figured that our elevation gain per hour was 1600.  Near the peak Byron and I jogged trying to reach the peak in 1 hour, 30 minutes.  Byron was 0ne minute short, I was a minute behind him, and Wally was 2 min. behind me.  I tried my delayed shutter release on the summit block.  We viewed the Kern Trench and Picket Guard Peak on the other side.  For an unnamed peak this one sure had a good view of the entire Sierra.  After a short rest we began the descent.  Byron and I got started talking about the experiment I was doing to measure physical changes caused by the trip and he told me about the heart machines they use at San Jose State to measure the strength and conditioning of a person’s heart.   Apparently this machine can detect pulse changes due to oncoming illness (colds, flue, etc) lack of conditioning, or good conditioning.

We overlooked camp and backtracked to the log crossing, still conversing.  Ours were the only packs in camp and we were on our way in minutes.  After some hard climbing over Guyot Pass we really hauled through big stands of foxtail pine.  Above Crabtree Meadow we began a long traverse so that we wouldn’t lose so much altitude and found this a very tiring route.  After at least 2 hours of hard cross country boulder hopping we stopped or a rest at a small lake.  On the map this shows as a meadow with a stream but apparently the high water this year made it a lake.  We deduced that the lake where we were to meet the others was about 300’ above us, over a ridge. We began circling the lake when I heard a voice.  At the far end of the lake there seemed to be people in the trees.  I couldn’t tell if they were our people until I saw Wendy.  We circled the lake and found them just setting up camp.  Man, was I ever glad to see them and be able to rest.  We started tea water and all had a nice swim in the lake.  I found that I had a very large blister and hobbled around barefoot all evening.  As sunset approached the pines on the other side of the lake became tinted with the gold of alpenglow and the face of the cliff stood out in relief from the shadows and lines.   Truly this is the range of light.  Our view of infinity was framed by pines tonight, not too tightly, but just right.

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Tuesday:   This was a layover day at Crabtree Lakes. Everyone took off for their goal for the day: Byron to run the trail to Mount Whitney (18 miles) Wally and Dean Ranger to climb Hale, Young and Hitchcock, the fisherman to fish the lakes above us, and Mike, Wendy and I to explore the lakes above us.  The camp seemed to explode as everyone packed a lunch and some gear and took off for the day.  Mike grew impatient and said he would meet us at the upper lakes, and he was off.  Wendy and I packed my flower books, Wendy’s notebook, our lunches, and headed up to the upper lakes.  We explored the flowers and waterfalls on the way up to the first Crabtree Lake. There we met Ron Bisio as he fished in the outlet of the lake.  The lake was very big, with a giant cliff on the other side. We continued up and met Jim Lawrence below a series of long water falls. We talked with him and were soon on our way up.  About halfway up the falls I could see Mike sitting and waiting for us, but by the time we got there he was gone again.  Evidence of the glacial past were evident in the form of glacial polish, rounded ridges on the rocks, glacial eratics, and in the shape of the valley itself.


At the uppermost of the Crabtree lakes we finally caught up with Mike. I came over the last ridge and saw him sitting on a rock just off shore.  He didn’t say anything but motioned to the water.  When I saw what was there I was amazed.  Hundreds of big red trout, some 15 inches long were just swimming along the shore and in the shallows of the lake.  Wendy and I joined Mike on the rock, and had lunch surrounded by hundreds of  long sleek trout.  They were not darting around as usual, but just cruising, like they were out for a Sunday drive and we were the most interesting thing around.  This is the spawning season, and they were either preparing to spawn or had just done it.  We found that the fisherman were having no luck when Conrad and Tim joined us.  Ron and Jim arrived and were equally amazed, hopeful, persistent, and frustrated. After lunch Wendy headed down and everyone else split for places unknown.  I had the lake to myself and just relaxed around the shore. After a few hours people began showing up and I headed down to our camp with Ron and Jim, taking pictures, looking at flowers, and talking on the way.


We met a forest ranger who was heading up to Crabtree Lake because he had heard of some people who had been catching fish by gaffing them, which is totally illegal. They had been in our camp the previous night, and gave us some big fish, which we had eaten.  Jim and I went on back to camp, where we were soon joined by Byron returning from his work out.  He said he was exhausted but managed to try one of Wendy’s oatmeal cookies before collapsing.  Next we had popcorn balls for a before supper snack and gave Wally and Jim a taste.  Wally and Dean were also very tired from the three peaks they had climbed that day. We took another swim before supper.

Wendy and I talked Byron into going up to the lake above us to see the trout so after an early supper we started off.  We arrived at the first lake as the sky in the West turned gold, were climbing the falls as it deepened, and were at the lakes as it turned a light purple.  Violet turned a darker purple as we took pictures of the falls on the way down and purple turned cobalt blue as we came into camp.  One of the best spent hours of my life. We got beautiful pictures but the didn’t capture the shades of the sky and rocks.


Wednesday: I felt lazy today.  I got up late and we made breakfast of eggs and bacon. Byron, Wendy and Conrad and I were the last to leave camp. We descended the trail to Crabtree Meadow and circled it, passing a camp of many Sierra Club people on a group hike.  Shortly after that we joined the John Muir Trail and passed Jim, and we met him and everyone else later at a stream for lunch.  Everyone but Mike that is, who had apparently charged ahead of the group.  After lunch Wally, Byron, Dean, Wendy and I went down to the stream below us and met Mike.  The others went by a cross country route to a lake near Wales and Wallace lakes.  The rest of us hiked down the trail into the Kern River Trench .  This trail started at Wallace Creek and is now the High Sierra Trail.  As we descended we passed through several life zones, finally reaching transitional, which probably continued to the river.  This zone is characterized by Juniper trees, grasses, manzanita, buckwheat, and is a fairly dry and arid life zone.  After descending 2000 feet we were disappointed by the not so mighty river, so we retraced our path to Wallace Creek.


We picked up our packs where we had left them and began to head toward the Wallace Lake.  Shortly after that we were swarmed by gangs of mosquitoes that were the most vicious we’d met on this trip.  They couldn’t be avoided.  Finally we escaped them and had a peaceful rest on rocks by a slab waterfall. Our view of the Kaweah peaks seemed perfect from here, and we all dozed off for a nap.

When we again got moving we found that we were all very stiff and tired. Also we weren’t exactly sure of precisely where we were.  In hopes of getting a better view we wearily climbed a ridge on the side of the valley and searched in vain for sign of Jim and the others.  The distribution and size of the lakes has been very much changed by the heavy runoff and there were many new lakes and changed outlines.  Still confused by the topography we started to descend with the thought in mind that we might have to camp soon wherever night overtook us.  I tried a last ditch effort, and pulled out my compass, which is a sure sign of desperation. As I was oriented the map, someone said that they saw Jim.  We looked and on the rocky plain below us we saw Jim and Ron and a few others of our group. They were still carrying their packs, so they must have been confused by the terrain also.  We trudged down and joined them near a stream in the skeeter infested tundra.  When Jim told us, between swats, that we were to camp here, I was at once glad to be home, and sad to be camping in such an area of skeeters.  But when I heard that we were going to have a layover day here, I wasn’t real happy.  My group made a fire on a ridge of rock above camp, hoping to catch a breeze to blow the mosquitoes away.  Minus several quarts of blood we went to bed early, planning to get up early and get the hell out of camp for the day. I slept, or tried to sleep with my parka over my face to keep out the mosquitoes.


Thursday.  This day was a layover day, a day of exploration and fishing. After a very short breakfast Wendy, Byron,, Mike and I took off up a high ridge of rock south of camp.  We were free mosquitoes and we found some nice pools and cascades on the other side.  At last free of the hated skeeters we relaxed and lay in the sun.  Wendy and Mike headed upstream as Byron and I lay on either side of a fall and dozed.  After a few hours I headed up and found Mike at Wales Lake, a very large and high altitude lake ringed  on three sides by steep cliffs.  A look at what we thought we Russell convinced us that it was worthy of an attempt to climb it, and we judged that we could climb it without difficulty.

Below: Wales Lake.

Wales Lake Sierra nevada.aa

We started off for the peak pretty unprepared.  I had left my pack down with Byron at the falls, it was already close to noon, and we would have to share Mikes extra clothes, food, and water.  I talked to Wendy a few minutes and we split.  Our route took us through a notch in a cliff, over ice fields, and we finally reached the peak after several false summits and some 3rd-4th class climbing.  A spectacular view of Whitney,  Russell to the immediate east of us, and the Kern trench to the west.  And the cobalt jewel of Tulyinyo Lake, surrounded by barren rock on one side and steep rubble cliffs on three other sides. It remained mostly frozen over and exquisitely serene and peaceful.

Tulyinyo Lk

We had a swift standing glissade during which we tried to see who would fall the least.  This band of snow took us almost  all the way off the peak and we found ourselves on an artic plateau.  After following a stream through this tundra area Mike and I became separated as I began the descent of some giant boulders.  I thought he was behind me but later found that he had stopped to eat.  I reached Wales Lake and saw above me two figures climbing the ridge we had climbed earlier.  One was obviously Conrad but I couldn’t make out the other one.  I shouted but they didn’t hear me.  Mike was so far behind I began to get worried and sat and waited a long time for him.  I contemplated going back for him but this would have just gotten us even more mixed up if we had missed each other.  I went down to the falls and waited.  No sign of Wendy there, but her walking stick was there so I knew she would likely come back to this spot.

After half an hour or so Mike came down and we rested on warm rocks in the sun, the falls calming our nerves and an occasional drift of mist cooling us.  Soon Byron and Wendy came down, and we found that they had climbed Tunnabora Peak.  Wendy’s description of the view of Owen’s Valley sounded great and Mike and I decided to climb it, or at least go to Tulyinyo lake.  In her Scottish burl Wendy said something like “aye, an truly, ya should na due that very thin.” But we were off and on our way, this time with both or our packs and food, water and clothing for both of us.  As we ascended the notch in the cliff we met Conrad and Jim coming down from Tulyinyo Lake.  They told us the lake was a big dissappointment, mostly iced up, as we had seen from our peak, and devoid of life. We talked awhile, then continued, reaching the lake without difficulty.  At the lake we ate and started the ascent  of Tunnabora, what looked like an easy class 2. I had become very tired and had to stop to rest and was exhausted by the time we reached the peak, but what a view rewarded us.  To the East a very sheer drop off to Owens Valley, sough the crystal blue emerald of Tulyinyo Lake, and west of the heartland of the Sierra.  Our stay had to be short because the sun was soon to set, so we signed in after Wendy and Byron and began a traverse of the summit ridge that would put us on the tundra flats.  The view of Mount Carrillon reflected in the blue of Tulyinyo and surrounded by the brown bleakness of glacial moraines and polishes was truly impressive and tired as we were becoming we immensely enjoyed this traverse of Tunnabora Peak.

Whitney and Wales Lk.aa

We arrived at the falls at sunset and were met by Byron and Wally, who had come to swim.  We went down the ridge in semi-darkness and were greeted by the others.  Wendy had prepared supper and we gratefully enjoyed our mosquito flavored food.  “Aye an truly, I should no ha doon it.” I said as I placed my creaking body gently on a rock.  “Aye an truly, for its on the morrow that you’ll be in pain.” Wendy replied, “ee its nobodies fault but yoor oon.”  Too tired to fight mosquitoes , we went to bed early and planned for a hasty retreat out of the Hellhole.  However, this layover day had turned out to be the best day we’d had in terms of scenery and total enjoyment for all. The fishermen had good luck at Wallace Lake and Wally, Dean and Rob climbed Barnard and Trojan Peaks.

Friday: After a sleep of the dead, we awoke to a fast breakfast augmented by fish donated by the fisherman.  Wally, Mike, and some others left early, planning to meet us at camp for that night, a high treeless lake.  Our route was cross country over a ridge and down into a wide glacial valley, the Wright Lakes Valley.  We went slow for a change, keeping together.  On the top of the ridge we passed through the ruins of an ancient forest.  Even in death and decay they trees remained strong and beautiful, their bark stripped and their cinnamon colored wood warm to the eye.  We took several rest stops and thoroughly enjoyed the restful pace and conversation.  In the bottom of the glacial trough we crossed a stream and headed up broad fields of little lupines into a stand of large foxtail pines for another rest.


Above this we left our packs and headed up to a lake indicated on the topo to take a swim. Here we met Wally and decided to camp.  The lake was high and cold, although protected from wind, and perfectly treeless.  Wally assured us that there were no mosquitoes but I think he exaggerated. We started lunch but before I could finish Wally was hot to trot for a peak east of camp.  Wally, Wendy , Byron, Dean and I struck off for a very swift climb. Wendy was sure she was holding us back but I was certainly puffing too and Dean beat us all to the peak by a long ways.  We had a great view of the inner Sierra and the fast enclosing clouds.  To our north was a big dropoff and a terrible knife edge to Tyndall Peak.  We descended to camp and enjoyed a cold swim.  At this time in the evening  the sun reflected strongly against the water and we took several pictures using Mikes diffusing gradient.  This was perhaps the first camp where we seemed to operate as a unified group.  We made a cooperative effort with Conrad with our date nut bread after supper, and Wendy showed them how to make oatmeal cookies.  Supper of Turkey primavera and dumplings.  We had a campfire well into the night at Jim’s fire. I think I may have been too critical of Wally’s cooking over the previous days, but tonight I’ll never forget when Wally brought his pot of biscuits over to the campfire as the other two groups enjoyed Conrad’s date nut bread. Wally split his bread among his group and Byron showed me his.  Black on the outside and not cooked on the inside. Wally said that he had never seen a meal that something couldn’t be saved from, as he scooped biscuit dough out of the black shell and threw the rest in the fire.  I thought I’d better cool it and didn’t say a word as we ate our bread and shared some of cookies with him, but I sure am glad Wendy was in my group and not Wally.  After the campfire Byron, Wendy and I stumbled around looking for a sleeping site, and finally had to sleep on the fields of small rocks. We talked late into the night and hoped the fringes of clouds would not rain on us.

Saturday: Byron and I got up, or rather woke up, before dawn and waited for a perfect picture of the rosy tint on Mt. Whitney.  Some time later we got up and my group had breakfast of delicious pancakes, fresh apple slices, and bacon. The three of us were again the last to leave camp and saw the others from a low pass looking into a broad glacial valley.  We descended into the valley between Diamond Mesa and Tyndall Pk, and hiked through the Husdonian meadow for an hour or so.  The bleak tundra-like meadow was the stage for our performance of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea (I was Clark), as well as French trappers, Runners of the woods, Basque shepherds, Swiss shepherds, Scottish hilanders, Austrian crossing the Alps fleeing from the Naziis and Spaniards crossing the Pyrenees fleeing Franco.  Senor Lowry wanted to sacrifice his life and hold off los federales while Wendy and I fled but I wouldn’t have it.  Either we all made it or none of us would. Viva La Republica!  This was our best one act play because as we neared the pass and the French border we saw that some Frenchmen were there and would lead us safely off the mountains and find shelter for us on the way.  After a short rest all but Mike and I left.  We rested a long time and then headed to Tyndall, a big impressive  14,000+peak of the range.

Mt. Tyndall.aa

We climbed the north face over good class three rock, mostly friction climbing.  We hurriedly signed in with lightning flashing on neighboring peaks and the thunderhead bearing down on us as we scurried down.  Just above the ice field I kicked loose a bed sized rock that sent several other good sized rocks with it onto the ice field.  They missed Mike by 20 feet or so.  We picked up our packs at Shepherd Pass and had a good long glissade down the pass.

We joined the others at Shepherd Creek in a pleasant little glen by the creek.  For several hours we loafed, wrote in notebooks, and took pictures of columbines and larkspur before Wally, Dean, and Bill got back from climbing Kieth. We had another fantastic supper including popcorn and apricot nut bread for dessert.  Another quiet time of the evening at small campfires before we got to bed late in the night or early in the morning.

Sunday: Although I would have advised a novice to string a tube tent that night, I was lazy and chose to defy the black clouds that blocked the stars, and several hours later awoke to a cold shower.  Still undaunted or perhaps just stubborn, I struggled inside my tube tent without stringing it and without even getting out of my bag.  I suffered in silence for several hours as the wind beat the wet plastic against my face and slowly soaked my bag.  As it started to get light I decided it would be more comfortable to get up and get a fire going for a fast start out.  Jim and Wally were already up and preparing to bomb out to the cars.  An hour after they left people began to get up and we had a fast breakfast before we hit the trail

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Jim and Wally say they hauled but they couldn’t have gone much faster than we did.  We were shaded by the remnants of last nights storm and probably went too fast to enjoy the colored rock walls around the gorge.  We crossed over to the Symnes Creek watershed and barreled down to Symmes Creek.  This area was pleasant but could not compare to the High Sierra we had left.  I was sad that we had to come down so soon.  I didn’t suffer form any craving for food that I had the last year.

The cars were parked in a sagebrush area, near Symmes Creeek. We found that Jim and Wally had left our clean clothes for us near the parking lot but couldn’t find the cokes till someone looked under the clothes.  We washed in the cold water and admired each others blisters.  Mike had some good ones, but mine were really much nicer.  Feeling totally refreshed we put on clean clothes, combed our hair, and stared at the strange, clean civilized people around us.  As we sat there in our contentedness it began to rain.  For 45 minutes we sat in the rain and looked at each other and talked.  Wally and Jim showed up in the van only.  Jim’s car had run out of gas.  We packed into the van and tooled to Austin’s drug store in Independence for the much anticipated milk shakes.  Byron and I got two to go also and stashed them in the van’s icebox.  We met at Dirty Sox hot springs for a swim in the slime pool, although some of us refrained. On the trip back Wendy, Byron and I sat back in the van and feasted on figs, shepherds bread, cokes and the milk shakes, accompanied by Simon and Garfunkel and the Dance of the Shaherizad.  We got back to Lancaster in the afternoon and everyone split for hot showers and home cooking.




Electronic and photography gear is always changing, but it seemed like Jim and I had a pretty good mix of electronics and photography gear when we did the John Muir Trail last summer (2016).  Here is our gear:



This was the photographic gear for the two of us.  Not shown is the iphone 6 that I had, and Jim also had an iphone.  We used the iphones and gopro for slider time lapses, and the camera for stills and time lapse from the tripod.  These pieces are:

Sony a6000 camera, with the Sony 10-18 wide angle lens.  The camera body, this lens, rubber cover, and strap and battery weighed 1 lb 8.4 oz.  This camera rivals DSLR cameras, and has the same sensor size as many DSLR lens. It does time lapse, 11 exposures per second, face recognition and registration, and lots of in-camera special styles.

Sony kit lens, 16-50 mm. Since this a “crop sensor”, 10mm on this camera = 18mm full sensor size camera, 18mm = 28, 50mm = 80.

Tripod is the Joby Gorillapod. It has a level, doesn’t extend, and weighs 6.9 oz.  Its sturdy enough to support the Sony a6000 with the heavy wide angle lens. Photography was important for this trip, so we had more camera gear than most, and we tried to keep the weight down.  This is not the actual tripod we took, but I’ll take it next time.  The tripod we took was the Sirui 025 carbon fiber tripod. It weighed 1 lb 14.9 oz, so the Joby is a big weight savings.

SPOT beacon, at 4.1 oz.  We intended to take this but confusion at the start caused us to leave it in the car, much to my wife’s consternation.

Suntastic sCharger5 Solar Panel: This panel worked great! I had it on the back of my pack near the top, and when we got to camp we set it up for good solar exposure. It recharged my camera battery, 2 iphones, and sometimes the gopro.  It was essential, as otherwise my camera battery was about at 30% at the end of the day.  If I took time lapses with my iphone, it drained the battery pretty fast.

Anker 6700ma storage battery: 4.8 oz.  The solar panel charged this battery and we used the battery after dark to charge the camera and iphone batteries. This combination worked like a charm.

GoPro with plastic case: 5.0 oz.  We took movies with this, as well as the iphones and Sony camera.

Cable to connect the solar panel and battery, battery and camera: 0.7 oz

We also brought a DIY camera slider which was sturdy enough to support the GoPro or the iphones, and weighed 26 oz. I’d like to leave it behind next time, but it makes some unique video clips.  It was made up of tent poles, end blocks, and a camera dolly, all made of coreplast and styrofoam. The slider is shown in detail here.  Some clips from the slider are viewable in the video Jim put together below.

2016 John Muir Trail Video

Jim and I hiked the JMT in 2016, with Luke and Ian Willnerd. This is a video of some of our pictures and videos, a sort of highlight video.  Jim put this together.

Sea to Summit Escapist tent system

I had the chance to try out a Sea to Summit Escapist tent system.  The tarp plus the inner bug tent weighs 2 lb 2 oz, and sleeps two.  If using only the tarp, it is 17.6 oz, plus the weight of the ground cloth you chose.  Below is Dave Litster with the bug tent holding two sleeping pads easily.


It comes in 4 units, which can be combined differently for different trips and weather conditions.  It is very light, and roomy when using just the tarp.  All configurations use the tarp, and inside the tarp you can use a pure mesh bug net, or a bug tent which has a floor with bathtub bottom the bottom material extends a bit up the sidewalls.  If there are no bugs, you could leave the bug options behind.  Using the tarp option, you could sleep 3 people.  Using the bug tent, you can sleep two inside the bug tent.

The tarp is pitched by using hiking poles at the ends, plus at least 4 corner stakes, plus 2 sidewall stakes.  That totals 8 stakes for the tarp alone.  If you use the Bug Tent or Bug Net, the four corners of either need to be staked down, and 2 peaks need to be attached to the tarp, and the top corner of each sidewall is attached to the underside of the tarp.  This wasn’t too hard, but ends up being a lot of stakes connections.  The connections are a little rod on the Bug Tent or Net, which fits into a slot on a leather tab.  This takes two hands and can’t be done with gloves.  Both pieces are black, so its hard to do in the dark.  Other tents set up with 6 stakes, this one takes 12 plus 6 connections.  Its not hard, but is a bit fussy. All the stakes contribute to it being very stable in the wind and rain.

This setup is great is great at ventilation, because it doesn’t have walls.  If you use the Bug Tent or Bug Net, they are all mesh, so it is excellent at ventilation, even with 2 people.

It doesn’t have a vestibule, but there is lots of room under the tarp for gear.

Living space is roomy if using just the tarp.  If bugs were not a worry, using just the tarp would be light and compact, but you’d have to bring a separate ground cloth.

The configurations the system can be set up in include:

Tarp (14.5 oz) plus ground sheet (6.6 oz) plus 8 stakes (3.6 oz) = 1 lb 8 oz.

Tarp (14.5 oz) plus Bug Tent (13.6 oz) (it has a floor so ground sheet is not needed) plus 12 stakes (5.4 oz) = 2 lb 2 oz

Tarp (14.5 oz) plus Bug Net (5.5 oz) , ground sheet (6.6) plus 12 stakes (5.4 oz) = 2 lb

tent testing

The tarp and bug tent and net all seemed very solid.  I can see one thing that is bound to fail, and that is the stuff sacks.  To pack the tarp, I had to make three tries before I got it in.  It is about as tight as a sausage inside the stuff sack, and after a few trips I’d expect the stuff sack to split.  It if was half in inch more in diameter, it would be so much easier to stuff and put less pressure on the stuff sack.

The stuff sack for the Bug tent is a little looser, but could be still looser and it would last longer.

The stuff sack for the Bug Net was ok, since it is pure mesh.

The ground sheet also had a stuff sack, which could be dispensed with if weight is a consideration (isn’t it always?).


MSR Thru Hiker tent

We took the MSR Thru Hiker tent on a trip in the Sierra Nevada in August.  It got down to frost a few nights.  There was no rain, no wind, low humidity. One person used the tent, and loved it.


 Tent Weight by my scale: 1 lb 8 oz.  This is one of the few one man tents that weighs less than 2 lbs, has a floor and mosquito netting.  Uses trekking poles for set up.  Was $380, cheaper now like $180.  Its hard to beat for a solo tent.



IMG_1676  IMG_2085 IMG_2163

This is a tarp type cover or “wing” that combines with a mesh inner tent, to form a fully functional tent that weighs less than 2 pounds.  It would be pretty crowded for two, but just right for one person.  It was proven to be easy to set up for a novice hiker, my daughter, who used it for a week in the Sierra Nevada.  Its very light but there are real two person tents that are almost as light, much roomier, and cost more than $100 less.   Functional, light, but not a leader in the field of ultralight tents.  I’d give it a B+ due to its weight.

For one person, this tent is awesome, and will spoil a newby because of its light weight and compact size.

This sets up with two tent poles, like a lot of tarp type set ups.  It takes a number of stakes to set it up, but a novice hiker quickly figured out how to set it up.

Ventilation is a strong point with this tent.  The inner tent is mesh, so a breeze can pass through it easily.  There is space under the edge of the tarp for free passage of a breeze, so I can’t imagine this every having a condensation problem.

The inner mesh tent is wide enough for two sleeping pads, but it works better for one hiker.  For two hikers, you would be bumping a lot, but the savings in weight might be worth it.  You would only need the mesh tent when there were mosquitoes, so you would probably be sleeping under the tarp and on top of the floor, and have plenty of room for two.

There is no vestibule, and no vestibule storage.


Making a Folding Knife from a kit

BSA lockback

My go-to knife for backpacking of late has been a lockback folder which our scout troop gave me. It is etched with the words “Bob – Thank you for your Service to Troop 100.”  What a nice gesture, and it turned out to be a fantastic little knife which is a pleasure to carry.  Its perfectly adequate for any task on a backpack.  Based on my experience with the BSA knife, I wanted to try my hand at making a folding knife, so I bought a folding knife kit from The model was the “Sheriff.”


It came with no instructions at all, and the pdf instructions for other models were not clear on the details of putting it together. They more or less said: cut out handle material, drill holes, assemble the knife using pins, peen the pins: done. After making many mistakes, chiseling off 3 pairs of scales, drilling out or cutting off a set of pins, I made a workable knife with lots of small issues. I thought I’d document the detailed steps I finally figured out by trial and error.

First I did a mockup assembly on a piece of wood, to see how the pieces fit together.

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I measured the diameter of the pins, because the pivot pin, spring pins, and liner pins were all different diameters, and they didn’t send extra pins for the pivot and spring pins.  I cut some oversized scales in a cutoff saw, so I would have a clean edge of wood to put against the edge of the bolster. I traced an outline of the liners on the wood, so I would know where to put the epoxy. I glued the scales to the liners, and let the epoxy dry overnight.


Next I drilled the pin holes. If you drill from the metal side and come out the wooden side, the bit will splinter the wood. I lost a pair of scales that way and had to start over. I finally figured out that if I drilled from the metal side toward the wood, I could use the depth stop on the drill press to have just the tippy tip of the bit make a little dimple on the wood side, then I could drill from the wood side toward the metal. Then I cut off the excess wood with a hack saw. If you cut off the excess wood with a large tooth saw, it is easy to split the wood, but the small teeth of the hack saw don’t put too much stress on the wood. Then I sanded the wood to the edge of the metal, and shaped the wood to roughly the final shape of the handles. I used drum sander bits that fit in the drill press, and they were great. One of the drum sander bits fit into the blade release recess, and allowed those surfaces to be finished sanded before the parts were assembled. The wood is from a block of mountain mahogany a friend gave me, from the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho.


Next the holes were delicately countersunk with a cone shaped bit, and the pieces were assembled with the pins. Peening the first set of pins was a disaster. The second set of pins worked better. I learned that the pins have to be filed very flat, and stick out just a tiny bit from the scales or the pivot. I also learned that the shim material in the kit was crap, and I came up with a 0.007″ shim from an set of feeler gauges I had. I peened the backspring pin first, next the pivot pin, and last the pins on either side of the lanyard hole. The pins were then filed flush with the surface of the wood, and sanded with the wood. If they are forced through the holes, the pins can easily split the wood (which I did, and had to start over).

Peening is best done by many light taps with a 4 oz ball peen hammer, with which the edges of the pin are tapped, with about 6 taps to work around the circumference of the pin, followed by one tap in the center to spread the pin. You partially peen one side of a pin, flip it over and partially peen the other side, flipping over maybe 15 times back and forth. When peening the pivot pin, if it is peened too much, the blade is locked or hard to open. If it is peened too little, where is side to side play in the blade. I peened the pivot with the 0.007″ shim around the pivot pin until the blade got tight, then I took the shim out, and gave it a few taps on each side, then tried the blade for smooth opening. If it gets too tight, it is ruined. I had to drill out one pivot pin and start over. I used a 0.004″ shim on the backspring pin, because if that is too tight it can lock the whole thing up (did that). After three sets of scales and 2 sets of pins, the first knife came out OK, the second one quite a bit better as far as the pins go. Below are the first and second knives I made from the Sheriff kit.


Below is the second one I made, which has better pins than the first one.

Sheriff Lockback knife kit



John Muir Trail 2016, 1st Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

JMT 2016: First Section (7 days), Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

below: Long Lake, our first days campsite



Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

Day -1: We drove to Tuollumne Meadows and camped in the backpackers campground. This was our first night sleeping at 10,000′, and even though we didn’t do anything physical, we hoped just spending the night at that elevation would help acclimate us. It was pretty uneventful, camping wise.

Day 0: We met our ride at the wilderness center, and left our car there. In the car we also left my SPOT beacon, my drinking cup and Luke’s fishing license. Gigi Delong drove us from Tuollumne to Bishop, where I got a new cup, and then to Big Pine where we got a 2 person permit for me and Jim, and Luke and Ian got their 2 person permit, and we had lunch with Gigi.  Gigi was from South Africa and had been in Bishop in the hang glider scene for many years. She was into motorcycles, so she and Jim had something to talk about.  Gigi drove us up the many big switchbacks to Cottonwood Campground at about 10,200’.  We figured it would be good to get our second nights sleep at 10,000’, to help get acclimated. We’d start the hike in the morning and hike up to Long Lake at about 11,100’.

Day 1: We started early, all four of us hiking together.  Little did we know that we would rarely hike as a group the rest of the trip. Our group was me, 66, my son Jim, 20 years old, and our two neighbor youths, Luke Wilnerd 17 and Ian Wilnerd 15. Jim had been on numerous week long hikes and many weekend hikes. Luke and Ian had been on lots of backpacks with their family. I had hiked the JMT in 1971, several section hikes in the late 60s, climbed some 200 peaks in the Sierra, did the Ptarmigan Traverse 3 times, climbed Rainier 6 times, Adams, Hood, St. Helen, Shasta, participated in Mountain Rescue and Nordic Ski Patrol groups.  I’ve remained active in backpacking, with a week long hike each summer and 4 or 5 weekend backpacks. The first days hike was not a hard hike, gaining only 1000’ of elevation when we topped out at Lake 1 of the Cottonwood Lakes. I had been here twice before, and couldn’t help but think how the view of Langley had not changed, and the lake before us was the same.  I think the log to our right had been there 45 years ago also.

We knew we were not far from Long lake and we trudged onward another mile or so, with very little elevation gain.  We ate all our lunch food, and honey waffles were great.  We finally got to Long Lake, and I was super exhausted.  When I checked my blood sugar (I’m diabetic) at the camp we finally found, I was at 87 units. That is too low for me, and was part of why I was so exhausted. I was practically in a diabetic coma. We went around the lake clockwise, and found nice camping in some big rocks on the shore at the 3 o’clock position (where the outlet is at the 6 o’clock position).  We got to camp at noon, had time for the boys to play some cards, and we rested up a bit in the sun. One of the life savers in our diet was to have a cup of Miso soup as soon as we got to camp, and we did it every day. Jim and I had a Pack-it Gourmet Big Un Burriro, our favorite meal, with 2 tortillas each.  Jim and I could have eaten one whole pack each, or a dessert.

Day 2. We had granola and milk, and I had 2 packs of Via coffee with milk and sugar (energy) for breakfast.  Jim had one Via. We were on the trail at 9 am, on top of New Army Pass at 11.  It was about 2.5 miles to the pass. After a picture and a break, we headed down toward Soldier Lake and Rock Creek.


Below: same place, different sign and weather, taken in 1969


During the day we had stopped at the first water after the pass, and sat our packs on some rocks near the trail. A scout group joined us and put their packs among our packs, stepping on Jim’s sunglasses in the process. As we hiked on, Luke was ahead of the group, and stopped at a campsite among big rocks at a meadow through which Rock Creek meandered.  When I came into sight I was glad to see him.  We were within ¼ mile of where the trail joined the PCT. During the day I was unable to eat the Clif bar allocated for lunch of that day, and also couldn’t eat the tortilla I brought for lunch. The lunch food was sufficient to keep me stuffed.

The goal was to get as far as possible toward Crabtree Meadow, and as far as possible turned out to be a total of about 9-10 miles, where we camped at a meadow by Rock Creek.  We were far from Crabtree Meadow, maybe 5 miles away.


At camp Jim and I had pasta with tomato sauce and smoked salmon, and I ate about 1.8 oz of the 2.5 oz of the pasta I had planned on eating. We had brought 2 packs of salmon to add to the pasta, but we found that 1 pack was plenty.  All of our dinners were put together from things like pasta, rice, on quinoa. To that base we added a sauce and some kind of protein.  Our evening meals were, by order of what we liked the most:

Big Un Burrito by Pack-It Gourmet, with 2 tortillas each.

Spaghetti with tomato sauce and freeze dried sausage granules

Pasta carbonara with bacon

Pasta Pesto with salmon

Pasta with Tomato sauce

Scalloped potatoes with bacon

Mac and cheese with bacon

Jim and I did some laundry in a stuff sack with water and soap.  Then we set up the camera slider and took some videos alongside and in Rock Creek. There were a few mosquitoes, but very few. There had been very few mosquitoes all day, even though the hikers we met in Bridgeport and Mammoth had warned us of massive swarms of mosquitoes. They had been in the spot where we now were about 2 weeks earlier, and the mosquitoes were that much fewer in the two weeks. I was relieved that all of my systems were working ok: knees, hips and back. I had been afraid something would snap or pop, and incapacitate me.  Luckily, my only issue was being tired at the end of the day (real tired).

Day 3 – Jim and I were up at 7, and packed up so we headed off without Luke and Ian.  We told them we’d wait for them at the PCT junction, and we waited 1.5 hours for them there. We didn’t realize that this would be the pattern for most of the 22 day hike. We hiked along the meadow at Rock Creek, and shortly started the uphill grind to Guyot Pass.  We were planning to top off with water at Guyot Creek, near the top of the pass. When we got there it was almost dry, but we found a place where we could dip one cup of water at a time, to put in our gravity filter.  From Guyot Pass, Luke and Ian hiked ahead.  The area around Guyot Pass was a strange place, with no bushes or grasses, and with big pine trees in white gravelly covering.  It wasn’t soil, it was gravel. Below: me and the strange terrain of Guyot flat.


For lunch today I had plenty: 1 salmon pack from dinner last night, 1 tortilla, 2 cliff bars, pepperoni sticks, pistachio, Banana chips, and dried mango.


We got in to camp at Crabtree Meadow at 2, so it was a pretty short day that we would have to make for in mileage on a later day. The elevation gain was about 1765’. We had mac and cheese for dinner, preceded by Miso soup.  I couldn’t eat my half of the mac and cheese, and Jim got extra or we gave some to the perpetually hungry Luke and Ian. There were a few mosquitoes at Crabtree, but they were not bad.

Our camp was near the beautiful creek, and near a big flat top rock.  The rock was owned by a family of fat marmots, and they were fearless about hanging out there.  They had covered the top of the rock with marmot drops, and I looked out over the meadow and saw another 20 or so marmots over the large meadow. I realized that there were probably 50 marmots there, and they each produced as many marmot drops as our family, and the poop was rinsed by rain into the creek. The creek still looked beautiful, but I definitely filtered any water we got out of it. The plan was for Jim to head up to Whitney the next morning, like at 4 am or something. Luke and Ian could join Jim if they wanted to.

Day 4 – Jim got up a 4 am, and took my camera and both of my hiking poles, so our Tarptent became a tarp laying over me. Luke and Ian accompanied him on his trip to the top of Mt. Whitney.  My plan was to rest and recuperate from the effort of the past few days. I walked around the meadow and took pictures and set up the motor driven slider, using my cell phone as a time lapse camera. Below is my video on the camera slider. Details of its construction are here.

The boys got back about 3 pm, and we did a little video interview of how their day had gone, which is below.

Below is a shot Jim took from the Whitney trail.


Day 5 – From Crabtree Meadow we headed to Wallace Creek, 4.7 miles away, and then left the JMT for a side trip to Wallace Lake. I had hiked in the area of Wales and Wallace Lake on the 1971 JMT, and I hoped we’d have time to visit Tulainyo Lake, but our meager mileage the 2nd day of the trip had used up the layover day I had planned. We hiked up Wallace Creek pretty much cross country, and got to Wallace Lake after about 4 miles and 1200’ of elevation gain.  The sun was incredibly bright at that elevation, and all we could do was seek shade.  We had left Crabtree Mdw at 8 am, and got to Wallace Lake at 2 pm.  Luke did a lot of fishing, caught at least one fair sized one, and Jim and I had pasta carbonara for dinner. My sunglasses came apart due to a lost screw in the frame, and I was able to reconnect the frame with dental floss.


Day 6 – We hiked down to the JMT from Wallace Lake, then headed toward Tyndall Creek. The Bighorn Plateau was otherworldly, and we got our last view of Whitney. At Tyndall Creek there were a lot of scout groups, and we continued on. The map showed a lake to the left of the trail, about 400-500’ higher than the trail and .5 miles off the trail, so we headed there and had it all to ourselves. Jim and I had scalloped potatoes and bacon, which we ate sitting our comfy chairs looking at an incredible view, but it was pretty windy. We had hiked 8.5 miles and Jim developed his first blister. I didn’t have any foot issues the whole trip, but Luke had blisters almost from day 1, and Ian had foot issues also.  They ended up wearing running shoes and carrying their boots for most of the trip. That night Jim and I didn’t put up the tent, but used it as a ground cloth. There was no sign of rain, no mosquitoes, so why not?


Day 7 – Jim and I headed for Forester Pass, leaving Ian and Luke to catch up later. A big guided group led by Zoom and _______, of California Alpine Guides, were headed up Forester a bit behind us, and I was impressed that such a large group could all be in pretty good shape. Below: our crew just below the top of Forester Pass.


Jim on the top of Forester Pass.


After a bit of rest on the pass, we headed down just as the CAG group arrived. We continued toward our goal of Vidette Meadow, for a total mileage of 12.1 miles for the day. We were tired at Vidette Meadow.  In fact, I was tired at the end of every day, so I’ll quit saying I was tired.

Day 8 – Jim and I were up at 6 am, on the trail by 7:15 am. We headed out fast to try and intercept our horse packers who planned to meet us at Charlotte Lake. We polished off the 1200’ gain to the sandy clearing above Charlotte Lake. Jim waited there, and I walked down to Charlotte Lake to make sure the horse packers hadn’t beaten us to the lake. Back at the trail intersection, we waited another hour and the horse packer showed up with our 4 plastic buckets of food, and took our trash. Luke and Ian showed up in time to get their trash onto a mule saddlebag.  There was only one problem: the deal had been for the packers to bring us a resupply of fuel, and they didn’t!  We had 7 days to hike to the next resupply and no fuel!! Are you kidding me? The horse cowboy, Reeve, said another string would be heading up later that day, so Jim waited for the second string to show up, which took at least another 2 hours.

I went ahead, and started up Glen Pass. Early on I realized that I had left the camera tripod down with Jim’s pack and I waited for him to show up. He had found the tripod, and saved me the trip down to retrieve it.  Jim had waited for the second pack string, but they didn’t have any fuel for us either.  Dang, we were screwed. We headed up Glen pass already tired, and got to Rae Lakes shortly before the shadow of the ridge to the west put our camp in shadow. Jim and I swam in the lake, and washed clothes. I washed all my clothes, so they were wet all night and part of the next day. Again we slept on top of the flattened tent, and saw the stars.

Below: heading to the top of Glen Pass.


Below: Rae Lakes, where we camped on the isthmus.


Next: on to MTR!

First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Third Section, MTR to Reds Resort

Fourth Section, Reds to Tuollumne

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

John Muir Trail 2016, 2nd Section: Rae Lakes to MTR, northbound

JMT 2016: Second Section (7 days), Rae Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Third Section, MTR to Reds Resort

Day 9: I was reminded all night that I would prefer to sleep in my long underwear, but the night before I had washed ALL my clothes.  I was in my sleeping bag nekkid. My clothes were draped over every branch of all the trees around out camp, so it looked like the Beverly Hillbillies were camped here. They had not dried much overnight, and were still quite damp.  I put on my damp clothes, and had some oatmeal and coffee before we hit the trail. We took one last look at the Rae Lakes and peak called Painted Lady.

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Jim and I left early and Luke and Ian were to catch up with us later. Ian talked to a ranger at Rae Lakes, and was given a canister of fuel.   Jim and I stopped at Woods Creek, which was below 10,000′, and thus wood fires were allowable. We made a wood fire and cooked our evening meal, planning to eat lunch foods for dinner, when we would be above 10,000′ and thus could not have a wood fire.

Zoom and his crew were at the bridge, and he showed me a cool camera tripod and dirt scoop. Jim and I had Pesto Pasta with salmon for lunch, and a pack of salmon for a trail snack.  After a big cooked lunch, we crossed the bridge over Woods Creek and started up Wood Creek, destination Twin Lakes. The mid morning meal seem to sap me of energy, and before we got to Twin Lakes, I was bonked. Ian had found a campsite in some big trees, and I was glad to quit for the day. We had hiked about 10 miles. We were below the trail to Sawmill Pass, maybe 3 miles short of Twin Lakes.  Zoom and his crew were headed to Twin Lakes, so we consoled ourselves that our camp site was uncrowded. We were camped about 100′ from a busy mountain stream, so I took my filthy long sleeve nylon shirt down to the creek, and put in a rocky pocket, weighted down by a rock. I left it in the spin cycle, hoping it would be sparkling clean the next morning. My light tan shirt was filthy with dirt, even though I had washed it with soap about every other day.

Day 10: The next morning, my shirt was pretty clean, but still dirty looking. Don’t bring light tan clothes. Jim’s identical shirt, but a dark gray in color, looked nice and clean by contrast. We got going slowly, and headed to Pinchot Pass.  I don’t remember this pass as hard, I just put it in low gear and seemed to float up the pass. Our packs were a little lighter than when going over Glen Pass, the hardest butt kicker to far. Far harder than Forester. The alpine pools below Pinchot Pass were beautiful.


We got to the pass at the same time as Luke and Ian, and also met Yoshihiro Murakami, aka Hiro, aka aLow Gear, and his photographer companion. Hiro has done a tremendous amount of hiking around the world. and I think he has done the JMT or parts of it several times. Their packs looked incredibly heavy, with big camera gear.


I remembered we had taken a picture of the same spot in 1971, so I created the shot as best I could. Below, me in 2016 on Pinchot Pass, with Lake Marjorie behind.


Below: Chuck Ringrose on Pinchot Pass, 1971.

day 20.1a Chuck Ringrose on Pinchot Pass

From Pinchot pass, we headed down past Lake Marjorie, down to the So. Fork of the Kings River and up the Kings River, destination as close to Mather Pass as we could get. Where we crossed the King River I stepped on a rock that rolled, and I fell backwards with my legs all twisted. I lay there for a second and thought “I might have hurt something in that little slip.” I upclipped my pack belt, got my shoulder straps off, and untwisted my legs. I lay on the grass nearby for  5 minutes or so, and finally concluded that I was OK.

We got to about the 10,500′ elevation, and Ian found us a nice campsite. We had hiked about 11.5 miles today, and reached camp at 5 pm. Jim and I had started at 7 am, Luke and Ian started at 10. Jim and I had swam in the Kings River at a lower elevation, and Jim swam near our camp.

below: setting up camp on the Kings River, 10,500′:

Timelapse of clouds at camp on Kings River:

We again saw Hiro and friend as they passed through on the trail. Their packs were huge, and heavy.

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Day 11: Today took us over Mather Pass, to the beautiful Palisade Lakes. Below: stream south of Mather Pass.


South of Mather Pass.


Below:from the top of Mather Pass looking down at Palisade Lakes.


As we got close to Palisade Lake, it started to rain. The picture below is near where we camped, above the upper Palisade Lake.


It started to rain and hail at 2:45, so we decided to camp a little short of our mileage goal, but it was a beautiful area. We probably did 8 miles today. We decided that if it rained on future days, we needed to put on rain gear and keep going. We had pasta carbonarra with bacon tonight.  Very delicious.

Day 12: Jim and I took off to get to Big Pete Meadow today, and I didn’t see the Wilnerds all day. Below: our last look back at Palisade Lake.


We went down the Golden Staircase, and had some easy and fast hiking on Palisade Creek.


I caught up with Zoom and his group of 11 paying clients at Grouse Meadow, about 10 miles into the day.


Below: Zoom and crew at Grouse Meadow.



I kept going in light rain to Big Pete Meadow, for a total day’s mileage of 12 miles. Jim showed up in a bit, and said he had seen the Wilnerds earlier in the day, but not lately. It rained a bit but not really hard.  We cooked dinner in the rain shadow of a tree, on a wood fire. A doe and her fawn were pretty comfortable around the meadow and camp. Jim hiked back to see if he ran into the Wilnerds, and found them camped about 4 miles back. So he added 8 miles to his mileage today.

Day 13: We waited for about 2 hours for the Wilnerds to show up, then headed for Muir Pass. This part of the trail was new to me, because in our 1971 trip we had to head out to Lake Sabrina after hitting Evolution Lake. I was very excited to break the Muir Pass curse, and get to Evolution Lake via Muir Pass. Below: headed up from Big Pete Mdw.


climbing climbing climbing


The sweet taste of victory, topping out at the Muir Trail hut. We were on top at 2:30.


Below: our gang at the hut.


Below: the gazelles heading down from Muir Pass, headed to Evolution Lake.


Below: Evolution Lake, after a 12 mile day. Jim and I washed clothes, and had scalloped potatoes with bacon.


Below: time lapse over Evolution Lake

The Milky Way from Evolution Lake. I’m still learning this photo skill.  My problem is getting sharp focus.


Day 14: We would head toward Muir Trail Ranch, but likely would not make it all the way there.  We forded the creek at the lower part of Evolution Meadow.


Luke was especially keen on getting to MTR before 5, as he seemed to be starving to death. He hiked on ahead, hoping to get access to the hiker bins where hikers put their excess food and supplies. We found the famous John Muir rock, but the angle of the light made the inscription very hard to read. It says “1917 Muir Trail”. My shirt is quite a bit cleaner than Jim’s by the way.


The rest of us got to MTR there a little later, and found a camping spot in a public camping area near the river, and about half a mile from the MTR gate.  This had been a 15 mile day, and I felt pretty good. Luke got to the hiker buckets before the 5 pm cut off and scored several energy bars.

After we had dinner we headed down to the river, forded it, and searched for Blayney Hot Springs. We searched all over the place, and finally returned to a black mud hole we had passed up earlier as being too filthy for immersion. We put one foot in the dark and muddy water, and decided to take a mud bath. The temperature was perfect, it was about 4′ deep, and we soaked until our fingerprints were pruny. Tomorrow we would walk through the gates of Muir Trail Ranch where they would sing songs for us and throw rose petals on us, and we could have a hot shower and hot food in the evening, and sleep in a real bed.



First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Third Section, MTR to Reds Resort

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan







John Muir Trail 2016, 3rd Section: MTR to Reds Mountain Resort

JMT 2016: 3rd (4 days), Muir Trail Ranch to Reds Resort

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Fourth Section, Reds to Tuollumne

Day 15: Our camp was in a backpacker pigsty about .25 miles from Muir Trail Ranch (MTR).  It was a pigsty because behind every tree was a cluster of toilet paper and poop. Absolutely gross. We had breakfast, and headed over to the MTR entrance. MTR has a fence around it, and a gate that said “Open at 8, closed at 5″ or something like that. We were on time, so we walked in. There were several log buildings there which were a shed for managing hiker buckets, an office, a dining hall, and a residence and some employee dorms. There was also a grassy area with a table and a shade tarp, and benches on one side with buckets filled with donated food from hikers. The food was free to any hiker. There was a whole bucket of oatmeal, one for bars (granola, energy, breakfast, etc), one for Peanut butter, one for drinks, one for dinners. Maybe 10 buckets with food in them. There was also a corral, and stable, because MTR is primarily a horse ranch.  People stay in the cabins, and go on horse rides with a cowboy and a bunch of other guests on horses.


We had reserved a tent cabin for Jim and I, and Luke and Ian had the neighboring tent cabin. The tent cabins has two beds, electricity, a wooden floor, and a small table. Super deluxe compared to sleeping with your face in the dirt. Jim and I took a shower first in a different small building, with hot water and soap! Then we took our clothes over to a clothes washing area where they had water in a hose, laundry soap, and some manual washing devices. The water ran brown out of our clothes for several wash cycles, and the clothes were “cleaner” but not “clean”.  We hung up our clothes on a clothes line.


We had no plans till dinner time, when we heading to the dining hall with about 20 other paying guests. They don’t sell dinners to backpackers passing by, only to paying overnight guests, which we were. A kitchen crew of about 4 made the meal, which was turkey burgers, fries, and a salad. If they made burgers for passing hikers, they’d make a million bucks a day.


In the evening we went to the lodge and Jim found a guitar there, and played a few songs.


They had a fenced spa next to the dining hall, and the water was about 3′ deep, and maybe 106 degrees.  That is HOT, but wonderful for short soaks. Jim went in at 1 am, and I woke up when he got back and went in at 2 am.  Its was incredibly wonderful.

Day 16: We jumped out of bed to get the breakfast in the morning, and pigged out on blueberry scones, eggs and ham, coffee, and juice. They also had sliced bread and we made a sandwich for lunch on the trail.  Then we headed to our cabins, and packed up and hit the trail.


The goal for the day was Selmer Pass, and the incredible Lake Marie on the other side of the pass. We heard a helicopter at a meadow on the way to Selmer Pass, and learned that an old guy had died of a heart attack, and his son had hiked in to see him off on the helicopter. The way up Selmer pass was gorgeous, and the view of Lake Marie was awesome.

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Below, Lake Marie and scraggly Bob


When we got to Lake Marie, I was more tired than usual. I had picked up a cold, and was very fatigued from the cold. In camp I just lay down for awhile and Jim set up the tent and got some Miso soup in me. We had hiked about 8 miles to Lake Marie, and gained about 3000′ of elevation.

Day 17: We headed for Quail Meadow today, a 12 mile day.


From Lake Marie we headed down to Bear Creek, forded it, and continued along it for quite a while. Then we gained a heck of a lot of elevation to cross the waterless Bear Ridge, Then then down the other side for what seemed like forever.  We crossed Mono Creek on a nice steel bridge, and then instead of taking a left to Quail Meadow, we took a right and shortly found a camp in the woods. The Wilnerds, whom we had not seen all day, found us shortly before dark .

Day 18: From camp we headed toward Silver Pass, which was about 4.9 miles and 2800′. We were on the pass at 2 pm. We passed the beautiful Silver Pass Lake, and headed toward Tully Hole.  My gas tank ran empty before we reached Tully Hole, and we camped along Fish Creek.  The Willnerds had gone ahead to Purple Lake, and Jim and I camped by ourselves. I decided this night that the cold was draining my energy too severely, and I would go home at Reds Mountain Resort. I was OK with that decision. Total mileage for the day: 10 miles. Below: lake before Silver Pass.


Day 19: I knew I was going to be slow today from the cold. I asked Jim to hike ahead to Reds to get there before the store closed, and if they had any cold medicine to hike back and meet me on the trail. He stayed with me as we climbed about 1200′ out of Tully hole, past Lake Virginia, and on to Purple Lake. There we saw the Wilnerds and just kept going. Jim left me there, promising to bring some cold medicine back. Below: Lake Virginia


Below: Stream below Lake Virginia


From Purple lake the trail was slightly downhill, sandy for the most part, and I cruised along in a daze. The Wilnerds passed me, and close to Reds I passed them as they lay down to take a nap.  In another mile or so I met Jim as he was coming back for me, with cough drops. He took my pack, and to my surprise I was only about a mile behind him, so we reached Reds in 3/4 mile. We dropped our packs and went in to the cafe and ordered hamburgers and shakes. They didn’t have French fries.  Shortly Luke and Ian joined us, and we had another pig out. The post office had the resupply buckets we had mailed to them, and we found our way to the backpacker campground. Later we went back to the area of the cafe and took showers and washed clothes.  Jim and I had hiked 18 miles this day.  I said that if I can hike 18 miles, I can do another 3 days of hiking and get to the car at Tuollumne.

First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Fourth Section, Reds to Tuollumne

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

John Muir Trail 2016, 4th Section: Reds to Tuollumne

Our gear is listed here

Preparation for the hike

JMT Food Plan

First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Third Section, MTR to Reds Mountain Resort

Below: our first night destination, Thousand Island Lake


 Day 20: Clean and happy, we had breakfast at the cafe at Reds Mountain Resort. It was wonderful, and we carboloaded for a few more days of strenuous hiking. We took a short bus ride to Agnew Meadow, and started hiking there at 9:45, saving a few miles of uneventful trail around Devils Postpile. We had hiked the same route to Thousand Island Lake in 2015, and it was just about as tiring as then. When we got to the Lake at 4 pm, we had a few hours before dark, and found a campsite a quarter mile or so counter clockwise from the outlet. It was a bit windy, but calmed down as it got dark.  This short but tiring day was about 7 miles, and 1800′ of elevation gain.


Day 21: Jim and I headed for Island Pass, which was so gentle it was hard to tell where the pass was. Donahue was more of a challenge, and Luke and Ian caught up and passed us just before the 9900′ Donahue Pass. We had phone service there, and we all had a chat with somebody at home. Jim and I left and headed down the other side, and left the Willnerds on the top, and we found out later that they were talking to their Mom.  Below: sunrise over Thousand Island Lake.

Below: our last look at Thousand Island Lake and Mt. Banner.


below: close to Island Pass.


Before: Island Pass area


Below: a little closer to Donahue Pass.


Jim and I reached the Lyell Fork of the Tuollumne River, crossed, and followed the trail down the Lyell Canyon. The valley, lakes and river were beautiful. I ran out of gas at about 9800′ level and we camped.  An hour or so later the Willnerds showed up, and we ate our last trail dinner.  Below: Lyell Fork looking back at Donahue Pass.


Day 22: We lost some elevation to get to the lower elevation of the river, then followed the meandering river toward Tuollumne. It was flat easy trail, and I think we hiked 8 or 10 miles to the road. First we hit trails with lots of non-hiker looking folks of all ages, from infants to old folks in wheel chairs.


Below: Lyell Fork of Tuollumne River


Below: more Lyell Fork.


First Section, Cottonwood to Rae Lakes

Second Section, Rae Lakes to MTR

Third Section, MTR to Reds Mountain Resort

John Muir Trail, 1971, Preparation

1st week of hiking: Tuollumne Mdw to Reds Resort In 1971 my younger brother Mike and I planned a 28 day trip on the JMT, with 12 people. Some people might be interested in our trip as a view into backpacking practices, philosophy, and technology in those days. Current travelers on the JMT have seriously […]

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John Muir Trail 1971 first week: Tuollumne Mdw to Reds Meadow Resort

JMT 1971 Preparation 2nd week of hiking: Reds to South Lake 1st week: Tuolumne Meadows to Reds Meadow Resort: By late afternoon, we had all regrouped and departed from the trailhead near the Tuolumne Meadows campground. We were filled with anticipation of the adventure that lay ahead and yet also trepidation as to whether we […]

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John Muir Trail, 1971, Second week, Reds to South Lake

Preparation 1st week: Tuollumne to Reds Second week, JMT 1971 After we got our food supplies at the Reds Meadow Resort food drop we had to pack our trail lunches, which included meat (salted and sliced dried beef ) from a glass jar, a chunk of cheese about 3″ x  2″ x 2″, one chunk […]

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John Muir Trail, 1971, 3rd week, South Lake to Onion Valley

Preparation 1st week: Tuollumne to Reds 2nd week: Reds to South Lake 3rd Week: South Lake to Onion Valley Conrad and Steve were pissed that the whole group except them had gone down the road to a cafe, and pigged out on wonderful food.  To make it up to them they were promised a free […]

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John Muir Trail, 1971, 4th week, Onion Valley to Whitney Portal

Preparation 1st week: Tuollumne to Reds 2nd week: Reds to South Lake 3rd Week: South Lake to Onion Valley 4th Week: Onion Valley to Whitney Portal Day 22: After the drunken blowout at the Onion Valley cafe, the next morning we went in the cars of Ken Primmer, my folks and Kevin’s family to Big […]

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Restoring a vintage knife

I found a way to turn a $10 knife into a $20 knife, using about $10 worth of brass Corby bolts and some mountain mahogany wood slabs.  This project didn’t make sense economically, but it was fun and turned out nicely.  This knife was part of a three knife set which I received as a […]

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JMT Food Plan

Doing the JMT is easy.  Selecting the gear is easy if you have been backpacking some.  The hard part is logistics and choosing and packing food, which is the subject of this post.  For our 2016 JMT, we had a 7 day section that we’d start with seven days of food in our packs from […]

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Sapphire Lake in Idaho’s White Cloud Range

I got to go with our old scout troop, Troop 100 in Boise, for an October hike to the White Cloud Range. The first night we camped at the car, and my tent was glistening with ice crystals when I went to bed. I think it got to the low 20s that night.  Below: the […]

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The Sawtooth High Route

We got to experience another trip in the Sawtooths this August.  Joining my wife Tuckie and I were daughters Ciera and Laura, Laura’s boyfriend Jason, and long time hiking boddy Kevin and his lovely wife Suzanne. Kevin and Suzanne got a head start as we were delayed by detours caused by the Pioneer fire.  They […]

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JMT 2016 Gear List

My gear is ever changing, but for the JMT hike it was pretty similar to this group of gear.  This photo is Jim’s gear, which includes the tent we shared.  I carried the stove and cookset.  We both carried solar panels and batteries, also bear canisters, chairs, and similar clothes.  The base weight (gear in […]

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