Welcome to The Go-Lighters' John Muir Trail Adventure Page!
We're glad you came. This page records the trip that Dennis, Llona, and John Rowell took in July 2000 on the John Muir Trail route.
On July 12, at 9:40 AM, we started at Glacier Point. With each of us carrying less than 25 pounds, the plan was to finish the 212-mile trip in a leisurely 20 days. We had arranged a food drop-off at Vermillion Valley Resort, which is roughly one-third of the way down the trail. We had chosen to begin at Glacier Point because it, in contrast to the traditional Happy Isles trailhead, is for the most part downhill. In addition, it is much less crowded and all the permits for Happy Isles were taken. But avoiding the steep climb from Happy Isles didn't mean it was going to be easy. It takes time to get acclimated to the altitude and accustomed to the terrain. So, amidst spectacular views of Vernal and Nevada falls, and the surrounding mountains, we began our hike. We crossed Vernal Falls and headed over to closeby Little Yosemite Valley. Deciding to make this a short day, that's where we set up camp. The campground at Little Yosemite Valley is served by a large solar composting toilet and a river that is several yards away.
Choosing to forego the climb up Half-Dome, popular with many hikers, we instead headed for Long Meadow the following day. A tall ridge separates Little Yosemite Valley from Long Meadow, and we spent a large part of the day climbing this ridge. Sunrise High Sierra Camp is located just above the meadow. We decided to set up camp early and spend the night at the hikers' campground located right next to the High Sierra Camp. The High Sierra Camp opened up the day we left.
Early the next morning, we headed out from Long Meadow bound for Tuolumne Meadows. After climbing over a saddle, we began descending past the Cathedral Lakes. Although beautiful, they were swarming with mosquitos. Leaving the lakes, the trail slowly becomes sandy and the descent steeper.
Finally we arrived at Tuolumne Meadows, where we had a meal and bought some bagels to carry with us. We took a free shuttle bus the mile or two to where the trail resumes. Then we entered Lyell Canyon. Following the Lyell Fork Tuolumne River, we continued on to Lyell Base Camp, where we arrived at about sunset. The bears here are awful. Although we were not bothered by them, many other hikers were. Setting up camp quickly, we slept well after a long day.
Waking up to find a thick mist covering the vegetation in the canyon, we started up towards Donahue Pass. A short time after starting, we look back and see Lyell Base Camp below. After crossing a footbridge over Lyell Fork, a great view of Lyell Glacier awaits, but mosquito protection is a must in this little meadow. The view from Donahue Pass is lacking. We descended from Donahue Pass alongside Rush Creek's headwaters, then ascended toward Island Pass. There we camped, just below Island Pass.
To start the day off, we hiked the few yards from our campsite to Island Pass. The first thing that meets our eyes is majestic Mount Ritter. At this point, the trail winds around several lakelets, with Mount Ritter always visible at the right. Soon we begin descending to Thousand Island Lake, occasionally seeing a section through the trees. When we reach the lake, the reason for its name becomes obvious. The reflection of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter seen in the lake is dotted by numerous tiny islands.
Crossing the lake's outlet, we continue past lovely Emerald Lake and Ruby Lake, then climb a small hill before descending to Thousand Island Lake's twin sister, Garnet Lake. Glaciated Banner Peak dwarfs this large lake. Leaving this lake, we cross over a unique footbridge, then climb once more before passing several more lakes. Among them are Lakes Ediza, Shadow, Rosalie, Gladys and the Trinity lakelets. Eventually we reached the Devils Postpile area and Reds Meadow, losing about two thousand feet in the process. While at Reds Meadow, I learned how to stuff bulging packages of FunYuns and SunChips into my backpack (these would come in handy later on). We also managed to replenish our insides at their Café. What a relief to enjoy a good meal at the end of our longest day of the trip!
Slowly gaining back most of the elevation we lost the previous day, we had time to contemplate the results of the 1992 Rainbow Fire, caused by lightning. Visible along the mountainside to our right, this fire came within yards of the Reds Meadow Resort before heroic fire-fighters could stop its spread. Along a section of the trail, Mammoth Mountain is visible to the left.
Continuing on, we gradually ascended a ridge amidst magnificent views. Eventually we reached Purple Lake, where we camped. An important note is in store here: at the unsigned junction next to the lake, you turn left to reach the campsites, but you must backtrack to the junction and turn the other direction to return to the JMT.
Leaving Purple Lake behind, we climbed up a ridge where we could look down at a small pond, then descended shortly to impressive Virginia Lake. This enormous lake is just as beautiful as it is large.
All too soon, we had to leave this lake and go on. Soon the trail begins switchbacking down to Tully Hole, then crosses roaring Fish Creek on a sturdy bridge before climbing up to Silver Pass. This long climb is guarded by fleets of mosquitos at certain times of the year, such as when we took the trip. Arriving at Squaw Lake (elev. 10,300 feet), we took off our mosquito head-nets and relaxed while eating lunch. Shortly before arriving at the lake, the mosquitos had stopped pestering us. Leaving Squaw Lake, we continued past windy Chief Lake and climbed the last short stretch to Silver Pass, elev. 10,900 feet. The views from here are incredible.
Descending from Silver Pass, we passed Silver Pass lake, with a view in front of us all the time. Soon we level out briefly at Pocket Meadow. Immediately we follow North Fork Mono Creek on a switchbacking descent while the creek takes the fast way down, cascading over the cliff at the edge of the meadow. The North Fork Mono Creek crossing here is deep. We turned off the JMT and continued on about a mile to Quail Meadow, at the end of enormous Edison Lake, camping there after a full day.
The next day, we hiked around the lake to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) to pick up the resupply package we had mailed over and enjoy a meal. The meals at the café there are awesome. Such a selection, and a great vegetarian selection as well! By the time we left VVR, it was in the afternoon, so we returned to camp at Quail Meadow.
That proved to be a bad choice, for Quail Meadow is notorious for problem bear. Early in the morning of Day 9, a bear took some of our food and I had to go all the way back to Vermillion to replenish what we lost. When I returned to camp, we hiked back to meet the JMT, and headed up Bear Ridge. Along this ridge there is no water (make sure you bring plenty before starting up it) and there are numerous trees which have fallen on the trail. Nearing the top of the ridge, after more than 2200 feet elevation gain, the trail levels out and eventually starts descending. All the while we are on the same side of the mountain and any views are obstructed by trees. You can't even see Edison Lake from the JMT! Did I mention there's no water? Anyway, about this point the trail descends, the views open up, and we begin to notice water trickling down in a few places. Also we pass through some Aspen groves along the descent. The trail goes down to the canyon of Bear Creek, where we camped. There is a convenient detour around Bear Ridge that I would strongly recommend.
The morning of Day 10 brought a bunch of mosquitos, and then a ford through West Fork Bear Creek. The trail begins climbing from here, and the mosquitos ease up. We passed Lou Beverly lake and soon, Marie Lake. From there, it was a short climb to Seldon Pass, elev. 10,800 feet. The views looking back from Seldon Pass are magnificent. From here, Marie Lake is readily visible with its many islands. We continued on past Heart Lake and went in between the Sallie Keyes Lakes. Then we switchbacked to the bottom of the canyon of the South Fork San Joaquin River. We camped at a large, comfortable campsite just beyond the Piute Creek crossing, at the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park.
We started off from the campsite following the South Fork San Joaquin River through the canyon. Before long we crossed a bridge and began the steep but fairly short climb up the canyon's east wall to Evolution Valley. At the side of the trail, Evolution Creek is visible, sometimes cascading, sometimes calm. Leveling out, we crossed a wide, slow river. Despite what the book recommends, we used the "official" JMT crossing without a problem. Hiking alongside beautiful Evolution Meadow and McClure Meadow is an unforgetable experience. Eventually the easy-going level trail transforms into one last climb before Evolution Lake.
Camping at Evolution Lake is an experience in itself. It's amazing how many stars are visible from this height! This high-elevation lake, unlike many along the trip, is surrounded by a few trees and grass that reaches to the lake's edge. It resembles a mirage and seems somehow out-of-place. Birds and marmots frequent the area. Choosing a campsite, we decided not to hang the Ursack, opting instead to simply set it on a rock. We figured bear would be unlikely here, so we only needed to protect our food from rodents. We were the only hikers camping at the lake; the other hikers continued on over Muir Pass, but we chose to make this a short day.
Climbing to Muir Pass brought us by several small lakes, such as lakes Sapphire, Wanda, and McDermond. From the pass, the last two are visible among snowfields and boulders. The terrain from Evolution Lake to this point is composed entirely of boulders. We ate lunch at Muir Hut, positioned right at the top of Muir Pass, elev. 11,955 feet. Heading down the other side, we passed treeless Helen Lake, then forded its shallow and small but dangerous outlet. Some of the hiking is done on snow at this point, and some on boulders.
Eventually we enter LeConte Canyon, home of the LeConte Ranger Station. It is here that we helped ourselves to a little food from the ranger's food donation box, since we were getting low. Then we went on past Big and Little Pete Meadows, continued past Grouse Meadow, and camped at the confluence of Middle Fork Kings River and Palisade Creek. A side note: although the book says camping is illegal at Grouse Meadow, the ranger assured us that is not true. If you're planning on camping there, check with the Park Service to make sure it's still legal.
We left our campsite to enter another canyon at our left and begin the long ascent to Mather Pass. The trail is basically level until we get to Deer Meadow. With several small stream crossings, it is marshy in areas. I saw a porcupine in this section of trail. Then the trail begins a tough climb up the Golden Staircase. Make sure you fill up on water before climbing the Golden Staircase; the next water, just below lower Palisade Lake, is a long tiring climb ahead. Reaching lower Palisade Lake is a huge relief, and a good excuse for a lunch stop. Continuing on, we pass upper Palisade Lake and start another tough climb to the pass. Mather Pass, elevation 12,100 feet, affords simultaneous views in both directions. Behind us, we can see the Palisade Lakes, and ahead we can see a long ways, clear into the canyon of the South Fork Kings River. Descending from the pass, we went by some lakelets and followed the small river most of the way to the canyon. We camped about a mile before the South Fork Kings River crossing.
Continuing on down the trail, it wasn't long before we arrived at the South Fork Kings River crossing. As soon as we finish crossing the river on a log, the trail climbs the low canyon wall and levels out where we see a junction to a ranger station at the side of a small lake. Continuing along the gradual trail, we pass several more lakes, each with a magnificent rock backdrop on one side and a spectacular view on the other. Reddish-colored rock is abundant in this area as well. As we pass by these lakes, the trail steepens in preparation for the final climb to Pinchot Pass. The ascent up Pinchot Pass going southbound is unusual in that it is so gradual. This is the highest pass on the trail before Forester Pass and Mt. Whitney, yet the climb to the top is probably the easiest. Upon reaching Pinchot Pass, we decided to refuel with some lemonade we had obtained in dried form at LeConte Ranger Station. Looking back from the pass, we could see the lakes we passed by along the gradual ascent, and looking forward we see even more views.
Leaving the pass, we approach the entrance to the canyon of Woods Creek, catching a glimpse of Twin Lakes on our left. Following Woods Creek as it slowly gets larger and we slowly lose elevation, we see the canyon slowly get bigger. As forest cover increases, we notice a waterfall on Woods Creek. There are occasional flowers scattered along the trail. Eventually we enter another canyon.
Where the two canyons join, Woods Creek cascades down a rock polished smooth over the years. Soon we reach a junction a trail to Cedar Grove Roadend. Intending to leave the JMT at this point, we couldn't resist taking a look at the bridge just a few feet farther on the JMT. This suspension bridge is not for those who easily get dizzy or are afraid of heights!
Returning to the junction, we left the JMT and headed on out. A ways down the trail, we take one last look back. We're going to miss this place, but at this point we miss our sofas and recliners more. The trail eventually takes us down to upper Paradise Valley, the first campground with bear boxes since upper Yosemite Valley, where we stayed the first night of the trip. During this 14th day, we experienced an elevation range from 12,130 feet to below 8,547 feet.
Waking up early in the morning, we catch a deer exploring camp. Leaving our campsite at upper Paradise Valley, we followed the steep trail parralleling Woods Creek. On this, our last day on the trip, we are no longer following the John Muir Trail. The sight of Mist Falls in the morning is amazing. Continuing down the trail, we came to a junction we recognized very well from numerous day-hikes. We hiked the remaining distance to the Cedar Grove Roadend, and a friend took us home.