John Muir Trail Revisited (1) 08-Sep-2022

Johnston Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, CA

Ah, 2020. Who can forget how much fun that year was? {insert sarcasm here} While we managed to not get laid low by COVID, it did obliterate all of our travel plans for that year. Save one.

We’d booked a six-day, mule-supported hike in the High Sierras months before COVID struck and, to our surprise, that trip did not cancel. So we went ahead with it. Although we experienced some drama – but none virus-related – and some wildfire smoke, it was a fun experience – particularly since we’d not used pack stock before.

We thought our friends might like to try mule-supported hiking too, so we organized a private trip (with Rock Creek Pack Station) for 2021. Our plan called for stately progress from Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows on the John Muir (JMT) and Pacific Crest (PCT) Trails. But when one of our friends who intended to go on this trip was diagnosed with a serious medical issue – one that required immediate attention – we had to cancel. 😧 But the plan lived on…

So, after their medical issue had been successfully addressed, we pitched a mule-supported hike for 2022. Our friends Wayne and Diane, his sister Bonnie and her husband Jim signed-on, as did we. We arranged with the Rock Creek Pack Station for a 7-day/6-night trip for six from Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows. Our itinerary was intentionally planned to start slow and mellow then build toward longer days and higher passes as we approached Tuolumne Meadows.

Back in 1972, a friend and I tried to do the whole JMT in just two weeks (his vacation). We made it from Yosemite Valley to Piute Canyon (about half way) before a too heavy pack, heavy boots, poor food, and long, long hiking days did me in. Today, with ultralight gear, better food options, and access to resupply points, two weeks isn’t (necessarily) unreasonable. But 50 years ago we were clearly kidding ourselves (or at least I was). πŸ™„

So hiking this section of the JMT (the longest it doesn’t share with the PCT) – albeit without a backpack and with way better food – was as sort of a sentimental journey for me. It was also likely to be my last time on the JMT and maybe a last visit to the High Sierra that I’ve cherished for half a century.


Day 1: Reds Meadow to Johnston Lake

We parked our cars in Shuttle Lot B near the Mammoth Mountain Lodge and then the outfitter (Rock Creek) shuttled us down to the pack station at Reds Meadow, within Devils Postpile National Monument.

Here we met the people (and animals) who would make this trip possible: Jacob, our wrangler, and Kelly Kate (“KK”), our cook. Jacob’s horse and mule handling skills were superb and KK’s meals were amazingly excellent – some of the best we’ve ever had out in the wild. πŸ˜‹ Together, they dealt with some bad weather and vague directions to give us a successful and memorable trip. 😁

Mules waiting to be loaded

As our gear was being loaded on the mules, we started on the 4.0 mile (6.5 km), 750 foot (229 m) climb, across Minaret Creek, to Johnston Lake. This was intended as an easy day for us and Johnston Lake was the closest place along the JMT that permitted a stock camp.

And so it begins…

After working our way through the various trails near the pack station, we connected with the JMT/PCT and headed north on what had become a sunny, but hot, day. About 2 sweaty miles (3.2 km) in, the JMT and PCT diverge and we swung northwest on to the longest single stretch of trail that the JMT does not share with the PCT.

Crossing the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River
San Joaquin River, California
Middle Fork, San Joaquin River
On the JMT/PCT
Devils Postpile National Monument, California
Postpiles – columns of basalt
Hiking on the John Muir Trail, California
Upward on the JMT
Minaret Creek
Johnston Lake
The lake is on its way to becoming a marsh or a bog

By the time we reached the lake, the sky was suddenly looking a bit sketchy, what with dark clouds and all. So when the pack string arrived about an hour or so after we did, we immediately set up our tents and got our gear undercover. Which was good because a light rain soon started and carried on for a couple of hours. Not a lot (this time) – just enough to settle the dust.

Rain on the waters
The sky begins to clear
Alpine Gentian

The rain soon moved on, sunlight and warmth returned, and we gathered around the kitchen for a chat and dinner. It was delightfully bucolic, if not slightly decadent. πŸ˜‰ But, thanks to this being yet another La NiΓ±a year and the remnants of Pacific Hurricane Kay, we would, in the days ahead, come to cherish the memory of these dry, warm gatherings near the kitchen.

Sunshine returns
Around the kitchen for dinner
From Reds Meadow to Johnston Lake on the PCT/JMT, then just the JMT
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6 thoughts on “John Muir Trail Revisited (1) 08-Sep-2022

  1. It sounds like a fabulous adventure! I love that Sierra Nevada landscape.

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  2. It’s like a rafting trip, except with 4 legs. πŸ˜‰ Mules carry the heavy stuff and someone else cooks your meals – possibly decadent, but hard not to like. 😊 But it’s a way to get far into the backcountry without having to carry a heavy pack – which, sadly, is getting increasingly difficult for some of us.

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  3. What a great adventure! The chairs under the kitchen tarp caught my eye, no crawling off the ground. I have never been on a pack stock trip so I am looking forward to reading more about yours.

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