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Re: JMT '14 - Day 0/1 - Monsoon Madness

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JMT '14 - Day 0/1 - Monsoon Madness
August 04, 2014 08:37PM
Day 0/1: July 14/15, 2014

We--especially JKW--had spent many weeks carefully planning for our two-week JMT adventure. She had reserved the largest cabin at Reds Meadow and a room in Lone Pine a dozen or so days later, and she had shipped resupply boxes and buckets (3 of each) to Reds and Muir Trail Ranch with carefully-measured allocations of food and other supplies. She even had our trailhead permits for Mono Pass reserved - just in case the walk up for Lyell fell through.

The original idea was for a small group to do the JMT: just JKW, M, and me. This would be M's third backpacking trip, but she was a strong hiker and came with equally strong endorsements. (The idea of doing the JMT had in fact started on the hike out from Ten Lakes Pass...) JKW had asked if others were interested, and in fact several were--and could take the time off to do the hike. So we ended up with nine people in our party--although there would never be more than seven at a time due to different start and end dates.

We were joined by the H party: J and L, also strong hikers. (JKW had meet J while the latter was at REI researching the JMT...) The H party would start in the valley to do the entire JMT, and a friend of theirs would join for the Tuolumne to Reds Meadow stretch. And A, who had done the JMT with JKW and me in 2008 and 2010, was also able to join. P--who had joined us last year for JKW's birthday hike at Moose--would be joining us at (or just past) Reds Meadow. And while E would not be able to start the hike with us, he was with us when we staged on Monday and would be joining us at Kearsarge--as he had done in 2010. We wouldn't always travel as a single group, but we had generally-agreed-upon campsites, and (when we could keep them charged) we had radios to keep in contact with. We did plan on all converging at our reserved cabin at Reds Meadow in three days, and we planned on summiting Whitney and exiting Whitney Portal on the same dates.

(And no, I don't know why I try to anonymize the names of those in our party--I'm sure some combination of Google's facial recognition and Facebook's omniscience will uncover the identities of all involved...)

One thing was out of our control: the weather. As our starting day neared, the forecast was for monsoonal moisture for the first few days of our trip. As we got closer to the start, the number of rainy days kept increasing, as did the percentage chance of rain or thunderstorms. At first, the rain was supposed to end by Friday, then by Saturday, then by Sunday, and the initial 20% chance became a 50% certainty.

When we arrived at the permit station in Tuolumne Meadows, there were few people in line for next-day permits, perhaps due to the weather, or the fact that we have rarely been at the permit office on a weekday. We decided to change our permits to the more traditional (for the JMT) Lyell Canyon trailhead. Since we had three days to get to Reds Meadow, this would allow us to stop short of Donahue Pass if the weather was bad; the original Mono Pass itinerary would have required that we go over Koip Peak Pass late in the afternoon, when the chance of thunderstorms was at its greatest. E, A, and I had been caught in a terrific thunderstorm below Koip Peak Pass a few years ago; we had no desire to go over the pass in similar conditions.

Permits secured, we spend the rest of the day in the campground hanging out and doing final packing. There's always a bit of last-minute anxiety: Do we have enough fuel? Were the food consumption estimates right? Did we have enough wet-weather gear. Through out the afternoon light showers fell on us, and several times we heard thunder echo through the mountains.



The next morning, after JKW acquired one final piece of gear I'd left behind (a white "High Sierra Camps Loop" bandana--the same type I'd carried on most other trips), we were ready to hit the trail.


Yes, three cameras--where do you think these pictures come from?

The hike up Lyell Canyon was pleasant. There is no significant elevation gain for the first 9 miles, and the sky was mostly clear, with just light clouds.



The H party, and their "plus one", had camped past the Ireland Creek junction; they hit the trail not too long before we reached their campsite



We all converged on a rest area at the end of the "flat" portion of Lyell Canyon where we had a snack and JKW soaked in the creek.



Not soon after leaving this pleasant spot, we were hit with sprinkles: the 30% chance of showers was now officially 100%.



We put on our pack covers and rain jackets, but the rain was never more than a sprinkle as we attacked the first significant climb of the day up the Lyell Canyon headwall. The cool weather was in fact welcome during the climb. We headed up towards the bridge, then crossed it and continued to the second crossing. Just short of this second crossing the intensity of the rain increased, and we set up our shelter to wait out the storm. From the shelter we had excellent views of the small lake above the second crossing and the Mt. Lyell complex. The clouds over Donahue Pass were dark, and we didn't need to risk the weather and get over the pass that day.



From the safety and dryness of our shelter we could watch the clouds drift past Mt. Lyell, and after perhaps an hour or so, the rain let up and the clouds lifted a bit.



Just after a few other parties had decided to camp near us, we debated whether to stay at our nice site for the night or head on. We decided to take advantage of the momentary break in the weather and push for the pass. We could easily have camped where we were and still made Reds Meadow in time, but we decided it was better to hike whenever the weather allowed, just in case.

The climb to the third crossing was mostly dry....



...and the worst of the weather seemed to be to our north, over Tuolumne Meadows--and the Kuna Crest that we'd chosen to bypass. The skies were surprisingly light over Mt. Lyell.



We crossed Lyell Fork for the last time before starting the final climb to Donahue Pass.



Not long thereafter, we left Yosemite and entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness; we wouldn't return to Yosemite for two weeks.



We decided to camp somewhere near the Marie Lakes junction; as we approached this area, the rain returned. In the distance we could see the "back" of Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter.



Fortunately the rain let up by the time we were at camp, where we found a reasonably flat sandy area surrounded by granite--our favorite kind of campsite.



The monsoon had slowed us down for an hour or two on our first day, but other than a few light sprinkles we had managed to stay dry; we were safely under our shelter during the only significant downpour we'd experienced. The next two days would be short--A and I had done more distance in a single day during our 2008 JMT hike--so we all felt that we could manage the monsoonal system--as long as it started to taper off after we were south of Reds Meadow. Past Reds, we would have to make several long days to stay on schedule.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/04/2014 08:45PM by basilbop.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 0/1 - Monsoon Madness
August 04, 2014 09:15PM
Thoughts/comments:
  • M's trip - this trip was for M. She wanted to do it this year. I'd been on the fence, and when I mentioned I was thinking about doing the JMT she asked if I'd do it with her. I didn't really hesitate and said yes... I wondered why I was going to put myself through the ringer again, but I really wanted a long walk. Heck of a year for me, as some of you know. I was craving a long hard walk! She was eminently capable physically, but wanted to do it with me and A for a variety of reasons, and for that, I'm very lucky. She was an awesome partner to have on the trail. Her enthusiasm was so contagious; her good nature lifted me every single moment of every single day. THANK YOU, M! It really was not a birthday trip for me. It just turned out that way because of M's and H's schedule and the one fixed date we had to work with: Red's Meadow's availability. Guess I should thank Red's for having a hand in my Whitney birthday!
  • Weather dictates - Even before we left home, we realized the weather was going to play a part. And M understood that if things got ugly, we would, for safety's sake, bail on the trip and do it some other time. We didn't want to do this, but we didn't want to have an "epic" adventure ("epic" as I'd learned it - survivable, but not fun).
  • Happy Hiking - So we headed out with a positive attitude about working with the weather and letting it dictate our pace (Not that I could speed up, but that we would slow down and/or shelter as necessary.) There really wasn't any worry about the weather, we just watched it and worked with it. We were prepared and we actually enjoyed it.
  • Must Eat - only major mistake of the trip, and thankfully on the first day - when we sheltered below Donahue for the storm to pass, I did not eat. I had a plan with my food, but I had not figured out what to do when sitting for an hour. That hadn't been in my calculations. That made starting up for the climb over Donahue a bit painful until the food caught back up in my system. I never made this mistake again on the trip, so I'm glad it happened when it did!
  • Why July? - Schedules. And knowing that the water levels were already low. A and P were wondering why during what is typically the worst mosquito and weather time during the summer... but it's also got the really long days which make for leisurely hiking, the ability to stop and wait out a downpour, and still make it to camp in light and enjoy the evening. 12+ hours of sunlight buys you a lot of easy freedom. And it worked. Skeeters really weren't that bad the entire trip. I was armed with my own personal 6 ounce can of DEET and I had told everyone I wasn't sharing. I'm extremely susceptible to bites and I wasn't taking chances. Our clothes had been treated with Permethrin, my headnet was in my hip belt pocket and the DEET within easy reach. And I finished with about half a can! smiling smiley And as you can see in the pics, the water was great, but so were the flowers. Prettiest I've seen in a long time. The few pics in the album only scratch the surface.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/04/2014 09:18PM by JustKeepWalking.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 0/1 - Monsoon Madness
August 05, 2014 08:41AM
Sweet! I've been looking forward to your reports since you posted that you were doing the JMT. I'm enjoying the first day and looking forward to more.
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