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JMT '14 - Day 4 - Yes, Virginia

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JMT '14 - Day 4 - Yes, Virginia
August 14, 2014 07:39PM
Day 4: July 18, 2014

"Isn't this heaven?" she asked after offering me a bit of her peach. It could be... the monsoonal clouds and rain were nowhere to be found, I was surrounded by granite and tall mountains, the stream I had been in was warm and refreshing, and I was in the company of fit, willing, and enthusiastic hikers.

This very well could be a Sierra hiker's afterlife.

Perhaps my recovery a few days ago was an illusion... I pinched myself, but didn't really know how to interpret the results. I didn't suddenly wake up to the sound of rain pelting our shelter and thunder booming nearby.

I felt very much alive, I was where I wanted to be, and I was with the people I wanted to be with. That was good enough.

When we left Reds Meadow, a strong, cool breeze blew from the north. The sky was crystal clear, and the humidity of the previous days was absent.

We passed through more signs of the 2010 blowdown. From the saw marks it was clear that most of the hundreds (thousands?) of logs that had fallen across the trail had been cut by hand, not chainsaw.

We worked our way up the well-graded switchbacks to the Red Cones and Crater Meadow, where several people were camped. We asked if they had seen P, who had decided to hike ahead the previous day; they said a hiker with her description had passed quickly past where they were camped. (P too had a radio; we would later find out that hers had somehow lost its programming and was thus on the wrong frequency.)

The various small meadows along Crater Creek were very pleasant, with a surprising amount of water given the dry snow year. Soon, we passed the unmarked boundary between the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness, where we'd spend the next few days.

After awhile, we reached Deer Creek, where we stopped for an extended break. There were a few mosquitoes in this area, but nothing that a few puffs of deet couldn't deter.

Between Deer and Duck Creek is a segment that stays mostly in the trees, but through them it offers great views into Cascade Creek and, on our surprisingly clear day, all the way to Yosemite's southern mountains.

Across the valley was the rugged Silver Divide, which we'd have to cross tomorrow--one way or the another.

We met up with P just before Duck Creek, and eventually our entire group converged where the trail crosses the creek. We learned that the H party was carrying almost all the leftovers from Reds--include the above-mentioned peach; alas, we had missed the ice cream social they threw in part to celebrate a just-engaged couple. Several of us sat in the cool but refreshing water of Duck Creek to get some relief from the heat of the cloudless day; we were joined by a few other hikers seeking similar relief.

This rest stop was nice enough that we could have stayed there all afternoon (it was tempting...), but we still had two sizable climbs over the next handful of miles to Virginia Lakes--and it made sense to push as far as we could while the weather was nice, so we eventually packed up and resumed hiking.

The climb out of Duck Creek was steep, but fortunately not too hot or dusty.

After awhile, we dropped down to Purple Lake. Our cloudless skies had been too good to be true, and by this time clouds were forming above the taller mountains. They were not threatening rain--yet--but minor clouds can grown quickly into dark stormclouds in a matter of minutes in the mountains.

A was ahead to seek out and secure a campsite; JKW sent me ahead to join her since it was difficult to describe to A where JKW had camped in 2010 over the radio. Along the way I passed two young hikers who had passed earlier--one of whom we'd hike with a few days later. A had radioed to us that there were many people camped at the lake, but we did manage to find a very nice campsite and claimed it as home for the night.*

Virginia is the first lake we encountered since perhaps Garnet on the JMT that is a true High Sierra lake: granite, meadows, tall mountains. In many ways it is the start of the "real" JMT for southbound hikers; past this point, we'd be going over a sizable pass almost every day and passing numerous wonderful lakes, streams, and meadows. While the Sierra Crest would be miles to the east until we climbed into Evolution Basin, the tall mountains of the Silver and Mono divides are not insignificant.

After setting up the shelter and making sure all our food was secured, I joined the others who were swimming in the lake--a popular idea based on how many others were doing so. The water was cool, but not too uncomfortable. The clouds that had been threatening had started to clear, so the sun provided warmth once out of the water.

After our swim, we returned to our campsite for dinner, which we enjoyed as the sun disappeared beneath the nearby mountains, casting a reddish glow onto those across the lake.

The nighttime sky was cloudless, and with the near-new moon we could see the Milky Way clearly overhead as we went to sleep.

For whatever reason, the forecast had been wrong, and we were optimistic--perhaps too much so--that something had nudged the monsoonal moisture away from the mountains prematurely. This would be perfect since we were essentially starting the first "real" segment of the JMT tomorrow--a long day with a climb over a pass... or two.

The rain-free weather had put the third planned Sierra High Route segment--from Tully Hole to Mono Creek--back on the table, and four of us decided that we'd attempt that route, over Shout-of-Relief and Bighorn Passes; the other three would tackle Silver Pass. Either way, we'd get over the Silver Divide and converge at Mono Creek near the bridge.

* After JKW and I finished the JMT, we watched Mile... Mile and a Half. And we learned that on our hike, we had chosen our campsites inappropriately. Instead of pitching our tents on the nice grass right next to the trail and/or water source, we chose non-photogenic impacted sites well away from both the water and the trail. We have learned from this mistake and will endeavor to do better in the future.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 4 - Yes, Virginia
August 15, 2014 08:35AM
I've been looking forward to reading more, thanks for all the new trip reports. It looks fantastic.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 4 - Yes, Virginia
August 15, 2014 10:14AM
Oh, what a beautiful day it was! Reds had been lovely, absolutely perfect...sad to leave, but my little group left the H party at the cabin to give them more time to say goodbye to L, who was visiting from back east. What a way to visit!

Highlights of the day... just the colors, and the lushness and the beautiful day without a real threat of storm. And the signs of a heavy recent downpour with lots of runoff over the trails. Once again, I realized we'd been rather lucky at Garnet. And the company! Lots o' chatting and enjoying! I enjoyed cooling my feet at Deer Creek and and a bit more of me at Duck! That was a fun break - everyone had converged for an extended break before the climbs into Purple and Virginia. Yes, we camped up and away from the shore, and on the walk down to the shore, as we saw a group of three men playing frisbee on the meadow and others sunning themselves here and there, well... I think L said it looked like The Shire... and I had to agree. It was just perfect. Once at the water, we ended up debating a bit, since there was a group not too far from where we decided we wanted to get in the water, but again, skinny dipping won, and the H party, P and Basilbop and I all ended up in the lake. M didn't soak herself, but did get a good wash in. L was hilarious when we got out, trying out the various flat rocks, which were warmed by the sun, until she found one and declared it "THE one" and just melted into the rock.

Over the course of the prior day, through this and the following, various members of the party thanked me for coordinating the hike. I had put a lot of energy into it and felt extremely gratified that people understood and appreciated that and were enjoying themselves together so much. In my wildest dreams, I did not expect it to turn out as well as it had to this date. I only hoped we'd continue to enjoy ourselves. I figured no matter what else happened, the trip was already a huge success. I had a very pleasant night at Virginia Lake.

In 2010, I had been solo and had one of my best nights there, and here in 2014, with 6 others, I had one of my best nights again. Sample size of 2, but a hit rate of 100%. I love Virginia Lake.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 4 - Yes, Virginia
August 17, 2014 02:45PM
* After JKW and I finished the JMT, we watched Mile... Mile and a Half. And we learned that on our hike, we had chosen our campsites inappropriately. Instead of pitching our tents on the nice grass right next to the trail and/or water source, we chose non-photogenic impacted sites well away from both the water and the trail. We have learned from this mistake and will endeavor to do better in the future.

I think they are also sponsoring a fire ring making class if you really want to hone your outdoor skills.
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