On the fourth day of our trek we closed the JMT-PCT loop by hiking north on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Devils Postpile National Monument to Agnew Meadows, and along the way we stopped to book a campsite in the Upper Soda Springs Campground, so we could tour the Postpile the following day.
We didn’t set any alarms that morning. We woke up when the light got going, and by the time the sun rose over the eastern ridge near Mammoth Mountain we were all packed up and ready to go. The first part of the day was to head downhill on the John Muir Trail for another mile.
This part of the hike was super-easy. We were down there in no time at all. We crossed into the Devils Postpile National Monument zone, but only for a few feet. Just beyond that, the JMT met the PCT. South of here, for the next hundred miles or so, the trails were one and the same. But north of here they split up for a thirteen mile stretch. The JMT stayed west of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, and the PCT stayed mainly on the eastern side of the valley. They joined together again near Thousand Island Lake, where we were hiking two days previous. Today’s big plan was to get back to our car in Agnew Meadows, thus completing the loop.
Next stop on the PCT: Minaret Falls. Since we had camped just above the falls the night before, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Namely: Not much. 2021 was a very dry year in the Sierra Nevada, and it was already mid-August. Minaret Creek was barely running at all, and the falls turned out to be quite underwhelming. But that was OK. We could see where they should have been, and we let our imaginations run free. We even went so far as to use the long log bridges over the creek when we could have simply hopped right across.
Initially, the PCT stayed on the west side of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, just above Pumice Flat. The trail went up and down for no reason, and Vicki started getting overheated. We were at 7500 feet elevation, and it was much hotter here than it had been at 10k. It had been warm enough up there, but down here it was roasting. Soon she was using her spray mister on her head and legs and pretty much everywhere it would reach, hoping to stay wet and cool. But I could tell that it wasn’t working well. We stopped for a break and I got out the map. I mentioned that the biggest climb of the day was near the end, and that the trail crossed the river up ahead, next to a campground that was accessible from the main road. Maybe Vicki could stay there and wait for me while I went to the car by myself. I would pick her up in an hour or two. Vicki loved this plan, and soon we were hiking onward.
The campground was only about a hundred feet from the PCT and the wooden bridge. We walked that way, and discovered that the campground host was living right there. Some of the nearby campsites looked empty, as if the campers had already left. If they were first-come-first-served sites, and not reservations, we could camp here tonight! We waited for our chance to speak to the host, and we lucked out totally. There was a spot available right across the road, next to the river. Sweet! We booked it immediately, for two nights. That way we could explore the Postpile tomorrow. The camp host was a great guy, and let Vicki borrow his chair. Then we brought our gear to our very own picnic table, and I took almost everything out of my backpack. That way I could hike light and fast. Vicki would read her book in the shade, and take life easy.
I had about four miles left to hike, with more than half of it along the eastern bank of the river. Sometimes there was forest, but most of the time I was walking directly in the sun. It was incredibly hot, and there was almost no breeze. I was not a happy hiker, but I carried on, trying to enjoy the beauty while ignoring the discomfort. It worked. Vicki would have been absolutely miserable, so I was thankful she was back in camp. I cruised along, sweating profusely, knowing that I was going to be taking a shower later on that afternoon. And I needed one! Especially after the trail began climbing up the canyonside toward Agnew Meadow. It was hot work, indeed.
After the climbing was over, I hiked along the flat and easy trail that bordered Agnew Meadows. There was a barbed wire fence, but I didn’t see any livestock grazing in this section. I came upon the lower trailhead parking and got excited for no reason, as my car was in the upper lot, a tenth of a mile further on. The car was parked in the shade, so it was cool and happy inside. I opened a can of cold soda and sucked it down. Ahhh! This was the first step in my process of re-civilizing myself. And it tasted great. I got in the car and checked my GPS. All told, it took me about two hours to reach the car from the campground. Not bad! And now it would take me less than ten minutes to get there by car.
Vicki and I got our gear squared away in the campground, and stored our food in the bear locker. Then we got our fresh clothing ready, and headed down the road toward Reds Meadow Resort. PCT and JMT hikers alike love to stop there. Some camp nearby, but others simply grab a burger, a burrito, or a beer. Vicki and I went directly to the showers after buying some tokens in the store. We also got some quarters for the laundry machines. We wanted everything to be clean. I spent at least ten luxurious minutes soaking off the dirt in a gloriously hot shower, and I was a happy camper once again. The laundry took much longer, but we had our books to read, and a whole lot of JMT hikers to talk to. The news of the trail was distributed everywhere, as usual.
Then we put away the clean clothes and headed for the grill. They didn’t have french fries (no deep fryer) but the burgers were excellent. Vicki and I sat outside at one of the picnic tables and enjoyed our dinner in the late afternoon. There were lines of folks waiting to get on the shuttle buses, but we were happy to have a campsite and be allowed to drive within the Devils Postpile area.
We headed back to the campground and bought a bundle of firewood from the camp host. Then we behaved like typical car campers, eating snacks at a picnic table and hanging out next to a campfire. When we’re backpacking we almost never have a fire, and this really brought back memories. Good times.
We also made plans for tomorrow, after looking at the map. Vicki wanted to check out Rainbow Falls and the Postpile itself, whereas I also wanted to hike this short section of PCT-JMT trail. We figured out a way to get it done, and then we headed into the trusty car for a comfy night’s sleep. It had been a good day, and Reds Meadow had been just enough civilization to make us happy without overwhelming us. Sometimes it’s best to ease yourself into these things.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page
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