We backpacked on the John Muir Trail, southbound from Mono Creek to Bear Creek, up and over the western ridge of Volcanic Knob, and arrived early enough to get in a bit of trout fishing. All told, we climbed 2100 feet and descended 1000 feet over seven miles of trail.
Vicki was worried about today’s hike. Two thousand feet is a very long climb for her. Now, I try my best to plan each day of these big treks, taking care to remain within her capabilities and desires, but sometimes the reality of the terrain demands extra exertion. This was one of those days. It happens. Luckily, she woke up feeling refreshed, and we headed out of camp in the dark, intent on conquering as much of the elevation gain as possible before it got too hot.
The first thing we noticed that morning was the smell of wildfire smoke. Yuck! We knew that it was from a fire way up north, near Yosemite, and that it wasn’t a threat to us, but Vicki’s poor lungs didn’t need any of this! She had enough trouble getting sufficient oxygen. Luckily, she was fully acclimated by this time, and the smoke was quite diluted. It’s main effect was on the visibility. The sunrise was all orange, and the nearby peaks were shrouded in haze. Not pretty at all.
But that didn’t change the trail any. It was composed of switchback after switchback, heading upward in endless procession. Luckily, the trail itself was perfectly graded, with minimal steps, rocks, and roots. A real knee-saver. Climbing it was more like gliding along, albeit slowly. Even Vicki was enjoying it. I think. Well, at least she wasn’t hating it. As an aid, I took on extra weight out of her pack, adding to my already large load. I was probably carrying well over sixty pounds! But that was fine with me, provided Vicki was OK. My Rule of Thumb was that as long as I could hike faster than her, I could take on more weight. The caveat being that I had to be able to lift it onto my back! Whew! Hoisting that big boy up into the air elicited quite a grunt, let me tell you.
Vicki only needed one nap to reach the top. Not bad! The trail leveled out as we crossed the wide ridge. Volcanic Knob was the peak that was above us, and it was interesting to see huge chunks of pumice along the trail, much like I saw last year, near the Red Cones by Devils Postpile. Less interesting were the actual clouds of smoke that suddenly wafted through the forest. The stink of them grew strong, and the visibility suffered. Luckily, the smoke drifted away soon afterward, and we never had much of a view anyway, thanks to the trees.
We were back up near 10,000 feet again, and the temperature never got too hot. We took breaks when a good view presented itself, and Vicki took yet another nap. She was feeling pretty good after all that climbing, and was looking forward to the easy downhill part of the day. Only 2.5 miles to go!
As we descended into the canyon, we came across several small creeks that flowed down from their source, high on the Mono Divide. Water-loving plants grew in flowery profusion. Vicki was truly enjoying this, and we both soaked our tired feet in the icy waters. Good times.
It didn’t take long before we arrived at Bear Creek, which was flowing well. We headed upstream a bit and eventually found a nice set of campsites just off the trail. We took the furthest one, since we were there so early. We set up the tent and got everything ready, including my fishing gear!
“Not so fast, John!” Vicki said. The first thing to do was laundry. We try to do it every three days, and today was the fourth day. It was overdue, and we were here early enough that it would have plenty of time to dry in the sun. While she scrubbed, I filtered our daily two gallons of water. Then I took my turn wringing out the wet clothes. This takes effort, but it’s worth squeezing out every last drop if you expect it to get dry.
After that, Vicki chilled in camp, reading her Kindle, while I headed back to the creek to fish. Now, I have to admit that I had never fly fished in a flowing stream. Thus far (since last year’s fishing trip) I had only fished in High Sierra lakes. I was a bit nervous about this, as I was proceeding via book learning alone. I was mostly worried about snagging my line on a log or rock, in which case I would then lose my hook and have to tie on a new one. And I didn’t have an endless supply of flies. So I had to choose my locations carefully, such as deep pools with slow flow, just below a rapids. There weren’t a lot of these, but I tried anyway. In fact, I could see the small fish (which I heard were Golden Trout) and they eluded me every single time, staying just out of reach of my line. Yes, I admit that I got shut out. They were far too wary, and I wasn’t much of a fisherman anyway, so that was that. But at least I tried.
Vicki came down to visit, and we hung out by the creek. Southbound JMT hikers went by, most of them fresh from a resupply at nearby VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort) and none of them was interested in camping quite yet. That was OK with us. We ended up having the campsite to ourselves that night. I put away my fly rod and we headed back to camp. We packed up our dry laundry and stowed the clothesline. Then we ate a freeze-dried meal and called it good. We entered the tent and checked out the map, We had another climb tomorrow, and another seven mile day. Vicki groaned. I told her how pretty Marie Lake was going to be, and that helped a little. Rubbing her feet helped a lot more. After that, it was bedtime,
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page