Date: July 9, 2017
Miles: 19.1 miles (30.7km), from Thousand Island Lake over Island and Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows.
Health: Knee still hurts but it's ok with the knee brace.
Waking up today was just gorgeous. We cowboy camped next to each other with Blis and our view looked over the Thousand Island Lake and the mountains behind them. The lake and the mountains still basked in the light of the moon as we woke up at 4:15am.
I was a bit chilly and I just quickly ran to get my bear canister from little outside our camp and got back to my sleeping bag. I ate my breakfast while watching the moon slowly disappear behind the mountains on the other side of the lake. One of the peaks on those mountains was called Davis Peak, Blis's name peak (his last name is Davis), and he climbed it when he was 17.
After a quick setup we were all hiking at 5am. Our first order was to find the trail from under the snow. After some rock climbing and wondering in the dark we found it and got on our way. For a while we had great views at the lake from above as the sun started to slowly rise.
In less than two miles we would go over Island Pass which, at 10,226 feet (3,117m), isn't the most impressive pass we've crossed. We had to cross about a mile of snowfields while climbing and then we were at the pass before even realizing it. After a short singing break, while looking at the sunrise, we continued towards our main pass for today – Donahue Pass.
While approaching Donahue Pass we came across KB, Dandelion, Fireant, Fyre, Roadrunner, and Kendall. What a happy coincidence! I thought they were far ahead of us. We chatted for a while and then continued. We'd most likely meet somewhere along the trail again today.
We descended down to a small valley before starting to climb back up again. We hit snowfields pretty soon but the snow wasn't that icy. It seems the snow doesn't have enough time to freeze during the night anymore. While others used microspikes, I felt it was easier to walk without them.
We needed to climb a bit longer to reach the Donahue Pass but it wasn't that hard. As we've already crossed the highest and the hardest passes while drudging through deep snow, these smaller passes, with less snow, don't quite feel the same. We still have six or seven passes to cross overall but they are all under 11,000 feet.
After Donahue Pass we descended down to a long valley that would take us all the way to Tuolumne Meadows. But our descend didn't go as smoothly as one would hope. We got a bit glissade mad and ended up on sheer rock face that we couldn't go down without ropes. So we started scrambling left towards what we hoped would be an easier path down. After few sketchy moments and few slips, we all made our way safely down.
Once down we needed to find the trail again. We found a northbound JMT hiker right where we climbed down to, so Blis asked him for directions. He pointed to the right and everyone started heading that way. I felt the direction was wrong and took out the GPS. The direction he pointed out was way off and I though I'd look for the trail from where I though it should be.
While others went right, I went left and after about hundred feet found the trail a bit downhill. I walked along the trail thinking others would soon notice they were heading towards a cliff. I tried yelling after them but they didn't hear me.
I walked along the trail until I reached a spot where I knew they could not pass me from either side without noticing me and waited. I also had left marks along the trail so that if they got on it earlier, they would know I had passed that spot. Soon I heard the girls yelling my name and yelled back that the trail was where I was. After a bit more yelling we were united again.
We descended all the way down to the valley and it was time for lunch. We found a nice spot and stopped. After eating I was so tired that I just fell asleep. When I woke up KB and the whole group had caught up to us and were also eating on the same spot. Now we were one big super group.
At the valley floor all the snow disappeared and we got to hike on a beautiful, open trail. It felt so great to not have to climb snowbanks or search for the trail constantly.
The views were simply amazing. I don't have words to describe the beauty that surrounded us all day. Nor do I have a lens wide enough to capture the open vistas all around us. We walked along and across meadows while the clear blue river meandered next to us at the valley floor. This is what I always imagined Sierra would be like.
Once the three o'clock heat hit, we decided it was time to stop for a swim. Almost everyone jumped in to the river and after a refreshing dip, we dried ourselves off in the sun for awhile.
Then it was time to get back to hiking. We saw deer, marmot, and butterflies along the trail. It felt so good to be here. Yesterday and today had been some of the most beautiful scenery along the whole trail so far.
After about 13 hours of hiking we reached Tuolumne Meadows. KB and others were doing Half Dome tomorrow so they stayed here. We headed towards the highway 120 to hitch a ride down to Lee Vining where Juniper and Indigo had resupply packages. Indigo's dad was also visiting tomorrow.
As we reached the highway we caught literally the first car that drove by. All six of us stuffed ourselves into a small van and after a winding mountain road found ourselves on a very popular gas station just outside of Lee Vining. The place had live music and barbecue, and it was full of people.
As we walked in I saw DG. He was heading out on the same evening. We all ordered food and sat down drinking beer. It was so great to be here after such a long day.
Our arrival to Tuolumne Meadows today meant that I hiked from Mt Whitney to Tuolumne Meadows, which is basically the John Muir Trail, in sixteen days. That's pretty good considering we did it in a record high snow year, in snow. To give some context, the usual itinerary for JMT covers the trail in 21 days when there's no snow.
After relaxing at the gas station we moved over to a hill close by where we heard we could camp for free. We tried setting up our tents in the heavy winds but it was really hard. The soil was so soft that our stakes simply had no hold. Some of us gave up and simply slept on top of our tents, I was too stubborn and wasted too long to get my tarp up. Once I had it up I went in and got into my sleeping bag. Right then the wind changed direction and the stakes gave up and my tarp fell on me. I wasn't about to give up so I carried the largest rocks I could find and piled them on top of the stakes. Finally.
As I got back inside my tarp the wind died. Go figure. Tomorrow we can sleep in late as we have to wait for the girls to get their packages from Post Office which opens at 9am. Such luxury!