Day Eight: Woods Creek To Kings River Miles: Approx. 12miles Pass: Pinchot Pass (12,130 Ft Elevation)
With the crazy weather we have dealt with the past two days, we decided to leave extra early today so we can get over the pass before another storm could hit. Waking up at 4:30am was not happening. It was freezing out! We waited a couple more hours then began our hike around 6:30am. The sky was very clear, blue with a few fluffy white clouds. We made it up Pinchot Pass with no problems. We took a much needed rest in the sun while we talked with some Aussies who were southbound hikers. The storm from the day before left fresh snow on the peaks above us which is crazy! Right as we started down the trail, clouds began forming in all directions again. As we headed towards Kings River we ran into our first ranger. She was the sweetest girl! We asked her about the storms and she said today was suppose to be the final one as far as she knew. But you can never know when it comes to the mountains. We took our lunch break at Kings River where the sun was still shining. We dried out some of our clothes from the day before and soaked our feet in the water. It felt good to relax but it didn't last long. The clouds were moving fast and we wanted to get as close as we could to Mather Pass. We made it another mile before we had to quickly set up camp again before the rain started. It didn't last too long and we were able to explore the river and eat our dinner outside. We were ahead of schedule so it wasn't a big deal to call it a day. I guess 12 miles will do and another early morning tomorrow.
Day Nine: Kings River To Somewhere Outside Le Conte Canyon
Miles: Approx. 15 Pass: Mather Pass (12,100 Ft Elevation)
15 miles and we didn't even get to where we originally wanted to end up. We woke up early again to make it up the pass before the clouds got any ideas. The morning started off with us bundled in our warm gear, gloves and beanies on, hiking along as the sun was rising over the surrounding mountains. It didn't take long for us to warm up. As we were de layer we met a man named Larry who has been hiking the JMT for 40 years! He definitely caught our attention with his amazing stories and suggestions. We played tag with him for the rest of the day. Mather Pass wasn't difficult at all (at least not compared to the ones we have already hit). It was gorgeous at the top and for the first time this entire trip we had the pass all to ourselves. It made the experience so much better. We sat there for a bit, snacking and looking out over Palisades Lakes. We made our way down to the water where we laid our tent out to dry in the sun, soaked our feet, and ate our lunch. We felt pretty good so we decided to forgo our original plan to camp at Palisade Lakes and continue on to Le Conte Canyon which was our camping plans for the following day. It would have put us at 17miles for today. We began our hike down the Golden Staircase, feeling bad for the people heading up. We passed by a few trail maintance guys working on the trail. I actually scared one on accident coming up behind him! It was a gorgeous hike! So much green, and a couple water falls. Unfortunately with all the down hill we were doing it took a major toll on my knees and feet. There really was no reason for us to push on the extra 2 miles we had left since we were already almost a day ahead of schedule. So I threw in the towel and called it quits for the day. We found an amazing camping spot that seemed pretty secluded with good access to a roaring river.
Day Ten: Le Conte Canyon To Somewhere Below Muir Pass Miles: Approx 8 Pass: None
Today was a slow, lo mileage day. We knew we needed to do a lot of climbing to get out of the valley so we kept our options opened. If the weather looked good and we felt up for it then we would go over Muir Pass. If the weather looked iffy or I was too tired then we would camp just below the pass and hit it early in the morning (like usual). The hike up out of the valley was pretty tough and it warmed up super fast. But we were making great time on our miles. Le conte Canyon is absolutely gorgeous! We couldn't get enough of it its beauty! While hiking up I happened to look up at the perfect moment and spotted the whale rock! Of course we had to take pictures with it. That was definitely one of the highlights from this day. The other one was hiking up the trail along side a beautiful waterfall. The pictures don't even do it justice. As we got further up the trail, the clouds began to form (like always). It was only 1pm but we were a bit hesitant to go over Muir Pass in any kind of iffy weather. During the storms from earlier we spoke to a couple hikers who got stuck on top of muir pass with 14 other hikers because it began to snow and the wind was terrible. Just made us be a bit more cautious of the pass. We found a spot to set up camp and hung out for the rest of the day. We saw no one come down the pass which usually means bad weather stopped everyone.
Day Eleven: Somewhere below Muir Pass to Evolution Meadow Miles: Approx. 13.5 Pass: Muir Pass (11,955 Ft Elevation)
Accident prone and horses on the lose. That pretty much sums up day eleven for us. Let us begin with the sound of a "cow bell" ringing by us several times through out the night. We just assumed it was horses being taken up and down the mountain for grazing purposes and didn't think much of it. In the morning we began packing up our camp site. At this point, we got super good and packing up quickly. Apparently I got a little too confident in my ability of taking the tent down that I forgot about grabbing one of the poles before it came swinging up hitting me in my mouth. My lip instantly swelled up. We laughed it off and finished packing up. The beginning of the hike up to Muir Pass is absolutely gorgeous! Many lakes, lots of greenery, and many random horses? We climbed over a few rocks and saw on the other side of the lake a large herd of horses hanging out, grazing. Suprisingly no one was there with them. We began walking across the rock towards the trail when Luke took a spill! We thought this day couldn't get any weirder... First the cowbell, then me getting hit, the random herd of horses, and now Luke falls. We laughed it off and continued towards the trail. Then I realized the trail went right through the middle of the horses. We started hiking through them, realized they were National Park horses and that they obviously got away the night before. Then I herd the cowbell! As we got closer to where we had to start hiking up we noticed one of the horses had a cowbell around his neck. When he saw us getting closer he began climbing the trail as well and ALL of the horses followed! Apparently they are trained to follow the sound of the bell. We were hiking up the trail with a bunch of horses that were on the lose. When we got a chance to jump off the trail we did, and there were already two other people waiting there for the horses to pass. Once the horses passed we began our climb up. This was the pass I was most excited to get to. At the top is the Muir Hut which was built in John Muir's honor in 1931 to provide shelter for hikers stuck in storms. It was absolutely amazing to see! So much history! We had it all to ourselves which is practically unheard of because its such a popular spot. After hanging out for a bit and eating a snack we began heading down to Evolution Lakes where we had lunch and Luke was able to do some fishing. We realized that tomorrow will put us an entire day ahead of schedule. I got a little worried about the meet up with Dave and Kait but he was tracking us on our tracker so hopefully he can see that we were a day ahead. We began hiking down into Evolution Meadows when a girl came running past us asking if we had seen any horses. We pointed her in the right direction and off she went running. She found them a little ways down the trail. We made it to Evolution meadows and found a ranger who offered us his satellite phone to call David. This guy was so nice! Unfortunately the storm clouds where coming in and we couldn't get a signal. We thanked him then continued on. We found our camp site and called it a day. A little swimming in the river was a must! After that we called it a night.
Day Twelve: Evolution meadows To Sallie Keys Lakes Miles: Approx. 13.7 Pass: None
Emotional Day? YEP! I woke up in the morning with the worst knee pain. As we were finishing cleaning up camp to start our hike I began bawling my eyes out. Truth was that my knee had been hurting for the past few days but it was always at the end of the day and by morning it was fine. But this morning was different. It was so bad I was worried I would have to hike out at Muir Trail Ranch which I didn't want to do. Luke wrapped my knee and I took some motrine. The hike seemed long getting to MTR but we did make it and once we did my spirits lifted! We received our re supply, raided their bins, and took a very long break. I don't know if it was the poptarts we scored from the bins or the medicine kicking in but my knee felt much better. Luke scored some free coffee and a battery for his camera. David and Kait never showed up, and we hung out there for a long time but we needed to get going. It was all uphill from there. We made it to Sallie Keys Lakes pretty late in the day, probably the latest we have made it to a camp site this entire time. Worth it though (mmmm Poptarts).
It had been awhile since we were able to wake up to the sun shinning into our tent and not have an alarm clock waking us up. Its been just as long since we haven't had to rush to pack everything up and hit the trail. This day we took our first and only zero day on the trail and boy was it nice. Not going to lie, we weren't sure what to do with ourselves! We ate our first hot breakfast, Luke had TWO coffees (thanks MTR for the extra coffee), and took it easy. We washed our clothes, hung them to dry, Luke did some fishing, and I read my book. It was great! At one point I got up to check our solar panel to make sure it wasn't in the shade when I heard some yelling off in the distance. Then I heard "ERIN! LUKE!" and I jumped up! There was David and Kait, hiking up the trail! They made it! We had our doubts that they would show up and that our zero day would be a waste but there they were! It was amazing to see family. They had taken a bus to a train, then the train to Fresno where they got picked up by an Uber and drove to Florence Lake. They had been watching us on the tracker and saw that we were a day ahead. We left MTR around 2:30pm and they got to MTR at 5pm! We had missed them by only a few hours. They decided to camp down at the bottom by MTR then woke up early hoping to catch up to us. We spent the rest of the day catching up, fishing, swimming, and eating. Our original plan was for David to resupply us at Reds Meadow so he had to carry our resupply with him up to Sallie Keys along with some extra special stuff for Luke & I, skittles being one of them. We couldn't wait to get back on the trail the next day!
We woke up early and began our easy climb up Seldon Pass. The view from the top looking out over Marie lake was breathtaking! We met a lady up there who spent the last year traveling the world. Needless to say we were all very envious. When we began our hike down I soon realized I miscalculated our miles for the day. Instead of 14 it was 7 miles. We agreed to continue past Bear Creek (which was a gorgeous place!). We did an intense climb to almost 10,000ft and then had to drop down to 7,900ft. It turned into a very long day but it cut down the ups and downs we would of had to do the next day.