September 13, 2019—Day 6 on the JMT (includes last year’s days on trail)
Red’s Meadow to Deer Creek
Total distance walked: 6.3 miles
The morning was cold. Our hands were numb, and we could see our breath. We stored our things overnight in the on-site metal bear box, so nothing was frosty. I fired up the Jetboil stove first thing and made hot oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. Afterwards, we scurried like mice—partially for warmth—and packed up camp. Compared to last year’s mid-morning starts, 8 AM was early.
We headed uphill towards the trail but first filled our water bottles from the spigot at Red’s Meadow Resort. The southbound JMT picked up from there. As we walked, we revealed to each other yesterday’s strange attack of sore feet. Maybe sitting in the car for hours had something to do with it. Nevertheless, reclining for 12 hours in the tents worked wonders; our feet felt fine.
Underfoot was a soft trail filled with decaying manure. The climb was steady. Soon we entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the Rainbow Fire area.
In 1992 lightning caused a fire which consumed 8,800 acres of land, including 80% of Devils Postpile National Monument. There was no shade on that stretch of trail. Stubby tree trunks stood above thick shrubs.
On the bright side, the view of the nearby mountains was great.
There were several mudpuddles to cross—which earlier in the season would have been streams. As we neared the marshy areas, swallows flittered about. Corn lilies and monkeyflowers grew, even this late in the season.
The trail snaked around many rocky switchbacks. I took a cue from a memoir I read entitled, Trudge, by Lori Oliver-Tierney. In the book she explains how, on her JMT trek, she would count 100 steps uphill then stop for a drink of water. That method and the continual conversation with Michael helped get me up the mountain. The trail wouldn’t be that hard to hike without a backpack.
But with a pack heavier than last year, it was slow-going. Neither Michael nor I are ultralight backpackers. In fact, I think my bag was heavier than his weighing in at 39.2 pounds with water. I used everything I brought except the cell phone, water crossing shoes, emergency kit (but for the blanket—more on that later), first aid kit (except for one Band-Aid), and an extra fuel canister, plus some uneaten food. I could have left the fuel and cell phone at home.
I laughed when Michael told me that his wife asked him to bring her a rock. She may have been joking, but that got us looking at the colorful rock formations around us, and the changes in the trail. We entered the forest and pumice deposits became visible. Thousands of years ago this area had volcanic activity.
The cold morning became a warm afternoon. We stopped for an hour-long lunch near a creek. I was worried when I couldn’t tell by the map whether we were at Deer Creek or not (we weren’t). That led to thinking that we were going the wrong way which caused more angst. Michael—cool as a cucumber—saw a trail sign up ahead in the distance. He ran up to it, took a picture, then came back and showed it to me. It was a sign pointing to Purple Lake—tomorrow’s destination. Relieved to know we were still on the JMT, I was able to enjoy our leisurely lunch.
I consider this an ideal day on the trail—other than that brief bought of anxiety. After lunch we had a short hike to our camping spot at Deer Creek. We arrived at 2:00PM. Michael took the role of scout and found a great spot to setup our tents. There was time enough to take a sponge bath in the creek, wash my zip-off pant legs and socks, and soak my feet in the water. So far, the hike was exactly what I wanted from it: beautiful scenery, easy water crossings, a long lunch and a short day of hiking. Plus, Michael was loving it. Could it get any better?
[Thanks to Michael for taking nearly 500 photos of our journey—compared to my 98.]
To be continued…