JMT 2010

The classic South Lake to North Lake Loop

Ordo Terraporcus Inflammus :: "The Order of the Enraged Marmot":

Chris "Adjective Bear",  Jason "Chilli Bistro", Tod "The Bishop",

George "Gunga Din", & "Ultralight Joe" (in spirit)

North Lake/South Lake loop is about 60 miles and includes several days on one of the most beautiful sections of the classic John Muir Trail. Over 3 mountain ranges, and 2 big valleys in-between. We did it in 6 days.

Day 0: Travel: Home to North Lake ::--> (Sunday, August 15, 2010)

Pile into Chris' Comfy Lariat early and pick up permits at Ranger Station in Bishop. We had backup camping reservations at RV/car camping park 4 Jeffries, but upon inspection of North Lake camping, plenty of sites were open with #1 proving spectacular.

Very handy to shake out the tents and get our first night at 9,000 ft. as prep for the trip.

The Bishop, in his calm.

Day 1: South Lake to Dusy Basin: ~ 8. miles, +3,000 ::--> (Monday, August 16, 2010)

Early rise and quick run into ‘town’ for a delicious breakfast at Cardinal Village Resort, before meeting Blair from High Sierra Transportation and the North Lake trail parking near the packing station. A leisurely, safe ride to South Lake to start our adventure proper.

South Lake TrailHead

Beautiful spot for Lunch by Bishop Lake

To the pass at 11,972

And down to Dusy Basin

Camp packed! Ready to go Gunga-din? Yep.

Day 2: Dusy Basin to Upper LeConte Canyon: ~9 miles, -2,000/+2,000 ft ::--> (Tuesday, August 17, 2010)

Long day of going way down to meet the John Muir Trail at LeConte Canyon junction. Then up the trail as far as we could get.

River crosses were quite nice this year.

Saw several beautiful deer.

Back down LeConte Canyon towards Dusy Basin

It’s nice when you get up this high. Very clean and pure.

This is most of our day.

We found the “pent-house suite” at the Junction.

Kitchen shake-out while luxury car camping.

Long Lake

Look at the ‘Giant Hunk of Granite’! (oh yeah, and the rock behind Adjective Bear.)

Day 3: Upper LeConte Canyon to Evolution Lake: ~10 miles, +1,000/-1,000 ft ::--> (Wednesday, August 18, 2010)

After finally reaching Muir Pass, the clouds rolled in heavy, threatening a scary high-altitude storm. But alas, we settled in nicely at Evolution Lake, visiting with many characters along the way, including RV girl! Giant blue box on top of skinny little twigs for legs hiking in flip-flops (and a huge smile).

Resting easy at Helen Lake? Short ways from the Summit? Nope, turns out to be the little lake before it. But Gunga-Din did turn ‘Day-pack Mike’ onto Moose-goo burritos!

Another half-a-mile to Real Helen Lake.

A rare sighting . . . our mascot!

One last look back down LeConte Canyon at Helen Lake before we hit the pass and the hut.

A good morning’s hike to 12K and Muir’s hut at the pass.

Nice of them to build this for hikers. If a storm comes through up here, you are so damn exposed. This place would probably save your life.

They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Throne Bear anoints Chili Bistro for his Birthday Bash.

View down from the Pass shows Lakes McDermand and Wanda.

Evolution basin above Sapphire lake.

Finally, Evolution Lake looking back south to Mt. Spencer.

That’s just how we roll.

Nice place to pitch camp, huh?

And the Alpenglow rounds out the day.

Day 4: Evolution Lake to JMT Junction: ~12 miles, -3,000 ft ::--> (Thursday, August 19, 2010)

Our “rest” day was 12 miles, but all down hill. Notable characters include “whole-in-hat dude” (definitely in the Zone) and bad-ass Ranger “Where’s the goddamn mess?” Dick.

Just below Evolution Meadow is a large, shallow, cold stream crossing. Refreshes the feet!

Just above Aspen Meadow we cross back over again.

We finally hit JMT Trail Junction, pitch camp and wash up. Hey, there’s a Bear in them thar waters.

... and a monk ...

... and some underwear models ...

Day 5: JMT Junction to Upper Piute Canyon: ~11 miles, +3,000 ft ::--> (Friday, August 20, 2010)

Our last big day was long and painful w/ steady up but we were in good shape and motivated to make it to the top of the canyon by evening. We were blessed with a rare sighting of the remains of a deadly llama attack, a freshly chewed upon horse, complete with neck tore out and rump shredded to bits. Too bad no picture though,  ;-(

As we headed north-east up Piute Canyon, the JMT heads west so we were fortunate enough to have the chance to say goodbye to the first man we saw when we plopped down onto the JMT way back at LeConte Canyon Ranger station. ‘Australia’ and his posse had been on the PCT for months now. Best of luck to you!

A good way up Piute Canyon, just before the dead horse if I recall.

After 8 hours of walking, we make it to the top of Piute Canyon, called Humphrey’s Basin.

We find a nice spot to camp so we wash off in the stream, water-filter up and soak in the endorphins.

Claim our rock for cooking, pitch tents and enjoy to top of the world for one last night.

Day 6: Upper Piute Canyon to North Lake to Home: ~6 miles, -2,000 ft ::--> (Saturday, August 21, 2010)

Last day was a walk in the park seeing as how we just got done walking 50+ miles over 12,000 ft passes.

After a short walk on what seemed like a very wide trail that large automotive vehicles moved up and down, we found our way to the Bishop Pack station where the Zombie plow was parked.

An hour or so to Lone Pine got us to the wonderful and Hostel. They offer much needed showers to dusty traveller’s which we would gladly have paid double the $5/head for.

Directly across the street is our favorite restaurant in the area (though to be honest we’ve never eaten any place else in our several trips up the 395) is the Mt. Whitney Cafe where we chowed down on fresh veggies smothered in bacon, usual appetizers and decadent dessert too.

Feeling energetic we decided to head home w/ a quick detour and the mind-boggling ‘Outdoor World’ entertainment park and recreation shopping extravaganza. Beyond words, what this place had inside it. You can’t miss the place off the 15 in Rancho Cucamonga, biggest building for leagues. Don’t pass up on the opportunity to see the circus.

All in all, awesome as everybody made it through safe and sound. No real “adventures”, painful and a struggle daily, blissful in memory. What’s next?

Up over Piute pass at 11,400 and a beautiful view down at Piute Lake and Lock Leven.

An easy jont pass many day hikers worried about the incoming weather leads us full circle to our first night’s camping spot at North Lake campground. Not too weary or haggard, dare I say?

Thank you OTI for a great way to celebrate 40 years on this planet, especially:

  1. Adjective Bear for proving that we could survive the Pig in the Breeze.

  2. The Bishop for the awesome sermon.

  3. Gunga-Din for letting us suckle on your teat-of-river-fresh-goodness

  4. and UL-Joe for mentoring us in spirit along the way.

‘til next time, Team OTI signing off.

Google Earth file of hike: OTI2010.kmz

It starts out with an inspiring sermon by The Bishop: “As we tighten our toe boxes . . .”


The first day is always the worst.  The packs are at their heaviest, the air is at its thinnest, and your conditioning is laughably inadequate.  What better day to go from sea-level to almost 12,000 feet?  We stagger over the pass, gasping for air and make camp in the alpine meadow on the other side.

Altitude sucks the appetite right out of you.  Even though we just spent eight hours walking up a mountain, no one is hungry.  And so you must sit and force-feed yourself.  It's all about momentum:  keep that spoon moving, that mouth chewing.

Then it is time for pooping.  Pooping in the backcountry requires that you solve a little spatial puzzle that puts you 100 feet away from:

- the campsite

- the trail

- and water, all at the same time.

And preferably where no one else can see you.  We refer to solving this matrix as "killing Doctor Lucky," and failing to do so as "smuggling a turtle" to the next campsite.  In general this is easily accomplished -- just strike out in a direction that puts you 100+ feet away from all three and you're good to go.  But the jokey "kill Doctor Lucky" reference would come back to haunt us, complete with spite tokens, later.

A quick note about pooping in the wild:  IT'S AWESOME.  Pooping on Nature is surprisingly satisfying.  In the city Nature's usually pooping on you, and your retaliation is confined to the civilized sturm-und-drang of toilets.  But Out There, the whole world is your toilet.

We located an incredible "Poophitheatre" that overlooked the valley for miles and miles into the sunset.  Of course, the problem with finding the perfect spot is the probability that some other humans have thought just the same thing, kind of like the way your naughty pets will all tend to poop in the same part of the house when they forget their domestication.  Dig your cat-hole carefully, preferably with the bill of someone else's hat.

Adjective Bear has been kind enough to offer his descriptive take, filled with self admitted “embellishments and outright lies”:


So we're going up another mountain when suddenly, LLAMAS!!!  There's this Llama Master guy with a massive backpack and a little blonde-haired girl on his shoulders leading a whole train of llamas down the trail.  Behind them is a line of like 35 little blonde kids, all holding hands, with what can only be She of the Champion Uterus taking up the rear.  We watch in stunned silence as one of the llamas decides to sit down -- the Llama Master pivots and grips it by a ring set into the cargo straps and yanks it back to its feet.  "Oh Llama Master, make me your padawan," I breathe as they recede down the mountainside.

We decide that pretty much everything needs a llama ring that you can yank on to make it go faster.  Co-workers, the Internet, time with in-laws.  Is there nothing the llama ring cannot improve?  I don't think so


Walking up -- you guessed it -- another mountain and we get to Helen Lake.  It's so soul-shockingly pristine that we figure it can only be improved if a helicopter dropped a Party Pod in it, a massive rave-float, while ejecting SeaDoos piloted by Swedish bikini models all outrigger-style, all to the immortal strains of Yello's Oh Yeah.

Looking at the map we're making excellent time, and so we languish by the lake for almost an hour before someone notices that this isn't actually Helen Lake, but the unnamed lake a couple miles before.  We grab all our crap and haul ass for the pass.

Once over the top the weather is boiling up and it's looking like rain.  Hikers coming the other way bear dire warnings of a collapsing high-pressure system and rangers tearing at the their clothing, enraged at the thought of all the lily-white flat-landers they're going to have to rescue.

We're double-timing it down into the valley, grumbling at the pace, the weight, the pain, when our nuts suddenly suck up into themselves and pop into non-existence.  Coming up the trail was a petite, girl-sized woman with a house on her back.  Now, this is complete hyperbole, right?  To make the story more dramatic.  I wish.  She was as big as a kid, with pencil-skinny legs and her backpack was an enormous blue box she could have crawled inside of -- not only did it tower over her head, but ours as well.  And, to add to the nut-stomping, emasculating power she wielded, she was doing it all in flip-flops.

We had to stop her to regain some sense of being manly men -- her pack must be heavy, she must be exhausted, her feet needing to be amputated?  She just laughed -- laughed -- a lighthearted tinkling of mirth and pleasure.  She was perfectly happy and thought we were... hilarious.

We spent the rest of the day as all whipped dogs do.


Before we left civilization we tanked up at a local diner with a massive breakfast.  The other party members seemed to be remembering their doctors' and wives' orders or something -- light this, nonfat that.  Me, I got a massive stack of pancakes topped with eggs over easy and as much bacon as they could fit on the plate.  I knew where I was going -- and, no, I wouldn't pine for cottage cheese.

Day four is where it dawned on everyone else that I had been channeling equal parts Yoda and Conan the Barbarian for that Last Known Breakfast.  "Why did I get wheat toast?" they lamented as I laughed and laughed the throaty laugh of the bacon-fed.

Also, we had a picture of the Last Onion Ring on George's camera phone.  Nobody could stuff it in their gullet when it was fresh, but now we took turns wandering off behind the scrub trees and weeping softly to ourselves as we caressed its crunchy golden curves with our eyes.

We ran into a guy with an honest-to-God hobo bindle -- a stick thrown over his shoulder with a little sack tied to the end of it.  Tod figured he ran away from home when he was like nine... and just never stopped.  "As soon as I find that circus I'll show them!"

Then we ran into Ranger Dick.  (No, that was his name!)  His uniform was incongruously pressed and perfect, his hat brim meticulously parallel to level ground, and most probably hiding a high-n-tight.  He stood as if held erect by the stick up his ass, resplendent in his mirrored aviator shades.  We strolled up to the ranger station to get a weather update and the first thing out of his mouth was a commanding, "Are there any messes I need to know about?"  Our spleens shriveled.  We ended up stammering, all the different messes we'd seen flashing before our eyes, as well as the realization that mentioning any of them was tantamount to admitting we had caused them.

It was here that the most minor of details -- a missing horse sign -- would set the dip switches like innocuously leaving your car keys in the basement in the first 15 minutes of a horror movie, where you think nothing of going back down there because you have no idea that the murdered chupacabra in auntie's freezer has risen as a zombie bent on revenge.  So, yeah -- we saw a missing horse sign and thought nothing of it.

That night we were all dressed as superheroes for dinner, in our long underwear, and someone was kind enough to say I looked like Mr. Incredible, which probably means I have tiny legs.  Thanks, George.  

Also, it was nearly impossible to kill Doctor Lucky at the relatively crowded trail junction we camped at -- the higher up the mountain you went, the more of the camp you were exposed to.  It was hilarious watching all the headlamps bob and dip up the slope, like turtle-smuggling will-o'-the-wisps furiously seeking to unclench.  Well, funny until it was your turn.  Me, I just closed my eyes and figured I'd give somebody something to blog about.

[The proceeding is a lie based on Jas' wonderful recollection of the last time we went through the junction.  But like all beautiful lies, it's perfect.]


So the whole trip was fraught with bear-worry.  We had to carry bear canisters and make damn sure everything with a scent went in there -- all your food, kitchen, toiletries, trash and used toilet paper had to make it back in the can or you would be torn apart by a bear looking to get that swallowed piece of gum out of your GI tract.

We were hand-wringingly careful.  We were neurotic.  "Do I smell like salmon or mint?" we'd ask, sniffing, before going to bed.  It was a relief to smell merely of ass.

So we were skipping gaily through a meadow when OMG DEAD HORSE.

It was freshly dead, with it's throat torn out and it's haunches just-chewed-upon.

This is the part where the camera does tilty-angled jump cuts from our slack faces to the horse's own terrified dead-horse face and back again, to his ripped-out throat and ass and back to us.  It keeps spinning like this until we're a good mile down the trail.

The dialog went something like this:

[gasping from double-time march]

"Bear's been eatin' it."


"He'll be back."


"Every bear in the f’ing valley's gonna be bee-lining for it."


"I'm not worried about my toothpaste anymore."


In terms of bear-attractant power, Tod said all you have to do is "imagine a bag of Doritos as big as a horse."  You could take all the Chapstick in the world and rub it all over your naked self before crawling inside a tent made of bacon and it wouldn't matter one whit -- the bears are going to do crazy things like put on pants and a hat and swing a shovel to get at all those tasty, tasty Doritos.

We were safe.  As long as we got really far away.

DAY 6:  "...[...]."

The last day is boringly straightforward.  If you've made your miles all week long you're within striking distance of the car, milkshakes and women who smell like soap.  It's no big deal, really.  The weather turned but it only meant something exciting for the people passing us going the other way.