I got seven days of great hiking, explored a new route between Yosemite Valley and Red’s Meadow, and met some wonderful hikers, but my hope for a third complete Yosemite-to-Mount-Whitney hike ended on September 8, when I exited the trail at Vermilion Valley Resort.
The smoke had come and gone the first week, sometimes being a bit of a nuisance in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes not at all, and never reaching the point of spoiling the walk. After a zero-day in Mammoth, I even had a great hike from Red’s to my campsite at Lake Virginia. By 11:00 a.m. the next day I was sitting atop Silver Pass enjoying some salami and cheese. That was the last pleasant hour on the trail.
On the way down from Silver Pass the smoke started to roll in. By the time I was halfway to Quail Meadow it was thick, caustic, and causing one of the more nasty headaches I could remember. The views were mere shadows in the nearly opaque gray that enveloped me in all directions. That meant it was no fun walking and no fun looking at the Sierra Nevada. That didn’t leave much incentive to continue.
When I reached the bridge over Mono Creek I discussed the situation with a couple of fellow hikers: Christa and Forest. Soon we were joined by Chris and son Sam. Ultimately, Christa pressed on (successfully, I hope), while the rest of us decided to exit the wilderness the next day. VVR did a wonderful job of getting us cleaned up and well fed before we made our way to Fresno (thanks to Forest and Natalie) and onto our next adventure.
This is the third time in three attempts that my hike has been affected by a fire. In 2009 it was a “controlled” burn that got out of control and closed the road from Lee Vining to the valley, fortunately the day AFTER I had gotten through. The smoke was bad enough, though, that I had to take an extra day at Mammoth to get medical care. In 2013 it was the Rim Fire, which was rough on the lungs and the view, although never so bad as to make me leave the trail. (Of course, I was walking AWAY from the Rim Fire, not towards it.) The third time was by far the worst.
Still, it was great to be out there. More to come in the weeks ahead regarding my trip over Red Peak Pass and Isberg Pass, as well as other JMT-relating info.
Good hiking, Ray
p.s. By the way, I would really appreciate it if you took a quick look at one of my non-hiking projects. More about that, here.
so sorry to hear that you (and the others) stopped. i left a note for you at the muir trail ranch and was hoping you made it!
i hiked up and over bear ridge and made it to bear creek just in time to find a campsite as the sun went down. quite eerie down there on my own in the dark! i made it to MTR in good time the next day to enjoy the ranch (e.g. laundry, food, hot springs, etc.). had a great few days hiking after that, but unfortunately had to bail sunday morning at kearsarge pass (in order to make my flight home). for some reason (damn my heavy pack and all those high passes…), i just couldn’t do more than 20 miles/day as i had hoped…will have to come back some time to finish the hike!
was nice to hike and camp with you!
Thanks for the comment, Christa! So pleased to hear that your hiked progressed relatively well. I have a couple of photos to send to you. I’ll try to get them out by the weekend. Hope to see you, your husband, and boys on the trail someday!
Amazing photo of Lake(bed) Edison. I totally agree that if one must bail out on the west side, VVR is the best!
Thanks for the kind words and the comment, Debra!
Sorry to hear about your terminated hike Ray. Living in Prather these last few weeks has been awful due to the smoke. We bailed last week and spend time on the Oregon coast with fine ocean air. We scrapped our JMT this year. Poor forest management and the darn beetles killing the beautiful trees adds to the carnage. As they say in baseball … there’s always next year.
When we drove down through Shaver Lake and Prather it was awful! Sad to see this area getting beat up; it’s one of my favorites. Thanks for the comment, Dennis.
Sorry to hear you had to cut it short—and glad you did.
Thanks, Tom! Good to be home safe.
Hey Ray, Sorry you had to bail. I was up in Kings Canyon/Forester Pass area this August and had to drive through the Rough Fire area twice…told my brother it was just a matter of time before that burned. So many dead trees!
I’m going to go the length, Horseshoe to Toulumne next year and hopefully start chipping away at the PCT the next few years after. Hope this isn’t the new normal.
You and me both, Jack (in regards to hoping this isn’t the new normal), but it certainly seems to be a recurring problem. I think we’re paying for decades of less-than-optimum fire management. Thanks for the comment, and good luck on the hike next year!
Ray, so sorry to hear your hike ended early. I was wondering how it was going as the fire got worse. I had my challenges on the trail when the fire first “blew up” in mid August – and at that time the fire was only 20,000 acres compared to the 130,000+ acres it is now. It was not until I reached crossed paths with the Bench Lake ranger that I even found out what the fire was – its name and size. On Labor Day weekend my husband and I were hiking near Leavitt Meadows and the northern border of Yosemite and could still smell the smoke in the air. The views were gray and hazy.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about your first 7 days over Isberg Pass, a route I have been wanting to try. Did you end up doing some cross country travel?
Thanks for the comment, Christine! More to come on the Read Peak/Isberg Pass alternative. I quite enjoyed it, although I did not do the cross-country portion for reasons I’ll explain.
Well, Ray, that totally sucks. Especially if you had to come from Hawaii. Last year, I got injured near Le Conte and had to exit at Bishop Pass, so this year I planned to continue on from there, and then, after Whitney, down the High Sierra Trail for an exit out of Sequoia. I brought a friend with me this time time who flew down from Washington, and we spent the night before our first day in Independence at the Mt. Williamson Motel. The smoke from what is now the Rough Fire was forcing people out and off the trail, with visibility of only one hundred feet in some areas. We ended up having to bail on our whole plan, drive up to the Hoover Wilderness, and do a shorter one-week loop out of Twin Lakes. It ended up being a gorgeous hike with no smoke and perfect weather, but again, we will have to come back next year and hope that we are not stopped by fires or other hazards. Frustrating to plan for so long, get the time off of work, fly out, and not get to do what has been planned for so long. On the other hand, nature and the mountains have their own plans, and to try to move against those is never a good idea. At this point, I feel so fortunate that we got great hiking and that we did it in spite of the fact that it was not ever our plan to go up that far north. Better luck next year!
Great attitude, Jason. Sorry to hear that things couldn’t go as planned, but you are right: there are lots of great trails out there. Thanks!
Hi Ray, sorry to hear that you had to bail. Been thinking about you everyday wondering how it was going. George and I are so glad you are home safe and sound. Take good care, D&G
Thanks, Diane! Our best to you both!
Thanks Ray, I also had to get off the trail. I did get to hike from Happy Isles to VVR. The decision made sense at the time as the smoke really was getting worse towards the end of August. However, back home, I began to second guess my decision and feel guilty that I had left the trail. Your post and the posts from your readers have reaffirmed my good decision not to go on to finish. Safety first is always the best decision and I am really glad I chose safe for my first big hike. Thank you for all of your good advise. It was a wonderful journey that I can fully complete next year.
Let’s hope next year is better. Thanks, Debbie!
I bailed at Red’s Meadow on Labor Day so I feel the pain as well. I plan to finish the hike next year but I will start much earlier in the season when there is more water and no fires.
But lots of mosquitoes! You are right, though: you have to pick your poison. Thanks, Chris!
On JMT Hiker survey responses so far this year, 40% of respondents (394 of 994) shortened their hikes. Note that some of these people will have just skipped a short planned sidetrip (e.g., skipped a planned visit to Clouds Rest) while others may have turned around before reaching the first night’s campsite. The most commonly reported contributing factors were smoke and adverse weather, each cited by about 1/3rd of those who reported shortened hikes. (People could cite more than one factor). Blisters, non-blister injuries, inability to make daily miles and loneliness each contributed to about 1 in 5 of the shortened trips. Other common factors were companions unable to make the necessary daily miles (1 in 4) and altitude related illness (17%). This and other findings from responses to date are found at http://bit.ly/JMT2015todatever3 and a more careful analysis will follow once the survey is closed. Other survey reports (mostly 2013 and 2014 surveys) are linked at http://bit.ly/JMTfindingreports
This is terrific effort, John. Thanks for the post!
Ray, sorry you had to cut it short. This year, I started my hike in Sequoia, went over Elizabeth pass, then avalanche pass, made it to Bubbs Creek. I did an extra day at junction Meadows during the thunderstorm that started several of these fires. That was late July. I headed north, and by the time I was hitting LeConte Canyon, smoke wase roll in in the afternoon, but very tolerable, just affecting visibility. My hike ended at Florence lake just because I was exhausted and my old man legs had had enough.
Thanks, Stephen. My next attempt will be in 2017. My wife and I will both be retired then and we hope to do it together!
Surprised to see so many comments about leaving the trail. Three of us completed the JMT and finished Sept. 12. While the smoke did inhibit the views in the afternoon, it never got worse than that. A lot of our fellow hikers made premature plans to bail and therefore did not finish. A lot of conflicting info from north bound hikers and difficult to get solid info. Even a couple of notes left by the park service on junction signs seemed to be over blown warnings.
Glad to hear it worked out, Rick. Thanks for the comment!
Sorry you were forced to bail at VVR. My wife and I started from Sunrise TH on August 30. I successfully climbed the Southwest Buttress of Cathedral Peak, thanks to lead climbing by my 34 year old nephew, then continued on through TM. We ran into smoke coming into Red’s Meadow, and did a layover day there. (Do not stay in Cabin E; it is unfit for human habitation.) We had periodic smoke of varying degrees, obscuring views and flavoring the air. The rain and snow and cleared skies in time to maximize the Evolution Valley / Muir Pass experience, then came back.
Unfortunately, my wife’s persistent altitude related issues and chronic back pain forced us to exit from Bench Lake RS over the seldom used Taboose Pass. Six thousand foot decline in six miles made for sore feet! However, a rapidly flowing creek with the best tasting water on the trip saved us.
The fine hosts at the Independence Courthouse Hotel drove up the long dirt road to the TH and brought us to town. They were very accommodative to our needs and I highly recommend the establishment to hikers.
Next year, I will return via Bishop Pass and crush the balance of the JMT. Good excuse to come back! All in all, a great trip.
Sorry things didn’t work precisely as planned, Ken, but it sounds like a terrific experience! In regard to Red’s, I’m not sure any of the cabins are terrific. I’ve resorted to taking my zero days in Mammoth at the Best Western.