Dates Hiked: June 29 – July 10, 2015
Section H: Crabtree Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows
-Miles: 175.5 (plus mileage for resupply & exit trails)
-Elevation: Low Point 7,480′, High Point 12,963′, Gain 30,646′, Loss 28,455′ (plus adjustments for taking the JMT alternate and any resupply/exit trails)
As a southbounder, I’m going from right to left on the chart.
The high sierra went on my bucket list as soon as I saw the amazing photos in PCT hiker journals several years ago.
Due to logistics, I decided to hike this section south. I parked in Lone Pine (the Dow Villa Motel has long-term parking for guests), then took the Eastern Sierra Transit bus to Lee Vining where I picked up the YARTS bus to Tuolumne.
My friends told me the scenery would overshadow my concerns about a successful hike, but many times along the way I found myself asking WHY. WHY? WHY!
- Why did I CHOOSE to challenge myself with the most physically difficult section of the PCT? Remember, I’m not a climber, I have exercise/altitude induced asthma, and I’m not 20 or 30 or 40 or . . .!
- Why did I CHOOSE to start this hike with thunderstorms forecast for the next few days?
- Why did I CHOOSE to carry so much food (rather than more frequent resupplies)?
- Why did I CHOOSE such an adventure over joining my friends in Tahoe relaxing at the cabin and beach?
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words . . . so you can judge for yourself.
The pink mountain heather was prolific.
White mountain heather became one of my favorites of the trail.
It doesn’t take many miles to clear Yosemite National Park and Wilderness. As of this date, the Ursack (rather than a bear canister) can be used in the surrounding wilderness areas.
At Donahue Pass, it’s worth dropping your pack and scurrying the short distance up Donahue Peak for a 360.
Water was plentiful, lakes and rivers invited a swim, waterfalls and cascades provided music . . . mosquitoes were not too bothersome but my clothes had been treated with Premethrin which made a difference given others were complaining mightily of bites.
First glimpse of Banner Peak, IMPRESSIVE!
Clouds provided plenty of reflective drama, as well as a welcome cooling for the climbs.
Thousand Island Lake (notice the thunderstorm clouds; lightning made first appearance around 2:30pm)
Allergies? There was plenty of pollen around (photo of Garnet Lake).
Early morning at Garnet Lake
How can you not love these furry creatures?
These flowers look very similar to the pink mountain heather, but the vegetation looks much different.
Leaving Yosemite, the forest shows it’s real face. In one section, I actually lost trail and had to use my Trimble app to navigate my way back to the trail.
Cheery flowers make up for the dreary forest.
There is a convenient alternate trail to reach Red’s Meadow (food, laundry, camping) and Devils Postpile.
Best part of the side trip was GARBAGE!
I believe these are snow plant flowers
There was a large swath of old burn areas, but the bright green ferns added texture to the headless trees.
I was surprised by the lack of scat and tracks on the PCT/JMT. This was the only bear scat I saw, and it was a recent deposit. I suspected during the night trail pooper scoopers cleared the trail, much like on a parade route. It also seemed there might be an invisible electric fence protecting the trail corridor from wild animals.
Sierra Columbine (Aquilegia pubescens)
Silver Pass looking north at Chief, Warrior, Squaw and Papoose Lakes. Love how my shadow photo bombed this pix.
Water, water, water!
Selden Pass looking down at Marie Lake
Celebrating Independence Day on Selden Pass (another hiker shared his flag for this pix).
Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) was my resupply location. I was hoping beyond hope that maybe they’d have a room available. It was Day 6 on the trail and a shower plus real food sounded great. But alas, it was not to be. I arrived at 2:30 and was booted at 5. Thankfully MTR offers a large camp area and hot springs nearby where me and around 100 others spent the night celebrating July 4th. I could have used a day off, but this environment was not quite what I had in mind. I left with 9 days of food in my Garcia bear canister and a pack weighing 26-27 pounds. This would get me to Crabtree Meadows, plus a day of food to summit Whitney, and two days to exit via Cottonwood Pass to Horseshoe Meadows followed by a hitch to Lone Pine. There was a slight chance I’d get a Whitney Portal permit once I reached Crabtree Meadows.
This also marked an exit from John Muir Wilderness into Kings Canyon National Park.
The granite became softer and more sculpted. The trees changed to more sequoia’s (?) and water was the predominant feature.
Aspen trees were quite a surprise.
I spent much of the day taking breaks along the San Joaquin River and Evolution Creek.
Evolution, McClure and Colby Meadows along Evolution Creek provided opportunities for watching wildlife.
It was a great night to watch as storm clouds transitioned into a colorful sunset.
Who put this rock here? It just doesn’t belong . . .
I love when others add a little humor to our stone friends.
Wanda Lake was HUGE, but oh so windy. Met a gal camped there who said it’d been windy all night.
See the pyramid? That’s the top of Muir Hut. It sure motivated me to motor the rest of the way up this hill.
When I arrived, I was excited to find not a soul around. I could have sat around an pondered for a while, but within 10-15 minutes a few other hikers arrived to interrupt my solitude.
Notice how the architecture of the hut mirrors the mountain in the background.
The ceiling of the hut is a marvel.
This little guy had a yellow underside.
This was my second fawn sighting. The first I startled and it tumbled down a hill onto the trail. It was quite young and it took a while to untangle those gangly legs and get them walking again. Mom was not far behind and safely got the fawn off trail.
The “Golden Staircase” leads to Palisade Lakes. This climb was a burner. Met a CCC crew rehabbing the trail, which gave me a good excuse at each turn to stop, thank them, and BREATHE!
The view from the top of the Golden Staircase down into the valley from which I’d just come.
Looking up toward Palisade Lakes and Mather Pass
This helicopter flew up the canyon and then dropped into a canyon opposite Palisade Lakes. I worried about a rescue but later found they were dropping a resupply for the CCC crew working on the Golden Staircase.
Lower Palisade Lake (notice thunderstorm building and I still have Mather Pass to cross today (11:15am)
A lot of amazing trail building in this granite-dominated landscape. LOTS and LOTS of stairs or steps, sometimes tiny like here, sometimes giant 2-3′ steps, really tough on short-legged gals.
Upper Palisade Lake
Today’s rock art, am I a whale or a shark? Am I friend or foe?
From Mather Pass, looking north toward Palisade Lakes
From Mather Pass, looking at the much more rugged peaks to the south.
Good morning Marmut! So cute, but so cunning, definitely opportunists.
Loved these sculpted peaks
Transitioning to this red rock on my way up Pinchot Pass was a highlight of this trip.
Red rock plus green grass equals MAGIC!
Only saw these flowers in two places. High up on Pinchot and Glen passes. Definitely a bright spot hidden among the granite.
It had been a rough evening, with flash floods causing us to move our tents, which now mucky with damp contents, needed to be packed up. It’s hard to get motivated to keep going when clouds are low and visibility is limited. It does provide a different kind of beauty.
I was feeling optimistic by 8:45am when the skies seemed to brighten.
Within an hour, it had snowed, hailed, and showed us her mighty power with bright one-second-distant lightning and long growling thunder. Oh Mother Nature, stop throwing these tantrums!
When the lightning stopped, it was time to get back to hiking, especially since I was in an exposed area and wanted to make it to some tree cover before Mother Nature threw another tantrum.
Dollar Lake was a welcome sight, but with skies clearing it was time to hike on.
I sheltered a couple more times while Mother Nature continued her tantrums. I even had to set up my tent when one storm lasted several hours and I was too chilled to wait it out. I believe this is the infamous “Fin Dome” on Upper Rae Lake. Time is 2:15 and with the storm clearing it’s time to high tail it up Glen Pass.
Looking up at Glen Pass and the fresh snow, it was time to take advantage of this window of opportunity before another storm rolled in. Sadly 15 minutes from the top, the clouds dropped and I had zero visibility for photos. It was a race down the south side before another tantrum was unleashed.
I decided to exit the trail via Kersarge Pass into Onion Valley. I awoke to this beautiful view of the Kersarge Pinnacles and Lakes.
I was anxious to get to the trailhead in hopes of a ride. This photo was taken at 6:45am when the trail was still filled with a light pack of snow.
I didn’t have any information about the Kearsarge Pass Trail except distance. I had no idea about length or elevation of climb. The previous night I’d hiked until I found water. By then it was sleeting again and time to find a campsite.
I was at the pass at 6:45am, made it Onion Valley trailhead where I found a ride to Lone Pine and was checked into the Dow Motel by 9:30am.
Priority #2 FOOD at Alabama Hills Cafe! Priority #1 was a shower, 12 days of grime . . . ahhhh clean hair was the best!
Then time for a little laundry. I’ve learned to pack Oxyclean to soak my clothes both at resupply stops and at the end of a trip. This stench could not ride in my car 🙂
I left this section incomplete by exiting at Kearsarge Pass. Forester Pass and Mt Whitney will need to wait for another day.
I’m working on my gear list and will add that as a separate post.
- Backcountry permits ARE required to backpack within Section H
- Campfire and camp stove permit is required (online link)
- Bear canisters ARE required; Ursack can be used many places.
- Cell signal and internet service are VERY limited.
- Be prepared for all types of weather in the sierra regardless of season. I’d reviewed the weather report prior to beginning my trip. With thunderstorms in the forecast, I reviewed lightning safety tips and was glad I had since I spent 9 out of 12 days in storms.
- PCT resources
- Sections of Section H (reference Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail by George & Patricia Semb)
- This section is not very conducive to breaking into pieces.