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  • Kathy Schrenk

JMT Day 2

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

We woke up at dawn and packed up quickly to get in some good miles before it warmed up. We were rewarded with views of mountains across Fish Valley, which is more dramatic then it sounds, in the morning light. The trail was level on the way to Duck Creek, and views were of “Devil’s Top” and “Double Peak.” Despite the uninspired names, the views were amazing. Every bend we turned offered another vista that had us exclaiming, “wow,” and “unreal,” and “amazing.”

We also had views of the smoke billowing into the sky from the Yosemite fire (my husband messaged the news that Yosemite Valley had been shut down until at least July 29, and this was later extended several more days) and a new, small fire closer to us. We were lucky to be going south. We talked to some hikers the following days who were slowing their northward hike hoping to get into Yosemite after it reopened, and others who had just started their hike and witnessed a clog of hikers in the town of Mammoth Lakes hoping to reach the northern JMT terminus at Happy Isles.

A smoke mushroom-cloud in the mid-right, plus smoke settling in the closer-in valley.

We had loaded up on water at Deer Creek and the trail wasn’t too hard so we were feeling well when we reached Duck Creek. We decided to cook lunch there since we hadn’t eaten a hot meal in the morning. The creek was flowing strongly and made for a nice lunch and water stop. Predictably, there were lots of other hikers there getting water. I’m not the kind of hiker who goes out there for maximum solitude. I'm not looking for the kind of adventure where getting lost is a real possibility. I enjoy well-marked trails and knowing exactly where I’m going, so seeing other hikers is a comfort to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of crowds, which is why I tell people to stay away from Castlewood State Park on pleasant weekends and Yosemite Valley any time between April and November. But it turns out the John Muir Trail more than five miles from any road is the right mix of remote and moderately-trafficked. There aren’t a ton of permits available but it’s super-famous and well-marked, so there aren't too many people but you aren't going to be in total solitude for long. So I enjoyed the time at Duck Creek eavesdropping on people’s discussions on gear, trail conditions, and itineraries.

Once we were done there we started a steep but short up hill and soon were at Purple Lake. We refilled on water again and I took a wade in the lake. There are dozens and dozens of lakes of different sizes on our map; I almost didn’t believe they were all real. We had seen more spectacular views on the way so when we made it to Purple Lake it was mind-blowing. What was this place? How could it keep getting prettier? And then it did.

We hiked slightly up (slightly…at this point elevation is relative) and came to Lake Virginia. Was this one even more beautiful than the last? It seemed impossible, but it was. We lingered again and filled up on water. This lake—larger than the last one—stretched out from a meadow, almost level with the water, out almost to the horizon, boulders and groves of trees making for hidden coves and tucked-away spots. Not for the first time, we wished this could be our end-of day camping spot. But we wanted to get in 2-3 more miles to stay on schedule.

Purple Lake

Lake Virginia

Then we went down down down an amazing number of switchbacks to Tully Hole, also know as Mosquitoville, USA.

Descent to Tully Hole

The views were amazing, but I was worn out by the knee-jarring downhill. Then we tried to walk quickly through the valley to escape the mosquitoes and get up the hill a bit. (It turns out that Arthur is almost as sensitive to mosquito bites as I am, which is to say, a LOT. He got some bites on his shoulders, THROUGH his shirt, because we didn't put bug spray ON the shirt. They turned into huge welts. So mosquitoes became Arthur's nemesis.) Our next challenge would be a 3.3-mile climb up to Silver Pass, and we hoped to get a mile or so of that knocked out in the evening. But after less than a half mile I was worn out and it was getting late, so we found the next available camp site and settled in.

It was a less idyllic and more crowded camping area than the first night, but it served our purpose well. We went through our usual routine of setting up the tent and stashing all our food and scented items in our bear canisters.

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