John Muir on Mirror Lake

John Muir Trail Adventure Journal: Day Two

Echo Creek Trail to Lyell Forks

Approximately 18.5 miles

The author on the morning of the second day on the John Muir Trail.
John Muir Trail Self-Portrait: Day Two

I awoke with the sun, about 5:30 a.m. The air inside the tent was 38 degrees, but I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag. I did have a small amount if dread about getting out and hitting the trail. All I had to wear (by conscious choice after reading Andrew Skurka’s book) was a pair of trail running shorts.

I’ve never really been a lounge in bed sort of guy, and I did have a warm jacket (Patagonia Down Sweater, a Father’s Day gift from a few years prior), so I reluctantly crawled out of the bag and made coffee (Starbucks Via, massively convenient for hiking) while I broke camp.

Long Meadow was covered in a fine layer of frost, and the morning air was too chilly for me to stand around cooking, so I shouldered the pack and got moving.

Long Meadow along the John Muir Trail covered in frost.
Morning frost on Long Meadow.

My shoulders were really sore, a lot more than they should have been only a day into the hike. I realized it was because of how I was carrying my bear canister. At 15 pounds (12 for the food and 3 for the canister proper), it was the heaviest thing in my pack.

I had it on top of my pack, under the top lid, sort of like I’d seen others carry it. That’s how I carried it on my many practice runs, but for some reason it really bothered me like it never had before. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it for a full two weeks if this continued.

After I left Long Meadow, I started the climb to Cathedral Pass and then down to Cathedral Lake. At about 8:00, I started to get really warm. So I stopped and stowed my down jacket and boiled some water to eat breakfast. This turned out to be my thing: get moving first thing in the morning and eat breakfast later on.

The trail continued downhill for awhile, until I arrived at Tuolomne Meadows (a word I just can’t seem to remember how to say). As you might recall from yesterday’s entry, I had planned to stop at the store here and pick up a few things (a lighter for one, a meal for another). But I screwed it up. I’m still not sure how I did that, but I think it’s because I headed off toward Parsons Lodge (across Highway 120) instead of heading east down another trail (I didn’t even see the junction) that runs parallel to Highway 120. The route I opted for was supposedly more scenic, and that always appeals to me.

I did enjoy the views as I strolled over Budd Creek and beyond, but I wasn’t sure where the trail was supposed to go from there. I followed the road to a building marked Campground Reservations and asked about finding the John Muir Trail and a restaurant. The guys there  directed me back down toward a camping area, and back toward Tuolomne Meadows Lodge.

So I headed off, a bit annoyed. I managed to find the trail to the JMT easily enough, and, eventually, made my way into the Tuolomne Meadows Lodge. But this wasn’t the restaurant I thought it was. It only served breakfast, and then only for the people staying there. Annoyed again, I ate some lunch out of my pack and figured out I’d gone the wrong way to get here; the restaurant (Tuolomne Grill) was a few miles in the other direction by the Tuolomne Meadows Store. I’d wasted enough time and non-productive miles, so I decided to skip it and get some distance on the trail, disappointed at missing what should have been my last cooked meal.

To top it off, I thought this would have been a good time to use the last public (flushing!) restrooms I’d see for days, but they were closed for cleaning. It was not my best moment.

I slipped on the pack and left Tuolomne Meadows. As I hiked out over Tuolomne River, I noticed a smiling rock with eyes and a nose. This lifted my spirits a little.

A smiling rock.
A smiling rock over the Tuolomne River.

I followed the trail into the Lyell Canyon, where it runs next to the Lyell Forks. A little way through this relatively flat and sometimes muddy area I looked ahead and saw a round, brown shape hunched over on the trail ahead of me. I thought for a moment that maybe it was a bear until it heard me and looked up. It was just a mule deer. The deer along the trail, especially the does, proved to be almost totally unafraid of humans. It was kind of like being in a petting zoo.

A mule deer doe on the John Muir Trail.
This is not a bear.

I met a few hikers coming north who were doing the Pacific Crest Trail. When hikers meet they talk about four things: trail conditions, gear, food, and mosquitoes.

You can’t camp in Lyell Canyon until you’re four miles past Tuolomne Meadows, which is conveniently marked by a landslide. When I reached this point, it was still early, so I hiked for a few more hours until I got to a nice looking series of campsites just off the trail. There was a fire pit, and running water from the Lyell Fork. It was still early, about 6:00, but the trail was just starting to climb again and my shoulders really ached, so this post looked great.

A landslide in Lyell Canyon along the John Muir Trail.
After this landslide, camping in Lyell Canyon is allowed.

As I was setting up camp, another hiker saw my tent and came over to talk gear (see above).  He was curious about my tent, as he almost bought it himself. Instead he went with a tarp tent, which I’d considered, but passed on for a few reasons.

Anyway, he had the same pack as me, the Osprey Exos 58. We both loved it, but I was complaining about how I had to carry the bear canister, and it was causing me a lot of pain. He showed me how it was possible to jam it down inside at the bottom. A lot easier on the back, but a little rougher on the hip bones (but it’s easier to pad the hipbones). He wanted to get a little further down the trail before it got dark, so I thanked him for the tip and got back to making dinner.

The author’s first wound on the John Muir Trail.

As I was cleaning up from dinner that night, I stood up and whacked my head on a low-hanging tree branch. My first injury (it wouldn’t be the last). It bled a lot, and as I dug out the bandages I realized I didn’t have a mirror (another oversight). But I did have a camera, so I took a few pictures of my head, bandaged it, and went to bed, glad that this day was at an end.

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  1. It’s great to be along for the walk vicariously. I lived in Yosemite Valley about a million years ago and grew to be fascinated with Muir’s experience in Yosemite. Looking forward to seeing what you’re seeing. Good luck.

    1. Glad to have you along! Living in Yosemite Valley must have been something. Muir casts a large shadow over Yosemite, it’s easy to be fascinated by the man. I had only read parts of Muir’s works before I took the hike, but I’ve since dug deeper into his writings.

  2. I must say, I’m really digging this series… granted you’re only two days in. Eager to see more!

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