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John Muir Trail

Day 16 of 22

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Thursday, July 31st
South Fork Kings River to Woods Creek
12.3 miles
2300 vertical feet (ascent)
3850 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

It rained off and on throughout the night, though not heavily. We stayed mostly dry, though the tent was very wet when we packed it up. It was still cold and a little drizzly in the morning.

I noticed that the rock I had stood on to get water from the river yesterday was now submerged under a couple inches of water. It had been well above the water yesterday. As if to highlight the point that the creeks and rivers were rain-swollen, apparently the river crossing we had used yesterday was no longer viable. Instead, hikers were going upstream and crossing right into our campsite.

Rain-swollen South Fork Kings River

One of those hikers was the woman we'd seen two days ago before Deer Meadow. She said she had a satellite phone and had heard that the weather forecast for the next 3 days was 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms, just like yesterday, and that she was not happy and was hiking out over Taboose Pass today. She had done a big 14 mile day (with probably 3300 feet of climbing) yesterday from Deer Meadow all the way to close to where we camped. I am guessing she had been caught in the hail before setting up camp. I couldn't help thinking that if she had gone on to Lower Palisade Lake, like we had, maybe she would have had a different outcome. I did remember she had planned a resupply at Onion Valley, so maybe she re-entered a few days later.

After she left, the man camping across the river from us came across. He said he had talked to her and was also hiking out over Taboose Pass. I didn't want to, but I felt compelled to ask my family the obvious question: did any of them want to hike out, or should we continue? After a very brief discussion, we all agreed we wanted to keep going. Despite how cold and miserable we had felt yesterday while it rained and hailed, we had come through fine. We had all our rain gear, and it was working. We also realized that 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms could mean a storm, or it could mean nothing. And we knew that we'd feel worse if we gave up and hiked out. In the end it was a unanimous and pretty easy decision to continue.

Rain-soaked campsite

So we packed up our soggy tent and got going at 9:23am. It was still drizzly. We made the roughly 700 foot climb up to the Taboose Pass intersection (hiking out is not easy, either, as it involves a 12 mile hike from here to the trailhead). Along the way we started shedding layers as it warmed up, the drizzle stopping at 10am. We met 3 hikers here who said they'd heard there was just a chance of lingering showers today, and then not much tomorrow.

We passed the Bench Lake ranger station and the spur trail to Bench Lake. I asked the other hikers if they'd read the book "The Last Season", as it revolves around a backcountry ranger who was stationed at Bench Lake. It's a great read and highly recommended, especially for those who have hiked in the area.

Near the Bench Lake junction

The climb from here is pretty gradual. We passed some small unnamed lakes, and then came to Lake Marjorie. We stopped here for a break at 11:25am. We took the opportunity to bring out our tent's ground cover, laying it out on the rocks to dry. After flailing about in the wind, it was probably dry in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Looking back north

View to the west

Hiking toward Lake Marjorie

Unnamed lake

Hiking past the unnamed lake

Mountain above unnamed lake

Mountain stream


Lake Marjorie

After our break, we still had about 950 feet to climb. It was somewhat steep, but not nearly as bad as Mather Pass. There are even some flat parts on the climb. The rain clouds never really threatened us on the way up. We reached the windy top at 1pm.

Lake Marjorie

Unnamed lake on the way to Pinchot Pass

Looking back at Lake Marjorie

Looking back at Lake Marjorie

Climbing toward Pinchot Pass

Unnamed lake

Unnamed lake

Unnamed lake and Marjorie Lake (far lake)

After a break, we started the descent at 1:30pm. It was a steep descent but on good switchbacks. Once we reached some streams, the descent became more gradual. Again, sometimes it felt almost too gradual. Eventually we reached Twin Lakes, though it wasn't easy to see them. The trail passes high above the lakes, which are on the left side of the trail as you head down. After descending past the lakes, we reached a trail intersection (for Sawmill Pass) at 3:50pm.

View to the southwest from Pinchot Pass

View to the southeast from Pinchot Pass

Pinchot Pass view

Descending Pinchot Pass

Descending from Pinchot Pass

Mountains and meadow

Continuing the descent

Mountains, stream, and meadow

Continuing the descent

Continuing the descent

Once past the intersection, we started to think of possibly ending the day early. Our goal for the day was to camp at the Woods Creek crossing. But since we had such a short day tomorrow (about 6 miles), we were willing to add some more miles by doing less today (especially since it was downhill).

As we were walking down, we started to see a lot of hikers coming in the opposite direction (we'd hardly seen anyone in either direction so far). I'm guessing many of them would camp near Twin Lakes. One of the hikers was someone apparently doing the PCT (or at least a large part of it). He said he'd been on the trail for about 800 miles this year (he'd done 1300 miles last year). He said his solar charger had stopped working and he asked if we had any spare AA batteries. I did and gave two of them to him. He was very chatty, telling me about losing his altimeter watch and inquiring about mine.

It was sunny as we now descended along Woods Creek. The one campsite I was thinking of taking was already taken. Other than that, it was slim pickings. The terrain is steep on both sides of the creek. Even more frustrating was the fact that the trail often went steeply *uphill*. After I ran out of water near the end of the descent, I was getting so frustrated I actually said out loud to my youngest son, "I hate this trail...because it's NOT SUPPOSED TO GO UP!"

Woods Creek cascade

Woods Creek

We wanted to get in camp early so we could dry everything out and wash our clothes, but it was not happening. We kept scanning for campsites but they didn't materialize. Eventually we decided to just stuck with the original plan. We arrived at the Woods Creek crossing and crossed the long suspension bridge (one hiker at a time).

Suspension bridge over Woods Creek

When we got to the other side, we found a bustling little tent city. Tents were crammed next to each other near the creek on the left. It was crazy how close the tents were to each other. There were more sites to the right; perhaps they were better spaced. We found a site near the bridge and one of the bear boxes, but I was sure we could do better. I ran ahead and started looking. It wasn't long before I found a use trail to the right, leading to a large, surprisingly empty horse camp that was well isolated from all the other campers. I had to keep checking to make sure that rock I saw wasn't a tent. Despite the fact that it was a little far to get water, we happily took the site.

We still had time to dry out our tent and do a little laundry. The rain we had worried about never really materialized. It was mostly clear now. We were happy campers, looking forward to seeing our friends (who were resupplying us) at Rae Lakes tomorrow.

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