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John Muir Trail

Day 8 of 22

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Thursday, July 23rd
Crater Creek to Lake Virginia
12.6 miles
3030 vertical feet (ascent)
1320 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

Today we knew we had a long day of mostly climbing, but at least we knew the weather forecast was good (0% chance of rain). When we woke, it was cold and cloudy, but the clouds would go away. We got started at 9:30am and immediately started climbing to Upper Crater Meadow. We crossed the creek and passed wildflowers along the way, then stopped at the non-descript meadow for a food break.

Red Cone near our camp site

Stream crossing


After the break, we continued on the trail, which continues to climb fairly gradually through a mundane forest. After several miles the trail finally begins to emerge from the forest and presented us with some views of the mountains to the south and west.

View to the south

View to the south

Mountain view

Traversing toward the Duck Lake intersection

Mountain view

After about 6-7 miles, the trail begins to level off, then turns left away from the views and even starts to go downhill a bit. As we approached the intersection, the climbing continues, this time a 250 foot climb up to the Duck Lake intersection.

As we approached the intersection, a pack of horses and riders descended. Near the intersection, we were a bit surprised to see one of Jean's co-worker and his wife resting there. We knew they'd be on the trail about the same time, but it was still a bit strange to see them there. Apparently they had camped not too far from us last night, and were planning to camp at Purple Lake tonight. Our original intent had been to camp at Purple Lake, but just before we had started from Glacier Point I had seen an email thread on the JMT Yahoo group saying that Lake Virginia was much better for camping than Purple Lake. So Lake Virginia was our goal.

First, we had to reach Purple Lake, though. We crossed the creek, climbed up to the Duck Lake intersection, then started switchbacking up toward Purple Lake (about 330 feet up). We didn't get far before we ran into the couple from Day 2 again. They had stayed at Reds Meadow but had caught up to us (they'd started from Reds Meadow around 8:45am, 45 minutes before we left Crater Creek). They were planning to stay at Purple Lake tonight and were impressed when we told them we were going to keep going to Lake Virginia.

We made the steep climb up, then the descent to Purple Lake. We stopped here for a food break. There did not appear to be many good campsites here. You also cannot camp within 300 feet of the lake's outlet. It is a beautiful lake, though.

Purple Lake

Purple Lake

After our break we packed up and prepared ourselves for the remaining 600 foot climb up to Lake Virginia. We left Purple Lake just after 5pm, just as the couple from Day 2 were looking for a campsite at Purple Lake. That was the last we'd see of them. Then we started the steep climb up. While steep, it's not too long (about 1.3 miles), and becomes more gradual near the top (though there is a false summit).

Purple Lake from near the outlet stream

Purple Lake

We now descended toward the lake, which is much larger than Purple Lake. Unforested grasses surround the northwestern part of the lake. As we descended toward the shore, we could see that pretty much all of the forested sites nearest to the lake were already taken. There had to be at least 20 tents set up at the lake that night. We backtracked and took the use trail to the west, toward more sites further away from the water. As we did so, I got a weird vibe from all the existing campers. They were all eating their dinner or just resting, and they all looked at us as we passed. It was like we were walking the gauntlet, with all of them looking at us disapprovingly thinking "I've got my campsite and you're too late!" (it was 6:20pm). Maybe it was just my imagination, but my wife got the same vibe. One camper did actually say hello to us, but all the others seemed stoic.

When we got to the other far-away sites, we found there were actually quite a few still available. Unfortunately for us there was a horse packer nearby, complete with industrial cookset, portable outhouse, and half a dozen horses. But we got a decent site far enough away from them (we thought). It was quite a trek down to get water, but I could live with that. We had some semblance of privacy and some nice views nearby.

Mountains above Lake Virginia

Lake Virginia

After dinner we enjoyed a nice sunset. Around this time the horses started grazing among the grasses. I hadn't realized this, but they basically allow the horses to roam freely and graze (owners nowhere in sight). Some of the horses had bells on so you could hear them approach. This was all fine until one of the horses decided to come right into our dinner area. He snuck in behind my wife and I had to point it out to her. It looked like the horse was going to eat or trample all our dinner food and I did my best to shoo him away (trying not to get trampled myself at the same time). It pretty much didn't move for a while, but thankfully eventually walked away. We moved our cooking area closer to the trees after that.

View across Lake Virginia looking southeast

Lake Virginia

It was cold, but the moon was bright and I took some night pictures of the lake. We went to sleep that night not worried at all about bears but instead worried about the very real possibility that we'd be trampled to death in our tent by horses. Either that or they'd at least mess up our clothesline. We would hear them walk by very closely during the night (twice I think), but thankfully they didn't touch the tent (or our clothesline). The whole experience was a bit nerve-wracking, though.

Stars above Lake Virginia

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