Friday July 24, 10.7mi/17.2km

Nancy Pass (126.9/10,240ft) to Lake Catherine (137.6/11,040ft) (CA)

The morning view from my tent was one of the best ever.

I easily found a way down from Nancy Pass and ambled across a nice meadow, and fortunately it was still too cold for the mosquitoes.

The first lake was Minaret Lake, and it was quite hidden on all sides by mountains.

I walked along the southern shore, following a rough use trail.

There was a group of three people sledding down a snowfield on their foam sleeping pads. It was pretty entertaining to see!

By the time I walked to the other end of the lake, I had a cool view of this pointy peak.

And also of the entire Minaret Lake.

I climbed up to an unnamed pass to get to the next lake, Cecile Lake. There was one short technical “class 3” section, climbing up thru a rocky slot.

Lake Cecile was very deep.

It took me a while to find a spot where I could access the lake to swim.

Feeling refreshed, I tackled the steep descent down to Iceberg Lake. Lots of loose scree.

I made it down to the lake easier than I thought, halfway down I found an old use trail. The view from the other end of the lake, looking at the talus/scree field I had just descended.

And then I was on a real, maintained trail! Only for a half mile, but it was exciting.

I had a long gradual climb up to Whitebark Pass, thru huge alpine meadows. It reminded me of the North Cascades.

I stopped for lunch at the top of the meadows, and had a great view of Mount Ritter (left) and Banner Peak (right).

I continued my trek up to the pass, traversing the Nydiver Lakes along the way.

Finally, I reached Whitebark Pass, it was easy, just a long slow hike up. It had a unique view down to Garnet Lake, which I’ve seen from another side on the JMT.

With thunderclouds forming, I quickly scurried over to the next unnamed pass a mile away. It had a view down to Thousand Island Lake, which I’ve also seen the other side from the PCT/JMT. The route goes down the strip of land (isthmus) on the left side.

Walking the isthmus was pretty great, as far as isthmus walking goes.

Before I left the lake I took one last photo, it shows all the little islands.

Then, up to Glacier Lake Pass! I hiked along the Middle Fork San Joaquin for a mile to it’s headwaters.

At the very top, there was even some snow left.

The view from the top of Glacier Lake Pass is just rocks and Lake Catherine.

I had a quick descent to the lake, since it’s only 100 feet. I did spy one little spot of greenery, a determined little patch of flowers up here at over 11,000 feet.

The traverse around the lake wasn’t quick. Thanks, talus.

It was almost 6pm so I was looking for a campsite, but it was talus everywhere.

I searched around for 10 minutes, and what a great surprise, someone had cleared out a little tent spot! It’s like Christmas!

So I made camp by the outlet of Lake Catherine.

As I was finishing dinner, a group of three people came by. I was very surprised, since this spot is 3-4 hours from a trail in either direction. I met Cypress, Blanc, and (?) who are out here for two weeks doing a backcountry route thru the northern Sierras.

They said it took them over 3 hours to navigate up here from Twin Lakes (only 2 miles away) due to the maze of slabs and cliffs. Hmmm… tomorrow’s puzzle!

Thursday July 23, 12.7mi/20.4km

Mammoth Pass (114.8/9360ft) to Nancy Pass (126.9/10,240ft) (CA) + 0.6mi side trail

The morning went by quickly doing some last errands in town. I got the 11am bus up to the trail (10:30 bus was full), and I was on trail at 11:30.

It was a nice wide trail all the way to Reds Meadow.

As I got closer to Reds Meadow, I had a nice view of the upcoming mountains, thanks to the flattened forest.

It was a well used trail, some equestrians even rode by!

The Devil’s Postpile National Monument is on the trail, it’s a neat volcanic formation near Reds Meadow.

Basalt columns are visible, and some have broken off.

Most of the columns are hexagonal.

Another angle of the Postpile.

There is a trail going to the top of the Postpile as well, but I already hiked that one when I was here in 2015 on the PCT. So, I continued onward across the Middle Fork San Joaquin River.

I followed the JMT for another mile before splitting off. This is one of those rare spots that the PCT and JMT are not the same trail.

I walked along on a trail all afternoon, slowly climbing.

As I got higher, I met a group that was hiking up to the same lake, and one woman had done the SHR seven years ago, so we swapped stories for a bit. They were taking a long meal break, so I continued on.

As I got closer to Superior Lake, I kept crossing a little creek with many waterfalls.

The lake itself was shallow and marshy, but I had a view of the pass ahead.

I left the trail and started finding my way up the pass. About halfway up, I found a hiking pole! Weird.

It was a short climb, but rocky and sustained uphill.

The view looking north from the top of Nancy Pass.

It was 6:30pm, and good weather, so I decided to camp on the pass.

Tomorrow I figure out how to get down the pass…

Wednesday July 22, 0.6mi/1.0km

Mammoth Pass (114.8/9360ft) to Mammoth Lakes Town (114.8/8060ft) (CA) + 0.6mi side trail

I was in my tent until 8am, updating my blog. I packed up and hiked the easy half mile to the trailhead.

I waited awhile for the first bus to arrive at 9am, and entertained myself reading all the interpretive signs.

The bus was cool, it was a old trolley style, and it had open sides for better ventilation.

I got to town at 9:30am and went straight to the grocery store, since I can’t check-in to a hotel this early. It was an amazing sight, I was craving fruit!

After that errand, I ate breakfast #2 at Basecamp Cafe, and had lunch #1 at Jimmy’s BBQ.

Pulled pork is a food group! I caught up with friends and family on the phone, and enjoyed several ice creams while doing so. I had to make up for lack of birthday ice cream a few days ago!

Tomorrow morning, I catch the bus back up to the trail and continue on, six more days to the finish!

Happy birthday Katie!

Tuesday July 21, 14.9mi/24.0km

Fish Creek PCT Jct (99.9/9540ft) to Mammoth Pass (114.8/9360ft) (CA)

The first 6mi/10km of today were on the JMT/PCT, so it was easy walking. I started with an hour of uphill switchbacks and motivating music.

At the top of the hill was Lake Virginia, which was very calm in the early morning.

I’m sure I was here in 2015, but I don’t remember the lake, so I took another photo.

The descent was nice, it was fun to hike on a smooth trail thru talus, watching it fly by.

The next lake was Purple Lake, I don’t remember this lake either from 2015.

It even had bridge! Fancy trail.

I was right at about 10,000ft/3000m, no fires!

The trail junctions had consistent signage in this section, which was nice. I left the JMT/PCT and went onward, to Duck Lake!

The climb up to Duck Lake was entertaining, with the view to the Cascade Valley, thousands of feet below.

Duck Lake!

I crossed paths with a woman hiking the other direction, from the town of Mammoth. It’s a long way from the trailhead, so I asked her what time she started hiking. Her reply… “at the quack of dawn”. I should’ve asked for a phone number, ha!
I climbed up along Duck Lake for an hour, watching the lake get smaller below me.

The view from Duck Pass was interesting, I could see ahead to my next (unnamed) pass. This was the first time the SHR is on the Sierra crest (most of the crest is too steep or technical).

Sooo many purple flowers in that alpine meadow.

From that pass, I was passed by a trail runner going my direction, down to Deer Lakes.

I hiked by two of the Deer lakes, swimming in the first one, and having lunch at the second one.

The final climb for the day was up to Mammoth Crest.

The view from the crest was incredible, I could see north to the Ritter range.

And south, to a neat ridgeline topped by a single row of trees.

Much like the hike to Mt Whitney, the ridgeline was occasionally punctuated by “windows” to the valley far below.

It was an epic ridgewalk day, so different from the usual pass/valley sequence.

The view of Mammoth mountain, with it’s ski lift apparatus on top.

If there’s a fork in the road…take it!

The rocks in this area are mostly volcanic, I’m not sure why.

I could see down into the town of Mammoth Lakes, and see the lakes for which it’s named!

The descent off the ridge was interesting. I’ve descended on snow, on talus, on scree, but never on pumice.

It’s a weird volcanic rock that is lightweight (floats in water), and my feet sank deeply. It was fun to surf it downhill!

I ended the day at McCloud Lake, and swam and ate dinner there.

The trailhead is only a half mile away, I could’ve headed into town tonight, but I want to take a zero day tomorrow, and Mammoth is an expensive town to spend two nights in. And the weather was great for camping!

Monday July 20, 13.4mi/21.6km

Lower Mills Creek Lake (86.5/10,860ft) to Fish Creek PCT Jct (99.9/9540ft) (CA)

Morning hiking is the best, good temperatures, no bugs, and views like this.

I had a steep xc descent, which basically meant walking down slabs next to a waterfall.

It was easy hiking, but still very engaging given the feeling of exposure.

The view from the bottom was unique.

After an hour of descending slabs and meadows, I happily joined a trail thru a flat forest.

When I got to Mono Creek, it looked like I was going to have to ford it.

Wet shoes are no fun, so I scouted a bit and found a makeshift bridge! Log walking is fun.

I followed the popular trail alongside Mono Creek for a few minutes, then split off up to Laurel Lake. It was a steep climb.

The steep climb ended and I was rewarded with easy meadow walking!

There was even a faint trail most of the way.

I got to Laurel Lake, which was really more of an alpine pond.

The guidebook instructions say to walk around the lake, and start climbing the pass at the two huge boulders. I easily found the boulders, and had first lunch in the shade of one of the giant rocks.

Bighorn pass is next to the dead tree in the photo. I climbed up the left grassy ramp, right to the top.

At the top, I could see down to Rosy Finch Lake.

And see that the clouds were gathering….time to move on. The next pass was less than a mile away, Shout-of-Relief pass. It was an easy contour around the basin, to the notch on the right.

I was at the next pass 45 minutes later, gave the obligatory yell, and descended down before thunderstorms started.

Near the bottom of the pass, I saw yet another marmot. I’ve seen so many I’ve started giving them names to distinguish them, this is Steve.

There were acres of fully green meadows…and then this one red flower. So strange.

I walked by many small lakes and tarns, mist without names. Cotton lake was one of the larger ones, and it had a unique view looking off into the thunderstorm clouds.

For an hour, there was frequent thunder, and rain for maybe 15 minutes of umbrella time. But it was enough to get the ground wet. Descending on wet slab, yuck.

By the time I reached the lower meadows, the sun had returned. This was called Horse Heaven meadows, probably because of all the grass. I called it mosquito hell.

After a mile of furiously swatting and killing mosquitos, I left the meadow and joined the JMT/PCT again.

It’s such a well built trail!

I camped a minute away, and will do the big climb up to Lake Virginia tomorrow.

Sunday July 19, 14.1mi/22.7km

French Canyon at Merriam Jct (72.4/10,010ft) to Lower Mills Creek Lake (86.5/10,860ft) (CA)

It was a surprisingly easy hike up the 1000ft/300m to Merriam Lake, it started on a faint trail, then became easy xc.

Looking north past Merriam Lake.

The shores had crazy patterns in the sand.

The view looking behind me over the lake was like a postcard.

It was only 8am and too early for swimming, so I continued climbing. The notch on the right (below the two jagged spires) is Feather Pass, my objective for the morning.

There were more tiny alpine lakes along the way, and with a better view of the pass.

There was even some snow left, hiding against the north face of a cliff.

The final climb to the pass was on easy slabs, it’s like a slanted sidewalk.

The top of the pass was very windy, so I didn’t stay long. The view looking ahead, into Bear Lakes Basin:

A very short part of the descent was on snow, and I was excited to finally use my microspikes for real.

Looking up what I had just descended.

The first two lakes in the basin were Bearpaw Lake and Ursa Lake.

I swam in both, this one is Bearpaw lake.

The trail also passed above Big Bear Lake, which I think was the largest bear, but inaccessible due to cliffs.

Next, I traversed over to Black Bear Lake and made sure it was swimmable…Yup. I continued up the hill, this is the view of it behind me.

On the climb up to White Bear Lake, there were tons of chattering marmots.

White Bear Lake was the highest one.

I accessed the lake thru a break in the cliffs, and walked down a nice grassy ramp.

The melting snow made the swim extra refreshing.

I left the lake and walked over to White Bear Pass, and could see all the way down to Brown Bear Lake. There was a ton of talus to hike thru.

I had lunch and a swim at Brown Bear Lake, this was the warmest bear yet.

It was hot, so I stayed until a cloud came by to continue hiking. When I had my shade, I walked on, passing the final bear-themed lake, Teddy Bear Lake.

I left the bear lakes basin and had a nice xc walk for an hour. I arrived at Lake Italy, which is a huge lake, and very windy. I think it was almost three miles long.

After the lake, some storm clouds came in. I waited to see if a thunderstorm was developing, but fortunately it was just a lot of wind and sporadic raindrops. So, I continued up to Gabbot Pass, the last pass over 12,000ft on the Sierra High Route.

The view behind me looked very dark and stormy.

The view ahead looked promising.

I descended the pass and there was a short patch of snow, with red stuff growing on the surface. It made strange red footprints when I walked on it.

I hiked down past Upper Mills Creek Lake.

I saw a wolf! (I think, it was a large grey canine with pointy ears). I stopped for the day at 5:30pm, at Lower Mills Creek Lake.

Watching the sunset from my tent was a great finish to an awesome birthday of bear-themed lakes, swimming, and alpine wildlife.

The alpenglow was intense. Amazing!

Saturday July 18, 11.7mi/18.8km

Shelf above Evolution Valley (60.7/10,870ft) to French Canyon at Merriam Jct (72.4/10,010ft) (CA)

I got an early start to get over Snow Tongue Pass before the snow got soft and mushy. It was easy xc walking for awhile.

I hiked past a lake labeled “11106” on my map.

And this other pond that had great reflections of the mountains.

The last few hundred vertical feet to the pass were on easy, stable talus. My favorite kind of talus!

The view from the top of Snow Tongue Pass was cool. And terrifyingly steep.

After a long snack break, I finished my twizzlers, and chose my line thru the steeeep talus below. I was very focused, and some of the talus was loose, so I only got one photo.

And after I finished the steep scary section, I got a photo looking up to where I had just been.

Surprisingly, there was almost no snow. I didn’t even need my microspikes or axe. I enjoyed the stroll down to Wahoo Lakes, a very fitting name to celebrate that difficult and scary pass.

These purple flowers were almost the dominant species around the lakes.

I left the lakes and met a couple in the middle of a small talus field. They were awesome to talk to, having done almost every backcountry pass and valley out here. It was also the weirdest place to chat, as we each grasped our own boulder, ha! We parted ways and I dropped into Humphreys Basin.

It was super easy walking, and with green! The passes are fun but feel desolate with all the grey rock. The valley was filled with more of those purple flowers.

And the grass grew in these amazing patterns.

I stopped for lunch under the shade of one of the few trees, and found that my M&Ms had melted and reformed. The flavor was actually really good, dark chocolate and peanut m&m mixed together.

I climbed up to the next pass, and this view of Desolation Lake surprised me. I didn’t know there was a lake over there! I think that is Mt Humphreys in the background.

The walk up to Puppet Pass was very easy and not steep at all.

The other side was steep, but it provided this expansive view at the top. The lakes are Lorraine, Paris, and Puppet.

The descent was on talus…again. But this time it was stable talus and not so steep.

When I got down to the lakes, I of course took a swim. It was cold but worth it!

After an hour, I got moving again, and I could see ahead down to lake Elba, and across the valley to Merriam Peak.

As I got closer, I could see a huge waterfall crashing thru a crevice in the granite mountainside.

Once I got into the valley, I got to walk a real trail again!

I followed it for a mile, then setup camp at a trail junction, before a steep climb up to the next pass. Hopefully tomorrow’s passes are easier!

Friday July 17, 20.7mi/33.3km

Dusy Basin/Bishop Pass Junction (40.0/10,740ft) to Shelf above Evolution Valley (60.7/10,870ft) (CA)

Today I got to hike on actual trail, so I covered a ton of distance and took a ton of photos.

I was woken up at 6am by the sounds of this gal munching on the grass near my tent.

I packed up at hiked out in the chilly morning, watching the sun come up.

As I descended the Bishop Pass trail, I was shocked to see an actual bridge!

It crossed and re-crossed the stream, with many waterfalls along the way.

As I got lower, a forest appeared. It’s been a few days since I was low enough to see a forest.

And even some aspen trees.

And this behemoth of a pine tree.

The stream became a giant waterslide, running smoothly down a massive granite slab.

After a couple hours, I reached the junction with the JMT/PCT. Time to climb back up!

It was, of course, a superbly maintained trail.

And I had to stop and get a photo with the classic rock monster!

As I hiked up toward Muir Pass, I saw tons of hikers, I think I counted 20. And tons of waterfalls!

Nearing the top, I saw the source of these waterfalls, alpine lakes!

The trail did cross one very short patch of snow, probably only 50 feet.

At the Helen Lake, I ran into the hiking duo I saw at Glacier Lake, back on day 2. Bjorn and Taylor are doing their first long backpacking trip, taking a backcountry route thru King’s Canyon NP. So cool that we crossed paths again!

At the top of Muir Pass, is of course Muir hut. Looks the same as when I was here in 2015.

Except now the hut had become sentient, and is writing notes!

And there is a new commemorative plaque.

I ate lunch in the hut to escape the wind, and chatted with 10 other hikers coming and going. I hiked out at 1:30pm to see the afternoon storm clouds gathering, as I descended from the pass down to Evolution lake.

Hiking along Wanda Lake.

Hiking down to Sapphire Lake.

The outlet of Sapphire lake was nicely crossed on a perfectly placed series of stones.

The Evolution Lakes are my favorite, the have greenery around them.

And marmots too of course.

I departed the JMT/PCT just after the Evolution Lakes, hiking cross-country thru a nice forest, contouring across the hillside at just under 11,000 feet.

After two miles of this, I stopped to camp. It was a great spot, on a shelf 1500ft/450m above Evolution Valley!

Thursday July 16, 12.2mi/19.6km

SHR/JMT Junction (27.8/11,400ft) to Dusy Basin/Bishop Pass Junction (40.0/10,740ft) (CA)

I was camped out in the open, so when the sun hit my tent at 6am I was awake, and hiking at 7am. The JMT was nice to walk, I didn’t have to pay attention to navigation.

I easily climbed up to Mather Pass (named for the first Park Service guy) on switchbacks, and has good views to the South:

And the the north where I was heading:

On the descent from the pass, I saw many marmots scurrying about.

As I got lower, I walked by the Palisade Lakes. They were cold swimming!

After 6 miles, I left the JMT/PCT and hiked cross-country. This started out with a climb up some easy (but wet) slabs.

And then, the talus pile of despair.

I successfully navigated the talus, and a series of granite ramps that interconnected if you found the connections. It was a fun puzzle. The reward for finishing the puzzle was another small lake!

The rest of the journey up to Cirque Pass was easier, with nice little stone ladders.

And grassy ramps!

From the top of the pass I could see ahead to Glacier Creek Lake.

I ate lunch on the pass, enjoying the views and the lack of mosquitos. I easily descended the pass via a series of granite ramps, and arrived at the lake.

The view looking down the lake Outlet was cool, it just disappeared over the edge.

I climbed up to Potluck Pass, which was supposed to be a series of granite ramps to the top. I never found the right ramps, but I did find something that worked, but was more like class 3 scrambling. It was annoying, I left as soon as I made it to the top, I wanted nothing to do with that pass. About halfway down, I remembered to turn around and take a photo.

After I crossed over another saddle, I could see down into the Barrett Lakes Basin. At this point I also noticed that thunderclouds began to form.

The meadows along the descent were so soft to walk on, and the streams so clear.

I walked around upper Barrett Lake for a mile, it was nice and breezy and refreshing.

And the shores were surrounded by purple flowers.

Looking up to the final pass for the day, Knapsack Pass. It was easy.

On top of the pass I could see tonight’s camp, in the Dusy Basin Lakes.

The descent from the pass started with the typical granite ramps, then I followed a stream the rest of the way. It still had some snow in the shaded gully.

I walked along the lakes for a mile, outpacing most of the mosquitos. I put up my tent at the last lake, where the Bishop Pass trail comes in.

Tomorrow should be an easier day, it’s all on established trails, including the JMT/PCT again!

Wednesday July 15, 14.1mi/22.7km

Horseshoe Lakes (16.5/10,525ft) to SHR/JMT Junction (27.8/11,400ft) (CA) + 2.8mi side trip

The day started off early (6:30am) and easy through an open forest.

I contoured around a ridge until I got to Windy Pass. I saw people up on Windy Ridge, so I decided to climb it too. The first part of the climb was very talus-y.

When I got to the top, it was indeed very windy. But the views to the north were intriguing. I think that canyon is the Middle fork King’s River.

I could also see west down to the Horseshoe Lakes that I camped at last night.

I made my way back down to the SHR and had a snack, what a fun 90 minute detour. I made the quick jaunt over to Gray Pass, which hardly felt like a pass at all.

Then I had a fun descent on granite slabs almost 1000ft down to Cartridge creek.

The creek itself was flowing fast, but I found a dry crossing on rocks.

I re-climbed 1500ft/450m up to White Pass, mostly thru alpine meadows.

The flowers were all blooming at once!

Near the top, a near little rock wall was springing forth with little waterfalls.

The view from the top of White Pass.

It was very windy on White Pass, so I decided to continue another mile to Red Pass. It was a quick walk over, with basically no elevation change. The occasional tiny snowfield made things interesting though.

Looking ahead to Red Pass.

I got to Red Pass and had a huge wrap and some chocolates. Not a bad view for lunchtime.

The rocks change color from red to the grey/granite in the distance.

I descended White Pass, down 1500ft/450m to Marion Lake, passing more interesting snow formations along the way. A creek flows under this one!

The lake was intensely blue.

The final part of the descent was quite steep and talus-y, but it went.

The random plaque at the lake proclaimed it was named for Helen Marion Leconte.

Of course, I went for a swim in the ridiculously blue lake.

The climb up to the next pass started with… talus!

There were more tiny lakes along the climb to Frozen Lake Pass.

The final climb to the pass was very slow on unstable talus. But I finally made it up. Looking back to where I climbed all afternoon:

Looking ahead, down to Frozen Lake:

The initial descent was super steep on loose rocky sand and not fun, but then I got to a snowfield and glissaded down, wheee!

I took a snack break at Frozen Lake, you can see the pass (notch on the right) I just came thru.

After another hour of easy walking, I came to an actual trail! This was the JMT/PCT, and it looked so smooth compared to my talus route!

I setup camp near the trail, and even saw two southbound hikers, presumably JMT hikers (too early for PCT sobos). What a long day!