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Sierras 1986
Sequoia's Eastern Boundary

Pushin' to Wright Lakes

Thursday, September 4   I awoke feeling a bit better, but I was not optimistic about how long the feeling would last. Our plan for the day was to head back down the John Muir Trail, make the turn on it to the north, and hike a few miles in the woods, until it was time to leave the maintained trail and do a little cross-country work. I had read that the two miles of off-trail into Wright Lakes Basin were not difficult, but for me, they would be the last 2 miles of a 9.5 mile day, when my lungs could barely haul in enough air to keep me feeling ok when I was standing still. I knew this would be a wonderful day.

We left camp, and right away, as soon as we headed downhill, I could see my lack of energy would hold back my companions. I encouraged them to go on, and that I would get there when I could, but Sunny showed a lot of patience. By the time you get down to Timberline lake, you are back in the trees. The forest is pretty open, and the footing is good. In general, the John Muir Trail pretty much feels like a highway in these parts, and based on our experiences in Kings Canyon three years ago, it seemed to be that way there. The nice part about this section is that while you are in the trees, there are enough scattered meadows and openings to get some great views. And there is no shortage of subjects for those views. The Great Western Divide to the west and north, the Kern River Canyon, just off to the left (west), the Sierra Crest to the east, and always, the bulk of Mt. Whitney, looming over your right shoulder as you head north. It seemed to be reminding me that I had missed it this time, and I made a mental note to give it another try sometime.

We stopped for lunch at one of the many creek crossings, enjoying the view, and remarking that it seemed to be another great weather day in the Sierras. This was my second trip out here, and on previous western backpacks, especially those in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, it seemed that even in good weather, you could never count on it lasting day after day like this. Sorta spoils one, and I guess it is the reason why this mountain backcountry is so heavily used. The scenery is incomparable and the weather is great in the summer. You can't beat it.

I trudged along, dealing mentally as best I could with the short uphills that I would encounter. Normally, 300 or 400 foot climbs in the middle of a long day would not be too discouraging, but it was all I could do to throw one foot in front of the other. In mid-afternoon, Sunny and I came upon George resting at the spot he felt was the point where it was time to leave the trail and head off cross country, up into Wright Lakes Basin. The hiking guides mention a "use trail" and there is one, but it does not take long to peter out. The guidebook maps show the route as leaving the Muir Trail probably 3/4 of a mile past the point where Wright Creek crosses the Muir Trail. Based on our experience, I would recommend crossing the creek, and leaving the trail anytime after that, at the point of least resistance. It turns out that the route, at least this day, was mercifully easy. The route in is on what would pass for tundra anywhere else. You just follow your nose up the creek valley, and it seems so wonderfully flat, gaining maybe 400 feet in 2 miles. Despite my tired state, I was buoyed by how easy this last stretch seemed. Sure I was running out of gas, and sure it would take me 45 minutes to go the last mile, but at least it was not such a painful last mile. George quickly put a lot of distance between us, and we could see him searching for a spot to camp. We ended up in what the topo map shows as a marsh, but I guess by the time Labor Day comes, things have dried out pretty well.

I begged Sunny to put up the tent before she took off fishing, so I could crash. But I knew that her luck had not been good so far, and being in the midst of all these fine lakes, she just had to wet her line. I told her to not worry about the inside of the tent, and take off and catch some fish. I crawled in the tent, where it seemed like we had just dumped all of our gear, and lay, with my head downhill, catching my breath and declaring it nap time. I woke up and it was nearly dinner time. I crawled out of the tent, and was greeted by an obviously successful fisherwoman. She had caught two small golden trout while I was napping, and while it would be hard to feed the three of us exclusively on them, they would make a nice appetizer. The clouds that had fired up during the late afternoon had dissipated, and we were treated to that great golden lighting of a Sierra evening. We were also treated to a visit from a doe. She kept a discrete distance but was grazing in the grass less than 50 yards from us. It was interesting to note that this was the first large mammal we had seen since we had entered the Park. While one typically sees more wildlife in National Parks than National forests on backpacking trips, I guess if you are hanging out way above timberline, the potential wildlife encounters are minimized. I wished that I could have stayed up longer to enjoy the stars that were coming out, but I knew that with another big day ahead (they are all big days when you are this sick), I needed more rest and less stargazing.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1986, 2001