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Horseshoe Meadows / Cottonwood Meadows to Onion Valley Trailhead via John Muir Trail

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In 2015 I hiked from Pine Creek to Tuolomne Meadows via the John Muir Trail and I was instantly hooked by the places I saw so I knew I’d be back.  So we decided to plan on hiking the higher section of the JMT in 2016.

In 2016 we planned to hike from the Horseshoe / Cottonwood Meadows campground to Bishop Pass which would be around one hundred miles.  Well as the trip approached a few of them had to drop out and then the remaining two of us decided to reduce the full mileage of the trip and to end the trip at the Onion Valley Trailhead.   This would reduce the total mileage to approximately forty three miles by the time it was said and done but due to several factors it was the right thing to do at the time.  We would be crossing approximately four passes;  Cottonwood, Guyot, Forester and Kearsarge Pass.  I hadn’t heard of any of them except for Forester because it is the highest point on the PCT.

Original Game Plan:  Our goal was to fly to Las Vegas – drive to Lone Pine – drive to Horseshoe Meadows – begin the hike from there.  Get off the trail at Bishop Pass – hitch a ride to Bishop then hitch back to Horseshoe Meadows to get our vehicle.

Adjusted Game Plan:  We spent the first night at the hostel in Lone Pine in order to get our stuff together.  We had intended to spend the first night at the Horseshoe / Cottonwood meadows campground but I was having a bad reaction to the altitude sickness meds that I had taken that morning and it caused some side effects that were not fun.  By the second day I was feeling great again and ready to take on the trail.  So we began the hike the next day and Horseshoe Meadows campground – hiked approximately 43 miles to Kearsarge Pass – down to Onion Valley Trailhead – hitched a ride to the town of Independence – hitched a ride back to Horseshoe Meadows campground to our vehicle.  Worked out perfectly.

Altitude Sickness:  My take on the whole altitude sickness issue is well that it only affects 20% of the population and I’ve met many people on the trail who don’t need the meds.  I haven’t had any issues with it out there yet so I’m going to bypass the meds from now on and just drink plenty of fluids.  I notice that as I get up higher in the mountains I need to drink more and sometimes I get a headache which is a sign that my brain is asking for more fluids I drink more and that seems to be the answer for me.  The meds have nasty side effects so if you can get around them then by all means do so.

Final Take:  Right from the outset I knew this would be a fantastic trip because we started at the highest campground in the United States which is known as Horseshoe or Cottonwood Meadows.  The drive to the Horseshoe – Cottonwood Meadows campground is nothing short of exciting.  As you start the drive out of Lone Pine, California you get to a point where you can look up and ahead and see the outline of the road climbing up as it zig-zags up the mountain toward the campground.  This is a very interesting drive and has a bit of a pucker factor along with it.  This was an outstanding hike!  We didn’t run into any issues and it’s a pretty good hike overall.  The weather was outstanding and it didn’t rain a bit but the sun is hot up there and sun protection is required.  We had very little issues with insects so the insect repellent was unnecessary.  The worst of the insects was most likely the ants that were at some of the campsites that were predominantly composed of sand.  And the ants didn’t really bother us there they were just crawling on everything.  I’d say the scariest parts of this trip for me would be a tie between the drive up to Horseshoe Meadows campground and the hike up the South side of Forester Pass.  Both had a little bit of pucker factor for me but I do have a little bit of high anxiety so it probably wouldn’t affect everyone the same way.  The views on this trip were nothing short of amazing because a lot of it was over 9,500 feet and there was almost always a beautiful view.  There were quite a few people on the JMT section which is to be expected.

Regrets:  The one thing I regret about this hike is that I didn’t get a permit and add a day to account for a summit bid on Mt. Whitney.  Crabtree Meadows is a great back door to get closer to Mt. Whitney and summit it and get back down to camp.  I could have done it in a day easily.  I also wish I had unloaded some of the food I had taken but we didn’t reduce our hike distance until we got on the trail.  My pack may have been a little heavy for a lot of people but I was perfectly fine with it.

 

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To the left of the road in road if you look ahead you can see the road zig-zag as it winds up the mountain toward Horseshoe – Cottonwood Meadows campground.  From this point of view it may not look like much but it is quite a road once you’re actually driving on it.  It is windy and climbs at a very steady rate to a very high elevation.

 

Gear:  I was anxious to try out my new gear for this trip which consisted of my ULA Circuit Backpack and my BearVault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister.  I had used my ULA pack on a few short trips throughout the year so I knew I’d love it but it was still untested on hikes over 3 days.  The BearVault BV500 on the other hand, was very new to me and I had not taken it on any hikes up to that point.  I wasn’t too concerned though because after all it’s just a container and there were many positive online reviews that backed it up.  Neither of these pieces of gear failed to disappoint and in fact the ULA Circuit proved extremely comfortable and able to carry its max weight of around 35 pounds with no regret.  My ULA Circuit is by far my favorite pack at this point and I look forward to carrying it because it’s made so smartly.  Every one of its attributes is the result of a lot of thought and expertise and it all benefits the one carrying the pack.

 

 

Something I always take or at least have with me on every trip is my phone which serves several purposes.  One of these is a book because I have a subscription of KINDLE on my phone and I have books downloaded.  Because of this I always have a book to read a little of before bedtime or if it starts a torrential rain that lasts for more than a few hours.  I can just hang out in my tent and read a book I have downloaded.

 

 

 

MAPS

Here are the two maps that I took on this trip and they provided me with everything I needed.

jmt-map-1

jmt-map-2

 

There are various other maps and guides relating to this area and trails that I didn’t take on this trip.  CLICK HERE for material related to the John Muir Trail and CLICK HERE for material related to Sequioa.

 

A few facts to keep in mind while planning a trip on the John Muir Trail or this area in general

a) Bear spray is illegal in this national park so leave it home.

b) Must request permits as soon as able to reserve them because they go fast.

c) Bear canisters are required within a lot of the national parks Bearvault BV500

d) Sunscreen – The air is thinner and the sun is very intense at higher altitudes so a very high spf is a necessity.

e) Insect repellent – You may or may not need it but it’s good to have it.

f) Bring a large brimmed hat and something to cover the back of your neck.  Outdoor Research Helios Sun Hat

g) Sunglasses  Tifosi Dolomite 2.0

 

FOOTWEAR/BACKPACKS/CONTENTS WEIGHT OUNCES
SHOES/BOOTS NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT  
MERRELL MOAB VENTILATOR 30.00
TREKKING POLES NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT
BLACK DIAMOND FL ULTRA DISTANCE TREKKING POLES (click link for options) 16.00
BACKPACKS  
ULA CIRCUIT BACKPACK 41.60
TENTS
ZPACKS HEXAMID SOLO PLUS TENT W/TWIN CUBEN BATHTUB FLOOR 22.30
STAKE AND CORDAGE KIT 10.00
QUILTS
ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT HOODLUM 4.00
ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT REVELATION PRO 20 DEGREE QUILT W/STUFF SACK 29.00
SLEEPING PADS
THERMAREST NEOAIR XLITE LARGE 16.00
THERMAREST ZLITE SMALL 12.00
FOOD
8 NIGHTS OF FOOD IN BEARVAULT BV500 192.00
BASICS
SILVA FORCASTER 610 COMPASS 0.70
FIRST AID KIT BASIC 4.00
SAWYER FILTER MINI(2 OZ)/PLATYPUS SOFT BOTTLES (2)(3 OZ)/SAWYER PURGE FITTING(1.5 OZ)/BEARPAW WILDERNESS DESIGNS WATER BAG (4 OZ)/EXTRA LIDS 7.50
SAFETY LANYARD – BG COMPACT SCOUT KNIFE/ADVENTURE MEDICAL RESCUE HOWLER/STREAMLIGHT PICO LIGHT 4.00
TOILETRY KIT – MEDICINE/TOOTHBRUSH/TOOTHPASTE ETC IN OUTDOOR RESEARCH SMALL DRY DITTY SACK 12.00
SOL MATCHES 3.00
POTTY KIT – DEUCE OF SPADES/TOILET PAPER/INSECT REPELLENT/HAND CLEANER/HAND CLEANER/NYLON SACK 12.00
CLOTHING
MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR ORKO GLOVES 1.50
BASE CLOTHING KIT 24.00
MARMOT DRICLIME WINDSHIRT 9.90
EDDIE BAUER FIRST ASCENT IGNITER JACKET 23.40
ZPACKS CUBEN FIBER KILT 1.20
FROGG TOGGS UL JACKET 5.80
COOKING
TOAKS Titanium 600ml Pot 1.70
OPTIMUS LONG FOLDING SPOON 0.80
GATORADE CUP(CUT DOWN GATORADE BOTTLE) 3.00
MSR MICROROCKET STOVE AND PIEZO SPARKER 3.20
WATER BOTTLES – BLADDERS
SOBE BOTTLE FULL 29.00
LIGHTING
BLACK DIAMOND STORM HEADLAMP IN HMG NANO CF8 CUBEN STUFF SACK W/EXTRA BATTERIES 5.30
TOOLS
LEATHERMAN TOOL 5.30
EXTRAS
POWER CHARGER IN HMG NANO CF10 CUBEN STUFF SACK 6.30
MISCELLANEOUS 10.00
TIFOSI DOLOMITE 2.0 SUNGLASSES 1.40
TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT OUNCES 501.90
TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT POUNDS 31.37

 

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Horseshoe / Cottonwood Meadows campground – This is supposedly the highest elevation campground in the United States.

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Just stuff..

 

 

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Cool structure – not sure exactly what it is though.

 

 

 

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Let the hike begin – starting at the Horseshoe Meadows campground. Purportedly the highest campground in the United States.

 

We left our car here in the parking lot where it appeared very safe.  Before we left the car went through our car to make sure there was no food or smelly items that might attract bears.  This also included visual items as well that the bears might look in and deem something interesting.  There were several bear boxes located at the parking lot for all to use and store any items they felt would encourage a bear to get curious, creative and destructive, lol.  I saw this firsthand last year when we hiked the JMT – a few vehicles that were literally destroyed so I wasn’t taking chances.

 

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Just starting

 

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So beautiful

 

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Amazing

 

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Beautiful

 

 

 

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The sign says it all

 

 

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PCT

 

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Around every bend is another beautiful view.

 

 

 

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Rock Creek

 

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Magnificent tree

 

 

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Taking a short break

 

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Stones that look unnatural

 

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Amazing views

 

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I’m not sure what these little red flowers were but I saw them several times

 

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Beautiful view

 

 

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Mountain views everywhere

 

 

 

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Beautiful view

 

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Lots of grasshoppers along the JMT

 

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Amazing

 

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Beautiful view

 

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Beautiful

 

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These trees are amazing

 

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Beautiful view

 

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Strange the way these rocks were formed

 

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Awesome rock formations – this formation caught my eye – something very strange and uniform about the way these rocks are but  I just can’t put my finger on it.

 

 

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Our first pass – Cottonwood

 

 

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Beautiful view

 

 

 

 

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We decided to take the Siberian Pass because there were better sources of water

 

 

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Following the PCT

 

 

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Not going to New Army Pass

 

 

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Soldier Lake – we wanted to camp at Soldier Lake but it was already pretty filled up with other people by the time we got there.

 

 

 

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Great campsite just down from Soldier Lakes – had a great view of a beautiful little meadow.  My ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tent.

 

 

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Marmot neighbors guarding the meadow

 

 

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Marmot neighbors

 

 

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View across the meadow from our campsite

 

 

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Heading out of our camp at Soldier Lakes

 

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Heading to Rock Creek

 

 

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Not far from our destination at Rock Creek

 

 

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Ahhhh…nothing like ice cold water for aching feet

 

 

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Love these little clearings

 

 

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Campsite on Rock Creek

 

 

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Ready to hike

 

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One of the ten million ground squirrels / chipmunks along the trail…they definitely have the market cornered.  This actually looks like a hybrid! haha

 

 

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Little bird hunting up seeds

 

 

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Rock Creek

 

 

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I believe these are Fox Tail Pine trees

 

 

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Love these open meadows

 

 

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Amazing landscape

 

 

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Amazing views

 

 

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One of the many mule trains we passed. They carry provisions for individuals, rangers or groups of people.

 

 

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Cool waterfall on the trail at Crabtree Meadow

 

 

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Crabtree Meadow

 

 

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If we wanted a bid at hiking up Mt. Whitney we could have camped up this trail a bit to give ourselves a closer hike.

 

 

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View across the meadow from our campsite

 

 

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My ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tent at Crabtree Meadow. I have my Marmot watchdog in the background

 

 

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My ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus tent at Crabtree Meadow

 

 

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Neighbor at Crabtree Meadow

 

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Momma Mule Deer with twin fawns

 

 

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Exploring Crabtree Meadow and crossing the stream that meanders through the middle of it. There are quite a few campsites around the meadow.

 

 

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We would be hiking to Wallace Creek in the morning

 

 

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Gorgeous views from a meadow on the way to Wallace Creek

 

 

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Gorgeous views around every corner

 

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On our way to Wallace Creek

 

 

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Wallace Creek

 

 

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Wallace Creek – we took a nice siesta just across the other side of Wallace Creek.

 

 

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Beautiful views on our way climbing up out of Wallace Creek

 

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Beautiful views on our way climbing up out of Wallace Creek

 

 

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Foxtail Pine Trees are nothing short of amazing. There is something ancient and beautiful about every one of them.

 

 

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Onward

 

 

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Onward

 

 

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Crossing some of the clear meadows gives you great views of distant mountains.

 

 

 

 

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Another mule train passing us

 

 

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Small lake near the Bighorn Plateau

 

 

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On our way to Tyndall Creek it was a long climb down off the plateau. We came to a small creek first surrounded by some campsites but another 1/2 mile we came to the actual Tyndall Creek.

 

 

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JMT!

 

 

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I really liked Tyndall Creek area – it’s a beautiful creek surrounded by several beautiful campsites. I wanted to check out the ranger station but was opted to play in the creek instead.

 

 

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Looking forward to Forester Pass – highest point on the PCT.

 

 

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Shepherd Pass – we didn’t cross this pass.

 

 

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My ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tent at Tyndall Creek.  I was going to cowboy camp here but opted not to because of the wind blowing all the dirt around.

 

 

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On our way up out of Tyndall Creek toward Forester Pass. I hear the Kern River is a beautiful place.

 

 

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Marmot peaking from behind a rock.  Heading up this valley out of Tyndall Creek at first light the coyotes were yipping their heads off.  This little guy better keep is head down!

 

 

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Sad story of trail worker who lost his life while constructing this section of the trail. Apparently, during one of the blasts a boulder broke loose and crushed Donalds arm. Afterwards, his arm was amputated but he died due to complications.

 

 

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Sad story of trail worker who lost his life while constructing this section of the trail. Apparently, during one of the blasts a boulder broke loose and crushed Donalds arm. Afterwards, his arm was amputated but he died due to complications.

 

 

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Every once in a while I’d come across small groves of these pink plants.

 

 

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Every once in a while I’d come across small groves of these red plants.

 

 

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I’ve been researching these and trying to determine what they are but no luck as of yet.

 

 

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Forester Pass – coming from South to North had a little bit of a pucker effect. At some points the trail was not so wide and dropped off at the edge. Very exciting!

 

 

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Looking South from Forester Pass

 

 

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Looking South from Forester Pass

 

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Heading Northward down from Forester Pass

 

 

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Looking North from Forester Pass

 

 

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Indian Paintbrush?

 

 

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Looking North from Forester Pass

 

 

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Looking North from Forester Pass

 

 

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Not sure exactly where this was taken

 

 

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My campsite in Vidette Meadow along Bubbs Creek

 

 

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This is directed to some of the mule/pack trains that occur on this trail

 

 

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Bubbs Creek next to our campsite at Vidette Meadow – This is a beautiful little creek and area.  There are several campsites along this creek that starts at Vidette Meadow and extend for a good 2-3 miles to Lower Vidette Meadow.  I think the Lower Vidette campsites are the better ones.

 

 

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Bubbs Creek next to our campsite at Vidette Meadow. Bubbs Creek, like most creeks along the JMT, are full of small trout.

 

 

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My MSR Microrocket heating up some soup in a Toaks Titanium Pot at our Vidette Meadow campsite.  We were right next to Bubbs Creek.

 

 

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On the right is my BearVault BV500 which was a little overkill for our 5 night 43 miler but it is just about perfect for a 8 or 9 night trip for me.

 

 

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Perfect evening for dinner in the mountains at our campsite at Vidette Meadow next to Bubbs Creek.

 

 

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Hiking down through Vidette Meadow to the Kearsarge Pass intersection

 

 

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Hiking down through Vidette Meadow to the Kearsarge Pass intersection

 

 

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Getting close to intersection for Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Love this view

 

 

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Finally reached the intersection for Kearsarge Pass.  This is at the top of a set of switchbacks from lower Vidette Meadow and just prior to Bullfrog Lake.

 

 

 

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Taking a break at one of the two lower ponds just down from Bullfrog Lake.  This is my ULA Circuit Backpack.

 

 

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Taking a break at one of the two lower ponds just down from Bullfrog Lake.  This was one of the most peaceful spots I found out there.  It was so quiet and the perfect place to lay down and have a break.

 

 

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Bullfrog Lake is nothing short of beautiful. No wonder they don’t allow camping because I’d camp there if we were allowed.

 

 

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Bullfrog Lake

 

 

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Bullfrog Lake

 

 

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Bullfrog Lake

 

 

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Bullfrog Lake from halfway up Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Hiking up the trail to Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Approaching Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Kearsarge Pass looking South at Bullfrog Lake

 

 

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Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Looking Northeast from Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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On our way down to Onion Trailhead – looking back up to Kearsarge Pass

 

 

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Hiking down to the Onion Valley Trailhead to get back to Lone Pine.

 

 

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Hiking down toward Onion Trailhead.

 

 

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Finally back in Lone Pine – eating breakfast at The Grill and a nice view of Mt. Whitney out the front door.

 

 

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