Wednesday, March 5, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 20 — Blayney Hot Springs to Piute Creek

We enjoyed a slow morning beside the San Joaquin River, Pam and I lingering in the sun, trying to make our single cup of coffee last while the boys waded in the shallow water.  Shortly before lunch I walked back to Muir Trail Ranch and retrieved our resupply package, two five-gallon buckets stuffed as full as possible and sealed with packaging tape.  I’d weighed the buckets a month earlier before taking them to the post office, so I knew the food inside totaled 49 pounds.  Still, I was worried that it might not be enough to last all four of us the sixteen days we’d allotted to reach the trail’s end at Whitney Portal.

With the exception of a handful of gluttonous meals in Tuolumne Meadows, Red’s Meadow and Vermillion Valley Resort, we’d been hungry almost every day since leaving Yosemite, and from this point on, we would be entering the most remote section of the John Muir Trail.  We didn’t have any more gluttonous meals in store until we’d hauled our butts the final 110 miles to civilization.   This would be our last chance to get extra food, so I spent almost an hour sorting through the hiker buckets in detail, taking several more pounds of nuts, energy bars and dried fruit.  I also scored a few packets of tuna, a sleeve of Ritz crackers and a little extra hot chocolate powder so that Pam and I could drink mochas on a handful of mornings.

The catch of course was that Pam and I now had about 60 new pounds of food to carry… along with all our other gear… and it was going to hurt!

It went unspoken, but I’m sure that played into our decision to hold off on hiking for a couple more hours and revisit the hot springs instead.  We waded across the river and into the meadow, finding an additional hot pool that was wider and deeper than the one we’d soaked in the night before.  And just beyond that, on the far side of a dense band of willows, we came across a pond.  It was picturesque, tucked against a forested hillside with several large rocks along one shore, scattered lily pads along the margins and willows sprouting from the meadow to overhang small portions of the water.


Not far from us, we spotted a bright yellow inflatable raft, which someone had carried in and left for hikers to enjoy.  The kids jumped on it immediately, and spent well over an hour paddling around the pond and exploring.  We swam and soaked in the sun, visiting one of the hot springs once again before finally heading back across the river to face the trail… and our packs.

We started hiking in the mid afternoon and only went about three miles before making camp along a rocky, rapid section of Piute Creek.  The sky had stayed completely clear all day, and the boys and I decided to sleep under the stars again.  We laid our sleeping bags on a shelf of ground beside the rushing stream, and read The Hobbit by the light of my headlamp.

Before we fell asleep Noah rolled over to look at me.  “Dad, when we get to the top of Mount Whitney do you think we can all take turns standing on the very peak while everyone else squats down so we’ll each get a chance to be the tallest person in the US for a while?”

“Sure,” I said.  I liked thinking about it.  It made me smile.


We fell asleep with our bodies against each other, and this time Kai stayed out with us the entire night.  He didn’t seem worried at all.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.