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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Deer Creek to Tully Hole

Tully Hole

Day 8 on the John Muir Trail…

After a “half day” of hiking yesterday, we looked forward to getting back on the trail today. We planned to head from Deer Creek to Tully Hole — about 12 miles. The elevation gain would be mainly slow and steady, and we would be hiking right at the tree line most of the day.

John Muir Trail Day 8
Distance: 11.1 miles
Cumulative Distance: 81.4 miles
Total Ascent: 2,572 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 22,028 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 9 and 8
We headed south as the trail clung to the steep  sides of Cascade Valley, rewarding us with inspiring views to the west. The first few miles are dry and dusty, with no good sources of water, but we were well prepared.

This was effortless climbing, relatively speaking. As we  headed south along the side of the valley, the trail was climbing the entire way, but with no switchbacks and a gentle grade, we barely noticed.

South Towards Purple Lake

At mile five we stopped for a lazy lunch break at Duck Creek, kicking the boots off and soaking in the cold, refreshing water.


As we sat in the shade happily munching on our lunch, an older gentleman named Al happened by. He was a solo north-bound — or NOBO — JMT thru-hiker, and he was on track to complete the JMT in 14 days with no resupply. This was Al’s second JMT thru-hike. The first time, years earlier, he had used “traditional” backpacking gear (much as we had) weighing in at over 40 lbs. This time around he went ultra-light. His base pack weight was a mere 14 lbs. 


We pondered the benefits and trade-offs of going ultra-light as we finished our lunch. And as we heaved our packs back up on our backs to continue hiking, we were pretty sure Al was on to something.

At mile 7.3, we came across the beautiful Purple Lake. The steep mountain sides leading to Purple Lake left us wondering whether there were many — or any — good campsites there, but it had a wild feel about it that was attractive.


From Purple lake we ascended the saddle reaching the highest point on today’s hike en route to Lake Virginia. This doesn’t look like much, but it was hot and dusty.


Lake Virginia was big and beautiful. The John Muir Trail passes the inlet to Lake Virginia, then skirts the eastern border before passing over another saddle and the final descent to Tully Hole.

Lake Virginia

One of the joys of thru-hiking is the people you meet along the trail. We had crossed paths with numerous other thru-hikers, some of them several times. And as our JMT crew stretched out, each of us hiking our own pace, we would sometimes encounter the same people, but at different times.

Lake Virginia

On this day, Hari had hiked up ahead and ran into a Ranger at Lake Virginia. He was checking for two things: permits and bear canisters.  Hari had a long, friendly conversation with the Ranger while he waited for the rest of us to catch up. The Ranger had run across a two guys who were backpacking without a bear canister — a big no-no — and was escorting them back to his camp where he was going to graciously loan them a spare canister. That’s pretty awesome.

Hari and The Secret Ranger Campsite
JMT-HariBeing friendly has its benefits. Our intended destination was Tully Hole — which we learned was famous for mosquitos. Talking to the Ranger about our plans, he revealed a “secret campsite” that the Rangers sometimes used. It’s not on the maps.

When we reached Fish Creek, we crossed over and did a short boulder scramble up to a granite outcrop. Here there was enough of a breeze through the canyon to keep most of the mosquitos at bay. 

The trail down to Tully Hole drops 1,000 feet in about a mile with a series of switchbacks. As we got closer to the bottom, we could make out the granite outcrop with our new “secret campsite” destination.

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Our “secret” campsite was awesome. We cooked dinner, relaxed and enjoyed an amazing light show as the sun set. Joan did a great job of capturing the changes in colors on the nearby mountains.

JMT Day 8: Deer Creek to Tully Hole

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JMT Day 8 Photo Gallery

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Tomorrow, we head over Silver Pass, down to Edison Lake and Vermilion Valley Resort.

Originally hiked on August 3, 2010.

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