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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Le Conte Canyon to Palisade Creek

Craggy Spires

Day 15 on the John Muir Trail…

It gets cold at high elevations. We were camped just below Muir Pass, and well above 11,000 feet. We lingered in the warmth of our tent, emerging when sunlight illuminated the tops of the peaks to our west. Our campsite was entirely exposed, and yet completely private. We were in plain view of the JMT, but nobody was up on Muir Pass this early in the morning.

John Muir Trail Day 15
Distance: 11.8 miles
Cumulative Distance: 145.8 miles
Total Ascent: 1,232 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 37,858 ft
Harrison Map Sheet 5
We filtered water, enjoyed a hot beverage and breakfast, and took in the amazing views. Jeffrey and Hari had gone ahead , actually camping beyond Helen Lake. Hari was entering grad school and was feeling pressure to finish the JMT a day or two earlier, if he could. After yesterday, we weren’t sure if we would see them again, but being two self-sufficient groups, we were prepared for that.

The Unnamed Lake we camped at

Our itinerary for today involved a long downhill stretch into stunning Le Conte Canyon, followed by a short uphill section along Palisade Creek. We were grateful that there were no passes to climb today.

We broke camp and headed down the JMT.

Rocky Terrain Below Helen Lake

The trail at times took us across wide sections of snow. The steep incline was intimidating, especially when you think about sliding down into a freezing cold creek or lake at the bottom. Fortunately the sun was warm, and the trail easy to pick up. Our trekking poles gave us additional confidence on the more slippery sections.

Joan Playing in the Snow

Glissading down the snow sounds like fun, except when it leads to this.

Snow-fed Creek

The bowl that we hiked down collected the run off from the melting snow fields, which in turn sought out the lowest point in the valley. We were watching the Kings River forming before our eyes.

“The snow is melting into music.” – John Muir

Muir’s words capture the essence of the experience.

The Birth of a River

We would follow this creek down into Le Conte Canyon and see it transform from a little creek to a raging river.

We paused at this unnamed lake for a late morning snack, being mindful of the lesson we learned yesterday about eating at regular intervals.

Snack Break by an Unnamed Lake

Heading down into Le Conte Canyon, there were a series of switchbacks with stunning views like this, with a pack train heading up the trail towards us.

Pack Train

At the 6.5 mile mark we came upon Little Pete Meadow. We had descended nearly 3,000 feet, and the trail smoothed out to a gently sloping valley. This meadow had some beautiful campsites, and we would have loved to stop for the night, but we still had another six miles to hike to stay on schedule. We made a note to return to Le Conte Canyon on another trip to explore this area more slowly.

Little Pete Meadow

We stopped at the Le Conte Ranger Station and picked up a note from Hari and Jeffrey. The were doing fine, maintaining their twenty-something pace that meant we probably wouldn’t see them tonight.

Le Conte Ranger Station

Sure enough, a few miles further down the trail we ran across Brian. He was the solo JMT thru-hiker that we shared a campsite with two nights ago, and he had shared the trail with Jeffrey and Hari for most of the day. Brian had found a campsite near beautiful Grouse Meadows and planned to try a little fishing. He confirmed that the other half of our group was doing fine, and were planning to camp near the base of the Golden Staircase.

Feeling the Pressure
JMT-JeffGetting on the John Muir Trail meant unplugging from our daily lives. But back at Vermilion Valley Resort, I checked my email. Back home, my car was already packed and ready for me to move to grad school in Utah the very day we returned. Unfortunately, a friend had borrowed the car, and it broke down.

I knew I had to report to school on time, and now had to solve another problem — what to do with my car and all my belongings. I was feeling pressure to finish the trail as early as I could, so I could deal with my moving dilemma. So Jeffrey and I hiked on ahead, partly because we could, but mainly to allow extra time to deal with my car situation. It was another example of being flexible on the trail… and maybe not checking email! 

Grouse Meadows

We continued our hike down Le Conte Canyon. The walls narrowed, the terrain became more rugged, and the King River cascaded noisily over the rocks.

We reached our junction with the trail to Mather Pass and followed it up beside Palisade Creek — our first real ascent of the day. We climbed uphill for about a mile and a quarter, and stopped for the night at an established campsite. We used the rain fly with the tent tonight. The clouds we had seen earlier today looked unpredictable, and getting rain-soaked at night was not in our plan.

Trail Map: Le Conte Canyon to Palisade Creek

Download file: JMT-Day-15.gpx

JMT Day 15 Photo Gallery

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Tomorrow, we would climb the Golden Staircase and Mather Pass.

Originally hiked on August 10, 2010.

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