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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Upper Rae Lake, Glen Pass to Vidette Meadow

Heading Down to Vidette Meadow

Day 19 on the John Muir Trail…

We awoke early, determined to get a jump on Glen Pass (11, 970ft.). Last night we camped at 10,600ft. just above Upper Rae Lake and were looking forward to reaching the pass early before it got too warm.

John Muir Trail Day 19
Distance: 9 miles
Cumulative Distance: 187 miles
Total Ascent: 3,212 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 50,380 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 3 and 2
I need to qualify what I mean by an “early start.” We typically did not set an alarm to wake up  in the mornings. We would wake at about sunrise, rise maybe an hour later to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Sometimes we didn’t actually hit the trail until nearly 10am. Many thru-hikers cannot fathom such a late start, but we enjoyed it. It worked for us, even though it sometimes mean rolling into camp at night around dusk.

This morning I awoke before sunrise. Our camp was very close to the trail, and even in the darkness, there were hikers headed up toward the pass, their headlights bobbing up and down with each stride. That was not our definition of early. We called it sheer madness.

In all seriousness, there are some people who like to wake up, pack up and start hiking immediately to help warm their body. After they have hiked for one or two miles, they stop and cook breakfast. It works for them, and it maybe it would work for you.

Today we got up and were on the trail before the sun hit our campsite, and that was early enough for us.

Looking Back at Rae Lakes

Being above the tree line, we knew there would be lots of exposure, and it helped to get the pass out of the way early. And there was quite a crowd already at the top of Glen Pass.

Almost to Glen Pass

We climbed about 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles. Not a bad warm-up. Looking north from Glen Pass, we were treated to a tremendous view of where we had been.

View North From Glen Pass

From Glen Pass, we headed south and down towards Vidette Meadows. Our goal was to camp at Upper Vidette Meadows, positioning us well for Forester Pass tomorrow.

As we descended, we saw more and more smoke in the air from a wildfire to the west. It was disconcerting for two reasons. First, we didn’t know how far away the fire was, or if it threatened any part of the John Muir Trail further south, posing danger to us and requiring a change of plans. Second, Joan suffers from asthma, and smoke didn’t help matters. We were concerned, but pressed forward.

Smoke to the West

Whenever we passed other hikers, we’d enquire about the wildfire and try to glean some knowledge about where it was, and whether it posed danger to us. Information is limited on the trail. There is no cell coverage. There is no Internet. But the reports we heard confirmed that the fire was far enough west that it posed no eminent threat.

We paused near the junction to Bullfrog Lake to refill our water bottles and eat lunch. It was good to be in the shade, and the mosquitos weren’t even too bad.

On our way down to Bubbs Creek, we ran into a couple who was section hiking the PCT. Last summer, they hiked the entire Oregon section. This year, they were tackling the section that more or less tracks along the JMT, though they started at the southern end of the Sierras and were headed north-bound. They were happily feasting on cheese and crackers, which they had rummaged from a bear box in Lower Vidette Meadows. “Look for it! There’s still some good stuff left in there…” they promised. Visions of a delectable backcountry smorgasbord danced in our heads as we headed down the trail.

One of the questions that I’m often asked about is how easy (or difficult) it is to follow the John Muir Trail. For the most part, the trail is very easy to follow and extremely well marked. However, not all junctions identify which direction the JMT follows, so you still need a good set of maps and basic navigation skills.

Smoke Protection

On this section of the JMT, there are an unusually high number of trail junctions. We made a point of sticking together and checking the map at each to ensure we were headed in the right direction. We didn’t want another Cloud’s Rest detour.

We made our way to Lower Vidette Meadows, and sure enough, we found the bear box with a cache of leftover foodstuffs. We were excited to rummage through this left-behind food. We salvaged some tea, some ramen and a few other goodies. There was cheese, but it looked very suspect. Not exactly the smorgasbord we imagined, but still a nice bonus.

Hiker Trash
JMT-JeffThere’s an old hiking joke that goes something like this…

“What’s the difference between a backpacker and a homeless person?” The answer? Goretex.

As we excitedly rummaged through days-old food left in a bear box, I realized were weren’t far off from “dumpster diving.” It’s all a matter of perspective.

We followed Bubbs Creek up the valley, climbing 1,300 feet in just over three miles. The trees were growing sparse when we found a great established campsite for the night.

Our Campsite Near Upper Vidette Meadow

Trail Map: Rae Lakes to Glen Pass to Upper Vidette Meadow

Download file: JMT-Day-19.gpx

JMT Day 19 Photo Gallery

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Tomorrow, we climb Forester Pass — over 13,000 feet high!

Originally hiked on August 14, 2010.

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