John Muir Trail - Day Twelve

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Spoiler alert: day 12 was a real bummer for us. To cut to the chase we had to leave the JMT over Bishop Pass due to the Rough Fire in King’s Canyon. At the time it was 0% contained and filling the valley and ALL passes south with thick smoke.

We started the day with a 2.3 mile climb over the top of Muir Pass [129.1 mi, 11980’]. We took some photos in and around Muir Hut on the summit before heading down the other side, passing Helen Lake and other unnamed lakes. As we continued down our visibility grew worse. After a break at Starr Camp we agreed to meet at the Le Conte Ranger Station for more information on the fire.

Our last section on the JMT was still an eventful one! On the way down Kristen and I spotted the giant monster rock and put in his stone “teeth” for a photo opportunity. Then right before we got to the ranger station a black bear darted across the trail right in front of me! He looked pretty big to me but didn’t seem interested in hikers at all. I was so shocked I only got some crappy photos as he ran off towards the creek. In retrospect the smoke might’ve been bothering him.

The whole way down I felt confident that we could continue the hike based on visibility and stories from hikers heading north. They made it sound pretty reasonable to continue south. However, as we arrived at the Le Conte Ranger Station [136.9 mi, 8740’] and paused for lunch the smoke thickened to the point where I could really smell it and feel it in my throat. Visibility continued to get worse and we couldn’t see through the forest or even tell that there were mountains around us. We read a sign posted by the ranger describing the fire conditions and decided to talk to her for some more advice. She recommended that we leave over Bishop Pass because the smoke would be present all the way to Forrester Pass, basically to the end of the JMT. She confirmed the fire was 0% contained and the smoke could worsen.

Although it was an extremely disappointed decision to make (especially since we were all going strong!), we all knew we should leave. The smoke was so thick it would certainly harm our lungs over several more days of huffing and puffing up high mountain passes. On top of that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy or see the scenery so the only reason to finish would be to say that we did it.

So we proceeded off the JMT and started up Bishop Pass. The smoke continued to get worse as we hiked out, confirming our decision. The switchbacks had the added challenge of smokey air and I tried to hike slower to slow my breathing. I used my buff as a mask which made the hike even harder (especially over 10,000ft!) but it definitely made a difference.

We stopped to camp at the beginning of Dusey Basin near a pond/lake, maybe 1000-1500ft shy of the summit. The smoke was still really bad all the way up there. We decided to eat all of our favorite foods, and in large quantities. We didn’t bother to wash our clothes and went to bed with thick smoke hanging in the air. I was so sad that we could not complete the journey in one trip but at the same time we camped in a dozen new places, visited new parks and trails, met nice people, crossed high passes, and had an amazing trip.