John Muir Trail- Bench Lake (Lake Marjorie) to Woods Creek
Mileage- 8.94 miles
Elevation Gain- 1418 feet
Elevation Loss- 4031 feet
Our fourth day on the John Muir Trail in California took us from the Bench Lake area (Lake Marjorie) to Woods Creek. This would be our shortest day both in distance and elevation gain… and we were welcoming it. Not because the previous days had been overly taxing at all, but because the remaining three days were going to be MONSTROUS. For the record, our trip was originally planned for eight days, but we were confident that we could squeeze the final four days into three and finish a day early, but more on that later. The smoke from Rough Fire had again cleared out overnight, which brought blue morning skies and the crystal clear waters of Lake Marjorie. Being that this day was our shortest, we took our time breaking camp. I believe that each one of us spent some time giving ourselves a good wash… from head to toe. The September air was cool and perfectly refreshing. It was a great way to start our day.
Our trek began at Lake Marjorie at about 11,200 feet. Within less than two miles we would be at our highest point, Pinchot Pass at 12,050. The cumulative elevation gain to the pass was probably a bit over 900 feet. It was an easy climb, again on a well-established trail. The views back to the north of Lake Marjorie were something special. The skies were perfectly blue and reflected brilliantly off the water. Just west of Marjorie you can see Mt. Ruskin and then in the far north North Palisade. Facing southward you can see Mount Wynne to the east and Mount Ickes to the west. The change in rock composition and color added a nice element to the canvas.
Pinchot Pass ended up being one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip for me. As we reached the pass there was a small rocky peak directly to our west and I was convinced that I was going to climb the additional 200 feet for some reason- maybe accomplishment or a better view- I am not really sure, but three of us scrambled to the top as you can see in one of the pictures below. We are at the top waving. Pinchot Pass was also memorable because one I came back down from my side excursion I sat down to eat lunch. On night one a critter stole my spork from the area where I stored my bear can overnight. I had been operating for a few days by having to share with one of the other guys. But when I sat down at Pinchot I leaned backward to stretch and my hand landed on something strange. I picked it up and start screaming. Someone lost a spork and I, by chance, found it! I later boiled and cleaned it for usage the rest of the trip. It was a fantastic moment. For the record, this is the third trip in which I have lost a spork. It’s unreal.
The descent from Pinchot Pass was one of several visual treats over the 100 miles we covered. The area opened up with an expansive sky and mountains surrounding us on all sides with Crater Mountain to the west being most notable. While the view was a bit hazy from Pinchot, as we traveled down the views cleared up nicely. A few times we would just stop and take time to get a 360 degree view of the area. It was that kind of place for sure.
As we approached the Woods Creek area and dipped below the tree line, the afternoon smoke began to roll in. Woods Creek has a really cool suspension bridge that must be crossed in order to reach the camping areas. While the first couple of guys didn’t read the suspension bridge rules of “one person at a time,” the rest of us went one at a time. For this particular area the camping areas were a bit closer together. Not side by side necessarily, but you could easily see other tents and backpackers. I noticed that this area filled up quickly too. Those coming into the area later had to pack further to get spots. This area also sported a metal bear box to put your smelly stuff in, but we just threw our bear cans in it or beside it.
The next day would take us to Glen Pass and then on to Bubbs Creek. Our remaining days were some of the most beautiful of any trip, but also the most physically exerting.