John Muir Trail- Woods Creek to Bubbs Creek
Mileage- 12.6 miles
Elevation Gain- 4440 feet
Elevation Loss- 3487 feet
Our fifth day on the John Muir Trail in California took us from Woods Creek over Glen Pass to Bubbs Creek. This was our first of three monster days that had significant mileage and significant total elevation gain. The total distance was 12.6 miles and the total elevation gain was close to 4500 feet. I was sitting here somewhat shocked to see our total trip time clock in at nine hours and fifteen minutes, but as I thought of how much down time we had taking pictures and swimming, it made complete sense. From Woods Creek to the top of Glen Pass is one of the greatest and most beautiful 8.5 mile stretches I have ever seen. As proof, this post has more pictures than any other post! We knew that we needed to get an early start because the day was going to be long, but we also wanted to try to get the majority of our hiking done before the smoke of Rough Fire rolled in in the afternoon. I am super glad that we got an early start!
We began to climb out of the lower grassy and piney areas into the classic and picturesque Sierra Nevada landscapes- sparse vegetation, big time pale granite mountains set against rich blue skies, and high altitude, crystal clear lakes. After about four miles of gradual incline we hit Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake. The trail snakes in between these these lakes and it’s from these lakes where we got our first glimpse of Fin Dome, which is really easy to spot. In fact, the trail works it’s way even closer to Fin and provides a ridiculous number of opportunities for stunning photos.
It is from Dollar and Arrowhead Lakes to Rae Lakes where your heart begins to beat out of your chest because it is just SO BEAUTIFUL. Off topic a little here, but I remember a family vacation we took about ten years ago. It was with my two daughters (6 and 3 at the time), my wife, and I. It was the first time I had been to Colorado and we were in Rocky Mountain National Park driving Trail Ridge Road from the entrance to the top of the mountains and then back down. At one point we pulled off the road and there was a clearing that climbed about 150 feet up to some huge rocks. We got out of the car and hiked up to those massive rocks and jumped up on them and took pictures of ourselves. I had not done any backpacking in my life up to that point and I just remember the freedom I felt running into nature and into something not so domesticated and structured. That was the first day I had this deep longing to get away and go to places and experience this amazing freedom and beauty. I mention that story for two reasons. The first is that I did not grow up backpacking. I didn’t start with extensive experience or great insight. I just had an insatiable hunger TO GO and EXPLORE. I am not joking when I say that anyone, with the right mindset and dedication, can do things you would never imagine you could do. The second reason for this story is that this portion of the JMT reminded me why I first decided to start backpacking in the first place. Despite the rigorous training, difficult situations and terrain, the smoke from Rough Fire, and missing my family… seeing this land… preserved in it’s full glory… and being a small part of it… makes all the rigors and pain worth it.
We took our lunch break at Rae Lakes. If you get the opportunity to take a break here… DO IT! The trail passes on a ford the separates the lake in two. For some reason half of us stopped at the first portion of the lake and the other half of us went to the second portion of the lake. We were out of view from each other but only 20 to 25 feet from each other. We took some time to pump and eat. Someone asked me if I was going to get in the water. I said no. The truth was that I was going to, but I wanted to catch everyone off guard. So as everyone ate I began to slip off my clothes down to my underwear undetected. And without warning I ran and jumped with the biggest cannonball ever. The sudden explosion caught everyone off guard and within ten minutes everyone (I think) jumped in. The water was so so so so ridiculously cold, but man it was great. While half of us got in the south part of the most northern lake, the other guys got in the northern part of the most southern lake. I actually think that was the better of the two, because it was more like “cliff jumping,” but not quite that high. Either way, it was a great place to have an absolute blast.
We had taken way too much time with pictures and playing. We still had to conquer Glen Pass and a total of another seven or so miles. Glen Pass an easy ascent to 11,926. We were refreshed and running full of energy from all of the beauty around us. From Glen Pass we had a little more than three miles down to Bubbs Creek. I am so thankful that we were able to go from Woods to Glen Pass without any smoke from Rough Fire, but our trek down to Bubbs would be smoky. I admit that I didn’t take many pictures once the smoke rolled in. Maybe I didn’t want to remember it.
There were several spots to camp within a mile of passing the Kearsarge Pass Trail junction. This junction is really your only option to get off the JMT before Whitney and Whitney Portal. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really, really have to get off the trail. To Onion Valley it is a little over six miles and involves crossing Kearsarge Pass at 11,823. But anyway, there are several spots to camp after the junction but I would recommend camping closer to Vidette Meadow. There are several spots to camp in the Meadow and Bubbs Creek is easily accessible for water. Also, there is a metal bear box nearby for your bear cans at night.
Our sixth day on the John Muir Trail would take us from Bubbs Creek, over the massive 13,160 foot Forester Pass, and down to Tyndall Creek.