Backpacking into the John Muir Wilderness

South FORK LAKE(my base camp)

My backpacking trip into the John Muir Wilderness was my first in 20 years, and only made possible because I lost 60 pounds through the Veterans Administration MOVE program(Motivate Overweight Veterans Everywhere). I started my tramp at Horseshoe Meadows at 10,000′ in the Inyo National Forest, located in California’s Eastern Sierra. My first days hike took me up to South Fork Lake at 11,000′, five miles and 1,000′ elevation gain from Horseshoe Meadow. My pack weighed about 40 lbs., with an additional 10 pounds of camera gear carried in front.

Owens Valley and Lone Pine, CA, the dark bit on the far right edge of the frame

The first day of my adventure lead me up the Horse Shoe Meadow Road along the steep slopes of the Eastern Sierra from the Owens Valley, and Lone Pine, California. At this time of the day(2:35 pm), smoke from the 150+ California fires, was just starting to drift into the Owens Valley. The pinkish tinge in the left portion of the frame indicates the presence of wild land fire smoke. I arrived at Horseshoe Meadow at about 3:40, where I spent the first night in my tent so I could get an early start the next morning.

South Fork Lake Trail

The South Fork Trail starts 1.2 miles from the trailhead at Horseshoe Meadow, winding through stands of Lodgepole(Pinus contorta) and Intermountain Bristlecone Pine(Pinus longaeva). The first portion of the trail descended for the first mile or so, which I noted with a feeling of dread because I knew I would be hiking up hill on the final mile of my return hike to Horseshoe Meadow. I loved the trees: living and dead. The living because the were green and fragrant, the dead because of the varied, beautiful warm colors.

Log structure on the South Fork Trail

This dilapidated log shelter graced the side of the trail, probably partially subterranean for headroom. What stories these old walls might tell: generations of trampers; trackers; trappers; lovers.

Douglas Squirrel(Tamiasciurius douglasii)

Precious little wildlife in the sub-alpine areas of the Sierra, but ground squirrels, chipmunks, and tree squirrels are the most common mammals. This Douglas squirrel is the most common tree squirrel in the area. The native people of the Kings River area called them “Pillilooeet” because of their alarm call.

South Fork Creek

The South Fork Trail follows South Fork Creek, a small rivulet what winds its way down from South Forks Lakes. It laughs and gurgles it’s way down the valley carved out of the decomposed granitic soil, ancient glaciers and chemical processes for thousands of years.

Colorful pine snags

There was an abundance to barkless pine snags all all along the trail, each an individual cylindrical art piece, different from each other, yet all with a rich blend of colors and textures.

Mountain Chickadee(Poecile gambeli)

There aren’t very many different bird species in the sub-alpine and alpine life zones, and the majority are small “dickie birds”, that flit and flirt with my camera and are generally difficult to photograph. But one keeps on trying to capture an image, because you may be lucky enough to get a first ever image, or a better image than previous ones.

Another magnificent Bristlecone Pine snag

The Bristlecone pine is the oldest living organism on planet earth; They can live up to 5,000 years! Some started growing 2,000 years before the birth of Christ, empires rose and fell; wars raged; people were enslaved and freed; and the tree from 2500 B.C. continued its implacable slow-motion existence, adding about two-hundredths of an inch to the diameter of its trunk each year. 

flat plant

This recumbent (flat growing) plant is responding to snow load. I can’t grow tall, so it doesn’t even try: it keeps on growing when smooshed by snow.

Purple wildflowers growing in a meadow

Haven’t been able to ID it yet. They were very common in the sub-alpine zone, so I’m surprised they are hard to identify.

To be continued.

Published by sabaiedmsncom

I am a former park ranger, and coastal dune preserve manager, now retired and photographing the places that suit my wanderlust. I usually have a general idea of where I want to travel to, but once on the road I just follow my nose: it seldom steers me wrong.

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