After nearly three days of SPOT radio silence with no tracking signals, Jim appeared on Sunday afternoon at Mile 157—all the way down near Marjorie Lake. Official investigators from the International Through-Hiking Federation were reported to be in the area asking questions, and confidential sources say they are referring to Jim as “The Rosie Ruiz of the John Muir Trail,” and currently working to rule out quantum mechanics, teleporting, and a zip-line rigged from duct tape as possible alternative modes of transport, any of which could garner him a 211-race suspension.
Seriously, though, right now (Monday night, Day 13), Jim is already at 60 Lakes Basin, which is more than 173 miles down the trail, at the campground at which he had originally planned to camp on Day 14—before the Happy Isles pass came through and put Jim and Eddie a day behind schedule—so not only has he made up an entire day, but he has also gained another one.
The trail from Evolution Lake to Le Conte Canyon goes for eight miles above tree line, and Jim would have camped up there on Friday night, near Sapphire Lake, where the trail is wide open and the views look amazing. Jim will have to relay the details when he gets back, but I’m guessing, subject to some alternative-transport theory, that he did not hang around to camp for two nights at Sapphire Lake, and instead high-tailed it out of there on Saturday and made it all the way to Deer Meadow–or perhaps even another seven miles past Wanda Lake at 11,400 feet, and then up to Muir Pass at almost 12,000 feet. Muir Pass is a really long climb in any case, but the last mile is supposed to be pretty wretched–with lots of big, loose gravel. At the top of is the landmark Muir Hut, which was built in the 1930s as a tribute to John Muir and as a shelter for hikers. Helen Lake would be next, followed by the “unnamed lakes” which it seems is actually their name (the Muir Hut link above has lots of good pictures of those lakes as well), then past the Black Giant (a peak), and on through Le Conte Canyon, crossing Big Pete Meadow and Little Pete Meadow, respectively, along the way. There is this enormous and really cool rock formation (called in the alternative, “Monster Rock,” “Whale Rock,” and the “John Muir Rock Creature,” which sits on the trail near Big Pete Meadow. That embedded link above is to the only picture I could find that did not include a person sitting or lying in the rock mouth. Most of them look like this, and they never fail to crack me up:It does provide a better appreciation of how big the thing is, though. After the two “Petes” would come Grouse Meadow, and then the trail turns left (east) along Palisade Creek and starts to climb again for another ten miles, all the way up to Mather Pass at 12,100 feet (the highest elevation on the trail so far). The Deer Meadow campground is along that stretch before the pass, at about mile 142; but as I mentioned above, another possible scenario is that Jim skipped the Deer Meadow campground, just continued over Mather Pass on Saturday, and camped at around mile 150 (just south of and on the way down from Mather Pass) that night.
When SPOT started to send signals again on Sunday afternoon, Jim was already down near Lake Marjorie and Pinchot Pass, which meant that sometime between Saturday and Sunday, he had climbed the Golden Staircase and gone up and over Mather Pass (likely Saturday) and then down a series of switchbacks into Upper Basin, after which the trail starts to climb again all the way up and over Pinchot Pass—at 12,130 feet. Pinchot Pass was the “new” highest point on the trip so far, and is the second-highest pass of the eight on the John Muir Trail.
It looks as though Jim camped on Sunday night just south of Pinchot Pass, and then hiked about 16 tough but gorgeous trail miles on Monday—starting with a descent of 3,700 feet from the pass down to Woods Creek, and then across the fancy Woods Creek single-track suspension bridge and into the Rae Lakes area, in which he would set up camp for the night at 60 Lakes Basin Junction. I found a link that gives a pretty good “photo tour” from Sapphire Lake all the way through this point (and farther)—just click on the right arrow in the frame itself and scroll through the series. Spoiler alert: Click here to learn how Jim got down there so quickly.