Mammoth Lakes, the John Muir Trail, and Angry Rodents

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We have made it to the uber-rich resort town of Mammoth Lakes. I do not mean to write that with too much disdain. Lisa and I both appreciate the hypocrisy of two people taking off six months to skip across mountain tops then be appalled by the fabulous wealth on display in town. Still, the SUVs, massive campers, trendy gear, mansions and fine restaurants make us eager to take our stained and tattered packs and fly. Alas, calorie deficits must be addressed, along with weary flesh and bone. We found a Motel 6 in which to rest without too much cost. The toilet was broken so management even gave us a discount. It’s actually the second town in a row where the crapper in our hotel has malfunctioned and we were compensated with a reduced rate. Lucky us!

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We’ve passed the 900 mile mark! The Pacific Crest Trail coincides with the John Muir Trail and has been since Mount Whitney. Everyday we pass JMT hikers heading south. They tend to be a little less bedraggled and earthy and they smile more. As one local hiker told us when comparing PCT and JMT hikers at this point in their journey, the PCT hikers tend to look they’ve been hit by a bus two or three times. Regardless, as most JMT hikers prefer to hike south instead of north, (and the north bounders cover fewer miles than PCT hikers) Lisa and I have not gotten to know any of these cheerful folk.

The Sierra Nevada continues to be astoundingly gorgeous and larger than life. The weather has also been consistently brutal. Rain, sleet, snow and all that jazz. We have had some close calls with lightning storms chasing us over mountain passes. Standing on a bare ridge line when the clouds to the southeast roil black and thunder cracks, again and again, closer and closer, is not a particularly calming experience. Family, we don’t risk electrocution on purpose. The storms are just that sporadic and sudden.

Muir Pass

Muir Pass

So the weather, particularly the icy rain, has been draining. That said, we had some clear weather out some memorable spots. Crossing Muir Pass, at 12,000 feet, surrounded by jagged white stone and lakes of crystalline water is like walking across Earth’s polished bones. The forests of Kings Canyon National Park bristle thick and green. Clear mountain streams, many pure enough to drink, cascade down cliffs and cut rocky trails to the streams and rivers digging out each valley and canyon. We need to stop complaining about the weather. Yeah, it could kill us, but its great for the mountains and this drought stricken state as a whole.

The view from Muir Pass.

The view from Muir Pass.

On to the cuddlies! There are a lot of little varmints in these here hills. I’ve already mentioned the marmots, the ornery lords of the mountain tops. They are big and bold and demand tribute from your bear cannister. Related to the marmots, no less fearful despite their smaller stature, are the ground squirrels and chipmunks. When we bipeds wander by, these rodents stand on their hind legs and chatter at us mercilessly. “Hey! Hu-Mon! Two legs ain’t so tough. Give me that snickers and take a hike!” Few of these creatures are skittish in the least, save the elusive pika and some sort of prairie dog I have yet to identify.

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The pika resemble chinchillas and are incredibly camera shy. No doubt they have been traumatized by one too many cuddles. The prairie dogs, I suspect, realize they are of the perfect dimensions to fit into a hot dog bun and have evolved accordingly. Oh, and apparently some of these creatures might carry the Plague! So no kissing them. Pretty sure that’s how the plague spreads.

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