JMT, Day 20: Our Final Leg Begins!

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Day 20: Red’s Meadow to Garnet Lake, 14.2 miles

My new air mattress is awesome, and I sleep solidly through the night. When the alarm goes off at 5:30, it’s tempting to hit the snooze button, but we have lots of other campers around us who will surely get annoyed if I do, so it’s up and at ‘em! Our packs are a bit of a mess. Everything was torn apart yesterday with the resupply, laundry and shopping run, and we scramble to put everything back together as quickly as possible. Our goal is to be at the Mulehouse Cafe right when it opens at 7 for a hearty breakfast before getting back on the trail.

The door to the cafe is already open when we get there. We grab two stools at the counter and are the first customers, but the staff isn’t quite ready for us. We continue with our last minute charging of devices and quickly scroll through hundreds of emails from the last 12 days on the trail to see if there’s anything crucial to respond to. It’s nice to check in, but we are ready to break free of technology and connectivity and return to the simple life of backpacking once again.

Team Alabama arrives and grabs a spot at the counter next to us. We place our breakfast order and wait with anticipation for the food to come. The plate of fresh eggs and skillet potatoes finally arrive and are devoured within minutes. What a welcome change from trail breakfasts of oatmeal, black bean tortillas or energy bars! Matt even orders a big piece of blueberry pie and eats the whole thing. He says he is sorry for not sharing, but I am not buying it.

By 8 am we are all done, paid and ready to hit the trail. We take a photo with Team Alabama, hoping that this won’t be the last time that we see them. We have really come to enjoy their company, and we appreciate them hanging around us even though we are old enough to be their parents!

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There are lots of ways to leave Red’s, but we head back to the trail via the way we came so we can pick up the JMT from exactly where we left it. Before long, we start climbing and can see views of Devil’s Postpile off in the distance. There are many junctions and signs along this section of the trail, and we have to consult our maps often as we leave the comforts of Red’s behind to make sure that we are headed in the right direction.

We both feel well-rested, and we are excited for our very last leg of the JMT. The sign at Red’s said it is only 51 miles to Happy Isles, our end destination, and we can hardly believe it. Tomorrow we will cross into Yosemite National Park—what a thought!

The day is already getting warm with our first hour on the trail, and we take advantage of stream crossings to dunk our quick dry towels in the cold water and tie them around our necks. We will be climbing over 2500’ of elevation today, so trying to keep cool will be a main goal of the day.

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The trail is still super dusty, and our clean pants are already filthy before lunch—so much for the laundry and showers at Red’s! It’s a nice change when we finally begin to see some water features along the trail. First we pass tiny Gladys Lake. Rosalie is even more inviting, but we decide to wait until we get to Shadow Lake to take our afternoon break.

Shadow is large and beautiful with crystal clear waters and a pleasant sandy shoreline. I wade into my knees, but Matt goes for the full on swim. The contorted faces and loud gasps he makes while in the cold water are amusing to say the least. After a few minutes, he finally settles in and starts to enjoy himself.

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By 4 pm we are back on the trail for the final 3.4 mile push to Garnet Lake. We gain over 1000’ in this last section, but we are determined to make it to this beautiful lake that Ansel Adams enjoyed photographing back in the day. We cross a rocky, unnamed mini-pass at 10,000’ and then drop down to the large lake with the stunning view of Banner Peak at its head.

Will from Team Alabama catches up to us just as we hit the shoreline, and the three of us follow the trail to the north side of the lake to look for camping. There are very few spots available, and we settle in with a handful of other hikers who have already set up camp for the night. Greg arrives shortly after, and we enjoy chatting with the boys over dinner before I head to bed.

Matt and Greg decide to try shooting the stars, and the two are out for a few hours before Matt finally climbs into his sleeping bag. We have plans to get up pre-dawn to shoot the sunrise, so it’s going to be a short night of sleep for us both!

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