Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Muir Hut on Muir Pass (elevation 11,975 feet), Kings Canyon National Park. (Click arrows for additional photos.)Above: The water-tight interior cone of the historic Muir Hut.  The headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Looking toward LeConte Canyon, south of Muir Pass.LeConte Ranger Station, elevation 8,737 feet.ROCK OUT: The famous and highly anticipated Rock Monster at mile 133 when southbound on the John Muir Trail between Muir Pass and LeConte Canyon. Frogs sunning on a lakeside boulder. WATCH YOUR STEP: Mountain yellow-legged frogs at a creek crossing along the trail.

Hiking the John Muir Trail: Day 16

By: 
Sarah Elliott

 

This is a continuing series about a mother-and-daughter thru-hike on the John Muir Trail (north to south) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains from July 19 to August 13, 2015. 
Previous installments and more photos are here.
 
Here is the cliffhanger from the previous installment in this series:
 
“Why are those frogs white?” asked Jennie. 
 
The shoreline of Wanda Lake was crowded with these tiny swimmers from polliwog to frog. But in the midst of the crowd, there were some frogs, both alive and dead, with no color to their skin. But it was only a few compared to the massive amount of healthy frogs.
 
Little did we know there was a lethal threat lurking in the dark depths of Wanda Lake.
 
* * *
 
Danny Boiano of Three Rivers is an aquatic ecologist with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. For many years, he has been on a mission to ensure that federally endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs make a comeback from the brink of extinction.
 
While traveling in the area of Evolution Basin and LeConte Canyon, it looked to us as though the years of research, wading through government red-tape, and the on-the-ground efforts were paying off. There were so many frogs in marshy areas that we had to be especially careful during the multiple stream crossings to ensure we didn’t step on a frog. We stopped for lunch on a sun-drenched granite slab by a tarn where, closer to the water, frogs were also sunning themselves.
 
We had a good laugh at the expense of another hiker who stopped to filter water. He walked onto a flat boulder that offered a convenient ramp to the water and crouched down before noticing he was in the company of dozens of frogs. He attempted to jump up so fast that the weight of his pack caused him to fall over backward.
 
But this story has a not-so-funny side. Just a week or so after we had passed through this area, Danny said he received a report that the frogs and tadpoles were dying. An infectious fungus was wiping out the horde of amphibians.
 
This news was disheartening but we were are grateful that we witnessed the waterways in their natural state: filled with native frogs. Later in the month (August 2015), two emergency interventions were conducted. 
 
“First, several hundred of the recently diseased frogs were captured and bathed onsite in an antifungal solution to knock down their infection loads and hopefully increase their ability to survive,” Danny reported. “Second, a rescue operation scooped up a few hundred surviving tadpoles from backcountry locations in Sequoia-Kings Canyon and delivered them to the Oakland and San Francisco zoos in an attempt to save these endangered populations.”
 
By the end of the year, it was reported that the tadpoles in the zoos had survived and were now full-fledged frogs. They were treated for the amphibian chytrid fungus, a contagion that, in the past several decades, has been responsible for the extinction or decline of more than 200 species of frogs worldwide.
 
“In 2016, it was reported that many of the frogs treated in the field for disease had survived the winter,” Danny continued. “Although they were still infected, they were in modest condition, suggesting they may be able to continue living with the disease for many years, breeding, and potentially help the population adapt to a healthier state. In addition, many of the zoo-reared frogs were successfully released back to the wild, and tadpoles were collected from two additional struggling populations.”  
 
During the upcoming summer, there are plans to eradicate more fish in remote Sequoia and Kings Canyon lakes to restore native species and to continue reintroducing the endangered frogs to their natural habitat. 
 
* * *
 
Day 16: Monday, August 3
Wanda Lake to LeConte Canyon
10 miles
 
As I look back on this incredible John Muir Trail journey, it’s all good memories. But, according to my journal and Jennie’s video log, I was running low on energy. However, I don’t remember not feeling well. 
 
My recollection of the day is different than what was recorded. In preparing to write this installment, all I remember are spectacular landmarks and vistas.
 
The day began by walking the entire length of Wanda Lake. As the climb to Muir Pass begins, the trail also skirts Lake McDermand.
 
From the north side of Wanda Lake (where we had camped) to Muir Pass, it’s just a mile-and-a-half and an ascent of 600 feet to the top. Reaching a pass is cause for celebration, but this pass especially keeps folks hanging around longer because of the unique structure on top.
 
We met several other backpackers in stages of coming and going. Everybody took photos, toured the alluring Muir Hut, ate a snack, visited, and commemorated the accomplishment.
 
It was windy at the top, so the luxury of the granite benches inside the octagonal hut was appreciated while we refueled and admired the architectural details of the 85-year-old stone structure. It was constructed of hand-cut, native granite, dry stacked (no mortar or cement), at the behest of the Sierra Club in 1930, in honor of John Muir and as an emergency shelter for hikers. There’s a fireplace (no longer usable) and stone mantle; a window with views toward Wanda Lake and beyond; stone seating around the inside perimeter; a pine Dutch door with three side-by-side vertical windows; a wooden, wall-mounted cabinet; and a conical ceiling reminiscent of a Capitol dome, if that Capitol building were in the High Sierra. 
 
There were many times on this trip so far that we could have used a rock shelter with a roof; we had been rained on for seven of our 16 hiking days. Ironically, today wasn’t one of those days. 
 
So off we went. And all that elevation we worked so hard to gain over the last few days was about to disappear. The next nine miles would be all downhill; from Muir Pass, the trail drops more than 3,200 feet into LeConte Canyon’s deep trench.
 
We were at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River, which travels southwest for more than 30 miles to where it can be glimpsed by motorists traveling Highway 180 who take the time to stop at the Junction View pullout and look down at where the Middle and South forks of the Kings River merge. Back in the remote high country, the well-traveled John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail actually gets confusing to follow in these upper reaches as the mighty Kings begins as a series of streams that are in various stages of consolidating.
 
Once beyond this wetland, the descent continues adjacent to the Kings River that is a series of stunning waterfalls, providing trekkers plenty to look at.
 
All along this section of trail are excellent campsites — Starr Camp, Big Pete Meadow, and Little Pete Meadow. Our destination for the night, however, was the LeConte Ranger Station where the JMT meets the Bishop Pass trail. We waved to our camp mates of the night before as they were setting up at Big Pete Meadow. We had a little more than a mile to go.
 
Earlier in the day, we embarked on an experiment: We slept in, lounged at camp, and started later.
 
Our normal routine was to be up at daybreak, eat breakfast, pack, and leave, usually by 7 a.m. This later start, at about 10 a.m., meant we were arriving at our destination later in the day.
 
Because of this, when we got to LeConte proper, we found the area and its usable campsites packed with tents. Our sleeping-in experiment was deemed a failure; we voted unanimously to return to our early-start routine.
 
We didn’t want to squeeze in between an army of tents so kept walking. We crossed the battered bridge over the waterway that delivers runoff from Dusy Basin to the Kings River.
 
In about a half-mile, we found a comfortable site nestled between the trail and the river but with privacy, thanks to a thicket of manzanitas. We settled in for the night. 
 
My journal states that I was in the tent at 7:15 p.m., immediately fell asleep, and didn’t budge until 5:30 a.m. Again, I don’t have a single bad memory from the trip, but I must have struggled on this day as I wrote, “Sleep can restore any mental misgivings.”
 
Jennie, on the other hand, stated in her nightly video check-in: “Kings Canyon does not disappoint. It’s been the best part of the trail so far. I feel like bursting into tears while I’m hiking because it’s so beautiful. Plus it feels so familiar... I grew up in the terrain out here. It makes me nostalgic. I love it, and I’m in my element. I’m so excited for the rest of the trail.” 
 
INSET: 
 
SIERRA PLACE NAMES
 
LeConte
Joseph LeConte (1823-1901) was a physician, geologist, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, early California conservationist, co-founder of the Sierra Club, and friend of John Muir’s. He was an early explorer of the Sierra Nevada, wrote extensively about his travels, compiled maps, and took many photos of places never before seen by the outside world.
 
LeConte died of a heart attack in Yosemite Valley on July 6, 1901. In his memory, the Sierra Club built the LeConte Memorial Lodge there. Also attributed to him are LeConte Glacier, LeConte Canyon, LeConte Divide, LeConte Falls, and Mount LeConte. There is LeConte Hall on the UC Berkeley campus and LeConte Avenue in Berkeley. He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, Calif.
 
Muir Hut
The John Muir Memorial Shelter was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2016. What could have possibly taken the National Park Service so long? The Muir Hut is the only building built by the Sierra Club to honor its first president and co-founder, John Muir. The shelter is located at the approximate mid-point of the John Muir Trail, a 211-mile trail from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. The shelter was first envisioned by Sierra Club leader Will Colby who was inspired by a 1926 National Geographic article featuring Italian mountain “Trullo Huts.” It was designed by Henry Gutterson, a San Francisco architect, and built in 1930.
 
On August 25, 2016 — the 100th anniversary of the day in 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson signed the act establishing the National Park Service — a Sierra Cub contingent assembled at the Muir Hut, or Muir Memorial Shelter, on Muir Pass for a special ceremony. The August 25 celebration marked the official placement of the Muir Memorial Shelter on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
To be continued...
 
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