DAY 12 - Laurel Lake to Duck Lake

Distance: 24.5km (15.2mi)
Hiking time: 10:51hr
Elevation gain: 2,125m (6,971ft)
Total people met: 7 (only on JMT)

‘ When the exhausted first ascenders of Red and White Mountain reached this pass,
they let out a ‘shout of relief’, according to Lincoln Hutchinson’ - Steven Roper

Elevation versus Distance graph for the section from Laurel Lake to Duck Lake for the Sierra High Route

The day started with a strenuous and steep ascend to Bighorn pass. The 5min walk from our camp to the base of the pass was not enough for a good warm up. The night before, we scouted out a good route to ascend the first steeper section. There seems to be several route options and we decided on one that looked the most manageable one along a grassy slope. Our heart rate jumped up quickly so that we got warm and motivated. After the first part of the ascend, we took a quick break to enjoy the view and the landscape. Below, we saw Laurel lake and the mountains in the distant. We appreciated the nature and the trip we were doing. It was so calm and peaceful. At this moment we did not realized how far we would walk today and how much feet we would ascend and descend. It was going to be another tough day.

There are two options to go from Bighorn pass to Shout-of-relief pass which are almost the same height. Roper suggested to drop down the pass a bit first and then contour along the same vertical height toward the second pass. Andrew Skurka suggested to drop down towards the lake, traverse around it and head back up to the pass. We evaluated both option and as we did not clearly saw a good pass to contour our way towards Shout-of-relief pass, we decided to head down to the lake and up. The additional up and down did not bother me at all. I was super motivated that day and ready for everything that we encounter today. After all, our packs were lighter and we were stocked to reach Red’s Meadow tomorrow for our final resupply.

We ended up descending fully towards the lake and heading up again. The ascend was quite steep with a nice route. Travelling from pass to pass took us about 1hr, as Roper anticipated. So, the detour of going up and down does not add any extra time. The descend on the other side towards the valley was long and we encountered minor route finding problems. This was mostly due to the fact that the surrounding featured a lot of trees and little drop-off which you need to contour. We ended up reaching a drop-off in the dense forest very often. However, Zeno always found a good alternative and safe way for us to descend. On this day, my two blisters on my right food were really hurting. They were hurting so much that I needed to take an ibuprofen and had to clinch my teeth. Fortunately, up until now, my feet were surprisingly fine and we both did not encounter any major muscle aches.

Once we reached the McGee trail which is in the valley, we made such good progress. We were really fast and super motivated. As we were approaching our 2/3 mark, we made some plans on how we would celebrate our SHR success. The weather was turning into more and more clouds in the afternoon. We haven’t seen these clouds on our adventure yet. For the last 11 days, we had sunshine all the time (except for one rainy afternoon). The clouds were turning into a bit of rain but nothing major. After about 1 hour, we suddenly were back on the JMT. We haven’t seen any people for the last 4 days, and as soon as we were back, people were passing. It is like a highway of people. It was a weird feeling to be around by people again. We already missed the loneliness of the SHR.

Back on the JMT, we walked up towards Virginia Lake on carefully and nicely crafted switchback. What a weird mental break after being on the SHR for such a long time. Although, we ascend a good amount of vertical feets, we were in top shape to tackle this ascend and progressed really fast. After all, we did not need to worry about finding a nice trail. Virginia lake is really big and open, we traversed through bridges over the lake and reached a big debris field on the other side. There must have been a huge rock slide at some point. I couldn’t figure out when this had happened. Again, we had to descend into the valley on the other side. Still along the JMT, we were heading down along crafted switchbacks that traversed it’s way through the forest. The descend was much longer than we thought. Somehow, we did not read the maps carefully in advance and weren’t anticipating all this up and down.

In the valley, we meet three guys on their south bound route of the JMT who were coming from Red’s Meadow. They told us that there is small restaurant that serves cheeseburgers. For the remainder of the next two days, all we could think of was the cheeseburgers and a warm shower. What a great motivation. Finally, we were on our almost last ascend towards Duck Lake. The path went up first and then slowly and steadily contour around the mountain until reaching the junction towards Duck lake. Here, the JMT people head back to the valley straight to Red’s Meadow and we went back to high altitude and cross a couple more mountain before reaching Red’s Meadow the next day. The contouring took much longer than expected and we only reached the junction by 5pm, rather late. We were disappointed that we did not reach this junction earlier, as we had such a good progress before and we anticipated to reach Deer lake for our camp. Well, we still had about 1.5hrs of sunlight and were on the the final ascend towards Duck Lake.

This section was very steep and only a very faint path was visible at times. Zeno’s motivation was quite low during this part and I took the lead and headed up with a rather fast pace. I wanted to make it to our planned spot before the sun is setting. The path along Duck lake is well marked and you slowly contour up towards an open spot. There, we were too exhausted to head further and we called it a day. Zeno’s energy was low and he was in urgent need of some sugar. I quickly set-up our tent and we were blessed with the most amazing sunset we have seen so far. The colors change from a pink to a deep purple against the mountains in the distant. On a mountain towards Mammoth lake (north) we saw a hut and light, the first sign of civilization for us for a while.

With our headlamps on, as the sun already set, we made dinner. Our stove wasn’t working properly and it took about 20min to get the water to boil. This was the last night before our re-supply and we slept really well.

Our view from the tent in the morning at Laurel Lake towards Big Horn Pass on the left
View from Big Horn Pass towards Shout-of-Relief pass seen seen on the right. 

Zeno pointing the way on top of Big Horn Pass.

View from Shout-of-relief pass. 

View back from Shout-of-relief pass to where we came from.
Red and White mountain.

Kind of a stunning tree.
A quick valley before heading down again.

A lot of debirs, this must have been a massive slide.

Back on the JMT. View West.

On the JMT.

Finally setting up our camp at just above Duck Lake. 

Zeno is refuelling his sugar level.

Our view north towards Mammoth Lakes.

View south towards Duck Lake.

Beautiful sunset over the mountains.

Just beautiful.