Crushing My Knees, Again

Reds Meadow to Agnew Meadows
(15 miles, +2,500/-2,000 feet).

Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!  I am so, so frustrated.  Today was supposed to be day two of my 80 mile hike to Yosemite Valley.  Instead it is the end of my trip.  My left knee now feels like my right knee did at the end of my trip last December.  It is surely patellofemoral pain syndrome.

I should have known something was wrong yesterday when my knees felt tweaky.  And last night I had a hard time getting my legs in a comfortable position.  I’ve been doing lots of quad stretches and toe-touches but I guess it didn’t work this time.

I think I overdid it again (does that surprise anyone?).  I would have been fine if I had taken my time and camped at Crater Meadow yesterday instead of racing for Reds Meadow.  New rule: don’t hike to the cheeseburger.  Sigh.

The day actually started out pretty well.  My first stop was Devils Postpile, which was pretty awesome before sunrise.

Gear adjustment before heading in

The postpile is a pile of columnar basalt that formed when a lava lake cooled and then cracked into perfect hexagons of nearly the same shape and size.  Erosion exposed the lake, and now the columns are collapsing down the hill, leaving a pile of the weirdly perfect rocks at its base.

Devils Postpile
Close-up of the pile

Just past the postpile I reached my low point for the day, crossing the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Bridge over Middle Fork of the San Joaquin
First morning light above the river

The 2,000 foot climb up went okay, but my knees did feel more and more tweaky as the morning progressed.

This way to the lakes

Soon the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail diverged, and I followed the JMT.

Old JMT blaze
The sun peeks out over the ridge

I filled up with water at Minaret Creek, which looked lovely in the morning light.  I spotted a deer while I waited for my water treatment drops to do their magic.

Minaret Creek
Deer near Minaret Creek

Soon I was at the Trinity Lakes, and then at Gladys Lake, my high point for the day at 9,600 feet.

Trinity Lakes
Mountain above Trinity Lakes
Gladys Lake

I was really worried about my knees, so I decided to take a nap at Gladys Lake.

Nap time view of Gladys Lake

After my nap I packed up to go, had a little climb up out of the basin, and then started my descent to Rosalie Lake.  This is when it got really, really painful to go downhill.  I spent half an hour limping, stretching, breaking, and gnashing my teeth.  By the time I was halfway down to Rosalie Lake I made the decision to end the trip early.

The good news was that I could exit the trail at Shadow Lake and head back to Agnew Meadows where I could get a ride back to Mammoth.  The bad news was that I would have to get there going almost entirely downhill, about 1,500 feet.  I took my time.

Rosalie Lake
Rosalie Lake
Mount Ritter

The hike down to Shadow Lake took a really long time (or at least it felt like it!).  When I got down to it I saw that the trail went completely around the lake to the west.  It was just a short bit of cross-country to the east to get to the outlet, but I did not know how tough it might be to cross.  I decided to take the gamble.

Shadow Lake
Mount Ritter over Shadow Lake

As it turns out, the cross-country was not too bad.  I was going slow anyway, so route finding didn’t really slow me down.  As I neared the outlet I found a comical “No Camping” sign nailed to the side of a tree that had fallen quite a while ago.

Tell it to the ants and the squirrels

I reached the trail again at the outlet where I got water and continued my slow descent.

Trail just below Shadow Lake

Across the San Joaquin Valley I could see the PCT traverse that BarnFinder, MixMaster, and I had done just a few weeks before.

View across San Joaquin Valley

The trail here was steep, and my knees felt every one of the lovely steps on the trail.

Ordinarily lovely steps
View towards Agnew Meadows

At last I made it to the valley floor and then had just a couple miles of flat or uphill to get to Agnew Meadows.  When I got to the road I waited for the bus for about half an hour before I realized that it does not run on weekdays after Labor Day.  So I had to hitch.

Fortunately, the hitching was easy.  One man stopped to apologize that he had no room, and five minutes after that a couple of hikers in their 70s picked me up, regaling me with tales of their Sierra adventures.  I was on my way back to the hotel where I could rest up for the night before driving back to San Diego.

Yosemite, I am so sad I missed you, but I will be back!

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