Backpacking the High Sierras with Mike and Liz Tebbutt

Obtaining our pemit at the Forest Service Office in Mammoth Lakes
Obtaining our trip permit from the Forest Service in Mammoth Lakes (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

TMS Ambassador Mike Tebbutt recently hiked an 80-mile section of the John Muir Trail (entering via Duck Pass in the Mammoth Lakes and exiting over Bishop Pass)! The following is his report on this re-imagined hiking adventure. Follow Mike on Instagram at @irontebby

The lackluster start to our ski season and the amazing Indian Summer that we experienced this early winter, left me reminiscing of the many great days I’ve had on the trails this past year. While I enjoy my solo excursions and really love getting out there friends, it is long backpacking trips in the High Sierra with my wife that excites me most in the summer months.

Liz crossing the outlet to Squaw Lake.
Liz crossing the outlet to Squaw Lake (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

This past summer, Liz and I decided to revisit a section of the John Muir Trail, keeping our mileage each day relatively short and laying over at a couple of cool resorts that are just off the trail. A few years ago we hiked about 200 miles of the (JMT) from Tuolumne to Whitney in just 14 days, without a single “zero” day, so this year we decided to approach things the exact opposite way.

Looking Sout West from Muir Pass.
Looking South West from Muir Pass (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

We would hike only about 80 miles in 12 days and take 2 “zero” days while enjoying 2 nights each at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) and the Muir Trail Ranch. We entered via Duck Pass out of Mammoth Lakes and exited over the Bishop Pass and down to South Lake.

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The Hut Atop Muir Pass (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

My Deuter ACT-Lite 65+10, that I purchased from Tahoe Mountain Sports three years prior, is always my pack of choice for any trip length. New items of note, that we picked up at the shop the day before embarking, are the solar powered Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern by MPOWERED, the Snow Peak Cook n’ Save Titanium Pot and Snow Peak Sporks. The lighweight inflatable design of Luci Lantern allowed for easy packing and saved us lots of battery power with our headlamps since we now only used them when hiking in the dark and as we packed/unpacked our backpacks. The Snow Peak Pot with snapable plastic lid was lightweight and sturdy, as expected, and had the bonus of doubling the secure lid as a cutting board.

Lots of Marmots
Lots of Marmots (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)
This guy didn't flinch as I almost accidentally stepped on him since he did such a good job at blending in!
This guy didn’t flinch as I almost accidentally stepped on him since he did such a good job at blending in! (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

Liz and I both highly recommend this laid back approach for this amazing section of JMT. Both of our layovers seemed luxurious as we eased into the backpacking during that first week. We hiked three days and stayed our third and fourth nights at VVR, a simple and laid back fishing resort that had a great selection of craft beers and a surprisingly fantastic diner that featured a progressive menu and lots of fresh local produce. Being a fishing resort with fairly easy vehicle access from Fresno, it was a busy and entertaining scene here.

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Liz soaking her feet in one of the many streams in Dusy Basin (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)
The top of Bishop Pass, looking North East.
The top of Bishop Pass, looking North East (Ph: Mike Tebbutt)

On the fifth day we hit the trail for 2 easy days, covering about 20 miles, before our 2 night stay at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). Our stay here was 180 degrees different from our stay at VVR. The ranch is owned by Hilary, who inherited it from her grandmother and comes with a rich history dating back to 1885. Unlike VVR, MTR is not accessible by car. All supplies for the ranch must be boated across a lake and then either loaded on horses or on a Unimog, before traveling another 2 hours on a burly 4-wheel drive road. Because of the difficult access, they are only able to accommodate about 30 people per night. Each night you enjoy a social and communal dinner, followed with the same for breakfast in the morning and make your own bagged lunch for the day. The real gem of this amazing and tranquil property is the natural hot spring. There are two beautifully crafted and private tubs to choose from for soaking, both available 24 hours a day. Liz and I soaked at least 3 times each day we were there! Be sure to ship your beer and wine at least 3 weeks prior to your stay at the Muir Trail Ranch, though, because they do not sell it on site! A very active monsoonal flow allowed for thunderstorms nearly every day, making it hard to be as flexible with our mileage and camp spots as we would have liked. However, this by no means kept us from enjoying another spectacular backpacking trip through our beloved High Sierras!!!

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