August 26, 2002 Red’s Meadow to Purple Lake 42º—74º @MHP
Breakfast at Red’s Meadow Cafe around 7:00 a.m. was not bad; much better than the steak the previous night. At breakfast, Todd came in and we chatted a bit. After breakfast, we decided to find the trail head together, sometime around 8:00. It’s actually a bit difficult to find there, as there are many trails and roads winding around the area. We finally did find the trail head, and started the next southbound leg of the journey. Somewhere around here Tim and Cheryl passed us (or we passed them—I forget). The trail climbed almost immediately, which was no problem, but a puzzling and somewhat troubling thing was the fact that my GPS indicated we were traveling due north, which didn’t make much sense. This puzzling trend continued for a few hours, interrupted by occasional switchbacks to the South. More interesting was the scenery, which consisted of the aftermath of an obviously severe forest fire. I recalled having seen pictures on the wall in Red’s Meadow Cafe of a severe fire in 1993 that ravaged the area—obviously this was a remnant of that. Every single tree had been burned; and the ground was still a deep layer of ash, even after all these years.
Our path still didn’t seem to go where we expected to go; it seemed to be heading in a similar direction but about a mile to the north. Without much reason to go back, we continued. After careful scrutiny of my map and GPS, I began to realize we had gotten on another trail which would eventually take us to the Red Cones and then meet up with the JMT. I promised Todd that’s what would happen. (In hindsight, I think the trail has been re-routed a few times around Devil’s Postpile National Monument, and we may have gotten on an older version of the trail. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
As predicted, we soon reached Red Cones, fairly recent volcanic cones. Nearby was a signed trail junction, and I knew where we were again. After climbing on a cone and snapping some pictures, we continued on down toward a nearby meadow (where a man and woman on horseback asked us for directions), then over to finally join the JMT proper and take a break and get water at Upper Crater Meadows (11:50 a.m.). After lunch, Todd decided to push on a bit more quickly than I was ready for, and we parted ways.
The trail descended for quite some time here, going down to Deer Creek, where I got water and took a break. Not long after that, Todd came up the trail going the opposite way, concerned he may have taken a wrong turn, so we hiked together the rest of the way. Much of the next several miles was a long uphill trek, completely exposed to the sun, and rather warm. Also, Todd tended to hike just a bit faster than I did, so I was a bit gassed and my dogs were starting to bark again. We crossed Duck Creek, a potential campsite, at 5:00, but kept on going, the goal being Purple Lake. The ascent became even steeper, and my feet really began to complain, and I fell further behind Todd. Finally, we reached the cutoff to Purple Lake, although it turned out yet another decent hike to actually reach the lake. And then, when we finally got there, it turned out to be one of the few crowded areas; camping was prohibited along some shores of the lake, and the few decent sites left were taken. We took one which was a flat spot of ground nestled between many granite boulders; actually a pretty typical Sierra Nevada campsite. Except there were at least three other tents within view. The lake itself was nice. And here’s a view from my campsite.