Well, not everything goes according to plan. We managed.
We started out with eight people in Tuolumne Meadows. Stayed a night in the handy backpacker campground, then headed up Lyell canyon. The first miles are relatively easy, great for acclimatization to the elevation.
The fishing in the lazy river was excellent. Brook trout were biting! One of us caught a 14 incher! She thought it was a brown.
But one older fellow, a really nice retired guy trying to get into backpacking again, had a knee issue and was very slow. One person came ahead to relay the message that he was about a mile behind us and camping by himself to rest and try in the morning.
In the morning, a volunteer backtracked to talk to the guy, and returned to announce that Guy was going to turn back and volunteer was going to go with him, hopefully to catch up to us on the east side - the bum knee and a very high mountain pass or four do not make for an enjoyable trip.
The rest of us went on. We climbed and climbed and climbed out of Lyell up the mountain to Donahue Pass.
Repeat that view about 1,000 times and you have an inkling of the trail going up the west side. We hit the top and paused - there is a spectacular view that pictures do nothing to describe. If the view doesn't take your breath away, the wind will. We hiked down the other side as dusk approached and got to the subalpine meadows below the pass, set up camp, ate, and watched the sunset playing out in front of us.
This was the view from our campsite. The colors changed minute by minute. Then darkness fell and we climbed in our tents, I climbed in my hammock.... Then the wind struck, gusting heavy and hard, and I thought my tarp might fly away from me or keep us all awake. The problem was that the trees in this area, while more than 4-5 inches in diameter, are also very adapted to their high wind environment - so when the gusts hit the trees wave in the wind, leaving me swaying in the hammock and with a very saggy tarp. I sorted my options - I could remove the tarp entirely and lower the hammock to the ground. I could stay in the bobbing and swaying hammock without the tarp. I could move to a different location entirely. I could pitch the tarp on the ground.
Rather than search by headlamp/moonlight for another more sheltered location for the hammock, bothering my entire hiking group with the light and risking getting lost (I'm terrible at night with this), I tore it all down, pitched the tarp in a flying diamond pointed into the wind, and threw in the NeoAir, just as I had practiced. I wanted to see what the NeoAir did for me on the ground anyway as I have such horrible experiences with not sleeping at all while tenting. This was all new - not only was I tarping and sleeping on the NeoAir on the ground for the first time, I was handling a near crisis as pitching a flying tarp in the dark is plenty challenging! A hiking buddy with a spinnaker Gossamer Gear tarp was also awake, planting rocks around the edges to keep hers nailed to the ground. I pushed a few rocks into place and crawled in, curled up with the quilt, and much to my surprise, the NeoAir was both warm and comfortable. I fell asleep after gradually becoming used to the sound of the wind howling around me. And then screamed when the two corners of the tarp flew up in the air - I woke in a big hurry imagining the bears had come to get me! It was just the wind, and my GG Lightrek 4 was still firmly planted, the guys still tight, it was just two corners whipping around and they were easily caught and fastened. Reassuring my friends that I wasn't being eaten, I staked things tighter, planted rocks, and rolled over to try to sleep again.
Next morning we moved on down the trail, passing backpackers and pack trains. Busy trail. Onward to Thousand Island Pass.
And Thousand Island Lake:
We had heard the bears were really, really bad here, so ate lunch near the junction where the PCT splits off to go to Agnew, and moved on over another pass to Garnet Lake. Which looks rather like a smaller version of Thousand Island. Around the lake we went, and up another shorter pass, heading toward Shadow Lake. We chose a location off trail to camp to hopefully avoid bear issues, which are plentiful along the JMT. It worked - no bears. Just wind. A front was coming through, and though I could have walked around to find appropriate trees for the hammock, I stayed with the group in a low point between large rocks and again tarped it on the ground. Not everyone was happy; it was getting cold and one fellow, counting on summer weather, had oddly chosen to wear shorts and a t shirt for the duration of the trip. Sometimes experienced folks have miscalculations, too.
Next day we went only a couple of miles and camped along Shadow Creek, and day hiked around. Some of us went up to the base of the Minarets. Some of us went to Ediza and fished. I fished all the way down the river from Ediza to camp.
But it was overcast, and gray, and windy, and cold. And my friend with the shorts spent half the day in his sleeping bag trying to warm himself - he had a chill that wouldn't go away. That's when I really started to worry.
The wind blew so hard one of the tenters said he felt his tent trying to leave the ground. I set up my hammock with my head into the wind and the tarp guyed down tight with large rocks on the stakes. Unlike the subalpine site, I had some nice big pines to hang from, and they weren't swaying. I would have slept comfortably all night except for the bear. Shouts and clapping at midnight! But he stayed gone, and we all went back to sleep.
Next morning it started to sort of snow on us. Graupel, to be exact. We reached the junction of the trail to Agnew above Shadow Lake and I posed a choice to the group - head out a day early, or finish the last ten miles in weather that may not be good, or may clear up. Four of us, including Mr. Shorts, left the trail at that point. The other two went on to finish the hike and came out the following day.
Shadow Lake from the inlet, taken the day before we left:
It was spotty sun followed by overcast followed by graupel until we reached Agnew Meadow, where the precipitation started in earnest. There were quite a few other hikers, also inappropriately dressed as Mr. Shorts, bailing early as well. We didn't have to wait long for the shuttle bus. Our friends who bailed on the first day were waiting for us at the ski resort and we all rode back to town for pizza and beer. Our two friends came out the next day. YARTS took us back to Tuolumne for the cars, and we were all happy and wanting to go right back out.
I have to say that I loved my gear working the way it did - the NeoAir did what other Thermarests could not (be comfortable for me on the ground), and the MacCat tarp was very easy to pitch on the ground, at night, in the gusting 40 mph wind, with near frozen fingers. I had a great time punctuated by adrenalin packed moments - bears and blasting arctic wind! A large rainbow clearing water as it took the hook! But I should have taken the rain pants as an extra warm layer, and I took too many meals and not enough snacks. The NeoAir in the hammock was very useful once I got the hang of it and quite warm, though a medium is narrow and required me to sleep in one spot - easy to do in the Blackbird so I was warm all night.
I saw an ENO with fly in the TM backpacker campground, and there was another ENO at one of the lakes - we are making slow inroads into California. I did not have a chance to pitch the Blackbird like a bivy, as there were no real bug issues - arctic blasts take care of that problem.
And I have to say that with a buff around it, the Blackbird in its stuff sack makes a dandy pillow.