Day 9: 2 Week Countdown!

July 25th, 2018; Palisade Lake – Little Pete Meadow: 13.3 miles

For some reason today felt like a really short day. But at over 13 miles, today really wasn’t short at all. In fact, we went further than we originally had planned! We had a huge descent this morning, a nice change of pace. In fact, I believe we descended the Golden Staircase but I’ll have to look into that. *yes, indeed we did* The views were beautiful, as always. The lake was gorgeous and we saw plenty of waterfalls. The last 2 miles into Leconte Canyon were all uphill, but that didn’t bother me much. Today was, however, hot. And the ascent into the canyon was all in the sun. I felt overheated in a tank top and shorts. Imagine how how horrible Marybeth must’ve felt in long pants and sleeves for sun protection! Don’t worry mom – I use plenty of sunscreen and have not gotten even one tiny patch of sunburn. We got into camp at 1:30pm and just plopped down our packs and our exhausted bodies. Guess what else decided to plop down with us?! Raindrops! But they weren’t bad raindrops. They actually refreshed us. After eating some lunch and the rain cooling things off, we discussed going further today to make tomorrow’s trek over Muir Pass easier. For some reason, I’m terrified of the 3K’ climb over 6 miles. I wonder why?! Just as we decided to go 1.7 miles further, I recognized the two SOBO hikers I met in Reno! A Dad and his young son were planning on hiking the whole trail in 17 days – and they were 5 miles ahead of schedule! Absolutely crazy. It made my day running into them. They were in good spirits and and definitely on their way to accomplishing their goal. Marybeth and I went on our way and as soon as we reached the exposed granite, it started to pour and thunder. 9 days of rain in the Sierras. Unbelievable. We ran into a ranger who reassured us the next few days were looking better weather wise. She also informed us that Yosemite Valley is closed due to wildfire and smoke. Yikes. I really hope it’s cleared and open by the time we roll through! The father and son told us that when they started, it was so smoky they couldn’t even see Half Dome! And that was a week and a half ago. Sheesh. After a 1.7 mile climb, we finally rolled into camp. We’re sharing it with a SOBO JMTer who started only 8 days ago. Talk about intense. He gave us a run down of what’s ahead and to check out VVR and Reds Meadow. While talking, a brazen deer came over and attempted to steal and devour his glove. The deer here have zero fear. They roam around the camp and come right up to ya looking for a handout. Sorry no luck buddy! By the title of this post, you probably think I’m in a rush to get done. No, absolutely not. I adore being out here, I can truly see why John Muir and anyone else lucky enough to experience the Sierras fall in love with it out here. It’s really magical! I just really miss my dog (I have dreams about her every night), I miss my bed (my air mattress has a small unidentifiable leak that doesn’t make for a comfortable nights rest – plus sleeping in my bed means snuggling with Addie), I miss real food (I can hardly stomach freeze dried dinners anymore), and I really miss Sunday night dinners with my family (where Mom makes great food). Although I wouldn’t trade being out here for anything in the world, I feel myself dwindling away. My pack isn’t fitting me right, causing nasty chafing and rashes. My hip still hurts and constant pain has a way of wearing you down. But end of my venting. I’m looking forward to Muir Trail Ranch, VVR, and RMCG. I’m also happy we’re all the more closer to Muir Pass! I’m off to bed – going to snuggle my phone (to keep it warm and preserve battery) and pretend it’s Addie!

Day 8: Don’t Jinx It

July 24th 2018; Lake Marjorie – Palisade Lake: 10.9 miles

I am writing this from outside. Yes outside! Staring at a beautiful lake with a bubbling brook to my right. In fact, I just used the brook to wash my clothes and body for the first time in 8 stinking days. The stench emanating from my body is unbearable. But at least I have that in common with my fellow hiking comrades. It seems the monsoon moisture has finally given up. Yesterday was my breaking point and it seems as though the universe is listening and showing mercy. But I don’t want to jinx it.

Marybeth and I woke up early to to pass over the last 12K’ pass this trip. Woo we’re going downhill from here on out! Mather pass was forgiving and definitely the easiest one we’ve yet to encounter. Don’t get me wrong – it was still mega tough, but the switchbacks were gentle and kind. And guess what?! My hip and knee are feeling a lot better! Every once in a while I get a twinge that lasts a couple hundred feet, but it dissipates quickly. I am truly thankful for that.

The ascent up the pass was slow. So slow, in fact, that I thought we were only half way done the 11 mile day when I got to the top. I didn’t feel like doing another 6 miles. So imagine my delight when my GPS said we already hiked 8.5 miles and only has 2.5 left! And it was still before noon! I was pretty impressed with us. We had lunch on the top and carried onward (and downward).

Because the monsoons seemed to have taken a break, we were both pretty beat from being in the sun all day. When we arrived at camp at 2pm, we laid down in the shade. But that didn’t last very long because storm clouds were spotted in the horizon. We pitched our tents but not in haste because they were slow moving clouds. We took naps with the intermittent drizzle lulling us to sleep. The clouds lifted and we were blessed with evening sun.I didn’t take many pictures today because I just threw on some tunes and kept my head down. Although today was spectacularly beautiful, my body is tired and lacks the enthusiasm it had a week ago. Oh man. A week ago. Back when I was puking at 11K’ and didn’t think I would survive. Thank god I haven’t felt like that since.

Day 7: One Wrong Turn

July 23rd 2018; Woods Creek – Lake Marjorie: 9.2 miles (but really 11.8)

Hey! It’s me again. Stuck in my tent for the 7th day in a row. Out waiting another horrific storm with plenty of rain. We have yet to have a relaxed “oh my god don’t keep your tent poles up so long, you’ll get struck by lightning” tent raising yet. We’re always stuck in a rush to make shelter from the elements. ^^crossing the infamous suspension bridge!Today was a horrible day. Let me explain why. After the bear fiasco yesterday, I had trouble sleeping. I was convinced he would come back knocking – and not looking for a snuggle. But I survived without a visitor. Marybeth and I departed at our normal 6:30am time. Perfect for a mere 9 miles! Ah, not so fast – literally. My hip is no good. Is it too early for a hip replacement?? So I took it slow. I told Marybeth I’d meet her st Sawmill Pass junction so as to not hold her back. A little bit of time passed and I checked my GPS. 0.8 miles to go at only 9:30am. Aside from the hip, I felt good. I should be there soon! I looked up from my phone and was instantly disoriented. I lost the trail but after looking around, I found it and off I went. Down. Down. And down. I began to get suspicious – I should be gaining elevation, not losing it. But I kept going. Until passing a father/daughter I saw last night who were going the same direction as us. Now they were going the opposite. Wait a minute. Something is not right. Instantly I whipped out my GPS. 2.1 miles until Sawmill Pass “WHAT?!” (With a lot of other colorfully worded words that scared a passer by-er). I was going SOBO! How?! I was instantly concerned by how disoriented I was. Was I dehydrated? I had already drank 3L of water, but I begged and electrolyte packed immediately. Was I hungry? Maybe – my appetite is still low. My hip belt is already as tight as it can go. I ate a small snack and off I went to meet back up with Marybeth. Nothing looked familiar. Likely cause I kept my head down the entire time due to the hip pain. And I was so stuck in La La Land thinking about how I was going to audition for Survivor when I get back. The hip pain was gone, with adrenaline pumping through my veins I felt nothing. With 2.1 miles, it could take me forever to get to the junction! Marybeth surely would’ve put out a search and rescue call by then, ha! But I gritted my teeth and eventually made it at 11am. Record timing. I collapsed at the sight of Marybeth in a tearful state. Marybeth thought my hip was so bad that it took me so long to get there. Nope. I’m just an idiot. The tears continued to flow due to frustration and the realization that we still had 4 miles to the dreaded Pinchot Pass. I felt horrible making Marybeth wait for my dumb mistake. But she had some sobering news – Sam was not going to return. That put things into perspective for me. Yes, I had a crappy morning. I was exhausted. But Sam would’ve been so happy to be in my spot. As would anyone else who got hurt or couldn’t get a permit. So quit your pity party and enjoy being in this beautiful wilderness!Pinchot Pass was a bear. Mainly because I was so exhausted from the hullabaloo of the morning. But I got up it and it wasn’t so bad. Left a lot to be desired view wise (oh I’m spoiled aren’t I? I blame Forester) but it was still nice to be on top of it. We didn’t stay long because storm clouds were approaching. We only had 1.9 miles left to Marjorie Lake. Wouldn’t you know it – it started to rain and hail. And lightning. Right in front of our faces. We were still over 11K’ and totally exposed. We assumed thunder position for a few minutes until it died down a little. Wow did we feel the burn in our quads! After 1/4 mile we found a tree for shelter till things looked better over Marjorie. I fell asleep and woke up half frozen to death. I put on some clothes and we figure now was as good a time as ever to hike the half mile down to the lake. And just in time! Once our tents were up, it started to rain. As it has been the last hour and half. I’m so sick of it. It’s so defeating being stuck in a tent watching all of your stuff get soaking wet for 7 days in a row. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Go away monsoon, no one likes you!!We have our 4th pass in a row tomorrow. Mather Pass. Our last one for a while. And after him the elevation of the passes gets progressively lower. Woo! My hip will rejoice!!

Day 6: A Sad Goodbye

July 22nd 2018; Bubbs Creek – Woods Creek Junction: 13 miles

Well, it’s sunny out! But it wasn’t always that way. I’ll get into that later. This morning at breakfast, Sam decided she was going to exit via Kearsarge Pass. She didn’t want to risk getting too far without an escape strategy. A tough decision no doubt, but being stranded in the wilderness doesn’t sound like a fun time either. We only had one mile to the junction. No one expected such a short distance to be so harrowing. It was straight up a steep ascent and took us longer than expected to reach the junction. But we made it.

We said a sad goodbye to Sam, but I doubt it’ll be the last we see of her. She’s planning on either re-entering through Kearsarge Pass tomorrow or meeting us at a different entry point further up the road. I couldn’t imagine having to drop out, so I hope she rejoins ya soon. So it’s just me and Mary Beth, for now. Off we went to conquer Glenn Pass. At only 12K’, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I mean we went up Forester Pass, what’s the big deal?!

Well I was wrong. The uphill from earlier never went away. In fact, it got worse. Up and up and up. Although magnificent, I wasn’t too big of a fan. When I thought we were nearly done climbing, I asked a guy coming down if we were close. “Eh you’re about half way there.” “WHAT?!” I exclaimed in shock. Seeing my reaction, he quickly retorted “okay no maybe you’re 3/4 of the way there. Yeah definitely you’re almost there”. Bologna.

Soon after someone pointed me out the top of the pass. I could see people up there. and a bunch of switchbacks leading up to it. Yep. We were only half way there. So I turned on some tunes and slowly but surely made my way to the top. Marybeth was a little ahead of me and so I went my own pace. Maybe I was tired from the days before, but I thought Glen was way tougher than Forester. It was grueling. I was so focused on getting it over with I didn’t even take any pictures until we got to the top!

We made it up at 11am. We still had 7 miles to go. After taking some pictures, we talked with some folks up top. Including Eric from Boston, who prior to the trip I had some interaction with on social media. He was the one who gave the great news that the mudslide blocking access to Horseshoe Meadows was cleared. Because of the mileage, we went on our way down.

As horrible as our way was going up, SOBO has it worse. Way worse. More steep and full of rocks, it took us a great deal of time to make it down safely. Eventually we made it down to the beautiful Rae Lakes at around 1pm. It was gorgeous. Marybeth was brave enough to take a dip. I was content just soaking my legs. My knee was acting up so the cold water felt relieving. We didn’t stay long, cause guess who else joined the party?! Storm clouds and thunder too! So off we went to outrun the storm as best we could.

We had our rain gear out and ready to go. We ran into a ranger who said the monsoon moisture was supposed to end “early in the week… and tomorrow is Monday and early in the week, so hopefully this is the end of it?!” Wishful thinking. Right after talking with her we had to whip out the rain gear as it started to pour. After a few minutes, the rain started to hurt. Probably because it wasn’t rain at all, but it’s more spiteful cousin hail. The lightning got worse and we were pretty darn exposed. The first tree patch we came across we ducked for cover. In the midst of the confusion, I stepped on my sunglasses, greatly deforming them. After a few minutes things tamed down and we departed only to duck for cover again in 1/4 of a mile. The hail was a lot bigger that time around. Again it stopped and we only had to contend with thunder and rain. Alright… 4.1 miles to go.

Those were the longest miles yet. They took forever with periods of on and off rain. But we were not without a view. There were magnificent views of sweeping mountains ahead. They were huge and I was in complete awe of them. I loved looking at them as we got closer and closer with every step. They looked so far away at first I thought for sure we wouldn’t get to them until tomorrow. But when we finally rolled into camp I realized we were right at their base. I guess walking isn’t so slow after all!

It was 5:30pm by the time we got to Woods Creek – much later than normal for us. We both were starving. I was down right hangry. But with lightning in sight and rain about to come any second, priority number one was setting up tents. Which was no fun. To make things worse, a woman was just staring at us fumbling around. In my hanger rage induced state, I stopped what I was doing and stared right back. I didn’t care that my tent was going to get soaked, I had a point to make. Our stared own lasted a good 30 seconds before she got uncomfortable and broke eye contact to retreat back into her already set up tent. Once again, the infamous death glare of Emilie Keane strikes again! But I digress.

After the crisis was averted, we filled our bellies and did some after dinner stretching. Marybeth left early and while I was finishing up, I heard yelling and whistling. It sounded like someone was calling a dog. I instantly turned my head and saw the cutest fluffiest butt (2nd only to Addie’s, of course) running away. “Oh my God, Sheena, it’s a bear!” (I’m not sure why I yelled out Sheena’s name – it must be muscle memory from getting her attention on the bike all the time). The guy chased the bear right out of the campsite. First beat encounter! The drama caused the woman who I had the staredown with to come over and tell us the ranger told her there was a very assertive bear patrolling the campsite. Not aggressive, the bear was just a curious little guy. She turned out to be a really nice lady from France doing the Rae Lakes Loop with some friends.

So with nearly a week on the trail, how’s my body holding up?! Great! That is until today. Starting with my feet – they need a good rubbing. Too bad they’re so disgusting no one would be crazy enough to go near them. Skin is still sloughing off and I discovered a new blister on my big toe. Probably because I got annoyed with river crossings and just walked through sigh my non-waterproof boots. Plus they were already wet from the rain! My right hip started to hurt in the morning going up the pass. But that went away on the downhill, only to be replaced with the before mentioned knee pain. Everything better get its act together soon!

All in all, today felt like the longest day yet and was my least favorite day. We all have bad days, right?!

*While looking back on this day in present time, it was one of my favorites in retrospect. It’s one I remember most vividly and fondly*

Day 5: The Forester Pass Half Marathon

July 21st, 2018; Tyndall Creek – Bubb’s Creek Junction: 13.3 miles

Any guesses as to where I currently am?? 3…2…1… if you guessed camped out inside the tent waiting out another monsoon, consider yourself correct! Ugh. This is getting annoying. At least the thunder isn’t nearly as bad as yesterday!

Today started early. I was anxious to cross the river creek and meet with the pack mule. So I packed up my wet gear and set out a little before the girls. I knew the first 5.2 miles were all uphill, so I wanted to get a head start. Within the first mile, I crossed the stream. Though narrow, it was extremely deep. I crossed in water shoes and used my poles to steady myself. Nothing like thigh high freezing cold mountain water to wake you up at 6:30am!

And what a beautiful morning it was. The meadow was stunning and got my mind off the gentle grade climb. I passed a group tour led by a young guy who was telling the group that this time last year the whole meadow was covered in snow. Thankful that isn’t the case now. One of the women in the group called me the girl who looks like Heidi (I’m assuming because of my braided pigtails), I’m glad that name didn’t stick! I slowly but surely made it past alpine lakes, waterfalls, and countless marmots. I lost count after 5 – I wasn’t really into keeping count of potentially cannibalistic rodents.

Then, from around the corner, I spied it. Forester Pass. What everyone describes to be the second hardest climb, the first being Whitney. And I already climbed Whitney, so Forester should be a piece of cake! Except it looked way intense. I recognized it from pictures. They made it look gnarly (I’m picking up local vernacular) and treacherous, but in person it looked way worse. It looked like I was about to embark on a journey to throw the one ring to rule them all into the fires of Mordor. How the heck was I supposed to get up that thing?! I couldn’t imagine how anyone could make a trail up such a steep mountain. Thank goodness a couple was camped right before the switchbacks so I could ask them. They pointed me in the right direction. The also told me how they got stuck in yesterday’s thunderstorm going over the pass. They were terrified but made it thankfully.

And so I was on my way up. I passed by a marker indicating the death of a young man who was working on building the trail. I stopped for a minute just thinking of the magnitude of what that marker represented.

Switchback after switchback fatigued me, but I had music playing to keep me going. A few of the sections were narrow with sheer drop offs that were dizzying and quite unsettling. Caution was taken with every step. Then suddenly, by surprise, I found myself at the top! It was quite crowded with other celebratory hikers but I was too distracted to really notice them. The views. I was in shock. Facing north, I can’t even describe the beauty of what I was looking at. Nor do I want to – it’s something that has to be experienced in person. I was completely awe struck.

Soon Mary Beth and Sam joined me, along with the guided tour. “Okay guys, we got 3 minutes up here then we gotta go. We have to get to below tree line as soon as possible!” we overheard the guide barking. We looked up and saw why – dark doomy clouds were crashing the Forester party. Since it sounded like he knew what he was talking about, we decided to follow suit. We snapped a few pictures and off we went.

Hikers typically hike the JMT from North to South. So naturally, I was going against the current. The views going North down from Forester Pass makes going the “wrong” direction worth it. I was in Heaven. Cause surely, this is what my Heaven looks like. The 3 miles down into the tree line were phenomenal. I feel bad for SOBO hikers who not only have to go up the pass (they had it way worse than us) but because they don’t have that view in their face the whole time to distract them.

Still super paranoid about missing the pack mule, I jumped again of Mary Beth and Sam. I basically ran to where I believed the meeting spot was. I arrived before I knew it at 2pm. I was told “anytime in the late afternoon”, so I knew it could be a while. So I just sat and was left dwindling my thumbs, cause I had already chewed down my nails in a nervous frenzy. The dark clouds followed me, making me nervous that I’d be waiting in the rain. Soon I heard thunder… but I also heard the clomping of hooves. I looked up and saw a beautiful sight. I saw a cowboy with a fully loaded mule! A mule fully loaded with our resupply!! What a relief that it had all worked out! If anyone is embarking on the JMT and wants a reliable pack service, look into Cedar Grove Pack Station. They’re easy to communicate with, reliable, and even bring in fresh fruits and vegetables for you! When I told him (he looked EXACTLY like Mitchell from Modern Family) I wasn’t sure if he’d make the delivery in bad weather, he retorted, “no ma’am, we’re like the USPS. We delivery rain, snow, or shine. ”

Because where we met didn’t have water or a bear box, we back tracked 1/4 mile to a campground that did. Along the way we ran into the girls and we all went back together. Just in time too. As he was emptying the panniers, it started to rain. We gathered up our goodies and quickly set up camp. Today’s storm wasn’t nearly as bad, I evaded any tent flooding.

I have entirely too much food. I haven’t been eating nearly as much as I thought I would (I eat way more in my real life than I do in Trail life!). So I’m leaving a lot of food in the bear box, free to a good home! I’m sure a hungry hiker will find it useful.

Sam’s knee isn’t getting any better. We considered making tomorrow a zero day, but logistically that would make the next 6 days pretty tough mileage wise to make sure we’re good with food and resupply. We’re going to carry on and if her knee isn’t better in the morning, she’s going to exit via Kearsarge Pass. Really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Considering I did 13.3 miles and made it to 13.5K’ and felt fine, I think I have my trail legs and I’m finally acclimated! Now if just these storms would give it a rest!!

Day 4: Monsoon Season in the Sierras

July 20th, 2018; Crabtree Meadows – Tyndall Creek: 8.3 miles

Monsoon moisture is no joke. Lightning just struck pretty much right outside my tent. So glad I have this nylon fabric to protect me! The thunder is pretty magnificent, but it’s hitting a little too close to home. If this journal post comes to a screeching end, at least you’ll know why!

So as you already surmised, I’m tucked away safe and sound – emphasis on sound, this thunder is deafening – in my tent. I’m actually kind of terrified, but all this writing is a good distraction! I honestly should be grateful for this experience, right? Not many people get to experience a monsoon in the Sierras!

So anyways, how did I find myself in this less than ideal situation? Well, we walked right into it! Unbeknownst to us, of course. We can’t get weather reports out here in the wilderness!

Fresh off the high of summiting Whitney, I was bright eyes and bushy tailed going into today’s journey. Skies were blue, sun was shining, and the temperature was perfect for a hike on the John Muir Trail. I felt good, hills didn’t look so big, and I felt strong. Since being on Whitney, my red blood cell count must’ve skyrocketed!

Sam’s knee is still bothering her, especially on the downhill. Mary Beth and I both donated to her one of our trekking poles to help lessen the load on her knee. So with her deficit on the downhills and mine on the uphills, together we make up one whole Mary Beth!

As noontime approached, I felt myself getting fatigued. The skies weren’t feeling any better, as they soon turned dark. After what seemed like an eternity of uphill, we found ourselves in an open meadow and what I consider to be the most beautiful art of this trip yet! The mountains were indescribable and pictures can’t hardly do them justice.

But we had to keep moving, as the clouds of doom were enclosing around us. Luckily we made it to below tree line when it started to drizzle and thunder. While we were going down, someone coming up warned us that the upcoming creek crossing was difficult to cross due to depth and strong current, likely getting worse because of the storm. With this information, we decided to stop right before Wright Creek and set up camp. And thank God we did. Within minutes of being in our tents, it started to pour. For 3 hours. Sam’s tent flooded and she was literally floating on her air mattress, requiring a quick and swift move. My tent flooded to a lesser extent, but I was prepared with my coffee cup and sunshirt. Every time the rain seems to end, it starts back up again. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it. And that creek? They may as well rename it a river. Cause that thing is wild. Can’t wait to cross it in the morning!

We have a long and critical day tomorrow. Not only are we going over Forrester Pass, but we are meeting the resupply folks who are bringing in our food via pack mules!

Well, the thunder and lightening had ceased (for now), but the rain is still pouring. Can’t wait to start off the day tomorrow with soaking wet gear!

Day 3: Oh Whitney, If it’s Meant to be, It’ll be

July 19th 2018; Mt Whitney: 15 miles

In addition to my other two mantras: everything is temporary and suck it up buttercup, I added two more to my repertoire. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be and anything worth doing in life doesn’t come easy. So basically, I was giving myself conflicting motivation. If you don’t make it, eh it wasn’t meant to be. But you better try your darn hardest cause it’s not supposed to be easy!! So did we make it?! Well hold your horses and let me tell you! We all agreed to wake up early and start the journey at 4:30am. There was a prediction of bad weather from the ranger who checked our permits at Crabtree Meadows and we wanted to make sure we weren’t caught up top in the midst of a storm. Of course, when I woke up this morning and checked my watch, I was horrified to see that my alarm didn’t go off and it was 4:12am! I don’t think I have ever jumped into action so quickly from a dead sleep. I got dressed and had breakfast and fashioned my tent so should a storm happen, my stuff didn’t get wet when my tent surely would flood. Ready just in time, we set out to meet Whitney. Being so early, the sun was far from rising. We had to use headlamps to guide ourselves through the dark for the first hour, which flew by. Soon we made it to the infamous Guitar Lake. I’ll give ya one guess as to why it’s named that. A lot of people just finishing their SOBO trip camp here for a shorter hike up Whitney and a more convenient exit point out of Whitney Portal. The lake was stunning and we got to see the sunrise over the background mountains – bathing them in a pink glow. Stunning. After Guitar Lake, we hit some pretty major switchbacks to the Whitney Trail Junction. I knew that if I made it up the roughly 1.5K’ climb, I would make it to Whitney! With my mantras on repeat and taking it slow and steady, I found myself feeling great! The only time I had any doubt was when a rock slide occurred on the mountain directly in front of us. It was an identical mountain to the one we were climbing. What if that happened to us?! But we were safe from that natural disaster, at least. As Guitar Lake got smaller and smaller, I realized that I had made it to the junction! I couldn’t believe I made it before I knew it. At the junction, a lot of people who are entering or exiting through Whitney Portal tend to leave their packs so they don’t have to lug them up to the summit. Opportunistic marmots have learned this and savagely tear through packs to get to food. The fat little things have no fear of humans or other vicious marmots. In fact, one of the SOBO hikers just finishing up said he heard a story where a hiker saw two marmots fighting over food. One of them tore out the other’s throat and started going cannibalistic on his fellow species. Rather graphic, I know, I found this story hard to believe. Likely just a hiker wives tale. From the junction, it was “only” 1.9 miles to the summit with a 1K’ elevation gain. Those last miles weren’t easy, but wow were they special. They were breathtaking. But as I learned, with beauty comes danger. There were plenty of sheer drop offs with boulder scrambling to boot. With one misstep you could land thousands of feet down. So I treaded carefully. I was becoming progressively short of breath, but was motivated by people passing me telling me, “you’re almost there!” Soon I rounded a corner and I could see it – the famed shelter at the top of Mt. Whitney!! I felt elated. The only the separating me from the summit was about 500′ of walking. Though it took a lot of effort, I did it. I got to the summit. And then the tears started flowing. I became emotional because I didn’t think I would ever make it. Had you asked me just 48 hours ago if I would be able to, I’d laugh and say heck no in between vomits. The girls were waiting for me at the top. I made a few tear filled calls (not sad tears – exhausted, joyfilled I MADE IT tears) and snapped a few pictures. Due to impending clouds, we didn’t stay up top long. But I did get to soak in a little of the beauty of being literally on top of the world, with Mt. Whitney being the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. We flew down the mountain (downhill is so much more forgiving) and considered jumping into Guitar Lake. But again, approaching clouds of doom stopped that idea. Unfortunately, in our haste coming down from the mountain, Sam hurt her knee. I’m gonna try to use my career to see if I can help at all. Fingers crossed it helps! We got back into camp at 1:30pm. We joked that all our food in our canisters are going to be gone, stolen by the folks from yesterday. But all was intact. We were beat. Again, rain and thunder threatened with little precipitation. The ranger told us that for the next 48 hours we are in monsoon conditions. Great! We’re planning an early bedtime again. I know I’ll sleep well, I accomplished that which I didn’t think possible. I have someone upstairs looking out for me for sure.

Day 2: Okay, Maybe I Can…

July 18th 2018; Lower Rock Creek – Crabtree Meadow: 7.6 miles

Today was a piece of cake. A bitter, unsweetened piece of cake made with blood, sweat, and tears – but a piece of cake nonetheless. And I didn’t hate eating it, mainly because it didn’t make me puke.

We all got good sleep last night. Between the peaceful quiet, darkness, and being wiped from the day’s hike, we slept hard and we slept in. As the sun made its appearance, we set out our still soaking clothes to dry. Not being nearly dry enough to mix with my unassaulted clothes, I makeshifted a clothesline on the outside of my pack – worked perfectly!

We set out and soon came across the first uphill battle. I took it slow and steady, mindful of my breathing and heart rate, I took intermediate breaks to avoid a repeat of yesterday. We even hit our first river crossing!

Shortly after, we hit Guyot Pass, our highest elevation of the day at 10.9K’. Being below the dreaded 11K’, I did not feel any of the symptoms of altitude sickness. In fact, I had an appetite and was able to eat lunch! Thank God I didn’t puke that up – tuna wouldn’t taste so good coming back up.

After Guyot Pass, we marched quickly over Guyot Flats – aptly named because they were, well, flat. And luxurious. We headed down a boulder field and had our first glimpse of the backside of Mt. Whitney (or what we thought was Whitney) since Monday. Soon clouds gathered, so we hastened the pace the camp should we be caught in another storm. We got to camp early – 1:45pm and set up camp.

A lot of people are here, doing what we’re doing. One crew made it up to Whitney today, but found themselves low on food. They saw us organizing our canisters and asked if we had any extra food. Lucky for them, we did and they were grateful for the donation. We came to learn that they completed the PCT 2 years ago and are now doing the High Sierra Trail. You would think with all that experience, they would know how much food to pack! However, I’ve come to learn that PCTers rely a lot on JMTers to pack too much food and use their leftovers as their resupply. So basically, PCTers are the vultures of the hiking world. HA – just kidding of course.

^^The infamous highly private pit toilet of Crabtree Meadows

We seem to have evaded the storm with only a few claps of thunder and a little sprinkling. We are going to bed early to get up early to hike Mt. Whitney. It’s another 4K’ higher than we are now, and although I felt much better today, I am not confident I’ll be able to make it up to 14.6K’! But we shall see, I’m going to attempt it no matter what. We have a game plan in place should I need to turn back. Hopefully it doesn’t need to be implemented, but it’s always best to be prepared!

Right now my body feels good – no aches and pains to complain about. However, the state of my feet is of minor concern. They look diseased with the skin just sloughing off (hopefully you’re not eating!). However, I have come to learn that is normal. My two index toenails are also about to fall off. Don’t need them anyway, right?!

Day 1: I Don’t Think I Can…

July 17th 2018; Horseshoe Meadows – Lower Rock Creek; 14 miles

***You may notice this is being posted before I’m supposed to be done the trail. Don’t worry I’m still set on completing the JMT – I’m having an off day in Mammoth trying to figure out plans with the raging Ferguson fire ravaging Yosemite!***

After Keith dropped us off at Horseshoe Meadows, we just chilled – literally. Being at 10k’ elevation, we felt a considerable difference in temperature between here and Lone Pine – which is good. Cause Lone Pine was 102 degrees when we left. Because it is so much cooler, I was instantly worried that I’d be freezing at night. But a gentleman I met in LP, Sean from Nashville who just finished the JMT the day before, assured me that would not be the case. “If anything, you’ll be warm!” Reassuring, however, I was still skeptical.

We were enjoying the peace and quiet until a group of barely supervised youths showed up with an arsenal of every possibly weapon. I’m not kidding. From throwing stars, to paintball guns, to machetes, to slingshots, to airsoft rifles, they had it all besides an AR-15. They even assaulted some poor mountain squirrel! They were rowdy and obnoxious. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan. And neither were a lot of the other campers. Meg, an 80 year old woman who has hiked in the Sierras every summer since she was 8, reported them to highway patrol. Unfortunately there was nothing for them to do about it! Oh well. We went to bed early in anticipation for the first day of the JMT!!

Shocker – we didn’t sleep well. The boys were yelling at each other until midnight until another hiker told them to shut up. I would’ve applauded, but I was half unconscious at that point. We were also visited by a pack of howling wiley coyotes and what I can only guess to be a bear. But fret not – they only made a LOT of noise. They left us alone. The stars were magnificent. It was such a clear night and I was able to see thousands of stars and the Milky Way during my 3 trips to the bathroom.

We woke up at 5:30am and set out for the trail at exactly 7:31am. We couldn’t believe it, we were really doing it! No turning back now. Months of planning and stressing every little detail is finally coming to fruition!!

The first 3 miles were easy. Here I was in my head thinking “Man, I slept okay last night, no issues with altitude sickness – I’ll be fine!” Who Nelly, did I regret jinxing myself. We hit Cottonwood Pass early on. I felt fine the first half of it, but soon I was trailing behind the girls. My heart was pounding and I was gasping for air. Okay, maybe the altitude is something I’ll have to contend with. With some short breaks, I was able to march on to the top of the pass. What a beautiful view! I was only able to notice it after I caught my breath.

We were well over 11k’ and I was feeling it. My heart rate was well over 140 BPM and with a normal resting HR in the 50s with trouble getting it above 100 during exercise, I was not used to feeling my heart beat so violently. It felt like it was trying to break right out of my chest! We took a snack break and trudged (in my case) on. Any kind of uphill of any kind of grade left me breathless. As someone who normally loves uphills, this crushed my spirit. Every 2 minutes I had to stop. My heart rate never went below 120bpm. Soon lightheadedness kicked in. Followed by nausea. Very shortly followed by vomiting. I had NEVER felt so horrible in my life and the sun beating down didn’t help. Knowing I wasn’t even don’t half of the days hike – I sincerely thought I was going to die. But Mary Beth and Sam were so patient and encouraging. They stopped frequently for me and motivated me to press on. And so I did.

As someone who loves physical challenges and putting my body through vigorous tests, today was easily my number one most physically challenging experience and in top 10 emotionally challenging days to date. Along with feeling that the Grimm Reaper was following me (not hard for him – I was so slow) I also thought something worse – I wasn’t going to be able to complete the JMT. The thought crushed me. But not for long. With only 6 miles left, I remembered my 2 favorite phrases. “Everything is temporary” and “suck it up buttercup”. Drawing strength from the phrases, I was able to complete the hike. Doesn’t hurt that it was all downhill! If you remember from my last post, I was prescribed anti altitude sickness meds. Why not use them if my altitude sickness was so horrible?! Well you see, I couldn’t keep anything down. Water, food, pills, you name it, it was coming back up. I hope to never feel that way ever again!! As we approached camp, I thought I heard thunder. Just what we needed! Mary Beth checked her handy dandy Garmin In Reach for the weather, which gave a prediction of 10% chance of rain. As we hiked, the skies turned darker and the thunder louder. We were in the 10% zone. The skies opened we marched 1 mile in search of shelter. We tried to wait it out, but it only got worse. We threw up our tents in a frazzled rush. My tent of course got flooded. I maguivered a way of unflooding it by bailing the water out with my coffee cup (never drinking instant coffee again – it’s all I could taste during the vom fest) and my sun shirt. It’s too white anyway. It needed to get a little dirty. And wouldn’t you know – as soon as it was perfectly dry (I was so proud) the sun came out! What a great first day. With the rain gone, we could cook dinner. Being back down at 9k’, my appetite came back full force after puking out its entire contents and not eating all day. Day one at 14 miles. I always knew this day would be difficult, I just could never imagine how difficult it would be. Give me Mt. Washington. Give me the hills of Washington State on bike. Give me the hot never ending hills of Kentucky on bike. But dear God – don’t ever give me today back again. Despite feeling horrible that whole time, I’m proud. I have never hiked 14 miles in one day (didn’t tell the girls – “oooo that’s why she sucks!”) let alone 14 miles in 10K’ of elevation. I made it when I was positive I wouldn’t. It’s a good day, and unlike the past 5 days I sure wasn’t bored! I’m definitely not acclimated yet, so I’m kind of terrified that today may be repeated soon enough. But tomorrow is half the distance and I can always turn around during Mt. Whitney!

A Hero’s Journey is Riddled with Obstacles

Alright well I’m no hero, but boy oh boy has the JMT thrown some obstacles my way – and we’re not even on the trail yet! From a wildfire evacuating Whitney Portal, to a mudslide taking out the road into Horseshoe Meadows, to the discovery of a huge tear in my sleeping bag, to a trip to urgent care, the past week has not been easy or relaxing. But the wildfire was quenched, the slide was cleared, the sleeping bag was patched, and the health scare was handled (and I scored some altitude sickness meds!). More than one time did I think I’d have to cancel the trip – and believe me when I tell you that it caused quite a panic that my lucky parents got to deal with. But alas, here I am in Lone Pine, sitting outside the hostel staring at the cloud shrouded Mt. Whitney as I type my last blog post until I get off the trail – whenever that may be. All disasters have so far been averted, and we all made it!

Here’s how I got here: I left Philly and flew into Reno Thursday. Because I had an entire afternoon devoid of anything to do, I rented a car and spent some time at Donner Pass and Lake Tahoe, both of which were less than an hour drive from Reno. If you know anything about the Donner Party, then you might know why I found it a must see. Though you wouldn’t know at the peak, the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism when stranded in the Sierras for months at a time during the height of winter. The plaques at the top just touch upon the “hardships” the pioneers faced and how so few of them survived. It makes for a less gruesome story I suppose. But I paid my homage and ironically thought how such a tragedy could happen in a place of such striking beauty. I also dwelled upon their crisis and hope a similar one doesn’t befall me on the trail!

Because I still had plenty of afternoon left, I decided to ride to Lake Tahoe. I have heard nothing but great things about it and wanted to see it for myself. And I’m sure glad I did – it was worth the hype. It strongly resembled one of my favorite lakes that I’ve been to, Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons. The water was clear and blue as anything with snow capped mountains in the background. It was beautiful and a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon.

After that I made it back to Reno. Let’s just say I didn’t fall in love with Reno and I have really no desire to go back. I visited the REI to pick up some fuel that I couldn’t bring on the plane and spent the rest of the night in the motel. I went to bed early and slept in. In the afternoon I returned the car and waited for the bus to take me to Lone Pine. And waited. And waited. Luckily I wasn’t alone. There were a few other hikers also waiting around (including a father son duo – the kid couldn’t have been more than 10 – thru hiking the entire trail in 17 days!), so I knew I didn’t miss it. It eventually came an hour late. When telling the driver I was going to Lone Pine, the very last stop, he straight faced said, “oh I’m running so late. I hope you make it”. Uh what? I thought he was kidding so I took it with a grain of salt.

The bus ride was gorgeous. We were surrounded by the stunning Sierras and every turn brought unbelievable views. I do admit I dozed off a few times during the ride, but what else is there to do during a 5.5 hour bus ride?! We pulled into Bishop when I realized that the bus driver was completely serious about not being confident about me getting to Lone Pine. I had a connector in Bishop and since we were so late, it wouldn’t be unlikely that the other bus would’ve just departed without me, leaving me stranded! But lo and behold, the bus was there, waiting for me. I felt sorry that I made everyone wait, but at the same time I felt so relieved! I hopped on and off we went to Lone Pine.

On the bus were a few other hikers also going to Lone Pine. Two guys were doing a section of the JMT (Whitney Portal – Mammoth Lakes). I chose to carry my pack in a bag for convenience of flying (not so convenient for carrying). They saw me hauling around the bag and instantly nicknamed me “Body Bag”. Thank God I’ll never see them again and that name won’t stick as my trail name. Not entirely the most becoming name that could be bestowed upon me.

The town of Lone Pine is tiny. Super tiny. It took me 10 min to walk from one end to the other. But there are plenty of places to eat! I stopped by a Mexican place upon arrival and sat facing the Sierras. My brain wasn’t functioning very well after such a long bus ride when I found myself asking just what mountain I was looking at. It looked huge and scary and menacing. Then it struck me – I was staring right at Mt. Whitney! And with that I felt my stomach drop – I’ll be climbing up that fierce looking mountain in less than a week. I almost threw up the delicious tacos I had just scarfed down.

I saw a beautiful sunset and went back to the hostel for some shut eye. The next morning I met up with Sam, a girl who joined us for the hike! She had a few other obstacles thrown her way. A day before she was supposed to fly out to meet a friend who would then drive her to Lone Pine, the friend bailed. Essentially, Sam had a few hours to change flights and figure out a totally new game plan. And apparently the same thing happened to Mary Beth! Unbelievable. I am beyond thankful that all my forms of transportation worked out for me. Pretty curious how many other hurdles are thrown our way before we leave for the trail! I find solace in the fact that the pacific bike route started so horribly too, but turned out to be one of my favorite trips to date. Hopefully I find the same pattern in the JMT!

like I said before, Lone Pine is tiny. There isn’t much to do. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy. Saturday I spent the day reading a novel in McDonalds. 6 hours later, I was left disappointed in the book and the McDonald’s I think was pretty annoyed that I set up camp there for the afternoon. But what else is there to do?! But I gotta say, the sunsets here are pretty hard to beat.

Sunday I walked the 4 mile round trip trek to the Interagency Visitor Center to pick up the permits. They were there waiting for me! Having them in my possession definitely made everything real. We now have everything we need to get this party started! I even booked a guy to drive us to the trailhead. A much more reliable way of doing it than relying on unreliable hitchhiking. Mom and Dad, you can sleep easy at least for tonight.

We ate our last good meal – a huge breakfast and are gonna get subs for dinner tonight. We shipped back all our extra gear and will head up to the trailhead campground this afternoon!

Can’t believe all the planning has led to this – I am excited and also a little terrified to see what comes our way, but at least we’re not alone on this journey!