Day 15: A Woman on a Mission

July 31, 2018; Silver Pass – Deer Creek: 15 Miles

I woke up this morning a little groggy.  It took me a while to fall asleep, but once I found the sweet relief of sleep, it was hard to shake it off.  I did get up once during the night to a rustling next to my tent.  My body decided that right then was the perfect time to relieve myself.  With a swift shake of the tent to scare off whatever was creeping around (I always think it’s a bear). I saw a beautiful night sky free from the dark clouds that held it captive just a few hours before.  The moon was shining brightly behind a thin veil of misty clouds.  Though eerie outside the comfort and safety of my tent, I found immense beauty despite being so vulnerable and alone.

Although my alarm went off at 5:30am, my body did not.  It was a record slow camp break down for me.  By body is beyond tired, so I gave it a break and let it take its time this morning. Besides, I have a super easy day today… or so I thought (dun dun dun!) No matter what, however,  I was going to make it to that campsite and that one spot that potentially has service.  I think a big reason why I’ve been sleeping so poorly is because I’ve been so worried about loved ones at home.  After no contact in over 2 weeks, the mind goes wild with horrible scenarios in which everyone in your family died in a fiery car crash. Or maybe the entire East coast was wiped out by a nuclear bomb.  Or maybe Addie ate another baseball and this time wasn’t so lucky.  How would I know out here in the wilderness if any of these possibilities actually happened!? So I made it my mission to find this elusive service spot and today was the day this mission was to be completed.  I just had to get my achy 28 year old body to get on board – no easy task.

But I forced it to, as I have been this entire journey.  For the sake of Addie and my mental well being, I had to make it.  The morning started with a beautiful downhill view of the mountains, bathing in the amber glow of the early morning sun.  With a little added haze of the smoke, it looked like a painting.  But soon that downhill turned into a harrowing uphill, complete with switchback after switchback in the sun.  I have grown to absolutely detest switchbacks.  They are long and neverending.  Seeing the top the whole way up is mental torture.  Finally I was at the top and only had a short hike to Virginia Lake.  Yesterday, I toyed around with the idea of going further to stop at Virginia Lake because everyone told me how gorgeous it was.  But after talking with Jeb at Silver Pass and he told me it was a 1500′ climb (now the switchbacks make sense) I decided nope – I put my body through enough.  Plus the lightning storm solidified my decision.

I really thought that was the last of it with regards to climbing.  Today was supposed to be easy!  I took a nice rest at Virginia Lake and headed for another uphill battle up to Purple Lake.  It was up and down all day.  Although tough and unexpected, today was one of my favorite days view wise.  The lakes were beautiful.  And after the lakes came views of mountains. Gorgeous vista views along a crest for 5 miles.  It took my mind off the constant up and down.

But as you can tell by the pictures, those mountains did not look happy. No, they were blanketed in storm clouds, complete with rain and thunder. However , the rain was light (only but a drizzle) and the lightning was a minor threat being miles away.

Soon I approached the zone that was promised to have service.  I turned my phone off airplane mode and kept walking.  And walking.  Just when I gave up all hope on getting service, I heard the familiar ding of my phone! I reached the sacred zone, and it had perfect service.  My mission was successful.  I immediately called my parents and all is well! Addie is happy and healthy as is everyone else.  So I should (hopefully) sleep well tonight.

After such great news, I happily hiked to the campsite.  The happiness ended when I was promptly kicked out by a rude man.  I was (and still am) annoyed by it.  In fact, he’s wearing a mosquito net and there are literally no mosquitoes out tonight, which I’m thrilled about.  Because the campground is full, two young guys from the Bay area allowed me to share their campsite.

Earlier today while getting water at Duck Creek, I ran into two brothers hiking from Bishop to Mammoth.  They’re staying in the same campground and I got talking with Chris. He’s really nice and has a 12 year old daughter interested in backpacking. Great! Start them young!!

Tomorrow is a short jaunt to Red’s Resort.  I’ll probably get breakfast there and head into Mammoth.  Not sure where I’m staying yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to a shower and bed and real food!!

Day 14: Silver – Definitely Not Gold

July 30th 2018; Bear Ridge Junction – Somewhere Past Silver Pass: 14.6 miles

Oh what a day. I feel like I can start any of these entries with this phrase, but today was truly some sort of day.  I didn’t sleep well last night. With every noise pulling me out of whatever minimal state of unconsciousness I found myself in, I was jolted away with a fight or flight response.  Normally I’m fine sleeping in my tent, but last night was not one of those nights.  When I finally did doze off, my alarm went off at 4:45am – just in time for an early morning hike to VVR.  however, at the same time,  I saw that Marybeth had texted me on the Garmin.  She’s fine (hallelujah!) but won’t be meeting me at VVR.  I went back to sleep, content on skipping the holy grail of stops.  I wanted to get to Mammoth ASAP and a frivolous stop for a milkshake and a free beer didn’t exactly fit my plans.

The 5.5 miles to the VVR junction was all downhill. Aggressively so.  3 miles of it was rocky switchbacks.  I nearly fell 1/2 a dozen times getting down it.  If I was having that hard of a time going down, imagine the poor folks forced to go up it.  I passed nearly 20 of them, each one looking more miserable than the last.  I even waited for a mule train to pass.  I can’t believe these huge animals can navigate such narrow paths.  But thank God they do.

I had plenty of time to catch the ferry, however, like I said earlier, my drive to get to Mammoth by Wednesday fueled my drive to continue moving on.  That mean a 7 mile 3K’ climb over Silver Pass. Making sure Addie is okay was worth the torture I knew would ensue with this decision.

My whole body was sore and tired from overdoing it yesterday. I attacked this pass with a whole lot less tenacity than I did Selden Pass. I hated nearly every second of it.  I found excuses to stop every half an hour (well is refilling water really an excuse? It was hot I was drinking a ton of water!), making the climb take even longer.  I take back what I said yesterday about northern passes being gentle and gradual.  Leading up to Silver Pass was steep, ungodly so.  I suffered today, my friends.  But like all the other passes, the suffering eventually came to an end and I made it atop.  At 2pm, much later than I would’ve liked.  Although it wasn’t my favorite pass to get atop, it did yield one of my favorite views, even with the hazy smoke! At the top, I met Jeb, a fellow NOBO hiker who hiked the trail SOBO in 2016.  His pace is much faster than mine, so this is likely the only time I’ll run into him. He left and not soon after, so did I.  The rumbling of thunder was heard in the distance and soon rain fell from the sky. Being fully exposed on a pass, I knew I had to get down. Quickly.

I scurried down from the pass as quickly as my tired weary legs would allow.  I still had 2.8 miles to my camping spot and most of those miles were exposed. Not where I wanted to be when suddenly right in front of my face lightning danced across the sky.  With no option for shelter and honestly quite terrified, I went back to my grade school days and recited the rosary while practically running down the trail.  The lightning was nonstop and I couldn’t tell which thunder belonged to which lightning. Didn’t matter, all I knew was the lightning was way too close for comfort. It was just one constant symphony of thunder and I wasn’t too big a fan of the performance. In an otherwise completely safe situation, would’ve been beautiful, but unfortunately, that was not the situation I found myself in.  Soon my mad scramble down the mountain led to sporadic bunches of trees.  I went from tree to tree until I was safely below the treeline, where I soon found my home for the night. And a perfect home it is! Tucked under some big trees, I was able to set up my tent and stay dry! The storm lasted for about another hour before giving up.  And now the sun is shining, of course!

One this I’ve noticed since starting the solo journey is that people going the opposite direction are way more prone to starting a conversation in passing.  Not that it bothers me, it gives me a rest and distraction.  Plus most of the people are super nice and give me information about what’s happening up North with regards to the fires.

I’m only 20 miles away from Red’s Meadow Resort.  I’m planning on getting there tomorrow.  Just kidding! It’s a relatively easy 15 miles to a nice looking campground tomorrow – and rumor is there’s a spot a mile before this campground that has Verizon service.  I can call and make contact with family and friends!! Plus that makes Wednesday’s journey to Red’s Meadow a pretty easy 5 miles. Perfect!  Today was one of my toughest mental days.  With a fatigued body and brain, I’m pretty susceptible to my mind going negative.  I had a few tearful moments feeling sorry for myself, but got my act together pretty quickly.  No tears allowed on the trail!

Day 12: Halfway Point!

July 28th, 2018; Evolution Creek Crossing – Florence Lake-ish Junction: 10 miles

We did it! Day 12! We officially are half way done hiking the John Muir Trail.  Again, not ready for this experience to be over, just grateful to have made it this far!

Marybeth woke up this morning feeling better – it’s a Christmas (in July) miracle! We got out relatively early and forded the Evolution Creek before 8am. Doing it early lessened our risk of being taken away by the strong current.  And was it strong. Coming just to below my shorts, I carefully treaded along the wide creek and made it to the other side safely, despite all the creek’s effort to do me in.  We had just under 9 miles to John Muir Rance, where we are resupplying for the second time. All downhill, we got there just around 1pm.

Unfortunately, smoke from the Yosemite fire (edit: This was actually smoke from a lightning caused fire just outside of Red’s Meadow – too many fires to keep up with!) caused the viewed to be hazy.  I really hope it gets cleaned up by the time we roll through! Even for unfortunate is that Marybeth started to feel bad again during the last mile push to the ranch.  It is extremely hot here, so I think that has a lot to do with it. Marybeth is also sick of food she packed – something I can relate to, I’m surviving purely on snacks on tuna.  After cooling down and stomaching some calories, we made it to the ranch. We were greeted pretty coldly, but we were warned. Muir Trail Ranch is notorious for being a little rude to hikers. Maybe it’s part of their “charm”? Regardless, their customer service leaves a lot to be desired, but I am pretty grateful they provide a resupply at all – that would leave a lot of hikers outta luck for food!

After picking up the bucket, we scoured the hiker buckets for any goodies other hiker’s left behind.  Because people tend to pack way too much food (I am included in that statistic), MTR places leftover or unwanted food in buckets for other hikers to rummage through.  In fact, there is so much leftover food that some people don’t even send their own bucket, but rely on the hiker buckets for their resupply.  A little too much of a risk if you ask me. There were slim pickings today, but I did score some new tuna pack flavors (I was way too excited for this) and some electrolyte drink mixes.  I also got rid of a lot of food that made my stomach churn just looking at it (peanut butter is awful on the trail). While waiting around – we stayed there four hours – we ran back into the sisters from a few days ago.  Again, they were behind schedule so they decided to exit at Red’s Meadow in a few days.  We also met a father and son who packed way too much food in their resupply and gave us their leftover Doritos and Fritos.  If you ever want to see hikers go manic, give them Doritos.  It no doubt resembled a pack of starved frantic seagulls going after an unsupervised bag of chips at the beach.

At the ranch, I got to weight Big Booty Judy – my lovely companion.  Knowing she is a pretty hefty girl (I have been getting snide comments about the size of my pack the entire trail), I was not at all surprised that she came in weighing a solid 45 pounds all loaded up with food and water.  The number made some of the other hikers cringe and judge.  Good thing they’re not the ones carrying her! You won’t hear me complain about the weight – I knew what I was getting myself into.

Because of Marybeth’s unpredictable symptoms, there was a lot of indecision as to where to stay that night. MTR is close to Florence Lake, a bail out spot for JMT hikers. The closest campsite was across a waist deep river requiring use of an overhead rope to ford.  I for one was not comfortable crossing with the pack.  With some Doritos in her system, Marybeth considered hiking 2 miles North to another campsite. However, that put us too far from the Florence Lake exit should she choose to leave in the morning. So we decided to start the hike to Florence Lake and just stealth camp. Which is what we are doing now.

Marybeth is leaning towards exiting tomorrow. If that’s the case, I’ll be continuing this journey solo (shhh… my parents don’t know yet).  She is planning on meeting back up in a couple days after being checked out by a doctor.  I’ll be taking her In-Reach to keep in contact with her.  The biggest problem for her will be finding transportation from Florence Lake to Fresno, the closest city.  Florence Lake Resort is pretty remote and doesn’t have public transportation.  There is a private shuttle that can be hired, but at $200 per ride, that is way too expensive.  Marybeth is going to rely on the good nature kindness of strangers and hope that people leaving the resort will give her a ride on their way to Fresno.  Being a Sunday, she might be in luck! One thing is certain, you cannot predict life on the JMT!

I’m pretty nervous for tomorrow.  We’re only at 7.5K’ elevation and have to get to 10.9K’ in a short distance to make it over Selden Pass! Yikes – should be an interesting undertaking alone.

Day 11: Untitled

July 27th, 2018; Evolution Lake – Evolution Creek Crossing: 7 miles

Today started slow. Marybeth is feeling worse so we didn’t head out of camp until just before 11am. We hiked slow and steady to McClure Ranger Station. We spoke with Victor who validated that exiting via the Florence Lake ferry from MTR was the best option for seeking medical attention. We hiked 2.5 miles to just before crossing Evolution Creek. Two women died here last year after getting caught in the current. Their bags weighed them down and they unfortunately drowned. Last year was a high snow year, making creek crossings high and violent. This year is in stark contrast – very little snow so fording rivers is less risky. We have 9 miles to MTR tomorrow. Marybeth went to bed early in hopes of getting an early start in the morning to get to MTR before it closes. The full moon out here is crazy. Last night, I woke up positive it was dawn. When I looked at my watch, I was shocked to see it was only 2:44am! The whole canyon was lit completely up just by the moon. The lake was gorgeous showing the reflection of the full moon. However it didn’t help with sleep, so I was forced to put my hat over my eyes for some darkness. Tonight we’re 3K’ lower in elevation and in trees so hopefully the moon doesn’t interrupt precious sleep again!

Day 10: The Infamous Muir Pass

July 26th 2018; Little Pete Meadow – Evolution Lake: 11 miles

Oh what a day. I am writing this from the most beautiful serene of places, very inspiring! I unfortunately am still forced to write this in my tent. Not because of rain though! Although there are some pretty nasty looking clouds floating by… I am forced to seek refuge in my tent because of mosquitoes. They are lined up on my tent like zombies – blood thirsty and dumb. The last few days have been nothing but ravenous mosquitoes. Makes sense with all the rain and tons of still water for them to fester. Ugh gross.

Today started a little slow. Marybeth hasn’t been feeling so great the last few days so we took it easy in the morning. During the first hour of the hike, she really started feeling (and looking) bad. We stopped at the nearest campground for her to rest. If we had to stay there all day, so be it… you can walk off a painful hip, but an illness? Not so much. At the campground we’re two sisters who were originally going to thru hike the entire JMT. However, after one hurt her knee, they went into Bishop to rest. Only planning on staying for 2 days, they ended up staying 6 (apparently Bishop is a vortex and is hard to leave). Obviously, this greatly affected their schedule, but they didn’t seem to mind. They’re planning on ending just before Yosemite next week. Probably a good call – who knows, it could still be on fire by then!

Just shy of 2 hours rest, Marybeth started to feel better and was ready for the 5 miles up and over Muir Pass. What a trooper! She definitely was feeling better because she certainly blazed right past me!

The hike up Muir Pass was out of this world. Lakes everywhere with ominous mountains standing tall over them. Water was everywhere. Up until early June, the two miles NOBO up the pass was covered in snow. Now the snow was all melted, contributing to the streams and rivers running through the trail. We did hit one small patch of snow we had to cross. Adds a little more to the adventure.

Muir Pass was kinder and gentler than the other passes, with gradual switchbacks and easy terrain. Going up one switchback, two guys joked with me. “We have some good news for you! You’re almost at the top!” In no mood for their shenanigans, I retorted (out of breath) “I hope you’re not kidding — oh my god it’s the hut!” “Ha! We told ya so!!” They were right… I was close. In fact, I was at the top! What a beautiful sight that hut was. Signaling the top of another pass! Marybeth was waiting up top and together we explored the hut, a memorial to John Muir made by the Sierra Club. Boy was it creepy inside. Marybeth helped me get in and I couldn’t wait to get out. Drafty and smelly, I couldn’t imagine having to spend the night in it.

Still feeling good, Marybeth wanted to push further than our original camp of 1 mile away. Sure! I felt great! I had no problem pushing it further. Because Muir Trail Ranch is 2 days away, we want to get there early for a pseudo off day so Marybeth can rest. With less than 20 miles (and all downhill), that should be an easy goal to accomplish.

We set out for 5 miles to Evolution Lake. Half way there, Marybeth started to feel sick again, but pushed on. We got there with threatening clouds, but enough sun for a quick dip in the lake. Marybeth was brave enough to go under. I was content just up to my waist.

Marybeth went to bed early. I am enjoying the views, thinking back on the journey now that we’re in the double digits! I never expected this hike to be so hard. I thought my body would be more accepting of this challenge, but physically, it’s defeating. However, I feel my body changing and adapting to the challenges. I am much stronger than I was 10 day ago. Mentally and emotionally the trail zaps the strength right out of you. But through that I am learning more about myself as a person, and for that I am happy.

Know how on Survivor (probably not- I think I’m the only one who still watches it) they bring loved ones in on day 20 and everyone gets emotional and sobs hysterically? I would give anything for any one of my loved ones to walk up to my tent right now with Addie in tow. I’m crying right now just thinking about it! Not normally a super emotional person, being out of contact with friends and family for this long during such an intense period of time sure does bring out the emotions!

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.