Day 13: And Then There Was One…

July 29th, 2018; Florence Lake – Bear Ridge Junction: 16 Miles

Well, I survived by first day alone in the wilderness.  Marybeth made the hard decision to leave via Florence Lake to determine exactly what has her feeling so lousy. After a sad “see you later” – cause I have hope of her returning soon – I went long on my own.  It took 1.5 miles to get out of MTR territory and back on the trail.  That short distance was some of the toughest hiking yet!  Yesterday at the ranch, I overheard some guys going SOBO talking about their trek coming in. “May, I couldn’t imagine going NOBO outta here!” So at least I was semi prepared, but not enough! I was so glad to see the Selden Pass >” sign, indicating the end of that stretch. As soon as I got to that sign, I almost got trampled by two deer who I spooked.  Well, they spooked me too! Right before one was feet from plowing right into me, I let out the highest pitch shriek my body would allow.  That deer did not want to collide into something that made that kind of noise, so she last second changed course and left me alone. Phew. Now I could focus on the climb ahead of me. Like I mentioned last post, I had over 3K’ to make up in just a few miles.  The GPS elevation profile gave me an indication of what was in store.  Most of the elevation gain was in the first 2 miles. Rough, but it’s gotta happen! Good thing I was getting it over with first thing in the morning.

After the first few miles, things settled down and turned “flat”.  I enjoyed it until the last 1/2 of the pass.  But I gotta say, I’m a fan of going North, just because of the gentle grade of the passes this last half of the trip.  The way up going SOBO looks way more intimidating and less friendly.  But there is a trade off for these smaller elevation passes… less of a view.  And they only get smaller from here on out. I was spoiled by the grand views of Forester Pass. I’ll be daydreaming about those breathtaking views for the rest of my life.  Once atop Selden Pass, I spoke with some hikers and ate lunch.  Being exposed and in the sun,  I didn’t stay up there too long and set back down the pass.

Today, just after getting back on the trail, I observed complete sounds of nature.  Now I’ve experienced it before on this trip, plenty of times, but being by myself added to the magnitude of silence I was at that time listening to. While going up a set a switchbacks just before Selden Pass, it was early enough where I had the trail to myself.  The atmosphere was devoid of human made sounds. No airplanes, no cars, no music, no frivolous conversations, no clumsy feet or trekking poles accidentally kicking rocks (my specialty).  Just nature.  Once my heartbeat stopped drumming in my ears and I swatted all the mosquitoes and flies away, I was fully immersed by deafening nature.  The sound of the distant stream, the gentle breeze, the sing song chants of the birds flying amongst the clouds all put me at peace, just at time when peace was needed.  When surrounded in a world full of constant stimuli, it is beyond refreshing to experience a world so quiet and unadulterated, where humans have yet to fully inhabit.

Hiking such a trail in such wilderness alone is intimidating.  Though I’m confident in my abilityies to solo hike and I rarely go 15 minutes without seeing another human being, you can just not prepare for the unexpected.  Needless to day, the prospect kept me up last night (that and the fact that the campsite kinda creeped me out).  But there are signs out here that I’ll be just fine and that I actually am not truly alone.  My grandmother promised me that she’d be watching over me, keeping me safe.  She sent a sign (literally) today, of all days, that she was keeping that promise. I passed by Rose Lake Junction, and seeing as her name is Rose, I know it wasn’t just a coincidence! I know she’s up there, keeping a watchful eye, giving me confidence for the days to come.

Today was a long day. In fact, it was the longest mileage day yet! That because I got over be pass before 11:30am and felt great. I also want to try to get to VVR tomorrow early tomorrow for the 9:45am ferry.  By going further today, I only have 5 miles tomorrow to the ferry, making it easy to make that time.  Otherwise I’ll be waiting around until 4:45pm, no thanks!  Marybeth, if given the okay by the doctors, will likely meet me at VVR, so I’d rather get there early and just relax.  She’ll let me know by tonight.  If she isn’t able to make it to VVR, I’ll likely just skip it and head to Red’s Meadow.  Although VVR is a staple stop for JMT hikers and offers hot meals and free beer to hikers, I would rather push on.  More so than food and especially beer (yuck – at this altitude I’d be hungover for days), I’m craving communication with friends and family.  I need to make sure little Addie is okay!  The person who is sharing a campsite with me has a dog – ugh I might steal it for the night!

The smoke was the worst it’s been yet today.  As I learned on the Pacific Coast bike tour, winds out here tend to blow from the North down to the South.  Seeing as any of the fires are North of here, the wind is blowing the smoke right our way.  A cowboy leading a mule train told me, “howdy Ma’am, welcome to the most beautiful part of the trail!” News to me, I can’t see anything through the haze of the smoke!

I officially have less than 100 miles. And with 10 days to complete those miles in, I feel confident that I’ll be able to achieve my goal.  Unless, of course, something befalls me!

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 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.

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.