Sunday, August 14, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 0

Plan A hadn't worked. The mosquitoes and biting flies killed it. Plan A was to hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Kearsarge Pass on the John Muir Trail. Even with mosquito repellent, which did nothing at all for the biting flies, it was awful. Maybe not for everybody, since we aren't all equally attractive to mosquitoes. But it was awful for me, because, according to the mosquitoes and biting flies, I am a three Michelin star restaurant.

To be honest, I was suffering from depression too. I'd been suffering from it for months, and it was affecting my hiking. I'd get somewhere to hike, suddenly feel really down, and then I wouldn't be able to do the hike I'd planned. That happened in Death Valley in March and it happened again in Zion National Park in May. The catch-22 of it all is that, for me, hiking helps with my depression. I got into backpacking to help my depression, actually. And it worked! I'm not implying it would work for everyone, but it worked for me. But even though hiking helps my depression, depression can make me unable to hike.

I was fighting depression to get through the first part of the trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Agnew Meadows. The mosquitoes and biting flies were not helping. They were stripping away every little bit of joy I have on the trail, taking away the moments bathing in rivers, and sitting with my feet in a waterfall, and just hanging around with friends at our campsite at dusk after a long, hard day's hike. They made it impossible to stand still and focus to take a picture of something beautiful. They were provoking my hypervigilance. They were even making basic needs difficult. My last day before leaving the trail, I hiked 5 miles without being able to stop and go to the bathroom for fear that the biting flies would feast on my butt if I pulled my pants down.

My deal with myself was that I'd only exit the trail if I was going to get back on a trail. Any trail. I'd go home, regroup, and then make a Plan B. I considered car camping in Tuolumne Meadows and day hiking in the area, or doing the Trans-Catalina Trail, which shouldn't have mosquitoes. Or, well, I didn't know what. It's California. There's no shortage of options.

Going home helped my mental state. The four days of hiking had helped too. Aside from the bug bites and a nice gash and bruise on my leg from Donohue Pass, they helped my physical health too. I was getting my trail legs back. I was no longer too depressed to hike.

In the end, Plan B was to get back on the JMT. I figured if I waited a week and went back in Bishop Pass, I could rejoin the JMT at LeConte Canyon and then hike over Mather, Pinchot, and Glen passes before going out Kearsarge. It would be higher elevation and a few weeks later compared with the buggy section I did in mid-July. The mosquitoes would probably be better enough for me to do the hike. And, anyway, now I was eager to get back out there, mosquitoes or not.

I drove from San Diego to Independence - again. To the Mt Williamson hotel - again. This time I brought a fruit tart from a French pastry shop for my friend and trail angel who had offered to give me a lift to the trailhead in Bishop. The day I drove up, Tuesday, July 26, we planned to have dinner together. Then I'd go camp for the night in Onion Valley to start acclimating to the altitude. The next day, July 27, she had to work at the Mt Williamson hotel in the morning, but we'd go together to drop my car at Onion Valley and then to the South Lake trailhead in Bishop in the afternoon. She'd hike part way up with me, and then she'd hike back to her car, and I'd continue up the trail toward Bishop Pass. I would basically hit the JMT at the same time and place I should have anyway if I hadn't quit in Agnew Meadows at all, and then I'd finish on time, the very same day I would have finished anyway, at Kearsarge Pass.

The plan went well up to the part where we had dinner. She thought we could eat at the co-op. It was closed. Then she thought we could try a French place called Still Life Cafe in Independence. That was closed too. Our options, in that case, were Lone Pine or Big Pine. Or Subway. I opted for Big Pine and we drove there and ate at some country diner.

On the way back to Independence, my car signaled that it was out of gas. We were going to a gas station about 2 miles north of Independence that has cheaper gas than anywhere else around, so I kept going. I always measure exactly how far my car goes after it gives me the "no more gas" signal. I've gone as far as 30 miles. I've never risked it beyond that. My car's a Prius, so in good weather it always gets at least 40 miles per gallon.

All of a sudden, after I'd gone 8 miles, a light came on the car, a triangle with an exclamation mark inside of it. So did the Check Engine light. Shit and shit. I didn't know what the triangle one meant. I pulled over and tried stopping the car and then starting it again to see if that would work. I mean, it works for my computer, right? My friend offered to look up what the triangle light meant. It meant there was something wrong with the hybrid system and I had to take the car to Toyota. I figured I probably really DO have to take it to Toyota because normal places probably don't know much about hybrids.

I turned the car back on and kept going. The same two lights were still on, but now two more were too. Basically, my car was just all-around broken. Then it rolled to a stop on the shoulder of 395.

I bought my car new in 2008. I bought the car before that new too, a 2004 Corolla. These are the only two cars I've ever owned. I don't know much about cars, and I don't like them. I like that new cars don't break, because I don't want to deal with a broken car. And this was the first time this had ever happened to me, that my car had broken and truly stopped on the side of the highway and would not go anymore.

At this point, my Prius is like an old pet. Some things don't work that well anymore and that's OK. It's OK if your dog's muzzle is greying, or if your cat wants to lay in the sun all day instead of running around like an insane kitten. The bumper cover is gone, and the driver's side mirror is bashed in. The latter happened in the Whitney Portal parking lot while I was summitting Whitney, by the way. I bought a small mirror at REI and some Gorilla tape, and I taped the mirror in place over the smashed mirror. No harm done. The remote entry doesn't seem to work as well as it used to. Lately the power button that turns the radio on and off doesn't work. The radio's on all the time. But I can turn the volume all the way down if I don't want to hear it, so that's OK.

But when some things go wrong in your old pet, it's NOT OK. Like when the dog my family had growing up went senile and couldn't remember whether she was supposed to poop outside or inside. Or when your pet can't walk anymore. Or your car just stops along 395 and won't go anymore.

I called AAA to ask for a tow truck. They asked where I was. "Oh, a few miles up 395 from Independence, on the southbound side of the road," I answered.

The woman asked for the address where I was. There wasn't one.

How about cross streets? None of those either.

She asked me to look around and tell her what I saw. I told her I saw mountains, a few cacti, and some creosote bushes. She wasn't amused.

She asked if I could find the GPS coordinates. I couldn't. My friend's phone was out of battery and mine didn't have internet. I told her to just send the tow truck down 395 between Big Pine and Independence and he'd find ONE CAR stopped along the road a few miles north of Independence, and it would be me. She didn't like that.

Meanwhile, my friend started walking back to Independence - in her flip flops - to get her truck. A few cops pulled up and asked if I needed help. I got the GPS location from one and gave it to the woman from AAA. Then I sent him to drive my friend back to her truck.

The tow truck arrived at the same moment that my friend returned. I already had all of my hiking gear and anything I needed for the night packed up to put in her truck. She suggested that perhaps we should just try putting gas in my car. I mean, it shouldn't be out of gas. But we should certainly try. The man with the tow truck put a few gallons of gas in my car. I started the car again. The lights saying my car was completely broken still came on.

He told me to drive the car gently forward a few feet, then reverse it and drive it a few feet in reverse. Do that a few times and see if anything changes. Nope. All the lights were still on.

I wanted my car to just be out of gas. But I wasn't willing to risk driving off with all of those warning lights on and assuming all was well as soon as I filled the tank. The next place I'd planned to drive my car was up to Onion Valley at 9,100 feet, where I wouldn't have cell service. After that, after my hike, I needed to drive it back to San Diego. I'd rather have Toyota look at the car NOW and spend the whole week fixing it while I hiked, so that I could drive it home when I was done hiking.

With the AAA I had, it would have cost several hundred dollars to tow my car to Bishop. My friend had a better AAA plan than me, and I was able to use hers. The towing was free.

The man towed my car to the Toyota place in Bishop. I got in my friend's truck to drive back to Independence. She started rattling off my options, and I asked her to just make decisions for me. I could barely function. She took me to a motel called Ray's Den and helped me get a room. It was all I could do to drag all of my things into the room, turn on the air conditioner, and fall into bed.

I was prepared to handle any number of challenges on the trail, but a broken car wasn't one of them. And if it weren't for my friend, for so many reasons, I don't think I could have handled it.

(I got my car back the day after I finished my hike. In the end, the Toyota place in Bishop did every possible test on my car, and they test drove it. The stupid thing was just out of gas. I'd like to make a suggestion to Toyota: In the future please manufacture cars so that all the warning lights don't go on and stay on when the car is just out of freaking gas!!!!)

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 1

South Lake Trailhead to Long Lake
Miles: 2.0
Elevation Gain: 900 ft

Day one started late. I knew it would start a little late. I didn't realize HOW late. The friend who was driving me to the trailhead had commitments until 2pm. The original plan was that we'd caravan up to Onion Valley, drop my car off, and then drive over to Bishop Pass and start hiking together. She'd do an out and back as a day hike, and I'd keep going and camp. I'd found some faulty info on the internet that said it was 5 miles to the top of the pass, and another 6 to the JMT. Based on that, I planned to go 3.5 miles to a lake and stop for the night, so I could go over the pass to the JMT the next day.

Then I checked my map.

According to my map, which I trust more than the internet, it's 6 miles to to the top of the pass, and another 6.8 to the JMT. Well, I thought. I could still do this. It's just an extra two miles. I also had a "just in case" plan - if I couldn't make it 3.5 miles for some reason, there was a lake I could stop at 2 miles in. These distances were based on the faulty internet information, so I hoped they were at least somewhat correct. And, in retrospect, I can't tell you if the distances were correct, but there ARE lakes as you hike up the pass, and you can camp there. At least that much is accurate.

The night before my car had broken and we'd had it towed to Bishop. Now we wouldn't have to go up to Onion Valley to drop my car off at least. But I had a new problem. I had stuff with me that I wasn't taking backpacking: my laptop, the clothes I wore the day before I started hiking, and a few other things. I'd intended to leave them in my car. Now what?

Also, I'd planned to drive my now-broken car around that morning to get breakfast, a fuel canister, and a lighter. Instead, I sat in my hotel room until checkout time, and outside it in the blazing heat of Independence afterward. Finally, I asked if I could sit inside the room I'd checked out of until my friend came. The woman running the motel said yes. I was still hungry, but at least I wasn't as hot.

The friend I was waiting for was volunteering at the Mt. Williamson hotel. A driver from that hotel came to where I was staying to drop off hikers, and the woman running my hotel asked if he could run me back to Mt. Williamson. He said yes.

Back at Mt. Williamson, I stood waiting in the air conditioned office, and pillaged the hiker buckets for a bit of food. My friend showed up and gave me a few apples too. She still had a bit of work to do before we could go.

When she was ready, I told her about my two problems. 1. Find a place to store my stuff and 2. Buy fuel and a lighter. Okay, and 3. Coffee and food.

My friend suggested we leave my stuff with the Toyota place that was fixing my car. I didn't have any better ideas, so I agreed. (She couldn't take it for me because she was leaving her volunteer job before I got back.) She said Mt. Williamson sold fuel. We discussed it and decided I needed a large canister for this trip. She took my money, ran inside, and then came back and handed my money to me. She thought the fuel there was expensive. We could get it somewhere else. We headed to Bishop.

My first priority was coffee. We stopped at a gas station, and I got terrible gas station coffee and drank it. Then we drove to Bishop.

There, we stopped by Perry Motors to talk to them about my car. It was parked pitifully in the middle of their shop, still broken. They hadn't looked at it yet. I'd called earlier to try to update them on my situation. I was going to be hiking for a week and completely off the grid. I asked them to fix it enough to drive safely home to San Diego, but no more than that. And then charge me for it. And don't try to call me mid-week to ask me what I want, because I can't answer the phone. Just do it.

Maybe that's a bad strategy for car repairs, but I didn't see another way to go about it. I wasn't sitting around in Bishop for a week paying for motel rooms. I might as well go do the hike, where I wouldn't have to pay for food and lodging. And I needed my car to be ready when I finished hiking.


They agreed to fix the car without attempting to communicate with me while I was gone. The guy fixing it seemed to think it could be mice that got into it while it was parked at the trailhead for a week during my last trip. He said I could leave my stuff inside the car while I hiked. I didn't feel good about leaving my laptop there, but I did it. On a last minute whim, I took my iPod with me for the hike. I never do that, but it was either going to sit in a car where I was nervous about it, or it was going with me. And I was halfway through a good audiobook.

From there, we went to a coffee shop, the Looney Bean. I got a latte and a bagel with cream cheese. Then we drove toward the South Lake Trailhead. It was already late. We were halfway there when I remembered that I needed fuel and a lighter. So we turned around and drove back into Bishop. We found a "sporting goods" store that seemed solely devoted to killing living things with both guns or fishing poles. Well, at least they'd have what I needed. I went in, got it, and came back to the car. Then we set off - AGAIN - for the trailhead.

The South Lake Trailhead is very high up. It's 9800 feet, and the pass itself is 11,980. As we drove up, it began to hail. Then it stopped. Then it rained. My friend and I joked that I should have brought rain pants, and that my rain jacket was all wrong - a running joke between us at the expense of a hiker she met who liked to tell everyone their rain gear was wrong. But as I got my rain gear on and hit the trail, the rain stopped.

I was barely a foot up the trail before I had my camera out to take pictures of fireweed:

Fireweed

Fireweed

I still can't seem to get a satisfactory picture of that plant, but I love it, so I keep trying.

Fireweed Buds After the Rain
Fireweed buds in the rain

The mosquitoes swarmed me immediately. I pulled out my bug spray, which I hate using, and sprayed myself down. I normally don't even bring it with me, but this year was just so bad for bugs and I didn't see another way to get through the hike.

The trail was beautiful as I went up. There was a steep section that went up several hundred feet toward the beginning, but then it became less steep. I took lots of photos, but many weren't great because I was somewhat frantic and hurried both to get my miles in for the day and to avoid standing still long enough for the mosquitoes to get me worse than they already were.

Lily

Lily

Aspen
Aspen

Apiaceae

Currants

And then, I saw it: columbines. Not the usual red and yellow kind though. These were Coville's Columbines. I went kind of nuts with joy.

Coville's Columbine

Coville's Columbine

Coville's Columbine

Bishop Pass is absolutely covered with Coville's Columbines. So is Mather Pass, although I didn't know it yet. I was in heaven. My photos do not do these flowers justice.

I kept going along the trail until I reached a lake. I estimated I'd gone about two miles, and now it was dusk. I'd started really late in the day. The mosquitoes got worse and worse, and they did not seem to notice that I was wearing repellent. Before long, I started looking for a place to hang out for a few hours until it was dark and the worst of the bugs had passed.

I scrambled over some rocks off the trail and looked for a flat spot without too many rocks on the ground. Then I noticed some actual campsites. I went to one, threw my pack on the ground, dumped out my tent, unzipped the door, and put it over me like a dress. I let the open door fall to the ground around my feet, forming a seal from the mosquitoes. Then I sat down without breaking the seal, took off my shoes, kicked them out the door, pulled my feet in, and zipped the door.

After a few very boring minutes of sitting, I wiggled over to my pack and brought it into my unpitched tent. Then I pulled out my iPod and began listening to my audiobook - The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. I had the mesh of the tent door over my face, and I could see the mosquitoes outside trying to get me. Every time I looked to see if it was dark enough and cold enough yet, and if the bugs had gone away, they were still there. I saw a small swarm of them hovering over me.

I'd intended to get up later. To hike more. Or at least to pitch my tent and make dinner. Instead, as the night grew colder, I took out my sleeping bag and got in it. Then I took out my bear can and ate 3 Babybel cheeses as my dinner, and put the bear can outside of the tent. Last, I blew up my sleeping pad and put it under me. Then I fell asleep.

I spent my first night on the trail, alone, about a mile and a half short of my destination for the day, sleeping in an unpitched tent with only cheese for dinner. But at least I was safe from those mosquitoes.

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 3

Dusy Basin to JMT Trail Mile 143, Past Middle Fork Kings Junction
Miles: 9.9
Elevation Gain: 650 ft

I woke up my third day on the trail in the middle of Dusy Basin. I wasn't sure where. By my initial estimates, I'd gone four of the 6.8 miles between the top of Bishop Pass and the John Muir Trail before a thunderstorm began and I decided it was unsafe to keep going the day before. After looking at the map, I was less sure. For once, my notes were useless. I normally used Elizabeth Wenk's data, from her guidebook to the John Muir Trail, but this time I'd used information from the internet that was obviously wrong. It said it was 11 miles from the South Lake Trailhead, over Bishop Pass, to the JMT. My map said it was 12.8.

I made breakfast, washed all of my clothes, packed up, hanging my wet clothes outside my pack, and hit the trail. After going maybe 50 yards, I realized I'd forgotten my new sun gloves. I reluctantly went back to get them, and shoved them in my pocket instead of putting them on because I was so mad at them for making me go back for them.

I needed to get water. The water I'd gathered the day before was full of pond scum and I wanted to find a cleaner source to fill my bladder with. If I was using a filter, it wouldn't matter, but I was using AquaMira. My options were drinking sterilized pond scum, or finding a cleaner water source.

It's amazing how thirsty you get - almost instantly - when you don't have any water. It was just a matter of minutes, really, that I wouldn't have water. Yet, I felt absolutely parched. I found a better source of water, running water, and filled up my bladder. I added the AquaMira and checked my watch. I got back on the trail and continued checking my watch. I would wait an eternity, then check my watch, and find out only a minute had passed. At last, 15 minutes had passed and I could drink.

Another hiker passed me, and we chatted. He was doing the South Lake to North Lake loop that goes in Bishop Pass and out Piute Pass. I told him I met someone who was doing that the day before. "He's in my group," he said. "We're a bit spread out."

A college aged boy passed me too. He wasn't very friendly, and he carried a fancy camera.

I wasn't sure how many miles I had to go to the JMT junction. Two? Three? Four? I hoped it was two. After I reached the junction, I would head south. It was three miles to the Middle Fork Kings junction, where I had planned to camp the night before. So it was three miles plus something just to reach where I'd intended to camp yesterday. After that, it was another four miles to the base of the Golden Staircase, and two miles up the Golden Staircase. So, six miles from where I meant to camp yesterday to the top of the Golden Staircase, plus three miles of JMT after I reached it, plus two or three or four miles just to get to the JMT. In other words, the top of the Golden Staircase was nine miles plus the distance to the JMT. Shit. And it was another four miles beyond that to the top of Mather Pass, and then yet another mile before there was a place to camp on the other side of it.

I got the numbers confused in my head, and told myself I was going over the pass today. I was going to do it. I told someone else I ran into and they looked at me like I was crazy. But I could do it, I thought.

As I kept hiking, I realized a few things. First, my camping spot the night before was more than two miles from the JMT. I'd already been hiking for what must have been two miles and I was nowhere near the JMT. Second, I wasn't getting over Mather Pass that day as planned.

Well, that was OK. I planned a bit of wiggle room in my schedule. I'd go to the top of the Golden Staircase. That was a total of - what - 11 miles? 12 miles? 13 miles? I could do that. And I'd eat that good meal I was saving for when I got over Mather Pass tonight, in celebration of getting up the staircase. I'd eat the other good meal I brought tomorrow, after going over Mather.

The weather was hot, and the trail just kept going down, down, down. There was water to the left, sometimes waterfalls, and in a few places the trail was surrounded by ferns and it felt like hiking in a steamy tropical forest. Or in the humid summer of the Midwest. Which is exactly where I don't want to hike, precisely because it's too hot and too humid to be enjoyable. And too buggy. This place was buggy too.

There was an abundance of a flower I liked. Sneezeweed, I think.

Sneezeweed

The college age boy stopped to take a photo of a waterfall with his fancy camera. I went past him without saying anything, because he was unfriendly. Before long, he was on my heels again, and I let him pass, again without a word. This time he said, "Thanks."

As I went down, what seemed like scores of others came up. They were all coming from LeConte Canyon, where the trail bottoms out at about 8000 feet. Bishop Pass is around 12,000 feet. With the nasty hot weather, they had a rotten day ahead of them.

A few boys who I assumed were Boy Scouts passed me. One of them was carrying a large skull he'd found. He thought it was a horse skull. I couldn't imagine being in good enough spirits to go up this trail in this heat AND carrying a heavy skull with me.

A bit later, I saw a grown man talking to a young boy. He asked if I'd seen some young boys up ahead. "Would they have been carrying a horse's skull?" I asked. "Yes," he said. We joked that they were boys, and I said he was lucky it was just a skull and not a live snake. He said, "I can't guarantee they don't have one hidden in their packs."

As I continued, I could tell he was giving the boy with him a pep talk. The kid was sick of going up hill in the heat (I didn't blame him!) and the adult was trying to convince him to keep going. Poor kid. That would have been me as a kid, for sure. I was always the slow one on hikes, and adults tried pep talks and even bribery, typically with no success at all, because I wasn't dumb enough or desperate enough to kill myself physically just to earn a measly Jolly Rancher.

I pulled out one of my bars, one that had moringa in it or some other superfood. It was the only edible item I'd brought without tasting it in advance. As always, that was a mistake. I took a bite and spat it out. I couldn't even swallow it, it was so gross.

The trail stressed me out more and more as I went. Since I didn't make my miles the day before, I was counting everything until I reached the JMT as "zero." Then I'd start counting actual miles of progress for the day. But these miles that didn't count were long and they were taking a long time. I was good and upset by the time I finally reached the John Muir Trail at the bottom of LeConte Canyon. The elevation was 8740. I had to go down another 700 feet before I started my climb up toward Mather Pass. That stressed me out too, because I was worried about the climb up Mather already, and every step I took down instead of up freaked me out even more. (Yes, if you're wondering, I DO have an anxiety problem.)

I saw a group sitting and eating nearby. It was two of the guys I'd talked to on the trail, the ones doing the South Lake to North Lake trip, and the unfriendly college kid, who was apparently the son of one of them. I asked if I could join them, and sat with them to have lunch.

Then - finally! - I met some JMTers. I'd met people who had done the trip I was doing but in reverse, hiking in Kearsarge and out Bishop. I'd met people doing the South Lake to North Lake trip, or others hiking in Bishop and going north on the JMT, but this was the first time I was in a position to meet anyone doing the JMT SOBO. Anyone I could camp with and hang out with over the next several days of my hike.

Elliott and Amber were doing the entire JMT SOBO, but hiking out over Taboose Pass to resupply in Big Pine. They planned to camp at the base of the Golden Staircase they said. "Not the top?" I asked. "Well, maybe," they said. "But probably the base." I hoped I would see them again. And I worried that perhaps my plan to go up the Golden Staircase that day was not realistic.

After a long lunch, I got up and headed south on the JMT. I put on an audiobook, Loving Day by Mat Johnson, because I was struggling with the heat and the hiking and my anxiety, and it helped a bit. At least it made hiking more enjoyable. I did the three miles down to the Middle Fork Kings junction, and kept going. I worried that there would be a water crossing - "Middle Fork Kings" sounded like a real river - but there wasn't. Then the trail went up hill.

Feeling lousy, I decided to drink more water. My stomach had been upset all day. Before long, the water came back up. Thankfully, it was just water. That means the calories I managed to get down me stayed down. But I thought I should look for somewhere to camp relatively soon. After getting sick, my stomach remained extremely queasy.

The terrain was steep and I didn't see any good campsites. I saw a few packs near the trail, and walked over to investigate. It was three hikers going for a swim. I couldn't imagine taking a long enough break from hiking to swim. It seemed like too much of a commitment, getting my clothes wet and then drying them again. Or taking them off and then putting them on again. I took off my shoes and put my feet in the water for a few minutes but the mosquitoes came after me. Then I got up again, put my shoes back on, and kept hiking.

Next, I ran into a group of women who had a large campsite near the river. I stopped to ask them how far we were from the base of the Golden Staircase. I wanted to get as close as possible to it before stopping for the day. I also did not want to intrude on their group by crashing with them.

There was some confusion about where exactly we were, or whether there were any more good campsites up the trail. I thought about it and got up to leave. But I really felt sick. I shouldn't keep hiking while sick. I asked if I could stay and they said yes.

They were a group out of Vegas, and most of them were runners. All were women, and it was their first time on the JMT. They began the same day I did, with the same basic itinerary, but they started in the morning, whereas I started around 5pm the same day. They made their miles the first day, and the second. Then the sky opened up, and all of their stuff got soaked. It took them a while to dry off their things this morning, and a ranger told them it would rain again at 2pm, so they stopped early and camped. Then it didn't rain. Now they were behind, like I was.

They were such lovely women, and it was so nice to have company for the first time on this trip. As it would turn out, this was the only time I camped with anyone else on the entire trip.

I filled my bucket with water, washed up (trying to get all the bug repellent off my body before getting in my sleeping bag), and then put my mesh "bug suit" on to prevent mosquitoes from biting me.

I'd planned to go up the Golden Staircase and then eat my celebratory meal - Wild Mushroom Risotto by Good To-Go - but I hadn't even made it to the base of the Golden Staircase. I decided to eat it anyway. I could consider this carbo loading, to give me the energy for my hike the next day.

I don't think I realized it at the time, but I'd hiked almost 10 miles that day. I'd fallen so far short of my goal that I felt like I hadn't gone very far at all. The women planned to go over Mather Pass the next day too, and they would also camp in Upper Basin. I hoped I would see them there. Now that I'd reached the JMT, I was finally with my "trail family" again. I felt good. Except, of course, for my queasy stomach.

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 4

The Golden Staircase and Mather Pass to Upper Basin
Miles: 9.1
Elevation Gain: 3420

I woke up to the sound of one of the women's voices: "It's 5:15."

No, I wasn't waking up at 5:15am. I rolled over and went back to bed.

I woke up on my own a few hours later. Stacy was still around. The other women in her group had gone on (at 5:15am!!) and she'd stayed behind. She was going to hike back the way she came and leave via Bishop Pass, possibly spending a few days enjoying herself as she did. She was stressed out that they were behind schedule and had to make up long miles every day, and she wanted to get home on time without risking being a day late.

We chatted as I got up and got ready. She felt good about this plan. I was just happy I got to see her again, because I liked her, and the other women she was with. I hoped I'd see the others in Upper Basin that night, on the other side of Mather Pass. They were a group from Vegas who I'd crashed with the night before, because I had thrown up and was still feeling sick, and I didn't think I should keep hiking. I stopped at the first campsite I could find, and it was theirs.

I got my breakfast down and packed up. As Stacy walked toward the trail, I found a dirty, cheese-covered spork. I called out to her and tried to give it back to her, to return to the member of her group who had dropped it. "You know what?" she said, "You'll probably see them and they'll really appreciate it. Can you bring it to them?" Then she left.

That made sense. I imagined the woman who dropped it having no way to eat her food. Not wanting to put the dirty spork in my pack, and also anticipating running into the women and wanting to make the hand off without digging through all of my stuff, I attached it to a caribiner on the outside of my pack. A day later, after determining I wouldn't run into the women again, I ditched it at Lake Marjorie.

Thus began the long, long day up the Golden Staircase and Mather Pass. I'd been advised not to do the staircase and the pass in the same day. That was good advice. But, on the other hand, I'd done almost this much elevation gain before. I did over 3000 feet in a day going up San Bernardino Peak, going from Little Yosemite Valley to beyond Sunrise Creek, going over Forester Pass, and going over Whitney from the JMT. I could do this.

I had planned some wiggle room in my schedule, but that was before my car broke. Now I did not just have to get to Onion Valley in time to drive back to San Diego, I had to get there in time to make it to Toyota in Bishop during business hours. Via either hitchhiking or Eastern Sierra Transit, which runs very infrequently and only on weekdays.

I tried to calm myself about the day's hike, but I just couldn't. Even though I knew I could do it, even though I knew it would be OK if I stopped above the Staircase and did the pass the next day, I just couldn't. I felt like throwing up. Again.

The hot weather did not help anything either. At least I had an audiobook I'd saved for this day: Loving Day by Mat Johnson. I had a good meal reserved for dinner too.

I hiked along the mostly flat terrain until I started noticing an increase in elevation. There was no sign saying "Beginning of Golden Staircase," nor was there a literal staircase. But it must be it. Right? Just in case, I looked at my altimeter to see where it was at. The trail went up 1400 feet in about two miles on the Golden Staircase. I started counting. I counted elevation gain in increments of 100 feet. With each one I did, I'd start telling myself, "One," "Two," and then as I got closer to the top, I'd start counting down, "500 more," "400 more" and so on.

Before long it was undeniable that I was definitely on the Golden Staircase. I went slowly, trying to keep my food down, and I stopped often. When I passed water, I dipped my bandana in it, and hung it either around my neck or placed it on my head to cool off.

Finally, I estimated that I was done with the staircase. I looked at my notes. I had to go up another 240 feet and I'd be at Lower Palisade Lake. I went up more than that, according to my altimeter, but I reached the lake. It was beautiful.

"THIS is why I am here," I thought. It was beautiful lakes like this one and joyous moments sitting near them or swimming in them that made backpacking worth it.

I sat down on the shore next to a couple, and they introduced themselves. I forget their names, and only remember that they were Canadians. A married couple doing a loop out of the western side of King's Canyon, not the Rae Lakes loop, but something much bigger. They did 5000 feet of elevation gain their first day, and then went down 4000 feet into LeConte Canyon. They thought it was nice to hike here in California, without any grizzlies to worry about, but they thought that Americans were strange for using bear cans (which they called bear barrels). Nobody uses bear cans in Canada, they said.

They were hiking with their aunt, Rose, who was slower than they were. Rose joined us at last, and went for a swim. The three of them had lunch - a real lunch that they prepared, not just snacks. I sat with them, basking in happy denial that I had more hiking to do before the day was done.

When they finished eating, we all got up and left. They hiked ahead of me - even slow Rose was faster than I was - and we hiked on to the campsites I knew we'd find above the lake. My notes said there were many campsites with great views of both Palisade Lakes, upper and lower. And there were. I passed tent after tent, with other hikers settling in for the night and enjoying themselves, having finished the staircase. They would do the pass in the morning. I had to get over it that night.

It was just another 1500 feet or so above Lower Palisade Lake. I could do that.

As on Bishop Pass, Mather was covered in white columbines. I saw a few pikas, but no Sky Pilot, a flower I was eager to see.

Columbine

As if on cue, my audiobook finished at the very moment I reached the top of the pass.

The sun sat low in the sky and at last, when I made it over the pass, went behind the mountains. It wasn't dark yet, but at least I was in the shade. At last it was cool as I hiked. I considered putting on a sweater, but I didn't want to open my pack. I just wanted to get to a campsite before dark and wash up before it got too cold to be wet and naked. (I didn't know it but I had nothing to worry about. Last year the weather turned icy cold as soon as the sun set. This year, with hotter temps all around, it didn't.)

As soon as I got over the pass, my upset tummy calmed down and the nausea dissipated. I don't know if the problem was anxiety or heat or both - probably both - but my body responded well to putting Mather Pass and the Golden Staircase behind me for good.

According to my notes, there were places to camp just 1.3 miles from the top of the pass. I estimated I'd get there at 8pm and I arrived at 8:05. Upper Basin was barren and exposed just like the area south of Forester Pass. I looked for an area with some rocks for a bit of shelter, in case it was windy, and I found one. As I looked over to it, I saw there was a flat spot for camping there. Others had sought shelter and camped there before. I went over to it.

The campsite had a fire ring, which I dismantled because it was too high in elevation to have a campfire (they are prohibited above 10,000 feet), and a good supply of rocks to sit on and to place over my tent stakes to hold the tent down. My first priority, however, was bathing.

I'd hoped to see others camped there, especially the women from Vegas, who said they would camp in Upper Basin that night. I did not see a single other human being anywhere. But at least that meant I could bathe in perfect privacy.

I got a bucket of water from the pond in front of me, and it came out filled with pond scum. Gross. It seemed to settle on the bottom of my bucket, so as long as I could keep it that way, I could scoop out some clean-ish water to boil for my dinner.

I took off all of the clothes on my top, and washed my top half. Then I dried my top half, and put on a clean shirt, a hoodie, and my down jacket, anticipating the cold weather that would soon come.

Then I took off the clothes on my bottom half and washed myself there. My legs were filthy.

The mosquitoes, deprived of prey in this desolate place, soon found me and grew excited. I dried off my legs and put on clean underwear. My pants were far from clean and I didn't have time to wash them now.

I pitched my tent and climbed in it to escape the mosquitoes, bringing my pack with me. I had to take my down jacket off because it was too hot. What was going on with the weather??? Please don't let this be the new normal. I'll gladly take the freezing nights and mornings in exchange for cooler daytime temperatures while I'm hiking.

Then I put all of my cooking equipment outside and began to boil water on the ground in front of my tent. My meal would be Indian Vegetable Korma by Good To-Go, my favorite brand of backpacking food. I'd certainly earned a celebratory meal.

I was now on track to complete my trip on time. This was a long, hard day, and every day for the rest of the trip would be too.

I hoped to fall asleep quickly, but instead I laid in my tent and felt every part of my body ache. It was like each body part needed to complain, to let me know how very much it hurt, and how much it did not appreciate lugging a heavy backpack up 3400 feet.

"I need a zero," I thought, as I went to sleep.

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 6

From Just Past Pinchot Pass to Rae Lakes
Miles: 12.8
Elevation Gain: 2140 ft

I woke up at my campsite at the bottom of Pinchot Pass around 8am, like usual. Like the day before, other hikers who had camped before the pass had just gone over it, and they were hiking past me. I got some water and made breakfast and coffee and filled my water bladder. As nasty as my oatmeal and coffee are, skipping them the day before was a mistake. Oatmeal tastes like paste on the trail. I put some brown sugar on it. Now it tasted like brown sugar sweetened paste.

As I got ready to go, a man stopped and chatted. His name was Jim, and he was from Idaho. His wife, Sandy, was slower than he was, and she was coming along behind him. He was waiting for her. Sandy caught up, and all three of us set off. I began chatting with her as she went. She said that she liked to take her time and take pictures. In Evolution Valley, her husband was in a hurry to get over the pass because he was afraid the weather might turn bad. She went slowly and took photos as Evolution Valley is perhaps the most beautiful part of the entire trail, and he waited for her on top of the pass. The weather was fine. On top of the pass, she indulged in her very favorite trail luxury: filling her water bladder with snow and drinking ice water.

Sandy stopped to take a picture, and I went ahead. I ran into them again several times throughout the day, but did not hike with them after that.

The first milestone we would reach was Sawmill Pass junction, which was 3.8 miles from the top of Pinchot Pass. Then we would hike alongside Woods Creek for a ways, and come to a bridge across it after another 3.8 miles (7.6 miles from Pinchot Pass). From Woods Creek, it was 4.1 miles to Dollar Lake, 5.1 to Arrowhead Lake, 6.1 to the ranger station, and just a bit beyond that to where I hoped to camp. The trail was all downhill to Woods Creek and uphill after that.

I had hiked this section last year, from Woods Creek onward. I remembered the uphill being gentle. Still, the elevation gain between the bridge over Woods Creek, at 8500 ft, and Rae Lakes, at 10,500 ft, was considerable. I was stressed out about going as far as I would have to go, and stressed out about the elevation gain. The heat was not helping. The trail was so much hotter this year than last year. At night and in the early mornings the warmer temperatures were pleasant, but during the rest of the day they made hiking a struggle.

Unlike the day before, I pulled out my camera when I saw a nice butterfly, and continued taking pictures throughout the day.

Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly
Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly

I saw monkshood in several places on this part of the trail, a flower I love but had not seen much of during the trip.

Western Monkshood

Western Monkshood

I ran into some other hikers resting at Sawmill Pass Junction. I saw the Texans go past, and the Japanese woman I'd see the day before. She introduced herself as Emiko and said she planned to camp at Dollar Lake. The couple from Idaho planned to go to Rae Lakes. They had all camped at Lake Marjorie the night before, and I thought surely the logical destination for them would be Woods Creek. It would not be a long day for them (under 10 miles) but the alternative, Rae Lakes, meant at least a 15 mile day, since you aren't allowed to camp at Dollar Lake. Emiko had done this math too, so when others told her the no camping rule at Dollar Lake, she was not happy about it.

This was why I'd gone over Pinchot Pass late in the evening like a crazy person the night before. Because I wanted to make it to Middle Rae Lake, to the bear boxes there, and I did not want to have a 16 mile day. I was already coping poorly enough with my 13 mile day.

I did OK as far as about Sawmill Pass Junction. But then I started getting upset. It was really hot out. The trail went alongside Woods Creek, which was often pretty far below the trail. The creek was interrupted by several waterfalls, which were beautiful, but frustrating. I wanted to dive in that water. I wanted to swallow it all to cool my body and quench my thirst. Instead, I could just look at it as I continued hiking in the heat. The fact that I was going downhill served to just stress me out more, because I knew I had 2000 feet of elevation gain hanging over my head later.

Woods Creek

I passed a ranger, who asked if I had any questions or if she could do anything for me. "Make the trail shorter?" I suggested. I was too miserable to hike, but nowhere near needing to be airlifted out. And those are your two options - you are sick or injured enough to require an airlift, or you hike out on your own two feet. I kept stumbling onward.

At last, I reached the bridge at Woods Creek. I stopped and rested, and began talking to a couple who were there. The man had red hair and a beard, just like the man who was snotty to me the morning before. As we talked, it became clear that he was NOT the snotty guy. The two were documentary filmmakers from LA, and they were lovely. They were hiking out the next day over Kearsarge too. However, as filmmakers, they were in a hurry to make it to Rae Lakes before it got dark out, because they wanted to film it.

Rae Lakes is gorgeous, but I was so exhausted and sick of hiking, that I just did not even care. I'd seen it, it's beautiful, and I just wanted comfort. A shower, air conditioning, and a bed sounded good.

After sitting around for a while at Woods Creek, I continued on. Later, I passed another creek, probably Baxter Creek, and I sat down for a bit. I put my entire face in the water and considered eating dinner but I wasn't hungry yet. I took a few photos as I rested.

Wilting

DSC_5908.

White Rein Orchids
White Rein Orchids

Western Monkshood
Western Monkshood

Critter

I stopped the next time the trail crossed a creek again. Again I considered having dinner, but I did not feel like pulling out all of my stuff in order to cook it. I ate a candy bar and just sat. I wanted to sit until the sun went down and it was not so horribly hot. I began to worry about drinking too much water and exhausting my body's electrolytes. The aged cheddar I brought with me had deteriorated so much I was not willing to eat it anymore, and the only other salty foods I had left were one more dinner, to eat that night, and one tiny Babybel cheese, which I would eat the next day.

At that creek, I noticed what I thought were red bees. After looking at the photos, I don't think they are actually bees though. I can't figure out what they are. I did not get a very good close up shot. I sat at the creek with my feet in the water for a while, sitting right next to the flowers where the bugs were hanging out, trying to get a better photo, but I couldn't.

Bug

Bug

I'd successfully kept the mosquitoes away from my feet during the entire hike, and now the mosquitoes began to get their revenge. I had not used repellent for the past day and a half, because the bugs were getting better, but dusk was approaching and I was sitting by a creek. I put my socks and shoes on and headed on. I estimated it was just another mile to Dollar Lake.

Just like I'd remembered it, the elevation gain between Woods Creek and Rae Lakes was gradual and relatively painless. It was a nice hike, and it was nice to be on familiar ground. I remembered landmarks as I passed them. I saw some corn lilies and took a photo because they were in bloom. Most of the corn lilies I saw on my hike were not blooming:

Corn Lilies

At last - at long last - Fin Dome came into view:

The First Sight of Fin Dome

It's not a great picture, but I took it anyway to commemorate the moment. I was so happy! The sight of Fin Dome meant I was almost done with my long day.

I saw a few people camped at Dollar Lake, next to the No Camping signs. I headed over and asked one of them if I could eat dinner there. Her name was Heather and she was very inviting. Emiko was camped nearby and she came over to join us. She said the ranger told her she could camp there, and I'm sure she was telling the truth.

It turned out both of them were running out of food, so I gave them whatever I could - one packet of coffee, lots of oatmeal I hadn't eaten with sugar and raisins to go with it, some jelly beans, and a bar that tasted so bad I would rather starve to death than eat it. I was honest about how bad that last bar tasted, but Emiko said she liked them. I reserved one more portion of oatmeal and coffee for myself, plus a small amount of jelly beans, a Babybel cheese, two more bars, and a bag of prunes.

I didn't really have enough food for myself left, but the truth about what I gave away is that my stomach had been so upset on the trip, I wouldn't have been able to eat any of it anyway. I'm able to eat cheese and candy pretty well on the trail. And my dinners. Everything else, I seem to have trouble eating.

At 8pm, I got up to hike the last two miles or so to where I wanted to camp. I hurried past Dollar and Arrowhead Lake, passing a literal swarm of mosquitoes in one place as I went. I saw a buck near Arrowhead Lake. Fin Dome grew closer and closer. Then it was dark, and I could only see the trail in front of my face, with my headlamp. I thought I saw fireflies, but it turned out they were the glowing eyes of deer. There were so many deer at Rae Lakes after dark!

Finally, I almost walked right into a sign on the trail that I knew pointed to the ranger's station. My campsite was less than a mile away. I started keeping an eye out for another sign. The next sign would be to my campsite.

I began worrying a bit about finding water. Well, not finding it. I knew where it was. I knew that once I put my pack down and pitched my tent, I didn't want to go get water from the places where I already knew I could find it. I didn't want to walk that far, or search in the dark.

Fortunately, a spring or perhaps a stream of snow melt flowed across the trail. Whatever it was, it was perfect. I took out my metal mug and drank several mugs full - untreated. I just didn't even have it in me to fuss with the AquaMira drops, and this was either snow melt or spring water. And if I got sick at this point, I would be home already when it happened. Then I pulled out my collapsible bucket and filled it with as much water as I could. I carried it the rest of the way with me.

I got worried for a minute that I'd passed the campsite, and decided if that was the case, then I would camp in my "secret spot," a secluded campsite up a small hill on Upper Rae Lake. But then the sign appeared pointing to the campsite I'd been looking for. I walked straight up the hill and dropped my stuff down, pitching my tent in the exact same spot where I camped the year before.

Before getting in bed, I fully washed my body, but not my hair, with the water from my bucket. It was so warm in the Sierras this summer that it was comfortable to be naked while washing with cold water at 9pm. By this time at night last year, I would have needed to wear all of my layers and my down jacket, and I would have still been cold.

During those 13 miles, my pants and underwear had begun to chafe my rear end up pretty badly. I figured that the least I could do was keep it all clean, and pouring ice cold water on it might help a bit in itself. I would have been a strange sight if anyone had seen me, leaning back on a rock I sat on, pouring ice water down my sore crack.

At last, I was done with everything I needed to do, and I was clean, and I could go to sleep. My whole body ached. As I fell asleep, I wondered if I had enough calories left in the food I was carrying to complete the hike I had to do the next day. I set my alarm for 5am, hoping to get an early start before the sun made hiking miserable. I got to Rae Lakes too late to see it, and if I left that early, I would have come and gone without seeing it at all. Rae Lakes is so beautiful, and yet, I was too exhausted to care.

For the first time during my trip, I was hungry when I went to bed. Dinner had been good, but I wanted more food. My stomach had been rejecting food since I'd gotten on the trail. It was a probably a good sign to be hungry - but inconvenient because there was nothing left to eat.

That night, I got up and peed. It was the first time I had to wake up and pee during my entire trip. It was the first time I peed a lot, and not just a small amount of concentrated yellow. I'd been drinking a normal amount this whole time, but with the hot weather, I was dehydrated all the same. I barely had any salty foods left, and I hoped I could finish the hike without running into trouble with electrolytes.

I was so ready to be done with the trail.

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 5

Pinchot Pass
Miles: 9.5
Elevation Gain: 2120

I woke up at Upper Basin, where I'd camped alone the night before. Everyone else stopped above the Palisade lakes and saved Mather Pass for the morning. I'd pushed on over the pass and collapsed at the bottom of it, at the first campsite I could find. Now they were all coming over the pass and hiking past my tent.

I got up and waved to a few people. I couldn't tell who they were, but they waved back. I tried to make myself stop and take in the beautiful view in front of me. I couldn't capture it with my camera - I had a macro lens and needed a wide angle - but the pond in front of my tent, which was just a muddy hole, looked spectacular in the morning light, framed by the majestic view of mountains in the distance.

The big hurdle of this trip - Mather Pass - was over, but it was not going to be easy from here on out even still. I was stressed out. And I still didn't like my oatmeal. With my caffeine addiction waning, I wasn't that interested in my nasty instant coffee either. And the water I'd gotten from the pond the night before was full of pond scum. That wouldn't have been a big deal if I'd brought my filter, but I brought AquaMira drops to treat it, which meant that my water option included sterile pond scum in it. Or some fidgeting with my bandana to strain out the nasty stuff.

I ate a bar and hit the trail, thirsty and without water. There would be water soon, clean, running water, and I'd fill up my water bladder as soon as I found it.

A guy with red hair and a wispy beard and his (I assumed) girlfriend came along the trail. "That was a nice climb!" he said, referring to Mather Pass.

Smiling, I said, "Those weren't the words I would have used for it last night. The ones I selected then all had four letters in them."

I said it smiling and laughing, to show I was somewhat kidding, but he stared at me with a straight face, like a disappointed parent or teacher trying to convey their lack of amusement to a naughty child. Then, at last, he said, "Well I guess, it can be hard at the end of the day."

Yeah, that's right, fucker. Unlike you, I did the Golden Staircase and the pass in the same day. It was hard! It took everything I had out of me, but I still did it. This trail is hard for me, but I'm still out here. It might be easy for you, but, for me, just making it over that goddamn pass is a huge accomplishment. We're all different out here, but we're all here. Even if someone gets through the trail struggling and swearing, they still get credit for doing it, because they are doing it, not on their couch watching Netflix somewhere more comfortable.

The pair went on their way. I made a mental note to avoid them.

Growing increasingly thirsty, I found a stream with running water, and mixed my AquaMira drops to let them react for five minutes. Then I filled up my water bladder. As I waited the remaining few minutes for the drops to react, I snapped a shot of some shooting stars growing nearby.

Shooting Stars

If I'd had a different lens, and if I felt like laying on the ground on my belly to get the perfect angle, I would have attempted to capture a shot of the shooting stars in the foreground with the beautiful view of mountains behind them. But I didn't.

I was really dragging as I went along. After fifteen minutes passed and it was safe to drink my water, I started drinking. Then I began scouting locations to go to the bathroom. I needed something 100 feet off the trail, well-hidden, away from water, and with easy enough soil to dig a hole in. The area was relatively flat and barren, still among the tree line, occasionally dotted with boulders. Not ideal for pooping. I found a place that was at least far enough from the water, if not well hidden, and that was good enough.

This part of the trail is all down hill, down down down to 10,000 feet, where we crossed the South Fork of the Kings River after about four miles. Everything after that would be up again.

I saw a few people resting and stopped to say hi. They were Elliott and Amber, from Florida, the people I'd waved to from my tent that morning. I'd met them a few days before, actually, at the junction where the trail from Bishop Pass meets the JMT. I remembered that they were going out Taboose Pass to resupply in Big Pine, and we chatted about that. I told them about the food options there, and they fantasized about the sweet potato fries they would order.

Unfortunately, we were mere miles from where they would have to turn off the trail to go over Taboose Pass, so I would only enjoy their company for a short while.

A father-son duo from Texas hiked up to us, and they introduced me to the pair. Then we all went on. Resting felt great, but there was no getting around the number of miles I had to hike that day, and the only choice was to keep hiking.

As is common in the Sierras, the day began with clear, blue skies, and by mid-morning, wispy clouds appeared in the sky. Later, the cloud cover grew heavier. It might rain, and it might not. Then the clouds would clear, and the cycle would begin the next day. At some point, it would rain - but maybe not today.

A little further on, I came to a river. There were two people sitting there, resting, and I suspected they were the same pair who had been disgusted with my bad attitude about Mather Pass. I needed rest, lunch, and water, and they were sitting in the best spot for all three, it seemed. So I went over and asked if I could sit with them. I didn't mention running into them earlier, if it was them.

After I sat down, I saw Elliott and Amber sitting maybe 50 feet away. Darn. I wished I'd sat with them, but I was also too pooped to get up. I chatted with the pair I sat with, who turned out to be friendly enough. They couldn't get a permit from Happy Isles, so they day hiked over 20 miles from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows to start the trail. Then they got a permit for the rest of the trail from Tuolumne. They wanted to know about the rest of the trail, since I'd done much of it. Was Forester hard?

I told them not really, but I could have laughed. Is Forester hard!!! They just hiked from Yosemite Valley at 4000 feet over Cathedral Pass at well over 9000 feet in one day, and they were wondering if anything else in the continental U.S. was hard. No, not it isn't. Not compared to what they've already done. People like that could go hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day if they wanted.

The trail bottomed out at 10,000 after four miles, and now the uphill part began. The first mile was the worst. It was 700 feet straight up, just as steep as the Golden Staircase and half as long. A man dressed in black with an umbrella was ahead of me. He had the umbrella rigged up so he didn't need to hold it with his hands, which looked like a good idea. The heat was oppressive. He had stopped, and he was resting. I hiked toward him.

As I hiked slowly up that awful section, he was always ahead of me. He would stop and rest, and then before I got too close, he started up again. I wondered if he considered this a contest or a race. I never did meet up with him or find out anything about him.

The trail passed the junction that went out to Taboose Pass, where Elliott and Amber would leave the trail. It continued uphill but more gently, and after a few miles, it reached what I assumed was Marjorie Lake.

Three young boys hiked up to me and asked if this was Marjorie Lake. I said yes. But I wondered why it was empty. I'd met several people on the trail who said they were going to camp there tonight - an Asian woman and the Texans, among others. The boys began looking for a campsite, pointing out the ominous clouds overhead. It wasn't a wise time to go over Pinchot Pass, in case a storm started and there was lightning.

I continued on ahead, because the pass was just two miles up the trail. The weather was still OK and I could get over the pass before it rained. And it was just 2pm. It was too early to stop for the day. If the weather did not clear up, I would not go over the pass. I'd stay below the tree line, I told myself.

I took a few steps past the lake and realized how exhausted I was. This wasn't even fun. After the hellish day I'd had before, maybe the right thing to do was to just be kind to myself. Give myself a short day. And there was the weather. It wasn't raining yet but you don't want to be stuck on a pass when a storm starts.

I looked around and found a campsite. Then I pulled out my bucket and gathered water. And then, blissfully, I set to work washing my entire body, including my hair, and then all of my clothes. I hung my clothes to dry on a tree. Then I pitched my tent. It was just 3pm.

For the next few hours, I sat around. The sun was still beating down, and I was worried about a sunburn. Yet, the inside of my tent was like an oven. I compromised by getting inside my tent, opening the door, and hanging the whole front half of my body out of it. It wasn't much fun.

I felt my clean hair and realized that if I didn't do something about it, I was heading toward dreadlocks. Looking around, I spotted my spork, the only possible item on me that could comb hair. So I combed the tangles out of my hair with my spork. A new low in backpacking, I thought. By the way, it hurts to comb badly tangled hair with a metal spork.

After a while, I made dinner and ate it. It was still early, but I was bored. Then I took out my map and began plotting out the next two days. I had to get to Rae Lakes the next day. I had to because the day after that, I had to go over Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass. And there was no way I was going to hike 7 miles to Rae Lakes from Woods Creek and then go over two passes.

I considered all of my options. It's 4.1 miles from Woods Creek to Dollar Lake, but you can't camp there. It's another mile to Arrowhead Lake. It's over another mile to where I wanted to camp, at Middle Rae Lake. If I did not get over Pinchot Pass tonight, I would have to hike 16 miles the next day.

I've backpacked 13.5 miles before. I've day hiked 14 miles. I've never done more. And given how much I was struggling on this trip, I did not feel confident in my ability to hike 16 miles, or even 15 miles, the next day. I had to get over that pass.

I watched the weather, and saw it raining in the distance, in the opposite direction of the pass. Where I was, there was no rain. I waited a while longer for the clouds to make their decision, whether they were going to rain or go away, and then I lost my patience. I packed up everything and I set off for the pass.

As I got back on the trail, I came to a lake. The REAL Lake Marjorie. It was beautiful, and it was dotted with tents everywhere. There was the kind Japanese girl I'd met, and the Texans, and others. I said hi to them as I passed, and told them I was going over the pass. When they met me with the predictable reaction (roughly: you're nuts) I just said I had a headlamp, and I kept going.

One thing was for sure: hiking over a pass was far more pleasant at sunset than in the middle of the day. At last it was cooler, and the heat was no longer making hiking as hellish as it was before. I saw some pikas, and a few marmots. And I saw a fabulous sunset as I went over the pass.

Once I reached the other side, it was dark. Really dark. With my headlamp, I had no trouble seeing the trail. I had lots of trouble scouting for campsites. You are supposed to camp 100 feet from the trail, and I was looking for an area that was flat but also a "durable surface," i.e. not just a flat area with vegetation. And not a flat area covered in rocks. I could not see far enough with my headlamp to properly see whether flat areas had rocks or vegetation.

I went far enough to find water, gathered water, and then looked around for the closest flat spot I could find. I checked several, and ultimately camped in a spot that had a bit of vegetation. I felt bad about it, but it was 9pm and I didn't think my ability to find campsites would improve as the night wore on.

I'd made it over the pass, I would have a long day - a 13 miles day - the next day, but at least I'd be at Rae Lakes. I'd be in a familiar place, a beautiful place, a place I knew well, and I'd be a day away from the Onion Valley trailhead outside Independence where I would end my hike.

This trip was so difficult but the end was now in sight.

You can see the rest of my posts about the John Muir Trail here.

Friday, August 5, 2016

JMT Bishop to Kearsarge: Day 7

From Rae Lakes to Onion Valley (Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass)
Miles: 12.3 mi
Elevation Gain: 2719 ft

The last day about killed me. I estimated it would take me 10 hours to hike out over two passes (Glen and Kearsarge), and I was off by only about half an hour due to slow going and lots of breaks. The night before I thought about setting an alarm and leaving early. Let's see, if I left at 4am, I'd get there at 2pm. But you have to wake up earlier than you actually leave. Hmm. I wanted to get down the mountain in time to get back to Bishop while the Toyota place that was fixing my car was still open. I'd have to hitch a ride down the mountain and to Bishop. It would take at least an hour to get to Bishop. And I wanted to get at least one of the two passes done before the weather got hot. In the end, I decided to set my alarm for 5am.

When the alarm went off, I was still exhausted from the previous day's 13 mile hike. I was almost out of food, and worried about having enough calories to get back to civilization. I decided to sleep in. The least I could do was get enough sleep.

I woke up at 8:15, ate my last Babybel cheese, and put one of my two last bars in my pocket to eat as a morning snack. I skipped cooking breakfast (oatmeal and coffee). If I got stuck on the mountain that night, I'd have the oatmeal for dinner. And I got started packing.

My Japanese friend, Emiko, came hiking by, and she stopped and hung out with me while I packed. She was also exhausted from the day before, and she wanted to do a short day. Just maybe over the pass and as little as possible after that. We talked about her trip to Alaska and how she climbed Denali. Then we got going.

I told Emiko to go ahead of me before long. I was really dragging. And I'm already slow even when I'm feeling well.

I stopped to fill my water with exactly one liter from a spring and I was too lazy to treat it. I was going home. If this water made me sick, it wouldn't do so til I was back to the Land of Flush Toilets. I only got a liter because I did not want to carry one single ounce of extra weight up Glen Fucking Pass.

It's personal between me and Glen Pass. I'd hiked up that thing twice already - once going north, and once going south. I've done it. I don't want to do it again. I didn't want to do it again. I kind of resent it for standing in between me and Rae Lakes, and between me and the Eastern Sierras. The alternative would be to hike out Woods Creek, to the western side of the Sierras. That's 15 miles all down hill, nice and easy... but I'd end up far from my car. So I had to go over Glen Pass a third time.

At some point, I pulled the bar out of my pocket and ate it. God, it was disgusting. It was so sweet, sickeningly sweet.

A few hundred feet from the top, I began to experience visual disturbances. That wasn't good. Was it an aura, like for migraines? I get migraines, but I've never had an aura. Or was I about to pass out? I sat down and told some NOBO hikers who were passing me that I didn't feel well. They insisted on helping, and I put up only a small fight before giving in. They had just resupplied in Independence and their packs were full of food. But as much as they didn't like carrying such heavy packs now, and as much as they felt like they had plenty, they would probably need all that food before they reached MTR. I'd prefer to take extra food off of hikers who came in through Kearsarge just for a few days with loads to eat. JMTers need their food.

But the truth was that I was in bad shape, so I shut up and accepted their very kind and generous help. One of them gave me half a bag of Peanut M&Ms, which I ate quickly, dropping two for some lucky marmot by accident. Another one gave me a package of Ritz crackers and fake cheese. Processed, horrible goodness. It was probably exactly what I needed at the moment, give or take the preservatives and artificial food dyes. The salt and calories would go straight into my blood stream.

Just then Sandy, the woman from Idaho, came along. Her husband Jim was waiting at the top of the pass. He'd apparently asked NOBO hikers to look for his wife, and one had asked me if I was Sandy. I replied that Sandy was taking her time, taking photos, and probably filling her water bladder with her favorite luxury - snow. She loves ice water. And if Jim knows his wife, he would know that, because I'd known her for just a day, and I knew it.

I asked Sandy if she could keep an eye on me til I reached the top of the pass, and told her my situation. At first she thought it was vertigo and fear of heights, but I told her I thought it was lack of electrolytes. With the heat, we'd all been drinking and drinking and sweating and sweating, and the food I packed just wasn't that salty. She offered me two electrolyte pills, and I accepted them. I felt better before long.

Then Sandy revealed where she'd been. Not only had she filled up on snow and taken pictures - she'd gone for a swim! One of the beautiful blue pools along the pass was just too irresistible to her. I knew she'd love the ones on the other side of the pass even more.

At last, we reached the top. I won't lie. There were tears. Mine, not hers. I looked like hell when I got up there. Emiko and Jim were waiting for us. I was touched that Emiko had waited for me. Jim put a camera in my face for a "summit picture" and I told him no way. I looked like hell. I shoveled jelly beans in my mouth, all of the flavors at once - bubblegum, and buttered popcorn, and I don't even know what else. It was disgusting. I just wanted to give my body what it needed to get me down Glen Pass and up and down Kearsarge.

On the way down, I filled up with 2 liters of water, enough to get me over Kearsarge Pass and perhaps to the end of the trail. A few guys who were doing a three-day trip offered me a candy bar, and I accepted. The clouds covered the sun, providing some relief from the heat and better light for photographing flowers. I was finally feeling better enough to snap a few shots.

DSC_6095.

DSC_6111

Then I looked and saw beautiful concentric ripples in one of the aqua pools. Emiko was swimming, and Jim was with her. I walked closer, and Emiko got out, and Sandy reached them and got in.

Ripples

Cooling Off

On the rock where they sat, there was a stone shaped like a heart:

Love on the JMT

As I got down the pass, I remembered hiking down this portion a year before with two friends, and hiking up it prior to that with a hiker from Vegas I'd met named Ernesto. A butterfly landed and stayed still while I got closer and took a photo:

California Tortoiseshell
California Tortoiseshell

It's amazing how, even in your worst moments on the trail, there is beauty that takes you by surprise and pulls you out of your pain.

At the junction where the trail splits off leading east over Kearsarge Pass, Sandy, Jim, Emiko, and I said our goodbyes. "Come to Japan!" Emiko said. I feel like I was not attentive or kind enough to her as we said goodbye. She's so nice and wonderful, and it took me by surprise, that someone could be so kind to me. That someone would be interested enough in being my friend to sit with me as I packed for half an hour that morning, and waited for another half an hour on top of the pass, and that she cared about saying goodbye instead of just heading off to get on with her hike. It's not what I expect from others, and again and again I am surprised by the kindness of those I meet on the trail.

Then I set off on the dry 2.8 miles of trail to the pass. Heading out Kearsarge means elevation gain of less than 1000 feet. That was a relief, because I'm not sure I could have done more anyway. The land was arid and dry. Where was the meadow-like environment with purple gentian growing I remembered from this part of the trail? I finally reached where I could look down on Bullfrog Lake. The views grew beautiful, as I'd remembered. But I also remembered streams and water.

I amused myself by taking photos of the cute furry things that crossed my path. This little guy was digging something up in the trail and ran off when I approached:

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

DSC_6219.

This one, a Chickaree, scolded me loudly when I sat down to rest too close by:

Chickaree

Ultimately, I reached the streams and gentian that I remembered on the trail as I made it toward the pass. The water wasn't much - it certainly was not meadow-like as I'd remembered it - but I hadn't imagined the gentian. Or the water.

Finally, I reached the switchbacks that lead up to the pass. I saw some Sky Pilot that was no longer in bloom, but took a photo just because. Just because this plant only grows at high altitudes, and seeing it is an accomplishment, and I wanted to document that I'd done it.

Sky Pilot

There was no one at the top of the pass like there would have been earlier in the day. I was alone. I unceremoniously stepped across it without stopping to begin the 4.7 mile trek down about 2600 feet to the Onion Valley trailhead.

As I went down the other side, I saw several people coming up. There were a few JMTers who had resupplied, and a couple who had parked their car on the eastern side of the Sierras and were hiking to the western side to begin the High Sierra Route. And then there was a huge extended family that I assumed were Mormon (based on a religious T-shirt one wore) who came up leading three llamas:

Llama

Llama on the Trail

The last photo I took was of Mountain Pride Penstemon. The light was almost gone, and I'd been waiting to get a good shot of it from the first day on the trip but the light hadn't been good. It grows all over the Sierras, but a lot of the plants I'd seen in the last few days had already wilted.

Mountain Pride Penstemon

The end of my trip was not pretty. At first, I counted down the lakes as I descended Kearsarge Pass: Big Pothole, Heart, Flower, Gilbert, and Little Pothole. Then I could see the parking lot, and the campground. I was going to finish at almost 8pm. The car dealership was closed. Nobody else was coming down the mountain because it was late. The only definite food option in Independence was Subway, and if I didn't get down there soon, it would probably close. There were hotels, but those would close too. And how would I get a ride?

I panicked. I was a wreck. I reached the bottom and walked into the campground, calling for someone who could help. A man in pajamas came out of a tent, and I told him my situation. He offered to drive me to Subway. I figured I could get some food and take it from there, somehow.

That's when things took a turn for the better. As he dropped me at Subway, I looked across the street and saw Still Life Cafe, the French place, and it was open! I hobbled across the street - I could barely walk now and my hiking boots hurt so bad - and asked if they were still serving. The man said no. I got up and muttered that I'd wanted to eat there for a week. He said he'd see if they could serve me. He came back and seated me at a table and handed me a menu.

A family at the table next to me asked where I'd been hiking. I told them, and we got into a conversation. They asked how I would get back to my car in Bishop. I said I'd hitch, and they offered me a ride the next morning. One said she was staying at Ray's Den. "That's where I plan to look for a room," I said. She said it was full. Another woman said she was at the Winnedumah and they had rooms.

I ordered salad nicoise, and texted a friend who I'd asked to call Search and Rescue if I didn't turn up on time with the words "Not Dead." She wrote back, asking where I was, and where I was staying that night. I said I had to find a room, and she offered to call around. My phone does not have internet, so I suggested she try the Winnedumah. She texted back that they were holding a room for me, and they were just a block away.

After my meal, I walked over there. It's beautiful and old fashioned, with a kind woman who runs it. My room had a bathtub. I filled it with an inch of water, washed off as much dirt as I could, and drained it. Then I filled it with more water, to soak. Last, I turned on the shower and washed my hair. It felt great.

I finished the trip without blisters, but I was covered with scabs and mosquito bites and chafing where my pack was on my back and all along some sensitive areas down below. I slept naked, since every article of clothing I had except for my running shorts was filthy and smelly.

It was good to be done, at last.