Wanda Lake to Unnamed lake at 11,460
Total JMT miles — 4 Side trip miles — about 2.5 Elevation gain/loss — +1000/-500
Day 10 was different than any other day of my trip. While it wasn’t a true “zero” day (the term that describe a full rest day with no miles hiked), it was an easy day of low mileage and hours of unstructured time spent hanging around in good companionship. Our original plan for my second day with Oliver, Dave, and Olivia had been to climb Mt. Goddard.
At 13,448, it’s not the highest peak in the area, but it’s a prominent one, jutting up beyond Wanda Lake. Dave had wanted to climb Goddard for many years. Unfortunately it looked unlikely that we would be able to do the peak, and still have time for them to hike out Echo Pass and back to Bishop in time for Oliver to catch his flight to Bellingham. So, much to Dave’s dismay (we weren’t even allowed to refer to the peak by name after our plans changed!), that mission was aborted — which left us with an entire day to hike a mere four miles of the JMT, then another 1.5 miles up to a lake below their planned exit route, Echo Pass. Frankly, the idea of an easy day rather appealed to me.
With no tight schedule to keep, the morning at Wanda Lake was relaxed and leisurely. It was also cold, as the previous night had been windy with freezing temps, and a chill definitely lingered.
I had experienced another poor nights sleep due to technical difficulties with my tent. I had set it up rather hastily the previous evening in the cold wind, and that resulted in some carelessness. I did not get the cross bar on top of the tent secured properly, and, as the wind blew all night, my tent blew with it — sideways, and collapsing onto me. Also, I had not properly secured the flaps on the tent fly, and they thrashed around all night. In my usual nighttime paranoia, I thought at first it was a bear trying to join me! But even as I realized it was just my poor tent set up, I still couldn’t sleep. I lay there much of the night, wind howling, tent collapsing, and the fly blowing great guns. Not a restful night, and I was grateful to get up and out of the tent by first light.
As usual the morning was beautiful, which removed any residual fatigue. After breakfast and tent breakdown (what remained to be broken!), I leisurely and carefully packed my pack with all it’s belongings.
I now had the extra days of food, and I took care in packing. I took a picture of all that went in my pack, each and every day on the trail…the only variable being the amount of food in the bear canister. My pack, an Osprey Ariel, could hold it all. The larger pack was one of the best investments I made for this trip, and I was very thankful for it’s 75 liter capacity each morning when I put everything back in. I felt more organized on this morning than any other of the trip so far, simply because there was no time pressure.
We left Wanda for the short ascent to Muir Pass. From our campsite, the elevation gain was only 600 feet in 2.3 miles. A piece of cake, really. However, the views, vista, and overall presentation of the path as it traverses Wanda and gradually ascends the pass were anything but mundane. We definitely took our time. For Oliver, it was a time of heavy nostalgia, as he had not been over Muir Pass since the 70’s! He was truly in another world of reflection and memory, and it was really cool to be witness to that.
I was hoping to reconnect somewhere along the short JMT stretch with Rob, Ashley, and Marcus, the three soloists who had been hiking together since Red’s Meadow. Low and behold, as I was doing the final 1/2 mile up to the pass, I could see Rob’s easily identifiable blue shirt and assured gait gaining on me. I let him catch me (easy enough, he’s a faster hiker), and we climbed the last bit together. Shortly there after, Ashley came up. It was like a family reunion…I got to introduce them to Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, and vice versa. I felt surrounded and loved, and definitely part of a bigger something. At Muir Pass I consciously immersed myself in being present to it all — enjoying hanging out, taking pictures, chatting, and relishing the spectacular views. We stayed for at least an hour, a record for me on any pass.
After goodbyes and such, we dropped down to Helen Lake, named after John Muir’s other daughter. Wanda and Helen — great names for great lakes, and a visionary father who made the very trail through this incredible wilderness possible. I felt supremely grateful, happy, content and contemplative as we hiked. That stretch was some of the coolest geologically, as the lakes are surrounded by glaciated slabs in a myriad of colors, and dark, metamorphic rock from the Black Giant Divide covers the trail. Gregg and I had wanted to climb Black Giant, which sits enticingly close to the trail, last year, but we did not because of smoke. I thought about proposing it for this year, but we were on the slow and easy train, and it seemed best to stay on board.
We stopped for an early lunch, just below Helen Lake, at an unnamed lake. As we ate, Ashley, Rob, and eventually Marcus all passed us. I felt sad as they went by, unsure if I would see them again on the JMT. My sadness was easily replaced by enjoying the moment, however, as I watched Dave jump right in the cool water, shirt, shorts and all. I wanted to join him, but knew that more backpack miles were to come, and I didn’t want to be wet for the remainder of our hike. Our plan after lunch was to hike a short but not easy 1.5 miles off the JMT, up and into another unnamed lake basin, below Echo Pass. I was nervous about the access to the lake, as it was all boulders, somewhat steep, and with no path at all. This type of hiking, called cross country, I love in theory, but I am really bad at it. You take off from point A to reach point B in the quickest, most direct fashion possible. I simply don’t have the right stuff to be comfortable with this style of hiking at this point in my life. It’s hard on my feet, ankles, and knees, and I become very slow and cautious. I joke that I feel like a grandma when I am put in a cross country situation, especially with a heavy pack.
We started up, Dave, Oliver, Olivia, then me bringing up the rear. As I tried to stay with them, all my anxieties were triggered. I felt fearful of falling behind, of being abandoned, and mostly of losing my footing or balance and falling. I realized intellectually that most of my fears were overblown, as the distance was short and I could see them ahead.. But fear got the better of me, and I DID take a good fall on a particularly hairy traverse close to the top. I lost my balance, my pack went over, I went over, and I landed face down on the rocks. Unstable, pack on top, and face planted in the rocks, I called for help. Olivia was first on the scene, and she took my pack off of me so I could get up. I got a bit teary, not from pain or being hurt, but from the scare of it. I only suffered abrasions on my knee and chin, and banged up my jaw. But I was shook up, and gratefully accepted Dave’s offer to carry my pack the rest of the way.
I was relieved to get to the unnamed and sublime lake where we would spend the rest of the day and night. It was early afternoon, so we had plenty of time to relax, rest, and go for a swim. By this time, clouds flirted heavily with the sun, and the sun breaks became progressively less. After choosing sites for our tents, we all hung out and wondered what the weather would do. I kept waiting for a convincing patch of sun to entice me into the lake. That didn’t happen, but I went anyway. Sadly, no one joined me. As always, swimming in a lake of that elevation was cold, deeply invigorating, and very refreshing. But also punishing in the aftermath.
I put on all my warm clothes, and still couldn’t get warm. About 4:00 pm, Dave announced he was going to hike around our unnamed lake, and I invited myself along. As always, movement is the best remedy for me in the mountains when I just can’t get warm any other way. So Dave and I did a fun and interesting loop around the lake, which both warmed me up and also gave me a chance to really chat with Dave. At 56, he is fit, ambitious, and embarks on adventures readily and enthusiastically. I loved hearing about his adventures, past and upcoming, and the hour passed very quickly. And I shed two coats in the process.. warming mission accomplished! After an early dinner, it was an early to bed for all of us that night. I was in the tent and writing by 7:30, tired, relaxed and happy after an easy and largely uneventful day.
Highlights of the day
Hanging out at Muir Pass
Muir pass is simply very cool. The Muir Hut, built in 1930, provides “temporary shelter” for hikers from inclimate weather. An early Sierra Club supporter, George Frederick Schwarz, gifted $5,810.48 to build it. A good chunk of that money went to pay for stock and packers who hauled the materials necessary to build the hut up to the top of the pass. Seeing it, being in it, it’s easy to take something like that for granted…and yet, the materials weren’t dropped by helicopter, and I can only
imagine the effort and organization it took to build such a structure. It’s neat inside and out, and that plus the views from the pass create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Add to this the plethora of hikers who linger there, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The mixture of folks and their conversations, both the one’s I observed and the one’s I participated in, made the pass feel even more alive and magical. The top of a pass is like the top of a mountain…everyone works hard to get there, the views are stupendous, and the mood of folks is always keen. Smiles and goodwill abound and are very contagious 🙂
The ease and simplicity of our time in camp
I really enjoyed having an easy day with low miles and almost no agenda. To arrive in camp at 1:15 and just spend the afternoon hanging out was fantastic, albeit a bit different for me. My pattern and habit over summers of backpacking had
been to hike all day, set up camp, eat dinner, go to bed, then get up and do it again the next day. This break in the routine, and my willingness to relinquish into it, really felt good. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly WHY just hanging out for any period of time is unsettling for me, but it’s always been that way. Even in my home life, I tend to go all day, then finally let myself chill and relax at the end of it all. It’s not that I don’t take breaks or relax, but I live with a constant awareness of the next activity or event coming up. To consciously sit, chat, and relax for hours on end was both welcoming and enlightening.
The hike around “our” lake with Dave
Similarly restless, when Dave needed an activity for the late
afternoon, I was all over that. The lake appeared small, and I figured the way around would be a quick and easy. But it had ups and downs, scree fields to scramble, and enough variation and challenge that it took us a full hour to get around. I really enjoyed the interesting route finding required, and the conversation. It also provided a useful and healthy transition from just sitting around to more sitting. As I have said so many times, movement is key for me, and my body (and soul!) don’t do well with hour upon hour of prolonged inactivity. Our
short walk also helped restore an appetite for dinner. My dinners on the trail were ample, and I would eat the entire thing each night. Most days, it wasn’t hard to be hungry for dinner, after hiking all day. But occasionally I had to gear up for full consumption, as I didn’t want to waste or carry extra food. So it helped to at least do something to stimulate an appetite for our final dinner together.
Lessons of the day
Sometimes falls happen when fear gets the better of you.
I am not saying that my fear of lagging behind or even of falling caused my fall on the cross country portion heading up to our campsite. BUT what I can say is that I was more in my head and worried about the overall process than focussing on each step. Frankly, I just wanted to be there, and I grew careless with my progress. I could sense that this was happening, but I felt a sense of urgency to being there instead of being where I was.
AND, you can fall on rocks with a heavy pack and still survive!
My greatest fears while backpacking probably involve falling and/or getting lost. When I hike, I am extremely careful not to fall. Often I don’t feel like my body can handle a fall, and I get alarmed when I so much as trip. When I trip or fall, I try to do so gracefully (?!), whatever that may mean, to protect myself from injury. What I have found as I have gotten older and more orthopedically challenged is that there is simply no safe way to fall. So I make every effort not to go there. period. The fall on the traverse represented in many ways my greatest fear. I lost my footing, couldn’t regain it, and went over anything but gracefully. And landed on my face! BUT, the bottom line is, I survived! It was extremely reassuring that I could fall that spectacularly and nothing bad happened. I got up, dusted myself off, and the day continued. I experienced one of my worst fears, and easily lived to tell about it. One down, one to go.
Short days are fine!
A zero day would probably be just fine too! These concepts, of short mileage or no mileage days are ones I have mostly applied to “other” backpackers, telling myself I don’t operate that way. Is it a matter or pride, somehow thinking I am “superior” in that I can just hike all day every day? Or is it a matter of drivenness, that I feel compelled to crank out as many miles in a day as possible on all days? Or is it my inherent restlessness, that keeps me moving and going and doing, sometimes long after the point at which to do so has any redeeming benefit? THAT, I think the real issue. It’s why I took up mindfulness and meditation, so as to bring in another way to settle myself that is a non-doing way. It’s partly why I went on this trip in the first place, to see how I would do and be with (mostly) just my own company for three weeks. Not surprisingly, my tendency on the trail was to do just what I do in my daily life — keep busy for most of the day, and feel unsettled when I am not. I observed myself on days 1 – 8 doing very much that same thing. On day 9, and certainly day 10, the presence of my friends, and the desire to just be with them as fully as possible, slowed me down. I was and continue to be aware that this more relaxed pace represents the exception, not the rule in my life. But what I can honestly say is that I feel myself moving towards this place of greater ease and let up in my rather compulsive need to push things quite so hard. Day 10 laid the foundation for and commitment to a zero day on my next long backpack…and in the bigger picture of my life as well.