Day 13 John Muir Trail

“Split Lake” (Lake 11,595) to Main South Fork Kings Crossing

Total JMT Miles — 4
Side trip miles — 1
Elevation gain/loss — +200/-1670

Morning at 'Split Lake" campsite
Morning at ‘Split Lake” campsite

Day 13 started innocently enough. I awoke after a wet and cold night at my lake of solitude. It was not raining at first light, for which I was grateful. I gave myself a hearty pat on the back for having survived my first night of rain on the JMT, and I felt good and optimistic about the day to come. The day’s goals were simple:  Dry out my gear from the previous day, and get in some JMT miles. I hoped to catch back up to my hiking friends, Ashley, Rob, and Marcus. I knew they had camped at Marjorie Lake, six miles away, the previous night, and I wanted to bridge the distance with a long day. I didn’t have a destination in mind for the night, but I was physically and psychologically prepared for a day of miles. I could see the sun attempting to peek out of the heavy cloud over, and I earnestly believed that the rain was gone, and that blue skies would return with conviction. So I lingered in camp to see if I could reap some benefit from the sun’s natural ability to dry things out.

Mt. Ruskin
Mt. Ruskin

But as the morning progressed, and the cloud cover persisted, I gave up my hope of sun-dried gear. I packed up my wet tent, clothes and sleeping bag and moved out. I left Split Lake and was back on the JMT by 9:00 am. My mood has lightened despite the clouds, and I was glad to be back on the solid footing of the JMT.  The going was easy, the views were good, and I removed layers of clothing as I cruised along. Soon I was down to shorts and a tank top, admittedly trying to draw back the sunshine with my light hiking attire. I sat pleasantly enough by a stream for my 10:00 am snack, and began to relax into the day.

S. Fork Kings River, with (left to right) Striped Mt., Mt. Ickes and Crater Mt. Note the skies are blue here!

Soon thereafter, the trail entered forest, and my views became obscured by trees. Again I crossed the South Fork of the Kings River, and continued dropping gradually for another mile and 700 feet. I could FEEL that the clouds were getting heavier, and I kept looking up, willing lighter skies to come back.  I had to stop and put on another layer, as clearly my approach of “dressing for” was not going to bring back the sun. Right on cue, I started to feel the first rain drops. “Only a light shower”, I assured myself. It was only 11:00 am, I had only travelled four miles, and I wasn’t ready to stop by any means. But within minutes, literally, and just as I reached the lowest point of the day elevation wise,  the skies opened up and rain began to dump. Accompanied by thunder and lightning, it was sudden, extreme, and a bit scary. I was rather unexpectedly in for a full on mountain thunderstorm!

I decided to stop right there and wait out the storm. I pulled out my rain jacket, and a hefty garbage bag for my pack. I experienced instant regret about NOT purchasing an actual rain cover for my backpack, which protects that pack while leaving the straps free, and would have let me keep hiking.  At the time, I didn’t want to add the extra expense to an already costly adventure and I assumed, as I could now see naively, that I would not need a pack cover, since on the previous year’s JMT hike we had experienced virtually no rain.

So I sat under a big tree, pack covered, still in shorts, but top half dry in my Gore Tex jacket and waited, watched, and listened. It was frankly eerie, as the sky crackled with lightning and boomed with thunder, one right on the heels of the next. I felt good about my location, trying to remember where you were NOT supposed to be in a thunderstorm — on a pass, in an open area with few trees, near a vertical wall, or in a cave. It seemed OK to be seated under a large tree that was one of many.

I told myself I would sit there until noon, see what the weather was up to, then make a decision to set up camp or move on. I was hopeful the weather would break, but it showed no signs of doing so. Eventually, a hiker came up, and I was ecstatic, both to see a person and that it was Emily, a young gal hiking solo who I had not seen since Donahue Pass on Day 3. I thought perhaps she had quit her JMT endeavor since I hadn’t seen her for ten days, and so was doubly glad to see her. She asked if she could sit under the tree with me, and I warmly welcomed her company for the storm vigil. We sat and talked of our trail adventures to date and those to come. She planned to go up to Bench Lake for the night, another few miles up and off the JMT. I told her I had day hiked there the previous year and that it was lovely. Of course, when we were there it was warm and sunny, not a full on thunderstorm. After we sat and talked for a half hour, it was clear no let up was in sight, and Emily decided to move on, committed to her mileage goal.  Reluctantly, I stayed behind to set up camp. With a backpack cover,  I might have joined her, but I was reluctant to get any wetter than I and my gear already were.

The campsite I was in was large, and rivulets of water were starting to form all around the flat areas. I chose what looked to be the driest spot, and set up my tent. I was efficient despite the cold, wet rain, this now being my second time in two days of setting up my tent in the rain. I was in the tent and warming up by 1:00 pm, and ate lunch inside.  I wondered if the smell of food in the tent would be a bear draw, but honestly, I was beyond caring at that point. I was relieved to be under cover and out of the rain.

Once the setup and lunch tasks were done, however, my good mood quickly evaporated.  I felt discouragement and then depression descend and wrap around me with a dampness on par with the conditions outside. I was angry at the rain for thwarting my plans. I had only gone four miles!  I tried to embrace this as another rest day opportunity.  I lay down with my book to read. I tried to sleep. My thoughts were racing, though, as I dwelled on the fact that now I was really “behind schedule” to meet up with Dave again in two more days for the second ten-day food drop. My brain knew I still had time to do the miles, but I found myself obsessing anyway. While I knew intellectually I’d made the right choice in stopping, I still felt distressed and angry about being stuck in the tent when I would rather be hiking. I tried to just chill out and accept my fate, and rest and relax. Finally, I was able to doze a bit.

Suddenly, I was rudely awakened by a mass of hikers entering my personal campground. I could hear voices, many of them, and they were discussing where to pitch their tents right there in the exact same spot I was in. It was a large spot, but there were also other campsites nearby, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why they would want to camp right there almost on top of me. I could hear four tents going up, which meant at least eight people, and they had me surrounded! I was really irked, and lay in my tent fuming and writing. It reminded me of Red’s Meadow on Day 5, when all the late backpackers came in and set up camp in the already over crowded backpacker camp right at dark. I was extremely puzzled, again, by why people would want to be so close…to each other, and to someone they didn’t even know. I let out all my frustrations through the pen, then forced myself to try to see it from their perspective. It was 3 pm, which meant they had been hiking in the rain for hours and were probably soaked. They probably saw my tent and a site that seemed doable, and just decided to stop. I tried to be forgiving and gracious. I told myself I would not get out of my tent until I could be kind and courteous.

I stayed in the tent until 4:30, when the rain finally started to let up. I cautiously poked my head out, and the woman who had set up the closest to me was right there in her tent with the fly open. Literally, I crawled out of my tent and hers was less than a foot away.  I recognized her as Ginnie from Red’s Meadow, the labor and delivery nurse who I had really liked. Her tent mate was Tracy. They apologized for their super close proximity, and I told them no worries. I was still irritated, but I was relieved they were at least people I had previously met and liked. The other surrounding tents’ occupants were inside, and I chatted for a few minutes with Ginnie about their day and how they had ended up there.  I wandered a bit to find a place to pee, then came back and decided to make an early dinner since I was up and out of the tent anyway.  The rain was down to a drizzle, and the thunder and lightning had stopped. I foraged through my pack, thankfully dry from the garbage bag, and found stove, food, and water to make my simple dinner. Ginnie joined me, and we cooked our dinners side by side on the one flat rock in our deluged camp site.

After dinner, I decided to go on a walk. I had been sitting or lying for over six hours, about my max for non-movement. I started on the JMT in the direction I would head in the morning, just to move and see what I was facing. Since it was the low point of elevation where we were all camped, I knew it would be uphill. I hiked for about 45 minutes, up switchbacks that I vaguely remembered from the previous year. It was nice to move, and the hiking warmed me up and brought blood back circulating into my muscles. It was still a dark and gloomy day, and I was still discouraged about losing a day’s hiking and the continued rain and wet, BUT I also felt my mood revive, as always, after a good walk. I returned to my tent, and people were in theirs so I didn’t have to make conversation. I got ready for bed, still accompanied by persistent drizzle, and was back in the tent by 7:00. I wrote some more, and read until darkness. I was frankly relieved that the day was done and that I had regained my sanity despite my frustrations.

Highlights of the day

Getting through it without being bitchy!

I have a tendency to want and need to withdraw into myself when I am frustrated, angry, or depressed. I was prepared to do that on this day when the rain came — be alone, and just tough it out. Then people came in, and I had to be a bit social, or else seem completely rude. I was able to strike a balance with that, being mostly alone with my disparaging thoughts,  but also somewhat interactive.  Especially with Ginnie, who I did really like. As we cooked our dinner together, we chatted and I learned more about her and how she ended up on the JMT. It helped tremendously to have this time with her to get out of my self-imposed pity party.

Getting out on a walk!

I have said it a thousand times before and I know it to be true…after periods of inactivity, whether sleep, a long car ride, or hours spent cooped up in a tent, movement is the ticket for me to feel “normal”. Just moving my body, and getting blood flow to stagnant muscles, and being out in nature, even if it was rainy and wet, did wonders to lift my damp mood. I cannot say enough about how this small endeavor shifted my perspective from one of despair to gradual acceptance of my reality.

Lesson of the day

Frustration with lack of control exists in nature as well as in civilization.

It’s a simple but true statement…I take myself and my tendencies wherever I go. I could see it with the Llamas a few days prior, and I could see it here. I don’t like it when I have a plan and something gets in the way. Until this day, my plans for the days activities and miles got met, despite inevitable obstacles.  But the conditions on this day were too much. I felt an immense amount of irritation about something I could not control. Out in the wilderness, I realized, is just a microcosm of the bigger picture of life. I let myself dwell and obsess on the weather holding me back, just as I let myself worry needlessly and endlessly about things in my day to day “normal” life that I can’t control. I struggle with acceptance of the things that get in the way of my carefully laid plans. I was reminded on this day of the AA serenity prayer: To accept the things I cannot change (the weather), to have the courage to change the things I can (my attitude) and the wisdom to know the difference (embrace instead of fight the reality).

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    1. I thought about you many times, Ann, in the rain and weathering it out. I know you have much more experience with that…I tried to stay focussed on the beauty of the rain, at least as much as I could. Now, here, in Bellingham’s rainy November, it doesn’t seem so bad at all!

  1. Once again, Kathie, you have written so openly and honestly, and I related to your struggles and challenges so much! Your writing is so incredibly descriptive that I felt like I was there with you!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, challenges and successes with us! You continue to inspire and amaze me!!!!


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