Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: backpackers camp

Day 5 John Muir Trail

Red’s Meadow to Virginia Lake

Total JMT miles  —  15.7            Elevation gain/loss  —  +2950/-330

I awoke on Day 5 in a surprisingly decent mood after the previous evening’s events. Getting myself worked up  over the crowd of late-arrival backpackers, I didn’t expect to sleep much at all. But surprisingly, after everyone settled and the over-packed campsite quieted down, I did sleep some. I awoke with a fresh perspective, and a realization that I had perhaps over reacted in my strong initial response to the late comers. As I wrote in my journal over breakfast and coffee, what came to mind was a sense of a “Restored faith in Humanity”. People ARE basically good, and not as “inconsiderate” as I had termed the masses to be the previous evening. This made me smile, as it was something my dad would say, and I felt incredibly close to him in that moment. He has been gone almost five years now, but in times like these I strongly feel his presence. I felt comforted and no longer quite so alone.  I also chewed on the reality of my own seriousness, another trait of my dad’s, and why it is difficult for me to be happy-go-lucky, and fun-loving, as were the post-drinks and dinner crowd from the night before. While I am usually accepting of my tendency to take myself seriously, I do pay attention to opportunities to shed light on this, as well as learn from those that do less so. Sometimes the weight of being serious gets to me, and my renewed perspective on Day 5 allowed me to shed some of that. I left the Red’s backpacker camp at 7:00 am, my pack and spirits light. Just in time to pick up five more days of food and weigh (at least my pack!) right back down again!

Red's' Meadow Resort

Red’s’ Meadow Resort

At Red’s Resort, I paid $5 for a five minute shower. It was fantastic! I also spent some time problem solving my right foot. I had come to the realization that there was nothing wrong with the foot itself…the problems with blisters had to be related to what was inside the shoe. I took out both the orthotic and insole, borrowed scissors, and started cutting away where I could tell it was rubbing. I am embarrassed to say that it took me four days to figure out that the problem wasn’t with my foot, but with the orthotic and insole in the shoe. I kept reasoning that if no problem was happening with the left foot, why would the right orthotic be so troublesome? Instead of getting to the source, I kept taping over the problem, thinking that would solve it. Not so…definitely a time when using “bandaids” to cover something up did not serve me well. My initial cut-away job of the morning seemed to help some, although I left my tape job on as the blisters and hot spots were still there. I committed to careful observation throughout the day of how my foot was feeling in the shoe, instead of just ignoring it and trying to tough it out.

Clean and ready to go!

Clean and ready to go!

I packed up my pack with the five days of food, which added at least ten pounds to my pack.  As I prepared to leave Red’s,  I felt great despite the pack weight…clean, in good spirits, and ready for the day’s challenges. It would be the reverse of the previous days elevation loss…Day five, I knew, would be mostly a day of elevation gain. It would also be a day of more trail monotony, but I felt psychologically much more prepared for that. I wasn’t inclined to let any demons in that day, (another favorite expression of my dad’s) as I wanted to redeem my poor attitude from the previous day.

I left Red’s with the masses. There was a steady stream of folks doing just what I had, getting their food and moving out. For some reason, most of these were women, or at least it seemed that way. I saw solo-hiker Ashley from Ohio again, as well as Alexis from day 2. I met a mother/daughter combo, which I thought was very cool. I also met Ginnie, a friendly Labor and Delivery nurse from CA, and her hiking pal Tracy. All these women and more I leap-frogged with over the first few miles after Red’s: I would take a break, they would pass me. They would break, I would pass them. I liked meeting and briefly exchanging hello’s, but I was definitely in the

Feeling good on the trail

Feeling good on the trail

mood to hike alone.  Eventually the pressure of having people right on my tail after I had passed or re-passed them inspired me to keep a good and steady pace, and I gained distance on the group. I was in a good hiking rhythm, making good time, and feeling strong and empowered.

After five and a half miles,  I came to Deer Creek. This is the last water for another 5.5 miles, and,  while it was early for a lunch break, I knew it would be a good place for one. I sat on a rock in the sun, and took off my shoes for freedom and further evaluation. I decided to ditch the tape on the right foot for good, washed my foot in the creek, and let it dry before applying simple moleskin. I cut away a bit more of my orthotics. I sat and ate and people watched for about 40 minutes, letting my feet and mind be worry-free. The Red’s group came and went, and I observed that no one else was deliberately sitting in the sun. While the day was warm, it wasn’t too hot, and I loved being there in the sun on a rock. I was trying to gear up for what was to come…my trail book called the next 5.5 miles “some of the most monotonous on the trail”, due to the lack of a change of scenery and no spectacular views. I remembered this from last year, and we camped at the end of the 5.5 miles that year. This year, I fully intended to press on to Virginia Lake, another four miles beyond that. There was a fair amount of elevation and 9 miles remaining to get there, and I wanted to stay in my good head space.

Feeling strong at Duck Crossing

Feeling strong at Duck Crossing

Fueled up, hydrated, and with a new freedom for my right foot, I left Deer Creek. As I hiked the dry, unchanging, uphill terrain from Deer Creek to Duck Crossing, I remained strong and steady. I got into mindful hiking, putting one foot in front of the other. I let myself focus on just that, and being ok with the monotony. The 5.5 miles went quickly, with just one packs-off short break. At Duck Crossing I felt good. I remembered being completely spent at this point last year, and barely being able to navigate the necessity of finding of a campsite. This year, I knew I could make the remaining four miles to Virginia Lake. Two things were pushing me toward Virginia…First, I had learned during the day that the Red’s masses were

Purple Lake

Purple Lake

camping at Purple lake, two miles past Duck and two miles before Virginia. While a beautiful lake, camping was limited and restricted at Purple lake, and I knew it would be hard to find a spot. And secondly, I remembered Virginia Lake as being one of THE most beautiful of all lakes from last years trip, and I really wanted to immerse myself in that pristine environment.

I coursed around Purple Lake, waving and saying hello to the campers that had already arrived. I gained the elevation to  Virginia, and it was just as gorgeous as I remembered. There were campsites all along the lake, but many were taken, and I desperately wanted to be away from people for the night. Though I was tired, I continued around the lake, past the people and the inlet, and on the far side of the lake I started looking for a site. I found one just up and off the trail, but out of view of passing hikers, and definitely by myself. It was perfect, and I was incredibly relieved and happy to be there. The day had not been easy, with nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain, a later start than normal leaving Red’s, and some challenging psychological parts of the trail. But I knew I had handled it all very well, and I felt proud of myself for that. And I was oh so

Virginia Lake, images from 2015 JMT hike

Virginia Lake, images from 2015 JMT hike

virginialakevery happy to be camping alone in my perfect little spot!

Highlights of the Day

The shower at Red’s Meadow

Simply put, it was nice to get cleaned up. It’s funny, the psychology of trail cleanliness. There are lakes to swim in, rivers to get refreshed in, but it’s never the same as a real shower. My pledge to myself on the JMT was to try to “clean up” in some capacity every third day. I slept better and generally felt better about myself. Getting that shower in, with soap and hot water, gave me days in the cleanliness bank, where I didn’t have to think about that for awhile. I could focus on the trail and knocking off the miles to come, and enjoy my illusion of cleanliness.

Getting a handle on my foot issue

This was a relief beyond belief!  I was imagining hiking the rest of the JMT with complex taping, the drawbacks being running out of tape and the dislike of having that much “stuff” in my sock, as well as the fact that my strategy wasn’t working! So I finally took the time and effort to get to the root of the problem, and cut away at the orthotic and insoles. And noticing throughout the day that that really WAS what I needed to do, fueled my sense of effective problem solving. It’s difficult to explain why I didn’t think of it earlier, but I suppose I thought it was the “job” of the Physical Therapist who had done my orthotics to “decide” if they were fitting right and working right…or not. Since he was not there, I just had to go for it and start tinkering on my own. I reached a good compromise of cutting away enough to get pressure off the hot spots and blisters, but not so much so as to render the orthotics ineffective. A great place to finally arrive on day five!

The campsite at Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake campsite

Virginia Lake campsite

Reflection time at Virginia Lake

Reflection time at Virginia Lake

And again...

And again…

When I went back at the end of my trip to rank my overall favorite campsites, Virginia lake came in second (stay tuned…the best is yet to come!) It was perfect in so many ways, and I felt a sense of profound relief and peace being there. Part of it I am sure was the direct contrast to the previous night’s chaos of so many people…here, not another soul was seen or heard from where I camped. I had a lovely backdrop of boulders and mountains, and the full-on view out to Virginia Lake. I got to watch the sunset with it’s alpenglow on the surrounding peaks, and the morning sun reflecting off the lake soon after waking. It was clear, cold, and just downright beautiful for my 14 hour’s there, and I loved every minute of it.

Lessons of the Day

Acceptance of self as Solitude Seeker…

I got clear on this, that it’s OK to prefer solitude while out in the mountains. It doesn’t mean I am a loner or somehow flawed. I am generally a social being and very much enjoy engaging with people. But on this day I craved and made happen the necessary solitude I was seeking, by hiking in the “gaps” between people, and camping alone. And instead of making it be about something negative, like I should be engaging or conversing more,  I let myself absolutely enjoy and accept my preference for time alone…with my thoughts, feelings, and the majestic and calming surroundings as my only companions.

Sometimes, putting one foot in front of the other is the best I can do…

As mentioned, the mantra one foot in front of the other, just focus on the trail and take it a step at a time, worked well for me this day. I got through the tedious parts of the trail with relative ease. I called upon and utilized my mindfulness training, and let myself BE IN THE MOMENTS  as they unfolded, without thinking too much about being anywhere else. I did well with this strategy, and it paid off with a day of good miles achieved over potentially challenging psychological conditions. And I knew that, having done it on this day, I could successfully do it again in the days and weeks to come.

The trail, like life, has good days and bad, and they can come in quick succession.

A final view of Lake Virginia, courtesy of Adobe Stock photos.

A final view of Lake Virginia, courtesy of Adobe Stock photos.

This sounds incredibly obvious…but trail as metaphor for life gelled in a new way this day. I noticed how quickly things turned around, in large part from my change in attitude, my surroundings, and by prioritizing what matters to me. A difficult and discouraging day was immediately followed by a day of renewal and strength. I have seen that in my life so many times. I knew the trail would be no different. Yet to see it so cleanly played out in such a short period of time was both reaffirming and grounding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4 John Muir Trail

Emerald Lake to Red’s Meadow

Total JMT miles — 16.5               Elevation gain/loss — +670/-2850

I awoke early as usual on Day 4, a habit that, conveniently or not, I brought with me from Bellingham. My waking time in “normal” life is between 4:30 and 5:00…No change occurred with the relaxation and potential for “sleeping in” on the JMT. I remained an early waker, the difference being that there were no lights to turn on and the daylight didn’t occur until 6:00. That would be the time I emerged from the tent each and every morning, somewhere between 5:45 and 6:00 am.

Morning sun from my campsite

Morning sun from my campsite

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Garnet Lake reflection

Garnet Lake reflection

Day 4 was no different, despite not sleeping well the night before due to my partying neighbors. But I was well enough rested, and the morning was absolutely gorgeous. Morning sun played on the nearby mountains and in the trees surrounding “my” lakes.  I was struck again by the stunning beauty of the campsite, and also thankful that the neighbors were dead asleep. Honestly, I could hear them snoring, that’s how much the sound travelled.

After photos and breakfast I quietly left my campsite and returned to the trail. The morning was warmer than the previous, and I could tell it was going to be a hot one. The day’s sublime unfolding continued, with lakes, creeks, and views galore. I was definitely in my happy place. I saw solo hiker Erin from the previous day, camped above Garnet Lake. A large and beautiful lake, the JMT keeps it in view for quite some time. I was happy to see Erin, and stopped to chat. She was heading off trail into Mammoth to get new boots as hers were simply too small. The recommendation for a trip with some mileage like the JMT is to get boots a full size bigger, to allow for the inevitable swelling that takes place. A full size bigger always seemed too big for me, and I had settled on a half size bigger as a good compromise. I mused that I wished I could blame my right foot blister problems on too small shoes, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I was still taping, getting more elaborate as the amount of hot spots increased. I was definitely troubled and puzzled by this, and also observed that trying to avoid pressure on the blisters was starting to affect my gait.  We talked of feet and bodily ailments for awhile, I wished her luck in her boot mission, and moved on.

Banner and Ritter from Garnet Lake

Banner and Ritter from Garnet Lake

Trailside conversation and picture time!

Trailside conversation and picture time!

 

 

 

 

 

I encountered an older couple as I coursed around Garnet Lake. I stopped to talk with them as well. The beauty was keen, I didn’t want my views of the lake to end, and I was looking for reasons to dawdle. The old folks told me of a fire south in Cottonwood, and that got my attention. It turned my fire and smoke radar on, as last year we encountered intense smoke from fires for the entire second half of our trip. I was definitely nervous about that this year as well, as August is prime forest fire time. The air seemed a clear blue, however, and I let those worries fade.

Shadow Creek

Shadow Creek

Shadow Lake

Shadow Lake

The morning continued unveiling it’s magic, as I came to and followed Shadow Creek for a spell. Last year we lunched and bathed in Shadow creek, and I stopped for a snack to commemorate that exact spot. It’s a beautiful and fast-flowing creek, and eventually runs into to Shadow Lake. The climb up and out of Shadow Lake was the only real elevation gain of the day, and I cranked out the mile and some quickly. Soon I came to Rosalie Lake. This lake, like Garnet, was absolutely gorgeous, and deeply nestled in some cliffs. I reached Rosalie right at noon, and I had an extremely enjoyable lunch on rocks above it’s shore. The setting was heavenly, and I was tempted to while away the afternoon doing nothing but sitting and gazing at the beauty below. On the far shore of Rosalie, as I was getting water and preparing to leave the lake for good, Erin hiked up. She was going to swim in the lake and invited me to join her. Again, I was tempted to forget my plans for Red’s Meadow and do just that. But I had a food drop to pick up, and I wanted to stay “on schedule”, so I declined. I said goodbye in earnest this time, as I wasn’t sure I’d see her again. I did not, and I REALLY hope she returned to finish the trail after her trip into Mammoth. She had come all the way from Orlando, solo, for the adventure. and so deserved to complete it.

After Rosalie, things started to decline for the first time that day. For the first time in several days, actually, as day’s 2 and 3 on the JMT were equally as delightful as the morning of day 4. The way continued with interesting lakes, but much of the trail was amongst downed trees from a 2011  windstorm that felled 10,000 trees in the area. While trees didn’t obscure the trail, the blow-downs obscured the majesty of the place. I grew impatient…with the lack of views, with my sore right foot, with the monotony of the trail, and with my reluctant and slow pace. I still had 9 miles to reach Red’s Meadow when I left Rosalie, and I had kept a leisurely pace all morning with my conversations and such. So I picked up the pace, but then was more troubled by my foot. I was headed downhill and the day was warm, a combination that put extra pressure on my blistered right foot.  I found myself getting discouraged, impatient, and cranky for the first time on the trail.

Devil's Postpile

Devil’s Postpile

devilspostpile2I struggled with this state of mind all the way to Red’s Meadow. I hiked past the turnoff to Devil’s Postpile, where Gregg and I had camped and side-tripped last year. I took a food, water, and picture break looking at the very cool striations of the rocks across from me that were Devil’s Postpile, then cranked out the last 2.5 miles. Suffice it to say, I was not in a great mood when I finally arrived at Red’s Meadow about 5:30 pm. I was hot, tired, and just plain done with the day. While a long day (16.5 miles), the hiking was not that difficult, and I was bummed and puzzled at my state of discouragement.  I was looking forward to turning it around…possibly with a hot shower, certainly with a real bathroom and running water, and with the opportunity to check in with family and friends via text as there would be phone reception. And I was hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

Arriving at Red’s, I wasn’t so sure how many of those things would happen.  Right off the bat I met Ashley, a super nice solo hiker from Ohio. I asked her where the backpacker’s camp was. She said she didn’t know, and that she had camped in a paid site the previous night when she didn’t find it. I asked around a bit more…I knew there was a backpacker camp, but no one seemed to know where it was. I was perplexed and irritated, as I was counting on a place to unload…my pack and my frustrations of the day. Finally, someone pointed the way on a short .25 mile trail. They did not tell me where at trail’s end the backpacker camp was, and I actually wandered around for 15 minutes or so after the short trail trying to find it. I asked again, and was directed to a very small spot designated for walk in backpackers like me that could maybe house ten tents. There were at least ten tents there already, but I found a spot, right by the road, and by the bear locker. Certainly not a quiet spot, as cars were going by (servicing paid campsites of a much more spacious nature, just across the road), and I knew people would be in and out of the bear locker. But at least it was a site.

I put up my tent, ate dinner (there is a cafe in the main resort area, but since I had food I had carried, and would be picking

Right foot before problem solving…

up five days more food, I ate my dehydrated meal), and tried to be happy. After dinner, I walked back to the resort, with toiletries for the bathroom and with my phone. I texted friends and family for an hour outside, all the while people watching. I took pictures of my now heavily taped foot, and surmised ways to problem solve the blisters. I knew Red’s was the only place I would have reception until the end of my hike, and I much enjoyed checking in. The texting back and forth and sending of photos really cheered me up, as well as brushing my teeth and washing my face in running water, such that I was in a much better mood when I returned back to the camp.

I was sitting at the picnic table writing in my journal and waiting for darkness,  my habit before bed. Suddenly, a throng of people arrived in the camp…all at once, and with a huge amount of noise and ruckus. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was very nearly dark…where had all of these people come from? And were they all planning to camp right there, in the already overly crowded small site? Turns out, they were a large group of backpackers, who had been dining and drinking beers back at the resort. They ALL came in together at the last minute, with their backpacks, to join the rest of us camping for the night. I was completely thrown off. Where would they all go? There were at least another 8 tent’s worth of new folks…there was no way they would all fit. Gradually and noisily they all found a spot, anywhere they could physically fit a tent. So much for my hope of a good night’s sleep! As with any large and rowdy group, it took a long while for them to get their tents set up, and certainly to settle in and quiet down. I laid in my tent, writing furiously by flashlight, trying to get OK with all of this. I felt like fleeing, my upset was that keen. I knew they were just having fun and excited to be there and together, having just shared food and drink. And they were just youngsters, most of them by my initial observation, and not aware of their apparent “intrusion”. They certainly had a right to be there too…there was just no space left. I knew all of this intellectually…but I couldn’t keep my frustrations at bay. The whole incident made me feel old, crabby, and out of place. I asked myself what I was doing there camped among them. That is NOT what I had in mind with my solo hike of the JMT, and I felt a deep sense of despair. I wanted to be in my own peaceful world with nothing but nature as my companion.

Eventually, quiet enveloped the raucous night air, and I tried for sleep.  I kept telling myself over and over, just get through tonight, and tomorrow you are out of here!

Highlights of the day

Pretty much everything until after lunch…

Shadow Creek pools

Shadow Creek pools

As mentioned, I loved the morning lakes. In addition to Emerald and Garnet, there is also a Ruby. All are as beautiful as the birthstones they are named after. I also loved Shadow Creek and Lake, and my leisurely lunch at Rosalie Lake. Maybe I

Rosalie Lake, the calm before the storm!

Rosalie Lake, the calm before the storm!

SHOULD have stopped there, and swam and camped at Rosalie, as things started to “go south” after that…and I don’t mean just the direction in which I was headed!

I got through the day and night, nothing bad happened, and I didn’t lose my temper.

At Red’s, I got to touch base with family and friends as mentioned,  and I very much enjoyed using the bathroom and sink with hot water. I made it through the night, even slept some. I didn’t say much to anyone, that night or the following morning, attempting to follow the adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  There were good things about Red’s Meadow, and I am sure in retrospect I over-reacted to the people in camp. It really wasn’t about them, it was more about me, I could see that. even the following morning, and asked myself, what can I learn from this?

Lessons of the day

I have a strong reaction when I perceive that people are somehow “invading” my space.

My reaction to this was a great curiosity to me, as it also happened the previous night with the partying old guys. WHY did it bug me so much that the youngsters were having fun and being loud in camp at Red’s? Besides the obvious reason of seemingly “disrespectful” campers, clearly there was a much bigger issue for me to work out on this trip.  This theme, the premium I placed on personal space and the upset it caused me when someone moved in, came up over and over. I started to see then and I certainly realize now that it has to do with a perceived loss of control in my environment. I suppose I thought on the JMT that I would get to choose when and if I wanted to interact with others, and that solitude would be the name of the game. With 6000 permits issued to hike it this year, that was not to be the case. Realizing this and coming to terms with it was not an easy task for me, on that night or any of the subsequent one’s during which it came up. But I was willing to look at it, seeing as it had come up two nights in a row…

My fear of backpacking alone was replaced by my very keen desire to do just that!

Before I set off on my solo JMT endeavor, backpacking alone was right at the top of my list of fears and unknowns. I realized after Red’s how much I preferred and sought that out, over camping with others. In a few short days, one of my greatest fears had turned into my most keen pursuit.

I hike much better when there are views to distract me and variations in terrain and trail.

I realized on this day that I don’t like monotony or destruction on the trail. I don’t like hiking through burned out zones (like on Day 1 of JMT), or areas of windstorms or other effects of natural devastation. I am not sure if this is because I don’t like being reminded of nature’s fury, as in I know it could happen again, or because it alters the beauty in ways that aren’t that appealing to me. It’s not that I am in denial of such events, or even the importance of them in maintaining balance in nature. I can simply report that, when the trail either gets repetitive and “boring”, or I am in an environment that is not so beautiful and breathtaking, my attitude is affected, I get discouraged more easily, and I tend to focus on my physical ailments more. I certainly noticed that on this day, and knew I would have to pay attention on subsequent days when the surroundings were less stellar. The trail, like life, inevitably has ups and downs, highs and lows…and I didn’t want to let it get to me in the coming days as it did on Day 4.

Overall, not my favorite day or night on the trail, but a good one for learning things about myself and my reactions to things. It certainly put my mindfulness training to the test!

Top View of Boot on the trail with the text: Practice Mindfulness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 John Muir Trail

Yosemite Valley (Happy Isles) to Sunrise Camp

Total JMT miles — 13.2        Elevation gain/loss — +6405 feet/-1265 feet

I left the Yosemite backpacker camp at 8:00 am on August 10 for the long trek up and out of the Valley floor. My pack was heavy (57 pounds), but my mood was great as I walked the mile from camp to Happy Isles, the official beginning of the John Muir Trail. I chatted amiably with a father/son duo from Cleveland who were headed to Crater Lake, from where I had just come. The son planned to do the Crater Lake Marathon, and the father was his support. They were vacationing in and around California and Oregon, and loving every minute of it. I was struck by how everyone is up to something in Yosemite, and amid the throngs of tourists you can always find a good story. I was sad to see them head to their car as I continued to Happy Isles.

Official start of the JMT

Official start of the JMT

I used a “real” bathroom one last time, and had a tourist snap a photo of me at the trailhead. I was on my way! I knew from last year that the trail starts out paved, and steep. I also knew the day would require an immense amount of elevation gain if I went to Sunrise camp, which was my intention. Last year, my hiking partner Gregg and I camped part way up and did a late afternoon ascent of Half Dome. This year, I had no permit or plans for Half Dome, and my intentions were to reach Sunrise Camp, and do it in a fashion that was less taxing than last year.  Despite camping only 6.5 miles from the start last year, that first day really did me in. For whatever reason, the steepness of the trail and the high steps required nearly defeated me last year on the very first day. This year, I was determined not to let that happen again.

I had plans for a three-prong approach to preventing last year’s extremely tough first day.  1. Hike with poles. For various reasons, last year I started without poles, and the trail was murder on my knees and hips as a result. So the poles were out from the beginning this time around;  2. Avoid the Mist Trail. While shorter and spectacular as it “mists” you from the spray of Vernal Falls,  it is also much steeper, and bypasses the

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Clark Point Junction...with Half Dome, Mt. Broderick, and Liberty Cap

Clark Point Junction…with Half Dome, Mt. Broderick, and Liberty Cap

real JMT route. We mistakenly did that last year, and I paid a dear price. This year I stayed on the JMT proper, ending up at the top of Nevada Falls, and seeing Vernal Falls only from a distance;  3. Expect that it will be difficult, and take it slow and steady. This approach served me well, and having the expectation of difficulty made all the difference in the world.  I kept a steady but reasonable pace for the 3.5 miles up to Nevada Falls, and arrived at 10:15 am, just in time for a well-deserved drink, snack, and photos.

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

The next phase of the route was more gradually up, and felt very familiar. I took it slow and steady, up to the Half Dome Junction. I lunched there, and reflected that soon I would be in new backpacking territory for my first day out. My hips were starting to ache from the weight of the pack and the continuous elevation gain. But I was making good time, and knew I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I passed the junction to Cloud’s Rest, where we had camped last year,  and felt briefly saddened not to be taking that side trip. Of all of last year’s side trips, Cloud’s Rest remained one of my favorites. But this year, I walked on by, my destination still 6.7 miles away. While I was nearly half way there,  the toughest part was yet to come.

After several more tedious miles through a burned-out zone, Sunrise Mountain loomed ahead. I remembered it last year as a series of hot, dry, and steep switchbacks.  I also remembered it as tedious and miserable. I stopped to tape a developing hot spot on my right foot before I started up in earnest. I could feel a blister coming, and I wanted to be proactive, especially on day one.  I ate and drank. I continued to the switchbacks, as the cloudless day grew warmer. When I finally crossed the creek one last time and started up, my headspace got weird. I felt disassociated from my brain, like I was traveling in a fog. When I passed the rare person coming down, I made sure I was coherent. I think it was a combination of the heat, the intensity of the hike and day, and fatigue. I really had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other for the climb up Sunrise Mountain, and it proved equally as difficult as I remembered.

Top of Sunrise Mountain

Top of Sunrise Mountain

At the top, I was beyond ready to take a break…including a smiling “selfie”. Might as well look non-plussed!  I was relieved to have done most of the elevation for the day, and to be a mere mile from Sunrise camp. As I re-shouldered my pack again, I realized with a start just how sore my hips, glutes, and scare-iliac ligaments were. Everything was screaming and exquisitely painful to the touch. It almost felt like I couldn’t keep going. But I continued on to expansive Long Meadow, where I took one last break as I tried to figure out where to camp.

Long Meadow...at last!

Long Meadow…at last!

The Yosemite ranger had told me to camp at the Sunrise High Sierra Camp…I thought that was only for paid guests. But I staggered in there, impatiently traipsing through the High Sierra camp, with it’s huts and guests. Where was the backpacker camp?

Some nice lady told me to just keep going, past all the huts. I did, and soon reached the throng of backpackers. This backpacker camp was even more busy than Yosemite’s! I tried to find a place away from the masses, but eventually gave up due to fatigue and frustration. I dumped my pack in the only campsite I could find… to heck with my desire for space and privacy. I apologized to the gal whose tent space I encroached on…she said no worries, she had been there three nights and it had been just as crowded each night. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to spend three nights there, but who was I to say?

I was simply relieved to unburden myself of my pack for good, right about 5:30 pm. I set up camp and went exploring. I thought Sunrise Lakes was nearby, and had a fantasy of dipping my sore body into the lakes for relief. After wandering for 30 minutes and ending right back at the backpacker camp (by the straightforward approach I had missed in the first round, due to my fatigue and impatience), I gave up on the lake idea. Turns out Sunrise Lakes is miles away, and I certainly didn’t have that in me. Instead, I made dinner and tried for bed, at darkness (about 8 pm). I slept very poorly…perhaps in part because of my bear fear.

This fear, the fear of bears, was definitely on my mind. Partly this was due to a bear encounter last year on the trail, which my partner Gregg dealt with by chasing off the bear.  And partly it was because, at the Yosemite Wilderness Center this year, the ranger said they had to kill a bear merely five days earlier, who was prowling uncontrollably and threateningly at the Sunrise Camp…where I was stationed.  While sad to hear this, it also had me worried. There had been two very persistent bears…the most troublesome one now was gone, but that still left one. As I tried to go to sleep, I kept envisioning what I would do if a bear tried to get in the tent with me! I know it sounds silly, but that night, those thoughts were present. I had to work with myself and my thoughts to dispel the worry…and it DID help to know that there were lots of other people around. One advantage of camping with the throngs!

Suffice it to say that after a restless night, I was relieved to be up and out of the Sunrise Camp next morning…and onto Day 2 of my adventure.

Highlights of Day 1

The hardest day was behind me…and it WAS better than the previous first day.

I KNEW that day one would be the most physically challenging. I was front-loaded with things like fuel and toiletries, as well as carrying five days of food. I would not have to carry any more weight at any time than I carried that first day. And I would not have to gain more elevation in any given day than I did that first day. To have all of that behind me, despite the pain in my hips and glutes, was a HUGE relief. Things would only get theoretically easier from that point on.

And despite the challenges, my goal of a better Day One on the JMT was definitely met. My attitude of acceptance and having the expectation that it would be difficult definitely paid off. I was not caught off guard by the challenge, and instead rose to and met it. A big success right off the bat!

I was proactive with pain and problems.

As mentioned, I started developing hot spots with my right foot, which I attempted to problem solve that first day. I also developed a hot spot on my spine, which had been one of my biggest issues the previous year…backpack chafing along the vertebrae, which opened up and caused pain and discomfort for the entirety of last year’s trip. This year, I could FEEL it happening on that first day, despite a new pack that was supposed to have a suspension system guaranteed to prevent this. Before I left Sunrise Camp on Day 2, I asked someone to put moleskin on the hot spot on my mid-back, as I could not reach it. One of the disadvantages of traveling alone…no partner to help with such. BUT, being proactive early on with the back was a necessity, and a nice crew of men and women all offered their thoughts on how best to deal with this. We all agreed that a strip of moleskin to more than cover the spot was the best bet.

Lessons of Day 1

Advantages and Disadvantages of traveling alone…

I started a file on this topic. I really liked being alone, in terms of setting my own pace, stopping whenever I wanted to, taking pictures, or not, and basically setting my own agenda. However, there was no one to immediately share the victory with when a milestone was reached, and it was difficult to do things like apply moleskin to my back. This file and theme continued to grow in my mind as the trip progressed.

Managing my tendency for needless worry…

This theme was played out in bear fears that first night. I wondered what my night would have been like if I had NOT worried about bears…yet I felt powerless to stop it. Also, I acknowledged my tendency to worry about upcoming challenges. I started worrying and obsessing about Sunrise Mountain before it was even upon me, that it might be “too much”. Then, when I was there, I worried that I might pass out or lose it, as my head felt foggy. None of those things happened. Realizing my tendency for needless worry caused me to start a file on that also…things I worry about that don’t happen. While I felt challenged to control my thoughts completely, at least I knew I could reflect back after the fact on the worries that never come to fruition. Somehow, writing it out after that first day and night helped to put the theme and reality of needless worry into perspective.

The body really DOES feel better in the morning!

Even though I slept poorly, I was relieved that I felt mostly OK on the morning of Day 2. I know this from past experience, that a night of rest usually pays off for physical pain relief,  even if sleep is negligible. I repeated a mantra and affirmation as I packed up for the day…”I awake each day rejuvenated, refreshed, and revived.” I declared that as my theme for each and every morning remaining on the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip Prelude…the Car Trip Getting There

Distance Covered — Bellingham to Yosemite National Park (980 miles)

My daughter Shannon, her boyfriend Kevin, and I set off on the morning of August 6 to drive to Yosemite. Shannon and Kevin had decided to turn a much appreciated drop-off of me at the trailhead into a road trip. Shannon had the agenda all laid out, and I showed up at 6 am on the 6th as instructed.  We loaded everything into Kevin’s Subaru Forester…all of their stuff for nine days of travel, plus my backpack stuff and car trip stuff. None of us are light travelers, and the car was jammed with stuff! I had space in the backseat for my body and some pillows, but not much else.

El Capitan in Yosemite

El Capitan in Yosemite

Day one was nine hours of driving; day two was a much needed break at Crater Lake; day three was another long day of driving, plus dropping off my first food bucket at Red’s Meadow resort near Mammoth; and on day four, we arrived in Yosemite. Right on schedule for me to pick up my permit to start my hike on the morning of 8/10.

Highlights of the trip

Getting a ride to the trailhead

The three of us...

The three of us…

I cannot overstate what a relief this was to me. Getting a ride to Yosemite removed my need to make travel arrangements for the way there, and I got to bring whatever I wanted for the car trip and keep my backpack stuff relatively separate. I didn’t have to drive at all, as Kevin did all the driving with Shannon as navigator. My role was to sit in the back, listen to books, sleep, and think about the upcoming trip. I was basically without an organizational care in the world, as Shannon made the reservations for campsites and planned our “itinerary” for the four days. She told me what meals to bring, where to go when, and the trip went very smoothly. Also, I got to spend four days with Shannon and Kevin, which was quality time I don’t get enough of these days with either of my adult children and their partners. A SUPER BIG THANK YOU TO SHANNON AND KEVIN FOR DELIVERING ME TO THE START OF THIS FABULOUS ADVENTURE! 

The day at Crater Lake

After day one of driving, we camped at Collier Memorial Campground, about an hour from Crater Lake. We spent the entirety of day two at Crater Lake, to which none of us had been before. Shannon is a great tourist, and had Kevin pull out at many viewpoints. We went to the Visitor Center and bookstore, and had fun looking at bookmarks.  We did several short day hikes, and I got to climb Mt. Scott (elevation 8929), which took me to the highest point above the lake. It was clear, cool, and windy the day we were there, and the views were simply stupendous. Here is a sampling:

Crater Lake from Sun Notch viewpoint

Crater Lake from Sun Notch viewpoint

Shannon and Kevin at the lake, bottom of Fleetwood Cove Trail

Shannon and Kevin at the lake, bottom of Fleetwood Cove Trail

 

Top of Mt. Scott…it’s windy up here!

It was great to get some miles in, to stretch the legs after the previous car ride, and to get psychologically ready for day three of driving. That would be our longest day.

 

Getting food dropped off at Reds Meadow…barely

We spent night two back at Collier Campground after the day at Crater Lake. We were on the road again for a 10-plus hour day of driving on day three. We drove to Mammoth, which is right by Red’s Meadow where I planned to hand deliver my first food drop bucket. We arrived at the gates of Devil’s Post Pile National Monument at 6:30 pm, and the Red’s resort closed at 7 pm. The guard told us we could not drive in, that we would have to go back, park, and take a shuttle. I explained that we would not be able to do that and still get to the resort before 7 pm when they closed. It was a time when I nearly lost my temper, as I was tired, uncomfortable after 10 hours in the car, and basically at the end of my patience. Thankfully, the guard took pity on us, and told us he would let us “just this once” drive in and deliver our food. I was so very grateful, and thanked him profusely. We drove the slow and winding road to Red’s Meadow, and got there just in time to deliver the food bucket before they closed. They would hold it for me until I picked it up in five days…for a fee, of course 🙂

Getting into Yosemite and finally getting my permit to hike!

Day four took us into Yosemite National Park. Shannon and Kevin dropped me off near the Wilderness Center, and I went in to get my permit to hike. It was a relief to be there, on schedule, and to finally have it in hand. I got the typical lecture from the ranger about bears, where to camp and not to camp, no trace camping, and just about everything else. When I told him I had done this trip just the previous year, he thankfully cut his version a bit short.  I learned that they issued 6000 permits this year to hike the JMT…up from 4000 the previous year. I realized then that there would be a lot of people out on the trail. I would have to work to keep my hike a solo hike.

Ready to roll...

Ready to roll…

I found Shannon and Kevin at the Visitors Center, and we all walked back to the car. I organized my belongings, packing my pack with all I would need for the next three weeks (with the exception of food to be picked up and delivered). I had very mixed feelings about saying goodbye and walking away from the car. On the one hand, I was so looking forward to starting my adventure…on the other hand, I was leaving Shannon and Kevin, and the comforts and security of the car. I walked alone back to the Wilderness Center to get water and weigh my pack. It weighed 57 pounds, about seven more than my highest weight of the previous year. The sign outside said “You should not carry more than 25% of your body weight, or you risk SERIOUS INJURY”. I ignored that, knowing that my pack weighed almost 50% of my body weight. As I traipsed to the backpacker’s camp for my first night alone,  I realized it could be a tough first day on the trail.

The Valley floor hike…with Bobcats!

Mirror lake with Mt. Watkins

Mirror lake with Mt. Watkins

I arrived at the backpackers camp at 3:45, found a spot, paid my $6, and set up my tent. I did not want to hang around, as it was buggy, and it’s not my scene to shoot the breeze with other’s preparing for a trip. So I took off on a day hike, around the Valley floor. I went past Mirror Lake, more of a pond than a lake. I kept going, and was surprised by how few people I saw. Usually hiking in Yosemite means throngs of people…on this hike, I barely saw a soul. At one point, I traversed an open boulder field, and came upon a bobcat kitten just in front of me. I did a double take…it was just cruising along in front of me, like one of my house cats out for a stroll. But where there is baby, there is mother, and soon I saw the mother crouching in the bushes watching me. For some reason this both freaked me out and touched me…I felt vulnerable and blessed all at once. I silently turned around and went back the way I came, suddenly feeling the desire to get back amongst people. It seemed like an omen for the trip to come, that combination of mystery, magic, and wildness.

Lessons from the trip

Most of it’s already been said in the highlights section, but to recap:

Long car rides require patience… and breaks!

I don’t do well in the car, period. My body does not like to be sedentary for any period of time, and pain really starts to settle in. I realized again that my patience for things goes down when I am physically uncomfortable. The drive also re-emphasized the importance of movement in my life. I was able to endure all of this, as it both accomplished an important mission, AND I knew that I would be getting plenty of movement and exercise in the weeks to come. I tried to look at it as the rest before the event, and that helped.

Planning pays off

Shannon’s planning, and my sub-planning really paid off. Everything went smoothly, and we were basically without conflict as a result of this. Four days in the car can tax any relationship, and we all did fine with patience and following the plan.

When in doubt, go for a hike!

The hikes at Crater Lake, in the mornings at the campground before Shannon and Kevin got up, and finally in and around the Valley floor really helped to put me in a good mental place. I realized on each of those hikes how  much I love to  be out in nature, exploring some place new or revisiting someplace familiar, and in my own headspace. And it all felt good and right, since I was about to do just that for the next twenty days or so.

As I crawled into my tent at the backpackers camp that last night, I had just one thought…JMT here I come! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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