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!
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.
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
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.
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
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
very 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
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.
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.