Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Bears

Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 3

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek Campground — Sept. 12, 2017

As I lay in the tent waiting for daylight, I thought about the elusive trail to the lakes (Tapto and Middle) that I’d failed to find the previous afternoon.  Mentally, I retraced my steps from campsite to Whatcom Pass and beyond. I remembered a trail to the left, just at the pass, but blocked off with logs. Universal trail speak for “don’t go that way”.  Of course that had to be it! I knew the trail went left, and I knew it went up. The “blockade” only indicated that it wasn’t the main trail. I had to laugh at myself. Sometimes, I miss the most obvious things in my desire to be a rule follower and conscientious hiker.

Inspired with my realization, I grew impatient for first light. Morning light comes earlier on the top of a ridge than in the forest, and I was able to get up and at ’em by 6:10. It was a beautiful dawn, sky mostly clear, last stars fading into the promise of a beautiful day. At least for the morning — Derek, the German, had thought the weather was changing, and I wanted to day-hike the lakes, return to my site, pack up, and get down off the pass before any weather came in.

Day hike to Tapto and Middle Lakes (4 miles total?)

I left my campsite at 8:15,  jacket pockets stuffed with provisions as I had no day pack. When I passed Forest Service guy’s campsite, I noticed he wasn’t there, apparently already up and about.  I crossed the small creek just beyond, the sun so bright I had to put my sunglasses on to see. The morning air was crisp with the coming of fall only days away.  I relinquished fully into the late-summer day that lay before me.

Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak from Whatcom Pass

When I reached the “blocked” trail heading left, I saw Forest Service guy coming down. Had he been up to the lakes already? He was holding a cup of coffee, so I gathered not.

“Good morning!” I called,  glad to see him and eager to pick his brain about the hike to the lakes. “Have you already been to the lakes?”

He laughed. “No, just out for a morning wander. Are you headed up?”

“Yes!” I replied, my enthusiasm bringing a smile to his scruffy face. “I want to do both Tapto and Middle before heading back down to Indian Creek for the night.”

He introduced himself as Steve, saying he was off duty and camping at the pass for a couple of days. As we chatted it became obvious how well he knew the area, including to the lake region where I was headed.

“Do you think I will see any bears up there?” I asked. Steve had come in late last evening, wandered into my site to see who was there. He’d scared the pants off me, convinced as I was that HE was a bear after my earlier bear sighting. I still had bear on the brain.

“Very possibly”, he drew the words out slowly. “Did you know that from here down Little Beaver Valley to Beaver Pass has the highest concentration of black bears anywhere in the North Cascades?”

“No way.” I replied, alarmed. “Seriously?”

“Yep. Do you have bear spray?”

“No, should I?”

He shrugged. “I don’t carry it. Some do. I am sure you will be fine.” He paused. “But just so you know, you will have to work for the lakes! It’s a steep and rugged trail.” His eyes danced as he said this, even through his sunglasses. I couldn’t tell if he was messing with me or just appropriately cautioning me.

For a brief moment, I reconsidered my plans. But I knew I’d go.  “I’m always up for a challenge.” I said. “But hey, are you going to be hanging around for awhile this morning? It would be nice to know that someone knows where I’m going.”

Again he laughed, held up his coffee cup. “I’ll be hanging here all day, gazing at the mountains and sipping coffee and vodka.”

“Together?” I wanted to ask, but instead said, “Ok, I plan to be back by 11:30, noon latest. If I am not back by 1:00, will you come looking for me?”

“Yep, you got it.” Steve answered, glancing at his watch.  “I won’t lose track of time, I promise. And have a great hike. It’s really beautiful up there. It’s why we come here.”

I thanked him, wished him a good morning, and headed off.

Challenger Glacier from trail to Tapto Lakes

Another view…Whatcom Peak (right) and Challenger (left)

Tapto Lakes

The first mile of the trail was incredibly steep, requiring hand over hand assistance in places to gain it. I wondered how the two hikers I’d met the previous day, who had camped at Middle Lakes, had done it with backpacks. I was grateful for no pack weight, and for my poles to help with balance and upward mobility.

After a mile or so, the trail split. To the left was Tapto, to the right Middle. I decided to go left first. The views of Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak behind me grew in magnificence the higher I climbed. The route was completely open, the trail faint in places, but easy enough to follow. I ascended a steep section of scree, but the trail didn’t in any way make me nervous. The two large, fresh piles of bear scat that I saw on the the trail? Those definitely made me nervous. And very watchful.

Tapto Lakes

L to R: Unnamed Ridge with Easy Peak, Mt. Shuksan, Ruth Mt. (from Tapto Lakes)

I reached the overlook to Tapto Lakes, and opted to drop part way down into the lake basin. I could see I wasn’t going to gain much by going all the way down. I sat on a rock for 15 minutes, gazing down at the lakes and up to the surrounding mountains, taking it all in. I embraced the feeling of being nestled in while watched over, embraced by the clear mountain air, one with the stillness, and completely at peace.

I retraced my steps back to the junction with Middle Lakes, taking photo after photo as I went. It’s often difficult to capture moments in photos, and I never used to even try. I’d just immerse myself in the experience, believing that photos took me out of the moment. But with time, I’ve accepted that I LIKE to look back at my photos, and they’ve also become a way to visually share with others my adventures in the mountains.

Middle Lakes

The trail branching toward Middle Lakes was also vague. At first it followed a mostly dry creek bed surrounded by blueberry bushes, then turned upward. On this short section I saw three more piles of bear scat, for a total of five. Same bear, or several? I tried not to think about it.

Soon I reached a large scree and boulder field, the way marked with the sporadic cairn here and there.  Just enough to get a sense of where to re-enter trees on the other side. After a  brief tree section, I was in a wide expanse of mostly boulders, the early stages of fall color apparent on the slopes of Red Mountain, which I knew guarded the Middle Lakes.

A bit of route finding was required to find the first lake, as the trail disappeared into rocks.  I made sure to pay attention to landmarks so I could find my way back. Quickly I dropped down to what clearly was the lower Middle Lake, and, while nice, it wasn’t that spectacular. I returned to my boulder landmark, and headed up to what had to be the upper lake. This lake was much more spectacular, steep snowfields coming right down into it. I sat briefly and gazed, remembering Steve’s comment: “This is why we come here.”

Challenger Glacier from Middle Lakes

Lower Middle Lake

Fall Color on Red Mountain

Upper MIddle Lake

Windy selfie at Upper Middle Lake

At 10:30 I headed back. I kept a watchful eye, both for potential bears and to make sure I stayed on trail. It was a steep and fast descent, and I was back at camp by 11:15. A few clouds had gathered, and I was eager to get down  off the pass while I still had sunshine. I broke camp and was set to leave by noon. Since Steve’s site had been empty on my return, I left him a note, telling him I was back safely, and thanking him for his information on the hikes.

Whatcom Pass to Indian Creek  (8.1 miles)

The way down the pass on Brush Creek trail was uneventful.  I listened to an audiobook to help pass the steep 5.4 miles. I saw no one. Clearly not many people camp at Whatcom Pass, at least not mid-week in mid-September.

Clouds building up as I head down…

Creek headed down from Whatcom Pass

At the junction of Brush Creek and Chilliwack Trail, I continued straight to reach Indian Creek Campground. It was only 2.7 miles from the junction, and I was making decent time. I wasn’t in a hurry as I knew I’d reach camp plenty early. The trail was once again brushy and thick, sometimes hard to see, and, remembering my fall on day one, I was careful with my footing.

Cool log formations on trail to Indian Creek

Despite my best efforts to stay upright, however, I tripped and fell. Again. This time,  I tried to save the fall with my left hand, instinctively protecting the broken finger on the right. In the process, I hyper-extended my left thumb. It hurt, and I instantly remembered my dad dislocating his thumb in a similar type fall skiing once when I was a child. An orthopedic surgeon, Dad put his own thumb back in place right there on the slope, the pain evident on his strong face. The memory made me cringe, as I lay face down in the dirt, pinned once again by my pack, but extremely thankful I wasn’t injured.

It did give me pause, though, two falls in three days. Was I a has-been with heavy pack hiking? I decided not, but I did feel shaky as I unbuckled my pack so I could crawl to my feet. I’d just have to further up my care and vigilance with footing. I hate falling, and twice was more than enough.

I knew I was close to Indian Creek, and I finished out the last half-mile ever so carefully. And humbly. A suspension bridge over Indian Creek brought me to the campground at 3:45.  I dumped my pack with relief and went looking for a campsite. There were several, and no one else was there. I chose one close to water and the bathroom.

Suspension Bridge over Indian Creek

Chilling in the River!

I felt dirty and tired, and a dunk in Indian Creek was calling. I headed down with a change of clothes plus extra warm clothes, my camp towel, and water bottles to fill. I thought about going in the creek in my dirty clothes, but since no one was there, I stripped down to nothing and waded in. It was cold and invigorating! There was no place deep enough to dunk, and the water was moving rapidly, so I had to make do with cleaning up via bandana, splashing around happily like a bird in a bird bath. I even dunked my head to get the grime out of my hair. I felt cleansed and revived as I dried off on the shore. And glad no one had showed up! I filled up my water bottles, plunked in chlorine tablets, and returned to my campsite.

Bathing spot at Indian Creek

Back at camp, I set up my tent and prepared my space. It was a large site in which I could sprawl, my favorite. I cooked, ate, and was writing when a couple showed up about 7:00 and took a site up above mine. While I was prepared for solo camping, I’ll admit it was nice to have company. Eased my bear anxiety for sure.

Through my writing I processed the various events of the day. The interaction with Steve, the solo day hike to the lakes, the spectacular views, the fall on the trail, and the rejuvenating bath in the river. Another day that had it all.  I reveled in gratitude as I prepared for bed: grateful to be there, uninjured, and ready for a good night’s sleep. I knew I’d need it, as the next day held longer miles with intense elevation gain.

Campsite Day 3

















Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 2

Mt. Challenger, (L); Whatcom Peak, (R), from Whatcom Pass

U.S. Cabins Campground to Whatcom Pass.  Sept. 11, 2017

I was stiff and sore when I woke up Monday morning. I felt about 100 years old as I literally crawled out of the tent at first light.  Maybe I am not so cut out for backpacking with a heavy pack as I thought! But after walking to the pit toilet, which was a LONG way away, and some stretching, the aches and pains started to dissipate. I settled myself around the huge fire ring, breakfast makings at the ready. I felt more like myself with each breath of clean air…and hot cup of coffee!

The morning was as quiet as the previous night, with only a few birds and the nearby river lending auditory company. I contemplated the day ahead. I knew nothing of the trail up to Whatcom Pass except that it was steep, but I had all day to cover the 7.2 miles. Plenty of time to arrive, get settled,  and still get in a day hike from the pass, I reckoned.

U.S. Cabins to Brush Creek Trail Junction

I took my time packing up, and didn’t hit the trail until 9:45. The first mile was flat, the trail loosely paralleling  the Chilliwack River. It was wet and brushy, and I was careful not to trip. I was all up in my head about the cable car crossing just ahead. I had a multitude of memories and some concerns about my mode of transportation across the river:

First, I remembered with hilarity this crossing from 20 years ago. On that hike, my ex-husband Rob and I had our dog, Magnum, with us. An 85-pound yellow lab, Magnum was not even supposed to be with us. Dogs are not allowed in National Parks, and, I confess, we snuck him in. Back then it was much more lax than now. Rest assured, I would not do that now!

We had no idea what we were in for with Magnum and the cable car. Somehow, we loaded him into the cable car, with me as his escort. Rob hauled us both across, hand over hand, as I tried to calm a very nervous Magnum in the swaying car, far above the river below. We unloaded at the platform on the other side, and waiting while Rob came over with both packs in the second round.

There we all stood, looking down the straight up ladder, about 12 or 15 feet (see pic) that we had to descend.  How do you get a large animal down a steep ladder? Always good problem solvers, we put Magnum “on belay”, such that he was roped up in an improvised chest harness.  Rob “lowered” him down from above, as I went down step by step, attempting to calm the flailing (and flying!) Magnum as we went.  It was both nerve racking and hysterical, and a true highlight of that trip!

The infamous Magnum belay spot!

Cable car

Pack’s in, now to load in self…

But this time, there was no Magnum. Or Rob. Or anyone. I was on my own, not having seen a soul all morning. The car was “parked” on the other side of the river, so I had to haul it back over before I could entertain my current worry:

The rangers, when I got my permit, said there had been a hornet’s nest in the car, but they didn’t know if it was still there. Stuck in a car with angry hornets would surely be worse than any challenges with Magnum! In that case, I’d have to ford. But once I got the car to my side, I checked it out. Thankfully, no nest.

I loaded in my pack, then myself. I began the slow process of pulling myself and my pack, at least 175 pounds total, back across the river. I wore gloves, and this helped some. But I also had the broken finger to deal with, and the process was tedious and tiring. The rope was that old yellow kind, not super keen on sliding easily through the cables. Each pull was a Herculean effort! Even under the best of circumstances, but the finger (splinted for protection) made it even harder.

When I finally reached the other side, my arms were burning with the effort. It was one of those times when I realized that backpacking alone ain’t always easy! Where was that partner when I needed him? (or her)?  BUT, it also gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction to have done it, and I was relieved it was over.

Pack back on, I clamored up the river bank, the trail nearly hidden by the wet and heavy brush. No rest for the weary! Finally, I came to the junction with Brush Creek trail.

Brush Creek Trail to Whatcom Pass

Normally, I don’t haul a heavy pack up to a place like Whatcom pass just to spend the night. Usually, I’d day-hike it instead. But I’d heard great things about the pass itself, with it’s views of Challenger Glacier and Whatcom Peak, as well as down to Little Beaver Valley, and a collection of lakes above that I also wanted to explore. Since I had time, I decided to camp at the pass and enjoy all that in a leisurely time frame.

Heading up, I had my moments of doubt! Brush Creek trail gained gradual elevation for the first 2.5 miles, but steepened dramatically after that. My pack felt heavier with each upward step. I kept thinking the trail would break out and I’d feel the sunshine I was so craving after yesterday’s forest walk.  But the trail stayed mostly in the trees, with peek-a-boo views coming into play only periodically.

Whatcom Peak making an appearance.

One of many creek crossings headed up the pass

Glad the trail isn’t going that way!

But I was in no rush, and took frequent breaks in those rare moments of sunshine when they arrived. Near the top, I encountered two people coming down, the first I’d seen all day.  A 60’s-ish man and young woman, who said they had camped two nights at Middle Lakes, one of the day hikes I was coveting. They said it was serenely beautiful and well-worth the effort to get there. That spurred me on to the top.

I reached Whatcom Pass at 3:45. No speed record for sure, but I felt great to finally arrive. I found Derek, the German dynamo, in one of three campsites. His previous night had been much closer to the pass, and he seemed like a go-getter. I asked him when he’d arrived “Oh, about 10:30” he replied.

The site I chose was open and windy, but just what I needed. It overlooked a sprawl of  peaks I couldn’t name, and the sunshine I’d been craving was full-on when I arrived. After last night in the forest, I really wanted air and exposure.  I dumped my pack in relief. Wanting to explore while the sun was still relatively high, I chose not to set up camp, but took off instead with my coat pockets full of provisions.

Day hike exploration — Little Beaver Trail and Whatcom Arm

I chatted briefly with Derek on my way past his camp. He gave me what I thought were directions to head to the lakes. Said it took him “an hour up, and 45 minutes down” for his day hike to Tapto Lakes. I knew I’d have enough daylight to do that and get back to set up camp. He said something about trying to camp at a different site than he had a permit for, but I only half listened. I wanted to get hiking while daylight was still on my side!

At what I thought was the left hand turn he’d mentioned just over Whatcom Pass, I left the “main trail”.  Quickly I realized this trail was dropping down, switchback after switchback, instead of going up toward Tapto and Middle Lakes. I realized I was on the Little Beaver trail, which heads down valley for seven miles to Beaver Pass. I decided I’d follow it for a half hour then turn around. Some views of the glacier appeared, and I was happy enough with my wander. The sun was too low to shine on me, though, so mostly I was back in shade.

Top of Whatcom Pass, with Challenger Glacier

Challenger Glacier

Looking down into Little Beaver Valley

After thirty minutes, I took some pics and turned around.  Maybe I’d still have time to find the lakes, I thought. Distracted, I didn’t notice the black bear feasting on berries a mere 20 feet away. He (or she) saw me though, and bolted up the steep hill, in the direction I was going (of course!) Scared the crap out of me! I had just seen a bear on Mt. Dickerman 9 days previous, and two bear sightings in 10 days was more than I wanted. I scurried back up the hill just as fast as I could!

At the junction where I turned down, I went straight and headed toward Whatcom Arm. I knew this wasn’t in the direction of the lakes, but I wasn’t ready to head back just yet. I wandered a bit on a ever-diminishing trail that got rockier and rockier as it went, and soon deposited me in a scree field that went straight up. I wasn’t into a scree scramble, so I turned back towards camp.

Campsite excitement!

As I passed Derek’s site on the way to mine, I noticed it was empty. This puzzled me greatly. It also alarmed me. Now I was alone on Whatcom Pass with a bear nearby! I felt a bit anxious, but decided to embrace those feelings and be brave. I recited one of my self-compassion phrases to myself over and over: “May I stand strong and courageous in the face of fear!”  I did all my camp set up with a watchful eye, and cooked my dinner as far from my tent as the site would allow. I had great rocks for sitting and cooking, and I let myself relax into contentment.

Campsite at Whatcom Pass

View from my campsite

I was in this reverie of enjoyment, watching the setting sun. Suddenly I heard something moving into my campsite! In a split second, all calm was broken as I turned toward the noise. I thought for sure it was a bear! But instead, it was a burly, bear-like man coming round to my site. “Oh my gosh!” I said, totally startled and rattled. “I thought you were a bear!!”

The guy apologized, said he had just arrived, and wanted to see if anyone else was camping at the pass. Recovering my composure, I told him about my earlier bear encounter. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I’m with the Forest Service, and I will be right next door. If you have a night time visitor, just holler!” Apparently he’d set himself up in Derek’s vacated spot.

My sense of peace returned. I watched the light do it’s last dance on peaks across the valley, the colors of the sky gradually fading from their dramatic oranges and pinks. I settled myself in my tent and prepared for sleep. The wind had died, the night was still, and, admittedly, I was happy not be alone on the pass.







Day 7 John Muir Trail

Quail Meadows Junction to Rose Lake

Total JMT miles  —  11.3       Side Trip miles  —  1       Elevation gain/loss  —  +3060/-930

(Note to reader: If you are squeamish about bodily processes, or if you are a male, you may want to skip ahead in this post!) 

Day 7 started abruptly. I was awaken in my tent at 3:30 am…not by a bear, but by the sudden knowing that I was bleeding. I was suddenly and inexplicably having my second menstrual period in less than two weeks, after not having had one for four months prior to that. At 52, menopause is coming, and the periods had started coming less and less frequently. After one exceptionally heavy period on the road trip down to Yosemite, I was pretty darn sure that was it for the rest of the trail. I was relieved that it had come when it had, as any female backpacker will tell you, trying to manage a period in the wilderness is a challenge.

You can imagine my dismay when I started spotting the previous day, on my descent down from Silver Pass. I totally downplayed this, and assumed it was just residual. I had exactly six tampons with me from the last go around. I thought for sure that would get me through any spotting. When I suddenly awoke at 3:30, I knew I was full on into another heavy period. I jumped out of the tent, and, without going into detail, suffice it to say that I literally went down to the creek by flashlight to clean up in the water. Part of this had to do with my fear of bears, as bears and menstrual blood have a particularly mysterious and scary known connection. Cleaned up but worried, I lay back in my tent and considered my options:

  1. Catch the ferry to Vermillion Valley Ranch (VVR), and get tampons there. This would literally be an all day affair.
  2. Try to hang on with the supplies I had and make it to Muir Trail Ranch, which would not be until the following day. Plus supplies at MTR I knew were very limited, at least those you could purchase. The hiker food buckets are phenomenal, containing everything left behind by resupplying hikers who realize they have way too much stuff.  However, you can only access these buckets if you have a food drop at MTR, which I did not…
  3. Ask every age-appropriate female I encountered on the trail if she had any extra tampons she could spare. And hopefully get enough to get me through.

I mulled this over until daylight. I don’t like needing others, as this goes against my independent and self-sufficient spirit. Especially when it’s an unexpected need. I also felt a little betrayed by my body, and frustrated by this. I wanted to problem solve my way out of my dilemma alone, but I also didn’t want to lose an entire day doing so. Largely this had to do with the upcoming meeting with my food drop party in two days. I couldn’t afford to lose an entire day with a side trip to VVR, as I would not be able to make up the lost miles in time. The clear option became #3, and I resigned myself to bucking up and asking for help.

(That’s it for the bodily function part for now…)

I left my campsite knowing I was immediately in for a big climb. The climb up to Bear Ridge is a forested 4.5 miles, with 2000 feet of elevation gain. I remembered it well from last year. It’s not so much the overall gain, but there are no breaks in the steady uphill, and it’s tedious. Last year, I struggled; this year, I was completely ready for it. I gained the ridge in no time, not even needing a break on the way up. I felt empowered and strong, and it boosted my overall confidence in a big way. I was back in control of at least some physical things.

I took a well-deserved break at Bear Ridge Junction. Last year, we left the trail here for a fantastic side trip to Volcanic Knob. A quick word about side trips on the JMT. There are over 100 peaks accessible within two miles from the trail. I like nothing better than to ditch the backpack, get off trail, and go climb a peak. It breaks things up and vastly increases the overall experience. We did this a fair amount last year, especially in the first half of our trip before we lost our views to forest fire smoke. I absolutely loved the peaks and side trips, and I was strongly tempted to take off and go do Volcanic Knob again. But for the first half of my trip, I didn’t have that luxury.  I had to meet the food droop party on Day 9, at 127 JMT miles. I kept reminding myself of that, plus my current dilemma of needing to take care of my body’s needs.

Bear Creek

Bear Creek


Bear Creek "Victory Pose"

Bear Creek “Victory Pose”

So instead I took a good half hour break, snacking,  hydrating, and rearranging my hanging wet clothes from the previous night’s river encounter. As I was leaving, Rob from LA, who I had met at  Squaw Lake, hiked up. He called a friendly “Hello”, and prepared to move on after a moment.  Since I was ready to leave, I surprised myself by asking,  “Do you want to hike together for a bit”? Fit, trim, and just shy of 24 years old, I knew he was faster than me. But I also knew we were in for a two mile downhill stretch, and I felt confident I could stay with him. Also, as mentioned, his personality, energy, and demeanor were very similar to that of my 24 year old son,  Kyle. I felt the sudden desire for company, and time with a “substitute Kyle” seemed like a great idea! I very much enjoyed the next two miles, as we chatted and I learned about his JMT quest and how it came about. I told him he reminded me of Kyle, and he said that my doing the trail encouraged him to get his mom out to do something like the JMT. We had a mutually beneficial and inspirational rest of the morning, culminating with photos, and lunch at the waters of Bear Creek.

I left Rob to continue up Bear Creek to the Bear Lakes Basin. Was it just a coincidence that everything that day seemed to have BEAR in it’s name?? It certainly kept reminding me of my dilemma, and I knew I had to get serious in my quest for tampons. Over the next five miles, I asked the seven age-appropriate women I encountered if they had any to spare. I learned a lot, but only got one tampon. I was starting to get worried. I REALLY wanted to camp at Rose Lake that night, one mile off of the JMT. Gregg and I had been there the previous year, and I remembered it as an absolutely lovely and easily accessible lake, where I figured no one else would be. I was very intent on camping there. BUT, I did not feel comfortable heading off trail without supplies. The person I kept wanting to run into was solo hiker Ashley, as I KNEW she would have tampons. I could tell from our interactions that she was one prepared kind of gal. But I had not seen her since the previous evening, right before we both found campsites at Quail Meadows. I kept envisioning her on the trail, hoping my vivid mental image would turn into reality. I told myself if I didn’t see her or somehow get provisions by the junction, I would not go to Rose Lake.  Instead I would keep going until I found some way to get what I needed to get through the night and following day.

After intently holding the vision of Ashley for the previous five miles, I was not completely surprised to find her sitting and chilling at the junction of Rose Lake with Marcus and one other gal. I was ecstatic! My usually reserved demeanor broke into a huge and exuberant hello and hug for Ashley! I told her how happy I was to see her, how I had been envisioning her all day, and there she was! After asking Marcus’s pardon (he’s English, after all!), I explained my situation and need. Of course she had tampons, and an abundance there of, just as I had expected. She gave me a good supply, and told me she had MORE coming in her resupply at MTR, the following day. “If you need more”, she assured me, ” just ask!”  I was thrilled and relieved, and headed off to Rose Lake with a smile on my face and a sense of all being completely right with the world…as well as struck by the mystery and wonder of how things like that work out.

Rose Lake

Rose Lake

Evening at Rose Lake

Evening at Rose Lake

Everything at Rose Lake was perfect. From the previous year’s side trip, I knew exactly where to look for a campsite. As expected, no one was there. I had my choice of several sites, a whole lake and evening to myself, and hands down, this was my favorite campsite of the whole trip. I felt blessed, thankful, and restored in my sense that everything was working out just fine. I went to bed that night supremely happy and at peace.

Highlights of the day

Flying up Bear Ridge

Anytime something challenging comes up, to have something unexpectedly easy follow is always a relief. After the stressful early morning, the strength I felt climbing up Bear Ridge really boosted my spirits. It gave me a sense that if I could still knock off elevation with power and finesse, surely I could handle any miles and trials yet to come.

Hiking with Rob

Our two mile stretch and the time at the river, though brief, was fun and rewarding. After hiking alone for

Hiking buddy Rob

Hiking buddy Rob

the entire trip up to that point, it was nice to hike and talk with another person for awhile. It made me realize just how much I had missed the

Hiking with Kyle last Spring

Hiking with Kyle last Spring

company of a good connection.  It helped, of course, that the time with Rob made me feel warm and fuzzy, as it reminded me of all the hikes Kyle and I have taken together in the past.

Running into Ashley at Rose Lake Junction

This was a highlight for obvious reasons. Not only did I get my feminine hygiene supplies, but it was certainly another instance of uncanny, perfect timing. Again, similar to the day I ran into Shannon and Kevin on the trail, I

"Trail Angel" Ashley

“Trail Angel” Ashley

felt that sense of being just one player in a much bigger picture. As with so many previous occurrences on this trip, I felt strongly guided.  I KNEW that I was supposed to be just where I was, doing just what I was doing. I don’t particularly like the phrase “Trail Angel”, but Ashley was definitely that for me on that day. She appeared just at the right time, and eased my stress and worry completely just by being there….and by having tampons, of course!

Camping at Rose Lake

Rose Lake at Sunset

Rose Lake at Sunset

This calm and private lake, after stressing for much of the day on what if’s,was just what I needed. I had a leisurely afternoon swim, pleasant dinner, and sunset views off the lake and peaks. That evening was actually the first time I had seen any clouds since starting the trail, and they added a rich dimension to the  scene. I felt deep gratitude to be on the trail, at that lake, and back into the zone that all was well.

Lessons of the day

More needless worries…

That file I started after Day 1? Of things I worried about that never came to fruition? That file got fuller on Day 7. I watched myself worry about the what if’s…What if I couldn’t find anybody with tampons? What if I had to take a whole day to get some and consequently missed my food drop party on Day 9? What if I had to use TP and became a bear magnet? What if, what if…? As I hiked the miles, I kept myself somewhat diverted from these worries with the intense physicality of powering up Bear Ridge, the fun distraction of hiking with Rob, and the practice of visualizing Ashley on the trail…all of that took place simultaneously woven in with my obsessive worry. And what was the worry for? It all worked out. Everything was fine, and, in the end, I got exactly what I needed. Would I have had the same result if I had not worried so much about it? I don’t know the answer to that, but watching myself be in the process of dilemma arising, worrying about it, and problem solving it all in the space of aa day was a highly valuable experience for me.

Incorporate in the unexpected.

This goes without saying. You cannot possibly be prepared for everything on a trip like the JMT…or in life in general. I could have carried tampons for another period, a tourniquet for a broken limb, extra clothes, food, and provisions for a trip that lasted 30 days instead of 20… After initially beating myself up for “not being prepared” with extra female supplies, at some point I realized that I could only be prepared for what I reasonably thought MIGHT happen. Beyond that, I would just have to deal with and problem solve in the moment as the moments unfolded. As I lay in my tent in the utter peace and watchfulness of Rose Lake, I felt good about how I had handled myself well through the unexpected that day. Not perfectly, perhaps, but certainly good enough to move confidently into the rest of my days on the trail.









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.











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