Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Food resupply

Day 15 John Muir Trail

Dollar Lake to Charlotte Lake

Total JMT miles — 7.2          Side trip miles  — 3         Elevation gain/loss —  +2150/-2015

My perfect campsite at Dollar Lake was even more magical with the promise of morning sun. It was still mostly dark when I emerged from the tent, but I could tell the skies were clear. I was extremely grateful to have weathered rain for parts of three days, and figured I was due for a return of that good old Sierras-in-August sunshine! With the weather stabilized, I let my mind wander, and became somewhat melancholy as I prepared breakfast. I realized that my trip was slowly coming to an end.  As I ate and wrote, watching the morning sun glint off nearby Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford, I became reflective. Dollar Lake, at 172.4 miles, was less than 50 miles from the summit of Whitney, where my trip would end. I wasn’t anywhere near  ready for it to end, and thankfully I still had five more days. I vowed to myself that I would enjoy each of the last five days to the fullest.

Early light on Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford

Early light on Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford

Campsite at Dollar Lake

Campsite at Dollar Lake

I took my time over breakfast and coffee, taking advantage of the sun’s rays to lay out my tent, fly, and sleeping bag for some solar drying power. I was in no hurry. The days mileage was short, only 7.2 JMT miles to where I was meeting Dave for a food drop at Charlotte Lake Junction. My plan was to scoot down to Charlotte (.9 miles off the JMT),  find a campsite, then hike back up to meet Dave at 3 pm. Along the way, I planned for a swim in Rae Lakes, a set of three lakes that are simply divine. I had not been in the water for five days, due to the rain. I was ecstatic that the weather looked like it would cooperate with my intentions for a dunk on this day.  All told, I descended from my morning camp in a fabulous mood.

Landslide into Dollar Lake from Diamond Peak

Landslide into Dollar Lake from Diamond Peak

Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford

Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford

The Rae Lakes Basin

The Rae Lakes Basin

It was still early when I arrived at Middle Rae Lake, the lake of choice for bathing. I had the place almost to myself, with only one late start backpacker still lingering. I found a small beach off a meadow by the lakeshore. I rinsed some clothes, then waded in fully, completely enjoying the cool water and glorious sunshine. I sat on the shore of the lake for a long while, basking in the warmth and beauty.  I was supremely content and feeling great.  While I was reluctant to leave the lake, I was looking forward to the next several miles which are beautiful beyond description. The trail continues around Middle then Upper Rae Lake, then two other lakes above, as you ascend Glen Pass. Views surround in every direction…looking ahead, around, and back at the lakes while climbing the pass. I remembered this pass from last year as being challenging, as it has a “false finish” where you think you’re done but you’re not.  I was mentally prepared on this day, though, and moved quickly up to the 11,970 ft. pass.

Upper Rae Lake and Mt. Rixford

Upper Rae Lake and Mt. Rixford

Looking back at Rae Lakes, Painted Lady visible in background

Looking back at Rae Lakes, Painted Lady visible in background

It was busy at the pass. There was an extended family of sorts, an 11 year old son with his father, mother, and grandfather. The 11 year old was doing great, and I could tell the parents and grandfather were very proud of him. They were out for five days, not doing the entire JMT, but were really enjoying having their son/grandson out in the environment for likely his first time. I had a good time people-watching, both this group and several others who were up there. For some reason, all of the people on the pass that day were ones I had not previously met or encountered. It is at this point, in fact, on the JMT, when you run into backpackers traveling the High Sierra Route (click here for more info). This route travels 200 miles in the High Sierras, and rarely drops below 10,000 feet. The route is also rarely on a formal trail, and very challenging on all levels — the route-finding, the extreme nature of the route (33 passes in 200 miles), and the uneven nature of the terrain. If I was 20 years younger, I would no doubt be considering this route as a possible one for next summer’s adventure. I remember from last year the jealousy I felt for people that were doing such an “extreme” version of the JMT, that their young bodies could pull off something that, sadly, I will probably never be able to do. But chatting with some folks up to just that on the top of Glen Pass gave me a sense of being right there with them on their adventure.

Top of Glen Pass

Top of Glen Pass

View from Glen Pass

View from Glen Pass

Dropping down off the pass, it’s a short 2.3 miles and 1200 feet loss in elevation to the junction to Charlotte Lake. I knew I was on schedule to reach the junction early enough to make it down to the lake to find a campsite before hiking back up to meet Dave at 3 pm. I cruised right along, comforted and watched over by all the surrounding peaks. I passed the sign to Kearsage Pass, the pass that Dave would be hiking in on, and soon after arrived at the big, open,  sandy area that was the junction to Charlotte Lake. I hiked down the steep .9 miles, and started looking for a site. I found a prime spot, close to the incoming trail, at the beginning of a second trail that parallels the lake, and got all set up. I scurried back up to the sandy junction, arriving there at 2:45. I sat on a flat rock right in the middle of the junction, eating the last of my food, knowing that Dave was bringing me five days worth. As I polished off my last packet of peanut butter, I wondered for a brief moment what I would do if Dave didn’t show up. I knew that was extremely unlikely, as Dave is as reliable as they come. Just in case I made a quick back up plan, to hike out Kearsarge Pass and get food in Bishop if absolutely necessary.

Waiting for Dave at Sandy Junction

Waiting for Dave at Sandy Junction

I didn’t have long to entertain my worries. At 3:02 pm, a man in a pale blue dress shirt, no shoes, and head cover called out “Is that you, Kathie?” Dave had been sitting in the shade for 30 minutes, waiting for me to come from the direction of the JMT. Since I had dropped down to Charlotte first, I was not coming from the direction he predicted. In effect, we had both been sitting there for 15 minutes waiting for each other, me in the sun, he in the shade, without being able to see each other. I was relieved and so happy to see him! After a warm greeting hug, he told me Olivia had tried to hike in with him over the pass, but she got stopped because they had their dog. She was waiting somewhere along the trail, while Dave made the rest of the 7.4 mile trek alone. I told him of my days since I had seen him last, especially about the weather and summiting Split Mountain. It was a short visit, as he had to get back to Olivia and the dog, but I got my five days of food, and he took my garbage. Again, what a great deal for me — gain food, lose garbage, and  all in the presence of a smiling and familiar face.

With Dave at Sandy Junction

With Dave at Sandy Junction

Charlotte Lake

Charlotte Lake

I dropped back down to Charlotte, happy as can be. I had the rest of afternoon and evening at Charlotte Lake, and now had food to get me through the rest of my trip. The sun was out, the temperature was perfect, and all was extremely well in my world. When I returned to the lake, I rinsed some clothes, read for a bit, then decided on an early dinner. After dinner, I was heading up to find a spot to serve as a bathroom, when I looked down and saw two male campers looking right up at me, almost directly from my campsite. Clearly, they were looking to set up camp right there…less than 30 feet from me. I was super irritated, again, as I KNEW there were multitudes of campsites all along the Lake. It was an odd and disturbing deja vu…of Red’s Meadow, and of South Fork Kings in the rain.  Again, I asked myself, what is it about people that they would chose to voluntarily camp in someone’s space, when there are so many other sites around?  When I dropped back down to my site, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, as I was frustrated and beyond politeness. So instead, I secured my camp, and went for a walk. I walked all along the shore of Charlotte Lake, and it was just lovely as the sun dropped low in the skies surrounding the lake.

I got back to camp, right as the sun set. I was a bit calmer, but still irritated with my campsite mates. I knew there was nothing I could do about it, and at least they were older men, and hopefully not too loud. They were just finishing up their dinner when I returned. We all went about our evening business, and they talked to each other but I didn’t say anything to either of them. I knew I needed to have a night’s rest to calm down, and decide how I wanted to be with them in the morning. I was still happy to be camping at Charlotte Lake, and vowed to be kind the following morning.

Highlights of the day

Rae Lakes in all their splendor!

The Rae Lakes are so popular and beautiful that they limit camping here to two nights per party. I don’t know how they enforce those rules, but it must  happen, because the lakes were not at all crowded when I went by. To be able to jump in Middle Rae in the middle of the day, unclothed, and not be seen by anyone, indicates that they are doing something right as it relates to preserving this spectacular environment.

Rae Lakes from way up Glen Pass

Rae Lakes from way up Glen Pass

 

Middle Rae Lake with Mt. Cedric Wright and Crater Mountain in back

Middle Rae Lake with Mt. Cedric Wright and Crater Mountain in back

Glen Pass

As mentioned, last year I let this pass get the better of me. I knew this year would be different, since I knew what to expect. I also have worked through to a large degree my pass dread, and I try not to get too wrapped up in worry about what is to come. And being on the pass was great too, as I got to watch families and those doing the Sierra High Route share stories and accomplishments. Once again, the passes never get old, and the victory of picking off yet another one was substantial.

Glen Pass

Glen Pass

Meeting up with Dave

What can I say? I felt incredibly fortunate to have Dave so willingly agree to bring five days of food over Kearsage pass. The original plan was to have Dave, Oliver and Olivia bring over all ten days earlier in the trip. This would have been a struggle on many levels, as carrying ten days of food adds over 20 pounds to one’s pack. I wasn’t at all excited about that. Plus, trying to fit ten days of food into a bear canister is simply not possible, at least with the amount of food I bring. So when Dave offered to split the food and hike the second portion over Kearsage, I was beyond thankful. I also know Dave well enough to realize that if he volunteers to do something, he is totally into it. And seeing his smiling face in the middle of the sandy pit just made my day!

Lessons of the day

The joy of sunshine after rain…

Black Mountain, Blue Rae Lakes, and blue skies!

Black Mountain, Blue Rae Lakes, and blue skies!

I cannot overstate how much the return of the sun improved my spirits. I find it simply impossible to be crabby when the sun is out. I think the perspective I gained from hiking in the rain was invaluable…and being on the other side made it all the more cheerful and special.

More mental adaptation is necessary…

I couldn’t believe I had another night of campers in my space! First I cannot fathom why people choose to camp right near where someone has already established camp. Granted, once someone has decided to camp near the lake, my spot was the first one they would come to. But there were many, many other excellent sites just a bit further down the trail.

But if I step back enough to walk in another’s shoes, I can empathize with a party trying to find a spot as quickly as possible. That was certainly the case with me on Day 8 (Goddard Junction), when I just plunked down wherever I could find a spot after an extremely long mileage day. So I tried to give it some perspective, and not be too irritable. In reality, their presence only slightly altered my enjoyment of Charlotte Lake. The the other side of the coin is how I can manage my attitudes and reactions, really the only two things I can control.

On the whole, It was a beautiful lake, with a great campsite, a supreme lake walk, and sunset views. It doesn’t get much better than that. And each time I am presented with an opportunity to adapt to change, it is worthwhile….despite my resistance. Apparently, life’s lessons keep showing up until we get them!

 

Day 9 John Muir Trail

Goddard Canyon Junction to Wanda Lake

Total JMT miles  —  11.8             Elevation gain/loss  —  +2900/-0

Day 9 was interesting in all respects. I awoke feeling nostalgic and thoughtful. Today was the day to meet up with my three friends–Oliver, his brother Dave, and Dave’s daughter Olivia–to both receive a food resupply from them and to hang out for two days and nights until parting ways on Day 11. They were to hike in over an intensely challenging pass, Le Marc Col, and drop down to Evolution Lake, then continue along the JMT to Wanda Lake, where we had arranged to meet at 5 pm. I would be headed up to Evolution Lake, and doing the same stretch of the JMT, until the meeting at 5:00. We didn’t try to arrange a get-together earlier in the day, or sooner in mileage, because there were too many variables to predict who would be where, and when. So the end of the day at Wanda was the plan.

I therefore had all day to be in my head and prepare for my time with them. After eight full days alone, I was mostly excited to see them and looking forward to sharing stories with familiar faces. Also, however, I had some mixed feelings, as Oliver is a former boyfriend with whom I had only recently rekindled a friendship. In our past life together, we had done a multitude of hikes and backpacking trips, including one with my daughter, Shannon, in the Sierras in the summer of 2012, the first time I visited the beautiful country I was now in. While I loved many aspects of that first trip to the Sierras, our time was unfortunately clouded with some heavy conflict. While I had pretty much worked through all that, it was interesting (to say the least) to anticipate traveling familiar territory again with Oliver under very different and much better circumstances.

Alas, with relationships on my mind, the early morning at Goddard Canyon campsite saw me watching the nearby couples (the ones with all the laundry hanging in camp) packing up and heading out. There were two couples, and they worked quietly and compatibly even before daylight, to get packed up and move out. They were on the trail by 6:30! I was impressed with their efficiency and obvious effective partnerships. As I watched, ate breakfast, and did my morning writing, I reflected further about relationships and my current state of being alone vs. my very real desire to have a partner:  both to do things with and in my life overall.

Also on my mind was last year’s JMT hiking partner, Gregg. While he and I had partnered very well for the most part during two fabulous summers of intense hiking and backpacking together, we found that we did not have enough in common in the rest of our lives to sustain the relationship. That relationship ended in spring 2016. This topic then–of relationships past, my current state of being alone, and my desire for future partnership–accompanied me throughout Day 9.

Evolution Creek

Evolution Creek

I got organized and on the trail by 7:45 am. The first task before me was the Evolution Creek wade, 1.6 miles after leaving camp. Even in the mid-August dry season, this creek is only passable by wading right through it. I remembered this from last year, stressing and debating with Gregg, shoes on or off, sandals or bare feet, what was the best way to do it? We finally both just walked through with our boots on, as it seemed safest and easiest. This year, I didn’t give it a second thought. I walked right in, boots on, using my poles for balance as I crossed. Getting my feet and boots wet, yet having stability for the crossing, far surpassed any other plan given my surgically repaired feet and unstable knee. On the other side, I didn’t even stop to change my socks, figuring I’d walk for an hour or so, give things a chance to dry out, then stop.

But my already reflective mood was magnified ten-fold during the next several miles as my soggy feet and I trudged along. It was during this stretch of trail on last year’s trip that Gregg and I first became aware of smoke from the Rogue Fire, an event that dramatically changed the remainder of our trip.  From the moment the first hiker told us of smoke, the air on the JMT suddenly shifted. It wasn’t even the smoke itself at first, but it was the talk of smoke. From the shores of Evolution Creek until the end of our hike, the smoke, with all it’s ramifications, was to be a continual topic of conversation and concern… between Gregg and I, among all passing hikers, and with the rangers we encountered along the trail. Many hikers left the trail, abandoning their JMT quest altogether. Some kept on, wearing face masks and hankies to shield themselves from smoke. The visibility, as reported by the rangers, was down to 1/4 mile. Long story short, after 24 hours of discussion and considering all variables, Gregg and I decided to persevere with our quest. We continued the 100 + miles remaining on the JMT, and yes we had obscured views, but not completely and certainly not all the time. We also had the trail practically to ourselves periodically, especially in the first few days. It was eerie how quiet it became after so many hikers left. On the whole, we were extremely happy that we did continue…and the smoke also added an incentive for me to return this year, to see all that I had missed in year one because of it.

Somewhere along the trail...

Somewhere along the trail…

It was on this same five-mile stretch–from Evolution creek to the base of Darwin Canyon, which ascends to Evolution Valley, Basin, and Lake–that I spent the remainder of my morning walking, stopping, contemplating, and reminiscing. The trail winds through three meadows, Evolution, McClure and Colby. It’s a magical place of cascading waterfalls, canyons, and eventually fantastic views of the basin’s peaks…all named after the founders and developers of evolutionary science.

A brief and interesting side note about the naming of Evolution Valley and it’s surroundings: In  1895, a Stanford professor and visionary of the JMT, Theodore Solomons, named the six prominent peaks he could see from his post in what he came to call Evolution Basin. He called them Darwin, Fiske, Haeckel, Huxley, Spencer and

Mt. Huxley

Mt. Huxley

Mts. Darwin and Mendal

Mts. Darwin and Mendal

Wallace, in honor of the prominent proponents of the newly identified field of evolutionary science. Mt. Mental was later added to the grouping. He also named Evolution Creek and Lake, with the associated Valley and Basin in between.  Solomons wrote of the naming: “I could think of none more fitting than the great evolutionists, so at one in their devotion to the sublime in nature”.  This lore and history adds significantly to the intrigue of the place, where one perceives clearly how the formation and slow change of the physical world in the long-distant past has created a magical environment for us to enjoy today.

So there I was, entertaining heavy thoughts about past trips in the area with past partners while wandering through this magical place named after pioneers in the field of evolutionary science. I felt like anything but “the fittest” speciman of the human species during those miles, and I am thankful that not only the fittest survive the JMT! I was slow, easily distracted, constantly taking breaks, and basically in a highly unsettled and extremely inefficient hiking state. While I cannot say exactly why I moved so slowly and aimlessly, I know that having all of the above thoughts on my mind was somewhat overwhelming.  It took me over four hours to cover the six + miles to a particular set of switchbacks that I had been anticipating all morning. I had done the switchbacks twice the previous year with Gregg: once when we day hiked up to Darwin’s Bench to see how much the smoke was really affecting things, and the following morning after we decided to stay on the JMT. I KNEW once I hit those switchbacks I would finally hit my stride, but it took me all morning to get there.

Finally, I hit the switchbacks, and the switch flipped on! Similar to past experiences gaining passes or ridges, I flew up the switchbacks, urgently yet effortlessly. Past the cut off to Darwin’s bench, and past the last stunted trees, and into the opening of Evolution Basin and Evolution Lake. I was so very grateful to be there. It was a weird, rough morning in many ways, and breaking out to the lake was immensely rewarding. I was moving right along, keeping a steady, fast pace, while glancing over at the lake. There were several parties of folks, some doing yoga on the shore, others eating and resting. I wondered briefly if any of them were Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, but I knew none of them would be doing yoga! As I continued around the lake, though, I was met with three smiling faces when I came upon them on the far shore having a late lunch. Oh, what perfect timing! My feeling of relief multiplied, as I knew in that moment I would experience no other stress that day…about schedules, being on time, or wondering if the planning of where and when to meet would all work

Evolution Lake, Mt. Huxley (left), Goddard Divide (right)

Evolution Lake, Mt. Huxley (left), Goddard Divide (right)

Oliver, Olivia, and Dave at Evolution Lake

Oliver, Olivia, and Dave at Evolution Lake

out. There they were, and as happy to see me as I was to see them!

After rounds of hugs, I ate the remainder of my lunch with them, and we shared stories about their very challenging route over Le Marc Col and my time on the trail. As we all hiked the remaining 2.3 miles together to Wanda Lake, my fears

Mt. Solomon (left) and Goddard Divide, on the trail to Wanda Lake

Mt. Solomon (left) and Goddard Divide, on the trail to Wanda Lake

and anxieties continued to dissolve. I felt at peace, relaxed, and reassured by the ease with which we all fell into hiking and being together. We took a leisurely break at Sapphire Lake, a simply beautiful, deeply hued lake. I loved this lake so much last year, I

Sapphire Lake

Sapphire Lake

Sapphire the kitty

Sapphire the kitty

named my cat after it, for her deep blue eyes.

 We reached the shores of Wanda Lake (named after one of John Muir’s daughters) about 4:00, ahead of

Wanda Lake

Wanda Lake

our projected 5:00 meeting time. We shared a truly lovely evening together, including a swim for me (Wanda Lake, at 11, 380 elevation, is no bathtub!), dinner, and a beautiful sunset. I felt thankful and so appreciative to them for hiking over to meet me, especially upon learning how challenging the route was. Of all methods of receiving food on the JMT, a hand delivery is hands down the best…and I was blessed to be the recipient of that. And I appreciated the added bonus of hanging out with the three of

Campsite at Wanda

Campsite at Wanda

Warm clothes after a dunk in Wanda Lake

Warm clothes after a dunk in Wanda Lake

them for a couple of days, which I was very much looking forward to. As I took final pictures of the glorious sprawl laid before me before crawling into bed I felt a sense of complete peace and satisfaction.

Highlights of the day

Going to the place of thinking about relationships.

So much of why I went on the trip alone had to do with coming into my own…as a strong woman, independent of any need for a man to support me. This is a much bigger topic than a blog post highlight, but on this day I actually started thinking about what I really want in my life in terms of relationships.  I allowed the idea to creep in that there is a part of me that wants a romantic partner. I realized that being independent and solo has its place and time, and I was thrilled to be doing just that. But the events and memories of the day DID cause me to start really considering what I want for my life in the future. I don’t have it all figured out, most assuredly, but I did get back to the place of acknowledging that when the time is right, partnership IS something that matters to me…as much as this fierce desire to capture and get comfortable in my alone time.

Meeting up with the group at Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

This was another example of Perfect Timing on the trip. These occurrences, when things worked out beautifully despite my fears, stopped surprising me after this. I won’t say I came to expect them, but I did come to accept them. For whatever reason, the universe, God, or whatever one may choose to call it, really wanted me on that trip, at that time in my life, and a relatively smooth path continued to be laid out before me. I’m not saying it was easy, but I knew I was where I needed to be and my confidence that things would be OK grew stronger. I could not have better planned running into Oliver, Dave, and Olivia had I tried. It’s worth noting that it took me ALL MORNING, and then some, to get to where they were hanging. If I had moved more quickly through the lower meadows and creeks, I would have missed them. Somehow, my intense head-space kept me slow, and there I was, arriving at the shores of Evolution Lake, right as the three sat relaxing and lunching. Just a coincidence? I choose not to think so.

Lessons of the day

Hang in there with yourself, even if the self is burdened by stuff!

During that six plus mile stretch, before finally reaching the switchbacks, I felt quite overwhelmed by stuff. There was seemingly “too much” going on in my brain, thoughts swirling around like smoldering smoke after an extinguished fire. I was trying to keep my thoughts and reflections in perspective and at bay, but they kept appearing and reappearing, played out in different scenarios. I couldn’t seem to put them to rest. But I hung in there and kept going with it all, the heavy blanket of existential stuff, while wandering through a highly inspired stretch of trail. It was, at times, surreal. Once I hit my stride, though, I was able to let the heavy stuff start falling away. Each step I took, each switchback I gained, I felt lighter and more confident that by hanging in there and in fact indulging the morning feelings of being overwhelmed, I could start letting it go as I moved along. By the time I reached the top and the lake, I felt 20 pounds lighter, and in a great head-space to encounter my friends. And it’s fortunate…as I would be taking on the ten plus pounds of food they had carried over for me. 🙂

Sometimes, you just have to lighten up!

What I liked most about encountering Oliver, Dave, and Olivia, was watching their easy demeanor with each other. I have been around Oliver and Dave before, but never the three of them together. I had last seen Olivia when she was 15; now she was a mature, smart, inquisitive 19 year old, headed off to her second year of college. She had done the entire JMT the previous year with another young gal, and we had a great time talking about our experiences hiking the trail, as solo and semi-solo women. The whole adventure for the three of them had evolved over the previous months, from Oliver’s idea to come join me on a stretch of trail, to Dave saying perhaps he’d come too, and Olivia accompanying them to spend time with her dad and uncle before going back to college. Overall, it was a great set up. Since I am a people watcher by nature, I enjoyed watching the banter between the three, how they interacted and joked with each other. It reminded me to not take myself so seriously!! That theme kept coming up–how seriously I take myself and my life–and I was able to, for my time with them, be immersed with folks who reminded me to just relax, enjoy the moments, and remember to laugh and smile.

THANK YOU, OLIVER, DAVE, AND OLIVIA, FOR YOUR KINDNESS IN BRINGING ME FOOD ON THE TRAIL!

Last light at Wanda Lake

Last light at Wanda Lake

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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