Rose Lake to Goddard Canyon Junction
Total JMT Miles — 15.7 Side trip miles — 3.5 Elevation gain/loss — +1450/-3000
I awoke early at Rose Lake after a night of relatively poor sleep. I had set up my tent on a slight downhill slant, and ended up sleeping with my head tilting down. I had the feeling of a head rush all night, despite my best attempts to bolster with pillows, and consequently it was a rough night. I was ready to leave Rose Lake at 7:30. I felt some sadness relinquishing my solitude, and took a last lingering look and photo of the lake backdropped by a cloudless morning. I knew I had a very long day ahead of me. My plan after backtracking to the JMT was to knock off as many miles as I could, including a brief side trip to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I needed to get in the miles, as I had an arrangement to meet my food drop party the following day at 5 pm at a designated spot. I had 27 JMT miles to where I was meeting them, and my logic was that, if I put in a long day on Day 8, about 19 total (counting side trips), that would leave me with just 11 for the following day. I really didn’t want to feel anxious about meeting them on time, and I was willing to push hard on day 8 to avoid that.
The conditions were good for putting in miles. The weather was clear, and, while there was one pass to climb, on the whole it was a day of more elevation loss than gain.
But 19 and miles is still 19 miles, and I wanted to stay focused and deliberate in my plan to pull it off. I was bolstered by the fact that the day’s mileage held the promise of several stellar lakes. The first lake I encountered was Marie Lake, and she’s a beauty. Rob and Marcus had camped at Marie Lake, and were still lingering in camp when I came up around 9:00.
I talked with them for awhile, taping my chafed shoulders and shooting the breeze about the backpacking life and our trail experiences of the past 24 hours. We had a relaxed, easy conversation as they packed up their camp, and I enjoyed the camaraderie immensely. I left them still packing, progressed around Marie Lake, and began the ascent to Selden Pass. The climb up the pass was easy, helped by the outrageous views looking back at Marie Lake as I went. It doesn’t get much better than that!
I reached the pass with ease. Marcus and Rob arrived shortly after, and flew right on by. I stayed a bit, as I was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful morning and being on the pass. I didn’t want to rush off, but a goal is a goal, and I made myself get up and at ’em. After the initial steep descent off the pass, the trail passed by several other fabulous lakes and crossed and re-crossed their incoming and outgoing creeks. It’s here one starts to run out of superlatives, as the views in the area are breathtaking. Heart Lake is followed by Upper then Lower Sallie Keyes Lakes. As I hiked, I felt like Alice dropped into a wonderland of lakes, creeks, and peaks. Pictures do more justice than words…
Then, rather suddenly, the lakes were all gone and the going got tedious. It’s another long slog down the JMT to the cutoff to MTR, then another steep descent to get there. I had mixed feelings about going into MTR. It’s a strange resort, with a clear tier of acceptance. If you are a guest of the ranch, you pay dearly financially, but get to use all their amenities, including shower, toilet, meals, and a place to sleep. If you are a through hiker resupplying there, you can pick up your food, and peruse the vast food bins that are full of other hiker’s items they didn’t want or need, from food to TP to batteries…you name it, it’s there. You can take what you need and leave what you don’t want. You can also fill your water bottles and shop in their very limited store as a resupplier, but you can’t use their bathroom.
Last year, we picked up a large, ten day food supply at MTR, which lasted us the rest of the trip. It was fun and interesting perusing the dozens of food buckets…I am convinced you could live off the food in those buckets for six months! This year, I had not mailed my food there, and my status was reduced to a mere nobody! I worried that I may not even be able to dump my garbage, but decided I would just do it anyway. I also wanted to see Ashley, Marcus, and Rob one more time. I was fearful that the two upcoming days with my friends who were hand delivering my food would put me far enough behind that I might not catch back up to them, and I wanted to get their emails for future communication. And so, despite the intensely warm day (the temperature at MTR read 87 degrees!), I took the side trip. All was accomplished, as I did see the three soloists turned triad, and I got rid of my garbage. I left MTR at 2:00, to beat a hasty retreat back to the JMT and finish out the last 7 miles of my day.
It was a couple of miles after I returned to the JMT that I started getting “weird in the head” again. This had happened on Day 1, heading up Sunrise Mountain. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but I was lightheaded, spacey, and ungrounded, and felt like my head was almost disconnected from the rest of my body. None of those are good ways to feel while backpacking! This time, I attributed it to the heat more than anything else. Since I had just taken a break at MTR a couple miles before, I kept trying to keep going and ignore my weird head space. But I asked myself, is it worth it to stay mission oriented, if the result is to pass out or fall? I realized that I just needed to take a break, and abandoned my determination. I dumped my pack, ate, drank, and sat. I still had about 5 miles to go, the last 4 uphill. I began to worry I might not be able to do it. I let myself give up the expectation that I HAD to do it, and decided I would check in with myself again at Piute Junction, a mile or so further along.
Piute Junction held special significance for me from last year, and I knew I would be STRONGLY tempted to stop there and camp. Piute Creek crashes down into enchanting pools, into which we had dunked the previous year, and it’s very soothing and relaxing. It also marks where the JMT leaves the John Muir Wilderness and enters Kings Canyon National Park. This boundary designates the High Sierras, and, the peaks just keep getting higher and the views more and more spectacular after that. But it’s also an uphill stretch from Piute Junction to Goddard Canyon Junction, where I was planning to camp. At Piute, I analyzed my options. One part of me wanted to keep going, and I knew I would feel better about the next day if I did. But I felt equally as pulled to stay and set up camp and reminisce. Last year after our swim I had done a solo day hike (the only one of the trip) up Piute Canyon while Gregg read in camp. I think in some way, my enjoyment of that solo hike planted the first seed of thought to do a solo trip of the JMT, although it would be four months after my return before that thought took concrete shape. I loved that afternoon hike, and I was drawn to the idea of just hanging and writing and remembering. But eventually my desire for a short day the next one won out, and I re-shouldered my pack and continued.
The last four miles were physically some of the hardest of my whole trip. I was tired, not mentally really there, and still feeling dizzy. I had food, water, and resolve, though, and that got me through. Also, the views looking down at the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, as it tumbled over the dark, metamorphic rock kept me satisfactorily enthralled, and on my toes. Drop offs were intense, and I made sure not to get too close in my dizzy head space. Finally I arrived at Goddard Canyon Junction about 6:00 pm. In my semi-desperation to be done with the day, I did not take time to look around, and took the first campsite I found. It was a crowded place, with large campsites shared among multiple users. I ended up camping at the edge of a site taken up by a large, multi-tent party with long clotheslines strung out across camp. Honestly, I was tired enough that I didn’t really care. I set up tent, cooked my dinner, and got in the tent even before dark to read and write. While I was certainly aware of the crowd of surrounding campers, I was spent enough that I didn’t really give them a second thought. I was proud of myself for doing the long day plus the side trip, and I went to bed tired but relieved that I had properly set myself up for the next day.
Highlights of the day
The contrasts of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, solitude and people.
It was unquestionably a day of big variety. I started out completely alone at a magical high elevation mountain lake. I witnessed and hiked past many more lovely lakes and crossed the streams heading into and out of them multiple times. I reached the top of a pass with unparalleled views. Then I headed down, down, down, into the heat of the day and the curious setting of MTR. I got email addresses from my friends, then left them at MTR to continue on alone. I struggled with my headspace and inclinations for the entire next 7 miles. I felt physically challenged but emotionally confident in pressing on. I knowingly slept amongst the masses as I was too tired to look for my coveted solitude.
My sense of accomplishment about the day…
On the whole, the feeling I had at the end of the day was satisfaction and great relief. It was a bit of a stretch to get the 19 miles in, but it didn’t deplete me. I didn’t run out of daylight, which of course I worried about, and I still had enough energy to set up camp and eat and do all the necessary end of day things. I let myself feel the victory of a job well done, managing a day of calculated decisions that led to me being in the place I wanted to be at the time I wanted to be there.
Lessons of the day
Pay attention to the ground beneath you when putting down roots.
I learned a much bigger lesson at Rose Lake than just how to position my tent. Let’s face it, it’s not always flat out there! Sometimes we are forced into “setting up camp” when the ground is tilted or uneven. When that happens, it’s highly beneficial to set yourself up as carefully as possible at the outset, to maximize the possibility of comfort and ease. There are several things I COULD have done differently, both in my choice of site and in how I set up my “house”, which I didn’t realize until I was well into the night of challenge. First, I could have looked for a slightly different site, as there were others just a bit up that were flatter then the one I chose. I was so happy to be at Rose Lake, I rather impulsively chose the biggest site, although in retrospect it may not have been the best. You know what they say about that…Secondly, in my site, I could have and should have set up my tent to angle down, head higher, feet lower. I simply didn’t think about it, and instead thought of where I wanted my head to be in relationship to the lake. How often in life do we act based on the thoughts and desires of our heads, not our hearts?? And finally, I could have reconfigured myself inside the tent early on in the night, once I realized my mistake. I could have turned around, literally, to reposition myself with head high and feet low. But I didn’t do that either, telling myself it was too much hassle and I should just tough it out. Like in life, a small adjustment early on could have entirely alleviated the following 8 hours of discomfort.
Trust your intuition.
I have a life-long habit of pushing things to the extreme, especially physically. I have trained for 5 marathons, and run zero because I got injured during training every time. I have struggled finding the balance between my desire to be physically active and accomplish great feats, and work with the orthopedically challenged body that I live in. It’s an ongoing day by day endeavor, and I came to the JMT with the resolve to NOT push too hard physically, so as to make sure I was enjoying the process and respecting my body physically. On this day, that boundary was blurred by my strong desire to get somewhere to set myself up for an easier something to follow. I asked myself over and over, should I stop or keep on? In the end, my intuition won out. I strongly felt that the satisfaction associated with being there would be worth the challenge to get there. And it was.
It’s all a matter of perspective…
It’s worth noting here what the range of time frames is in which people undertake the John Muir Trail. Some plan 30 or more days for the 220 miles. The fastest recorded record of a single person doing the trail (with support) is 3 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes! There is a lot of room in between those time frames. The “average” person plans 21 days. I planned 19 or 20, which equals out to about 11 miles a day. Incorporate in some side trips, and the average comes closer to 13 or so. I knew I had to average 14 in the first 9 days to reach my party on Day 9. That’s not counting any side trips. I felt challenged by 19 miles, but 14 felt fine. For some, 20 is a short day. Some choose long days in a very short overall time frame, so as to travel light and fast. Some choose short days in a long time frame, to really take it all in. I chose the middle ground. While intention is always good, flexibility, allowing for variation, and maintaining a positive outlook even when things don’t go as planned is what it’s really all about. I was to keep learning that lesson in the days and weeks to come.