Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: hiking alone (page 1 of 2)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post John Muir Trail — Last Day — Virginia Lakes Day Hike

Virginia Lakes Day Hike, onto the Reno Airport, then back to Bellingham

Miles hiked — Approximately 9

This is it, there is no way around it. At the end of this day, I will be on a plane flying home to Bellingham and my JMT adventure will be over. I am sad to know this when I wake up on this last day in Bishop, but I’m ready to face it. Ready for one more day of adventure and hiking, and ready to return home and back to “normal life”….whatever that means at this point.

I make another egg scramble for breakfast, just like the previous day. Today over breakfast, I pick up Dave’s Book,  The Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country, by Steve Roper.  It’s the same route the guy from the rental car place was talking about, and the same route that I encountered backpackers doing when they would drop down from the high route to the JMT. The route is about the same distance  as JMT, 195 miles, but at higher elevation and mostly off trail, and with many more passes to cross, lakes to encounter, and much, much more seclusion.  It’s an intriguing idea, doing this route, and the idea again enters my mind for future consideration.

But for this day, I will pack up my stuff, and head up Highway 395 North towards Reno. I have one stop planned along the way. Just past Lee Vining is a turn off to the Virginia Lakes Road, and there I will go to find my last day hike in the California Sierras. I know nothing of Virginia Lakes except how to get there, and I have no real agenda except to hike for as long as seems reasonable before I have to turn around to get to the airport in time for my 7 pm flight.  It’s an easy and straightforward adventure.

After goodbyes and heart felt thank you’s to Dave and Michelle, I am on my way by 8 am. I stop at the corner market for fresh fruit, and I hop back in the Prius rental. I am liking the car, and the gas gauge hasn’t moved despite yesterday’s trip to Bishop Pass! It’s under two hours to the trailhead, and, even with all my putzing around, I am on the trail by 10:15. The trailhead is just under 10,000 feet, and the day is mostly clear, but cool and windy.  It’s a day for extra clothes, headphones and an audiobook, lunch, and more great scenery.

Beautiful vivid sunset at Big Virginia Lake, Eastern Sierra Nevada. California, USA

Beautiful vivid reflection at Big Virginia Lake, Eastern Sierra Nevada. California, USA.

The trail is advertised as popular and crowded, but there is hardly anyone there on this late August weekday. It starts at Big Virginia Lake, with Little Virginia Lake just beyond. The trail is easy and straightforward, passing five lakes in a mile and a half. The others are Trumbull, Red, and Blue Lakes. I am not sure what the colors mean. I pass a few folks, but not many. The colors of the surrounding hills and peaks are fantastic, reminding me of the North Cascades in early Autumn. Views open up as I go. It’s another great day hike, and I am super happy to be here.

View from Burro Pass

Looking down into Green Creek Basin

Eventually the trail crosses between Frog Lakes and steepens to ascend Burro Pass. The pass is 11,120 feet and a pretty typical pass — barren, dry, semi-steep switchbacks over loose rock and boulders. I will miss these California Sierra Passes, and it makes me sad to be doing my last one. Everything about this day has a “last” attached to it — last day hike, last pass, last stream to cross, last lake to traverse, last peaks in the distance to gaze at. I try to appreciate all of this and not let the “lastness” get to me.

On the other side of Burro Pass, the trail drops back down. I am in the Hoover wilderness headed for Hoover Lake. I wonder if a vacuum cleaner aficionado discovered the area…? Regardless, it’s beautiful, and I follow the path down into Green Creek Basin for about a mile and a half. I don’t know exactly where I am going, but run into a couple with a dog coming up. I ask them what’s ahead, and they tell me the trail will split to head up to Summit Lake, or drop down to Hoover and another Lake. I wish I could keep going. I want to do Summit Lake. But I know I have to catch a plane, and I don’t want to risk being rushed. I think on another backpack trip where we did “one last hike” and very nearly missed the plane, and another that was so incredibly stressful getting to the airport that I couldn’t even sit with my hiking partner on the plane. Such stress is definitely NOT what I need or want on this day.

Looking down to Hoover Lake

So I stop on the steep switchbacks, find a large rock to sit on, and eat my leftover chicken (cold, from last night’s dinner), fruit, and an energy bar. It’s another last…my last lunch on the trail. I want to make all this last forever, and I try my best to burn the image of Hoover Lake and Green Basin into my head and heart. While it’s not as mystically magical as some other spots I have recently been, I know it is the last such view for awhile. I stay 20 minutes and take it all in.

Reluctant but  resigned , I turn around and head back. I keep telling myself to relax, this isn’t the end of my hiking career.  It IS, unfortunately,  the end of a fun, successful, and hugely meaningful trip. The mile plus back up the pass flies by, and it’s all downhill from there. Back to the car, step by step, analyzing each rock and foot placement, being extra careful that I don’t turn an ankle or have a slip or fall so close to the end. I am amazed that I have done this whole trip, all 250 plus miles in total, with no real physical mishaps. I want to get back to the car unscathed and whole, both physically and mentally.

There are more cars at the trailhead when I return, and it’s still wickedly windy. I want to organize everything for airport readiness, so when I drop off my car it will be a simple process. Everything I put outside the car to organize inside either blows over or blows away. I find myself chasing empty water bottles and even clothing that flies away with each wind gust. It’s humorous, my determination to do it all here. Change clothes, get everything packed back up. But I would much rather do it here in the wind than in the chaos and finality of the rental car lot. It’s another way to prolong my stay in the beauty of the mountains for as long as possible.

Finally I am dressed in the only airline clothes I have (a lightweight skirt that I carried all the way on the JMT so that I would have something to wear besides my preferred hiking shorts, which are running shorts that are too short for comfort in real life!) And I have clean upper layers thanks to Dave’s washing machine,  so I feel moderately put together and ready for the trip home.  It’s about 2.5 hours of driving to the airport, and I will be one step closer to of the end of my journey.

My previous audiobook conveniently finished at trails end, so I start John Grisham’s “Gray Mountain” for my drive to the airport. It’s fitting in that it’s about a young corporate lawyer who ends up trying to find herself and make a difference deep in Appalachia. I can relate, as I sometimes feel like the mountains are my home and I have to struggle to fit in back in my real life. It’s the opposite problem she has, but it helps me put into perspective that who and how we are in our environment is a matter of choice. Always. And while the mountains has been my environment for weeks, I must make the adjustment now to my other life back at home.

Everything goes smoothly at the rental car place and I arrive at the airport in plenty of time. A totally lame salad from some coffee shop serves as dinner. It actually makes me miss my backpacker meals! I have a layover in Portland, and my plane won’t arrive in Bellingham until 10:50. Thankfully, my daughter Shannon has agreed to pick me up so it’s an easy ending. I survive both flights, and Shannon is there to meet me curb side after I’ve claimed my bag. It’s great to see her, and I give her a big hug…even though she doesn’t much like hugs. It’s cold outside, and Shannon tells me summer has abruptly disappeared in the last day or so. Back to 50 degrees and cloudy, and I know I am really back on my home soil now.

My welcoming committee: Sapphire (left) and Indigo (Indie)

Shannon has driven my car to pick me up, so I only have to drop her off and then it’s 20 minutes back to my house. The place is dark and quiet when I arrive just before midnight. The welcoming committee is my cats, who have been without me for almost a month. Thankfully they remember me, and seem moderately excited to see me. It’s weird to be back, and I remember similarly how weird it was to be back from JMT 1. I assure myself that I will readjust, and that all will be well in time. It’s nice to stand in front of my own sink, look at my deeply tanned and newly washed face, and welcome myself home! I am proud of my accomplishment, and tell my reflection just that before heading for bed. As I climb in to my blessedly queen size bed, I realize that it’s an anticlimactic and fittingly simple end to this whole adventure. I am safely home in bed after my fantastic event, and, somehow I know, life will go on.

Highlights of the Day

The last hike to Virginia Lakes

Virginia Lakes Trail

I could have just driven straight to the airport and hung out in Reno, or any of a number of other options for this last day. But I did what fit ME the most, and that was to take a hike. I am not a gambler, never have even been to Vegas except to fly in and out of. And the idea of crowds and people overwhelms me. So I chose wilderness, high elevation lakes and peaks, and as much solitude as I could get on the last day. I could have saved myself $100 bucks by taking the bus to the airport, which is what we did on JMT 1. But six hours on a bus and missing out on a hike just wasn’t going to work for me. I am grateful to Dave for the suggestion of Virginia Lakes, and grateful to the trail for being so close to the highway! It made for a fantastic diversion as I wrestled with my thoughts about coming home, and gave me something tangible to hang onto for my last day in the Sierras.

Coming home…

Paradoxically, the other highlight of the day was getting home. It was great to walk in my door, see that the cats were still alive and thriving, dump all my backpack stuff on the floor, and sleep in my own bed. In theory, I could stay on the trails forever. In actuality, it was a relief to be back to the comforts of my own living space.

Lessons of the Day

All good things must come to an end…

It had to happen, and it happened with ease. My JMT trip ended as it started — with everything falling into place. I am not sure why everything went so smoothly for me on this trip. Sure there were a few glitches, but all in all, things fell remarkably into place. I felt blessed and watched over each and every step of the way. I don’t mean that in a religious sense, but definitely in a spiritual way: I knew I was intended to do this trip. And even though I was alone for much of it, I never felt lonely. I always had the sense that I was just where I needed to be, and knew that things would work out. And they did. Going to bed on the last night, I similarly knew I would be OK with moving ahead.

Or do they?

All that day and in the days following, I kept thinking about how I would share my trip with others. I came up with this plan, a day by day recounting which you have just finished reading. And the next step of sharing my trip is already in progress. I am currently taking a 9 month writing class, with the trip as the basis of an upcoming memoir. So while I will leave the JMT for awhile in my blogs to come, inevitably, I will circle back. Stay tuned for more information on the book as it develops. And I will keep you abreast of plans for my next big trip…maybe the High Sierra Route, back in the Sierras which I have come to love so much, and now call my second home.

In some ways, the journey has just begun!

 

 

 

 

Post John Muir Trail — Bishop Pass to Dusy Basin

Day hike to Bishop Pass and Dusy Basin

I wake up early at Dave’s place in the small twin bed. I haven’t slept great, but it’s still so nice to find myself in a bed and not a sleeping bag in a tent. I meditate in bed until 5:00 am, as I don’t want to wake Dave and Michelle too early. Dave’s house is small, and I know they will likely hear me get up. Or at least Gigi the dog will!

Gigi in her natural element. Photo courtesy Dave Grah

My breakfast!

I am excited to make breakfast at Dave’s. Dave and Michelle brought home eggs and veggies last night per my request. I carefully and methodically assemble my scrambled eggs with salsa, broccoli, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, a multitude of spices, and even guacamole! It’s quite the ensemble for my first breakfast off the trail. My creation takes up an entire plate, and only loosely resembles something like an egg scramble when I am done. I am just getting to the table with eggs and coffee when Dave comes out. He is suitably impressed with my huge breakfast. So am I! It makes me happier than I can express to have the luxury of this amount of food and a warm environment in which to eat it. I enjoy every bite.

We chat about the plans for the day. I plan to rent a car, and Dave will drop me at the rental place in town on his way to work. Bishop is small, and there isn’t much option for renting a car. But I have found one for $161 for two days that will get me two day hikes and a drive to the airport. While more expensive then taking the bus, it’s worth it for the independence and flexibility. I have basically two full days, as my flight does not leave from Vegas until 7 pm that following night

My plan for this day is to drive to South Lake Trailhead, 20 miles from Bishop. I will take that trail all the way to Bishop Pass (six miles in) and drop down into Dusy Basin. This is a somewhat common exit pass for hikers on the JMT who are going into Bishop to pick up food or provisions. I will likely see people doing what I have just finished doing. But today, I will be hiking  free and easy, with only a day pack to carry. I am stoked.

I pick up my Toyota Prius rental, and I am off. I have my headphones, a downloaded audiobook, lunch, water, chlorine tablets for additional water, camera, clothes, and the usual sunscreen and lip stuff. I stop at the corner market for some fresh fruit to accompany my remaining backpack lunch extras. I contemplate life as I drive to the trailhead. Everything seems so different, even being in a car. It’s a mixed “different,”  as I love and appreciate the ease of things, but I am very aware of how much I still want to be on the trail. The scenery is gorgeous, as the mountains come closer with ever mile. Soon I will be right back in my desired environment — enveloped in sunshine, and wandering into miles of peaks, lakes, streams, and all the beauty of the Sierras.

The trailhead is surprisingly full for a Tuesday morning. I know a lot of the cars are overnighters, as this trail is a feeder for multiple over night trips and nearby peak climbs. I have never hiked this trail, and I am excited. I hook up my headphones and audiobook, hit the bathroom, and I am off. It’s still a noticeable luxury to sit on a toilet seat, even at a trailhead privy!

When I hit the trail I am already into my book and I don’t feel like talking. I hope my headphones will discourage people from making conversation. I have to pass several parties right away, as they are taking their own sweet time and I am raring to go. Soon I pass two older men. They talk to me, even though I have headphones on. I politely take one off. They make some comment on how if they were as young as me, they’d be moving as quickly as I am. I tell them I am not that young. The ring leader wants to make a bet that he is at least ten years older than me. Sure, I say playing along so they will leave me alone. He wants to bet a quarter, and I say OK. I am not in the mood for games and just want to keep moving. But they have sped up since I passed them and keep talking to me. He asks how old I am, I say 52. “Ha! I knew it! You owe me a quarter! I am 63”. Close enough, and whatever I think. I don’t have a quarter and I tell him that.  He starts hounding me, telling me I am a bad bet. I dutifully smile and laugh, apologize, and move quickly ahead, thinking I am done with those guys.

Saddlerock Lake selfie!

The scenery is magnificent. I pass signs for lakes with names like Treasure Lake, Marie Louise Lake, Bull Lake, and my favorite, Chocolate Lakes. If I had more time I would explore them all! But I stick with my plan to do a straightforward trek up to Bishop Pass, then drop down into Dusy Basin for whatever amount of time I have until I have to turn back. I have promised to make dinner for Dave and Michelle tonight, and I don’t want to get carried away with my day.

I continue to Long Lake, which is, indeed long (.7 miles). It’s also beautiful, and I stop for an energy bar by it’s shores. I take fifteen minutes or so here, unfortunately long enough that the two men catch up. Thankfully, they just say hi and “You still owe me a quarter!” and go on by. I know I will pass them again in just a few minutes. The elevation gain on the trail to Bishop Pass is quite gradual, only 2200 feet over six miles, and the miles sail by.  I enjoy listening to my book and passing people as I go up and noticing others as they go down. I’m sure some of the latter are JMT hikers heading for resupply, and I smile especially warmly at those carrying backpacks. No one knows I’ve just come from there. One solo gal asks how far to Bishop. I say maybe four miles, trying to remember how far I’ve come. I learn she is also a solo JMT hiker, headed to town for supplies. For her, I happily take off my headphones to converse!

Saddlerock Lake

Trail heading up Bshop Pass, Hurd Peak in back

Crossing Bishop Creek before heading up Bishop Pass

Long Lake leads to Timberline Lake and Saddlerock Lake. They are all sublime, and I am grateful to waltz among them. Next is Bishop Lake, at which point the trail ascends the pass. Like other passes in the area, the final switchbacks to Bishop Pass are somewhat steep, open, dry, and rocky, but thankfully short. It’s an easy pass, or seems so after all the one’s I did on the JMT. I top out at 11,972, with views of Mt. Goode, Mt. No Goode, and Mt. Agassiz all welcoming me to the pass. I only stop briefly here, as I still want to drop down into the basin.

From Pass — Spearhead Lake and Long Lake

Dusy Basin is as lovely as advertised. I can see why so many people come here. It’s like a mini version of the JMT. Peaks, lakes, streams, and fantastic granite rock formations are everywhere. I am overwhelmed by the feelings of freedom, joy, and pure gratitude that I am here. I drop down for about an hour, the amount of time I can spare before turning back. I see a weather station by a very small lake, and this looks like a good place to stop for lunch before I head back. I see just one other guy on the opposite side of where I drop my day pack and prepare to shed boots and eat lunch. I still have my headphones on when I settle, but take them off to eat and enjoy silence.

In Dusy Basin, with Columbine Peak (right) and Mt. Giraud (left)

No such luck. The guy, who upon examination is really quite strange, is listening to some type of broadcast. Very loudly. It sounds like a football game, or some type of sporting event. I am puzzled and watch him for a bit. He is clearly in his own world, and it actually looks like he is playing with himself. This instantly gets my attention, and, for the first time on my entire JMT trip, I feel nervous and not safe. I can see two other people off in the distance, so I know I am not in jeopardy of this guy harming me, but his behavior is totally off for the setting and it really upsets me. I am already without boots by this time, so I stay where I am but eat a very quick lunch. I am sad and distressed that the guy and his weird behavior and loud broadcast have pretty much ruined my lunch.  I am determined not to let it ruin my day though,  and I pack up and head out as quickly as I can.

On the way back up to Bishop Pass, I think about this guy. I feel lucky that I have not had encounters on this trip with men that scared me until this day. I know they are out there, but I have luckily escaped them until today. The first two men were annoying, but harmless. This last guy, I don’t know. It does make me think about how much I hike alone, and I wonder (not for the first time) if it is always safe.

Long Lake and Mt. Goode. Photo courtesy Dave Grah

As I get close to the bottom of the trail, I encounter the first two men again. I decide to play nice, and I ask them about Chocolate Lakes, which I learn sits below the Inconsolable Range.  I am incredibly drawn to the names of the lakes and the range, and I am still considering a detour there. They say it’s back up  trail, I have missed the turn off, and it would be another mile of backtracking, plus two miles round trip into the lakes. I don’t have time to do that, unfortunately. Reluctantly, I thank them, say a final goodbye, and continue back to the car, certain I will come back another time.

Saddlerock Lake in early summer. Photo courtesy Dave Grah

Despite the miles hiked that day (14 or 15, I am guessing), I have ample time to stop back at the market to get stuff for dinner. I arrive back at Dave’s about the time he and Michelle get home from work. I make chicken, rice, a vegetable and a huge salad for dinner. It’s another very mellow evening, as they prepare for a sailing trip over the upcoming Labor Day weekend, and I relax with a book I’ve borrowed from Dave. I go to bed early, preparing for one last adventure on the drive to the airport (Virginia Lakes) before flying home.

Highlights of the Day

Off Trail — The simple stuff  — Plus the sense of knowing what I had done.

As I’ve said, it takes awhile for the novelty of everything to wear off. I made sure to enjoy all the small things of the morning — at  Dave’s (like making my fabulous breakfast!), at a coffee shop in Bishop while waiting for the rental care shop to open, and at the car place with other waiting customers.  In town, I noticed both my sense of wanting to share my victory with the world (I wanted to tell the barista and anyone else who cared to listen “I just finished a solo hike of the JMT!!”) AND my sense of having a secret sense of accomplishment that I wanted to keep for myself. With the barista, I chose the latter. But at the car place, one of the other customers waiting on their vehicle was a man, approximately my age, who had made a half-hearted attempt at the High Sierra Route (HSR), the 195 mile route that loosely parallels the JMT but is mostly off trail, with many more passes at much higher elevation, and is much more physically challenging. He and his son had made a stab at it, and quit after four days out! I shared that I had just finished the JMT solo. He was impressed and said that would have been a much  more realistic adventure for him and his son. I was impressed that they even attempted the HSR, and the idea of doing that route crossed my mind, not for the first time…

On Trail — Being back so quickly into my preferred environment.

Upper Dusy Basin

In some ways, it felt like I never left. I was able to pick back up right where I left off, and do a day hike that I had always wanted to do and explore a basin I have heard so much about, from both Grah brothers (Dave and Oliver). It was just as magical as they said it would be. My transition from trail to life was tremendously eased by this day hike. I got to spend hours in bright sunshine, in an environment I absolutely love, and by myself (mostly), and in my own world. I also got to listen to a book, which I did not do at all on the JMT. While I have mixed feelings about listening to anything out in the wilderness, over the past several years I have softened my position on this, and find the distraction of a book incredibly welcoming at times. After 20 days of silence, I was in that space.  Also, as mentioned, I enjoyed seeing the JMT hikers headed out the pass for provisions, and especially the solo woman with whom I briefly conversed. It made me feel that sense of community to go along with my preferred solitary mode.

L to R Mt. Agassiz, Mt. Windhell, Thunderboldt Peak, North Palisade

Lessons of the Day

There ARE people out there to be careful of…

So this is a tough one for me. I do a lot of hiking and now backpacking alone. Of course I am not always alone, as others are usually present But sometimes those others raise suspicion or even downright alarm, as in the case of the one guy by the side of the small lake right near the trail through Dusy Basin.  I can probably count on two hands the number of times I have felt alarm out in the woods or on trails by my home. And I have been doing this regularly for over 20 years! But it made me realize that there are dangers out there, and, sadly but for real, more so for women than men. SO MANY people asked me before JMT if I was worried about encountering strange men on the trail. My standard answer was that I was more afraid of animals (especially bears!) than men by a long shot. Partly that has to do with how safe I have felt and continue to feel on the trails, even as a woman alone. BUT, this incident got my attention. It won’t necessarily change anything about what I do, but it does raise my awareness of the risks out there. Like anything else, we all must choose what risks we take in life. For me, the very small risk associated with hiking alone continues to be one I am willing to take, with caution of course, because the payoffs remain so very great.

Follow your instincts…

Dusy Basin with Giraud Peak

I can’t begin to cover this fully at the end of an already long blog, but this day, like so many others, was all about that. I knew I needed a diversion, an activity, and one of great pleasure at that, to take up my first full day back. The idea of lounging around Dave’s house all day, while pleasant in and of itself, was very anxiety producing for me. So I took action to do what I knew would work for me to ease back into real life…and that, of course, was to go on a hike!  I similarly followed my intuition about WHERE to go, as I wanted a particular environment (similar to JMT), and one that I am not likely to get back in the Pacific Northwest. And it had to be long enough that I could go for awhile, and turn around when I needed to. And it needed to have some challenge, but not so much that it stressed me out. Bishop pass and Dusy Basin was perfect for all those things. It brought me all the calm, peace, joy, beauty, and sense of (another) accomplishment that I needed and wanted on my last full day of vacation before my return home.

Day 19 John Muir Trail

Arctic Lake Outlet to Mt. Whitney to Lone Pine Lake

Total JMT miles  —  12.1            Elevation Gain/Loss  —  +3035/-4495

First light on Guitar Lake

I wake up earlier than usual on this last full day of my trip. I will officially complete the JMT proper today, and hike most of the way out of the wilderness before spending one final night at Lone Pine Lake, just 3 miles from civilization. I am saddened by this reality but ready to take it on.  I am up and out of the tent even before first light. I want to get as early of a start as possible without feeling stressed. I am not in any real hurry, but I also don’t need to hang around for any reason. The summit of Whitney awaits!

As I prepare to depart, I can see a steady throng of people hike by just off in the distance, all headed towards the Whitney summit. At first it’s a constant stream of headlamps.  When first light emerges, the headlamps gradually disappear but the people keep coming. I eat breakfast, pack up, and get ready to join the masses. It’s a perfectly clear, crisp, morning and the sunrise colors are stupendous. It’s a perfect day to summit. I am completely ready by 6:45, my earliest departure time on the trip so far.

Looking down on Arctic Lake and peaks behind

Morning light reflected off Guitar Lake

Psychologically, I prepare myself for the people I will encounter on this day. The park service issues 150 permits to day hikers on Whitney, and then there are all the people who summit in conjunction with backpack trips (not only the JMT, but also other permitted trips in the area). Despite it’s daunting 14,505 foot summit, Mount Whitney in August is a busy place!  Surprisingly,  by the time I am headed up the switchbacks from Arctic Lake to Trail Crest, where people dump their backpacks to summit with less of a load, I don’t see any people. Not a one. Clearly, everyone is ahead of me. I climb that entire three mile section in utter solitude.  It’s quiet, eerie, peaceful and surreal.  But such is the nature of summit expeditions. Everyone wants to get up and at ’em, and I feel behind schedule already even though it’s barely 7:00 am!

Just before Trail Crest, I hear someone call to me. “Hey Kathie!” I don’t at first recognize the voice or face, as it’s all covered in hat, scarf, and other cold weather gear. “It’s Emily!” Now I can recognize solo hiker Emily, who I haven’t seen for two days. She slept right at Trail Crest (elevation 13,460), and has already been up to the summit to catch the sunrise from there. Now she is packed up and ready to head down. I am impressed at her organization and determination to make Whitney at sunrise and camp right out in the elements just below it. We chat for a moment, and I hear about her last couple of days and share details of mine. I am quite sure I won’t see her again, as she will be down long before me, and headed for hamburgers with her family.  I wish her well on the hike out and in her future, and tell her I am extremely glad to have met her and that I am impressed with her confidence and ability at the tender age of 21! She thanks me, wishes me well, and says I’m not too shabby either for a 50-something. She snaps two pictures of me, and we say our goodbyes.

Just below Trail Crest, where I found Emily

At Trail Crest, the trails from north and south merge. One comes up from Guitar Lake (where I have come), and one comes up from the Whitney Portal. Here, action definitely picks up. It’s two miles and just over 1000 feet elevation gain to the top from here. 30,000 hikers try for the summit each year; 10,000 make it. All 10,000 aren’t here today, but plenty are! I have an instant flashback to other wilderness experiences I’ve had in my life where it seems, from the environment and surroundings, that there simply should not be so many people present. The wild and extreme surroundings and the numbers of people simply don’t make sense together.  But alas, it is what it is, and I am determined to make the best of it. I dump my pack at Trail Crest. I plan to take only some food, water, my camera, an extra layer of clothes, and basic toiletries to the summit with me. I make sure to put all of the rest of the food in the bear canister to keep the marmots out. Marmots stand watch 24/7 here, and they keep a constant eye out for careless food security.

Similar to previous times both this year and last, once I am rid of my heavy backpack, I get into serious cruise mode. The final two miles to Whitney isn’t technical, but it is exposed, and people get cautious. It’s also relatively thin air, and that gets to people too.  I move past everybody, and no one passes me. I am not rushing to summit, it’s just what happens. I pass people in tennis shoes, sandals, and even one woman in flip flops! There are people in tank tops and some wearing enough clothing to tackle Everest! There is such a diverse array of clothing, levels of experience, and comfort vs. obvious discomfort with this last section of trail that it makes for great people watching.  But it’s difficult to navigate passing all those going up and those coming down. It’s simply a lot of people traveling up and down a narrow, rocky, and sometimes very exposed trail.

Hitchcock Lakes and Mt. Hitchcock from summit trail

Same view, slightly different lighting. Mt. Chamberlin in background

Since this is nearly the end of my journey, I want to make sure to enjoy every step. I feel conflicted as step by step I close in on the summit. I feel like I am reaching a pinnacle in more ways than one, and that life will never be quite the same once I have finished this trek, and I am not sure if I am ready for that.  I know there is nothing inherently life changing about the summit itself, since I reached it last year. But what it represents this time, at the end of this magnificent solo trek, feels momentous.

Summit Hut

But the heavy introspection soon gets tedious even to me, and I lighten up and finish it off. What greets me is the summit hut, the huge summit register, and throngs of people milling around the thankfully large area, toasting their success with miniature alcohol bottles and rampant photo and video taking. It’s predictable and yet totally spectacular, because the views really are circumferentially breathtaking!

I find Ginnie and her crew right away, and get in on some picture action. I have them take several of me, and offer to take group photos of them. It’s fun to feel a part of something — although I am not in their group photos, I still feel welcomed at the fringes. I am sure I could insert myself into a photo with them, but what would be the point? I have come this far alone, I will stick to my solo guns on the summit as well.

Photo time!

You can get a sense of the size of Whitney’s summit from this photo…

I try to take it all in before heading down: the fact that I have done it, the fact that I did it alone, and the fact that I did it without serious incident or accident or anything going wrong. It is a weird feeling, being up there like that, knowing how much went into the trip, all the planning and organization, and to have it all go off so well, but to be done. I keep thinking I should keep going. I know I don’t want it to end.

So while I do turn around and come down after an hour on top, I am grateful that I have only decided to go as far as Lone Pine Lake instead of all the way out. The first 100 plus switchbacks down from Trail Crest are tight, steep, and relentless. I am back with my backpack, and I remember how little I like this part of the trail. I move down a step at a time as quickly as I can, ignoring all pain in my arthritic knee and just getting it done. As soon as I am off of that section, I feel I can breathe again. I stop at what’s called Trail Camp, a large, crowded, popular campsite for hikers coming up from Lone Pine to summit in two days…or those doing the JMT South to North. There is only a small water source, and the sanitation of the place scares me. Too many people camp here, and it just feels dirty and over used. But I stay long enough to eat my lunch, write in my journal, and begin my trip reflections in earnest. I see Ginnie and her crew again, and consider hiking the last few miles with them, to pass the time. But I don’t seek that out, they start down ahead of me, and I start out alone.

Headed back down, just below Trail Camp

Just below Trail Camp, I catch up to one of Ginnie’s crew, Mike, a “trail parent” to her mixed up group. He starts up a conversation, explaining that he is slow because of a bum knee. I can relate, and I am in just the right mood to continue it, and we end up hiking out the last three miles together.  I have to say it makes that stretch of trail go very fast, and a part of me wonders why I didn’t hike with others more on the JMT. But I also know if I had done it the whole hike, it would have made me crazy. It’s a fitting way to spend the last miles of the last full day, and I happily say goodbye and part ways with Mike at the turn off to Lone Pine Lake. Alone again, I look for a campsite.

I had expected Lone Pine Lake to be busy with day hikers, as it is so close to the Whitney Trailhead. But there are only a handful of youngsters just getting out of the lake after a swim when I arrive. I walk past all the obvious campsites and go around to the far side of the lake. I believe there is camping there, and I don’t want to be in anyone’s obvious path. I am still seeking seclusion. I find a spot, which is large and open and just above the lake, where people have obviously camped before. It’s a bit more on the beaten path than I would like if someone actually walks around the lake, but I take it. By now, the typical afternoon clouds have come in, and I am less enthusiastic about the swim I was so looking forward to. I do it anyway, but it’s cool and windy and I am and out quick as a flash. Dressed and warmed up,  I set up camp, and wonder how to while away the hours until darkness. It’s only 3 o’clock when I arrive, and my quick dunk and setting up camp only takes a short time. I have almost finished my book, and I find my thoughts being overtaken again by some heavy introspection about the trip being almost done.

Afternoon clouds obscure my sun for swimming at Lone Pine Lake

I see just two more people all afternoon. One guy who comes through my site tries to tell me I can’t camp at the lake. I assure him that my JMT bible says I can! He looks at me skeptically, and I worry that I am doing something wrong. But I stand my ground and choose to stay. The next person is a female, heavily, accented, who inquires “Are you Kathie?” This totally and understandably surprises me! “Ginnie sent me.” She explains. “I am headed up Whitney, from the Portal, doing JMT South to North. I meet nice woman Ginnie on the trail, she tells me you are camped here and how nice you are! She says to come find you.”

I am impressed that this woman has come here to find me, but I am unsure what she needs. The site really won’t hold us both…it could, but I would rather not camp with a stranger on this last night. The reason I didn’t go all the way out was because I wanted one more night alone to sort out my thoughts, etc. All this is on my mind as I finally say, “Yes, Ginnie. She is sweet too! What can I do for you?” I don’t know how else to phrase the question, to try to figure out what she wants or needs from me. We chat for a bit, and eventually it comes out that she is also doing the JMT solo, and has some uneasiness about this. Some part of her wants to camp this first night with someone, or near someone, and she has settled on me! We also discuss options farther up for her, like Trail Camp, 3 more miles up trail, where I assure her there will be plenty of  people. She wonders if she can make Trail Camp before dark, and I tell her I am confident she can. I also tell her she is welcome to stay with me, and make sure I am in the correct headspace for this once I make the offer. I watch her waffle as she tries to figure out what to do.

Eventually, she re-shoulders her backpack, deciding she will go on. I am semi-relieved, but also touched that Ginnie, who I really don’t even know, thinks highly enough of me that she would send a solo female hiker my way for some reassurance or guidance or something. I hope I have offered it. I wish the woman, Anna, well, and off she goes.

Campsite at Lone Pine Lake

The lake now is utterly quiet, and I have the place completely to myself. It’s still early, way too early to call it a night, but I am restless and tired of writing and thinking. I simply don’t know how to make better sense of the end of this trip at this point than I have done in my journal writing so far.  I know more sense will come in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come. For now, on this last evening alone on my trip, I just sit and watch the sun dance in and out of the clouds and reflect off the nearby peaks, and try to embrace as much of the actual experience as is humanly possible. Everything about this trip thus far has been magical, and this last evening is no exception. I feel a sense of deep peace and complete appreciation for the entire adventure. I enjoy a final embrace from mother nature as she works her magic color schemes as the light fades around me. It’s truly a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Highlights of the Day

Solo hike up to Trail Crest

Early morning sunlight on Mt. Hitchcock

Sometimes, I gear up for something that I think will be emotionally taxing for some reason, and then, when it doesn’t happen, it’s just such an unexpected relief. I fully expected people on that first 3 mile stretch, as the previous year Gregg and I had encountered a bunch. Starting off heavily clothed, that meant stopping to shed layers, and the people we’d pass would re-pass us, and we would then have to pass them again.  And getting rid of the morning coffee also proved difficult on the entire stretch of trail from Arctic lake to the summit of Whitney. That’s what I was expecting. To get that full three miles completely alone as the morning sun gleamed off all the surrounding peaks, it was simply beautiful, calming, and completely peaceful. A great way to start the day.

The summit of Whitney

Mts. Muir, Newcomb, Mallory, Le Conte, and Langley from Whitney summit…Just five of the multitude!

The time on the summit was precious. Last year, I was caught off guard by the numbers of people, and that people were drinking and celebrating at 9 or 10 am. This year, I didn’t expect otherwise, and so I wasn’t thrown off at all. The views were similar from year one to year two, as smoke had mostly cleared out in year one. But let me tell you, the views from a summit that high never disappoint, and to wander all around and look out from each direction is an experience that every human should have!

The last three miles of hiking…with someone!

I am not sure why I so enjoyed hiking with Mike for that last three miles, but it just really felt good to connect with a human on the level that we did. Partly it was because we were both of similar age, and both addled by a combined multitude of orthopedic injuries. It started out with him dumping his orthopedic woes on me, as I am a good listener and I definitely get it. But, as I felt brave enough to share some of mine with him,  it shifted to more even ground, and we were able to have a mutually uplifting and encouraging hike, as opposed to a suffer fest about all our ailments! I was able to talk with him about my probable upcoming knee replacement, and some of my thought processes in coming to that decision, which I hadn’t really talked to anyone about until that point.  It felt like a good and solid connection for that hour and some until we parted ways, and left me with a smile on my face.

Lone Pine Lake…alone

Parting shot of final campsite

I started the day alone and ended it alone. And it was very fitting to be camped at Lone Pine Lake! Again, like the start of my day, I had no expectation of solitude at the lake, and was unexpectedly blessed with such. I could not have asked for a more beautiful setting for my final night. I was close to civilization such that the morning’s hike would be a walk in the park. But clearly enough away that I got to experience one final night of just me and the mountains and chipmunks and whatever other wildlife joined me and my thoughts and introspections.

Lessons of the day

The recurrent theme and contrast of time alone vs. time with others

This day was similar to the whole trip which is similar to my whole life…the quest for balance between time alone and time with others. For whatever reason, on the trail and in life in general, I have a need for vast amounts of time alone. And yet, within that, I also am deeply drawn to people and conversations and connection and feeling a part of something much bigger than myself. This day had it all — time alone, and time with many, and the noticing of that and seeing how I can and do flit in and out of it all. The entire day just fit in so well with the big picture of  my life. I don’t have the balance mastered, and I still long at times for one when the other is missing, but I do understand how important both are for my well-being, happiness, and very survival.

It’s simply impossible to sum up something as big as the JMT in one final day

I stayed at Lone Pine Lake to try for closure or ease the challenge of re-adapting back to “real life” by one more night. But I realized that it can’t happen in a time-compressed fashion. Processing the trip, and getting all there is to get out of it, takes much longer than the end of the day on which it finishes. While it was a heavy thinking day, I was also able to eventually let the day be and just take it for what it was…the last day of a fantastic trip that will likely take years to finally settle into my life. And I found that thought reassuring, the knowing that I didn’t have to have it all figured out by the end of the last full day. There is much writing about and pulling together still to come!

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

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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 6 John Muir Trail

Virginia Lake to Mono Creek (Quail Meadows Junction)

Total JMT Miles  —  13.3         Elevation gain/loss  —  +1750/-3980

The morning of Day 6 dawned clear, cold, and beautiful. Virginia Lake, elevation 10,330, was my highest and coldest campsite yet. Frost adorned my backpack and tent. I used hand warmers again for the making of breakfast and packing up and moving out. The cold hands issue came up repeatedly on last year’s JMT trip. This year, I was prepared with the hand John Muir Trailwarmers, although I only brought about 10 sets. Obviously,  they added bulk and some weight to my already heavy pack. While I was grateful for them on chilly mornings, I knew I would have to partition them out so as to save some for the latter higher elevation campsites on my trip. I was eager to get on the trail and get moving. Movement, as I have witnessed over and over again, is hands down the best way for me to get warm. Even better than the three cups of coffee and hot oatmeal I ate and drank each and every morning on the trail!

I left my campsite cold but ready for the day.  I had pushed the previous day to get there, as I wanted to create distance for myself from the Red’s Meadow crowd. I had successfully achieved that. Day 6, I decided, would be an easier day. The day’s mileage would hold lots of ups and downs. A significant elevation loss at the outset, followed by a gain to Silver Pass (elevation 10,740 ft. ), the 4th of 10 passes on the trail. The pass would be followed by a loss of 2840 feet to the Lake Edison/Quail Meadows Junction, (7900 ft.), where I planned to camp.

View before dropping down to Tully Hole

View before dropping down to Tully Hole

After the cold but invigorating hike out of Virginia lake basin, I began the dramatic descent to Tully Hole, a series of cool pools in Fish Creek.  I remembered Tully Hole from last year, both the steep switchbacks getting down to it, and the fact that I FELL IN the water trying to get to a lunch spot on a rock. I was incredibly irritated and frustrated by this, as my hiking partner Gregg and I were having a tiff about where exactly to stop. The tension and conflict “caused” me to lose my footing, or so I told myself. We ended up resurrecting the experience, by both taking a dunk in the pool and lunching on the rock. As I filled water and shed some clothes at Tully Hole this year, the memories really flooded back. I was grateful to be dry and, at that moment, solo. Again, with no partner, there were moments of loneliness on the trail….but there were also no moments of conflict about when and where to stop, as I was completely in charge of my own decisions.

I hiked alone all morning, hardly seeing a soul.  It was incredibly peaceful. All the previous day’s hikers seemed to have vanished! I meandered along Fish Creek for awhile, until the trail turned to start it’s gradual ascent toward Silver Pass. The forest of hemlock and lodgepole pine was comforting and shaded. As I climbed, the forest thinned, and eventually disappeared all together as I reached Squaw Lake. A beautiful little lake below Silver Pass, last year’s hike stayed etched in

Looking back at Squaw Lake

Looking back at Squaw Lake

my mind as I remembered taking a nice long break and even a short nap at this lake. This year, I was greeted at the lake by solo hikers Ashley, Alexis, Marcus, and Rob. They were hanging and lounging by the lake, enjoying a leisurely lunch and rest before the pass. I had previously met Ashley and Alexis (“Pippi”, from Day 2) and Marcus, who came all the way from England to do the JMT. Rob was new to me, and he instantly reminded me of my son Kyle. About the same age, with a laid back and easy demeanor, I liked him instantly.

I hung with these guys for a half hour or so. It was great to let myself do that, enjoy the company of others on the trail, even as I debated if it would put me off my “schedule” and agenda. I felt both relaxed and restless…really relishing the camaraderie, but also eager to push on. I left the group still lounging, and began the ascent to Silver Pass. I

Silver Pass Lake

Silver Pass Lake

Packs on break at Silver Pass

Packs on break at Silver Pass

passed Chief Lake and Silver Pass Lake on the way up, both pristine and otherworldly. At the top of Silver Pass, I asked a hiker for a photo but didn’t even bother to take off my pack to rest. I was on a mission of sorts, but for what? Even I wasn’t sure.

The descent from Silver Pass was long and grueling. It was on this major elevation drop that I noticed without a doubt that my decrepit right knee was perpetually sore and occasionally feeling unstable. I have had four surgeries on that knee, and it’s due for replacement. I had received a cortisone shot three weeks before the start of my hike, and it had gotten me this far. But I seemed to take a turn for the worse on this descent, and the knee became increasingly problematic, both for that long 6.3 miles drop, and, unfortunately, for the rest of the trip. It was not anything I couldn’t deal with, as I have been coping with severe arthritis for years in that knee. But I realized I would have to be careful and cautious. I was again very thankful to have my hiking poles to help reduce the impact as I descended on rocks, roots, and uneven ground. I resumed my trail mantra, take it one step at a time.

The miles took awhile, and the relentless pounding was made more tedious by the heat. It must have been 80 degrees or more.  I stopped and ate and drank, and Ashley and Alexis (hiking together) passed me. We leap frogged and chatted as we continued to encounter one another. It occurred to me that I might like to hike with them, to learn more about them, to ask them their stories and WHY they were there. What had brought 21 year old Alexis and 29 year old Ashley to do a solo hike on the JMT? This inquiry and desire to know occupied my brain as I went, keeping me focused on something other than the monotony of the descent and the pain in my knee.  But I also felt unsure how to ask. I am 52, and no doubt in a different place in my life. Just because I am so curious as to what drives others, would these “youngsters” be as eager to share that with me?  Or were they just into hiking and zoning out? So I didn’t ask, and I didn’t insert myself into hiking with them. But what I DID do was to decide to ask them for their emails, so perhaps I could get more information about their stories at some point in the future.

At the bottom of the big drop, Alexis turned off to Vermillion Valley Ranch, a ferry ride across Lake Edison to a resort and common food drop location for JMT and PCT hikers. Ashley continued on, as did I. We were both going to camp at the junction of Edison Lake and Mono Creek, also known as Quail Ridge Meadow. I had not camped there before, but remembered from last year that there were multiple good sites. I started getting nervous about finding a good spot alone…I knew Ashley, Marcus, and Rob, as well as many of the others from Reds were also camping there. Again, I couldn’t fully explain my need and desire to camp alone, but there it was.

As I crossed the bridge over Mono Creek one last time, a whole host of people waved to me. I am really bad at recognizing faces from a distance, my kids will tell you that. So I am not sure who all was waving, but the greeting was both welcoming and made me feel a bit anti-social. I waved back, thought momentarily about stopping, but instead continued on in my quest for solitude. That same theme again…desire for connection, versus the even stronger pull to be alone.

Again, I followed the trail just a little farther, then left it, veering back toward the creek in search of a campsite. I found a huge and private site, close to the river, but down river from the group. It was perfect, and I dumped my pack to settle in for the evening. Immediately I went to the river and took a swim. I rinsed some clothes, and enjoyed the refreshment of the cool water, and the peace and quiet of my site. I felt nicely fatigued, contemplative about my solo nature, and supremely grateful for a relatively uneventful day. My site was at low elevation, so I made sure to adequately store all my food in my bear canister as well as any scented toiletries I could fit. I made dinner and crawled in my tent at 7:30, happy and spent. I read and wrote for 30 minutes until dark, then relinquished into sleep. It was one of the nights on the trail when sleep came easily and convincingly.

Highlights of the day

It was a day of no extremes

Simply put, nothing dramatic happened in either the supremely positive or negative direction. The miles were enough, but not too much. The sun was out, and while it got hot as I lost elevation,  I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of sun on my limbs and face. I ascended Silver Pass with ease. I had a good combination of time alone and some social interaction. I stayed thoughtful and contemplative on the trail, and reveled in the moments as they unveiled themselves. I was accepting of all aspects of myself, even my aching knee. My foot problem continued to resolve itself, and I hiked without pain or a limp from blisters for the first time in days. I felt peaceful and at ease about most things, and held a healthy curiosity about those aspects of self that got my attention.

Hanging at Squaw Lake with the four solo hikers

Although I didn’t stay for too long, I did again feel a part of something bigger as I chatted with and heard stories from Ashley, Alexis, Marcus, and Rob about their days on the trail. I wished I had taken a picture of all of us at Squaw Lake, but I was immersed in enjoying being there and it didn’t enter my mind. It felt good, though, to decide to get email addresses for future possible contact. It removed some of the pressure I felt to “get to know them all” on the trail.

Lessons of the day

Hurrying is a habit that’s hard to break…

I watched myself be in a hurry, or needing to keep a time schedule, all day, even though there was no pressure of time whatsoever. I realized that this propensity to always keep moving, to fill my day up with something, is a habit from daily life that I brought to the trail… even when I didn’t need to. While I could sit for 30 minutes at Squaw lake, anything more than that and I started getting antsy. I didn’t even take my pack off at Silver pass for a break, just took a couple photos and kept moving. I understand why I move when I am carrying the pack, as I don’t like the weight on my neck and shoulders. But to feel the  sense of urgency, even when no need for urgency existed, definitely made me stop and take pause. I reflected on this as I lay in the tent that night. I buy into the self-induced pressure of time, even as I realize that part of why I came on the trail was to slow down and relax. I still struggle to reach that seemingly elusive desire for balance between knocking off the miles and the accompanying sense of accomplishment, and stopping to enjoy the lakes and splendid views for more than just mere moments.

My commitment to staying solo trumped my desire to engage with others…

Chief Lake

Enjoying solitude on the way up to Silver Pass…

I identified two main reasons for this. The first was that I really wanted a solo trip.  I feared if I engaged too much, next thing I knew I’d be hiking, eating, and sleeping with other solo hikers, and no longer doing a solo trip. I tried to find an acceptable balance between interaction and solitude, with the clear tendency coming out on the latter end. And secondly, I was really enjoying being by myself! This surprised me, how comfortable I felt hiking and particularly camping alone. I found my company to be quite satisfactory, and I grew increasingly confident in my ability to enjoy just being with myself. This was relatively new for me, and I continued to delight in the fact that I was actually really digging my time alone!

 

 

 

 

 

Hanging with the Mormon Ladies!

Second Solo Backpack Trip

Mormon Ladies Lakes Loop

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

For my second solo backpack trip, I planned to have another go at the Enchantments. After an unsuccessful attempt at such for the fourth of July trip, I still had Enchantments on the brain. I planned for a three-day, two night excursion, but stormy weather kept me in a campground in Leavenworth instead of in the mountains for that first night. I was set to hit the ranger station early Tuesday morning  to put in for a one-night stay in the Enchantments, hoping that on a Tuesday following a day of thunderstorms, competition for permits would be less.

When I arrived at the ranger station at 7:30, however, I could see that was not the case. Eight parties put in for the Core Enchantments, giving me a 1 in 8 chance to secure one. I honestly didn’t care that much if I got it or not, as I had a good back up plan.  And it’s a good thing I did, because again I was not selected. My usual good lottery karma seems to be on hold for this year…or maybe the universe knew that I really needed to go and spend my time with the Mormon Ladies, a group of lakes that I had heard about from the ranger after our previous failed enchantments permit attempt.

The Mormon Ladies Lakes loop takes off from the end of Icicle Creek Road, a popular road for hikes, backpack trips (including the Enchantments), campgrounds, rock climbing, and anything else outdoorsy you can think of. I’d never been to the end of the road, and I had never heard of the mormon ladies until earlier that month. I was drawn to the name of the lakes, the descriptions of them, the beauty apparent from my guide book, and the desire to simply get up into alpine lakes quickly and relatively easily. The lakes are apparently named after Brigham Young’s wives…Mary, Margaret, Florence, Flora, Edna, Ida, and Alice, to name a few. How many wives did he have?? There is also a paternal lake, aptly named Brigham Lake.

Icicle Creek Trailhead to Upper Florence Lake

In so many ways, this was the perfect backpack trip for me. I arrived at road’s end by 9:15 am, the Icicle Creek Trailhead. There was just one other couple there also getting ready to go. They were headed to Lake Leland, and would branch off from me at 4.5 miles. I realized that I could have near-complete solitude on this trip, which amazed me since my guidebook called this loop extremely popular and heavy with livestock.  Having done a solo backpack trip previously, my anxiety about being alone was much less acute this time around, and I relished the idea of quiet after anticipating the idea of crowds.

Frosty Creek

Frosty Creek

The first 4.5 miles of the trail meandered ever so gently through forest, gaining just 400 feet in that distance. Now that’s a great way to start a backpack trip! I loved letting my body warm up and get used to the weight of the pack on a flat stretch. And the trail was in great shape too…I felt like I was in heaven! I knew Frosty Pass was coming up, when the trail split off to Lake Leland and I continued up. My book described the switchbacks as hot and dusty, although the day was temperate and still held clouds from the previous day’s storms. I was prepared for anything, frankly, and enjoying just being out and on the trail.

And the trail up to Frosty Pass was definitely more challenging. There were lots of obstacles and blow downs, and much to climb up, over, and around. I had experienced lots of downed trees on my previous solo trip, unexpectedly, and it got to me. This time around, I fully expected challenge, and it didn’t phase me. I took it one step and obstacle at a time, and really did encounter each obstacle as a challenge instead of a discouragement. I was proud of myself and my attitude, and relished that the miles to the top of Frosty pass flew by.

View from Frosty Pass

View from Frosty Pass

In no time, I was at the turn off to Lake Margaret, the first of the ladies. I had no desire to camp there, as I was just hitting my stride. The trail had opened up, and cloud cover was increasing, with a threat of rain. But since it wasn’t too ominous, I continued on toward Mary Pass at 6900 feet. I had considered Lake Mary for a camping spot, but I encountered another solo female hiker heading down the pass as I was heading up. She said the bugs were REALLY bad at Mary, and she had opted to pitch her tent almost at the top of the pass to get a breeze and some reprieve. She was wandering and exploring after setting up camp, in an effort to stay moving and be less bothered by bugs. A mentality just like my own!  She had a dog with her, otherwise, I may have asked if I could join her little party. I liked her style, and she seemed to be about my age. (Note: it’s not that I don’t like dogs. But I do prefer my wilderness experience without them…just saying.)

View from Mary Pass

View from Mary Pass

On Mary's Pass

On Mary’s Pass

I topped out at Mary pass by 3:30, and I was feeling strong. I’d gained 4000 feet of elevation for the day, and, honestly, I barely felt it. Maybe it was my mindset of anything goes, how well my backpack was fitting, or the cool temperatures that were perfect for hiking…but I felt like I could go on forever. However, I had to figure out where to stay the night, as my camping options would be limited if I opted to go much further. The book had described Upper Florence Lake as THE place to camp (besides Mary)…but warned that one

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

could never find a campsite there. From Mary pass, I could see down to Upper Florence, and it looked like a great option to me. I dropped down, and actually missed the turn off to get to Florence, so intent was I on studying the lake for all those backpackers I was sure must be down there somewhere. I backtracked after I realized my error, found the trail to the lake, and dropped down. I’d seen clearly from my vantage point high above the lake the campsites, and felt certain that NO ONE was there. I thought maybe there was something wrong with the sites, or that I had the wrong lake. Not a soul was present, and I had my pick of sites.

Camping with Florence

My campsite

My campsite

View from my campsite...

View from my campsite…

It wasn’t even 5:00 pm when I dropped my belongings at my chosen site. It is unusual for me to stop hiking so early, particularly when I still had so much energy. But I took my time setting up camp, washing my feet in the lake and putting on long pants and sleeves. I could tell right away that the bugs were bad…they swarmed me constantly and relentlessly. I do not like bug spray and almost never use it. However, on this evening I did, and rubbed my bug hat and flaps with it to try to keep the bugs from driving me nuts. I have good bug tolerance overall, and rarely get bit. But these guys were plentiful and hungry after the previous day’s rain, and I was their only target!

I set my tent up and made dinner, all the while doing the bug shoo. It was distracting for sure. After dinner, I thought I’d go on an evening hike up to a nice knoll I could see from camp, to get away from the bugs. The clouds were coming and going, mostly coming, and the weather had a dramatic feel to it. Surprisingly, once I was done with dinner, I didn’t feel like putting my shoes back on and going anywhere. Instead, I crawled in my tent with the rain fly open…and the sun gleamed in as it flirted back and forth with the clouds. It was pleasant and lovely, and I was out of the bugs. I wrote and read some, until an acceptable amount of near-darkness allowed me to call it a day and try for sleep. I felt peaceful and satisfied with the day, and slept reasonably well.

Florence to Chatter Creek Trailhead

I was awake before first light. I lay in my tent until just after 5:00, when there was enough daylight to get up and moving. The morning was cold, and a heavy dew had settled in overnight. I actually relished this, as one of my fears for the JMT is that of trying to pack up and get ready to hit the trail when the morning is cold. My hands get cold easily and then they don’t work well or warm up well. I had brought hand warmers for this trip, and I decided to try it. I stuck a pair in my gloves, and made breakfast and coffee while alternately taking my fingers out of the finger compartments in my gloves to wrap around the hand warmers. This strategy worked well, and I was able to get everything broken down and put away without too much cold-hand trauma. The sun had entered the campsite by the time I was ready to go at 7:30, and the day looked to be lovely.

View from Ladies Pass

View from Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Ladies Pass was the next event on the trail. Just a mile or so away, it was all flowers, beauty, and views to get there. There was also snow, and the snow was too hard to traverse in the early morning chill, so I climbed up and around. The views were stupendous, and I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music! I came up and over Ladies Pass, and before me lay four mountain goats taking a rest above Lake Edna. The scene was pastoral and perfect. By the time I was camera ready, the goats had ambled off…but Marmots remained, and the lake below was serene and other-worldly. It reminded me of the Enchantment Lakes, and I was truly in awe of the splendor.

Lake Edna

Lake Edna

The trail wound down and around Lake Edna. I embraced it all, not wanting it to end. The trail splits shortly after Edna, and I would be heading back to Chatter Creek. Briefly, I entertained continuing along Icicle Ridge Trail. I knew you could go for many more miles, and still work your way back down to Icicle Creek Road via Fourth of July Creek Trail. But my car was already 3.5 miles from the trailhead I would come out at, and to go farther would be ludicrous. I didn’t want to leave the ridge, but reason won over. I turned for the Chatter Creek trail.

View from Lake Edna

View from Lake Edna

I assumed the trail would start to drop immediately. I had 4000 feet of elevation to lose. But instead, it went up and down, over boulder fields and more snow fields, and navigation was challenging. I had to stay on my toes, and try to keep track of the trail when it disappeared in rock and

snow. Eventually I topped out (again) at a pass, and the trail began to descend in earnest. Steep, open switchbacks, lay before me, and flowers and creek sightings. It didn’t look like too bad of a way to get back to the trailhead.

Chatter Creek

Chatter Creek

Down into the valley...

Down into the valley…

And it wasn’t. The hike ended as it started…quite perfectly. The trail past the last pass,  while steep, was in better shape than Frosty Pass, and easy to follow. I felt totally zen, and marveled at how good of a fit the trip was for me overall. I felt really good physically, and like I could have continued on for many more hours and days. THAT is what I wanted to feel, like I had gas in the tank at the end of the trail. I saw just one more lone hiker almost at the bottom of the Chatter Creek trail…for a sum total of four other hikers the entire 20 miles. On the road back to my car, I had nothing but positive thoughts about the trip overall.

What went right…

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters...the perfect combo!

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters…the perfect combo!

As I walked those last 3.5 miles on roads, I thought about what all had gone well. My gear was good, and my feet were good. I have come back to the great combination of trail runners and gaiters…and that’s how it will stay. I felt “one with the backpack”, similar to how I feel with my bike when I ride. At all times during the two days, I was at peace with my solitude, surroundings, and even the obstacles I encountered. I had lakes and flowers and mountains spread out before me like a first-class buffet. I got to do a loop hike, where each step took me somewhere new. And since it was a hike I had never done, it truly was all a new experience. I returned to my car with energy to spare, and ready to take on more. JMT here I come!

I simply could not have asked for more on this trip. It was perfect in every way.  (Well, except maybe the bugs…)

 

For more information on the Mormon Ladies Lakes loop, click HERE

“Soul Restoration” Day Hike

What is a “soul restoration” hike?

There are certain hikes that put me into a calm and pleasant head space, each and every time I go there. I coined the term “soul restoration” hike for these places, as I will seek them out again and again to reach that near- nirvana. In order for a hike to meet my criteria as a soul restoration hike, it must have all of several attributes:

  1. I have done the hike at least five times, to test the waters, and see if it “accomplishes” the same thing for me each time. Of course it’s not a matter of accomplishment, it’s just something that happens. 
  2. I have variable and overwhelming positive associations with both the trail and the destination.
  3. I anticipate and have confidence in the state of mind that will come as a result of getting there and being there.
  4. Experience dictates that the effects of such “soul restoration” hikes will last…for hours, days, weeks to come.
  5. There is a natural beauty and peace that goes beyond that which the eye can see.  It’s a calming and meditative type of place where only good thoughts and feelings are allowed to enter. I am truly in my element there.

One of these hikes is oh so very close to where I finished my first solo backpack trip last week. That hike took me out of Easy Pass Trailhead, off of Highway 20 in the North Cascades. Just ten minutes east is the trailhead for Rainy Pass Day Use Area,  home to Maple Pass/Lake Ann loop trail. That hike is one of my soul restoration day hikes, and I am drawn there like a magnet each time I am in close physical proximity. Two other times I have done the 7.5 mile loop after a backpack trip, and the thought to do so again formulated  early on the last backpack trip. My decision was all but confirmed when I ran into two female hikers on my way down Easy Pass, who said they had done Maple Pass/Lake Ann the previous day. They reported that the trail had a fair amount of snow, but was “so very beautiful”.

“Don’t I know it!”, I thought, and knew I would go there.

Lake Ann/Maple Pass day hike

I have been on this hike the two times previously following backpack trips, a handful of times by myself, and once with my kids when they were quite young. ALL these trips have intensely positive associations and great memories, and the scenery is simply unbeatable. Since the day I set out was mostly clear, I knew I would be in for a real treat! I was looking forward to getting completely squared away in the head,  heart, and soul.  Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I came out of my solo backpack trip feeling any major unrest…but I was drawn to the ease and predictability of the loop hike. It’s me in my happiest place…one step after the next, up the pass, along the pass, and back down again. Simplicity and Presence prevail.

All I can say is that the hike delivered as promised. Here are some scenes from my time there…I trust that readers will go if desired and formulate their own experiences and memories.  🙂

Scenes from Maple Pass/Lake Ann

Looking UP at Maple Pass and DOWN to Lake Ann

Looking UP at Maple Pass and DOWN to Lake Ann

So many peaks in the background...

So many peaks in the background…

An old guy took this picture...the lighting is a little off, but he was nice enough to take the pic!

An old guy took this picture…the lighting is a little off, but he was nice enough to take the pic!

Heading up the last part of the pass...all snow, all fun!

Heading up the last part of the pass…all snow, all fun!

At the very top...a 7.5 months pregnant woman took this photo. A woman after my own heart!

At the very top…a 7.5 months pregnant woman took this photo. A woman after my own heart!

 

 

Coming down the pass, view of Rainy Lake

Coming down the pass, view of Rainy Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Kathie!

 

First Solo Backpack Trip…in complete solitude!

The Intention

After a few earlier botched attempts, I finally got out for my first solo backpack trip. My intentions were specific and my expectations relatively simple. I wanted to go out on my own, hike some miles with my backpack full of gear, spend the night alone in the tent, and hike back out. I wanted a hike of 10 – 12 miles each way, for a reasonable total of 20 -24 for the two days. Mostly, I just needed to DO IT, to get over my fear of going out alone. My solo hike of the JMT is coming up very quickly, and time is running out to get that obstacle crossed off my list.

I didn’t have a specific location in mind, so I drove to the Marblemount Ranger Station, the “Gateway to the North Cascades”. I have found that forest rangers usually have good recommendations of the type of hike or backpack trip one is looking for, and updated information about conditions as well.  The ranger that helped me was perhaps a bit inexperienced, as she didn’t have any stellar ideas to fit what I was looking for.  I was feeling impatient, as I had left Bellingham later than planned, and so I settled on the first thing that sounded even remotely satisfactory. I secured my permit for a one night stay at Cosho Campground, ten miles in off of the Easy Pass Trailhead, right off Highway 20.

The Route

I had been to Easy Pass  only once on a day hike two years previous. It’s a spectacular hike, with memorable views from the top. I know from experience, though, that “Easy Pass” is not easy. It’s 2800 feet of elevation in 3.7 miles, the steepest part of  which switchbacks up very loose rock.  But I figured that would be the most challenging part of the hike, and it would be over early and quickly.  I didn’t know what lay beyond Easy Pass, but the ranger assured me it was “very pretty country”.

I drove to the trailhead, and was surprised to see no cars in the parking lot. It was 12:45 when I arrived, and I didn’t figure anyone would be flying in after to pass me on my way in. I knew then that I would be in complete and utter solitude for the hike in, overnight, and probably most of the hike out. My desire for solo backpacking was going to get met in spades!

I started out feeling the weight of my pack. I hadn’t overpacked, but I did bring most of what I will bring on the JMT (with the exception of all the food, of course). So my pack was a bit heavy, I was feeling sluggish, and I felt strange heading out into the unknown alone. I managed to hit my stride once I was out of the forest, and could see the pass ahead. The sun was out, and I was looking forward to the views from the pass.

Looking up Easy Pass

Looking up Easy Pass

View from Easy Pass

View from Easy Pass

I ascended the pass carefully and steadily, through rock and snow. I topped out, and the views were as spectacular as I remembered. I took some time to wander around, and snap some photos of the plethora of stately and majestic peaks in each direction.  I had no map or trail guide to consult, so I had to make do with enjoying but not identifying the surrounding peaks.

As I left the pass, it became clear that the trail dropped down steeply and convincingly. I am not sure what I had expected, but not that. I thought it would meander for awhile, descend gradually into a meadow, and eventually down to Fisher Creek. But it plummeted with very steep switchbacks, one after the next. The scenery was grand, however, as wildflowers of every imaginable sort bloomed at their peak.

Trail starting it's descent...

Trail starting it’s descent…

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

 

I entertained myself by trying to count the number of different wildflowers, but soon gave up and enjoyed them all. The distance down the steep switchbacks was about two miles, and then I was at Fisher Camp. My camp was just over four miles beyond that.

The grade eased up, but the trail conditions deteriorated significantly. It was at this time that I realized my mistake in forgetting to ask the ranger about the pattern of elevation gain and loss. I had also failed to ask her anything about the nature and  condition of the trail. It was by all accounts overgrown, and not well maintained. I could see the direction it was headed, which was beautiful for awhile,  but I knew it had to soon enter forest. There simply wasn’t enough open space to last four miles.

Direction trail is headed...

Direction trail is headed…

When the trail entered forest, it deteriorated even more. Now, in addition to the thick and overgrown brush that completely obscured the trail at times, there were multiple downed trees that created significant obstacles. I counted ten “log obstacles”, some of them very significant. Scrambling over trees and logs is not my favorite pastime, especially with a full pack.  At times I felt discouraged by the nature of the trail, and asked myself WHY was I there?  Of all the trails in the area, how did I end up clamoring over fallen trees and fighting my way through brush? But I was determined to keep my spirits up and view it as an adventure.

When I finally arrived at Cosho camp, it was in a deeply forested area. This is generally not my favorite type of campsite, as views are limited.  Of the three available sites, I chose one right by the river, as it was peaceful with the constant sound of water.  I set up my tent and cooked my dinner with only the sound of my own voice, the birds, and the river to keep me company. It was actually incredibly soothing. I hit the tent even before darkness fell.

After a decent sleep, I was up early the following morning, and back on the trail by 7:00 am.  I retraced my steps, through the blow downs and salmon berries. I realized that I had descended not only the steep two miles, but most of the latter four as well. So it was a lot of up hill for the first six miles.  I reminded myself that was what I had come for — practice, and putting the legs to the test with the weight of the pack. On the way back up the switchbacks, I couldn’t keep myself from taking multiple pictures of flowers. That served the purpose of distraction and rest! Here are a few more photos:

Silky Lupine

Silky Lupine

Western Tiger Lillies

Western Tiger Lillies

Western Ladies Tresses

Western Ladies Tresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I topped out (again) at Easy Pass, and the rest was all downhill. I finally encountered two groups of people as I descended the pass. It was nice to see and chat with folks after my 24 hours alone in the wild! I arrived back at my car at 12:45, exactly 24 hours after I had left.

The Lessons

I learned some important things on this trip. I will incorporate these gems into future trips…

Get more information.

In retrospect, as mentioned, I should have asked the ranger for information on the route and trail conditions. Nothing I encountered was too challenging to deal with, but I always say “information is power”. It would have been nice to know what I was dealing with ahead of time. And while I am not generally a “map person”, I can see how having a map of the area can be very beneficial as well.

Trust your instincts and footing when you can’t see the path.

Back up to Easy Pass

Back up to Easy Pass

In parts where the trail was completely obscured, I simply had to put one foot in front of the next, and see how it landed. It’s worth noting that in my care with this, I didn’t twist an ankle even once…which is a big accomplishment on any given trail, visible or not!

View the obstacles as challenges on the path to success!

In any endeavor, biking, hiking, or life, stressing about the obstacles brings me down. So I switched gears each time I encountered one, from a “not another!” mentality, to viewing it as opportunity to overcome whatever was keeping me from moving forward.

Focus on the positive and the “negatives” fall away.

The trip and trail wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but in retrospect, it was just what I needed. I wanted solitude, and I got that. I wanted hills and elevation, and I got that. I wanted wildflowers, views, and sunshine…and I certainly got all of that. So what was I complaining about?  There was absolutely nothing “wrong” with this trip on the whole. With it’s challenges, it provided me an opportunity to choose to place my focus on it’s highlights and great aspects, and let the rest just be. Like life, it was full of ups and downs, clamoring followed by victory, moments of stress followed by relief that it really wasn’t that tough after all. I showed up, did my thing, and largely put to rest my fear of backpacking alone, one step and obstacle at a time. A victory for sure!

Up next…

With these lessons in mind, I plan to head out tomorrow for solo backpack #2.  This time I will go for two nights, and I may face rain, as the weather calls for such. I will not let fear of rain keep me away, as inevitably I will encounter inclement weather on the JMT. More opportunity to face down more fears. Stay tuned…

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 4 and Summary

Out from Lake Stuart and up Fourth of July Creek Trail

Before we retired Sunday, we discussed options for the last day of our trip, the actual 4th of July. I don’t like the hubbub of the fourth, and didn’t have any need or desire to get back to Bellingham early. Shannon and Kevin had options of parties to attend, and wanted to hike out and leave. Since we had two cars, we agreed that I would pack up and head out right after breakfast in pursuit of a local day hike, and they would vacate the campsite at their leisure.

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

I awoke early enough to capture the first morning light on Mt. Stuart from our campsite. It was a beautiful sight from a great campsite… and in some ways I was sad to leave. For my first backpack of the year, and the first ever with some of the new gear, I felt confident that I had figured some things out. My pack went together much easier for the return hike. I had eaten all of my food, which meant I could fill my bear canister with other things. The bear canister is obnoxious, but it’s required for my trip on the John Muir Trail, and I had brought it to resemble that upcoming trip as closely as possible. In preparing to leave Lake Stuart,  I took more time to pack my pack, and work with it’s numerous pockets and compartments. Because it is a new pack for me, it takes time to learn it’s nuances.  The pack I am using is an Osprey Ariel 75…which is plenty big for a multi-week trip, and I figure if I can’t get everything in it, I shouldn’t be going!

Shannon and Kevin were up before I left, and we said our goodbyes. I think we all felt good about what we had done, and that we had made the best of our four days. Even though we didn’t get to backpack the Enchantments, we made it there with a day-hike, got to experience Horseshoe Lake, and had good relational time. A winning weekend all around!

As I hiked out, I contemplated the trip and others to come.  I felt good about the miles I had put in, although my feet were clearly not happy.  I acutely felt each step in that 4.5 miles back to the car, and the discomfort was intense. I made the decision right then that the hiking boots were not going to make the cut. While I like the added protection and ankle support, my left foot was killing me…and that was  after just  three days and 40 miles, most of it day-hiking. I couldn’t imagine enduring that pain for 20 days and over 240 miles, almost all of it with a backpack. Last year I did the JMT in Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes…and it appears that I will be doing that again. For whatever reason, those shoes with my orthotics do not cause the same type of discomfort and pain, and the Enchantments trip really solidified that for me.

Fourth of July Creek Trail on the 4th of July!

Although I was tired and my feet hurt, I couldn’t shake the idea of doing one more day hike in the area before heading home. The hike I wanted to do was the Fourth of July Creek Trail. What better day to do it than on the Fourth of July! I left the decision to fate, surmising that if there was parking at the trailhead for the hike, I would do it. If not, I would head home. Since the Lake Stuart trailhead was absolutely packed when I got back to my car, and there were cars parked a long ways down the road, I reasoned I had about a 50/50 chance of hiking.

fourthofjulysignApparently, not everyone was drawn to the Fourth of July Creek Trail. There were only four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. There was a big group of mountain bikers that occupied two of the cars. I thought maybe something was wrong with the trail what with so few people. I asked the bikers about the conditions. They said it was in great shape, and had recently been cleared of all debris. I looked at the trail notifications, and all it cautioned was that rattlesnakes had been seen on the trail. I vaguely remembered doing this hike back in my early 20’s, and recalled that it was steep, open, through quite a bit of burn-out, and very hot. This day was still a bit chilly, and I didn’t think heat would be a problem. I checked the guidebook, and sure enough, it was 4600 feet of elevation gain in five miles. But the book promised great views well before the top, and I figured I would go for two hours then turn back.

I changed my shoes, relieved to done with the hiking boots. The trail runners felt much better, and, encouraged, I hit the trail and started up. After just 1/4 mile, the trail immediately crosses the Fourth of July Creek.  I was trying to avoid getting wet, and chose to cross on a log instead of over rocks. Somehow, I slipped and fell right into the creek! It surprised the heck out of me, and of course I got soaked. I scratched the back of my leg, and it was bleeding quite a lot. I thought maybe that was a sign from the universe that I was NOT supposed to go on the hike. I recovered enough to walk back to the car, pondering this. I felt discouraged, but decided not to give up.

I changed clothes and socks, and went at it again. By this time it was 11:15, and I told myself I would turn around at 1:15. For round two, I decided to take headphones and listen to an audio book I was almost done with. I must confess that sometimes I do listen to books when I hike…it’s a relatively new habit, and one I don’t plan to bring into my backpacking life. But sometimes when I hike I LIKE the distraction of listening to a good book…especially on a hike that promises to be as relentlessly steep as this one did.

Up and up I went. I passed some other hikers, and eventually the mountain bikers. They were literally pushing their bikes, as the trail was too steep to ride. They were headed up to the pass, then planned to zoom down a different and longer trail off of Icicle Creek Ridge. That’s a lot of work for some short thrills, but they were into it and excited. I continued on alone until about 1:00, then decided to eat lunch and turn around. The views were OK, although you could still see burned trees, which slightly bummed me out.

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around...

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around…

Just as I was preparing to leave, the mountain bikers caught back up to me, and I asked one to take a photo before heading down. He did, but also told me I was close to the top…only about half an hour more, he estimated. He said it was totally worth it, and encouraged me to keep going. I told him I would think about it. They moved on, and I thought, what the heck, I had come that far…and so I pressed on. The trail got full of flowers, and if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on just getting there, I would have taken some photos. The views continued to get more expansive, and I lost the burned trees. The chilly wind also picked up, as I was now close to 7000 feet. I started having a deja vu of Aasgard Pass the day before, and moved as quickly as my tired legs would allow to stay warm.

View from the ridge

Soon I could see the top and where I was headed. I could also see that the views were not going to get much better, and that the clouds were coming in. I was close, but enough was enough! I didn’t feel like going to the very top, and it felt great to be OK with that. I put on my shirt and coat, ate my last power bar, and took a photo as my audio book finished up. I made the hike down in stillness,  at a quick and steady pace.

Summary

I arrived back at the car at 3:45. I took stock of the physical body before driving home. My arthritic right knee was unquestionably sore, most likely from all the miles and the steep descents. I knew it would probably swell up and cause trouble for the next several days. My feet, however,  were much better than in the morning, since I had switched shoes. Overall, I felt pretty darn good after hiking 50 miles in four days.

The trip definitely increased my confidence for the upcoming John Muir trip. I will be doing similar daily distances, albeit with a backpack. I have a better sense of my gear, and how to make everything fit. I still need practice on this, but I have a month to figure out all the remaining details and work out the remaining kinks….

Next up: First solo backpack trip (this time for real!), scheduled for later this week. Stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

 

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