Tuesday, August 25, 2009
We have gained 6,000 ft. of elevation in the past 24 hours. Up followed by some Up with a side of Up. We are in thick forest and have no perception of when the concavity of the hills will top-out. I drink orange powder and it makes me keep going up. Today we have met our quota of 14 miles and started off strong, despite our current limping and groans. We camp at Cathedral Lakes – The water is warm like a hot tub. The temperature doesn't quite fit the glacial surroundings, and lacks the same healing powers of a crispy cold body of water. This is one of the more cozy spots in Yosemite, compared to the nearby Sunrise camp which is stocked with propane, camp tables, permanent tents with windows - all horsed in by popular demand.
A pack of horses swarms our camp. The alpha male sticks his snout in my bear bucket for food. He doesn’t respond to the yells like the bear. He leaves on his own terms. We immediately climb Donahue Pass up to 11056 ft. The trail is really picking up in beauty, and intensity of terrain. From the pass we can see down the path we will take for the next 12 days. On the south side of Donahue pass, we hiked by some idyllic pools, perfect napping stations that tempted us to stay, but this trip we are walking machines. But to end the day after soreness and hunger has eaten into our motivation. We decided that the following days will include a mandatory 2-hour swim/fish/cleaning of the clothes in the sun. (Take advantage of a good spot now, not wait and hope for one later). We end today at Garnett Lake. The wind howls, the trees are all bent and the rocks are sharp. Some weird couple from California decides to camp 15 feet from the spot I chose – Very confusing - they must be lonely and more social than I would choose to be out here.
So far this trip is an emotional roller coaster: 3 miles of joy followed by 3 miles of fear and worry, 3 miles of health followed by 3 miles of pain, 3 miles of glad to be in the middle of nowhere followed by 3 miles of wanting to be nearer to what I know.
We have seen the big, the dramatic, now we see the subtle, with smelly good trees and sandy lakes. We pass through so many different types of terrain that it’s impossible to keep track of where you have been all day. I only had one goal in mind for today: Find a lake or stream and wash all my clothes. My smell is awful, and has become a route description for the other hikers passing by. They must think we lost our jobs in the recession and are hiking to the next state in hopes of affording soap. We find a great spot near Red Meadows, above a waterfall to bathe and wash clothes. Right when I am stripped down to my undies, scrubbing myself thoroughly around my privates, a young family stops and picnics 10 feet from us. Is California becoming like China, where there are so many people that they are forced to be comfortable next to each other. After a 1.5 hour break, we hike into Red Meadows, drop off some garbage, fill up with water, quickly look at the Devil’s Postpile (basalt columns) and begin the last 5 miles. It’s a grunt, the forest is burnt, the ground is chewed up sand, and we are more than tired. We end here at Crater Meadows. Tomorrow should be interesting – there was a severe storm warning posted on the Red Meadows Ranger Station that warned of snow, rain, and lightning above 9,000 feet. John Muir Trail hikers were advised to stay put until the storm passes in 2 days. Since we are carrying 20 more pounds than all the other through-hikers, including extra gear, specifically extra gear for inclement weather, we decided to push on through into the storm and get ahead rather than behind.
I enter a dark place in my mind each day I am here. The distance on the body is daunting.
It is damn cold today! We are hiking in fleeces and can’t stop but more than 2 minutes without shivering – meaning we’re hiking as fast as we can to keep warm. The first half of the day, clouds were everywhere, dancing on top of one another, but too light to contain any moisture. As we reached 10,400 ft we were lightly snowed on, but not enough to cause any additional wetness. The trail became really beautiful at purple lake and beyond. Virginia lake was spectacular, but cold and windy as hell. We made our way down to 9,00 ft to Tully Hole – a small meandering river awaits us fishing all afternoon. This is the first day we have some time to enjoy our campsite. We were so concerned about being caught in the storm we flew 15 miles in 8 hours, arriving here at 3:30pm.I am discovering that the human body can go about 12 miles with a heavy pack with some to mediocre problems. But we are pushing an average of 15 miles per day. The last miles are pounding pain and delusional moments. We are now 1/3 of the way and my feet look like mushrooms. Riedner reminds us that this is “the trip that will define this decade of your life.”
The south side of Selden pass is beautiful. There looks to be great camping near Sally Keyes lake, but we can’t take advantage because our mileage quota rings, ‘go go go’, not ‘stay and have a relaxing outdoor adventure.’ After dropping 3,000 ft. down the pass we finally arrive at Muir Trail Ranch. We set up an awesome campsite near the San Joaquin River, near the other 100 through-hikers awaiting food caches. We will add a full load of weight with new gear and new food tomorrow morning.
We hiked into Kings Canyon National Park, up the San Joaquin River. It’s big, loud, and beautiful. Then we made our way up to Evolution Valley, where we took a swim in a cascading pool with a bedrock bottom. We set up camp at an elevated perch above a meandering stretch of the evolution creek. Today we logged our least amount of mileage - I blame it on the absence of homemade jerky. What is this Oberto crap?
This eventually led into LeCont Canyon (spelling?) – Big, glaciated canyon where our final destination, palisades creek, drains into. We set up our tents again in the dark, and have completed a total of 20 miles today. Some Irish ranger saw us 4 miles from our destination and said, “you boys look tired, from the look on your faces, you’re not going to make it [to palisades creek]”. Dumbass - We made it.
We climbed Pinchot pass quickly, then hobbled on down the back side – These 3500 ft. of descent are like trying to cut down a 48" diameter tree with only your knee and ankle bones. We were slower than molasses, and a dip in the river was necessary. I lay on a log suspended above whitewater rapids to air dry, which quickly reversed my entire mental state into the ups. This again proves that any form of cold fresh water cures anything you have. We started the climb of another pass, but after 18 miles, we decided to call it a day and camp at Rae Lakes. It is beautiful here and seems to be popular based on all the little headlights across the lake.
We are planning our exit. We must average 17-18 miles per day over these huge passes in the next few days. We have been pushing ourselves from the beginning, might as well make it a full beating.
We both became extremely dizzy when approaching the top. I learned that trying to eat a jolly rancher while hiking up switchbacks at high elevations, sucking wind is really just a choking hazard. I now only eat jolly ranchers on the down slopes. This pass felt like being on top of the world, where your only surroundings are massive rocks shooting out of the earth. After our descent from Forester pass, we both lie down in sponge-like moss near a small stream, with 12” of travel , this makes the most comfortable bed of all time. An attractive woman also descending jumps into a frozen lake nearby, then dances around the rocks in her underwear while her boyfriend watched in embarrassment. She then proceeded to strap into her huge backpack, again only in her underwear, and made sure to walk off the trail in between me and Riedner’s napping position. Either high elevation does funny things to your brain, or we’re just that handsome. I felt sorry for her boyfriend.
The view and the time here is beautiful. It is our first rest in 13 days. Why are we pushing so hard to get out of here? Ever free moment we have is filled with ideas of moving farther and faster– just for the challenge. Maybe its that German heritage, or just the desire to be able to smell yourself without gagging.
Your taste buds are more sensitive @ 14,500 ft. Everything tastes really good up here – more salty, more sweet, more sour, more bitter.
We awoke at 4:00am in below freezing temperatures from guitar lake, and arrived at the top of Whitney at 8:30am. I am Euphoric, this is the most enjoyable hike of the entire trip, it is easy compared to the rest. This is the end of the official John muir Trail. We now hike down 7,000 ft. of switchbacks to Whitney Portal, to a white truck, to some cheeseburgers and a beer. We have completed the 223 miles in 14 days.
This was an unforgettable trip, not necessarily enjoyable, but unforgettable. It was a 336 hour long emotional and physical challenge for which we couldn’t back out – only move forward. We didn’t necessarily want to eat dehydrated food ever day, dig a hole for a bathroom, apply first aid to our feet every stop… we had to. We had to deal with whatever came our way. It was like living as an animal, except for the toilet paper, the stove, the fuel, the first aid, the water filter, the tent…..… well, it’s as close to an animal as I will ever be.
I don’t think I will do another trip quite like this one. It is like you can see the fish, but you don’t get to catch them, but you’re carrying the gear to do so. I have discovered that the wilderness is not a highway to be traveled through at high speeds. The wilderness is a rest stop to pause and take a break from the highway which is our lives.
I have also learned that when something seems wrong, or I assume it will get worse – It will get better within 2 days.
List of temporary ailments:
· Cold sore on lips
· Scabs throughout nostrils
· Fingernails all pulled away from swollen fingers
· Blisters the size of additional toes on feet
· Achilles tendon strained
· Sunburned eyes
· Taste buds desensitized (except for elevation 14,500 ft.)
· General joint aches
· General digestive problemsTotal weight loss: 13 pounds