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Friday, September 25, 2015

H. Y. O. H. JMT - The riveting conclusion/ Including the first 4 days

  •  HYOH = Hike Your Own Hike - Adventures on the John Muir Trail - 

Trail notes. Day 1. Sept 2 2015
PCT/JMT southbound. 
Tuolumne Meadows to mile marker 934 Lyle trail camp: 
Greeted to the trail by deer in the first mile after my father gave me a good "last" breakfast omelet with potatoes and salsa  at the Tioga Resort. Walked me the first quarter mile from the ranger station in sandals. The first day was easy trail but the 60lbs of everything and the 9200 foot elevation wore me down fast. Like anything new once the excitement wares off and the real work begins.
Lyell Creek
  I stopped to catch my breath at one point and a marmot poked his head above a bolder to see who it was. He had a mouthful of dry grass for his nest that looked like a huge mustache. I had to keep myself from laughing out loud as not to scare him. 
   When I'd had enough walking I found a small spot uphill from the trail to bed down. With the good weather and few Mosquitos I just throw out a ground cloth, air mattress and sleeping bag. That set out I went down to the stream to pump-filter some water. In the middle of minding my own water collection a large mule deer came down the opposite bank, walked into the middle of the stream, a few feet away from me for a drink. Then she let the water out the other end and reminded me why I was filtering mine! 
  I cooked up some dehydrated-spicy, buckwheat noodles with veg & chick peas that I had prepared a few months earlier.
SPOT on :)
  After dinner I walked up the trail a bit to investigate the sounds of a heard of cows with bells and what sounded like a dog being attacked by a bear. I thought how rude. Turned out to be a stock camp with the noise to keep bears away and a god awful mule braying. 

Day 2:
Woke to frost all over everything. Definitely a cold start. Walked another 7 miles very hard hike up Donahue Pass to 11,100 feet. A long steep stretch gaining about 2000 foot elevation. Started at 8 and hit summit at 2:00. Great view of Mt. Lyell and the glacier, there was even a waterfall coming off it at about 13,000 feet up. Crossing into the Ansel Adams Wilderness and it is as gorgeous as the pictures. Met a retired couple from Oregon to walk with for a few miles but they pulled ahead near the summit and I needed a few more stops. Ended the day at Marie Lakes trail spur at 10,000 feet. 
Pitched tent and dinner was the priority. It's a pain to dig down inside the bear canister and repack it so I tend to eat whatever  works at the top. It makes a good chair though, when all you have is rocks. Then screw the lid back on tight and walk it a hundred feed away from the tent, the M.O. every day. Been loosing a couple of miles each day on the goal but it is flexible. Still 20 miles to Reds Meadow for some "home cooked(not trail)" food and maybe a shower. 

Day 3: too tired to journal today 15 miles push to make up a few miles. 
Morning day4:  Made it to Agnew Meadow and was 'rewarded' with USFS toilets, trashcans and my fav outback luxury, picnic benches! 
  Other than an awesome view of Thousand Island lake after making my way through Island Pass early in the day the day was uneventful... If you don't count a lack of water where I wanted it so I made a detour to beautiful Badger Lake. Only problem was when I thought I was on the PCT south turned out I wound up on the River Trail. No biggie, they wound up in the same place:)
 One (of the many) reasons to be in the High Sierras is solitude. Not so much here. Sure I have miles of quiet and camping but the JMT/PCT is the outback equivalent of the 405 in rush hour. I'm seeing at least 20 people a day. All kinds of ages but the bulk are 20-something couples and some older folks. 
 I've never heard a tree fall in the woods but I did hear a big rockslide rushing down the canyon walls and then all was silent. Even the wind, for a moment. 

Day 4:  Agnew Meadow to Reds Meadow.  
Devils Postpile National Monument
Worth the 8 1/2 miles for a hot shower, cafe, electricity and laundry. Spoiled in the outback! Way too many people on labor day weekend at Devils Postpile National Monument. 

Donohue Pass- Ansel Adams Wilderness

Day 5
Kirsarge Pass
It was nice to get into Reds Meadow relatively early on day 4, because other than taking advantage of some amenities, I got to meet and spend time talking with many other long-distance backpackers. I spent many hours in trail and gear talk with a PCT thru-hiker (making up the JMT area from avoiding winters heavy snows) Chuck Wagon. It was quite the education. Which reminds me about trail names. Many hikers go by a handle, or trail name for fun, yours truly being BuddhaClause. 
There is definitely a different vibe, purpose and philosophy between JMT and PCT hikers. One thing being trail names, JMTers tend not to have them. Serious milage being another. 
"One things for sure..." said Chuck Wagon, "...If i die on the trail, its not my problem."
Whale Rock at Pete's Meadow
You never know what you may find in the woods. A JMT hiker from Israel rounded up a bunch of us strays to all pitch our tents in a camp spot he already set aside. We all spent time talking around a real campfire, which was different because we are usually used to using our stoves for heat. That and with the regulations it took me a while to figure out that generally you can have wood fires below 10,000 feet.
I was up early and mounting up just as the others emerged from their tents. I was on a mission you see... The local cafe opened for breakfast at 7:00 and I wanted in! Found my spot at the counter and 15 minutes later there was a line out the door!!! Early bird gets the fresh coffee and eggs.
I hit the trail before any of the others I had become friends with because I knew they would all pass me soon. About the only hikers I pass are at least 60 years old (more often above 70), and not all of them either. One old guy I passed soon after entering the burned out forrest south of Reds' just smiled and handed me a candy as I went buy. Turned out when he caught me resting up the trail he reveled his name was Turtle and he basically lived on the trail.
 "Screw homeless shelters!" He confided. "I find what I need out here."
As we left the area that morning the smoke from the Rough Fire (at 80,000 acres about 20 miles west) was really obscuring the view. Luckily almost the entire day's hike was in the forrest with no said views anyway. 
The last sight of the day was a strange a bit odd. Turned out the hiker from Israel that gathered up JMT strays for camp, was a Buddhist and we liked each others company. 
Playing MocToc at Duck Lake Trail
The next day after an 11-mile-day & over 3000 foot elevation gain, I worked my way up the canyon leading toward Duck Lake to find him, Shlomie, beating on a Buddhist wooden hand bell called a mocajo to a chant. I could hear it a quarter mile back and knew who it was as soon as I figured out what I was listening to. We sat and chanted the Heart Sutra together Afterwords I broke out mya fresh whole wheat tortillas I had been bogarting for a feast to share. Couscous and rice with taco seasoning was a nice dinner on a rock at 10,000 feet. 

Slept in a little because a 2:30AM visitor kept me up for a bit. A lone coyote decided he found something about 20 yards from my tent and proceeded to call to his pack for reinforcements. Scared me at first because he made this low gruff noise like a bear but it turned into his warm up bark. He was quite loud and I'm sure every hiker in the valley was awake. I thought we can't have this, especially if his friends show up, so I turned the flashlight on him and dissuaded his enthusiasm. He was a good size with a thick gray coat like an arctic wolf. 

Day 6
We decide to hike together for a bit. Duck Lake trail to Chief Lake. A nice hike. Made a stop at Lake Virginia to soak the feet and filter some water while Shlomie meditated along the trail. He is 28 so somewhere he finds the energy to chant and meditate every day (I'm sure my slow pace affords him the luxury of time for such pursuits) Many people we met at camp at Reds' were on the  JMT in the same direction so I would see them from time to time as we all leap-frogged each others path. 

Day 7. Silver pass and 12.5 miles to somewhere near Bear Creek in the dark. Out of water and passing dry creek after dry creek we push hard with headlamps toward the sound of Bear Creek in the distant canyon before finding a trickle of water and rest. Good enough for food and drinking. Water is plentiful in the Sierra but there is the occasional dry stretch to plan for... missed that one.

Day 8
Muir Trail Ranch Hikers Boxes
Up before dawn to make 15 miles to Muir Trail Ranch. Big goal for resupply. Didn't pitch a tent the night before to save morning prep time. Up and powered some of my hot granola n nut concoction I call the Bangalore breakfast due to the fact that one of the main ingredients was an Indian breakfast powder.  Hit the trail before Shlomi, as he always catches up,  and he has this great rule not to get up until the sun hits his tent.  The first half of the day was a nice 7-mile-assent up Seldon Pass at 10,910 ele. followed by a arduous 8-mile decent to 7200,'( I think  the lowest on the JMT) the last mile being the worst-made, steepest trail (not the official trail) to Muir Trail Ranch, MTR by 6:30pm, witch closes at 5:(  In considerable foot and knee pain I stood in the cold river while filtering some cooking and drinking water (an oft followed ritual of mine), scarfed some pico beans n rice, pitched my house and typed this before sleep while listening to Shalome eat his rice. Looks like I'm taking a zero (no miles) tomorrow. Maybe some chores and a hot spring soak, alas I am a day ahead of schedule. 
Considering making Whitney the end of the trip. 

Resupply zero day at MTR (Day 9)
"Every day I spend here I get softer...  while Charlie is in the bush getting harder." - Apocalypse Now
A zero day is nice to rest but there is an edge to the routine of the trail that dulls.
Crabtree Meadow, Whitney Creek Lunch
They open the Muir Trail Ranch at 8am so I start the day with the intention of getting my 5-gallon resupply bucket I had mailed myself 3 weeks earlier. Another 8 days of dehydrated food with a few treats like a couple of oranges and apples! It was fun to go through the buckets (often called 'hiker boxes') where hikers leave things they didn't need and take what you need. About 10 buckets sit out, labeled with everything from trail mix to gear. I was on the hunt for a new spoon after accidentally breaking mine in half to an un-usable nub and extra TP and a top off of liquid soap was a plus.  A bonus is, it's fun to find a rare treat, dried apricots!
  Next on the agenda was to walk across the cold waters of the south fork of the San Juquin River over to the hot springs. We went over with a couple of JMT'ers from Bakersfield and soaked for an hour in the 100 degree water, a very nice luxury as I am extremely cold water adverse.
When we got back I was packing up to head back out into the sticks solo. My stomach thought otherwise after the odd fruit snacks and hot spring, so I stayed put for the night. Which was cool because a local camper, Sue, came over the river to visit. Hiker 'Spirit' had announced his birthday and we all four of had a feast late into the evening around the campfire in his honor. 
MTR Spirit dinner

Day 10
To start again. Shlomie was intending to leave the trail here but he stuck his head out of his tent when the sun came up and declared his was all in for Whitney. He wasn't on any sort of hard schedule. We packed up, went back over to MTR (it was about a quarter mile trail between us hiker trash in the forrest to the gates of MTR where one could rent a cabin at $150 a person) to find him some provisions and I wanted to charge up a few devices and purchase a few ounces of fuel. I weighed my pack in at 51 lbs with everything, we said good bye to Spirit and headed south to Evolution Creek at 9600 feet, 12 miles away. 

Day 11
Starting the day, Yosemite is now 90 miles behind me. I am a little stronger and a little thinner. Morale is still good looking at 170 miles to go. This so far is the hardest physical thing I have ever done in my life and it is a little daunting to know that it is nothing next to the next few weeks, with five passes and a summit to go. 
10 miles to Wanda lake before the next days' Muir Pass at 11,974. 
This days 9.5 miles were extra tough for some reason, I was hitting a middle of nowhere and a hard way out vibe, low point. But they come and go.
We always like to camp by running water, the only problem for a Southern Californian is I always feel like I should turn it off:)

Monday 14th September 2015
Put entry to dates, hard to remember how long I've been out here or how many miles I've walked. 
It's 5pm and I'm stuffed deep in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm in whatever I have left that is dry. I'm at 10,800 feet and it's freezing and have had light rain on the trail for the last 8 miles or so it wasn't  too cold because the constant hike will keep you warm.. 
 This portion of the trail took me from the south fork of the Kings River ( in a gorgeous but unfortunately smoke filed Kings Canyon) up the steep switchbacks of the "golden staircase" some 3000 feet up! It wasn't as bad as I expected... Not nearly as bad as the drop from Muir Pass to the canyon the day before. Many hikers will agree that although you make the miles a little faster, the punishment your body gets on a hard downhill and 50 lbs on your back is worse than the uphills. 
The next decision is how to cook in the vestibule of my Big Agnes Fly Creek tent without burning it or getting cold as the wind whips up the valley here at Palisade Lake. Tomorrow morning is the assent of Mather Pass, another 1254 feet in 2 1/2 miles to 12,096. A note of only 66 miles left to the Whitney Portal Store. 

Tuesday 15th
 No Bueno. Rain day 2: Bad way to start the day. Heavy downpour after high winds have pulled my tent stakes out and has me trapped in a soggy mess. Puddles form under and around my tent. The only choice is to don wet gear and get moving to warm up, hoping for better weather soon. 
  Mather Pass was very cold and windy. Some snow was present as sleet pounded my outer shell. Thankfully that was the last of the rain for the day as I slowly made my descent into slightly warmer and dryer forrest to the south. 
  Hanging everything from trees to dry then a fire to warm the spirits near the South Forks of the Kings River, then a hiker from Missoula, Montana, stopped for the night in need of warmth and conversation. 

Mussels scream for oxygen with every step. 10 steps, pant, 10 steps, repeat. 
Pinchot Pass 12,142 - September 16, 2015. 

Sept 17
 Shlomie moves on ahead. Was nice to have some company on the trail. Solo once more. 
It is a strange feeling to know you are in such a remote place on the planet that it would take several days to get back to civilization even if you were in a hurry.

110cm! Really?!!??
A word on trail steps.
  A level of hell is reserved for those who made these medieval torture devices. I'm sure the 11-foot-tall and pack less people in the world who use the trail do appreciate it though!

Thursday Sept 17. 
  Assent to Glenn Pass. 
Pinchot Pass
  Stopped at a JMT postcard of a spot at Dollar Lake with Mt. Diamond in the background. Watched trout glide around during a trail snack when two Israeli gentleman I met on Pinchot Pass offered for me to call my father with their satellite phone. That was cool to be able to say hi and what day I expected to exit the trail at Whitney Portal, in the 4 minutes before we were cut off. Also found a little part of a fishing lure to replace my missing sun glasses screw. Yea!
I don't know if it's possible to say but each day offers stunning beauty surpassing the previous. Rae Lakes were an absolute gem and the hike up Glenn Pass was a B!
Ray Lakes
Everyone has their opinion as to which pass is most difficult. I find their observations as varied as their number. Each pass is extremely challenging, it's the attitude and morale of the individual that day that sets the difficulty. 

Sept 18
Kirsarge Pass - Onion valley resupply. 
  Made the necessary leap to gain food and supplies and take the opportunity to ditch a few pounds. Since this was my last resupply before exiting in the next week I had several items that didn't warrant being a burden on my back. 
  A few items, for example, were bug spray ( if there is a mosquito within 100 miles they'll find me- there wasn't, I checked) and as much as I love my Italian Sportiva boots, I ditched the 4lbs and went with team Keen sandals for the win. 
  11.5 miles from camp to the cache and over the pass twice in one day... Oh then another 3 miles with a headlamp to get down the trail so Forrester Pass wouldn't be a 15 mile day!! Ouch. 
  Bummed about my resupply. Although it is awesome to have treats like fresh oranges, apples and tortillas,  for some reason some of the stuff (like my tortillas) absorbed fumes from a leaky fuel canister and can't be eaten. The pressure from 3,000 feet to 10,500 feet must have pushed some vapor into the resupply bucket. 

Life above 11,000 feet. 
  When the weather is good I prefer the cool breezy temps. Of course, when it's bad, it's really bad. Funny thing is how, aside from myself, there are no smells up here. Mainly because there is very little life as side from a few ground cover plants, insects, the occasional cute Marmot and this chinchilla-like, huge mouse that barks at me when entering his territory (a Pika). The smoke from a two-month old distant wildfire wafts into the nose when the wind changes from west to east about 1pm each day. It's mostly just smog-like now, not thick like last week. 

A word on my unique backpacking style. 
  The word is analogous to molasses in winter. From when I was 10-years-old to going on 45, it hasn't changed a bit... Think mile-an-hour:)

Saturday Sept. 19
  Forrester Pass 13,200 ish everything has a different number:)
Made 10 miles (in 12 hours of hiking - with breaks- it's not the mileage but the vertical feet gained and lost in that day, that count- about 6,000) today over the highest pass on the PCT and training ground for Mt. Whitney in the next couple of days.
   Haven't listened to music the entire trip but broke out the earbuds for the final assault on Forrester... Fleetwood Mac - Roomers 1977.  
  Now within striking distance, it is exciting to be within reach of completion of this epic adventure. Looking at my maps every night in the tent while wrapped in my sleeping bag I plan the next days or so strategy.
      Oddly enough, I spend almost no time fantasizing about food or anything else I might miss. It's a little hard to describe but this is a type of survival mode and almost all my time is in the moment or in preparation (mentally and physically ) for each necessary task to keep moving. It is a constant management situation: food/calories, electron charging, travel, pain, health, gear, temperature and so on. It may even be safe to say that it can be dangerous to let the mind wander even a little. One miss calculation or mis-step can put you in a world of hurt. 

Forrester Pass to Tyndall Creek aka Mars
A word on Wild. 
Many have read or seen (like me) the popular book turned film "Wild." To set the record straight, the main character never set foot on the John Muir Trail -JMT- section of the PCT- Pacific Crest Trail. Which is said to be the most difficult 220ish trail miles of the 2,650 Mexico to Canada route. I recommend  the documentary "Mile, Mile & A Half." Ive seen it several times and is the exact route I took, although they had some serious snow issues that I did not.

A funny thing about trails. Especially through the difficult parts. When you look up ahead, unless someone is hiking ahead of you and gives you a general idea where the trail goes, you have no idea where it leads. When at the top, looking back, every twist and turn is plain to see. Much like life. 

Sept 20- day 19
Awoke to a very odd sound in the forest, at 4:30AM. A hiker truckin thru with metal music blasting in his headphones. The trail was only 20 feet from my tent but it conjured visions of a bionic-assisted, steam-punk, Mad-Max hiker!

A National Geographic moment this morning! 
Hiking along, minding my own business, when a huge commotion takes place 10 feet to my left. A Golden Eagle was apparently sitting in a dead tree nearby and I distracted his breakfast enough for him to take the advantage. Some fur flew but the lucky rodent made it into a log. The eagle waited a few moments to see if it may come out, eyed me over very carefully, as if to communicate his disappointment in my involvement, and moved to another tree for me and breakfast to move again. Now that doesn't happen every day!
Stopped in Crabtree Meadow along Whitney Creek to make some "ba skeet ..i" a fisherman starts to cast...
 "Sorry, didn't see you there."
Me - "Mike?"
Mike - "Oh hay!"
We met near Pinchot Pass and again at Kirsarge Pass. We wound up hiking to the campsites at the lakes furthest up the Whitney Trail. 11,660 - tomorrow the summit at 14,505. It's only 4 more miles but 3,000 more vertical feet up!

If I am to attempt to exit the trail at the portal tomorrow, it will be a long day so I have the alarm set for 3:55AM. No tent,  just bivied in the rocks. Plan to get up n just hit trail. Lucky I have just enough pain meds  in my budget to get me down the mountain. 

Sept 21. The longest day. 
   Hikers began passing me on their commute to the summit at about 2AM. Soooo not happening.  I slept in to 3:30
First, I hit the pain meds and a nut bar deep in my sleeping bag before forcing myself to brush the ice crystals off my pack and join them. 
   Many hikers are now on the headlamp-illuminated, 3,000 foot assent in the dark. 
  I watch for a while to see their lights flicker to and fro, searching for trail. The lamps match the color and luminosity of the perfectly clear and bright stars in the sky as if they too were making the journey, ascending to join their place amongst the constellations.  
The many high passes and days of hiking adequately prepared me for this final day on the trail and  I can't imagine starting here un-prepared. I could really feel the 14-thousdand feet! One nice feature of this trail to the highest peak is that where the trails connect to go to the top and one down to the Whitney Portal is a good spot to drop your main pack and just bring some basics the last two miles to the peak. Makes for a more enjoyable day of mountain goat training because thats what this trail is.  
   The summit is awesome as expected with the added Disneyland bonus of having dozens of people on top with me and its only 8AM. People doing selfies, groups, signing the registry, taking in the 360 top-of-the-world view and some even making cell phone calls.
 I sit for a celebratory fresh orange from my last resupply. One guy I'm chatting with nearby said his phone died and I offer to plug it into my solar panel for a bit. He gets enough charge to make one more call and pays me back with some much needed Advil. Now I won't need to ration so stingily to make it to the portal. I will need every milligram. An hour of basking in the glory of the summit and its back to the task of working my way down the next 10 miles and 6000 feet to civilization.
   It was definitely not an easy descent. With hundreds of switchbacks, and my usual lightning pace, I made it to the bottom, at dark, to my  waiting father at the trail head. 
With elation and pain I made the few extra steps to the Whitney Portal Store to get some Motrin onboard and order some grub.
   Something about getting off the trail and having a fresh veggie burger,  fries and a Dr. Pepper to know your back in the world.

My Video Link of this trip on YouTube is the bomb:)


RBFDMIKE said...

Enjoyed the pioneer journey! Once again I traveled vicariously without leaving my desk top. Unlike Columbia, China, Nepal or India, this time he didn't go totally dark. A "SPOT" transponder device saw to it. So I mapped, plotted every step and anticipated his next move on my topo maps. This JMT is quite an achievement. He was prepared and I am honored I was able to assist with the trek insertion and extraction. It was worth it to me. I'm sure Eric will remember this the rest of his life. signed A Proud Dad!

Unknown said...

Congratulations on achieving your goal!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Eric! Enjoyed the log you shared with Jay.