JMT - Day Seventeen

August 9, 2015
14 miles today, 173 miles total
Marjorie Lake to Arrowhead Lake

Today was long. Courtney and I left camp before everyone else to get a head start on our next pass: Pinchot. We summited in an hour, but my legs felt like jello and I sat for a while at the top, eating the energy chews that Courtney pulled out of her pack. We waited for the rest of our crew to catch us, but they didn’t, so we continued down without them.

I remembered Pinchot Pass from the PCT: the south side was long, long, long and it had seemed like it took all day to reach the top. This year we were descending the south side, but even so, it was a long, seven mile haul. Fortunately the red rocks were stunning to look at, and the beauty of Woods Creek followed our path as we walked.

Andrew soon caught up with us, and together we reached the bottom of the valley, back down to 8,500 feet where the Woods Creek Suspension Bridge spanned the river.

 Photo courtesy of Andrew

Photo courtesy of Andrew

 Photo courtesy of Andrew

Photo courtesy of Andrew

We were all exhausted and didn’t want to keep going, for we knew the trail immediately climbed back out of the valley and up to the next pass. So we sat for a long time beside the bridge having lunch. I went down to the water and took a “bath”, soaking my clothes and scrubbing my skin of the dirt it had accumulated.

Once we had put off the inevitable long enough, we shouldered our packs and started up the five mile climb. As expected, it was brutally steep and incredibly hot in the afternoon sun. I lagged behind, my feet hurting and my body exhausted. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further, we reached Dollar Lake. Andrew, Courtney and I jumped in and went for a long swim, then lay in the warm sun drying off. We still had another mile to go to reach our camp for the night, but the swim was refreshing and gave me a second wind.

The last mile was beautiful, as we had finally reached the Rae Lakes area, a popular loop along the John Muir Trail. It consisted of a series of linked lakes that were excellent for fishing and camping, and the views with the mountains surrounding us were unparalleled.

We reached Arrowhead Lake, our destination for the evening, and found a good camp spot to pitch our tents. We were quickly joined by quite a few other hikers – it seemed like the “tent city” from the other night had finally caught up to us. We waited for Heather and Jennifer to join us, discussing how exhausted they must be after that long climb out of the valley. But it was just then that we heard the loud sounds of singing – and Heather and Jennifer suddenly appeared, dancing and skipping up the trail! We gaped at them, asking how they were so energized after such a brutal climb? Usually they were the last two to show up into camp, tired after a long day of hiking. Jennifer said they had taken quite a bit of caffeine and were feeling great. So great, in fact, that they declined to camp with us and said they had the energy to keep going another few miles! Andrew, Courtney and I were so beat that we didn’t even consider trying to join them. Instead, we said goodnight and that we would see them tomorrow. Heather and Jennifer took off, leaving Andrew, Courtney and I to make dinner and watch the sun set over Finn Dome. We played a few games of farkle and went to bed listening to the coyotes howl in the distance.

JMT - Day Sixteen

August 8, 2015
10 miles today, 159 miles total
Upper Palisade Lake to Marjorie Lake

There was frost on everything this morning. We had a hot oatmeal breakfast and gazed up at Mather Pass in the morning light, its ominous presence looming over us.

We packed up and left camp before the rest of “tent city” – we were hoping to beat most of them to the next campsite.

The climb to Mather Pass was steep and full of difficult switchbacks, for but fortunately it was only two miles and shaded from the sun. It only took Courtney and I an hour to reach the top. We rested and had second breakfast while looking down at the Palisade Lakes far below.

The south side of Mather was steep but even shorter, and then the rest of the morning took us through flat, moon-like landscape for six miles. Courtney and I were ahead of the rest of our crew, so we kept pausing to wait for them, but they were lagging behind and didn’t catch up. We stopped for lunch at King’s River Crossing where Andrew, Heather and Jennifer finally met up with us.

The last three miles of the day went steeply uphill, and we were glad when we finally reached our destination: Marjorie Lake. We were hot and exhausted and excited to go for a swim in the lake. It was only 2:00pm so we pitched our tents, went for a quick dip (brrr!) and laughed as Andrew took his inflatable sleeping pad out into the lake, paddling madly to try and stay above the freezing water.

We lay on the rocks to dry off and then bundled up in warmer clothing. We played a few rounds of farkle and then, with nothing else to do, had fun picking trail names for each other. We joked that Andrew should be Tigger for his bouncy nature, and Heather should be Eeyore, because the other day she had sadly slumped off saying, “I guess I’ll go pee in the raaaaaain,” like a morose Eeyore, which had made us all laugh. Jennifer we dubbed “Little Big Toe” because her poor feet had been covered in blisters since day one.

It was only 4:00pm by then and we had quickly run out of things to do, so we gathered our dinner cooking supplies and sat in a circle setting up our Jetboils and checking our clocks.

“We’re not allowed to have dinner before 4:30,” we decided, thinking earlier than that would make us seem old. So, instead, we got everything ready and sat staring at our stoves for half an hour, waiting for the clock to change. At exactly 4:30pm, we all fired up our Jetboils in unison.

Courtney and I were quickly running out of food – it had been six days since our last resupply stop and we were growing low on our snacks. Now that we had a lot more room in our packs, we divvied up the remaining food supplies and sorted them into days so we wouldn’t accidentally eat it all too soon.

After dinner we played a few more rounds of farkle and Love Letter and then turned in for bed at the late hour of 6:30pm.

JMT - Day Fifteen

August 7, 2015
9 miles today, 149 total
Grouse Meadow to Upper Palisade Lake

Courtney and I left camp at 7:30am. We were still grumpy and unrested, but we managed to talk and get back to our cheery selves over the next few miles.

The sun was out today and there was no wildfire smoke obscuring the sky! However, at 8,000 feet it was hot and humid and the hiking was tough. We knew we were ascending the dreaded “Golden Staircase” today, which was a long series of switchbacks that would take us back up to 10,000 feet and closer to our next mountain pass. It was five miles to the base of the staircase, and then a grueling two miles up. It was hard to fault the views, however, which looked back down onto the valley and miles in every direction.

After another mile we reached Palisade Lake, where we had lunch. Heather, Jennifer, Courtney and I had just broken out our food when Andrew came over the crest of the climb, singing a Miley Cyrus song very loudly:

There's always gonna be another mountain!
I'm always gonna wanna make it move!
Always gonna be a uphill battle!
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose!

We laughed and bundled up against the cold – though the sun felt wonderful, the wind was chilly at 10,000 feet. Heather and Jennifer broke out a surprise: a few pieces of watermelon! Apparently they had run into a lady on the trail who was bringing watermelon to the local trail maintenance crews working here. We were all befuddled as to how she got out here with a plate of watermelon: after all, we were miles away from the nearest trailhead.

After lunch we only went a mile further to our campsite. It was above Upper Palisade Lake on a granite cliff side. We could see Mather Pass, tomorrow’s climb, dominating the skyline behind us. We had only gone nine miles today, and it was only 1:00pm when we stopped, but we didn’t mind. We had covered the number of miles we needed to, and we had some camp chores to attend to. The five of us walked down to the water’s edge and did “laundry” by rinsing out all of our hiking clothes. I went skinny dipping in the nearby river to scrub some of the dirt out of my skin, but could only stay in a few minutes due to the glacial cold of the water.

When everyone’s clothes were mostly “clean”, we brought them back up to camp and hung them on on clothesline made of some extra guylines. The sun was dipping behind the mountain, so they didn’t dry very quickly. Meanwhile, we were bundled up in our camp clothing: long underwear, jackets, and rain coats to protect against the cold breeze.

We found a patch of sun and played a few rounds of farkle and the card game Love Letter. We cooked dinner on our rock patch at 4:30pm and admired the view. More and more hikers were starting to come into camp; more than we had seen this entire trail!

Pretty soon every available flat spot was taken up with tents and people. It was a surreal experience – where had all these people been for the last two weeks, we wondered? We stayed awake until 8:00pm, watching the sun set and talking together.

JMT - Day Fourteen

August 6, 2015
15 miles today, 140 miles total
Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadow

It was a very cold night at our high elevation. We were awake at 6, but didn’t get much of a sunrise due to the amount of wildfire smoke still in the air. (We would learn a few weeks later that the wildfires grew bad enough to kick a lot of JMT hikers off trail, and we were very fortunate to have missed the worst of it).

The first five miles were climbing toward Muir Pass. It was a little strenuous, but I remembered the torturous climb from the other side two years ago, so I could hardly complain. I was glad we would be descending that route this year.

At the top of Muir Pass sat the infamous Muir Hut, built by the Sierra Club from chunks of granite to serve as a make-shift shelter in a storm. We went inside to block the cold wind, and found two other JMT hikers with mandolins. They played us a song they had written, the music echoing inside the small structure. We thanked them for the song and hurried off the ridgetop to escape the wind.

IMG_5727_1.jpg

The hike down was long, as expected, but quite beautiful. Two years ago this part of the pass had been so covered in snow that Rotisserie, Honey Bunny and I could barely find the trail. This year it was all but melted, and we wandered beside the glacial lakes, soaking in the views.

Our next twelve miles descended from 12,000 feet to 8,000, so it was a slow, steady fall from the granite mountains we had grown so accustomed to and into the valley below. We took lunch beside Middle Fork River and by 4:30pm had reached our camp in Grouse Meadow.

Heather, Jennifer, Andrew, Courtney and I made dinner and gathered water at the slow, marshy river beside our camp.

Despite the beautiful days of hiking, Courtney and I were growing a little snippy with each other after fourteen days hiking. Fatigue and hunger soaked into us tonight and we argued about the small, silly things that the wilderness sometimes makes so important. We thought we heard a bear in the night, and neither of us slept very well.