John Muir Trail - Week 4, Part 1 (Days 21-22)
(Read about Days 19-20 HERE!)
Day 21 - Monday September 9, 2019
Another cold night! I had frost on the footbox of my sleeping bag when I woke up. My fingers were so cold I could hardly get my stove lit to make coffee or put everything in my pack. Once we got hiking I warmed up fast. We had another beautiful bluebird day!
The trail was smooth, gradual and probably one of my favorites of the trip. I hiked alone for a bit which was nice. I needed to do some reflecting and express some gratitude for the beauty in front of me. I thanked my strong, tired legs for sticking with me and allowing me to experience the Sierras and this trail. How was this real life?
Once I caught up to Zoe, Lee and Meghan my contemplative mood lightened and we laughed and enjoyed one another's company. We talked about doing the Wonderland Trail, or just another trail, together someday. That would be so fun! As we rounded the trail towards the Deer Creek Trail junction we all had cell service. Immediately we all sat down and responded to messages and texts. We all were quiet for about 15 minutes staring at our phones, haha. I hadn't had good cell service in two weeks!
Day 21 on trail meant I'd been out here for three weeks and I was definitely feeling it. Thankfully the trail was actually mostly downhill all day! As we made it closer to Reds Meadow the lush forest gave way to a field of burnt snags all cut off at the same point, looking like toothpicks stuck in the ground. It was erie. A wildfire devastated the area in 1992 and while regrowth has started it's a long, slow process.
We eventually made it to the junction for Reds Meadow Resort. By 1:30pm we had dropped our packs at a picnic table outside the cafe and general store and were calling it a day. And guess who we saw while we were walking up? Well Reid of course! Old Boomerang, as we now called him. We just couldn't shake this guy, haha. Zoe got a room in the guest cabin for the night and offered me the other queen bed. I gladly accepted. Lee and Meghan split the other room with Reid. No one was going to freeze tonight!
Brian and Diane made their way in a couple hours later. They too got a cabin for the night. We spent our half zero day eating patty melts and milkshakes at the cafe, getting resupply boxes and reconfiguring our bear boxes, doing laundry, and best of all, not hiking. It was nice to have another shower after only a few days on trail. And a real bed to sleep in! Were we spoiling ourselves? Most likely, but I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to get some good sleep and feel clean again.
We'd hiked 11 miles. Looking at the map together we tried to figure out what the next three days would look like to get us to Tuolumne Meadows. We'd have to do some higher mile days to do so. Hiking 13 miles a day instead of 10 miles a day doesn't seem like much more but from my experience I knew I was going to have to dig deep to do so.
Day 22 - Tuesday September 10, 2019
I was thankful I actually got sleep! I wasn't ready to leave a real bed again. We were going to get an early start but breakfast at the cafe was calling so we delayed it an hour. I wish I would have partaken in a hot breakfast when I had the chance, I stupidly thought "oh I'll just eat my normal breakfast protein bar and have a cup of coffee." I was hungry an hour later.
Right before we left I was fiddling with my trekking poles. The one that broke coming down Mt. Whitney was still kind of wobbly but holding on. I tried to make an adjustment but when I did I accidentally broke it so now I wouldn't be able to use it at all. I was so upset with myself. Why couldn't I just leave well enough alone! I could manage with just one pole but I felt safer with two. I tried to fix with duct tape and a stick but it just broke a few miles later. Lee was kind enough to let me use his second pole since he was used to only using one. Once again, the trail provides.
We were all kind of slap happy hiking out of Reds Meadow as a group that morning, going past Devil's Postpile. We picked up another trail family member, Jason, who was hiking north with a friend but that friend had just gone back home and he was now alone. We adopted him whether he wanted a family or not. I felt pretty sure that this was going to be the last time we all would be hiking together, me, Lee, Meghan, Zoe, Brian and Diane, and Reid. I was soaking up every moment but was also nostalgic for the moment I was currently experiencing. Does that make sense?
We were counting down the miles now. Even without a pass to climb up and over it felt like we hiked some passes. We had a slow 2,000 ft climb first thing that frosty morning, I knew to rely on step by step, just take it slow, don't get frustrated. My pack was a little heavier from my resupply but thankfully not as heavy as after Muir Trail Ranch. I only had a couple days left on trail so I didn't need much food. I ended up leaving a lot of it in the hiker box at the general store.
Our thru hiker accordion stretched out once again, this time with Brian and Diane falling behind. I was leap frogging with them and then I realized that I hadn't seen them in a while. I also hadn't seen the group in front of me in a while either, I was back to having the trail to myself. I kept it slow and steady, just chugging along in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, trying to tell myself that that wasn't the last time I would see Brian and Diane on trail, even though it would be.
After crossing the footbridge at Shadow Lake, I ran into a group of nice women on a short backpacking trip. We started chatting and they were amazed I was out here by myself. It was nice to be told how amazing and brave I am. Sometimes I don't think I am but what I was currently doing was really brave! They insisted on taking my picture, correctly guessing that I didn't have many pictures of myself on trail. I gladly posed for them and after saying goodbye started to cry at the generosity of strangers and their kind words.
I then started climbing up another 1,000 ft "non-pass" climb. This climb really took the wind out of my sails, I was seriously struggling. More parts of my body were talking to me, my calves were cramping and my traps were fatigued. And I was so frustrated because this should be labeled a pass! Don't tell me I don't have to climb any passes when I have two sections climbing over 1,000 ft! Who designed this stupid trail?! I was officially not having fun. I was tired, and cold, and now it was starting to snow?!?
After a few moments of allowing myself to get so frustrated I was crying I finally, slowly made it over the top of the "non-pass". It really kicked my ass. I finally caught up with the rest of the group who already had their tents set up and were boiling water for dinner. Campsites were tricky here, you're not allowed to camp within 300 ft of the Garnet Lake outlet but the trail hugs the side of a mountain so basically if you find a flat spot, take it. I finally found a spot nestled in between two pine trees near Meghan and Lee. I always take longer to set up camp, get water, make dinner and with me getting there later I really felt slow. And to get water I had to carefully hike down to the water some 200 ft below, oh, then you have to climb up again. I was still eating dinner when everyone else was turning in for the night. If only I'd hiked faster, so much for being together.
The clouds over Banner Peak were putting on a show. I don't know if these pictures feel cold to you but when I look at them I'm reminded of how cold and windy it was. I was the last person to turn in for the night, again putting on all of my layers to stay warm. It was going to be another cold night below freezing.
Two more days. I can do this for two more days..
(Read about Day 23 HERE!)