John Muir Trail - Week 4, Part 2 (Day 23)
(Read about Days 21-22 HERE!)
Day 23 - Wednesday September 11, 2019
I woke up to another freezing morning but at least I didn't have frost on my tent, thanks to the shelter of trees I camped in between. Like almost every other day on trail, I hit snooze on my phone's alarm a few times before actually getting up. It was extra hard to get up in the cold. Because of this and the enduring ache of almost every body part, I was moving slower and like always the last one of our group to be packed and ready to start hiking. I was cranky and frustrated with my slow pace that morning, why did it always take me so long to break down camp and get my pack ready? Now I was holding up the group. I sooo did not want to put on that heavy pack. Again.
This was my last big day on trail: my last big pass, my last big mile day, my last day of big elevation gain, my last full day of hiking before ending it at Tuolumne Meadows the next day. Despite this my spirits were down. Since I was the last to leave our campsite I was solo hiking which I enjoy but I was in my head in a bad way. My frustration grew again when I took a wrong turn at the Garnett Lake outlet, instead of crossing the bridge to the left, I followed a spur trail to the right. It took a few minutes for me to realize my mistake and then the waterworks started. I was just so incredibly tired and cold and frustrated and OVER everything. My only option was to keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself that's how I'd come this far, and that was the only way to keep going.
We had another stellar weather day, clear sky, cold in the morning but once the sun was up it was in the 60s, perfect for hiking. I eventually found my groove that morning. I stopped a few times to catch a breath and allowed myself to actually SEE the scenery around me. Look at those birds! Look at those frost covered flowers! Look where you are right now! My tears of frustration turned to tears of wonder and amazement that I actually get to be out here, that I've BEEN out here for 23 days and I'm still out here and I'm going to make it. The perspective shift helped change my mood and in turn saved my last big day on trail.
At Thousand Island Lakes I finally caught up with Lee, Meghan, Zoe, and Reid. We sadly didn't spend much time here, I wanted at least half a day to explore but we had to keep making our miles. We stopped for some photo ops, again realizing that I don't have a ton of pictures of myself on trail. This is one of my favorite photos, with my mismatched poles, dirty hair, and wide smile. I definitely plan to go back.
By mid morning we'd made it to the top of the smallest and least intimidating pass of the entire trail, Island Pass, which is literally a bloop in elevation gain and loss. Then we set off hiking again, ready for Donohue Pass, my last pass! I lagged behind everyone else, letting them go ahead of me, needing some solo reflection time again. We were slowly climbing up and up, gaining 1,500 ft in elevation gradually over 3.3 miles. The frustration fog of the morning was gone and my confidence was back. Slow and steady had officially become strong and steady!
I thought more about how every pass, every mile, literally every single step since I started at Horseshoe Meadows has led me to this place. Every mile, every step is with me and will always be with me. In front of me was the last hard day, the last pass, the last miles of climbing I'd do on this trail.
I started singing my "backcountry song" to myself, the song my Mom jokingly made up to the tune of another silly song my sister sings to my niece. "And we're hiking, yeah we're hiking, in the backcountry, to Yosemite! And we're hiking, yeah we're hiking, in the backcountry, to Yosemite!" I gleefully sang this to myself on my first day on trail, amazed that I was even taking this adventure on, feeling confident that I would in fact make it to Yosemite. I knew on Day 1 that I'd make it. I told myself that out loud while hiking up Cottonwood Pass 22 days ago. Though that confidence and bravery had wavered a bit I felt a renewed sense of belief in myself and I was proving that I was strong and brave.
"Yeah we're hiking, in the backcountry, to Yosemite!"
I was the last of my group to make it to the top of Donohue Pass. When I hiked those last few steps my friends were there to greet me and cheer for me. "Yay! You made it!" Meghan cheered. I hiked over to the group, sitting on flat rocks, hunched over their phones. "We've got service up here! Probably a good idea to make a reservation for the YARTS bus tomorrow so we can get back to 395." I turned to see a white sign that said "Entering Yosemite Wilderness;" I'd officially made it! I'd hiked to Yosemite!
My trail family had been there a while and were eager to get down the other side of the pass. Not long after I made it up they started to hike down the north side but I wasn't done soaking in the summit of my last pass. I stayed up there a few minutes more. By now all of the other hikers who were also up there had continued on and I had the summit to myself.
I stood and looked south at the seemingly endless layers of mountains. I said to myself out loud, almost in disbelief, "wow, I hiked over all of those! I walked here!" I couldn't control my emotions at that point and I started ugly crying, finally letting go of the doubts that I wouldn't make it, the stress of the unknown, tears of joy of achieving this incredible goal. I was so proud of myself. I thanked my body for getting me here, I thanked God for watching over me, I thanked my trail family for finding me.
I still had tomorrow to hike to Tuolumne but in this moment I felt like my hike had successfully ended and this was the big finish. My last pass! My last climb! My last hard day of this trail! I walked here!
After composing myself I lugged my still heavy pack back onto my body and clicked the hip belt together. I took one last look at the mountains that I'd hiked over, smiling again to myself, then I turned and started hiking after my friends. In the dirt of the trail I saw their familiar boot and shoe prints. By now I had their foot prints memorized, I'd used that trick several times when we split up, making sure I was still following them. It brought me comfort to see the familiar tread patterns in the dirt, my trail family helping lead me once again.
My feet were still tender and the blister on my toes still throbbed but somehow I made it down fast enough to catch up with Lee, Meghan, and Zoe. They all were feeling good at the top of Donohue but now were anxious to stop hiking for the day and find camp. We planned to try to find a spot 1.5 miles away by the Maclure Creek footbridge, Zoe took off eager to be done with the day. Somehow we got our signals crossed because when Lee, Meghan and myself made it to the footbridge the other hikers there said Zoe was continuing on to the next campsite half a mile away. We thought for a moment to continue but Meghan's blistered feet were hurting her and the downhill hike ahead of us did not look appealing. We were all a bit sad, our last night on trail together and we were split up. Brian and Diane were still behind us somewhere but we doubted we would see them tonight.
We set up camp and go to chores. I took a wonderful last bath in the cool creek after I got camp set up. I was going to miss these refreshing mountain streams. I made ramen for dinner but in the process of organizing my gear around my tent I tripped over a guy line and knocked over my dinner, right by my tent. We knew to be careful because this was bear country, any whiff of food and you might have a midnight visitor. I was mad at myself for ruining my dinner and now I knew I wouldn't sleep for fear of bears. I'd read somewhere that people make a "pee perimeter" around camp to keep bears away. I've heard it works and also that it's phony but I definitely peed around my tent just in case.
I remade dinner and sat with Lee and Meghan. We were discussing logistics for the next day. Since our cars were parked next to each other's in Lone Pine we decided we'd get back to our cars together. We called it a night early, it was going to be cold again and now the wind was picking up. I sadly called "goodnight" to them and went back to my tent. Last night on trail, last time I'd get to be here with these people in this moment.
(Read about Days 24-25 HERE!)