John Muir Trail - Week 1, Part 2 (Days 4-7)
(Read about Days 0 - 3 HERE!)
Day 4 - Friday August 23, 2019
I allowed myself to sleep in as long as I wanted which was about 8:30am. I had planned to hike to Bighorn Plateau 9.5 miles away and knew I wouldn't make it. I needed half a rest day. I hiked to the top of Mt Whitney yesterday! Every time I thought about that I smiled to myself. Then I remembered how much pain my feet were in and I came back to the present moment. I didn't really bring blister stuff because as I so pridefully declared before my hike "I don't get blisters!" Well, now I had them. I had some KT tape I brought in case I needed to tape my knee but that was now going to be my go-to blister help.
I took the opportunity while camped by Guitar Lake to do laundry. The lake is above tree line and exposed so if you are trying to stay out of the sun you'll be hard pressed to find some shade. I figured I'd get my laundry done, write in my journal, fix my broken trekking pole, check out the map, plan my day and then get going by 12pm. But once again, I could not get going and I didn't leave camp until 2pm. 2pm!
The hike out was arduous. My pack was still heavy, my feet were throbbing. I was still on my period only now I was almost out of supplies. It took me two hours to go the two miles back to Crabtree Meadow. Every 15 minutes I had to pee or filter water or adjust something on my pack or deal with another period crisis. I thought about just staying there for the night but it was only 4pm, I could do a couple more miles, I had to. I hiked 5.5 miles which I felt was alright. I was trying to be patient with myself. I knew the hike would go the way it is supposed to and for some reason I was supposed to go this slow. I was a little frustrated with my slow pace but I freaking did Mt. Whitney yesterday!
I also knew I wasn't eating enough. This was probably contributing to me feeling slow and sluggish, like my legs were cinder blocks. I forced myself to eat all of my dinner that night to refuel for tomorrow. And I was determined to get some good sleep. This was Day 4, middle of my first stretch of my hike! I kept telling myself, "I can do this. I know it."
Day 5 - Saturday August 24, 2019
I wanted to get an early start but when I woke up my tent was wet from condensation. I decided to wait and let it dry in the sun rather than packing up a wet tent I'd just have to dry it out later. Once I finally was packed up and hiking out I felt surprisingly okay. The trail was mostly downhill. When it was time to climb again my pace slowed to one mile an hour. Once again I was frustrated. "When does this get easier?! It's Day 5 and I feel slower?!" I was not having it and my mood was horrible. By the time I got to Bighorn Plateau (which is flat!) I was having to stop every 10 steps to catch my breath. I still hadn't been eating enough so I told myself the first shade you see, take a break, eat something. So I did.
I met this nice mother/daughter duo heading south. They'd just resupplied in Independence with Jim at the Independence Inn, same as I was planning to! I told them I was having a hard time and they reminded me I'm trying to do more with less oxygen up here. Plus I'm just starting out, have some patience with myself. I wished them luck as they left and another duo came to rest. They were also encouraging and heading north, the same direction as me. I realized I need to take a good mid day break to eat and enjoy. I'd been so worried about making miles that I wasn't feeding myself properly which wasn't helping me. Plus it was nice to have conversations with other hikers.
Hiking downhill to Tyndall Creek felt better but of course the trail once again went up. "When do I get my hiker legs, damnit!" Then not 10 minutes later I felt this shift. It got a little easier. I was still slow but I could keep going without stopping. What a feeling!
I wanted to get a little head start for Forester Pass tomorrow, just a few miles and about 1,000 ft of elevation gain. The south side of Forester Pass is so beautiful. I kept forgetting that this is real and not a dream. I'm really here! I get to hike this?! I felt so grateful to be out there. How lucky am I?
As I was hiking up I got to talking to these nice guys heading south. We chatted for a while, they had some good beta for water and campsites coming up, then another NOBOer came up to talk. He and I were ready to be done so we decided to camp at the next nice campsite. My new friend Phil was 65, retired and had always wanted to hike the JMT. I really enjoyed talking to him. Even though I don't mind camping alone, it was nice to not be alone that night.
Something had changed in me this day. I had finally hit a good stride and I felt like I was a part of this whole trail life thing. I also realized I need to be nicer to my feet. I gave them a good cleaning with a bandana before bed and they felt better.
Day 6 - Sunday August 26, 2019
Today was another tough day. Phil and I had decided to get an early start but once we got up and were making breakfast and having coffee, we got to chatting and before we knew it it was mid morning. Our campsite was absolutely beautiful that morning. We saw some early hikers heading up north, we waved hello to them. We'd unknowingly catch up with them that night and a few of them would become my trail family!
The south side of Forester Pass is probably one of my favorite parts. There were marmots everywhere! Once the trail really started to climb I felt good, I had a nice steady pace. Phil and I kind of had an unspoken understanding that we were getting over this pass together. We took a lot of breaks and didn't make it to the top until 2pm, way late in my opinion. Most people told me to make sure I got over passes by noon in case the weather changed. It was breathtaking up there and I got choked up thinking about how far I've come and how much I love my body for taking me here. We had lunch at the top and talked with other hikers who were coming up on either side.
But then we had to come down. The north side of Forester is tough. There was still some snow covering the trail and it was basically a huge boulder field. Big boulders, little boulders, rocks as the trail. I was glad to be hiking DOWN it because I would not want to have to hike UP it! I was trying to book it down the trail because I wanted to camp at Vidette Meadow, 7 miles away. I quickly realized that was not going to happen and I worried how this would make tomorrow an even tougher hike out to Onion Valley. Phil and I compromised and camped in the middle at Bubbs Creek. As soon as we got there I dropped my pack and went straight for the creek to put my aching feet in the cool water. The campsite was big, enough for at least 10-15 tents. There were a lot of people camped there, including a few people I recognized from earlier in the day.
I was resupplying in Independence the next day while Phil was continuing on. His first resupply was waiting for him at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), where my second resupply would be waiting. He and I were in the same boat of going slower than we had thought we would and he was worried about running out of food on a 10 day stretch while also kicking himself for bringing so many heavy Cliff Bars! I was looking at the map again trying to figure out how early I should get up the next morning. Phil recommended I get as early a start as possible, 4am if I could handle it. 4am?! I wasn't sure if I could do that early but I knew I was ready to get off trail, get a nice hot shower, and sleep in a real bed. If that meant getting moving by 4am then I'd figure out how to make it happen! I said my goodbyes to Phil before crawling into my tent. I really enjoyed having a friend on trail. Maybe this whole solo thing wasn't for me? What was the point of hiking this whole thing if I didn't have anyone to share the memories with me?
Day 7 - Monday August 26, 2019
I did get an early start but it wasn't 4am. I was packed and hiking out before 6:30am and that still felt good. By 8am I was already at the junction to go up to Bullfrog Lakes then on to Kearsarge Pass. I figured it's only 6.6 miles from here so I can totally be there by 3pm, maybe 2pm!
The trail was stunning, gorgeous lakes and tall mountains with some snow. While planning this hike my friend Nick told me that this section was beautiful and he wasn't joking! I felt like I was hiking through a postcard. Some of the people who I had camped with the previous night caught up to me at one of the creeks to filter water. Lee, Meghan, Reid, were heading out over Kearsarge Pass as well. Their friend Jason was continuing on to MTR, same as Phil. We chatted for a bit and since I had a real bed waiting for me I was anxious to keep moving. While they stopped for an early lunch I kept hiking, thinking that they're faster than me and would catch up with me soon. But I wouldn't see them again until we all made it to Indepenence.
Once the trail really started to climb up to Kearsarge Pass the switchbacks were so steep! Like, laughably steep. I kept cursing whichever trail crew made these switchbacks, they just went straight up! Thankfully the California Conservation Corp was out there putting in new, less steep switchbacks. But I could see the Pass, I was gonna make it. I felt good. Just after 12:30pm I made it to the top of Kearsarge Pass! Yes! It was all downhill from here! Hot shower, here I come!
I descended quickly, eager to get to town and get off my feet. But the trail just never seemed to end. After an hour I was somehow still above 11,000 ft. Finally I got down into the trees but the trail was still rocky and my feet were mad once again. My blisters throbbed until they went numb from the constant pounding of my feet. Oh, my poor hamburger feet. I was tired, I was frustrated, and for the first time on my trip I finally cried. I was done. "Why is this trail so long and hot and rocky and why is the parking lot so far away?!"
Finally, finally I made it down to the Onion Valley trailhead at 4pm. I found Jim, the owner of the Independence Inn and was able to put down my pack. Jim drove me to his motel where I had a nice clean room waiting for me. I got a shower, cleaned up and hobbled outside to chat with the other hikers who were staying with Jim. I was surprised to see that Lee and Meghan were also staying at the Independence Inn. Yay people I knew! And Reid was also able to join us. I then met Brian and Diane who had been hiking with Lee, Meghan, Reid, and Jason going up over Forester Pass. They were the group of hikers I saw the morning before my own hike over the Pass! Jim only has 8 rooms at his Inn and we were his only guests.
I was glad I got to the Inn relatively early. I didn't want to have to hustle to get everything done before the sun went down. Plus I was looking forward to having half a rest day today before my actual full zero day tomorrow. After 8 days without a shower I was officially feeling like Hiker Trash. I never knew a hot shower could feel so good! After my shower the next order of business was laundry, calling my family to update them, and then finding some food that didn't require rehydrating.
Independence is a small town. There's a taco truck, an "Italian" restaurant that opens whenever it feels like it, and a Chevron station which is the only place to get anything, really. I ordered a pizza at the Chevron and then wandered the aisles, grabbing whatever looked enticing: Oreos, Cherry Pepsi, chips, Peanut M&Ms, Epsom salt. Hikers were everywhere, some freshly showered wearing their green shirts from the nice, expensive Mt Williamson Motel, others just off the trail still covered in dirt, waiting for their sandwiches to be made at the knock off Subway next door.
I felt in a daze. Physically and mentally I hit waves of feeling great and then I'd dip down and feel exhausted and lonely and wondered if a week was all I was capable of doing in the Sierras. The thought of hiking up over Kearsarge again in a couple days seemed impossible and made me want to cry. I told my parents over the phone that I might need a second zero day, that's how exhausted I felt. I'd see how tomorrow went and decide then if I was going to continue. I had a relaxing evening, doing my best to take care of my feet by giving them a nice soak in the only thing I had, my bear can (sorry, Paul!). The rest of the Independence Inn crew was outside chatting and relaxing, getting to know each other. I needed to recharge my introvert batteries so I stayed inside and went to bed early. I felt proud to have completed my first week but also wondered if I'd bitten off more than I could chew with this whole hike.
(Read about Days 8 - 9 HERE!)