John Muir Trail - Week 3, Part 3 (Days 19-20)
(Read about Days 17-18 HERE!)
Day 19 - Saturday September 7, 2019
It was so hard to leave Vermilion Valley Resort in the morning. It was exactly what I, and everybody else, needed. We were up early to get our packs ready and head down to breakfast, our last meal at VVR. The food there was great, with a different menu every day. The staff were so kind and helpful. We had another filling breakfast and everyone ordered an extra breakfast burrito for second breakfast after we'd hiked a few miles.
There were so many hikers leaving VVR that they had to do two ferry shuttles across Lake Edison. We tried to hurry up and get the first ferry but I was stuck in line to pay my tab, which ended up being $250. I sighed and handed over my card, charge it up!
The ride across Lake Edison was beautiful! We had blue bird weather again. We chatted with other hikers going over. A lot of them were heading north like us. We'd only met a handful of southbound (SOBO) hikers. Those permits are the hardest to get, hence why we all managed to get northbound (NOBO) permits. We kept wondering who had all of the SOBO permits since we hadn't met many SOBO hikers. Our tent mate John and our Aussie friend Kieran were the only SOBO hikers we'd met at VVR. When the ferry made it across we found Brian and Diane, they'd been on the first ferry and figured since they hike a bit slower they needed the head start. But when they made it to the other side they had cell service so they spent their time calling family and catching up on some business. Soon we set off as a group once again.
I was feeling good, physically. I was still a bit sore but my hiker hobble was basically gone. The zero day and a half had helped lessen my blisters and tight IT bands but as soon as we really started hiking, my legs felt heavy and tired. I knew it was going to be another long day. Maybe my rested legs just needed to warm up a bit, then I'd feel better?
The one mile hike from the edge of the lake back to the JMT felt like forever. Like most times on trail, I found myself in the back as the caboose. Everyone else was just so much faster than me, I was having a difficult time keeping up. And this was only the first mile back on trail! We'd all just reunited, I didn't want to fall behind and be separated again. I might as well just turn around and go back to VVR! The thought crossed my mind several times.
As the day progressed I realized I wasn't the only one that felt slow and sluggish, we all were struggling to get our hiker legs back. Eventually we split up in the same groups as Kearsarge Pass, Lee, Meghan and Reid up front, me, Brian and Diane bringing up the rear. It was a long day of trudging up to Silver Pass, gaining 3,000 ft in elevation. Back to slow and steady. The miles ticked by. We only planned to hike about 9 miles, hoping to camp at Sq**w Lake* on the other side of Silver Pass. 9 miles didn't sound so bad but they were taking so much longer than I thought they should.
*(The word "sq**w" is a derogatory name for a Native American woman so I'm choosing to sensor the word. Unfortunately I don't have another name to call this beautiful lake that isn't harmful to those who have been on this land long before it was stolen from them.)
Eventually our thru hiker accordion stretched out and I couldn't see anyone in front or behind me. I went back to my slow and steady mantra, step by step getting me up Silver Pass. I was close, I made it over a crest and thought, "yes! I made it!" only to realize there was a false summit and I still had a couple hundred feet of switchbacks to climb. I could see a purple backpack finishing the last switchback when I realized that I wasn't too far behind Meghan! I looked back and Brian and Diane were about 1/4 mile behind me. Ok, I thought, we're still close, I won't camp alone tonight.
When I finally made it to the actual top of Silver Pass I was greeted by not only Meghan, but Lee and Reid. Even though they'd been up there for quite a while, they decided to wait for the whole group, we were going to get to the top of the pass as a trail family. At 5:15pm Brian and Diane made it too. We took a celebratory picture at the top and enjoyed the view for a bit. Lee asked, "can you see Yosemite yet?"
We continued down the other side, hiking as a proper trail family to our camp for the night, 1.5 miles away. Couds were rolling in and the wind was stronger and colder. Before we left VVR Jim was telling us the temps were going to start dropping, it was forecasted to be in the 30s overnight.
We set up tents and filtered water, getting food ready for dinner. As the sun was setting we could feel the temperature dropping. I was wearing all of my layers while cooking dinner and I was still shivering, it was going to be downright cold tonight. When the sun finally fell behind the mountains to the west the only thing we could do was hunker down in our tents. In early once again before hiker's midnight. I wasn't tired so I spent some time looking over the map and writing in my journal. We only had 80 miles until Yosemite Valley. Was I going to make it?
Day 20 - Sunday September 8, 2019
It got down to freezing that night. The thermometer in my tent read 35°F, and that was IN my tent meaning it was even colder outside my tent. The wet towel Zoe left outside her tent was frozen solid! Thankfully I remembered to put my water reservoir and water filter in my tent vestibule. I didn't want to get out of my warm sleeping bag. It was hard enough getting up early but it's even harder to get up when it's freezing out and your fingers don't want to work in the cold.
Finally we all got up and were hiking by 8am. We had a relatively "easy" day ahead of us, mostly downhill with no passes. But as I've learned, it's never easy. We still had a 1,200 ft climb and another 500 ft climb mixed in with some downhill trail.
I hiked by myself for a good portion of the day and it was nice to kinda be solo again. I kept thinking about how I probably wouldn't have made it this far if I was actually on my own for the whole trail. The main topic of conversation after Silver Pass was how each of us were feeling about ending our hike. By now I knew I didn't have another 80 miles in me to get to Yosemite Valley, to Happy Isles where the trail officially starts and where I had planned to end it. Tuolumne Meadows sounded like the place for me to end it. Lee and Meghan were in the same boat as me. They were on a certain schedule and it made the most sense to stop at TM, plus it would be a lot easier to get back to our cars in Lone Pine.
Reid, Zoe, Brian and Diane were determined to get to the end. Reid knew he could push through the last miles, plus his car was parked at the Happy Isles trailhead. Same with Brian and Diane. Zoe lives in Sydney and figured this would be her only time to finish the entire trail as planned and since she had people to finish it with her, she decided she was going to push to the end too. We realized this meant that we would be splitting up again and this incredible adventure would soon be over. We decided to enjoy our time together now and not dwell on the end.
We continued hiking and took a lunch break at beautiful Lake Virginia. Reid needed to cover more miles than what we were doing so we said goodbye to him while we finished lunch. His next resupply was at Reds Meadow so we thought we might catch up with him there but you never know. Just in case, we all hugged him goodbye. As he walked away Diane started singing, "happy trails to you, until we meet again!" We all laughed and joined in. I felt sad seeing him leave, the first of our trail family to split off and say goodbye.
And then we realized Reid had left his hiking pants behind! He typically hikes in shorts but with the colder weather had to wear his pants to stay warm. We hoped he wouldn't freeze in the cold temperatures! The rest of the group hiked on and finally, finally I felt great! The struggles of yesterday diminished. The uphills were no big deal, I had a good steady pace and the trail was mostly dirt instead of rocks. I was having a great day!
The views were gorgeous. The scenery changed every day and yet it still took my breath away. Then came the last mile and a half and all of a sudden my feet were done. The trail going down to the Duck Pass Trail junction was so steep and so rocky. There was a campsite about a quarter mile past the trail junction. We'd only hiked 10 miles but the next campsite was 5 miles away. It was only 3:30pm but we were all ready to call it. We didn't have another 5 miles in us.
We set up our tents and I took another bath in the stream, one of my favorite things to do on trail. It was harder to do with the colder temperatures but I felt better afterwards. We all boiled water to make our "mush in a bag" dinners. So far the trail family was still together, minus Reid.
We all felt like all of the days and all of the miles were starting to catch up to us. My body was making it so far but there was no way I would be able to do this for longer, definitely not the remaining 70 miles to Yosemite Valley. Tuolumne was 47 miles away. I could do that. 47 miles left! I knew I was ready to be done but not ready to say goodbye to my trail family. By 7pm we were all in our tents ready for bed. We had another resupply at Reds Meadow the next day even though it feels like we were just at VVR. I tried to fall asleep but the cold was getting to me. I finally had to put on my rain pants and rain jacket over my sleeping clothes and down jacket in order to stay warm. I was really regretting not bringing a warm hat. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head trying to keep them warm. Eventually I fell asleep.
(Read about Days 21-22 HERE!)