John Muir Trail - Week 2, Part 2 (Days 10-12)
(Read about Days 8 - 9 HERE!)
Day 10 - Thursday August 29, 2019
I actually slept that night. I guess the trick to sleeping in the backcountry is to do two passes in a day and completely exhaust yourself! I took way too long to get moving. I didn't even get out of my tent until 8am! I found out Diane and Brian finally made it late last night around 9pm. Reid was taking a zero day at Rae Lakes and wanted to explore the area. We still hadn't seen Lee or Meghan. Brian and Diane were moving slow too but determined to get moving to make more miles. I finally packed up camp and pushed on, needing to stay on my own schedule.
The hike to Woods Creek was mostly downhill so I thought I could cover a lot of ground today. I ended up doing 8 miles which felt good with such a late start. Brian and Diane were behind me and we leap frogged each other all day. They'd catch up to me and then keep going, then I'd catch up to them during their break and I'd keep going. Once I made it down to Woods Creek I crossed over the bouncy suspension bridge and it was back to uphill hiking. But I did just fine! I was actually keeping a pretty good pace! I was surprised and relieved.
I finally started to chat more with other hikers, asking where they started, where they camped, what the water sources looked like coming up. Imposter syndrome was real for me every single day but chatting with other people helped it subside a bit. I wasn't the only one who felt unprepared or was struggling out there. I made camp half way up to Sawmill Pass Trail. I initially wanted to camp at that trail junction to get a better head start on Pinchot Pass but I was feeling done for the day.
My Guthooks guide said there were a lot of campsites nearby but I only saw a couple spots so I set up my tent on a flat dirt spot near some trees. I walked down to the creek nearby to filter water when I realized the campsites it was talking about were further up the trail after it curved a bit. I saw three more tents through the trees but didn't feel like chatting now so I didn't go over. Instead I took the time to do some chores and wash off in the cool creek. I was tempted to get all the way in but the creek had a swift current and I didn't know if that was a good idea since I was by myself. It felt good to wash off the sweat of the day and let my feet soak in the water. I made dinner and as soon as the sun went down behind the mountain I hid in my tent to keep warm. I thought about the friends I'd made on trail and wondered if I'd see them again. At least it was fun to have people to hike with while it lasted. Maybe I'd meet some other people?
Day 11 - Friday August 30, 2019
Pinchot Pass was my pass for the day so I set my alarm for 5am to get that early start I was now realizing was so important. I slept better and I think partly it had to do with my little creek bath because I didn't feel as gross or sticky in the morning. I made coffee and ate my breakfast protein bar while I tore down my camp. It was still pitch black out and I saw the headlamps of the hikers at the camp a little ahead of me. One light stood out because it was green instead of the normal red or white you typically see. I've only ever seen one other green light on trail and that was at the big group campsite the night before I hiked out over Kearsarge Pass, where I met Meghan, Lee, and Reid. Could it maybe be someone from my group?
I was moving by 6:45am but the other hikers were already gone. It was chilly hiking before the sun was over the mountains. The morning's climb was chilly but I was actually making pretty good time. It was a beautiful portion of trail, surrounded by mountains, meadows and lakes. I even saw a mama dear with her fawn while taking a break at the Sawmill Pass Trail junction. My goal was to get over Pinchot Pass by 12pm, which was 6 miles from my campsite, and I made it to the top at 12:05pm! I was so proud!
I felt refreshingly strong this morning and I was grateful to find a good pace. I was by myself all morning until I met some girls at the top of the pass. They congratulated me on making it to the top (something I was finding out all hikers do since we're all in this together) and then asked if a couple from North Carolina was possibly looking for me. It was Meghan and Lee! The girls told me they were about 30 minutes down the other side of the pass. I thanked them and bounded down the trail. Friends! People I know! I was ecstatic. I caught up with them at Lake Marjorie where Meghan was taking a dip in the beautiful but freezing cold water. Turns out they camped where I was last night and Lee's headlamp was the one with the green light! We couldn't believe it.
We hiked the rest of the day together and it was nice to get to know them better. Turns out they'd camped before Rae Lakes the previous day and were up early to keep hiking and they completely missed the campsite where me, Reid, Brian, and Diane were, thinking we'd gone further on. We wondered where everyone else was and hoped we'd all come together again somewhere down the trail. I was so happy to be with friends again!
The last few miles of the day were downhill to the South Fork of the Kings River where we planned to camp. This river crossing is notorious for being difficult and potentially dangerous depending on the time of year and snow melt conditions. In years past hikers have been swept away from high water levels and swift currents, some have even died. When we got there we were tired from hiking all day and had to figure out which logs and rocks we wanted to use to get across. It took a lot of concentration and trusting my trekking poles but I made it across with dry boots! We got to camp around 4:30pm and set up our tents by the river (and the mosquitoes) and had a nice evening doing the hiker wobble (the walk/hobble ever hiker does once finally at camp), eating dinner, and planning for Mather Pass tomorrow. It was nice to actually have time to enjoy camp. Today was a good day!
Day 12 - Saturday August 31, 2019
Best hiking day so far! Lee, Meghan, and I were up early and ready for the 5.5 mile hike to Mather Pass. We had a good, steady pace going up out of the valley we stayed in last night. It was chilly so I wore my warmer layers until the sun came over the mountains. Each day's views have been spectacular but today's were definitely incredible!
I was feeling really good until we got to the big climb up Mather's switchbacks and I hit a wall. It was back to slow and steady going up the endless switchbacks. I'd look up at the top of the pass and see the teeny tiny people and feel like I was so far away. Eventually, and faster than I anticipated, I got to the top of the pass by 11:20am! Woo hoo! My earliest pass so far! And I still felt good!
The downhill, of course, sucked and took freaking forever. Why is the last mile always the longest?? We were in the sun and it was hot, the hottest temps so far on trail. We wanted to camp at the far end of the Palisade Lakes and we thought we were close once we got to the first lake but the trail kept going and going. By the time we got to our campsite on the far north side of the last lake, we were all tired and ready to be done. 10 miles by 2:30pm!
I dropped my pack and immediately laid down on a large flat rock for a quick rest. I wanted to jump in the lake but it was too cold for that. Or I'm just a wuss. Instead I stuck my poor aching feet in the impossibly cold water and later bathed on a rock while covered in goosebumps. The chill soon went away as I laid down on my flat rock again to dry off in the warm sun. It felt good to be semi clean again. The mosquitoes on trail were really bad. I didn't realize how bad they got me the previous night by the South Fork of the Kings River - so many bites on my ankles.
I took my time setting up my tent, doing laundry, and just resting. When I first thought about this hike I envisioned myself getting to camp around this time every day. It felt so luxurious to have all this time to just, relax! I brought my watercolors with me and had grand plans to paint every day and fill my journal with paintings of every campsite but every day I was exhausted by the time we got to camp and the last thing I wanted to do was spend time being creative. I had no energy for creativity. I at least had enough energy to write in my journal every night. Having a lazy afternoon/evening at Palisades Lake was exactly what we all needed.
By this point we were all feeling worried about staying on schedule. That had been the conversation since Independence. Lee and Meghan had expressed concern and even Brian and Diane didn't know if they'd be able to stay on the schedule they'd originally made. I'd been on track so far but only because I had some side trips build in and I nixed those plans when the time came so I could keep moving. I didn't have any more wiggle room in the rest of this trip. I had some 13, 15, 16 mile days planned in the next 2 weeks and now I was worried about making those in time.
From my trail journal:
"I've realized I don't like hiking all day just to get to camp late. You don't have time to stop and enjoy your surroundings. I don't want to be worried about making miles. I guess I knew that about thru hiking but I had to experience it to get it. I don't really want to do more than 10 miles a day. I have 14 days left and about 146.5 miles to go. Essentially I can still make it to Yosemite Valley on time, but that would mean no zero days and I'd have to book it getting my resupplies. Do I want to do that though? Or do I continue hiking with Meghan and Lee and enjoy my time? I can at least make it to Tuolumne on that timeline. But then I'm only 20 miles from the end at Happy Isles. I'm having a tough time deciding. I just know I definitely want to come back at a slower pace and really spend some time here. I'm just breezing on through just getting a taste and I want more."
Once the sun started setting the alpenglow was incredible. This scenery is stunning. I desperately wanted to spend more time here. I knew I'd have to come back. But that was the hard part, every part of the trail so far has been spectacular and I want to come back to it!
We all were in bed early. We would hike up Le Conte Canyon the next day, continuing on. We wondered where the rest of our group from Independence ended up. We figured Reid would catch up sometime. Brian and Diane couldn't be too far behind. It's funny to think how close we could have been but without a way to communicate with each other we felt so far away. Maybe we'd meet up in the next couple days? Everyone had a resupply waiting for them at Vermillion Valley Resort. Maybe we'd see everyone there?
(Read about Days 13 - 14 HERE!)