People are Strange, Passes seem Wicked (When You’re Alone)…

Day 13:  Unnamed Creek below Mather Pass to LeConte Canyon

August 30, 2015 at 5 am: Waking up below Mather Pass

I had a rough night. It was freezing and the rocky ground causes every muscle and bone to ache, even through my Therm-a-rest. It’s definitely not as cushy as the dirt floor below the tree line. Even with Advil PM, I tossed and turned all night, feeling every scrape, rash and sore muscle.  (I scraped my fingertip on a rock while soaking yesterday and it’s throbbing!).

On the bright side, every time I got up to go to the bathroom (which was a lot) I was thrust from the comfort of my tent into the desolate and barren landscape of Upper Basin, in the shadow of Mather Pass.  The near-full moon cast an eerie glow onto the other-worldly bouldered moonscape.  I paused: acutely aware of my alone-ness and a tranquility so smooth and silent.  Have I woken up to a dream? Is this real? I pondered how a place so devoid of sound and movement can exist on the same planet as my every-day world  full of hustle-and-bustle and noise and light.  I took a long slow breath, inhaling the cool night, and slowly turned.  All around and above me, millions of stars carried out their nightly duty:  twinkling innocently and ignorantly in a far-away universe.

I ached to absorb every atom of the extraordinary  world  enveloping me.  It pulled me in, seducing me  with it’s  silent tranquility. As I stood motionless, my Earthly Being  merged into the landscape.  Once again, I became Nature and Nature became me. I  reveled in the power it had over me and in the knowledge that I was a mere speck on the ancient historical timeline of this place that now held me.

day 13 somewhere

Chilled – and maybe a little spooked – I’d hesitantly crawl back into my tent and try in vain to get a few hours of sleep….

I’ve finally given up. I unzipped my door and rainfly to enjoy the view from the warmth of my sleeping bag:  the bright sparkling star of The Hand Constellation is just above the eastern peaks of Cardinal and Split Mountains.  The world is silent and still.  I’m sipping my coffee, anxious for the sun to rise. I’m ready to get on the trail, but for now I’m enjoying the silent serenity of a world that I have all to myself… just the stars and the sky and the fading moon to keep me company.

12:30 – Lunch – Descending into Leconte Canyon from Mather Pass

No wonder most of the South Bounders I’ve run into today have been grumpy. Mather Pass is a bitch; my irritating descent is their horrific 4100’ never-ending ascent.  How I missed this on my maps, I’ll never know – oh wait, that’s right I fucking SUCK at reading topo map! Plus, I keep making the same mistake over and over again; thinking it’s going to be an easy day.  I was so full of excitement and optimism as I half-assedly studied my map this morning, broke camp and merrily skipped along the trail toward Mather Pass. I was like the Mary Poppins of JMT hikers, all that was missing was the umbrella and the “Sound of Music” piping through the mountains as I frolicked.day 13 waterfall and bp

You’d think that after my Glen Pass melt-down I’d have learned my lesson. Repeat after me: THERE ARE NO EASY DAYS ON THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL! When will that sink into my head? Damn my optimism and willful ignorance! It bites me in the ass every single day out here. On top of a grueling 4100-foot descent down rocky slippery, torturous trail, my quads and hips are achy (despite handfuls of ibuprofen), I think I’m getting blisters, a couple of my fingertips are cut and bleeding and throbbing and the rash on the back of my legs is burning. Yeah, this shit is real. Being out in the elements and hiking 100 miles over 13 days takes a toll on my fragile ill-equipped human body!

On top of all that, my pants have become annoyingly baggy (I would have never thought in a million years that I would complain that my pants had become too baggy.  Sear this moment into your brain and forever cherish it.) They’re falling from my hips and drooping all down my ass, chaffing my already rashed butt and legs.  Seriously, I’m getting the weirdest ailments. I planned for sore muscles, minor cuts, scrapes, infections; but fingertips that split open and throb constantly, a rash on the entire back of my lower body; who would have thought to prepare for such nonsense?

After what felt like decades of trudging downhill, I finally stopped to eat lunch on a huge flat rock overlooking a gorge with a cascading waterfall. As I devoured my favorite Cashew Caramel Go Macro Bar and handfuls of trail mix, a tall lanky dude about my age stopped next to me. He just stood there for what seemed like a ridiculously long time without saying anything to me. He stared at the river flooding through the narrow gorge. Does he not see me, I wondered.  How can he not see me? I’m RIGHT next to him.

“HI!” I yelled to him over the roaring noise of the water, trying to snap him out of his clueless trance.

Not taking his eyes off the gorge, he mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

“Excuse me?”

He mumbled again.

Ok, now this mumbling intruder was just annoying me, “I can’t hear you over the waterfall.”

He raised his voice about a half a decibel, I think he asked, “is this the Golden Staircase?”

“I don’t think so. Isn’t the Golden Staircase further north near Donahue Pass?” I answered.

“No. I think this is it,” he replied, still studying the gorge and not looking at me.

Okay, if you’re so damn sure,  then why did you ask??? “Hmm. I’m not sure then…”

Then he suddenly jerked his head around as if noticing me for the first time and just stood in place on the trail a foot away from me,  watching me pick cashews out of my trail mix.  He was starting to creep me out.  I was sitting on the edge of a gorge after all and there was no one around for miles. Will this be the day my flippant, “No one hikes into the wilderness to kill people” reply to “aren’t you scared hiking alone?”  bites me on the ass?

Why was this odd tall man watching me eat? Finally he mumbled,  “where are you from?”

I’d been meeting people from all over the world and  I never assume anyone knows where little Concord, California is, so I replied, “The Bay Area – San Francisco, Bay Area.”

The odd man snarled at me, turning up his lip in disgust. Showing obvious contempt, he  snapped, “you could have been more specific!”

I gave him a questioning look. His annoyance caught me off guard and I wanted to reply, “Ok, is “none of your fucking business”, specific enough for you?”  but since I was sitting on the edge of cliff overlooking a gorge  I thought it best to not provoke the odd man.  “Ok, I’m from Concord, Concord CA. Why, do you know the Bay Area?”

Again with his annoyed tone, “Yeah, Orinda.”

“Oh.”

Silence. He just stood there. Looking at me. Looking at the gorge. I started packing up, I wasn’t taking any chances that he was trying to figure out  if he could push me over without taking himself down in the fall too…

Finally, he mumbled something and moved on. I watched him hike up the trail (that suddenly seemed an awful lot like a staircase…) and out of sight. Relieved to be alone again, I laid back onto the rock and let the warm sun wash over me, thinking, What is up with today? I have not met one “normal” hiker today, just a bunch of people who seem like they’ve never been on a trail before and absolutely hate being out here. But then,  I suppose the people who passed me climbing Glen Pass could’ve thought the same about me. Trudging up this hellacious mountain must kill every ounce of joy in even the best and most optimistic hiker.

I have no idea where this is, I think it was on Day 13 below Mather Pass, before the Golden Staircase, maybe?
I have no idea where this is, I think it was on Day 13

So today it was the Mather Pass descent, more than the ascent  that killed me. Really, that fucking mountain just went down for days.

With all my odd physical ailments and wavering mental fortitude I’m realizing that my fantasy of dropping out of society, loading up my backpack with as much survival gear as I can carry, grabbing Capone and traipsing deep into the wilderness to live off the land probably isn’t a realistic option.  Besides being completely grossed out by the idea of having to kill things to eat, I’ve only been out here 13 days and already I miss my warm comfy bed, hot showers, soap and shampoo, fresh veggies, real coffee and lotion (my skin is so dry).  Yes, that fantasy has died within me over the last several days. I would surely starve and die a slow and wholly uncomfortable death without  Peet’s coffee and 900 thread count sheets.

8:30 pm at Le Conte Canyon

 I hiked 16.4 miles today!!!  And I finally broke my 100-mile mark! Woo hoo!!

After a long and strange day with lots of cranky people and a brutal 4100’ descent I finally stumbled into LeConte Canyon around 6 pm. I was determined to make it here tonight, so for the first time I hiked past 4:00. Why have I been stopping so early? I got an extra 3 ½ miles in! (That’s right, “I’m not in a race. I’m supposed to be enjoying the journey… blah, blah blah… Yeah, I’m pretty much over that – I’m ready to be home!)day 13 deer

Guess who’s here!?! Arkansas Tim and Tony!!! I was so excited to see my old trail friends!  But I quickly noticed they were one short, “Where’s Robert?” Tim told the story of how his knee got worse after tweaking it coming down Pinchot Pass and he had to exit. They’d gotten to LeConte Canyon yesterday and hiked Robert out to Bishop over Bishop Pass today so he could get medical help. Having hiked their friend out over a brutal pass, sharing the weight of his gear and their day packs, and then back to LeConte Canyon in one day, they were physically exhausted, emotionally drained and worried about their friend. But there’s a hiker code: you do what you can for your injured comrades-in-boots, but in the end you have to hike your hike.

It made me sad to hear the bad news and missed Robert’s big happy smile and his familiar “you just never know who you’re going to meet out here” greeting. Knowing that fit, tough Robert – the happy-go-lucky workhorse of the group –  had to exit the trail was another reminder that this endeavor is no joke.day 13 pinchot and mather sign

They invited me to camp with them so I excitedly pitched my tent and ate dinner with them.  And while we shared stories of trail challenges and triumphs, the concern over our friend’s  health hovered in the air like a heavy fog.

(Oh and-Tony confirmed that mumbling, Specifically-Orinda guy was right, it was the Golden Staircase I was descending. How did I not know that?? *Sigh*)

I’m relaxing in my tent now, getting ready for bed and studying my maps.  Tomorrow will be a tough day: 7.9 miles to Muir Pass. (7.9 TOUGH miles, I KNOW this one won’t be easy… see how I’m reversing the psychology on this one?? I hope it helps!). Then on to Evolution Basin and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) for my next resupply!!!

I had a low point today coming down the endless 4000’ Mather Pass Golden Staircase (more like “Staircase of Hell”) where I was bored with being out here and ready to be done. I don’t want to quit, but I wouldn’t mind picking up the pace to get out sooner than 30 days. I miss Capone terribly and I worry about him being at puppy camp all alone. I miss my bed. I miss showers. I miss not having every inch of my body ache or burn or pulse in pain. Maybe I was just a little tired and lonely and I was reacting to all the negative people I ran into. Being with Tony and Tim has made me feel better. All in all, I’m happy to be here and tomorrow is another day…

 

Sidenote: A thought I had on the trail today after the Golden Staircase:

Ahhh,  I’ve descended to 8700’!   I’m speeding along the trail and the little hills, my muscles feel less fatigued and I can breathe!  I mean REALLY breathe!  I feel like Super Woman! I can do anything at 8700’!!!

I can only imagine what it will be like when I get home to sea level! Watch out Bay Area. When I get home I’m gonna go on a huge Oxygen bender.  I’ll be sucking in all that thick sea-level ‘O’ the Nine-Two-Five is known for! Oh yeah! My lungs are jonesing for a big whiff of that good stuff! I’ll be running the streets  and doing cardio like a mother-fucker! Watch out Bay Area, here I come! 

Yeah- the trail gets boring and you find interesting ways to amuse yourself! 🙂

 

Just Hike..

August 29, 2015 Day 12:  unnamed pond to unnamed stream via Pinchot Pas

Dinner time just  below Mather Pass

Something shifted since my zero day at Rae Lakes: I feel like I finally found my stride, settled into a thru-hiker mindset, and got my hiker legs!  They seem to be all tied together.  I’m getting stronger and acclimating to the high altitude, but I also finally realized today that slow and steady is the way to go. I hike more efficiently and feel better when I pace myself on the ups, the downs, AND the flats. The first 9 days I was so focused on speed…  how fast can I get there? I have to keep up with so and so.  So when I’d trudge up giant mountains and over rocky passes I’d try to make up time by hiking as fast as I could downhill and on the flatter parts of the trail. (note: there seem to be no truly ‘flat’ parts on the JMT), frantically calculating and recalculating my miles per hour and ETA with each step.  I have to make up time. Hike fast… FASTER! No wonder I’ve been exhausted all the time and feeling completely worn out both physically and emotionally.

the summit of Pinchot Pass!
the summit of Pinchot Pass!

I succumbed to the rhythm of the wilderness: I enjoyed being on the trail just for the sake of being on the trail. I meandered through forests and faded meadows, across lazy creeks babbling gently with the last of winter’s snow melt and up yet another dramatic granite pass.

Today I relaxed into the trail and soaked it all in realizing I’m not out here to win any hiker land-speed records, so who cares how fast or slow I go? Why am I always competing against some impossible ideal I set for myself? Not just out here but in my everyday life: work harder, go faster, be stronger. Constantly scolding myself:  you should be doing this or you should be doing that. Or you should be this or you should be that…  And no matter how hard I work or how much I accomplish, I always fall short.  It’s never enough.  I am never enough… Today, at least as far as hiking the John Muir Trail goes,  that changed. My thru- hiker mindset kicked in and all those “shoulds” were replaced with, “who the fuck cares??? Just hike!”

Trail from the south up Pinchot Pass
Trail up Pinchot Pass from the south

That’s my new answer to all my nagging expectations and criticisms: “Just hike.”  I gave myself 30 days to hike this trail, so I just need to settle the fuck down and hike it.   30 days. That’s 30 days of experiencing nature. Of being exposed to the elements and the challenges of thru-hiking every single day. I don’t have to add to the challenge by being so damn hard on myself and having crazy expectations of hiking 3 miles per hour!  Hell, surviving out here 12 days on my own, hiking 80 miles,  over 20,000 feet in elevation is a big fucking deal! Isn’t that enough? Or maybe the real questions is: why isn’t it enough? Why do I take myself and my accomplishments for granted? Why? I guess that is something I can contemplate over the next 17 days as I “Just Hike!”

So today I hiked at a tortoise’s pace. I conquered the Sasquatch steps, hiked steadily at a comfortable pace, rested and took breaks whenever my body, mind or eyes wanted to. I swam, I stopped to soak in sweeping views of valleys and lakes, I had leisurely conversations about the trail and the smoke with South Bounders and still managed to hike almost 12 miles and climb and descend over 4700 feet in 8 hours.  I’d go so far as to say this was my best day yet:  I did my 7th pass crossing (6 passes, because I did Kearsarge twice) and I’m less than 2 miles and 1500’ from Mather Pass!  My new mindset seems to work for me!

My lunch spot on the North side of Pinchot Pass
My lunch spot on the North side of Pinchot Pass

And I got trail mail!!! As I approached the Bench Lake Junction sign, I noticed a tiny note duct taped to the post. I thought it was going to be another warning about the smoke and the wildfires, but as I approached, to my surprise, I saw that it had my name on it!  It was from Lee – one of the Arkansas Four.  Lee knew from the beginning he wouldn’t be hiking the whole JMT, he had to get back early for work and Bench Lake was his planned exit from the trail.  The note was dated yesterday morning and he wrote that Robert injured his leg descending Glenn Pass, but was hiking on anyway,  like the trooper he is.  He wrote that they’d planned on climbing Mather Pass that day (yesterday).  I was thrilled to read that: they aren’t as far ahead of me as I thought… just a little over a day! Lee said goodbye to me and left his email to exchange pics and keep in touch. I smiled for miles. I was ecstatic to get that note!!  It was comforting to know I have friends – a community out here – who are thinking about me. How cool is that? It was icing on top of a lovely chocolate cake of a day (hmm, do ya think I’m hungry?).

Trail Mail!!!
Trail Mail!!!

That reminds me, I realized today that another reason I’m sluggish is because I didn’t pack enough simple carbs (aka, sugar = instant energy). I try not to eat a ton of sugar in my everyday life so I resisted the temptation to pack it. Part of my goal after all, was to lose a little weight on this hike.  But that strategy is failing me miserably:  I’ve been eating too much protein while I hike which takes forever to convert into energy and is doing me no good on these climbs and long days.  I had a package of Twizzlers in my Onion Valley resupply and the helped, but they weren’t enough.  I can’t wait to get to Muir Trail Ranch and raid the buckets. Trying to eat too healthy has been hurting my endurance.

I’m also struggling with a rash on the back of my legs from my butt down to my calves.  It burns as I hike and my hiking pants rub against it. I think it’s dry skin or maybe chaffing from not drying off completely before putting my pants back on after the lunch-time swims and sitting in the waterfall yesterday. All I have is Carmex which works for chapped lips, so why not chapped legs and butt?  I rubbed it on and believe it or not, it helped (after it stopped burning!) I want to put something on it now, but Carmex has a strong scent and I don’t want to be an invitation to bears.  My zinc oxide is all I have that’s odorless and that’s too greasy. I have Neosporin, but I don’t think that will help, I wish I’d brought Cortisone cream. Maybe I can get some at MTR.

I have the most beautiful campsite tonight in a barren and rocky landscape below Mather Pass. I feel like I’m on the moon! I’m near a crystal-clear creek cascading through the rocks and earth from Mather Pass. I found a little pool between two boulders. It was big enough to squeeze into and have a bath.  It was even pretty warm! It felt good to splash the trail dust off my grimy body.day 13 anothe rview

I’ve just seen one lone hiker heading toward the pass, about an hour ago and he didn’t see me. Other than him, I haven’t seen anyone since early afternoon. I have the whole moon all to myself! As usual, the smoke is obscuring the jagged peaks around me, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and snap some pictures while it’s clear.

It’s time to make dinner and settle in.  I hope to sleep well tonight, I have a big day planned tomorrow.  My goal is to reach the middle fork of Kings River. It’s about 13 miles after Mather Pass – all downhill. That’ll (finally) put me over the 100-mile mark!

Now it’s time to “Just Relax!”.