Tyndall Creek to the Foot of Forester Pass

Day 6:  Tyndall Creek (via Forester Pass, ending at Vidette Meadow)

August 22, 2015: It’s 5:15 am. I finally gave up trying to sleep about a half hour ago and ventured outside the relative warmth of my tent into the frigid predawn darkness to grab my bear can so I could make coffee. It’s cold and windy out there, but I took a minute to stand in it and admire the rocky landscape resting serenely beneath the twinkling stars and black sky.  I’m back inside now, huddled in my down jacket with my bag wrapped around me.  My Pocket Rocket stove is set up inside my vestibule and Tyndall Creek water is heating up over the flame. I try to warm myself by embracing the air above, drawing in its heat while I nibble on tiny chunks of Bobo’s Maple Pecan Oat Bar, savoring each crumb, as I earnestly attempt to save some to enjoy with my coffee. camp at tyndall creek branded

Why can’t I sleep? I’ve been out here 5 nights and I’d be surprised if I’ve slept 20 hours. It’s getting a little frustrating. If it isn’t plain ole restlessness, it’s one of my arms throbbing painfully as it’s crushed between my body and the hard earth as I try in vain to sleep on my side. Being a stomach sleeper doesn’t work in a sleeping bag so I’ve tried to train myself to sleep on my side over the years. I’m still not very good it and toss and turns most nights. If it isn’t my arms, it’s the aches and pains in my thighs and hips pressing against the ground or jolting, shooting pains up the bottom of my feet. Yeahwhat the hell is that about?

Despite the insomnia I can’t believe how comfortable I’ve been out here at night. I haven’t been scared at all. I lay in the darkness of my tent feeling totally at peace. But then, I haven’t seen a single sign of bears yet either. No bear scat and the nights are still and silent. I like being on the rocks, you don’t hear the footsteps of nocturnal critters going out about their business: no rustling in the bushes or branches crunching and breaking beneath giant paws. Just silence – and last night a little wind flapping against my rain fly.  As I approach Yosemite – which is notorious for bear activity – that may change. We’ll see.

Coffee inside my tent on a chilly morning
Coffee inside my tent on a chilly morning

I do hope to see a bear on this trip – but in broad daylight, while it has a tummy chock full of fish and berries and is frolicking peacefully in a meadow at least a quarter mile away, alone, with no cubs and it would be great if it doesn’t spot me. Is that too much to ask? It is, isn’t it? Dear universe, I would like to see a 400-pound wild animal with fangs the size of a VW bus and claws like daggers – but could ya do it in a way that is completely non-threatening so I don’t get too scared?  Much appreciated.  – Love, Carolyn

Ok,  so maybe I am tempting fate a bit by willing the universe to show me a bear on my terms. We humans can be so vain.

On that note, it’s time to make my oatmeal and start packing up the inside of my tent.  I have a pass to climb today…

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I left my camp next to Tyndall Creek around 7, rock-hopped back over it toward the forbidden “no camping for restoration” zone and rejoined the trail heading North toward the rugged expanse of the Kings-Kern Divide. Despite the lack of sleep, I felt energized and excited about the adventure those not-too-distant mountains hold for me in the days to come. The trail was easy at first as it meandered away from the creek, through sparse patches of sub-alpine conifers and faded green grasses, inching me closer and closer to the jagged peaks dominantly piercing the clear morning sky.  view toward forester from basin

As I climbed toward Forester Pass I came upon a couple of big crystal-blue tarns resting coolly at the foot of a massive granite ridge. If only I could take a break at every beautiful spot on the trail…

After a couple miles I found myself in the center of an enormous granite basin just below Forester Pass. WOW. I mean WOW. Before me was the most breathtaking and remarkable scenery you can imagine.  The sandy trail snaked through swatches of yellowing grass melded to the bottom of the rocky bowl. The scenic creek flowed gently from its source somewhere in the range just yards away and through the meadow, bubbling and gurgling in a bed of reddish rocks as it cascaded toward the Kern River to the south behind me. I’m pretty sure my jaw literally dropped as I gaped and turned in a circle to soak in every tiny detail.  It was one of those scenic moments backpackers fantasize about; the spot that’s more pristine than any picture you’ve ever seen and profoundly visceral in its majesty.20150822_094119

I inhaled deeply and felt my body melt into the rock and grass and water. Something new was awakening deep inside me: stirring; beckoning; welcoming.  Like some invisible primordial force was drawing me out, fusing me with my surroundings.  And the sense of coming home that I get on every backpacking trip came to life and metamorphosed into a down-to-the-core feeling of belonging like I never experienced before. Deep down inside me, in some ancient and primal place I became connected to the earth – this earth that lay before me – the mountains and the lakes and the sky and the creek –  and I realized I’m not in nature, I am nature.  Yes, this isn’t just home, this is where I belong – where I fit. Where everything makes sense

I suppose some would call it god. I haven’t had much use for a god, but the feeling of peace that swept over me in that moment, realizing that I am one with nature was something I will never forget.

I wasn’t ready move on and let go of the moment just yet. I can’t stop at every spot, but I had to stop there. I decided it was the perfect place to wash my hair for the first time in 6 days.

me after washing hair below forester no smileI scanned the basin searching for the perfect site for my break and bath, finally settling on a flat patch of grass next to a foot-wide section of the creek that babbled over a couple big red rocks creating a chute of water barely big enough for me to dunk my head under. I dropped my pack, plopped down on the ground, peeled off my boots and socks to let my feet air out in the sun and unbuttoned my dingy hiker shirt, stripping down to my black cami.  I laid on my side and dunked my head in letting the pure and frigid waters cascade over my dirty grimy hair (Holy shit, a baptism?!? Ok, that’s interesting…) BRRRR. Holy shit it’s cold. I turned on my other side to dunk the other half of my head, using my fingers to comb out all the trail dirt, sweat and grime of the past 5 days. I finished off my little alpine spa treatment by splashing water over my face, shoulders, neck and arms. Ahhh. I almost feel clean again! 

With cold mountain water dripping from my hair down my back and face, I sat for a while soaking in the desolation and isolation. I don’t know if anyone can understand what alone feels like until you’re in the wilderness miles and miles away from anything that resembles ‘real’ life.

I filled up my Nalgene, dropped an orange Nuun tablet in it without treating it and laid back against my pack in the soft cool grass next the tiny creek to dry out a little before tackling the pass that lay before me….

Tyndal Creek Camp – Night 5 on the JMT

Day 5, August 22, 2015

Tyndall Creek- Sunset

I love it here! I feel like I’m in a Star Trek episode: beamed onto a friendly alien planet where I get to explore the desolate moonscape-like terrain. My only wish is that this planet were free of the thick yellow smoke that hangs in the air so I could see the craggy mountainscape off in the distance. Oh well, it could be worse… I could be home in front of the TV dreaming of being on the trail! No need to beam me up Scotty, I’m good.

tyndall creek camp smaller
Smokey views from Tyndall Creek Camp

After hiking all day, trekking past a couple of small lakes and finally reaching the twisty Tyndall Creek which I had to cross multiple times, I found the few worn-down-to-the-dirt camping spots crowded together in the conifers on the left-hand side of the trail.  I’m here! I made it!  However, the vast and untouched boulder-strewn landscape that surrounded me beckoned to be explored; so I moved on. Being confined to that tiny area with everyone else isn’t exactly the wilderness adventure I came out here for.

I ventured up the trail and to the right, searching the several hundred feet of rocky terrain between the trail and the creek for my new temporary home. To my dismay, I was confronted by a string of “No Camping: Closed for Restoration” signs for at least a ½ mile.  It seemed that no matter how far I hiked with my tired legs and heavy pack, I couldn’t escape the signs. Determined to find my own private piece of heaven I crossed the shallow, gently cascading waters of Tyndall Creek and headed toward the trail that leads to Shepherd Pass.

I easily reached the other side and did a quick visual scan: No signs! Awesome! I guess most people don’t bother to cross the creek to camp so no need for restoration.   Treading lightly, I conscientiously searched for a spot where I would leave the smallest imprint to call home for the night.

When planning for this hike I saw Facebook posts, books and articles advising on the best camping spots on the trail. I scoffed at the idea of camping in worn out back-country campgrounds.  For me, doing the John Muir Trail was about experiencing “true wilderness” as much as possible – much like John Muir did (despite the crowds I knew I’d encounter).  My imagination led me to virgin spots where I could experience the natural, untouched solitude of life on the trail. Huddling in dusty camper corrals with everyone else, where a million people have camped before isn’t how my adventure played out in my imagination.  I suppose that goes against my self-proclaimed Leave-no-Trace (LNT) Nazism a little bit, but I’m diligent and step carefully. I’m determined to enjoy unspoiled lands and leave no visible sign I was here for the next adventurers who seek the same.

Morning views Tyndall Creek camp
Morning views Tyndall Creek camp

And now camp is set up more than 100 feet from the creek tucked away in the field of boulders of every size and shape, closer to the Shepherd Pass trail than the JMT.  I pitched my tent on crushed rock,  doing my best to avoid the short yellowish-brown tufts of grass that would be crushed underneath my weight. When I leave no one will know I was here.

I’m absolutely exultant. This place is magical, awe-inspiring, breathtaking and profoundly serene.  I can’t wait to wake up to clear blue skies and the morning views that await. Like every other night out here so far, I’m optimistic that tomorrow I’ll wake up to another smoke-free morning. The smoke wasn’t as bad today as yesterday, but I saw it, still flooding the Crabtreee Meadow valley as I crossed Bighorn Plateau.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will only get better as I travel north.

The easy 8 mile day I thought I was going to have today turned out to be not–so-easy.  I’ve made up my mind: the Tom Harrison Maps LIE! They lie about mileage and they especially lie about elevation. I swear I didn’t see all the elevation I climbed today on my map. I guess it could be I’m just not very good at reading those tiny little topo lines that are supposed to represent 40 feet intervals. 40 feet my ass – more like 4 HUNDRED feet.   So I hiked mile after mile after mile this afternoon thinking, I should be there by now. Where is Tyndall Creek? Did I pass it already? Did I miss it somehow? Am I even on the John Muir Trail? Pulling out my map every mile or so to make sure I hadn’t missed an important turn off or walked right by my destination.

In my frustration I half-jokingly came up with a new business idea: I’m going to create my own maps.  On my maps, all elevations and mileages will be exaggerated. For example:  when you study your map to plan your day you’ll think you have  12 miles and 2000’ elevation gain to get to your destination,  but it will actually only be 8 miles and 1000’.  That way, you’ll be ecstatic when your destination is so much closer and easier than you expected! I’ll call them the “Surprise and Delight” maps with the tagline:  “Hike further with less effort.”  I know this “brilliant” idea is completely ridiculous, but it kept me amused on my alleged 8 mile hike today. dnner at tyndall creek

The truth is, hiking is still hard. I’m still at 11,000’, my pack still weighs close to 40 lbs., I hiked 8 miles and a couple thousand feet today, and I’m 48, not 28.   Stuff hurts!  When will I earn my hiker legs? Day 7? Day 14? When??? Soon, I hope.

After meeting up with my friends from Arkansas at Wallace Creek today, I decided they need trail names.  When I wasn’t trying to figure out how to launch a new business of fake maps, I spent much of my afternoon trying to come up with fun monikers for each of them.  But in the end, the best I could do is a collective trail name: “The Arkansas Four”. I know, not very original… but I didn’t have the creative energy to name each one as I trudged up and over mountains carrying the ill-fitting pack they helped me adjust a little better at lunch. That led me to ponder how boring trail names would be if they were just the city or state we came from. I’d simply be “California” But there are lots of people from California. So maybe “Concord”- or “California number 15044”. Yah, I’d need to come up with something more creative for the Arkansas Four.

When I arrived at Tyndall creek I kept an eye out for the Arkansas Four, but didn’t see them. They must have gone on to Lake South America.  In a way I was relieved (even though, I have to admit, I found myself eagerly searching every campsite for them). I had mixed feelings about running into them; I came to do this alone, I didn’t really want to have to make the decision to camp with them or not.  This is better.

I met my first woman solo hiker today! I was ambling down a wooded trail somewhere between Crabtree Meadow and here when we crossed paths. I was so excited to see her that I  practically lunged at her and shrieked, “You’re Alone!?!”  She looked a little surprised (frightened?) and took a step back, probably thinking I was some wild old- lady lunatic. I realized it’s probably best not to greet solo female hikers in the middle of nowhere with what could be translated as: “Are you alone, little lady???” (insert malicious sneer). I guess she was convinced I didn’t have plans to eat her for dinner and stopped to chat with me a bit. She was half my age – if that – and didn’t seem nearly as impressed with the whole solo-female hiker sighting as I. She left Happy Isles 16 days ago and is finishing out of Whitney Portal tomorrow. Oh, the speed of youth! Anyway, I was thrilled to finally see my first solo female through-hiker. I hope to meet more.

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Alpenglow from Tyndall Creek
Alpenglow from Tyndall Creek

I’m back from the creek now where I took a quick hiker bath and filled my Camelback and Nalgene bottle. The water is cool and crystal clear and fresh.  I’m not going to bother treating the water in my Nalgene. I’m pretty high up and the water is flowing enough.  I’ll mostly use it for making coffee and oatmeal and brushing my teeth in the morning anyway. Dinner is done and my Soloist pot washed. I’m enjoying my tea, sitting on a boulder soaking in the alpenglow views on the peaks to my north and east. How do I describe this most utopian and peaceful moment? Perfection.

Tomorrow is Forrester Pass- my first JMT Pass!!! A 5 mile, 2300 foot climb (or so Tom Harrison claims!) and then only 2-3 miles to my next camp somewhere in Vidette Meadow I think.  I’m not really sure yet, I’ll see how my day goes… From there it’s on to Kearsarge Pass and Independence for my first resupply. Wow!  It looks like I may end up there a day ahead of schedule.  I finally fit all my food, toiletries and first aid items in my bear canister this morning and now I have to fill it up again in a couple days. That means one thing: I better eat up!