Days 26 & 27: The End of the Trail

Starting at Upper Cathedral Lakes, I make my way ten miles to the Little Yosemite Valley Backpacker’s Camp where I spend my last night on the John Muir Trail. And wake up to walk the five numbing miles into the Yosemite Valley and my JMT finish Line.

Day 26: Upper Cathedral Lakes

Good Morning!

I slept ok. It was warmer last night,  so that helped. But the splits at the end of my fingers throbbed all night and the moisture on my down bag was annoying.  The condensation has been a lot worse since hitting Yosemite.  

It’s a gorgeous morning.  Clear skies – well sort of – there are some clouds. But no smoke! I’m enjoying my coffee, taking in the gorgeous morning view of Cathedral Peak; its jagged peak monopolizing the morning sky.  I’m waiting for the sun to hit my camp to dry my tent and bag before packing up and hitting the trail.

What a difference landscape makes. Those long monotonous days in the woods were tough. Now, being in Yosemite among the granite peaks towering over pristine mountain lakes, inspiration is alive again.  It’s so peaceful and serene. Quiet. Just a gentle breeze and the chattering of squirrels and gentle tweets of birds starting their day.

I just heard a knocking in the woods behind me. I realized I didn’t startle. I continued writing and sipping my coffee. Eventually, I turned out of curiosity, not fear. The benefit of 25 days on the trail. Nothing out here wants to eat me, indeed!

Evening at Tent City aka: Little Yosemite Valley Backpacker’s Camp

This feels like a refuge camp.  I know that sounds terrible, since refuge camps are literal refuges for people who’ve suffered terrible things. But when I think of one of those camps, I envision a place packed full of tents and people and that’s what Little Yosemite looks like (minus the suffering).

This is the base camp for the Half Dome Climb and the excitement swirls in the air like a tornado. I’d thought I might make the climb (it’s included in the JMT permit), but honestly, I don’t think I can. I’m too tired and beat up and it’s a challenging – and dangerous – climb. I think it would be reckless to attempt it in my current state of exhaustion.

Ick. This is not what I’d imagined my last not on the trail to be.  It’s interesting how last night felt like my last night. I think I knew, with a name like “Little Yosemite” it would be crowded. I

It took me a while to find an spot with enough breathing room to pitch my tent. I ended up on the fringe of the camp,  near a group of younger women just over a downed Ponderosa trunk from me. After 25 days alone on the trail, this is the loneliest I’ve felt; surrounded by all these strangers.

I hiked about ten miles today over slick granite river beds, through lush Fir and Pine forests and acres and acres of post-apocalyptic-looking burned out woodlands of charred Ponderosa, Pine and Fir trunks.  It was eerie at first to be among all that death and destruction. But when I looked closer, I saw signs of life emerging. Sprigs of green sprouting from ash.  Tiny saplings fighting for life and light in the thick of the scorched bones of their ancestors. Little birds flitting and bobbing amid the stoic ghosts, relocating, rebuilding, reviving.

The day drew out as I trudged up and down hill after hill, after endless hill (all downhill my ass!).  It was another day of ups and downs, both figuratively and literally.  Heat. Sweat.  Layers of trail dirt and grime rolling off my face. Tears. Frustration. No water. Devastation. Clouds.  Smoke. Exhaustion.  Even a few rain drops, the humidity making my filthy clothes cling to my skin as I climbed mile after mile after mile of dusty trail. Only to end my day,  with the hope of a peaceful riverside camp site yanked away as I entered the hustle and bustle of the backpacker’s camp at Little Yosemite Valley.

Since entering Yosemite I’ve noticed a ton more signs telling visitors what they can and cannot do, where to go, how to be. Rules and regulations to manage the millions of visitors this park receives each year. Crowds, clueless day hikers, fat squirrels (see clueless day hikers), sandy, beat up trails, tons of off- limits places closed for restoration due to the visiting masses who never bother venturing more than a few miles outside the valley, to explore the real Yosemite.   I already miss freedom. Solitude.

But I’m also wishing I felt less relieved that tomorrow is the end of my hike.  One part of me feels soothed by it and the other is sad the adventure is ending. Time will sprint forward, the pain and exhaustion will shrink away, leaving only memories of the magic of the trail that has been hard to appreciate through the haze of aches, pains, exhaustion, dirt and grime.

What a journey!

I’m laying in my tent now listening to the bustle of excited hikers all around me and the twenty-something year old ladies next to me chatting away about jobs and boyfriends as they lay in their tent.  I’m reminded of similar conversations with my best friends at that age. I smile. It’ll be nice to see my friends. And Capone!

The sun is barely below the horizon and I’m ready to sleep.

5 more miles to go…

Day 27- Morning at Little Yosemite Valley

Good morning. I’m packing up and getting ready for my last day on the John Muir Trail.  Wow.

It’s quite an anti-climactic final morning, waking up in an icky crowded backpacking camp. On the bright side, on the way to the bathroom (yes there are pit toilets here) there’s an amazing view of Half Dome.

I slept very well. It was warm enough that I didn’t even have to zip my bag. But I’m sore from the tippy- top of my head to the tips of my toenails.

Just five more miles. A final hike toward Vernal Falls and then a huge descent into the Valley. 

Gong back is going to be hard! Being out here has been so challenging and has pushed me to my limits. But at least I knew I was alive. Home is merely existence. This is living.

Home is uninspired. Unfulfilling. I guess the question is what can I do to change that?   Different work? A new apartment, city or state? More volunteer work? Something to think about as I hike today- and in the weeks and months to come…

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My last mile down the hill from Vernal falls into Happy Isles Yosemite Valley were surreal.  The day hikers sluggishly tromping up the stone steps toward Vernal Falls moved past me in slow motion, their curious eyes probing me. Why am I thinking of Orwell? 1984? Robots?

I tumbled down the stairs. Exhausted and numb. Do I cry? Laugh? Celebrate? Run back into the safety and solitude of the forest?

I had no idea what I felt as the trail faded away behind me. I felt nothing – and everything – all at once.

A voice screamed inside me:  TURN AROUND. GO BACK… HIKE THE OTHER WAY!!!  

I felt out of place; alien. My brain was prodding me. Trying to motivate me into feeling something. What? It prattled on as I closed in on my finish line, spitting words at me: “Done!”; “Celebrate!”; “Happy!”; “Proud!”; “Accomplishment!”.

 Is that the Rocky theme?

As my cheerleader brain tried  to to pump me up, my confused psyche remained numb. I hurt. So hard. It’s over. I want to go back.

Two hours later in Curry Village

I’m done!!!  I made it! I just finished my solo hike of the John Muir Trail (plus some). 256 miles in 26 ½ days.

I laughed, I cried, I celebrated, I cursed, I sweat, I bled, I ached. But it was worth every second.

I’ve poured myself into a comfy overstuffed chair inside the Curry Village lodge (an actual chair!) after purchasing a lovely cup of Peet’s coffee with caramel and almond milk.  I’ve been here for a long time. I may, in fact be stuck in this chair! My aching body is sooo happyI guess civilization does have its perks!

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Nightfall at the Backpackers campground in Yosemite Valley

I’m sitting at a picnic table eating the rest of the chocolate bark I bought at Tuolumne Meadows, studying at the maps of where I’ve been the last 26 days and scanning my journal.  Reading through the pages, my daily mileage and where I’ve been, I don’t even remember some of the places I camped already (a pond below Pinchot Pass?).

Backpacker Camp in Yosemite Valley

As I sit here looking at the forest around me it’s hard to believe I’ve lived out here for 26 days. I’ll miss it. Going back to being cooped up in that tiny apartment is not filling me with joy at the moment. My mind is flashing images of a hamster trapped in a cage. Bleh.

I had fun hanging out in the Valley and riding the shuttle today. I’d never done that before. I usually avoid the crowded, busy Valley like the plague. But today, without a car and a day to kill until my ride gets here, I got to play tourist. I’ll admit, it felt kinda good – if not strange- to be among society again.   Though it feels a bit alien. Fake. Put on. Superficial.  It just feels weird.

Fun to watch – and fascinating – but I don’t relate. Their groups and families and babies and couples. All doing things together. Clumped in small campsites at the crowded Valley campgrounds. Suburban sprawl in Yosemite.   Young couples in love, mothers and fathers struggling to control toddlers, grandparents solemnly soaking it all in. Some looking happy, others utterly miserable.

Despite the variety of stories and emotions I witnessed on the shuttle and at Curry Village today the thing that struck me was their connections to one another. I guess that’s what I don’t really get. How easy it seems for most people to be with others. To do things together.  I can hear the two young women – in their twenties – in the camp next to me chatting away with a familiar ease and comfort. I just sat here, alone at my picnic table listening to how relaxed they were together. Friends. Not sure I’ve ever been that relaxed with anyone without trying too hard to connect and be likeable.

Maybe this trip will give me that – the ability to relax. To be at peace with who I am and stop trying so damn hard to be loved. Maybe a softer, quieter, not-so-desperate-for-approval Carolyn will emerge.

Who knows…?

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26 comments on “Days 26 & 27: The End of the Trail”

  1. I’ve been binge watching your, Bob’s and Robin’s RV YouTube videos and have really enjoyed them. Saw the mention of this blog and started binge reading making myself put it down every once in a while to go to bed. This has been a real joy for me to travel the JMT with you and I can’t wait for the PCT hike.

  2. I just finished reading the whole of your JMT blog in two sittings. I didn’t want to put it down, Carolyn. Your writing style was captivating and your story, inspiring. The introspection you shared was truly moving. I can’t imagine living through the brutal realities of such a quest. I admire your fortitude. I can more closely relate to the emotional journey of self-awareness and breaking through to healing. Good on you, woman! I’m glad you found a life that suits and fulfills you. I’ve been watching your RV vlog for a month or two. Very entertaining and informative!

  3. I am so happy I came upon your YouTub Ch . I enjoy watching your videos a lot I have watched many many of them.
    I truly enjoyed reading your journey. It felt like you brought me a long!!
    Your a fantastic writer, I love how your real sharing all your emotions, telling your story I feel like I know you better after reading this.
    You are a inspiration to many.
    I didn’t have a super great childhood and I still let tears roll when I think back!!!
    Only someone that has a true connection with their animals knows the pain and worry we feel when we are away from them. They are a Mans Best friend!!!!!

  4. Wow! I can’t even imagine waking for 26 days and 256 miles! The peace.. The sweat😱 You are made of true grit.👍🏼💪🏼
    And, just so you know… you are MORE than likable… you are as loveable as a kid sister. (I don’t have one.)

    1. Janet, Awww. you’re very kind Janet.. YouTube has certainly made me see things in myself I’d never seen before. And I thank you for being a part of that awakening!! Next adventure.. 1000 miles over 3 months. I can’t wait to get started!! xx Carolyn

  5. Carolyn you are such a talented person !!!! Your writing is exquisite, and your videos are perfect … you are so loving and caring and it shows in all you do … you are making a difference in this life … you are real … it is a great pleasure to watch your travels and hear your thoughts … you make me feel not so weird … lol … because you think a lot of the same thoughts I have and your not afraid to voice them !!!! I pray for your new journey to be just tough enough and safe enough for you to find what you are looking for … I’m so happy you were not happy in your corporate life … because it gave you time to become who you are now … and that dear girl is awesome !!!!!

    1. Mary, I’m glad I left the rat race too!! what a journey it’s been and I feel so honored that I can share my life with you and others who enjoy the journey! thank you very much!! Carolyn

  6. Thank you for letting me tag along on your wonderful journey ! I can totally understand your conflicting emotions at the end. Go forward…NO….go back!! But obligations await….screw it….I want to live a new life! I would certainly feel that way!
    I’m so happy for you in your RV living life now.
    Best of luck to you in your travels. I look forward to seeing where you go next!

    1. Rhea, Yes, coming off the trail after just 26 days was weird. I can only imagine how PCT hikers feel after 5 months. I think something like this is truly life-changing!! Thank you for reading and for taking the time for your kind words! Carolyn

  7. Carolyn: My wife and I experienced almost the exact same trip as you, about one year later. We hiked NB in August 2016. I used your blog to help plan our trip out of Cottonwood. You put into words so much of what we felt. We were lucky to NOT stay at LYV campground for our final night. We stayed a couple miles up from there. The walk into Yosemite Valley was surreal and anxious. I almost had a panic attack. It was Labor Day weekend and the hoards of folks walking toward me, not extending the courtesies I was accustomed to on the trail, made me crazy. The one thing I took from the trail was the nicest folks in the world were hiking it. That was way different in Yosemite. My wife and I have done something similar in purchasing an RV, but we aren’t full time. The JMT inspired our current life and your blog was a wonderful guide and reminder of what we experienced. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jason, I am so glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt and experienced those things on the trail… it’s definitely a surreal experience! Thank you for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Glad you got to hike the JMT and experience it ALL.. Best, Carolyn

  8. Just finished binge-reading your blog, and I’m so impressed—not only with your completion of your hiking goal, but also with your writing. And as a fellow introvert, I totally understand the conflicting emotions of wanting solitude, yet feeling some envy toward those who are able to share those easy-going friendships and conversations. I’m also a long-time subscriber to your YouTube channel and I’m looking forward to your announcement this weekend of what you’ll be up to next!! Rock on!!

    1. Suzanne, yes! You explained the plight of the introvert beautifully! I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. Thank you for your empathy.. it helps to know I’m not alone in that envy! So excited about Sunday! thank you very much. hugs, Carolyn

      1. Not sure if I get the introvert thing, people will say I am a talker, but when you look at the list psychologically, of the two, they have a mixture of traits. I can relate to the independence in being alone, now that I am 69; I am thinking of the nomad life and I appreciate you relating your life so well.

        1. Colleen, I learned recently that I have the traits of both too. That means I can thrive with people but also do very well with solitude. That explains why I love public speaking but then need 3 days to recover. I think many of us can easily slide between extrovert and introvert! Thank you for your comment. Carolyn

  9. I loved getting to read your journal and I’m so glad you finished it. I would love to know if you made any of those changes you talked about, in the past year.

  10. Loved reading your entire trip. Savored every minute of it, and your writing is so amazing. LYV is always so bittersweet to me. Positive in that it means I am backpacking. Frustrating in that it normally means I will see people doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing, (leaving food out) and that I will probably be ticked off when I am awakened in the middle of the night by bears because people don’t follow the rules. Oh well….it beats the city, but not by much. I am always amazed at how incredibly clean those solar toilets are tho! That ranger who is in charge up there does an amazing job under difficult circumstances!

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