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
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…
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!
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?).
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.