Day 21 – Red Cones to Resupply day at Red’s Meadow!

Before sunrise:


Today is Red’s Meadow Resupply day!! I am so excited that I’m tempted to pack up now, in the cold and the dark, and start hiking! Tempted, but not driven, because that would require venturing out of the warmth of my tent. I already scrambled out to get my bear can and stove and it’s freezing out there! My Nalgene water bottle, which I left next to my tent, has a thin layer of ice floating on top; evidence it was another bitter cold night. But I was prepared, and slept better, in my double socks, rain pants over wool layers and extra trash compactor bag beneath my Thermarest.  I wasn’t warm, but I wasn’t freezing my ass off either.. that’s progress.


Camp at Red Cones


After finishing my coffee and making my usual morning scouting expedition two hundred feet away from the creek I camped near, I discovered a hidden pocket of inspiration in this “most boring section of the JMT”.  As I bumbled through the dense forest of giant conifers and graceful aspens, stepping over felled, rotting victims of the Mountain Pine Beetle, I stumbled onto the edge the most idyllic scene I’d witnessed in days: a tiny meadow cloaked in fog and slumbering peacefully beneath the weight of the frigid night.

Framed by pines on three sides and the Red Cones on the fourth, northwest edge, the meadow gently pooled at the base of the rolling hills.  Her plush golden-green grasses mingled with the glistening morning frost, creating a mystical and other-worldly setting.  I followed a game trail for a couple hundred feet to further admire her muted brilliance as she lay docile in the crystalline morning, patiently waiting for her chance to shine again.  I stood in my tracks, facing her, inhaled deeply and soaked in the silent and mystical scene. This is what I came out here for. Scenes like these and precious moments when nature beckons and envelops me in her majesty; claiming me as one of her own.

Mystical Meadow


Later at Red’s Meadow Resort: My Last Resupply

Red’s was awesome! It was everything I’d hoped Muir Trail Ranch to be and wasn’t, making it that much more awesome! I could have stayed there all day, eating, showering and relaxing, but I had miles to go before I slept! (Love me some Frost!).

After leaving my magical meadow and hiking a relatively easy five miles through a forest of dead trees, (more victims of the drought, fire and the Mountain Pine Beetle), I arrived at the rustic Red’s compound around ten.  It was Labor Day weekend and bustling with tourists spilling out of the log cabins.

My first order of business was a shower. So much for my quest to go thirty days without a shower! Twenty was my limit. I couldn’t stand my dingy, pungent self any longer and couldn’t wait to strip off my filthy clothes and scrub away twenty days of sweat and dirt with hot water and soap!  I even splurged and went for the deluxe fourteen dollar, ten-minute shower (showers are $7 for 5 minutes). It was worth every single token!  Plus,  I multi-tasked and showered with my trail clothes on the floor. So, while I got clean, my clothes got clean too.

Oh. My. God. You don’t know heaven until you have your first hot shower in twenty days. Holy moly! Feeling human for the first time in weeks, I put on the cleanest clothes I had – my hiking shorts and a tank top – stuffed my sopping wet, shower-washed, hiking clothes in the dryer and moseyed to the café in search of a real meal and an outlet to plug in my phone.

The café was bustling with Labor Day resort stayers so I claimed a stool at the counter, against the far wall, near the only visible outlet that wasn’t surrounded by diners.  I debated between the veggie burger and eggs for several minutes and then opted for scrambled eggs, rye toast, home fries and an iced tea, topped off with a not-homemade giant slice of blueberry pie. The pie looked homemade and the crust might have been, but I worked at Dunkin Donuts long enough in my teens, to spot blueberry filling from a bucket, a mile away! It wasn’t very good, but I ate it anyway, adding four packets of sugar on top of it. I don’t usually like super-sweet desserts, but the pie needed it and it made me feel like a real thru-hiker!

After breakfast, feeling fresh and clean and human, I went back into the store to claim my resupply bucket and shop for something yummy.  Carrying my bucket in one hand and a newly acquired bag of Fritos in the other, I plopped down at a picnic table outside the diner to unpack and organize my resupply. I had way too much food! I threw a bunch of leftover food away and added some of my fresh stock to the hiker bucket – which was pathetic compared to the MTR buckets. Rumor has it, that the Red’s staff take stuff out of the buckets and sell it in the store. I hope that’s not true, but that’s the rumor. Judging by the piddly selection, it seems it could be more than a rumor.

The people of Red’s were so friendly and helpful – another contrast to the “get down to business”,  no frills, attitude at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). Actually, it was more than that: MTR wasn’t hiker friendly at all. Period. They charged an arm and a leg for a resupply bucket and didn’t even provide restrooms or water.  The feeling I got, as soon as I walked through the wooden gate was: “unless you’re spending $200+ to stay in one of our tents, get your shit and move on…”

Red’s was the exact opposite; friendly, outgoing, inviting.  The inherent attitude was, “come, pull up a picnic table and stay a while. Feel free to use our electricity, water and restrooms!”  Yes, I liked Red’s. A lot!


I texted my emergency contact and my friend Steve to update them on my progress.  My emergency contact and I had devised a communication plan: I’d update her with my SPOT tracking system at least every few days and then text her at my resupply points to let her know I’d arrived safely and on schedule (I was two days ahead of schedule).   Steve was picking me up in Yosemite to shuttle me back to Lone Pine to get my car. “I’m at Red’s. Should be in Yosemite Valley in 4 days” , I typed out on my phone. A sadness enveloped me. I don’t’ want to be done! I can’t believe I’m just four days away from completing what I’d dreamed of and planned for nearly a year. WOW.

With much hesitation, I heaved my newly replenished forty-pound pack over my shoulder, buckled in and headed toward Devil’s Post Pile amid happy bouncy tourists. I felt heavy – and it wasn’t just my pack. I sensed that I was marching toward the end of a dream. Toward a new unknown. Toward a life that held nothing that felt worth hiking back to…  Why can’t I stay in the woods…?

 Day 10 – Rae Lakes Happy Zero Day!!!

Day 10 on the John Muir Trail. August, 27, 2015

Just before sunrise…

Ahhh. There’s nothing like waking up to the smell of fresh cooked forest! Just as the trail chatter had said, the air at Rae Lakes is murky with smoke.  Since the first light faintly glowed against the black sky in the eastern horizon, I’d wake up, peek out of my tent, get a whiff of burnt air and retreat back inside, burrowing deep inside my down bag in a futile attempt to filter the noxiousness.   It’s like living in a wood-fire pizza oven – only without the pizza. (mmmm…pizza!) rae lakes 4

But it’s ok… I’m at Rae Lakes. The Rae Lakes.  And even with a smoky film muddying the scenery and polluting the air, it’s remarkable; a bowl of cool gray water framed by rocky shores surging with lush conifers.  I’m a mere speck in a picturesque cirque at the foot of characteristically dramatic Kings Canyon peaks:  Painted Lady, Mount Rixford, and Dragon Peak. I imagine that behind the gray film, Painted Lady stands proud, living up to her moniker; radiating brilliant shades of color and adorning the range of peaks that surround her.

I awoke to a feeling of relief:  I don’t have to hike today! I can rest my depleted muscles and tomorrow hike into the next section of the JMT feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Once the sun comes up I’ll do laundry, take a bath and even wash my hair! I can’t believe I haven’t washed my hair or bathed in hot water in 10 days. I’ve have never felt so grimy in my entire life:  I am constantly covered in dirt and sweat, my hair is heavy with grime, my hands and fingernails are black with earth and no matter how many times I wash with baby wipes and splash fresh stream water over me, I feel like I’ll never be completely clean again.

10 am:

Laundry is done! After anxiously waiting out the cold morning, cuddled inside my sleeping bag eating breakfast and writing, the sun finally breached the peaks framing Rae Lakes, flooding my little sandy section of earth with its warmth.  It was barely warm enough to bear putting my hands into the frigid waters of Rae Lake, but I was anxious to get my chores done so I could relax and enjoy my zero day. After four trips to the lake shore and back, lugging both my BV500-turned-washing-machine and my backpack full of food so the bears wouldn’t sneak into camp and steal it while I was away, I have clean-ish clothes. rae lakes 3

It’s cloudy and still pretty cool. The brief moments the sun sneaks between the heavy gray clouds are barely enough to warm me. If it rains now I’d be in serious trouble.  Everything but the shorts, tank top and down jacket I’m wearing is wet. I’m just waiting for it to warm up enough to jump in Rae Lake to wet my hair so I can wash it in the bear can with some Dr. Bronners away from the lake.

2:30 pm:

Being in one place all day is a little strange. I’ve had to fight the urge to pack up and hike.  My laundry is done, I’m bathed, my hair is washed the best I could be in cold lake water, I’ve walked, read, eaten, organized, sat and stared, thought, contemplated and written. Sitting still when I still have so many miles to hike is unnerving. It’s hard to relax.

I keep thinking about Capone. Up until today I’d forced myself to push thoughts of him out of my head. But sitting here all day with nothing but silence and time I can’t ignore the heaviness of worry in my heart when I imagine him all alone at Camp Four Paws. Sure, it’s the doggy version of club med, with walks and hugs and treats and plenty of attention, resting on a farm in the country where he and his fellow canine guests have many acres to roam, play and explore. I’m sure he’s lapping in doggy bliss, poolside with a giant marrow bone right now! But I still worry. He’s 10. He had skin cancer last year. What if something happens and he’s not there when I get home? I left instructions that if something does happen, they should contact his next of kin (my ex-husband) – not me. There’s no use getting that kind of news in the back-country. Alone. Nothing good could come of that. So now, I constantly worry that the worst has already happened and I’ll arrive home to nothing… rae lakes 1

The worry makes me want to go.  I’ve been fighting the urge to get back to him as soon as possible. I gave myself 30 days to complete the trail and I don’t want to feel rushed or consumed with worry; but I miss my buddy.  I push the panicky thoughts out of my mind and try to trust that he’s doing fine. I imagine him frolicking with the other dogs and getting belly rubs from the excellent staff. And I smile. He’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK, but I sure do miss my friend…

Then my restlessness takes a new turn and I think it would be nice to hike out of the smoke.  To see what’s around the next bend. But I force myself to stay put… Yesterday’s miserable climb over Glen Pass was more than enough proof that I need to stay put and rest.

I’ve taken a couple of walks around both sides of the lake to explore my surroundings. Off to the north I can barely make out the faint masses of far away peaks through the smoke.  Once again, I try not to think of all the dramatic vistas and bigger-than-life mountain ranges I’m missing and instead appreciate what’s right in front of me. Today it’s Rae Lake. Some days it’s a babbling creek, lush green meadow, topaz-blue tarn, a grove of ancient gnarled foxtail pines or a rocky slope set before me yearning to be appreciated in its modest grandeur.  Sure, I may not be able to see what’s miles away but maybe that makes what’s right in front of me all that more beautiful.   In the year of the wildfire, these more subtle and humble players take center stage, no longer competing with the dramatic granite peaks, passes and vistas that normally hog the limelight and steal the show


5:30 pm

Oh how I needed this day of rest!   As the day lazily unfurled I could literally feel my tense and strained body relax, letting go of the fatigue and stress from the last 9 days, 65 miles, 6 passes, one giant mountain and nearly 20,000 feet in elevation.  As my muscles relaxed I could feel the healing and rejuvenating. Ahhh…. Tomorrow I will be stronger! rae lakes 5

When the sun shone bright overhead I took a nap in the warmth of my tent only to be awakened a short time later by a tiny trickle of rain.  It only lasted about 5 minutes and then it got warm again.  Feeling a little restless, I meandered along the sandy edge of Rae Lake taking plenty of opportunities to sit and rest and soak in my view and today’s reality. I don’t get many truly relaxing days like this.  At home I’m either too plugged in, working, walking Capone, working out, running errands, or watching TV thinking about everything l I should be doing and feeling guilty about it.  There is no guilt on a zero day!  Not only do I feel like I earned it: I need it. My body recovers and my nature-TV comes guilt free: watching as the landscape of each peak changes with the journey of the sun. From early morning black against starry skies to Alpen-lit grays at sunrise to brightly glowing shades of granite as the sun rises high in the mid-day sky. I sat and watched the light dance off the water as the tiny waves rippled in the wind with the birds squawking, chirping, pew-pew-pewing, and whistling away in the background going about their important bird-business.

As my zero day winds down I can’t say I’m excited about getting back on the trail tomorrow, despite my restlessness. My left leg and foot have been hurting all day, I’m about to lose my left big-toe toenail (again) and walking – even without my pack – is painful. Where are these hiker legs I’m supposed to get?  Why am I not stronger? Why is this still so hard?   OK, time for a little reality check: I’ve hiked 65 miles, climbed and descended over 20,000 feet and climbed the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Yeah, that might have something to do with it…

Tomorrow will be a new day!

The next few days the smoke will be horrible. I need a plan to get over Muir Pass as quickly as possible…but I’ll think about that later.


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…


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….