Reaching the JMT- Crabtree Meadow Basecamp

(Still Wednesday, August 19, 2015)

Welcome to the JMT! Upper Crabtree Meadow  

7:30 pm– I’m almost too tired to write.  I’m going to call this a 12 mile day with the hike out from my camping spot far away from the trail at Soldier Lake and my wandering back and forth for 15 minutes when I got back on the New Army Pass Trail and couldn’t figure out which direction to go. Maybe it’s 11 ½ miles… Who knows, it depends on which map or trail signs I follow – they all say something different.

53 decent over guyot where ran into trail crew and asked about wag bag
Trail on the North Side of Guyot Pass

After hiking for 10 hours through red fir and lodgepole pine woodlands, crossing drought depleted streams, hearing a crazy coyote kill, climbing 2000 feet up Guyot Pass where I experienced my first false summit at Guyot Flat and  finally climbing a gentle trail that meandered along Whitney Creek, I reached the John Muir Trail and Upper Crabtree Meadow!  It’s quite a sight: stretching from maybe half a mile to my left toward the sharp granite peaks near Mt. Whitney, to the edge of the forest I just climbed out of on my right. I breathed a sigh of relief. I made it! I can rest!

I was greeted by a crowded and bustling backpacker camp – obviously a Mt. Whitney base camp.   There are at least 20 – and maybe as many as 30 – tents tucked into the pine trees bordering the meadow as far as the eye can see.  It reminds me of a refugee camp (not that ‘I’ve ever been in a refugee camp, but I imagine it would look something like this- only with not as much expensive ultra-light gear). It was also a bit of a shock to my senses after being mostly alone for 3 days.

I was obviously late. Finding a private spot to pitch camp was going to be a challenge. I headed to my right toward the line of trees that marked the south edge of the meadow – there were only a couple of tents tucked away in the trees against the hill that dropped down to the trail on the edge of Whitney Creek, where women were bathing and hikers were filtering water. But way down on the southernmost tip, there was no one. It was a bit out in the open, but at least away from the crowd.

I finally settled on a flat spot tucked against the trees that spilled down a big hill toward Lower Crabtree Meadow.  I dropped my pack and started pulling all my stuff out: my bear can, tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest, and sleeping clothes. I was anxious to get set up.  I sat in the dirt nibbling on a Cashew Caramel Macro Bar while I organized my gear. I was happy with my spot and couldn’t figure out why I was the only one who thought of camping here.

I laid out my tent and as I was attaching the poles to the grommets I happened to catch sight of something at the tree line on the east side of the meadow that I’d missed while scouting for a campsite.  To my complete and utter horror I was looking directly in the face of a man  sitting on a wide-open, for- the-world-to-see outdoor toilet, no more than 25 yards away. He was just sitting there, wad of toilet paper in hand,  shrinking down on his wood-instead-of-porcelain throne trying to hide from me. But there was nowhere to hide. The only privacy this outdoor toilet lent were two crudely built walls on the OTHER SIDE of the toilet.  My camp was perfectly positioned to get a straight-on view. Well that answers the question why I’m the only one down here.

crabtree toilet
Outdoor toilet at Crabtree Meadow

I was mortified. How the fuck did I miss that?  I was so embarrassed (I can only imagine how he felt!). I felt like such a back-country campground rookie (like I was supposed to know there would be a toilet perched on a wooden stage in the middle of a wilderness campground! Sure there was a sign pointing in this direction, but I was expecting something a little more obvious!)

I quickly plopped my ass down with my back to him and pretended to fidget in my backpack for a good 15 minutes to give him plenty of time to finish what he was doing.  Then I haphazardly crammed my gear back in my pack and dragged it and my tent over to a new spot, BEHIND the toilet wall. I’m still close, but at least I won’t be watching people use it while I eat my Pad Thai.

I set up camp and took a walk to get water for dinner (up creek!) and explore the camp. I talked to a few people who confirmed they’re here to acclimate for their Whitney summit. I haven’t met anyone doing the whole JMT, they’ve just come in from the south (like me) and are out here for a few days to do Whitney.

climb toward whitney view of valley below
view toward Crabtree meadow from Whitney descent

I met a guy (Tom) who was sitting on the edge of the meadow near a camp with four tents eating dinner alone.  We struck up a conversation about the dozens of adorable marmots scurrying about in the meadow. I asked if he was heading to Whitney and he explained that his group is still on the mountain. He’d started out with them this morning but had to turn back at 12,000 feet because the elevation got the best of him.  He said he was too dizzy and short of breath to continue and “it wasn’t worth” his health and safety to push on. He tried to make light of it but his disappointment shone through as he tried too hard to convince me he was ok with it. I listened, told him “good for you for making that decision” and walked away thinking: Wow, Ok this Whitney climb is the real deal!  I hope that doesn’t happen to me!  That will NOT happen to me……Right???  

It never crossed my mind that I might not be able to summit Whitney (or finish this trip).  I tend to do things without overthinking them: forging ahead and working things out on the way….  Hell, preparing for this trip pushed my planning and organizational abilities to the limits with the food and the gear and the maps and the permits. But I never really considered I couldn’t do any part of it –  I’d just do it. (One of my favorite slogans!). Put one foot in front of the other and just go. I half-jokingly told my friends the only way I’m coming out before Happy Isles is by helicopter.  I don’t quit. Talking to Tom was the first time it dawned on me that there was a very real possibility I physically may not be able to climb Mt. Whitney.  That no matter how much my mind and stubbornness wanted to summit, my body may not allow me to. I couldn’t accept that and quickly put it out of my mind.


crabtree camp 2 branded
The big rock that became my dinner spot at Crabtree Meadow

I’m back at my camp now leaning against a big rock about 20 feet from my tent on the edge of the trees that line the meadow,  eating dinner and watching excited and exhausted hikers get back from Whitney, campers carry their pots and Nalgene bottles to the creek for water and others languidly organize and tidy up their camps. I get curious looks and enthusiastic hellos from passersby on the way to the outdoor toilet. I’ve only seen two other solos here – and I’m the only solo woman.

I look around camp and soak in the vibe. I like it here.  There’s an excited and adventure-filled energy in the air.  I’m conscious of my feeling of belonging, despite being alone.  A warm contentment washes over me as I reflect on this. I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere!  I’m happy. Content. And happy to be solo.

camp at Crabtree without the view of the toilet
Camp at Crabtree without the view of the toilet

Later –  It’s not quite dark yet, but I climbed into my tent to rest for my big day tomorrow. This will be my first night in my tent. It’s nice to be in here away from the crowd, and it’s cozy, but I think when I’m alone I’ll go back to no tent. I feel too cut off from nature.

Reflecting on my day,  I feel like I completed my first real hiking day; 12 miles, 10 hours and about 2000 feet in elevation – and it wasn’t easy. I’m still feeling the effects of the high altitude.  At 10,958 feet with a 40lb pack, Guyot pass was no walk in the park! I purposely did short days up until today to give myself plenty of time to acclimate before climbing Mt. Whitney. I hope I’m ready!

The trail was pretty desolate most of the day.  I only saw 3 people until about a mile out of lower Crabtree. It was also a day of wildlife sightings: the near-deadly coyote incident, mama doe and babies, a marmot (there are a lot here at camp) and another doe.

My body is feeling pretty good, except the muscle or tendon I strained behind my left knee when I slipped in the mud getting to camp at Soldier Lake yesterday.  It’s a recurring injury that I always tweak when I fall (and I fall on every backpacking trip).  It’s a little painful today, especially when I land on my left foot a certain way that twists it slightly. The tendonitis in my left foot is acting up too. But it’s not horrible, I can walk. It’s a good thing I brought lots of Ibuprofen!  Other than that I’m just feeling your run-of-the-mill tiredness. I wonder what I’ll feel like in a week?  Two weeks? Three? It’s only day three, I could be out here another twenty seven days!

I had to remind myself a few times today that this isn’t about rushing to a destination. It’s about experiencing every single moment this journey has to offer. I relished in my breaks; on the shore of Rock Creek, at the top of the rocky and picturesque Guyot Pass with it’s view of Whitney Meadow, and IN Crabtree Creek at lower Crabtree meadows. (I literally pulled off my hiking pants and sat on a big rock to soak my painful muscle/tendon. But when I spotted a couple having a nice picnic across the way, I slipped on my pants, grabbed my pack and headed down creek. I couldn’t find a big rock so I just plopped down in the icy cold creek!)

Foxtail Pines on Guyot Flat
Guyot Flat

At times, I find myself rushing: gotta get the miles in. Gotta get there by 2:00. When the fact is, getting to camp early is boring. Yesterday I got to camp at 1:00 and I was bored to tears all afternoon. Slow down. Enjoy the journey. This is why I gave myself 30 days to do this. I hope as the days pass, I shed the hustle and bustle mentality of real life and settle into nature’s rhythm – and my own hiking rhythm. I have time, I don’t need to rush.

Tomorrow is the day I (hopefully) summit Mt. Whitney!!!! It’ll be 15 miles round trip with over 4000 feet in elevation gain (and loss! I do have to come down…). The good news is, I only have to carry a day pack! Everyone’s been telling me to get up to the summit early before the smoke gets bad – usually by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. (I chose to hike the JMT the year half of California is on fire – and it’s definitely affecting air quality and views). I’ll shoot for leaving right after sunrise. That should put me on the summit around 11am.

Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow I climb to the top of the world (well the top of the lower 48 anyway!) I’m excited to get this done and start hiking the JMT!

Next – my climb up Mt. Whitney! 

The Scariest Moment of My Solo Hike

Day 3, 10 am. Jct. New Army Pass/Rock Creek and PCT!!!! (Still Wednesday, August 19, 2015)

HO-OLY SHIT!  HOLY FUCKING SHIT!  I just had the living crap scared out of me!

I was earnestly hiking along the New Army Pass trail, excited to get my first real 10 mile day under my belt and reach the John Muir Trail.  It was about 9am and the air was cool and the sun’s beams were still aspiring to break through the morning air, hazy with smoke and mist.  At 10,800 feet I was still in the midst of rugged alpine forest and feeling anxious to get through it: the forest scares me a little. I don’t like not being able to see around me.  I have to work at suppressing my imagination which exaggerates every noise and shadow and tries to convince me something will jump out from behind a tree or around the next bend or that I’m being preyed upon by wild eyes. I feel much safer in the granite fields above the tree line! Rock Creek Crabtree sign

When I approached my first Rock Creek crossing, I knelt down and splashed cool water on my face while I did a quick scan up and down the creek to find my best crossing point. The water was low, spanning about 5 feet across and babbling gently.  I crossed easily.

As I stepped across the shallow creek I thought I saw a flash of red dart through the thick forest on the other side. People! I got excited, I hadn’t seen anyone yet that morning and having company in the gloomy forest would have been comforting.

I reached the other side and looked around for the person in the red jacket I thought I’d seen. Nothing. Hmm, I guess the shadows and the trees are playing tricks on me.

day 3 view of soldier lake
The view toward Soldier Lake and Miter Basin as I hiked out on Morning 3

I spotted a big rock with a couldn’t-pass-up natural bench cut out and decided it was the perfect spot to take a break and have a snack. Just as I unclipped the waist belt of my pack to sit back and relax I heard a loud muffled THUD behind me, like something very large hitting the forest floor. A bear!  I spun around and visually examined the trees and rocks for its source.  Nothing. Ok it must have just been a widow maker (a giant pine cone falling from the tree).  I leaned back against the rock, pack still on and tried to relax while never taking my eyes off the forest from which the THUD had come.

I sucked water from my Camelback drip tube, ate a handful of homemade gorp and popped another Orange Stinger Energy Chew into my mouth. A hollow rat-tat-tat echoed high up in the trees in front of me. It startled me a little before I realized it was just a woodpecker.  (Maybe it’s Woody! That would explain the red I saw – oh boy, my nerves are making me a little campy!!!)

And then: crunch, snap, crunch…  the undergrowth of the forest floor was being crushed under the weight of something behind a giant rock about 20 feet in front of me. What the hell? Then it stopped as suddenly as it started. I convinced myself it was just a deer or squirrel and carried on with my break. Then suddenly the finally-silent  forest came alive again —


It was a high pitched bark – like from a little dog – just a few hundred feet to my left in the direction of the forested New Army Pass trail. Yay! Someone’s coming – and they have a dog!  (Oh I miss Capone) Maybe it’s the mystery person in red.

And just as I realized – Wait, dogs aren’t allowed out……
Wow, is the dog hurt?

And then all hell broke loose.
Screeching, yelping, yipping, barking,  and the ugliest most awful blood curdling maniacal wild chorus of howling I’d ever heard.
Coyotes!?!  YES! – A whole freaking giant pack of them!?! What the hell?? This was nothing like any coyote howls I’d ever heard laying in my tent at night! HOLY SHIT!
I sat frozen on my rock bench, orange Stinger stuck in my throat. Listening. Is one hurt? Is it being killed? Are they hunting? — ME???  —Oh shit are they hunting ME???  OhShitWhatDoIDo? 

It sounded like some crazy eerie coyote sacrifice. Holy fuck – and they’re close! Too close.  I stood up and looked in the direction the sounds were coming from. My eyes strained to search the forested hill in front of me and the meadow on my left  – where I half expected to see a dozen rabid coyotes charging toward me – for signs of movement. It sounded like they were no more than a few hundred feet away.
I crammed my energy chews and gorp back into the side pockets of my pack, buckled up and got ready to walk briskly the hell out of there (I know not to run when being hunted by wild animals but walking fast is ok, right?).

Oh NO. No No No No No!  The horrible coyote hunt/kill/sacrifice was happening right in the direction of my trail. What do I do? Do I wait? (For them to come and eat me next…? No thank you!). Let them finish and then go? But what if that just gives them time to come for me?  I remind myself: Coyotes don’t hunt humans. But what if these coyotes DO?

COYOTES. DON’T. EAT. PEOPLE! I tried desperately to convince myself, which isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re alone in the wilderness and haven’t seen another human up close in over 18 hours.


Nothing out here wants to eat me… Nothing out here wants to hurt me I used my own familiar chant to combat my terror as I inched closer to the howling hillside while the eerie corybantic coyote chorus echoed through the trees like some beastly nightmarish hell-song. What if the trail leads straight up the hill toward them? What do I do then? I can’t just sit here and wait for them to discover me. I continued toward the hillside in the direction of the pack, obsessively scanning the hills for any signs of movement and scouting my trail, trying to see where it led.  Please lead me away from them. Please, please please.  (Yes, I was pleading with the trail gods.)

The frenzied death curdling barks and howls were slowing to an occasional YIP-YIP. YELP! HOW—WULLLLL!  I didn’t know whether to be relieved or more freaked out.

And then I saw it – thank you trail gods!  The trail veered off to the right, in the opposite direction of the blood-thirsty yippers.  I took the sharp right away from the now silent pack of (what my mortified imagination now made out to be) deadly human eating coyotes as quickly as possible. Their silence was no relief. Great, now they’re silently stalking me, closing in, and positioning themselves for the attack. Don’t run. Whatever you do, don’t run!  Oh my god, I wanted to run!

Rock Creek Lunch Break brandedIt took every ounce of self-control to walk and not break into a sprint. I never hiked a mile with 40lbs on my back so fast in my life. I was still obsessively turning around to make sure I wasn’t being followed and searching the woods around me looking for signs they were hunting me. I imagined a dozen barbarous coyote eyes on me at all times. I tried to reason with myself: I hear coyotes all the time when I’m out. They aren’t going to hurt me. Coyotes don’t eat humans. Coyotes don’t eat humans, coyotes don’t… but I’m alone, separated from my non-existent pack. I’m easy prey. Why the fuck did I decide to hike alone? I suddenly felt very vulnerable – and a little bit crazy.

My inner voices went into  full-on battle mode as I hiked: one wanting to comfort me, the other criticizing and keeping me in a state of fear.   Coyotes are afraid of humans. They were howling to warn others of my presence, that’s all. Yeah ok….nice try! Just keep walking.  All I wanted was to get to the Rock Creek junction. There’s something about a junction – I don’t know if it’s the human-made marker or what – but junctions give me a sense of safety and of not being quite so alone. My critical inner voice is relentless in trying to keep me in a freaked out state. Taunting me:  like a single wood post is going to protect you from a pack of ravenous human eating coyotes! Face it, you’re going to die out here...  My optimistic voice: maybe there will be other hikers there resting and waiting for others to catch up.  And there’s a ranger station there. Just go!

I was racing along the trail at record-breaking speed (for a backpacker) still frenetically scanning the woods around me for signs of beady coyote eyes or any movement.  I was still out of breath from my near death encounter (ok, maybe not really that close to death, but when you’re in it, try convincing yourself of that!) when about a mile down the trail something darted across the path a few yards in front of me. I gasped and stopped dead in my tracks. Oh shit, they’re surrounding me. This is it. I’m gonna to die. I braced myself for my end…

I think I literally laughed out loud when I realized it was  just a mama doe and her two adorable fawns. One of the baby deer, obviously as surprised to see me as I it, stopped dead in my path to observe me.  We both stood frozen on the trail, 10 feet apart curiously studying each other and luxuriating in the relief that the other wasn’t a coyote. I couldn’t help but appreciate how beautifully fragile it was. Awesome! Real coyote food!  I’m safe (I wonder if baby fawn thought the same of me!). As if reading my mind she took off into the forest.Have fun little fawn and watch out for the coyotes!”  I yelled as I hiked on toward Rock Creek Station at a  more relaxed and comfortable pace, feeling safer knowing there is real coyote food nearby.

It’s about 10:30 now. I’m at the junction of the PCT and the New Army Pass Trail relaxing on the grassy shore of Rock Creek.  I’m just sitting here soaking up the sun and enjoying not being coyote breakfast. I’ve soaked my feet and splashed fresh icy-cold creek water on my face and arms to wash the sweat and fear off my skin.   Now I’m trying to enjoy my lunch of Justin’s peanut butter and honey on Ener-G Foods wheat free, gluten free, flax crackers  that taste like cardboard. I brought them because they don’t crumble in my bear can – that should have been my first clue about taste! At least the peanut butter somewhat masks it.

I can’t believe it’s only 10:30 and I’ve already hiked 4 ½ miles!  Just 6 1/2 to go to get to Crabtree


For more info about Coyote callings check out this interesting article from Adirondack Almanac : Coyotes: Decoding Their Yips, Barks, and Howls.

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Day 3: Sleepless nights and break ups

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

6 am at Soldier Lake

I slept a little bit last night. Not a lot, but more than the first night. After finishing my tea, I settled into my sleeping bag around 7:00 and laid awake until the sky turned black and the stars shone bright.  I finally dozed off at some point but tossed and turned through the night. Unlike my first night at Chicken Spring Lake there wasn’t a single scratch, scurry or footstep. The wilderness was quiet except for the sound of fresh mountain water traveling through the gorge, echoing against its walls as it cascaded over the rocky creek that feeds Soldier Lake. This somehow made me feel safe.

I was wide awake hours before sunrise watching the stars. I was lucky enough to witness a few meteors dart across the sky which always excites me like a little kid.  Independence Day is my favorite holiday and seeing shooting stars is like watching nature’s fireworks show.  I laid awake until the eastern sky ever so slowly began to transform from the black of night to dark blue. Is that sunrise? I’d turn over, cover my head, and peek out again a few minutes later. Yes, it’s lighterSunrise!  I was relieved that I could get up and make coffee soon. The nights can be long when you’re sprawled out on the hard cold ground. I was restless and ready to stop trying to sleep.

You think about a lot of things when you lay awake alone it the wilderness in the wee hours of morning.  And as I snuggled up all warm and cozy in my 24 degree down bag searching the sky for my own private fireworks show, I thought of Brad, the man I’d broken up with earlier in the year (a 5 month relationship- a record since my divorce!).  I thought about all the reasons we didn’t work out; all the things he is and isn’t and I wanted him to be. My gut swelled with contempt.  I don’t want to have this feeling out here – this is where I find peace and serenity, not contempt. It’s time too find a way to let this go.

near soldier lake
near soldier lake

My alone-ness enveloped me in the cold morning air as I reflected on the difficult work I’ve done over the last several years to get to a place where I’m ok with not being in a relationship – more than ok, really. I love my independence – a sharp contrast from the first few years after my divorce when I joined every dating site, and treated dating like an Olympic sport that I had to train for. My first year out of my marriage I must have gone on 30 first dates. I wasn’t very good at screening at first  and had a lot of very uncomfortable and awkward coffees.  (Oh, the stories I could tell… )

Brad and I had known each other for a couple years. We’d seen each other around but hadn’t really spent any time alone together. The month I decided to close my account and stop actively searching for the “One” he asked me out.  I explained that I wasn’t really interested in dating anyone and suggested we just be friends. But he was persistent and I finally agreed to go on a date with him a couple months later.

Brad is a nice guy and would have done anything for me.  But the outcome was the same as it always was: the relationships I attract seem to smother and mute me. They extinguish my fire and tame me. I knew I had to get out or risk losing myself again.  Sure, it was the right decision and I don’t regret it. But how many relationships will I have to walk away from?  Will I ever find someone who will inspire, energize and lift me up? The one who really gets me?

My friends say I  just haven’t found the “One” yet.   I believe it’s quite possible there just isn’t a “One” for me.  I’ve come to terms with that.  I’m even ok with it despite living in a world that tells me I’m supposed to get married, have kids, get the good job, buy the big house, get buried in debt, and live for that 2 week vacation.  Honestly, I’ve never subscribed to any of that -but I chased it anyway because I thought it’s what I was supposed to do.  The reality is when I got it, I felt emptier and less fulfilled than ever.

View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)
View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)

So then, why did I spend decades subscribing to the myth that I’m nobody unless I’m coupled?  I thought of many reasons (I won’t bore you with that much info) but frankly, one of the biggest is because I was born a woman. After all doesn’t society, media, and advertising tell us we should be obsessed with finding a man? Aren’t we groomed from birth to believe in Prince Charming and Fairy Tale weddings? They tell us if we wear the right clothes, the right shoes, the right makeup, if we’re ladylike, fun, easy going (not a “nag”), and flirty but not slutty we’ll land our Prince Charming!  I remember everyone telling me at 17 years old that I’d change my mind about not wanting to get married and have kids because, “All women want that. Just wait til your clock starts ticking.” Well come to find out, I have no clock and if I do, it certainly never ticked.

Once I came to terms with the fact that I don’t NEED a man my life, I realized I actually LIKE being alone. I love traveling alone, backpacking alone, going to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon alone. And while I also love the company of my friends who are fun and easy to be with – it’s not a requirement. It’s liberating to know that not having someone to do things with doesn’t hold me back.  How many people don’t live out their dreams and goals because they’re afraid to do it alone? Not me. Not anymore.

And yet…. as darkness turned to light this morning I had a stark realization: despite all those hours of therapy and all my talk of liberation, strength, and independence, the contempt I felt for Brad earlier had nothing to do with him.  Brad is perfectly fine just the way he is – he’s just not the right One for me. (There were a lot of reasons we didn’t work out, but when he confessed to me that REI “scared” him, I knew we had no future together – true story!) No, that feeling in my gut wasn’t contempt, it was about me still lamenting, why isn’t there a One for me? Why am I so different?  Tons of women would love to find a man like Brad. Why not me?  Sure, I may not need a man in my life, but it sure would be nice to someday find the One who really gets me.  How cool would it be to have someone to share this amazing adventure with?  I can’t even imagine… A sadness swept over me as I pondered why this has eluded me all my life and yet seems so easy for others.

Getting to a place in life where you realize you’re better off alone than spending it with the wrong people (who disrespect, drain, and deplete you without giving anything back) may be liberating, but it’s not always easy.

The sky was getting lighter and I was growing more restless laying there thinking about all this so I rolled over to check the time on my phone. 5 am! Yay, morning! I unzipped myself from my bag, did my stretches, put on my headlamp, and made coffee. It’s 6 now,  my oatmeal is soaking, and I’m getting ready to pack up to begin my hike to Rock Creek/Crabtree Meadow and the John Muir Trail!

I’m excited, it’s going to be a great day!

Read about my scariest day on the trail! 

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