Passes By The Masses
Day 63 - Glen Pass
We are well into our Sierra section and enjoying the beauty of the John Muir Trail (which was my first real backpacking trip in 2015...and my gateway drug to thru-hiking). That beauty comes with a cost, as this section is one of the most difficult in steepness, technicality, and mental/emotional challenges. Every day has had multiple moments where I stare at an obstacle in front of me (might be a snow field, might be a river crossing) and then I make eye contact with one of my 3 compadres shaking my head left and right until they give me a nod up and down with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Today we went up and over Glen Pass...it took us 3 1/2 hours to go 3 miles up and another 3 1/2 hours to make our way down. We hiked from sun up to sun down and clocked in at only 13.2 miles for the day. Did I mention this section requires patience?
On the north side of Glen, once we finally reached actual trail and not snowy footprint tracks, we were rewarded by the beauty of 60 Lake Basin and Rae Lakes. Glistening icy lakes mirroring the majestic mountains around them. Water so clear you can see to the bottom, big trout swimming all around. This water was gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to walk around...not so gorgeous for an unexpected mandatory ice bath.
I looked atop a rock and saw three men pushing boulders into the water. At first I just thought it was a bunch of dudes out in the wild trying to connect to their cavemen roots. Then as we got closer, they shouted instructions for us on to cross the water they were standing over. Damn it! The boulders were for us. The water was waist high for me and moving with a manageable, but slightly strong current. Cosmo had to move ice sheets out of the way for us to get our legs in. We went through the crossing together, mostly me holding onto his arm for dear life. I used swearing as my coping skill for the frozen feeling in my feet until we made it safely to the other side. Ignoring the small talk that the boulder-men tried to initiate, I just continued to walk into a sunny spot, getting the blood to once again flow into my feet. Cosmo and I took a moment to breathe and relax while I put my shoes and socks back on. As I started to put my pack back on I heard Cosmo say, "Uh,oh. I don't have my phone." He carried it across the water in his front pocket and now it is gone. We both ran back to the crossing, I peered over to see if I could see it, Cosmo got back in the water to look. Nothing.
We walked back to our sun spot and accepted that his phone was gone. Without a GPS or anyway to communicate with the outside world, Cosmo (who remained impressively zen about everything) stayed by my side for the rest of the day.
Eventually we caught up with Ya Ya and Utah Aaron and hiked as a group into the evening. We crossed a large suspension bridge, handled a few more river crossings, and finished at a camp spot in front of an intimidating rushing waterfall crossing that we are attempting to cross at 5am! For now...I eat dinner (in bed), cowboy camp under the stars, and try to remind myself that these scary challenges are the reason I came out here. This is an adventure.
Day 64 - Pinchot Pass
I woke up three minutes before my alarm this morning, 4:12am. I went to bed anticipating this morning's waterfall crossing and just wanted to get it over with. As the sun slowly began to rise, so did the other hikers. Ya Ya, Utah Aaron and Cosmo were all packed up and ready by 5:00am.
We decided to get up this early so we could cross as a big group, with two other hikers joining us, Woodchuck and Happy Baby. Last night Woodchuck's fiancé, Rooster, fell twice in the white water before making it across and decided that the rest of his group should wait until morning. So there we were.
The water was lower than it was in the evening, but it was still moving intimidatingly fast, with white water cascading over various sized rocks and boulders, leading to a big drop off...waterfall.
Utah Aaron, Ya Ya, and Woodchuck went first. They were all holding hands as they carefully made it to the other side where Rooster was there to help everyone out. Up next was Cosmo, me, and Happy Baby. I held on to both men's hands as tight as I could as we crossed the frigid falls. Immediately my feet were frozen and swear words were pouring out of my mouth. What a way to start the day! We all hiked about a half mile up the trail and then pulled over to dry off, drink warm coffee and relax.
We spent the rest of the day with our new hiking buddies. Going up and over Pinchot Pass, sharing the traditional celebratory whiskey shot at the pass before hiking down the north side. We enjoyed the Sierra scenery, taking breaks as a group, Rooster went fishing for dinner while I enjoyed a Spanish rice and mashed potato burrito by the raging North Fork river.
We ended our day in the early evening just a few miles below Mather Pass. We camped in a big green meadow and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of the raging river.
Day 65 - Mather Pass
Our morning started off with another river crossing, though it was nothing as intense as the one from yesterday. We remained as a big group and hiked together to Mather Pass - supposedly the most intimidating of all the passes. Our feet were wet for most of the day starting with the snow fields and sun cups in the foothills of the pass.
The climb started out like all the others, follow the snow tracks and choose the path of least resistance. We started up the steep slushy "trail" in a single file line. Halfway up the trail I saw Woodchuck sitting in the snow, postholed deep into the snow on a steep mountainside. Our conga line stopped and we patiently waited for Happy Baby to help her to safety. We all took a break, and took a minute to catch our breath, on a large rocky island midway through our climb. The next challenge was a steep scree scramble up the side of the mountain until we could find actual trail.
Overall, we handled Mather Pass without major problems, as they say..."teamwork makes the dream work".
Our descent was snowy and slow for the first half, and overwhelmingly beautiful and easy going for the second. We descended the Golden Staircase, a windy rocky part of trail - made up of granite - that goes down for miles and is surrounded by snow capped mountains, cascading waterfalls, and thawing mountain lakes.
Day 66 - Muir Pass
This morning I woke up ravenous, again. Having my hunger back is great - I feel stronger, more energized, and haven't had stomach pain in a few days - however, I am worried about my food quantity. Yesterday it felt like I was eating most of the time I was hiking, and when I wasn't eating I was thinking about food. We are still 50 miles from my next resupply and this section has been slow going.
Five miles into today's hike I received some amazing trail magic. Happy Baby, Rooster, Woodchuck, and Cosmo all stopped to eat early lunch (or second breakfast) and were chatting with Soulshine, a fellow thru hiker who claimed she had too much food. She happily tossed meals, snacks, and various bars on the ground as an offering and we scampered over like hungry birds pecking away at what we wanted. We all got a variety of treats. I immediately ate 1 1/2 Tofurky sausages and a handful of trail mix. For later (later being a couple hours at most), I snagged a bag of oatmeal mixed with chia seeds and a Jif "to go" peanut butter pack. Hopefully this will ease some of my food anxieties for a bit.
We continued along our climb. The morning was beautiful. Blue skies, green meadows, and jagged peaks. My descriptions may sound redundant but this place is incredible! We are in Kings Canyon National Park, one of my favorite areas. So far, it's a strenuous staircase of rocks for miles and I'm trying to stay present, enjoy the beauty of where I am, and take it one step at a time. Half mile up the trail I found a rushing water crossing and Cosmo safely on the other side. Feeling brave I wasted no time walking through. In the middle of the crossing my foot got stuck on a rock and I couldn't pull it out. The water was rushing down with a strong current and every time I tried to pull harder to get my foot out it felt like I would lose my sneaker. Seeing the look of panic on my face, Cosmo rushed back in the river (barefoot) and helped pull me and my shoe to safety.
With three miles of snow field on the south side and four miles of snow on the north, It was slow going over Muir Pass.
In the snow fields we follow the tracks from previous hikers - usually there is a stretch of snow tracks leading to a rock island and then we search for the next set of tracks. For most of this hike it was easy to figure out where to go, but about a half mile from the pass Cosmo and I got confused and could see nothing but untouched snowy sun cups, no footprints.
The way down was snowy and slow, but not nearly as scary as the previous passes. Actually, it wasn't scary at all.
We listened to comedy through my phone speakers for entertainment, hiked on despite wet freezing feet, and crossed another big waterfall while cursing out loud to cope with the cold. Once we made it back to actual trail, out of the snow, we hiked a little further until we found Woodchuck and Rooster camped out in paradise. Excitedly we joined.
Cosmo, Ya Ya, Utah Aaron and I ate by the lake and shared dinner time on our tarps. Dinner time has quickly become all of our favorite times of day because we get to eat! As we ate we looked at maps and made plans for the next two days. Today was another good day.
Day 67 - Muir Ranch
Today we had no mountain passes to climb and we were able to knock out just over 18 miles.
This morning was cold, but beautiful in our lake side campsite. We refused to hike before the sun came to our spot so we spent the early morning having coffee and hanging out as a big group. It started with Woodchuck who came over to my tent with her Neo-Air bed and her sleeping bag. Pretty soon Cosmo, Rooster, Happy Baby, Ya Ya, and Utah Aaron were all gathered around outside with their beds. It was nice not to rush out and to have a relaxed.
After leaving our campsite we continued our descent of Muir Pass. Six miles down we had another anticipated river crossing, Evolution Creek. We took an alternate trail that allowed us to walk through the water in an area that was wide but the current mellow. Luckily we approached this crossing mid-day when the sun was shining and the weather was heating up. I say this because I stand tall at just about 5'4 and the water went up to my waist.
The next part of our hike led us to Muir Ranch, a fancy resort for paying customers and a common resupply for hikers. We hiked down to the ranch in hopes of filling up our bags with a few more snacks for our next big stop. We got there late in the day and unfortunately there were slim pickings in the hiker boxes. We could smell the grill firing up for the guests and we wanted so badly to get into the restaurant. Unfortunately, Muir Ranch corrals all the hikers in one area and does not let us indulge in anything other than the hiker box.
After leaving the ranch we had a three mile climb up (which felt like straight up!) to our campsite. This climb is the start of Selden Pass which we conquer tomorrow.
Day 68 -Selden Pass
Selden has been one of the easiest passes we've done in this section. The steep climbs were challenging (especially on a full stomach), but we reached the top by late morning and spent the rest of the day going down hill.
We took our time and enjoyed the scenery, stopping for breaks by rivers and waterfalls.
In the afternoon we approached Bear Creek, supposedly one of the most dangerous water crossings. Cosmo and I got there first and had no problem walking through. The rest of the group came shortly after. Woodchuck slipped in the middle of her crossing but was able to get up and continue walking, unharmed.
Everyone made it safely to the other side.
After eighteen miles, and millions of mosquitos, we camped at the Ferry Landing for Edison Lake. Tomorrow we get a mini break as we stop in the Vermillion Valley Ranch (VVR) to resupply. Happy Baby, Soulshine (our newest group member), and I are going to take a ferry across the lake, and the others have said they want to make the 5 mile hike. We shall see how everyone feels in the morning.
Day 69 - Vermillion Valley Resort
This morning was glorious. I got to sleep in, wake up on a lake, and didn't have to hike! Woodchuck, Rooster, Ya Ya, Utah Aaron, and Cosmo took the 5 mile hike to VVR while Happy Baby, Soulshine, and I opted for a little leisure time on the ferry.
While sitting on the ferry I was thinking about how difficult this section has been, how nice it will be to take a break, and what food I will eat and beer I will drink once we arrive to VVR. I was also thinking about how much stronger I've felt over the past few days.
Throughout this strenuous section I've taken steep snow chutes and rocky scrambles to get to the tops of high elevation mountain passes. I've hiked hungry, tired, and with sore muscles to make it to camp. I've approached frightful river crossings and allowed my group members to help me move forward and cross safely. My stomach pain has started to disappear and I am feeling myself building strength again.
The week off in Bishop was good for me. I'm grateful for that time and I believe that rest is the main reason I am finally feeling better.
For most of this hike I've been pushing myself, not listening to my body, and not taking time to recover. I've felt stress on our days off, like I should be hiking, I should be accomplishing SOMETHING. I recognize now that this is a pre-trail mindset that I've carried with me through the hike.
The idea that I have to continuously work and train hard everyday to be successful is not sustainable, and not actually a mindset I believe in - nor is it one that I try to teach my high school or yoga students.
I believe self-care is essential. There needs to be a balance of work and rest, but finding balance isn't easy. I know that if I want to get stronger, build endurance, and be happier I need to honor my body and the importance of rest. Knowing something is one thing, and putting that knowledge into practice is another. Thru-hiking is more than just walking in the woods. Amidst the walking, the mountains, and the challenges there is a space for self reflection.
Everyday is an opportunity to become more self aware. To take notice of habitual thoughts and patterns of action. Awareness is the first step towards growth. Thru-hiking also creates a space to challenge the thoughts that don't serve you and to make changes in your behavior. Of course, this isn't easy. Luckily (?) I am only one third of the way through my journey, so I have plenty of time to keep trying. I know that I have some of the hardest days ahead of me and some of the best days ahead of me.
What have I learned so far?
Drink more water. Sleep more. Take rest days. Stay positive and surround yourself with positive people.
My next task is to put these lessons into practice. Sometimes it takes more strength to ask for what you need, to take a break.
Day 70 - Silver Pass
We had a leisurely morning waiting for the Ferry at VVR.
The climb up to Silver Pass wasn't nearly as tough as the previous passes. There was patchy snow and beautiful views. Soulshine, Woodchuck and I had some girl time climbing up and the conversations made the miles fly by.
We found the rest of the gang hanging out at the top. We sat around together for a little while celebrating in our usual way before heading down the mountain.
The whole group had ambitious plans of hiking to Lake Virginia, six miles after the Pass. It was late afternoon and I was getting nervous about the time it would take me.
We hiked on as the sun began to set. Cosmo, Happy Baby and I started a steep climb in the dark. Cosmo stayed calm and positive as we trudged up, though I started to feel anxious about hiking late and getting my much-needed sleep.
After fording through lakes and crossing small snow paths by the light of our headlamps we found the others. It was 11pm and they were having dinner and starting to build a campfire. I said my "hellos" and immediately retreated to my tent, exhausted.Day 71 - Mammoth
Happy Baby and I hiked most of today together, taking it slow and hanging out in the "back of the bus". We met a woman, Nora, who recognized me from social media and was out hiking the John Muir Trail with her two daughters. It was so nice to see a mom sharing such a wonderful experience with her children.
We stopped to chat with a couple John Muir Trail hikers who shared some wild onions they had foraged.
We found Cosmo waiting at our 900 mile marker milestone. After a short break the aggressive biting flies reminded us that it was time to hike on.
Happy Baby and I got to Reds Meadow and found the rest of the group there waiting. I saw Cosmo in line for a shuttle and I rushed up to ask him what he was doing. Before even saying hi to everyone, or taking my
pack off, I decided to join him for an adventure in Mammoth. The goal was to replace his cell phone.
We got on the last shuttle and were dropped off at the ATT store. It took two and a half hours for the cell phone ordeal to be completed, and in that time I ran to ZPizza and got us an XL Vegan Pizza, which we ate most of very quickly.
Later that night, thanks to the connections of friends and the trail running community, we received THE BEST trail magic. The kind and generous Amy Gatlin and her BF Cameron offered to have a friend pick us up and join them at their rental home in Mammoth for the night. When we got there we found a warm home filled with new friends, beer, and tacos.
We all sat around and shared mountain adventure stories. The gang made sure Cosmo and I were comfortable, clean, and fed. They gave us snacks for the road and the comfiest room I've had in months.
I had the best sleep I've had in a long time and secretly wish we could stay here for a little longer :-)
After a slow morning of delicious coffee, yummy fruit, and great conversation we said our goodbyes to Amy and Cameron and headed off with Nick and Brittany, back to trail.