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John Muir Trail, Day 5: Lyell Fork Bridge to Garnet Lake

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One of my favorite parts of writing about this hiking trip, day-by-day, is that we get to re-live the adventure months later. Prior to writing, I read through my journal entry for the day, scroll through our pictures, and take a glance at our favorite JMT hiking book by our best best friend Elizabeth Wenk, who we will all eventually just start calling good ol’ Lizzy. It’s fun to reminisce.

For Day 5, I think Jennifer and I both started off feeling pretty optimistic – my cold was a little less bothersome, and Jennifer seemed to be adjusting to the altitude a little better. We’d been out in the woods for over 4 days at this point – a milestone for me given that my longest hike up to that point had been 4 days on the Inca Trail. In fact, when Chris and I started prepping for this trip, I remember telling him that the JMT was basically like doing the Inca Trail 7 times. I don’t think that really helped either one of us, but it at least put things in perspective.

Anyway, Day 5 was particularly memorable. We would cross over Donahue Pass, the first of 8 official JMT passes (and definitely the easiest!), and say goodbye to Yosemite National Park, then we’d continue along, entering one of my favorite areas, the Ansel Adams Wilderness…

J:  AND another big milestone on Day 5… first poop in the woods! There was nothing left to be anxious about.  I think that, plus the electrolytes we started drinking in our water helped with the altitude sickness.  Day 5 was off to a great start!

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The hike up to Donahue Pass really wasn’t all that bad. We got an early start, but certainly not earlier than our soon-to-be friends, Brittany and “Kathleen” aka Courtney. They were up and out before I had time to make coffee, something we’d later learn was extremely typical.

It was a relatively quiet morning, the weather was nice, and our ascent up to Donahue was relatively straightforward, with a lot of picture ops. We took a lot of little stops along a stream, one of about 10,000 we crossed on this trail. At one moment, we turned around and saw someone creeping up behind us. Ok, not creeping, because that would be, well, creepy. What we really saw was just plain annoying – this young whippersnapper literally bouncing up the mountain, looking fresh (ok, fresh for the woods), spry, full of energy. It should also be mentioned that this asshole wasn’t even wearing hiking boots, but rather, Tevas. SANDALS! NO SOCKS! Andrew aka Tigger is lucky we were both in a good mood that morning. We would later learn to forgive him for his youth; remembering where we met him now just brings a smile to my face.

J:  We stopped to eat a snack at this little lake right before tackling the “really tough” part of the climb up the rest of Donohue Pass.  I remember almost peeing my pants because we stopped and then this “kid in sandals” just stopped too (or maybe he was already there?) and kept taking photos and chatting with us.  My bladder was bursting by the time he hopped up the mountain, but I’m really glad we took the time to chat with Andrew that day because he ended up being one more member of our little trail family.  He might not have wanted to hike/camp with us if I’d just popped a squat on the side of the trail while he was trying to take his artsy photos that morning.  

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So we conquered Pass #1 of the JMT. It felt a little bit like a big deal, hence the celebratory pictures – which by the way, were taken at each pass, so get used to this. Later on, we also pretty much ate a Snickers bar at each pass – one of my favorite traditions. Also, please note the ‘janky shades’ with a small piece of turquoise duct tape on the right, courtesy of Day 4. Other than my shades, I gotta say, we actually looked pretty decent at this point.

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We stayed up on Donahue for a couple of minutes and then continued our journey, quickly noticing the change in scenery now that we’d moved away from Yosemite and into Ansel Adams – rockier on the descent, but now visible in the distance was the trail ahead, some small patches of snow still tucked into many of the mountains, and although there was definitely less air up there, we felt a little stronger given the miles we’d covered up to this point.

J:  I had to pee again on top of Donohue and think I ruined another fat marmot’s house trying to find a rock big enough to hide behind…BUT after that business was taken care of, I could celebrate with Heather and focus on the fact that we’d just climbed up to 11,056 feet  and conquered our first mountain pass!  Pretty damn awesome.

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Throughout the day, we’d continue to cross paths with Andrew as well as Sean & Cassidy – we even ended up at the same spot for lunch and chatted for a few minutes. We had of course met Cole the day before at Tuolumne, and I distinctly remember Jennifer talking to him at one of our breaks during the day, at a time where I was desperately trying to pee and for the life of me couldn’t find a spot where someone couldn’t see me. This would become less and less of an issue as the trail itself continued to become more sparse the further we distanced ourselves from Yosemite.

For most of the day, Jennifer and I were hiking alone, but often times would cross paths with someone hiking through in the other direction (South to North). Most of the time we would say hi and each continue on our way, but on occasion we’d stop for a few moments to chat. Once, we stopped and talked to a solo hiker who had just gotten onto the JMT and had been hiking ‘trail-less’ up until that point. Whhaaaaattt??!!! Now that’s just crazy talk.

We also stopped at Thousand Island Lake for a decent break where Sean, Cassidy, and Andrew were also hanging out. Jennifer decided it had been too long without an alpine swim, so she hopped in; meanwhile I got up enough courage to rinse my hair and finally run a brush through it. That process took way longer than expected.

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J:  It was so hot and that water looked too good to pass up, so of course I got in!  

While we were stopped here, we encountered a teenage boy and family friend who were looking for the boy’s mom – his mom had gotten a late start due to altitude sickness and was supposed to meet up nearby but they had failed to come across her – they weren’t sure if she’d made it that far, or if they’d missed one another during the day. Sadly, we don’t know if they ever found her, as they continued North after that point. It’s easy to forget how isolated the JMT is when hiking with a friend and crossing paths with familiar faces throughout the day – this was a huge wake up call – we were truly in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilization.

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I took a couple more pictures of Thousand Island Lake (above is one) while Jennifer finished up her swim – this was one of the prettiest spots we’d seen so far, so we tried to forget that we had some more climbing to do before getting to Garnet Lake, our stop for the night.

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We got to Garnet Lake later in the day than usual – probably closer to 6 or 7 given our longer stop earlier. But the lake was gorgeous – plenty of good photo ops while we set up camp, cleaned up, filled up water, and made dinner.

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We passed a few people on the way to the camping spot where we stopped for the night, but we never actually saw anyone. But once we got settled in and walked to the edge of the lake to wash up, we noticed people on the other side – we’d later come to know that a lot of the people we’d already met ended up on the North side of the lake – Cole, Sean & Cassidy, and Brittany & Courtney/Kathleen.

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I don’t remember why J took this picture – probably because my hair was frightful which was particularly noteworthy. But it’s a good point to show you our typical set-up at night, once we got settled.  By this point, we more or less had a routine going. Jennifer had become the ‘tent nazi’, which meant she basically did the whole tent stuff herself. We only argued about this every other night, but now it’s pretty funny.

J: Heather took the artsy landscape photos and I tried to capture the grittiness of the trail.  Don’t worry, my hair looked just as awesome.  

I knew it was only a matter of time before the “tent nazi” story came up.  There was bound to be something that just pissed us off about each other on this trip.  We’re lucky it was something as dumb as camp duties and nobody got shoved off the mountain.  If anyone is reading this thinking about hiking with someone for 20 straight days, I’d advise you to choose your hiking partner wisely.  Figure out a way to work through stupid fights and if you come out the other side still speaking to each other, you’ll be better friends for it…right H?  

Right, Simpson! I’m glad we got the “tent nazi” story out in the open. Ha ha ha. Thanks for not pushing me off the mountain…

Anyway, while J did her tent thing, I would usually do the “lady chores” – I’d go refill some of our water and get things set up for dinner, as well as snap a few pictures if the mood struck. We’d then each take turns changing into some PJs in the tent and ‘cleaning up’, which for me basically meant wiping myself down with a couple of baby wipes, rinsing my feet in the lake, and changing into camp shoes/sandals. After we got cleaned up, we’d eat a lovely dehydrated dinner out of a plastic bag, as we were doing in the picture (above). Note that the food was still tasting ok at this point even though we weren’t eating as much as we thought. We were still yet to repeat a dinner, though that rotation would soon start kicking in since we had 5 different meals. We’d then make our way to the tent (but had to pee before getting in, otherwise risking having to go in the cold, cold middle of the night) and most nights write in our journals, and pass out.

For Day 6, our plan would be to make it to Red’s Meadow, a common resupply, shower, laundry, and break point on the JMT, and also a common entry/exit point for section hikers. The shower was calling my name, but the thought of another fresh meal and laundry didn’t sound too bad either! It was nice going to sleep after a good journey on Day 5, knowing we’d get a little ‘luxury’ soon, including the possibility of a cell signal and chance to chat with our respective husbands.

 


Day 5 Details (July 29, 2015):

Start-Finish: Lyell Fork Bridge to Garnet Lake
Daily Miles: 11.9
Total mileage tally: 53.9
Total JMT miles: 45.4
Camp elevation: 9,690 ft
Hiking Elevation: 3,585 ft gain, 2,507 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure  ;). You’re welcome.

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John Muir Trail, Day 4: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Bridge

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J:  I’m hijacking this blog post!  Heather and I both kept a journal on this hiking adventure and Day 4 in my journal opens with “The day started shitty again with me feeling like crap.  This altitude thing better shake so I can actually enjoy this trip.”  It was on Day 4 that I realized I wasn’t feeling crappy because of anxiety or the burger and ice cream, but instead I had a touch of the altitude sickness.  I woke up again feeling nauseous.  Neither of us seemed to have any appetite (very weird), but knew we had to eat something to be able to make our new shorter hike of 10 miles to Lyell Fork Bridge.

H: Jennifer taking over this post was her kind way of telling me to ‘hurry the fuck up and let’s get this post out because it’s been over a month’. But I’m glad she did, because I was just starting to feel a little guilty about not posting. But not guilty enough to start writing. Ha!

My journal entry for Day 4 also mentions Jennifer’s altitude issues, and as I read it before typing here, I realized that I have neglected to mention that I had my own issues, especially around this time – I managed to get a cold starting on Day 2. So while that admittedly resulted in my being slower on the trail, it worked well since we were both slow for our own reasons. The most awesome result of the cold though, was the fact that I snored exactly every single night in that tent and I’m lucky Jennifer didn’t beat the shit out of me. I’m sure Chris would like to point out here that the snoring has continued since the JMT, and I have since bought nasal strips that I am forced to wear on occasion (lavender scented!). I’m sexy at night – think nasal strip, glasses, and my retainer as well as my most seducing pair of cotton pants and an old t-shirt.

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The backpackers campground at Tuolumne was crowded (even though it doesn’t look like it from this photo).  We had dropped our packs at the first campsite we found the night before which turned out to be right near the water pump.  We kept meeting people as they came to get water and ran into Sean & Cassidy again (our father/daughter hiking buddies) and met our friend Cole for the first time.

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There was supposedly a shortcut to get to the JMT at the back of the campground, so we headed out bright and early.  I should mention that a little extra time was spent in the real campground bathroom with actual toilets and sinks since we both knew it would be our last chance for at least a few days.  Yes, that means pooping in the woods would soon become a reality!

So…then we got lost in the woods trying to find the little connection trail “shortcut” to the JMT.  Not a great start to the day so far. We backtracked to the campground and eventually found the unmarked trail that was apparently right in front of our faces.  So much for a shortcut, but I’m betting it probably did save us at least a few extra steps in the long run.

We finally made it to the actual JMT.  Luckily you don’t have to go far before you reach a sign in Yosemite that confirms you’re in the right spot, on the right trail, and heading in the right direction. Done. Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of the first piece of turquoise duct tape being applied to H’s sunglasses when she knocked them loose putting her pack back on around this sign.

H: I have three ‘casualties’ written down in my journal at this juncture. The first is the fact that my ginormous backpack, recently resupplied with goodies from Tuolumne, knocked the shit out of my sunglasses, essentially breaking them and knocking out my left lens. Luckily they weren’t on my face at this time but around my neck thanks to my frat-boy croakies (although if they were, they probably wouldn’t have broken…). Stay tuned for plenty of pictures with janky shades. Also, Jennifer’s water bladder had already sprung a leak, which had started a couple of nights before. And finally, we were already down to sharing 1 Steripen because the one Jennifer’s sister had loaned her wasn’t working. It probably just needed a new battery, but when Jennifer tested it out at home, we didn’t realize that it was only going to sterilize about 10 liters, rather than 40 before needing a charge. As Jennifer said, the wonderful product that is duct tape saved the day for my glasses, and for the water bladder. And not to foreshadow too much into this amazing adventure we just started, but it wouldn’t be the last time we used that duct tape. Note to future through-hikers: PACK A LOT OF DUCT TAPE! I’d wrapped quite a few strips around my bear can – this was already proving to have been a good idea.

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The day through Tuolumne Meadows was actually one of the easiest, flattest hiking days we had.  It was beautiful, but HOT!

The trail followed a river through the meadow for most of the time and we were able to find a nice shady spot to eat our luxurious lunch of Ritz crackers and peanut butter. It was about the only thing that didn’t make me gag at the thought of eating with my queasy stomach.

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The last mile or so of the hike was uphill, but at least it was shaded relief from the sun.  When we got to the bridge, we knew the camp site was near and were ready to dump our shit and relax for a bit.  We met two sisters who’d just set up camp (Brittany and “Kathleen” who we later realized was actually Courtney) and ran into our new friends Cole, Sean, and Cassidy again.  We didn’t know it at the time, but we ended up camping with this crew at the same spots most nights from here on out….our trail family was starting.  It’s a good thing we liked them!

H: Yeah, it’s really funny looking back at this day now that we know how much time we later spent with the people we were camping near at this site. Sean & Cassidy, Brittany & Courtney, and Cole were all camping here, although we probably exchanged no more than a few sentences of conversation with them each.

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I got my damn pole stuck in the bridge.  Graceful, even on the trail.

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Since we had decided to only hike 10 miles and it was relatively flat most of the day, we ended up getting to camp a little early.  Heather went down by the river to take some photos while I tried to get my shit together and figure out how to get over my altitude sickness….maybe whiskey?

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H: After we got settled in at camp, it was nice to sit back and relax a little. I remember having a little bit of time to read my Bon Appetit magazine (sorta dumb to bring a magazine full of all sorts of tasty food while we’re eating dehydrated meals and sterilizing water, but oh well!) and I think Jennifer and I actually had a little more of the whiskey (with powdered cider mix!) we’d been carrying but hadn’t touched since the first night. We were quickly realizing that, at least in the beginning, we rarely felt the urge to consume booze at the end of the day. This was totally unexpected, given that Chris and I would typically toss back boxed wine quite often after hiking prior to this trip. 

All in all, it felt nice to know we’d be crossing the first official pass of the JMT, Donahue, only 1 day behind our (very tentative) schedule. We were both hoping that following that accomplishment, we’d both be feeling more upbeat, with less sniffles and less altitude-related problems, and bigger appetites!


Day 4 Details (July 28, 2015):

Start-Finish: Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork Bridge
Daily Miles: 10
Total mileage tally: 42
Total JMT miles: 33.5
Camp elevation: 9,650 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1,339 ft gain, 377 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure  ;). You’re welcome.

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John Muir Trail, Day 3: Sunrise Camp to Tuolumne Meadows

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I remember thinking that waking up on Day 3 and getting through that day would be the hardest of the whole hike for me. Most of the backpacking trips I’ve been on have been 1 or 2 night adventures, so typically, waking up on the 3rd day means I’m already home or going home that day, and I am hiking to the car. Obviously this trip is a lot different – we were just getting started – so I was a little curious if my brain would think of this or not and if I did, how that day would go from a motivation standpoint.

Answer? Nope. Didn’t think of it at all. What I did think about all day was getting to the end of the day and making it to Tuolumne Meadows before the Grille closed.

J:  backing up a few hours…there is one (and only one) amazing thing about waking up in the middle of the night after an extremely long and exhausting day of hiking, realizing you have to pee like a racehorse, fumbling to get out of your snuggly warm sleeping bag, finding your shoes, unzipping the tent…to see the most amazing night sky. I have been in the middle of nowhere before, but for some reason, the sky around 3am in the High Sierras was one of the most amazing things I saw on this trip.  Sitting there, getting dizzy from staring up at the Milky Way over the meadow was worth all the hassle of getting up in the middle of the night for sure.

But back to the day ahead of us.  As much as I wanted that burger, I think Jennifer and I both agreed that we deserved some rest after the long day we’d just finished, so the burger was priority #2 after sleeping in. We slept in for what would be our latest sleep of the entire trip – probably until 8:30 or so (yeah, that’s sad…). We took our time getting going that morning, enjoying the sun and the meadow in front of us. We also chatted up the nice couple who camped beside us that night (they were dead asleep when we got in), and slowly but surely, we got outta dodge around 10:30.

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By the way, I hope you like our outfits. We pretty much wear the same thing every dang day. It made getting dressed AFTER the hike (meaning, in the real world) that much harder. ;).

Looking back, Day 3 really wasn’t that bad at all – not too steep in either direction. All in all, it was relatively manageable. I clearly had sunburn from the jaunt up Half Dome the day before, so the pack wasn’t really that comfy, but not a huge issue.

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We stopped for lunch at Cathedral Lakes, which was not a sucky view. The sun was out, it was quiet, and Jennifer was ready for a swim. Me? Oh, I’d rather watch than jump in that ice cold shit. I’ll put my feet in, but other than that, I didn’t have much interest in actually getting IN the lake – I just like staring at them. Jennifer liked to think of it as a bath replacement, but I think we both realized pretty quickly that it more or less just moves the dirt around rather than actually getting rid of it, or removing the stench.

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Look how happy Jennifer is in that water! You’d think it wasn’t even cold. She is a good actress.

J:  The warmest lake of the trip!  There is nothing that gets the stench out of your hiking clothes, but those lake dips were refreshing and at the very least rinsed off the dirt and sweat from the day.  It definitely could have been a little warmer though.

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This is Cathedral Peak (above). I don’t really have a comment about it other than ‘it’s pretty, isn’t it?’. I’ll probably say that a lot. But when hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, there really isn’t much else to say. It’s just pretty.

J:  While not considered one of the 8 major mountain passes along the JMT, Cathedral pass was the first mountain pass that we went over.  We barely noticed the climb…probably because we’re so badass (or there wasn’t much of one).

I think it’s because we were SO FUCKING BADASS. Or because we had burgers on the brain…

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Also, jackasses are everywhere. As well as jackass poop. This was a group of them supplying the people who like to pretend to camp (i.e., glamp. k. I’ll spell it out for you – glamping = GLAMOUR CAMPING – you pay hundreds of dollars to do a little day-hiking and then have people make food for you in the middle of nowhere while you sleep in a relatively nice bed and (probably) take a shower. then, on the next day of your ‘glamping adventure’, you hike to another place a few miles away, daypack on your back, and the jackasses carry all your clothes and food to the next place). Did I say jackass enough? Not sure…

Also, glamping just started to sound good….Can I bring a hairdryer, too?!

J: I have a love/hate relationship with mule/jackass poop…”where’s the trail???  Just follow the poop!”  We rarely got lost.

Ok so anyway, while we thought we had all the time in the day to get to Tuolumne Meadows, the day started getting away from us pretty quickly. Truth be told, we were probably hiking pretty slowly at that point, AND we spent a ton of time at the lake. No shame there. But I still wanted that burger, and we were also hoping to get our first resupply box that day. It would have been there the following morning, too, but something about ending the day with a burger and a resupply box sounded pretty swell.

Well, we ended up going a little further than we thought we had to. The backpackers’ campground, the post office, and the grille were all about a mile off the trail itself. We stopped off at a visitors’ center at which point we realized that we barely had enough time to get there before close. That was my cue to haul ass, and I think we got to the grille literally 5 minutes before they closed for the day. The post office was already closed, but the guy running it (“it” was really was just a room in the back of the convenience store) was standing around and I must have looked really nice that day because he agreed to let us in to get our box.

While there, we again ran into Sean & Cassidy (our father/daughter hiker friends) who were also staying at the backpackers’ campground. We said hi, and proceeded to sit right on the damn ground and chow down.

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Mmmmmmm burger!! ICE CREAM!!! ok soft serve. but either way!!!

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After this magnificent experience, we made our way to camp, unpacked, and rummaged through our resupply box. We even managed to find a couple of tiny spots along the campsite with cell service and called Chris and Jon before calling it a night.

J:  While I appear happy in that photo, that burger combined with the ice cream, exhaustion, and altitude sickness made me feel horrible a few minutes after consumption.  This night was the first and only time I ever gave away an ice cold beer after hiking.  Something just wasn’t right.

After dinner and settling in, we reflected on the journey thus far, and what we had in store the next day. We quickly realized that our lofty goal of getting up and over Donahue Pass the next day (a 16 mile hiking day with 2,500 feet of elevation to gain) would be nothing short of a miracle, given our speed in a relatively ‘flat’ hiking environment, and the fact that Jennifer clearly wasn’t feeling normal having given away a freaking beer. I should note here that our appetites in general (aside from the burger/soft serve binge) were nowhere near what we anticipated they’d be, and we’d barely touched all the whisky we’d packed. Altitude effect? Heebie jeebies? Just plain too tired to drink?? Still up in the air…

Ultimately, we decided to make a slight modification to our schedule. We decided to instead make it close to Donahue Pass (not over it) and keep Day 4’s mileage at a more reasonable ~10 miles, figuring we’d have more gas in the tank after a couple of slower days. It felt pretty good going to sleep and knowing that we weren’t hiking 16 miles the next day…


Day 3 Details (July 27, 2015):
Start-Finish: Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers’ Camp
Daily Miles: 11.3
Total mileage tally: 32
Total JMT miles: 24.5
Camp elevation: 8,670 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1099 ft gain, 1814 ft loss

All JMT posts page!

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John Muir Trail, Day 2: Little Yosemite Valley to Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

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Hello friends. As you can already tell, getting through our JMT adventure is going to take a little time, but now we’re at DAY 2!! We are totally busting a move here ;).

So I shouldn’t have to say much about this, but we obviously didn’t get mauled by the bear. I’m sure you’re relieved…

We woke up super early this morning, knowing it was going to be a really difficult day if we kept to our schedule. We’d both agreed in the planning of this hike that we wanted to make a schedule, but also allow ourselves to stray from it if we have good or bad days. That said, we also didn’t want to start cutting out miles on Day 2, so we definitely hoped to cover some ground.

Our plan was to hike about 13 miles, which doesn’t really seem horrible, but most of it was gaining elevation, including a little jaunt up to Half Dome. So we just considered it a day of ‘a shit ton of up’, and the fact that we were adjusting to our packs meant it wasn’t going to be easy any way we looked at it.

Although we got up at 5:30 AM, we didn’t even break camp until probably 7:30. This was partly because I kept hoping to poop (and surprisingly couldn’t) and probably also partly because Jennifer kept pooping. I might have that remembered incorrectly, but I’m sure she can add some commentary on the pooping. I just know that I was more excited to get my revenge on Half Dome (Chris and I had attempted with other friends Liz/Kevin last year and had to turn around at the freaking base of the dome b/c of thunder and lightening – not cool on a rock), and for Jennifer, this was the most nerve-wracking part of the trip for her.

J:  There were two things I was anticipating/dreading before starting this trip: 1. pooping in the woods for the first time (my previous backpacking adventures were short and/or involved a privy at camp) and 2. climbing the steep cables of Half Dome.  I was excited that I only had to conquer one of those fears that day because there was a privy at our LYV camp site and I still didn’t have to poop in the woods! I was however feeling nauseous all morning and trying to figure out if it was from dehydration, altitude, or fear of climbing that damn dome.  To clarify, in case anyone gives a shit (pun intended), I pooped a normal amount.

Ha! Ok, so Jennifer didn’t poop her brains out. I’m glad we cleared that up. And neither did I. No pooping. Yet.

Either way, we got out of camp and it wasn’t long before we started ascending. We didn’t realize it at the time, but on the way to the Half Dome junction, we met a couple of fellow hikers who would soon become part of our “trail family” – a father and his 13-year-old daughter who’d camped right across from us the night before – Sean and Cassidy. They weren’t doing HD, but were going up to Clouds’ Rest that day, so we eventually stopped leap-frogging them when we got to the HD junction, at least for a while.

At the sub-base of Half Dome, we showed our permit to the ranger, who turned out to be the one who came through camp the night before to warn us of the bear in the area. He said the bear came through later that night and they were able to scare him away with a paintball gun of mineral oil. Good to know ;).

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So this (above) is Half Dome. For those of you who aren’t into hiking, or aren’t familiar with HD in Yosemite, it’s pretty damn daunting when you’re standing right at the base of it. We got there, and I think we both started sweating a little. Ok, a lot. Fortunately, the 4 miles up to and back to the JMT trail junction were miles we did without our actual backpacks – we’d hidden them, as most do, behind some rocks at the junction and packed a small day pack with food and water – so we at least were able to ascend a lot without added weight.

Half Dome itself, as you’d probably guess, is pretty fucking steep. You barely go any actual distance, but you climb 1,800 feet total to get to the top. Most of it is done on the ‘sub dome’, and the last 400 feet is what you see in the picture above. The sub dome is steep, but lots of stairs and switchbacks – totally doable.

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After we got our shit together, we knew we needed to just mount that damn mountain and climb. Jennifer had brought both of us some super awesome grippy gloves from one of her construction job sites, so we were well-prepared to hold on to the cables that are drilled into the dome itself – this worked well since otherwise my hands would have been sweating the whole time. I started climbing and made it up about 1/3 of the way and felt pretty ok, but eventually my wimpy-ass arms started feeling really really rubbery. I knew it was steep, but I don’t think I was truly prepared for pulling my entire body UP a mountain via cables, which is essentially what you’re doing. Not much leg work here. Not easy for a lot of people, but especially those of us with absolutely no biceps. I thought I was making ok progress for a bit, and then some douchebag on the way down says, trying to sound reassuring, “Once you get over these couple of steps, you’re halfway!! Yay!!”. If I wasn’t gripping the cables with all my might, I would have punched him in the ballsack. There was one small moment in this area that I also remember looking down at Jennifer, who was a couple of steps away, feeling a little bit scared – “what if my rubbery wimpy arms actually stop working?”, or “what if that douchebag was lying and this isn’t even halfway? because I don’t think I can do this more than that…”. You know, fun thoughts. Fortunately, we were on the dome so early that morning that we really weren’t in a rush at all, so we just took it one step at a time, resting when we needed to, and slowly but surely, we both made it! I have to say, it felt pretty awesome to be climbing Half Dome, and knowing that this mountain was only a small piece of the adventure that was in front of us.

J: holy crap, half dome is a tough climb! My fear of the heights, combined with the altitude making it hard to breathe, and the never-ending stairs up to the sub-dome made that climb intimidating. As stubborn as I am, I knew I would make it to the top, but I did keep wondering ‘why the hell am I putting myself through this? Isn’t the JMT enough?’ But hey, why not cross another adventure off the bucket list, right?  The climb up was mostly mental for me.  I  remember the ranger who checked our permits telling us that there were no false summits.  To me, that means there is nothing that looks like you’re almost at the top.  He lied.  There were moments that you can’t see any more rock above you and you think you’re almost there, but actually, you aren’t even halfway.  What a relief when you finally get to the top, the cables and rock start to flatten out, and you can start to appreciate the expansive views of Yosemite around you….amazing!

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Obviously, we had to stay up there for a while. As it turns out, we had cell service, and we called our respective husbands who both already knew that we’d made it as they were stalking tracking us the entire morning with the Spot tracker. We also ate our first of many Snickers Bars before the marmot got to them, snapped some selfies, and eventually made our way down.

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How well fed is the marmot?! He was super close to getting an entire bag of trail mix from some dummy.

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Don’t worry, parents – we were totally not on the edge. But we really were.

J: Notice my death grip on Heather as if she would save me should the rock suddenly start falling…

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I had a much easier time climbing down than up, so I sat at the bottom and snapped some shots of Jennifer on her way down. By this point, a whole herd of people were climbing up, so it was a little trickier navigating the folks on the cables on either side.

J:  I had a much tougher time going down.  It was soooo steep! My feet kept slipping which made me feel like I was losing control.  Like most people, I went backwards down the cables which means you’re still able to face the rock instead of looking out and noticing that you could slip to your death at any moment.  But heading down, you are forced to look down behind you to make sure you’re not going to run into someone coming up.  This was terrifying for me, but I slowly eased my way down the mountain…

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It was sort of a big deal. The first of a few.

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I had to get a picture at the point where we turned around last year – it was a much happier face this time around. I’d later learn how un-smart I was to have not put on sunscreen by this point, and how much heavier my pack would feel with numb arms as a result of pulling oneself up Half Dome. But at that exact moment, I couldn’t be bothered.

After we finished HD, we made it back to our packs, had a nice, long lunch, and decided it was time to get moving if we were going to make it to our goal that day.

The next section of trail turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the entire JMT for me. I think conquering HD was such a highlight of the day, and the rest was really uneventful, other than the fact that we had to constantly ascend (over 5,000 feet that day!). The scenery itself was even a little sad, as it was a section of the park that had really suffered from a recent forest fire. It was sad, but also really serene. Nonetheless, we soon realized that there wasn’t even a good place to stop prior to Sunrise even if we’d decided to – so we just pushed on. And on. And on. We eventually met back up with Sean & Cassidy, who’d made it most of the way up to Clouds’ Rest that day, and were also going to Sunrise. We leap-frogged them multiple times throughout the day.

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Day 2 would fortunately turn out to be our latest day – we got to camp after 9PM, walking a good hour in the dark, our little headlamps guiding the way on a trail that seemed so much longer than anticipated. My GPS watch had died a couple of hours back – at which point I quickly realized I’d be making use of my portable battery more than I’d initially assumed – so I wasn’t sure how much longer we had; we just kept going until we saw little camp lights and tents ahead. I remember talking to Chris at the end of the following day about this section of the hike, and of course he was tracking us, he and Jon texting back and forth the whole time in disbelief that we’d decided to keep going this much.

We ate a really late dinner and hit the sack ASAP, both agreeing to sleep in on Day 3, which would hopefully be much easier, and end with us getting our first resupply and hopefully a BURGER to celebrate the first portion of the JMT.

So far, this adventure was shaping up to be exactly as hard (and this day, quite a bit harder) than I’d imagined.

Until next time ;)


Day 2 Details (July 26, 2015):
Start-Finish: Little Yosemite Valley to Half Dome to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
Daily Miles: 12.7
Total mileage tally: 20.7
Total JMT miles: 13.2
Camp elevation: 9,310 ft
Hiking Elevation: 5385 ft gain, 2206 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure ;). You’re welcome.

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John Muir Trail, Day 1: Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley

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Check this out! Jennifer is joining in on posting here. To do that, I’ve given her total access to my blog, so if you see something weird on other pages, tell me. She can’t be trusted….. Anyway, get excited. There will be my regular posts, and Jennifer will add her commentary too on some/hopefully all. Double the fun!!! So here goes: 

I remember waking up on Day 1 in disbelief that it was finally here. Everyone says that, right? I took a nice, semi-long shower, knowing it was going to be a while before I had one of those. Everyone says that, too.

I knew I wasn’t crazy-nervous because I couldn’t poop. Everyone probably doesn’t say that. So if you’re reading this and thinking that this was WAY too much information, you might want to tune out to these posts. There is a lot of poop to talk about. But yes – normally, if I’m really really nervous, I poop a lot. Some people sweat a lot, some people get nauseated. I poop. And since I didn’t that morning, that meant two things: 1) I wasn’t nervous and 2) these next couple of days were going to be interesting….

Anyway, we all took our sweet time that morning, knowing it would be a while before we saw our respective loved ones, and we made it to the Glacier Point trailhead around noon. If you’re unfamiliar with this location, it’s an alternate start point to Happy Isles, the more popular trailhead and official start of the JMT. At GP, the Panorama Trail eventually joins up with the JMT near Nevada Falls and then heads via a relatively flat trail about 1 mile further to the Little Yosemite Valley campsite.

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We did some final rearranging at the car, and walked to a more scenic area to eat some shitty lunch sandwiches (but note: fresh food!). At the time, I was feeling pretty stoked about getting another attempt at that beastly Half Dome the next day, so sitting right in front of it was cool. I remember thinking about Yosemite, looking around and realizing that, yeah, we’d get to Half Dome the next day, but we were walking waaaaay past it too – a distance I hadn’t quite appreciated and probably wouldn’t for a few days.

J:  Unlike Heather, I had no problem flushing out my system a few times that morning.  All I had to do was picture the steep climb up the cables on Half Dome and my nerves put me right back in the bathroom.  I mean, just look at that thing! AND two weeks earlier, a large chunk of rock fell off the north face of HD with reports warning that more rockfall is likely in this area.  Awesome.  The good thing was that my fear of climbing Half Dome blocked any worry of actually completing the JMT.  That was just walking…

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We took a few more pictures of ourselves looking pretty excited, super clean, and pain-free. We even had good hair that day, and of course, no other trail casualties at that point.

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I should mention that, by this point, we’d already seen 4 bears. Yup. Three of them were chillin’ in the woods off the road as we drove up to the trailhead, and one was right there at Glacier Point, a little ways from the parking lot, just minding his/her own business. I was glad to have seen them before hiking, hoping that meant I wouldn’t see them while hiking. I realize now that that was a really stupid way of thinking…

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We finally set off, and the moments following our departure were so surreal. Chris and Jon were standing there watching us, like the way parents watch their kids the first day they get on the school bus. Allow me to stereotype for a moment: Chris was the ‘dad’ – snapping pictures of us walking away, looking proud and excited; Jon was the ‘mom’ – wiping his eyes and weeping just a little bit, thinking about his little girl going off into the big world. It was perfect, and even though I’m joking, I’m sure that is just a little bit accurate.

J:  I remember a slightly different departure…Chris was creepily trying to take photos of his wife’s hiking booty as she walked away while Jon wiped sweat from his brow secretly hoping to get back to the air conditioned car.  Jon and I knew we’d miss each other, but it was only 3 weeks, right?  It didn’t seem like it would be a big deal.

The thing I remember most of all though was when we had trouble finding the trailhead (great start, right?) and the two hikers we asked for directions exclaimed, “Wow! You girls are backpacking and the boys are heading home? That’s awesome!”  …Agreed.

We were finally hiking. Months of planning how to get permits, months of planning the trip itself, and then now – Day 1. Mother fucker. Holy shit. Oh boy.

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I think the first day was harder than either one of us expected. I for one hadn’t thought at all about the temperature we’d be walking in, having started hiking in the afternoon. And while we had a decent amount of downhill to do since we started higher than the our campsite for the night, we also had some climbing and sweating to take care of. It was hot as balls. Hotter than balls.

Most of the people we saw were day hikers. When we got to Nevada Falls, we stopped for a nice break and even helped some underprepared day hikers by loaning them our Steripen to sterilize water, as they’d sorely underestimated how much they’d need for the walk up to that point. It felt pretty badass to be helping someone on the first day ;). Well, badass until I laid down in a pile of dirt (not pictured).

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I have written down that we got to camp around 5 that day. It gave us plenty of time to adjust to our surroundings, fill up our water, and drink some whiskey (straight, too! so badass) while we still wanted it. It was a good way to end the first day until we walked right into a giant mud hole. That was awesome.

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There was some creeper across from our tent who was sitting there munching on Doritos and staring at people. Nice huh? Judging by his clothes, I think he was one of the Yosemite ‘janitors’ – he didn’t have a backpack, had a shit-ton of junk food for dinner, and had rubbery-looking waders on. I decided there were plenty of people around, so he wasn’t worth worrying about. Plus, if he really was cleaning that toilet area, I liked him even if he was a creeper.

What was worth worrying about was the warning we got around 8PM that a bear was nearby. Great way to start this trip, eh?

J: A bear was 150 meters away from our camp!  The ranger was telling everyone to pack up their food and scented items in the bear boxes (locked metal vaults) because they were trying to scare the bear away using paintball guns, but “it will be wandering through camp tonight” …What?!?  I triple checked that my honey flavored lip balm was NOT still in my pocket and tried to get some sleep.

Obviously, neither of us were eaten by said bear….so I’ll ruin that suspense, and close for Day 1.

Below are stats for the day, as I’ll try to do at the end of each day. So what’s the big adventure tomorrow? Half Dome, bitches! And a whole lotta UP.

Day 1 Details (July 25,2015):
Start-Finish: Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley
Daily Miles: 8
Total mileage tally: 8
Total JMT miles: 4.5
Camp Elevation: 6,130 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1089 ft gain, 2172 ft loss

Hey! Here’s a link to all JMT posts for your reading pleasure ;). You’re welcome.

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John Muir Trail, Day 0: San Francisco to Yosemite

this way to the JMT

Howdy Friends!

I intended to get these posts out on the internets a long time ago, but life has a way of picking right back up where you leave off after vacation, doesn’t it?!

If you haven’t read about the preparation for the JMT, or don’t know what the JMT is, you should read the three posts I wrote earlier this summer (the intro,  the meal planning, and the resupplying) before you get started here. Or else you’ll be really lost, and I ain’t got time to tell the backstory again ;).

So! It is nearly 2 months since Jennifer and I completed the John Muir Trail (yes! we made it!), and I so want to tell my experience. I hope the entries in my journal and the pictures we took will refresh my memory enough to paint the picture accurately, but I tell you, this journey was so entirely amazing, beautiful, breath-taking, and life-changing that I just know I can’t do it justice completely. I will try…

My hope its to post a short snippet of each day on the trail, retracing our steps, our meals, and the ups and downs (both mentally and physically) along the way. Between Jennifer and myself (& Chris!), and the many friends we made on the JMT, I think we have some really great stories. And of course, anyone who undertakes this sort of journey has their own unique experience, so Jennifer and I will have completely and totally different accounts of this trip. Maybe I can rope her into chiming in on occasion…

So here goes, with the day before, what we folks in hiker-land call DAY ZERO.

DAY 0 of 20

Day ZERO is the day before shit gets really real. But it still felt pretty damn real on this day. Day 0 is 7/24/15, Friday. Jennifer and Jon flew in to San Francisco late Wednesday night. The timing of the trip had honestly worked out perfectly, as Jon and Chris had tickets to a concert on Thursday, which meant that both of them would be able to head down to Yosemite to see us off on the big adventure.

Of course, Friday was a work day for me since I barely had enough time off for the JMT as it were. Around noon, I’d gotten all my ‘to-dos’ off my plate, and felt ok about shutting down the laptop. The hardest task on Day 0 was packing the car – as you can see, we have a tiny Mini Cooper – Chris and I had ‘practice-packed’ a few weeks ago and were confident everything would fit – but knew it would be a tight squeeze.

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how will this all fit?

Almost there!

Needless to say, we finally got the dang car packed without an inch to spare. Four hours later, we were in Yosemite National Park pulling up to the permit office. Five minutes after that, we had permits in our grubby little hands! All I remember about those 5 minutes is how prepared I felt – how badass we were for doing this, or trying this. And how I was so relieved that he found our name…relieving my paranoid fear that our permit was all a big hoax. Nope – it was legit, and this was really happening.

The picture below makes me laugh. I can’t tell how I feel, but Jennifer looks a little terrified. Or maybe just crazy. What am I doing hiking 20 days with this crazy person??!! ha ha

Also, please make note of our sunglasses – both in great shape. This will change at some point…

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Anyway, this is about it for Day 0. We got the permit, we wandered around Yosemite a little, and we grabbed a fancy-but-shitty dinner before heading to our hotel at the Yosemite View Lodge.

Chris had gotten me a journal to take on the JMT and had written a little snippet in it each day for me to read at the end of every day (how cute, right?!). For Day 0, he started with a quote:

“Strength: A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence” – Lara Croft

Ok yeah, he wrote a Tomb Raider quote. But I thought it was entirely appropriate – this trip was going to take a whole lotta persistence – that was no joke.

What did I write that night? Not much – I was in disbelief that we were starting this journey the next day. Six months of saying we were going to apply for permits, 4 actual days of applying for permits and hundreds of faxes (yes, faxes) later, and six more months of planning – resupplies, food prep, gear purchasing, miles and miles of hiking practice – all of which led up to one big day – tomorrow.

Needless to say, it was hard to sleep that night, but I tried to remind myself how much I’d soon miss that bed, the pillows, and the warm body (that wasn’t Jennifer’s!) by my side.

Daily Miles: ZERO
Mileage Tally: ZERO
Elevation: Somewhere around 4,000 feet

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JMT Prep: Resupply

[Part 3 of our JMT Prep plan. See previous POST 1 for the background and POST 2 for the food story.]

I really wanted to get this post out before we left, so here goes. The food questions have been answered, and now it’s time to talk about just how that food gets to us throughout these upcoming (2 days!) 21 days.

No one in their right mind would carry 21 days worth of food. First – it’s heavy – and remember, I cut out something that weighed an ounce. But second, and probably even more importantly, you really can’t. Most areas of the John Muir Trail require carrying of a ‘bear canister’. They are virtually impossible for naughty hungry bears to open, even though they are certainly NOT scent-proof.

This is a typical bear canister:

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They aren’t small, as you can see. They weight about 2-3 pounds themselves, depending on the brand and should carry about 4-5 days of food for 1 person, of course depending on density/volume/number of snacks/booze/etc. But note: NOT 21 DAYS. Eventually, using them becomes really easy, as does getting it in and out of your backpack.

But not being able to carry all the food at once means you have to do something called “resupply”: you have to plan out stops along the trail so that you can pick up food and restock. The first half of the trail has more options, like in Yosemite and the ‘resort’ where we are staying; the last half of the JMT has fewer options. Some people simply resupply by buying food at the stores that are along the trail (usually not on the trail, but off by .5 miles or so). Others, like us, mail boxes or buckets to those locations that are held (for a fee; ain’t nothin’ free!) until we arrive.

Jennifer and I ultimately decided to resupply 3 times, so once we figured that out, we each had our own methods to organize. For me, I was lucky enough to have a spare bookcase in which to put labels, as you see here:IMG_5533

As you can probably read, we are starting the trail carrying 3 days of food. We resupply at a place called Tuolumne Meadows (in Yosemite), where we will pick up a box that contains our food and snacks for Days 4-8. Jennifer packed the snacks for this leg earlier than others, so that I could bring them back to SF when I was visiting in Seattle over July 4th. This helped to decrease cost of shipping since we only sent 1 box to this location.

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Packed and ready to go – we sent this one off first, since we are getting to this location earlier in the trip. Delivery confirmation showed it as being at the Tuolumne Meadows post office, so we should be good to go on this one!IMG_5584

The second resupply is a bit trickier, and bigger. We are staying at a place called Vermilion Valley Resort to relax on our 9th day of the trip. We have no miles planned and a reservation for a real bed, a shower (!), and laundry. This place will also have magical things like sandwiches, beer, and BBQ. It’s going to feel good for that 1 little day.

That said though, once we leave VVR, we have to carry 8 days worth of food. Remember how I said the bear cans only held around 4-5 days worth of food? Yeah, that’s right – but luckily, bear cans aren’t required along the beginning of that 8 day section, so we’ll be able to whittle down our food supply and eventually get it all back into the bear can by the time we have to. Don’t worry – no bear attacks will be had here – that’s one part of this trip that we’re totally prepared for.

As you see below, for my VVR bucket, I have all of mine and Jennifer’s meals laid out for those 8 days, and also a few replacement toiletries, like wipes and sunscreen, and even a fresh pair of clothes to wear while my dirty dirty laundry is being washed (these clothes will be tossed before we leave).IMG_5586IMG_5589

VVR recommends shipping in a bucket, so that’s what you see here – a 5 gallon bucket that is literally filled to the brim with our supplies (the picture shows it halfway full, but don’t you worry – it was to the top when it went out):IMG_5592

This got shipped out last week, and has also been confirmed as arrived at VVR:

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So after that, we have 4 more days to go, and this is the section where the resupply options are few and far between. Most require you to leave the trail by about 14 miles roundtrip, and an extra day of hiking. You could also hire a pack mule service which will set you back a few hundred dollars. Or you could find a loving husband who happily hikes in 7 miles to resupply you for your last 4 days, and walks the rest of the trail with you:

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I have a feeling that, no matter how much whiskey he does or doesn’t bring, this will probably be my favorite of all the resupplies. But I also have a feeling he will want to sleep in a tent all by himself due to the stench emanating from the two of us.

So that’s the quick 3 post rundown! We are almost ready for this thing. We’ll be in Yosemite in less than 48 hours, hopefully getting a good night’s sleep, and starting mile 1 of many on Saturday.

Regardless of the outcome, I’ll report back here at some point – so stay tuned!