IMG_5972_1024

John Muir Trail, Day 14: Grouse Meadow to Lower Palisade Lakes

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 10.49.06 PM

Jennifer’s commentary on the last post reminded me that I also didn’t sleep well the night before Day 14 because I was 99.5% sure I was about to get killed by a bear because I left my sunscreen in my tent. We’d just gotten back into official bear territory – the first 50 miles or so after VVR was the only section we weren’t required to carry food inside the bear canister, which was a good thing since we had overflow for a couple of days – so that also meant that we’d gotten a little lax with our toiletries at night. I had unscented things in my tent, but then I heard this giant rustle outside and immediately had this paranoid thought that my sunscreen would attract a bear in, so I tossed it out of my tent like a crazy lady, and just sat there staring into the dark. The next morning, I think we all realized it was probably a deer, and I went and found my (unscented and safe) sunscreen.

Jennifer and I had originally written down that today, Day 14, we would tackle both the Golden Staircase AND Mather Pass. Let me just say here that, while that isn’t the dumbest plan ever, it certainly doesn’t make for a short and easy day. By this point, we were more or less ready for something relatively short (although they were never easy). Plus, if we did Mather Pass today, we would have needed to go quite a ways further to set ourselves up for doing the next pass (Pinchot) the following morning, which we preferred to instead starting a trend of doing passes at the end of the day. We also realized that if we kept going according to our tentative schedule, which included a few long days starting today so that we’d have a ‘zero’ or ‘near zero’ day when Chris showed up, we’d be parting ways with our hiking group.

Ultimately, we decided we’d rather spread out the miles and be able to hike/camp with friends as opposed to pushing long days to have a day off and maybe meet up with them in a few days. That said, Day 14 quickly turned into a much-needed short day, and we were ready to get it started.

IMG_5963_1024

We quickly realized that, although we were going easy on the mileage today, tackling the Golden Staircase was no fucking joke. The total climb of the ‘staircase’ is about 1,600-2,000 ft over the course of about a mile and a half, so while it’s a lot of elevation, it isn’t actually horribly steep (at least not as steep as I expected) – just a lot of constant switchbacks.

The start of the day was harder for me – I’d woken up with a nice headache for some reason, but after a few miles and some electrolytes (sports beans!), I was feeling alright – just in time for the staircase, thank goodness.

J:   Heather’s headache probably got scared out of her.  Today was the day we almost died from a deer attack.   The beginning section of the hike headed out through the meadow and into a more wooded area before getting to the rocky, dreaded “Golden Staircase”.  The rest of our trail buddies were ahead of us (per the usual) when we crossed paths with a family of deer.  The mom and dad bounced across the trail in front of us, but the silly baby deer went the opposite way.  At that moment, Heather and I were standing right in between the parents and the baby.  Heather was hiking in front of me and I don’t think she noticed that we were about to walk right between a mama and her baby.  The mama and papa deer had a look of attack in their eyes (as deer do), so I quickly warned her to stop and we waited a few minutes until the baby made it’s way back across to it’s parents.  We averted a quick and sudden death by deer that day…now on to the staircase! 

Umm…how did I forget to write about this? I can’t believe I was almost attacked by a deer. A deer! Yes, we survived the “bear” at camp only to get pummeled by Bambi. Except we escaped. Thanks, Jennifer, for rescuing me!

deer attack

right after (or maybe before?) the almost deer attack

IMG_2122_1024

it sucks when you can’t see the top…

Fortunately, we’d gotten started pretty early in the morning, so we were able to get to the “staircase” and start the climb before the sun started blaring through – there wasn’t a lot of shade in this section, so that was key!

We all stopped often to take pictures, but the 5 of us (Samuel surprisingly did not hike with us the next morning), gradually made our way up and up, staying relatively close to one another until the final section up.

IMG_5967_1024

after a while, you get used to it (yes, my glasses are still crooked – laugh it up)

This is one of those sections of the trail where you absolutely need to look behind you – it’s amazing to see all the ground you’ve covered – the views here look back on Kings Canyon National Park and on the other side of the mountains, the John Muir Wilderness. It was hard to believe we’d already covered 150+ miles, and every day seemed to be more and more breathtaking – breathtaking in the “this is gorgeous and I can’t stand it” way, not the “I can’t breathe anymore and hiking sucks” way.

J:  A northbound hiker we met at VVR had mentioned the views on the staircase heading north (opposite of us) were spectacular and that we needed to make sure to turn around as we made the climb.  He was not wrong.  Of course, I took any excuse to take breaks along the way, but it was really worthwhile to stop on those climbs and soak it all in. This was what we were here for!

north view

IMG_2132_1024

Brittany on the golden stairs!

The cool part about getting started early is that we often times had these sections of the trail to ourselves – the staircase was no different. Though a few people passed by us from the other direction, we had just a couple of people here and there going in our direction. There was some construction going on here though, so we hiked past a big ‘trail crew’ – it wasn’t something I’d really thought about before – but yeah, people have to hike out here to work… not just to hike. Now that’s a rough commute, eh? It also made me realize and appreciate that people built this trail, and that it needs maintaining regularly (in fact, this section was the last part to get built – the prior route was way less direct).

IMG_5970_1024

At some points, you can’t even really see the start of the ‘staircase’, since it winds around the mountains. I tried to capture that (above) by taking a trail shot of Jennifer – the trail winds down to the right and just disappears, continuing down waaaaay below.

IMG_5972_1024

There was a really great stopping point about midway up where we took a few photos. The view beyond was amazing at this point – hard to imagine we’d been hiking through those mountains way way back in the background!

J:  As you climb (this or any other ascent) I tried to keep in mind that “the top is never the top”.  I looked up at one point and saw people celebrating and taking photos on this rock so I thought, ‘damn, that wasn’t too bad if that’s the top’.  Nope.  It wasn’t too bad, but that was not the top.  It was only about halfway up.  Shiiiit….and I was out of jelly beans.

Shortly after this point, I started losing a little steam (those sports beans were long gone!) so I needed to spread out a little and turn some tunes on (remember – I’d decided at the last minute that I didn’t need the added weight of my headphones – all 1 oz of them! ha ha). I relied pretty heavily on the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways album for this part of the trail, but Jennifer tended towards her country music and probably some Mariah Carey (hey, I don’t love her for her music choices…), so in this case it was better to spread out a little. We’d put together a “trail mix” thinking we’d want music more often to get us through the difficult sections, but we hadn’t busted that out quite yet – but stay tuned!

J:  Hey, don’t look down on Mariah….voice of an angel.  That “trail mix” was a collaborative collection of tunes.  I don’t think there was a Mariah song on there, but that was a mistake on my part, for sure.  

IMG_5974_1024

the Watermelon Fairy

When we had about 2oo feet of elevation to go, Jennifer and I joined back up and decided to tackle it together, since the sports beans and the tunes weren’t working any longer! It was at this exact moment that this magical lady (above) rounded the switchback ahead, hopping happily down the staircase. We started chatting her up for a minute and learned that she often hiked into the area (which at this point was a day long adventure at least, since we were nowhere near civilization) to bring fresh fruit to the trail crew, and oh my goodness, she had a giant bowl of FRESH WATERMELON. We must have looked so completely ragged at this point (and were probably drooling at the watermelon), because she was about to start walking away and then turned to give both Jennifer and I a piece of it. Fucking splendid! At this point, I was so glad that our friends had hiked ahead of us, because there was no way she’d given us watermelon if there were 5 of us! Jennifer and I thanked her profusely, took her picture, and then giddily hiked those final 200 feet with a nice juicy hunk of watermelon in our hands.

Note: When you hear about the existence of trail fairies, know that they are real. We’d met two already – Duct Tape Fairy, and now Watermelon Fairy. Also, know that most of the time when you are literally at the end of your rope and done for the day (or the whole trip!), something amazing will happen – be it a lady with watermelon or a beautiful stream or lake – motivation is everywhere.

J:  best. watermelon. ever.

lower pallisades

Once to the top of the Golden Staircase, we met up with the rest of our crew who were waiting patiently for us (ok, it sounds like we were eons behind – it was really less than 5 minutes). After bragging about the watermelon, we all stuck around at the top to have lunch, realizing that if we didn’t take our time, we’d be at camp before noon.

Instead, we rolled into camp at 2PM, a time that would be our record for the trip. It was nice to get there early because it meant we could claim a spot before the rest of the crowds came though. Since Lower Palisade Lake was the last main stop with legal camping before Mather Pass, it would become pretty crowded as people stopped for the night.

IMGP1819_1024

In addition to getting a campsite, it gave us plenty of time to relax and do our only real housekeeping chore of the JMT – laundry. We weren’t right on the lake here (I know! wtf!), so we had to hike down a little ways, but it was worth it! The lake was beautiful and secluded since there wasn’t a trail taking you down to it. We hung out, washed the majority of our clothes, and I even gave my hair a good rinse while I was at it – the closest I’d come to actually getting IN any of these cold ass lakes.

J:  This was “day 3” of the duct tape experiment, so I had planned to finally unwrap my feet and see what damage had been done (or repaired?).  So while everyone was getting ready to hike down to the lake, I took some time to unwrap my feet.  Hot damn, did they smell great.  The blisters were not healed by any means, but at least they weren’t getting any worse.  

Every toe was swollen, so it was good to give them some air and head down to the soak my feet in the ice cold lake water for a bit.  

glacier water

not a bad view, eh?  camp was up the “hill” to the right


IMGP1822_1024

is this the John Muir Trail or the streets of Naples? I’m confused…

After the hike back up, we hung up all of our clothes and proceeded to chill, which meant yet another few games of Love Letters. We met up with Samuel again at camp, and apparently we didn’t scare him away with our talk of poop the night before, because he stayed around and played cards with us.

IMG_2147_1024

me, Courtney, Brittany, Samuel, and Andrew (Jennifer was the photographer)

We were here so long that we ran into all sorts of fellow hikers. Our favorite group of Tallahassee hikers camped here and we talked to them some that evening, and we also met a woman (Debbie?) who brought hair washing supplies. All in all, Day 14 was a pretty good day, with plenty of socializing and relaxing.  People wandered in all throughout the afternoon and evening, which was an interesting change for us, as we were typically the ones coming in later.

Next up, Mather Pass – my least favorite pass of the whole trip!


Day 14 Details (August 7, 2015):

Start-Finish: Grouse Meadow to Lower Palisade Lakes
Daily Miles: 9.0
Mileage Tally: 164.0
Camp elevation: 11,000 ft
Hiking Elevation: 2,473 ft gain; 221 ft loss

IMGP1811

John Muir Trail, Day 13: Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadows

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 10.21.51 PM

I know, I know. We get on a roll and then we fall off the wagon again! But you just wait – Jennifer and I are determined to get to the end of this blogging adventure before the 1-year anniversary of us finishing this thing last year. Writing this here will hold us to it, right?!

Ok, so where were we? We just had a most amazing Day 12 – I carried Jennifer across the creek to keep her feet dry, we had lunch in McClure Meadow with our trail fam, we meandered around Evolution Valley, and we camped at Sapphire Lake where we had one of the most beautiful sunsets of our entire lives. Day 12 was pretty un-sucky, so we were hoping the good vibes would continue along to Day 13.

IMG_5948

Since we’d camped at Sapphire Lake, we actually only had a short distance to go before getting to Muir Pass, the 4th of the 8 major passes on the JMT and home of the famous Muir Trail Hut. Our entire group started around the same time and before long, we’d covered the ~3 miles and 800 feet of elevation to make it up to the pass relatively early in the morning.

J:  The Muir hut! I was actually looking forward to this pass because of the hut.  It’s one of only a few man-made landmarks along the trail.  Maybe it’s the architect in me, but I thought it was pretty fascinating to see an 86 year old stone hut still standing in the middle of this incredible wilderness.  It was also a really nice place to hide from the wind and marmots to eat our snickers bars and celebrate climbing another pass!

IMGP1811

group picture at the Muir Trail Hut

We spent a ton of time at the pass because, why the hell not?! It felt like a special kind of victory to make it to this point – the hut is something you read about frequently when planning for and considering hiking the JMT, so seeing it in the flesh (well, stone) was one of those really major feelings of accomplishment.

IMGP1804

plaque inside the hut

IMGP1798

two sexy beasts at the hut

On our way up to Muir Pass, we hiked past a couple of girls making their way early in the day as well. Luckily, we stayed long enough for them to meet up with us, as meeting them was one of the highlights of the trip. They had been writing songs throughout their hike and were dying to play in the hut to test out the acoustics, so of course we stayed and listened for a while. One of them had a ukulele (you should have seen how I spelled that in my journal..), which fortunately, doesn’t add a lot of weight to your pack; it was really a special moment for all of us – I probably got a little teary-eyed just listening and realizing how lucky I was to be there on that day, at that time, and with so many amazing people.

J:  We sat in the hut for a while chatting with the girls (Sophie from NYC and Anna from MD – who knew where my itty bitty hometown was!).  There was also another group of hikers including an older guy who told us a story about his family hiking over the pass with 7 kids and his mom was pregnant with him…yes, pregnant!  She had broken her arm (or something) and had stayed in the hut while waiting for the rescue team to help them out.  Crazy story!  Then the girls broke out their ukulele and played us some songs.  It was definitely one of my favorite moments of the whole hike. 

IMGP1812

the duo singing in the hut

Eventually, we all decided it was time to get going. We were all sort of dreading it, because as per usual the wind was picking up at the top of the pass and we were getting chilly – never a fun way to start a descent, but it wasn’t going to change any time soon!

IMGP1792

For the rest of the day, we were going down, down, down. The first part of the descent from the pass is always a little steep and fast-moving, but eventually it evens out a little as you descend into the next valley. We were starting to learn this routine, but as we continued south, the passes would be higher up, the ascents and descents on either side just a little bit more steep with each one. Muir Pass elevation was 11,980 ft, and our anticipated stop for the day was down at 8,830.

The five of us all hiked together on the way down from Muir Pass – Jennifer’s feet were feeling better, were staying dry, and the duct tape was on tight! My feet were continuing to hurt pretty badly each morning, but a little Ibuprofen seemed to do the trick, as long as I took 2-3 each morning and another round at night.

J:  I was definitely worried about the steep descent from Muir pass, especially after the brutal downhill on Day 11 heading into MTR.  I was pretty gimpy and slow, but my feet held up ok.  I was starting to rely a little less on my hiking poles to keep steady which was a pretty good sign that the duct tape was doing something right.  

We’d all go at slightly different paces throughout the day, but all in all weren’t too far from one another. Courtney seemed to be in a race with herself that day and disappeared ahead of us all for a while, and Brittany and I kept a similar pace for a large part of the descent, with Jennifer not too far behind us. Who knows where Andrew was… he’d lollygag for a while to shoot some photos and then catch up when he was finished, so I never remembered if he was ahead of us or behind at any given point!

IMG_2111

Jennifer is dead here. Duh.

Fortunately, Jennifer, Brittany, and I spotted the giant whale head of a stone, where we just had to take some silly pictures. This spot is pretty popular on the JMT – who knows how long ago someone had the idea to make stone eyes and stone teeth with the rocks around the giant stone – we knew we’d come across it soon, and glad we found it! Courtney blew right past it, but by the time we found her, we were too far away from it for her to go back for pictures😦.

IMG_5958

I was about to be dead, too.

IMG_5960

We stopped as a group around 4:30 at Grouse Meadows, a campsite slightly before our ‘planned’ stop of the day, but not by much. Jennifer and I decided we’d rather stay with our buddies instead of hike another mile or two further, plus we’d already covered 14 miles. We shared the campsite with Samuel, a really nice young guy who was solo-hiking. It was pretty eerie, as he was also from NC (Charlotte). Did we mention that Courtney and Brittany grew up in NC, too? I can’t remember…anyway, it was weird that 5 out of 6 of us at this campsite had some ties to NC. Andrew was the oddball here, since he’s always lived in the Midwest.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were corrupting Samuel with talk of poop – as we get set up at camp, it’s always a conversation because we all had to pick our ‘spots’ for the next morning – one slight disadvantage of group camping! I think Samuel thought we were funny, but probably also thought we were super weird, and he was probably ready to get back to his solo hiking the next day.

J:  At Grouse Meadows we also started visibly noticing that the sky was getting a lot smokier.  It was kind of nerve racking since we had zero way of finding out exactly where the smoke was coming from.  We all decided that if we were in immediate danger then we would have seen a ranger or at least signs on one of the many trail posts along the way telling us we needed to evacuate.  As it turns out, this was only the start of a pretty horrible season of wildfires.  Looking back, I’m glad we were on the trail when we were because if we’d been hiking even a week later, we would have had to make some tough choices about leaving the trail because of the wildfires in the Sierras. Regardless, I didn’t sleep well and had nightmares about getting swallowed up by fire that night.  It also didn’t help that Brittany and Courtney thought they heard a bear outside our tents… false alarm (I think).

That’s about it for Day 13 – time to call it a night and rest up for another big day ahead – the day we’d tackle the Golden Staircase!


Day 13 Details (August 6, 2015):

Start-Finish: Sapphire Lake to Grouse Meadows
Daily Miles: 14.0
Mileage Tally: 154.9
Camp elevation: 8,400 ft (the last of the “low elevation” stops!)
Hiking Elevation: 877 ft gain; 3,512 ft loss

IMGP1786

John Muir Trail, Day 12: Goddard Canyon to Sapphire Lake

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 3.40.17 PM

It probably goes without saying that Jennifer and I were both somewhat anxious when we were getting up and ready to go this morning. The day prior was a real doozy, but we were both really banking on the miracle of duct tape, as Jennifer spent a good amount of time getting that foot bandaged before we got started. As she’s said before, the downside of all that taping and bandaging is that you really have to keep the area dry – not easy for hiking around streams and wanting to hop in lakes…

J:  Waking up to deer perusing around camp about 10 feet away from our tent was a good sign…or at least I took it that way.  I was taking anything as a good sign as I spent the morning carefully using the last of my bandages and all of our duct tape as a final Hail Mary attempt to fix my feet. The plan was to leave the bandages and tape on my feet for a couple of days and see if it made any difference.  I still don’t really know what the medical reasoning was behind this plan, but it had to work.  If nothing else, I would save 30 minutes in the morning by not having to wrap up my feet for the next few days.  So here we go, Day 12…

IMG_5909

climbing out of the canyon

So upwards and onward we went. Unfortunately, we woke up in the same giant canyon that we went to sleep in, so we still had to do that massive climb first thing – yay! The climb up was really beautiful though, and eventually we got to a plateau and a little bit of flat for recovery. I didn’t take a ton of pictures on the way up, but managed to turn around once to get a good one of Jennifer mid-hike.

Somewhere along the hike up the canyon we ran into Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew. We never saw them the day before as we were more or less criss-crossing each other, but they camped not too far from where we did the night before – near one of the bridges around Piute Pass. We planned to meet up at McClure Meadows for lunch, which would be our next major stop of the day.

IMG_5910

The only things keeping us between the top of the canyon at Evolution Creek wade and McClure Meadows was about 500 feet of elevation gain and 2.5 miles – nothing too horrible considering we’d already finished one decent incline that morning. But this was also the section of the trail where we have to cross Evolution Creek. If you ever watched “Mile, Mile & a Half”, this is the section of the trail where they were all getting pummeled by the creek water, and were basically waste deep. So we got to this area and of course it didn’t look nearly as bad as in the documentary (that was a crazy snow year; 2015 was not), but it still looked like a creek we didn’t want to go walking through – it probably wasn’t even knee deep but that was deep enough to defeat the whole purpose of that damn duct tape on Jennifer’s feet. So we found the sign for the other crossing a bit further down the creek, hoping it would be gentler and less deep.

J:  Ideally, we were looking for a log or some rocks that went across the creek so we (mainly me) wouldn’t have to get our feet wet.  I’m well aware of how silly this sounds, and I sort of wish I did have a photo of my beat up feet to truly paint the picture of how messed up they were…blisters inside of popped blisters, bleeding, puss, etc…you get the idea.  It was gross and I had just used the last of our supplies to patch them up for a few days (or the all the way to Whitney if needed).  So yeah, it was imperative that I didn’t waste those bandages and duct tape by soaking them in a river crossing.

The alternate route and creek crossing ended up being just as deep, but at least calm. However, I don’t think either one of us were relieved by this fact, as it still meant that Jennifer would have to get her feet soaked – not a good way to start the day. We both just stood there for a second, feeling a little hopeless, and then I had one of those few “lightbulb” moments that happen in my life. Okay, kidding – I am FULL of lots of bright ideas – but this was pretty exceptional. I decided that I had a solution to this problem……I would simply carry Jennifer across the creek. No big deal, right?! I mean, we were total badasses at this point, so carrying someone across water was nothing. It seemed easy enough to me, but Jennifer thought I was crazy (I think she thinks this a lot). She quickly realized she really wasn’t in a position to bargain with me, and it was honestly our best shot at keeping her dry – so we just did it. I took off my shoes and put on my sandals, carried my pack across, went back and got Jennifer’s pack and carried it across, and then proceeded to ask a nice couple on the other side to please please please photograph this momentous occasion. I told him I had to go back across and carry my friend and they also looked at me like I was crazy, but obliged. So I went back and hoisted Jennifer up on my back and carried her across that damn creek; she had a death grip on me, both at the waist and my neck, and we both laughed the whole damn time.

IMG_5930

friends don’t let friends get their duct taped feet wet

The picture above is probably one of my favorite non-scenic pictures of the trail – and one of the funnier parts was that the ‘non-techie’ man photographing must have taken the picture in ‘burst’ mode, because there are probably 30 of these in a row on my camera. Needless to say, we both made it through the creek in one piece, Jennifer’s feet stayed dry, and we now had this amazingly hilarious story to tell. And for me, I finally felt just a wee bit helpful when it came to easing a little of Jennifer’s blister pain. All in all, it was a pretty awesome start to the day and certainly one that we would never forget.

J:  I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t Heather just carry me, my pack, and her pack all at the same time?  Now THAT would have been impressive.  

As you can probably see Heather is one tiny chik, so I was a little worried about pulling us both down into the creek.  Her plan sounded ridiculous but she was pretty damn serious, so what the hell?  I figured it was worth a try.  She was halfway across the creek before I could argue anyway.

Obviously, we made it across and this was probably one of the best and definitely one of the funniest memories we have of the whole hike.  Heather is, for the record, THE BEST HIKING PARTNER EVER and definitely a little bit crazy. 

IMGP1747

After our wading in the creek adventure, we made our way to McClure Meadow and met up with our buddies. We found a nice sunny spot in front of the water and just chilled out for a bit. It was a nice spot to rest for a while so it was hard to leave, but we were excited to get to the Evolution Basin area, so eventually we all packed up our bags and made our way out.

IMG_2055

Before heading out though, I ran into the ranger parked at the station (you’d find one every once and a while out here!) and made a little small talk with him. Fortunately, I learned that the weather forecast was clear and there didn’t appear to be any concerns for storms over the next few days – score! This made hiking over these next few passes way more awesome.

IMG_5939

McClure Meadows ranger station

IMGP1767

The hike up to the outlet of Evolution Lake was nice and steep, so we each went along at our own pace, and after a while, the 1k feet of elevation gain was behind us. We all took another break right at the top of the climb to enjoy the first peek at this area, knowing all we had in front of us for the rest of the day was just more awesomeness.

IMGP1752

See what I mean? Pretty freaking awesome, eh? I took a ton more pictures in this area and just took my sweet time walking around here.

IMG_5944

IMGP1774

This is what happens to Gregory (the name of Jennifer’s pack) when she has to pee. I don’t know why I felt compelled to photograph this, but it just made me laugh.

We were thinking of heading all the way to Wanda Lake, the last stop before the climb up to Muir Pass, but we instead found a nice spot that would fit all 3 ‘groups’ at Sapphire Lake, which is a smaller lake right between Evolution Lake and Wanda Lake. Since there was a party of 5 at tonight’s campsite, we played a game called Love Letters. Coincidentally enough, this is a game Chris and I have at home, so it cracked me up when Brittany whipped it out to play on the JMT. It’s a really simple game, and not a lot of cards/materials, so it’s a perfect backpacking game to play with a group – it wouldn’t be the last time, either!

IMG_5947

Andrew reading Game of Thrones in his bivy sack. #whippersnappersdontneedtents

After our gaming, dining, and general chatting, we all headed to bed. As I mentioned a few posts ago, it is entirely typically to be in your tent before the actual sun sets. This night though, we all had to step back out to admire the setting sun. I mean, sunsets in general are pretty spectacular, especially along the JMT, but the sunset at Sapphire Lake was by far the most gorgeous one we’d seen so far. The sky changed colors right before our eyes, and the reflection against the mountains and the lakes was pretty breathtaking.

IMGP1786

I can’t stop saying how beautiful everything is out here – but JUST LOOK AT THIS SUNSET!!!!! Makes me want to go back right now.

It was so breathtaking that we all got out to snap some pictures, except Brittany! It was a perfect moment to capture – Courtney snapping a picture and Brittany gazing from her tent. Also, please note the dudes in the back right of the picture below – they just sat there for hours chatting, well beyond when we went to sleep. We didn’t talk to them too much, but they seemed like relatively nice folk.

J:  So. Much. Pretty….another one of my favorite places.  Seriously, every day on this trail we experienced something even more magnificent than the day before.  These photos don’t even do this sunset justice.  The whole area was glowing in orange/pink, reflecting off the water and the rocks.  It was pretty incredible.

As we were going to bed, a group of girls passed by (still hiking) and singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music”…which was fitting, and a little weird since I’d had a dream the night before about The Sound of Music and had been singing that song all day in my head.  

IMGP1788

All in all, day 12 was a pretty good day, particularly in light of the difficulty of the day before it. I think the new blister care situation was helping a little bit, and the general amazingness of the day – the scenery, the hanging with new friends, and our creek wading adventure made Day 12 one of my favorites so far – and we still had 8 days to go!

Tomorrow’s adventure? MUIR PASS! The hut!! Can’t wait to share this one with you all – until then!


Day 12 Details (August 5, 2015):

Start-Finish: Goddard Canyon to Sapphire Lake
Daily Miles: 10
Mileage Tally: 140.9
Camp elevation: 10,900 ft
Hiking Elevation: 2,446 ft gain; 80 ft loss

IMG_5890

John Muir Trail, Day 11: Marie Lake Outlet to Goddard Canyon Jct.

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 11.51.07 AM

Other than simply not wanting to leave beautiful Marie Lakes, the initial part of our 11th morning started off alright. We didn’t rush off or anything, and ended up leaving around 8. We talked to Brittany and Courtney for a few minutes before they left (probably a good hour before us), and at that time, we weren’t certain we’d see them again – it all just depended on where we camped at that point since we were unlikely to run into them on the trail that day. They filled us in on the “trail gossip” – Andrew and Alyssa had surged ahead the day before, and he was still somewhere on the JMT with her – they were going to reconnect with him at some point today, probably at Muir Trail Ranch.

J:  I apologize in advance for my negative commentary on this post, but this was most definitely the worst day for me on the trail.  My feet were still throbbing and oozing puss in the morning, so the day started out with a bit of panic about how I would get through the day of hiking ahead.  Since I really didn’t have any choice, I did the best I could to stay positive and started the process of bandaging up my feet to get them to fit into my shoes.  I had a lengthy process of applying antiseptic, band-aids, leukotape, toe socks, and my fancy new camouflage gaiters to keep the dirt out. That process took about 30-40 minutes every morning, so it was taking a bit longer to get up and out and start hiking.

IMG_5890

the one and only Marie Lake, looking north from Selden Pass

So anyway, the day started off as most of them would from here on out – with an incline up and over a pass, and then some downhill. The goal at this point was to get the passes mounted in the morning, as they are all quite exposed, and an afternoon thunderstorm while going over a pass is not a situation you want to be in. Since we can’t really check the weather daily, it’s important to always be prepared for inclement weather. So typically, you position yourself as close as you can to the pass the night before and start your day with a nice, swift kick in the ass on the incline.

IMG_5891

The incline this morning, however, was totally manageable. We camped at 10,550 feet (the highest so far), so getting up to 10,900 wasn’t too difficult and before we knew it, we were already crossing over Selden Pass. We didn’t spend too much time here, but made sure to turn around and appreciate the views north – a few pictures and one last longing gaze at Marie Lakes and we were on our way.

J:  Some day I would like to get back to Marie Lakes without battered feet. This was one of my favorite campsites of the trip (if I hadn’t been in so much pain).  There was a gorgeous sunset and the stars were amazing here, too.  I think it was one of my favorite late night pee breaks and I almost thanked Heather for snoring loud enough to wake me up…almost.

IMG_5896 (1)

Sallie Keyes – south view

Although the views north were pretty fucking sweet, the views south weren’t too bad either. We also took some time to admire some of the lakes on the other side, particularly Sallie Keyes. The descent over this section was relatively gradual, but starting at Selden Pass, we had to descend about 3,000 feet over the course of 7-8 miles – the steepest section of that was yet to come.

IMG_5895 (1)

up close and personal with Sallie Keyes

I should mention here, that when I say we were “on our way” that’s a little bit of a lie. As Jennifer already mentioned, but I’ll go ahead and state again that Day 11 was probably definitely one of the more difficult days for both of us, but for different reasons. Somewhere around Sallie Keyes Lakes, we both stopped for a breather and a “come to Jesus” sort of talk. You see, Jennifer at this point had a handful of blisters (which is probably an understatement, unless you have giant man hands, then handful might make sense) and was spending most of her time at camp either bandaging her feet, or removing bandages from her feet. Maybe you remember, but earlier in the trip, I had gotten a blister as well, but by this point it was long gone – for me, just a little bit of moleskin was all I needed – my hiking boots had been broken in for years, and I was wearing Injinji toe socks (well worth their price tag!), so my blister issues were negligible. So while Jennifer was having major blister issues, my biggest issue at this point was my sore ankles every morning and evening and my constant sniffles that resulted in a ton of snoring. In the grand scheme of things, both of these issues were totally manageable, as long as I had ibuprofen on hand and didn’t mind Jennifer gently jabbing me in the side every night😉.

So back to the matter at hand. Both of us were carrying heavier packs since we had the longest stretch of time to go before our final resupply – we were carrying 7 days worth of food, plus all of our regular gear. Jennifer and I had balanced out the weight of our shared items at the start of the trip – she carried the tent and I carried the DSLR camera and the Jetboil, so we were pretty even by doing that. But today, the regular pack weight plus that of our fresh resupply weight had really taken a toll on Jennifer’s feet. During the day at least, my feet were pretty much ok. In the ‘comfort rating’, I was probably at a 6/10 today, but Jennifer was down to a 2/10, maybe even 1 if we’re being truthful. That said, at this juncture it was an easy decision for me to offer to take the tent from her – at that point I was willing to do anything I could to help, ultimately knowing that there was very little I could do to help. As much as Jennifer hated to give the tent up knowing it was adding weight on my end, we both knew it was the right decision, so we moved it over to my pack and left it at that.

J:  This was the first of many times that Heather was one of the best hiking partners ever! Our packs were both heavy and she still offered to take some of the weight from my pack to help with my destroyed feet.  I mean, who does that?  A pretty awesome friend, that’s who.

[Note: do NOT buy new hiking shoes for this trip unless you have time to break them in thoroughly. I tried out a couple pairs of new boots before this trip and ultimately sent them all back to REI after getting lots of blisters on short practice hikes. Often times, those old hiking boots you’ve been wearing for years are actually exactly what you need on the JMT.]

J:  Additional note on shoes…Heather is right.  Don’t buy new hiking shoes without breaking them in before the hike.  She was able to figure out that her old shoes were better for her.  I however, had some pretty worn out shoes that needed replacing.  So I spent a few months before the JMT testing out 2 different pairs of hiking shoes on multiple trips and landed on a pair that I thought would be great. Sometimes you can follow all the expert advice to prepare for a long hike, but still end up in misery. Everyone’s feet are different, but my “expert” advice is to test out shoes and if you are prone to blisters then START the hike wrapping your feet in leukotape and don’t take it off. 

IMG_2012 (1)

After taking Jennifer’s tent, we got back on track and made the decision the night before to stop off at Muir Trail Ranch. Jennifer had stocked up on blister supplies at VVR, but she’d already blown through a good amount of them and at this point, we didn’t have a way to get in touch with Chris to bring anything in for her and we had 10 days of hiking left if we were going to finish this thing. So if veering off-trail for a couple of miles meant a chance at getting her more blister supplies, it was well worth it. The downside of this new plan meant that we had even more descending to do, since MTR was an even further descent than the already horrendous descent we were doing at this point. Yay.

This is essentially what I mean when saying that this was the hardest day for both of us, but for different reasons: During one of the worst descents of the JMT thus far (right before MTR), I ended up hiking ahead of Jennifer by probably a quarter of a mile or so – at this point she was practically wincing with every step (but quietly) and was having serious thoughts of finding a way off of this trail. I knew there was nothing I could do or say that could take away all of that pain, and my making small talk while hiking wasn’t even going to take her mind off of things, and probably would make things worse, if anything. And on the other side of the coin, being around Jennifer at that point also wasn’t good for me – hiking the JMT was the experience of a lifetime, something most people never do, and here we were having a miserable time despite being surrounded by scenery that is so utterly amazing, the pictures can’t even do it justice. I wanted to try to hang on to those good feelings as much as I could, so getting a little distance between us was something I needed, too. I think we both knew how we each felt, but given that we were in such different circumstances physically, it was really hard to “put ourselves in each others shoes”, so to speak (Pun totally intended, btw). We definitely weren’t mad at each other at all, but we both knew we needed a little space here.

J:  The descent into MTR was the worst part of the hike on the worst day of the hike.  I was in tears the whole way down, wincing in pain and using my hiking poles to brace each painful step.  As Heather mentioned, she was pretty far ahead of me, which was a good thing for both of us.  I didn’t think she’d want to hear me whimpering and complaining all day and I needed to work out some sort of plan in my head to solve this foot issue.  Silence on the trail was the best thing for me at this point.

Strangely enough, we were actually thinking very similarly – both of us were wondering if Jennifer would be able to finish the hike, wondering if I’d continue without her or leave with her, wondering how we’d both feel about either of those options, and how both of those options would play out in terms of exiting, finding civilization, reconnecting if we parted ways, etc etc. You see, this isn’t something we discussed ahead of time – although we always knew there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to complete the JMT (shit happens, right?), we both decided we’d approach that issue if we had to, because we really had no idea how we’d feel about making these decisions unless we were in that situation.

IMG_2015 (1)

damn you, Muir Trail Ranch!

Okay, so with that said, we slowly but surely went down, down, down to Muir Trail Ranch. Now, if any of you reading this have done or are planning to do the JMT, you’ve heard about MTR. Rumors of rudeness abound. Not that we had any major run-ins with anyone, but it was clear that the MTR resupply was a business – no more, no less. They had a very militant, yet well-organized system of bins that were free to peruse, and they had a nice power strip for charging your electronics if needed, and that was about all of the good stuff. No smiles, no “how’s the hike?”, no “fuck off, you bastards!”, no nothing. And most importantly for us, no god forsaken blister supplies, or at least not much. Jennifer took what she could find, then we sat on the ground and ate our lunches (today’s gourmet selection I clearly remember – peanut butter tortillas), and then we found the MTR “store”, which was also completely and totally out of any blister supplies.

All in all, MTR was an absolute failure. The best part about it was being able to get rid of the small bag of trash we’d procured since leaving VVR – whoopee!

J:  To say that MTR was a disappointment was an understatement.  The hiker bins have a lot of food supplies – worth stopping if you need a refill to make it to Whitney.  They did not, however, have any first aid supplies for my feet.  The first aid in the hiker bins looked like it had been sitting there for months and would probably infect my feet rather than help heal them.  The “store” had one shelf of supplies that was of no use for me.  So I sat there and cried over our peanut butter tortillas, debated whether I could leave the trail, and ultimately sucked it up and figured I’d make it to the end somehow before my feet fell off.

Apparently there are hot springs off the trail to MTR that are pretty awesome to swim in and hang out there for the day.  At the time though, it didn’t seem like sticking my feet in muddy hot water was going to help anything.  Heather didn’t seem to have any interest in swimming even if it was a hot spring instead of a freezing cold lake, so we decided to skip it.

IMG_5906

I (heart) bridges

We didn’t waste any more time at ‘the ranch’, and headed back for the JMT. At this point, Jennifer probably would have seriously considered leaving the JMT altogether if there’d been a trail that would have taken her to civilization, but all of the entry points in this area simply led to nowhere, i.e. a trailhead with a parking lot, at which point we’d be forced to hitch a ride somewhere. While that was probably pretty easy at these junctures (the town of Bishop wasn’t too far away), we knew that wasn’t a safe bet, either alone or with both of us doing it, so the discussion just never happened and we forged ahead.

IMG_2024 (1)

still amazed that, despite the horrible horrible pain, Jennifer managed to smile for selfies! #totalbadass

Coming out of MTR scenery-wise was nothing too exciting until we reached Piute Creek and began hiking along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. This was a really cool part of the trail, although it wouldn’t be great if you had to pee because all you hear is constant rushing of water. The trail itself was relatively flat here, as we were only descending about 500 feet over the course of at least 3 miles.

IMG_5901

I’m not sure when, but at some point in this day we decided to alter our stopping point. Our original plan was to get up to the ‘Evolution Creek wade’, but that would have required ascending about 700 feet in 1.5 miles, and that wasn’t anything either one of us were interested in doing at the end of the day. Jennifer was in pain all day, and while I normally felt alright most of the time, the weight of my pack (+ tent) was taking a major toll on my feet, which wasn’t unusual at the end of the day, but my shoulders and back were also starting to become pretty sore. So without too much discussion, we decided we’d stop at the campsite right before that junction, at Goddard Canyon, and make up the mileage the next day.

IMGP1742

Goddard Canyon. more like god damn canyon.

Our campsite, as you can see here, is in a nice little woody area. And the picture above shows truly how accurate the term ‘canyon’ is – we were literally entrenched between two gigantic boulders on either side of us. Looking at them knowing that’s where we had to climb the next day was not comforting. Looking at it also made us realize that we would have never made it up that far that day, too, so we settled for a reasonable end-of-day around 5:30 and left it at that.

Also, note in the picture below how well I care for my hiking poles. Jennifer is always so caring with hers, propping them up against a tree or rock (green poles behind the left side of the tent here), but I just toss mine to the ground (left side of tent near the tree). They are truly a lifesaver to have on the JMT (do NOT go without hiking poles!), but at the end of the day, they are dead to me.

IMGP1744

J:look how CLEAN that tent is H!😉

You know the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’? Well, with regard to this experience on the JMT, I completely and totally agree with it. Here’s why: As we’ve already mentioned, this day was really hard for the both of us, and we were struggling to find a solution to Jennifer’s blisters that would get us to the end of this trip in one piece together. I’d offered up any and every solution I could think of, having read a decent amount about blister care prior to starting this hike – just in case. At one point I’d suggested she just slap some duct tape on her feet (the Internets said that duct tape is good for anything, and that included blisters!), but since duct tape is like, really really strong, she was obviously hesitant to do this since it was a little bit more ‘permanent’ than a bandaid and cloth and moleskin. And part of her probably also thought I was out of my mind for suggesting it, and unfortunately I didn’t have any proof that it worked, other than random people on the Interwebs.

But thank fucking goodness for our camp-mates that night! We ended up setting up right beside 2 other females hiking together, and started making small talk with them. One of them had hiked the JMT in the past, and was redoing part of the trail with the other girl – they had just gotten started. Fortunately, Jennifer started talking about her blisters and how bad they were, and the woman admitted that she had the exact same problem when she did the JMT. So Jennifer said, “what did you do?”. Answer – DUCT TAPE.

Imagine angels singing “hallelujah” in the background, and loudly.

Needless to say, hearing it straight from a person who’d been through the exact situation (and who still had skin on her feet) was precisely what Jennifer needed that night. For about two seconds, I thought about how different the past couple of days might have been had she just listened to me, but I knew that was pointless, and it was all about moving forward at this point. And truthfully, I get it – duct tape does sound like a crazy crazy idea.

J:  I was not in disagreement with Heather’s original idea of using duct tape, but we didn’t really have that much left.  I’d used a good chunk of my duct tape on my water bladder that got a leak on day 2, and Heather had only brought a few pieces that she’d stuck onto her bear canister.  I was worried about using all of our duct tape on my stupid feet and then not having it if we were to need it for some major gear repair later on.  However, if I kept using a new round of band-aids and leukotape every day, I would only have a few more days of supplies left for my feet.  So slapping the last of my bandages on my feet, wrapping them with duct tape, and leaving that on for a few days seemed like my best and only option.  So, YES, thank you trail angel lady AND Heather (again) for encouraging me to use that duct tape.  I’m positive my feet would have fallen off without you.

This might sound dramatic, and this woman will never know it, but she was a true Trail Fairy. I’m going to say that without a doubt, meeting her and hearing her advice was the very reason that Days 12-20 happened (that, and the fact that Jennifer probably wouldn’t have quit anyway if it really came down to it because she is 1) stubborn and 2) badass). And not only did Days 12-20 happen, but we turned a major corner and we had a lot of really fun times and lots of smiles and adventures ahead of us. If I could go back to that night, I probably would have given her one of my Snickers bars, or at least shared one with her. Or given her a bite. Okay, maybe just a big stinky hug.

Thank you, nice lady/Trail Fairy at Goddard Canyon on August 4, 2015!!

IMG_2030

the deer get so close!


Day 11 Details (August 4, 2015):

Start-Finish: Marie Lake Outlet to Goddard Canyon Junction
Daily Miles: ~16
Mileage Tally: 130.9
Camp elevation: 8,480 ft
Hiking Elevation: 1,005 ft gain; 3,111 ft loss

IMG_5888

John Muir Trail, Day 10: VVR to Marie Lake Outlet

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 10.58.45 PM

Leaving VVR on Day 10 was a little bit like leaving summer camp, except that you leave with people rather than leaving them behind (ok, except Cole – we left him behind forever! such sadness). Oh, and you actually like those people as opposed to the camp crew. Ok, fine. Maybe my one experience at summer camp was worse than most people’s – I just remember a lot of cattiness and way too many water sports, which I don’t prefer. That’s why I hike…

IMG_1976

Okay, so maybe it’s not like summer camp. Nonetheless, two things were true – 1) it was both exciting and scary to start the last half of this trip, knowing this was the last little bit of “luxury” we’d get for 10 days and 2) when we paid our “tab” at the register that morning (read Day 9 for background), I had this feeling akin to paying a bar tab in college after a night of heavy drinking – “wait, it’s how much?? I swear I didn’t drink that much”… I’m sure Chris had a hissy fit back home when that charge hit our account – I mean how do you spend hundreds of dollars in the freaking woods? Go to VVR, that’s how.

J:  That bill was a bit shocking, but then again, I did buy 12 individual band-aids for like $50.  Ok, so maybe that was an exaggeration, but it was a little ridiculous.  Even though it was a little pricey, I would still recommend stopping at VVR to anyone hiking the JMT.  Friendly staff/volunteers, good food, BEER, comfy yurt (or nice, close backpacker tent area), clean bathrooms/showers, laundry, and stocked supply store.  Just keep better tabs on the cost of everything than we did!

IMG_1977

try really hard not to look at Cole’s pants here. I dare you.

So before we hit the road, we took another group picture. Our family was shrinking! We were leaving Cole behind, and now it would just be the 5 of us until Chris arrived. I should mention here that there was another girl we met at VVR (can’t remember her name…Valerie? Vanessa? Why do I keep thinking it started with V? I guess it doesn’t matter..). She was doing the JMT in something like 10 days, so we didn’t see her again.

J:  It was Alyssa!  We also met Zane and Tamara, the couple from NC who make chocolate (so good). We hung out on the stoop all day while we were all doing laundry.   Those three were super fast, ultralight backpackers so we knew we wouldn’t see them again.  That part might be like summer camp…meeting cool people for a short time and then knowing we’ll never see them again?

Also, I have to call out a sexy new addition to the hike – Jennifer’s new ‘gaiters’ (leg socks). She really splurged on these at VVR – since she wears shorts most of the time, these were supposed to keep the dirt and rocks away, which, even though it might not sound like a big deal, can really be a big deal. I had a dirt tan and rashes for days after this trip because of the dirt, and I wore pants every day – so wearing shorts clearly makes that even worse. We saw quite a few people sporting them on the trail, but no ones were as bad ass as Jennifer’s. I mean – they’re camo – you can’t even see them…

Also, though I never saw the footage, Andrew took an amazing video of Cole when we were leaving. Since the trail head was a ways away from VVR, you get a ride in a truck that takes you to the starting point at Bear Creek Junction, and Cole made a totally cheesy dramatic run for the truck when we pulled out. I imagine it being one of the funnier things in life if I had the chance to watch it in slow motion, and with a perfect 80’s power ballad playing in the background.

IMG_5886

A horizontal rainbow!  What does it mean?

Alright, enough with the rambling. We’ve got to get this thing started. So we got to the trail head as early as we possibly could have. And of course our young whippersnapper friends hauled ass like they were in a race to the finish line as soon as we got out of the truck. Jennifer and I basically waived a “see ya later” and kept our regular pace. Of course, Jennifer will talk more about this in the days ahead, but while the resting at VVR did us both some good, there never would have been enough days to heal the blisters she was getting, so it wasn’t long before that pain kicked in again. Also, our packs were the heaviest this day than they’d ever be on this trip – so that was a major impact especially after a day of laziness. We all weighed our packs upon leaving VVR that day, and we were all terrified. My pack was normally in the mid-30s, but this day it was closer to 40 pounds. And we felt every ounce.

J:  I feel the need to fill in a little bit more background on the debate over the trail options out of VVR.  There were two trails heading out of VVR to connect back to the JMT.  Bear Ridge was shorter but steeper, versus Bear Creek which was about 3 miles longer and less steep.  All day at the “stoop” and later over whiskey, we had been debating as a group which trail to take.  I had gone to sleep that night thinking the group had reached a consensus to take the Bear Ridge trail, which was my preference.  The massive blisters forming on my feet were excited about a shorter hike, even if it was steeper.

I didn’t find out until we were in the truck heading to the trail head that the group had made a last minute change and we were headed to the Bear Creek trail head.  I was not excited, but just had to roll with it since we were committed at that point.   What’s another 3 miles on popping blisters?  Well, I was about to find out.  The locals at VVR did say it was the prettier of the two choices, so at least there would be distractions.

Bear Creek Trail was chock full of waterfalls and beautiful little vistas, so we stopped a little here and there to take some pictures, and during one of the stops we officially met our second set of JMT buddies – a group we called the “Tallahassee Lassies” because we’re cheesy like that. And unoriginal. They were a group of four men (age range probably 50s-60s?) from…..wait for it…. Tallahassee. They told us they do trips like this every year together, maybe not as big as the JMT, but something fun, boys only. I immediately decided to make it a life goal to procure close girlfriends I could do this with again in 30 years.

J:  I’m in!  Those guys were awesome.  I hope we’re in as good a shape and as adventurous as they are in 30 years (probably more like 20…we’re older than you think). 

IMG_1988

our lunch spot – rainbows were just too boring.

I guess we eventually decided we’d seen enough waterfalls, because when we decided we wanted lunch all of them were gone, and we ended up just dumping our stuff down in a nondescript section of the trail and eating right along the trail. We also needed to fill up our water at this point, so it was also here that we chose the hardest spot to get to for water – a teeny creek behind a bunch of briars. You know – starting off from a free day was too easy otherwise – we needed some challenges. Plus, every lunch and water hole can’t be exciting – what ever would we look forward to otherwise??!

I’m pretty sure we made the wiser choice by going the longer, less steep Bear Creek Trail that day as opposed to the shorter, steeper Bear Ridge Trail, but the mileage caught up to us, even if it was only a couple of miles longer. After about 10 miles on the side trail, we finally reached the junction to the JMT and took that opportunity to have a good snack and break. At the junction, we met a solo hiker who wasn’t hiking the JMT, but had been hiking the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. I didn’t write much about him in my journal (worse historian ever = me), but I remember him having some issue with one of his legs, and we were both pretty impressed that he’d made it as far as he had. He was good people – we chatted for 10 minutes or so, and then made our way south, happy to be back on the JMT and closer to camp.

IMG_5887

on the road/JMT again!

Once we were back on the actual JMT, we had about 6 miles to go before getting to our final stop for the night, Marie Lakes. That part of the trail was really gorgeous – lots of hiking right along Bear Creek, and we took quite a few breaks which made the day long, but really peaceful too, in a way.

IMGP1728

Bear Creek; I just realized this picture is nearly identical to Lizzy’s picture (p.129 in 5th edition)!

One of our favorite stops that day was along Bear Creek where there were a few nice waterfalls and a good place to sit. We filled up our water and just took advantage of a bright sunny spot, sitting to relax in the sun before the final jaunt.

IMG_5888

Given that we’d be hiking about 15 miles on our first day back on the trail, we thought about stopping a little earlier, around the Rose Lake Junction. We ultimately decided against it, since the following day we’d be going over Selden Pass and a decent ways further after that point. It was only a mile or so different, but we’d heard how beautiful Marie Lakes was, so we didn’t want to rush past it in the morning if we didn’t have to.

IMG_5889

We were not disappointed. I think we rolled into camp around 7 that night, certainly later than most days, but we were ok with it given how many times we stopped to enjoy the scenery. Trail life is really odd – even though it was still daylight, there were almost no hikers out at camp – everyone was already in their tents and probably going to sleep for the night. Our pattern wasn’t too far from that, especially on this half of the trip. We thought we saw Brittany and Courtney’s tent a ways away, so we figured we’d see them in the morning before we all took off. We did our normal routine of setting up the tent, cleaning up, and making dinner, but I allowed some time to take some pictures while the sun was setting, too. This section of trail was part of the John Muir Wilderness, and the scenery was definitely noticeably different from Ansel Adams Wilderness – fewer trees, more massive mountains, and more gorgeous expansive alpine lakes.

J: I know we say this a lot, but this day was one of the prettiest days of hiking so far. Horizontal rainbows, hiking along a creek all day, and topping it off at Marie Lakes for a gorgeous sunset.  

IMGP1737

All in all, it was a beautiful day, even though we were both already sore and tired and even more sore from the heavy packs we were now carrying. I was definitely starting to become used to taking 2 ibuprofens at night and 2 each morning as a result of the pain in my feet and mainly ankles each day and was happy that I had a fresh resupply from my VVR package. Jennifer’s blisters were also not better, and there was a lot of talk of exiting the trail during today’s hike, although we both truly hoped that wasn’t going to happen.

J:  I did have a little breakdown when we finally stopped for the night and I took my shoes off to reveal the damage from the long day of hiking on my blistered feet.  I wasn’t sure how much more my feet could take, but I was hoping for the best and really was just too stubborn to quit.

The next day, we decided we’d stop off at the Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), the final true resupply spot on the JMT. We hadn’t originally intended to go, but Jennifer wanted to play it safe and stock up again on blister supplies, and to see if there was anything more hardcore than what was available at VVR. We’d also go over Selden Pass and start to set ourselves up for the more difficult passes along the trail, but also some really notable spots, higher elevation, and amazing scenery.


Day 10 Details (August 3, 2015):

Start-Finish: VVR to Marie Lake Outlet
Daily Miles: 15.2
Mileage Tally: 114.9
Camp elevation: 10,550 ft
Hiking Elevation: 5,070 ft gain; 1,030 ft loss (approximate)

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

IMG_1973

John Muir Trail, Day 9: Zero Day at VVR!

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 9.24.45 PM

BOOM BITCHES! We posted two days in one freaking week! Take that, internets. —

It’s hard to describe what it felt like to wake up on this ‘zero day’, knowing we didn’t have to take down the tent, find a “bathroom”, or worry about how far we’d get and how long it would take. All we had to do is shower, eat, and wash clothes. Oh, and find the resupplies we’d mailed to ourselves! In short, it felt pretty fucking awesome. We were very proud of ourselves for planning this day of rest, and even more proud of ourselves that we’d actually made it here.

IMG_1973

the yurt

Our living quarters consisted of a round canvas room (a yurt) with a kitchenette and a small outhouse right near the front door. It sounds simple, and it was, but it was so luxurious. The showers were back near the main check-in area at VVR and required quarters to access. They were also timed. We’d quickly learn that the folks at VVR would nickel and dime you everywhere they possibly could – nothing outside of the room itself and the first beer upon arrival was included in the rate. A band-aid would set you back 20 cents (and ask Jennifer – blister care adds up at that place), and a regular diner-style lunch was 20 bucks. They kept a tally on paper of all of your expenses, and we’d pay the day we checked out. This was smart, because it’s easier to rack up a tab if you aren’t paying as you go.

J:  I think my resupply of blister tape, 12 band-aids (yes, you paid for the individual band-aid), and antiseptic cost me about $50…ridiculous, but necessary.  Those folks know how to run a business in the middle of nowhere.   

The yurt was pretty awesome.  It was teeny tiny, but had a real bed and that was more than enough for our tired, beat up bodies.  We both slept so soundly that we didn’t even wake up to all the craziness that happened in the backpackers tent area the night before.  Apparently, one of the hikers got so drunk that he stumbled/fell onto his tent (with his buddy inside asleep) and puked all over their gear.  Needless to say, all the backpackers in the area woke up and were super pissed about it in the morning…especially the friend who got puked on that we met at the laundry room as he was trying to dry his $700 sleeping bag.  

IMG_1974

the view of the “lake” from the yurt

In the morning once we showered, we made our way to find the laundry facilities and the location of our resupply buckets. We found mine pretty easily, but Jennifer’s was buried back in the little shed the resupplies were stored in, which prompted both of us to freak out just a tad, considering her bucket held all the snacks we’d consume for the next 7 days. Two of our friends in SF, Beau and Sheena, has also sent us a care package. Even though we had to pay $20 for every package we had stored, it was well worth the extra few bucks to get a surprise from friends – it was really priceless, actually.

IMG_5878

our letter from friends

Once we had all of our packages in our possession and started laundry, we made our way back to the yurt and tore into it all. It was sorta like the feeling you got on Christmas day, especially if you were like me and already knew what you were getting anyway – it was just fun to open it nonetheless.

In addition to a bunch of awesome snacks (chocolate granola! more Snickers bars! miso soup! bacon jerky! potatoes that just required the addition of water!), we also had a nice letter from Beau and Sheena that was so perfectly timed, we thought they’d been spying on us. You see, Jennifer and I both knew that we’d get on each other’s nerves at some point. I mean, we were basically together nonstop and torturing our bodies along the way, so it’s not surprising that people who get along relatively well in the real world get annoyed with one another on the JMT. (Note again: for those of you planning this hike, or something similar, choose your hiking partner wisely! It can make or break this adventure!) That said, the words “stay good to each other” made us both start crying like little bitches. All in all, we’d actually gotten along pretty well up until this point, but the day away from the trail was well-timed not just from a physical standpoint, but also mentally. We just needed to refuel and regroup, and this letter reminded us of how awesome we both were, and how cool it was that we were doing this together. Then we proceeded to tear into the chocolate granola. Obvi.

J:  YES, that little extra care package was just enough to make us both feel better.  Like H said, we knew we’d annoy the shit out of each other at some point over stupid stuff, but we’d get over it as good friends do.  A few words to make us both tear up, hug it out, and then it was all out of our system.  Back to focusing on the food!

IMG_5879

resupply supplies

As you can see from the above picture, we had a decent amount of organizing to do that day, too. We’d been hiking long enough by this point to know what we did and didn’t want to eat any longer, as well as whether the serving sizes were the right size. So we laid it all out and tried our best to make sure that we only carried what we knew we’d eat for the next 7 days, keeping in mind that once we left VVR, we didn’t have a place to unload trash or unwanted food until we hit the end of the JMT. We ended up with a decent amount of extra food, and were able to hand some off to our buddies, and the rest went into the “free hiker bin” out front. So yeah, there was a free bin, but it generally contained old food and stuff that people didn’t want or recognize. I’m sure people appreciated our bags since they were labeled with the name of the dish, amount of water needed, and time require to rehydrate. Yes, friends, my OCD tendencies came through here, but I was totally ok with that.

The worst part about VVR is the absolute lack of cell signal throughout the property. Of course, they allowed you to buy internet in hourly increments (another $20) or for a day ($100). Total ripoff, right? Every so often, you could find a spot with service, but you had to talk fast and stay still. Using this very scientific method, we were both able to use one of our phones to talk for a few minutes at a time to Chris & Jon, and briefly to some family, but it ultimately was too frustratingly painful to do that for long. I eventually caved in and got an hour of wi-fi, and Chris and I texted back and forth for most of the hour to make sure we had everything in line for the meet-up with him (again, this was our last chance to talk to him before he met us).

J:  It was unexpectedly hard for me to have almost zero contact with my husband or my family during the last 15 days of the hike.  I think I needed my husband, my sisters, or my parents to give me an outsider’s opinion on my blister situation or a swift kick in the ass to encourage me to toughen up and finish this thing.  It seems stupid looking back on it now, but I was mentally struggling at this point and really starting to worry about my feet making it to the end.  At least there was cold beer and whiskey to ease the pain…for now.

IMG_1975

whisky on the porch with Cole

Of course, we also spent some time with our buddies. Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew had all arrived the day before, as did we, and Cole arrived super early the morning of our free day. He had reservations and a planned zero day the following day, so now he’d found himself with an extra day! Super cool; he’d considered hiking out with us the following day (ok, maybe he considered it for 2 seconds), but he was meeting his girlfriend later on, so it just made more sense for him to chill here, because ultimately he’d get stuck hanging out somewhere if he left with our group.

When we weren’t organizing our resupply or eating, we were doing laundry. There were only 2 washers and 2 dryers, so you kinda had to hover. As a result, we spent a few hours just hanging out on the stoop outside the laundry room. It was here that I was able to teach people about the TV show, 227, because I made a joke that us hanging outside on the stoop reminded me of that show. This is also where I totally revealed my age….and knack for finding quality tv.

J:  227!  I still can’t believe people didn’t catch that reference.  It’s off the meat rack, or whatever NC phrases you pulled out of your back pocket hanging on the stoop!:)

At the end of the night, we shared some of our whisky with the group outside of their tent/room/whatever you call it (picture above). We had a couple of options regarding our exit strategy the following morning, so we took some time to figure out what we all wanted to do, and decided we’d just all do the same thing and come to an agreement. Ultimately, we chose the route that was a little bit longer, but less steep. Who knew if it would be the better option – we’d soon find out, since we were getting up pretty early the next morning, with over 150 miles to go. Zero day was quickly coming to an end!


Day 9 Details (August 2, 2015):

Start-Finish: Vermilion Valley Resort
Daily Miles: ZERO!
Mileage Tally: 101.2
Camp elevation: 8,000 ft

IMG_5849

John Muir Trail, Day 8: Lake Virginia to Vermilion Valley Resort

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 9.24.00 PM

I have to briefly continue the conversation from the last post, because Jennifer and I hung out together a couple of weeks ago and we were joking about the final section. I honestly did not remember the gigantic blow-up that we had, but it’s probably safe to say that it had something to do with my piss-poor tent-pitching skills (or at least, failure to meet Jennifer’s unusually high hygienic standards when it came to tent-pitching. Her husband’s nickname for her (“shit pig”) was not lived up to like I’d expected, and feared. I guess that’s a good thing, in many ways.). Anyway, I didn’t write anything about it in my journal, but I’m sure she was right. We were definitely in need of a physical and emotional break from the trail.

J:  here we go with the tent thing again…:)  I think the biggest issue was wanting a break from the long days of hiking, sore feet, and needing a beer!

IMG_5844

Not a bad view, eh? This is Lake Virginia first thing in the morning

Ok, with that covered, let’s get on to talking about the longest day in all of creation – Day 8 of the JMT. This was probably the earliest we’d actually gotten on the trail – 6:30am – because we knew we had some hardcore hiking to do. We weren’t sure if we’d see Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew at VVR that night, as their original plan was to arrive early the following morning, but we’d said our goodbyes the night before and knew we’d see them that day or the following at VVR.

Back before the big California drought, there used to be a giant lake (Edison) right near Vermilion Valley Resort, and you could wait at one end for a water taxi to take you straight in to the resort, saving tired hikers a good 4 miles of hiking, and getting them to a cold beer an hour or two quicker. Those days, we learned, were no more – the lake was so dried up that the taxi wasn’t even guaranteed to be running, and if it was, it wasn’t nearly as awesome as it was since it only covered about half of the lake.

I tell you this because it led us all to considering alternate routes in an effort to shave off a little time. The typical route on the JMT would take you up and over the first official pass of the JMT, Silver Pass, but it required a significant amount of elevation, and we wouldn’t get to it until the afternoon, which, to make this day even more awesome – it was threatening to rain again according to the weather when we checked at Red’s. So we’d done some research earlier and ultimately, Jennifer and I decided to re-route and head to VVR via Goodale Pass, hopefully saving some time and some precious miles.

Side note: We later learned that the husbands and other stalkers trackers of our route via the Spot device we carried were less-than-pleased this day, as there was concern we’d taken the “wrong” path and wandered off the JMT accidentally (this was one of my reasons against carrying that damn thing – unwarranted worry among friends and parents. clearly I lost that battle, didn’t I??!).

IMG_5848

heading down to Tully Hole, one of my favorite morning hikes.

Despite this being the longest day on earth, I have to admit that this was one of my favorite days, scenery-wise, up to this point. We started the morning with a short ascent (you know we always LOVE getting our blood pumping first thing!) and then began a beautiful descent into Tully Hole. The pictures never adequately show how truly amazing these views are – lush green trees, little rivers (streams?), and gorgeous mountains – I couldn’t stop staring down, but I realized I had to given the fact that the trail itself was pretty narrow.

IMG_5849

view down to Tully Hole

IMG_5850

okay, one more. I can’t help myself.

We eventually got far enough down that the beauty of that area around us was quickly overshadowed by a wet, muddy, mosquito-laden swamp – Tully Hole. Ugh. It wasn’t ugly, I mean, this is the JMT after all, but damn, I thought I’d escaped the mosquitoes. I couldn’t get through this area fast enough, only after we got out of “the hole”, we were met with a swift kick in the ass by means of an ascent up to Squaw Lake.

IMGP1719

Squaw Lake, a great spot for some trail mix!

We were really happy to get to Squaw Lake, and although we had a lot more hiking to do that day, we took advantage of the scenery and had a mosquito-free break. Brittany and Courtney had caught up to us by this point (surprise!), so we talked to them briefly – they were going the regular route over Silver Pass, still unsure if they’d go to VVR.

IMG_5861

and a bird bath for Brittany and Courtney😉

J:  Look at how inviting that water looks!  By this time, the blisters on my feet were getting pretty bad.  It took me about 1/2 an hour each morning to bandage them up and get my feet into my shoes.  So while the idea of soaking my feet in the water or going for a swim in the crystal clear Squaw Lake in the background was SUPER tempting, the fact that I was running out of bandages trumped all that.  This spot, and the morning hike up to it, sure was beautiful though!

While reading about the alternate route to Goodale Pass, we’d become aware that the trail wasn’t well marked, and the last thing we wanted was to get lost on an already long day. So we walked super slow (slower than usual) and came across a blatantly obvious sign within a short period of time. Apparently a lot of people had missed the sign, so a shiny new one was put up just in time for our adventure. Shew!

IMG_1954

We saw the sign, and it opened up our eyes, we saw the sign!

The hike up to Goodale Pass was so different, terrain-wise, from any part of the trail we’d covered thus far. It was completely exposed, hot, unshaded, and dry. It was also fairly steep, so this was one of the times that Jennifer and I separated a little bit and turned on our own tunes for some motivation.

IMG_5865

heading up to Goodale

Before too long, we came across the clearing and a huge group of people sitting around like they didn’t have a care in the world. We happily stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes – they were day hikers who’d come up the other side of the pass. At this point, the weather was clear, the sun was shining, and the rest of the day was going to be a cake walk….

J:  I had a love/hate relationship with Goodale Pass. It was hot as balls going up it for some reason.  It might have been because we were climbing in the middle of the day instead of first thing in the morning like we’d gotten used to.  It made a huge difference. BUT, we passed a few lakes along the way and if you stopped to look back and check out the view (quite frequently like I did…for the view, not to catch my breath), it was pretty amazing.  You could see all three lakes right before we got to the top of the pass, but I don’t think I got a picture of it because the top sort of crept up on us and then the view was gone.  I sure as hell wasn’t going back down for a photo.  Not that the view at the top was really all that bad either…

Also, the group we met at the top assured us that it was only 6-8 miles back to VVR instead of the 10 miles we were planning, so we were more than excited about that.  Unfortunately, that was a load of bullshit.  BUT at that moment, we were relieved to think we’d be at VVR for the much-anticipated Saturday night BBQ!

I can’t believe I forgot that those day hikers were asshole liars. It’s like the most horrible version of the “mile/mile and a half” statements all of us hikers make (and yes, we did say that quite a few times!).

IMG_5867

gorgeous view at the pass. clear skies for days. or hours… womp womp.

The trip down and over the pass started out relatively uneventfully. It was open, grassy, a little more steep on the descent than we’d liked, but not too bad. And then we hit the woods, and the clouds appeared, getting darker by the second. Pretty soon (ok, maybe a couple of miles, but it felt fast) the rain came down and this quickly turned into a pretty miserable hike. Of course, it didn’t help that we were still gradually going downhill, which meant we couldn’t walk as fast as we wanted to since it was wet and slippery. So awesome. It also didn’t help that we weren’t sure how much farther we had to go, since this was a less-than-optimally-marked alternate trail. But we knew we were on the right path, and we knew we were getting closer and closer, and more soaked by the minute. But that free day was coming!

J:  Hiking downhill is typically pretty awesome compared to hiking uphill.  Not with blisters.  It seems like blisters hurt 25 times worse going downhill.  Add rain, hail, thunder/lighting forcing us to pack up the hiking poles that I was using as crutches (because we were afraid they’d attract lightning and kill us before we could eat the bbq), and the blisters on my feet hurt about 50 times more than usual.  So, yeah, no.  This was not a fun part of the day.  I’d go ahead and say it was the worst part of the trip so far.

IMG_5874

best sign of the day!

J:  The end is never the end…this sign was at the parking lot at the trail head.  We soon discovered it was another mile (or felt like a mile) to actually get to VVR.  We were SO close! And check out that fancy rain cover making its appearance again!

Finally, after literally 20 miles of hiking, we saw what can only be described as the hiker’s version of the Emerald City. We heard people singing, glasses clinking, music playing, and my oh my, we saw real freaking food. The coolest part was that we got a round of applause when we walked up – it was a mighty good feeling.

Not long after we practically threw our packs on the ground, (I hadn’t named her yet, but soon-to-be Sophie was a real bitch that day and she deserved it) we plopped down with a stranger who we later learned was hiking the JMT south-to-north and grabbed a beer and dinner. We were hoping for BBQ since it was Saturday which was supposedly “BBQ night”, but for whatever reason they didn’t have it that night (I honestly can’t remember why – maybe Jennifer does..). I don’t even know what I ate that night, but it hit the spot, even if it was overpriced and probably not really that great in the grand scheme of things – it wasn’t dehydrated, and it was washed down with cold beer!

J:  FREE cold beer (the 1st one anyway), beef brisket, potatoes au gratin, and apple pie a la mode. They didn’t have a full-out BBQ because they didn’t have enough volunteer staff to work (at least I think that was the lame reason), but I still remember what I ate.  The brisket was a rock and cost $20, but worth it.

IMG_5875

the outside “dining area” at VVR

About an hour after we arrived, Brittany and Courtney showed up – super tired and super wet, just like us. Andrew had made it a little earlier, because, you know – Andrew. All in all, we were all glad to be there and to have a completely free day with absolutely no hiking the following day. The hardest thing we had to do was shower and wash our clothes. And eat😉.


Day 8 (August 1, 2015):

Start-Finish: Lake Virginia to Vermilion Valley Resort
Daily Miles: ~18.0
Mileage Tally: 101.2
Camp elevation: 8,000 ft
Hiking Elevation: 2,247 ft gain; 4,803 ft loss