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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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