John Muir Trail from the Perspective of Andrew Kelley
198 miles - July 24, 2011 through August 4, 2011
- Day 1 - First Day of Hiking
- Day 2 - Donahue Pass to Some Lake
- Day 3 - Some Lake to Deer Creek Crossing
- Day 4 - Halfway to Duck Lake to Mono Creek
- Day 5 - Mono Creek to Senger Creek
- Day 6 - Senger Creek to Something Meadow
- Day 7 - Muir Pass
- Day 8 - Mather Pass, Almost
- Day 9 - The "Matherhorn" Pass and Pinchot Pass
- Day 10 - Glen Pass - 15 miles
- Day 11 - Forrester Pass - 13 miles
- Day 12 - Mt. Whitney - 22 miles
Day 1 - First Day of Hiking
July 24, 2011
I woke up to a cool and crisp morning. The tent Dad and I brought is extremely fast to construct and tear down, lightweight, and just the right size for the two of us. Dad crowded me a bit but it didn't bother me at all. He's on old man; he needs his space.
Mike, Paul, Dad, and I took our time packing up camp. We had 5 hours to kill waiting for Bruce and Chris to arrive. I tried organizing my pack a different way, which made it easier to carry, but made my food less accessible.
When we left camp, Dad grumbled something about not paying the $5 / person fee for staying in the campgrounds. I told him I didn't understand how he thought that was morally different than cracking your neighbor's DirecTV service, a reference to a discussion we had had earlier. He said that he thought I was right, so we walked back and paid the $20 for the 4 of us.
We drove the rental car just down the road to a convenience store, where I purchased a sewing kit for my sleeping bag and sunglasses for the snowy passes that lied ahead. Just then, Bruce and Chris walked in. It was fun to see them, not expecting them for another four and a half hours.
Dad and I called the rental place and found out that the nearest drop off was not 6 miles away as we thought, but rather 50 minutes away. Dad and Mike drove the rental car and Bruce's PT Cruiser down and came back in the PT Cruiser 2 hours later.
Soon we were at the trail head taking the obligatory photo, and then on our way. The trail ran alongside a beautiful creek/river with dozens of shallow crossings. My new boots worked like champions, water and mud alike sliding off the top of the boots, leaving them looking spotless. Pretty cool.
After a short food and water break, intense uphill, and a short but painful case of the runs, I arrived at the beautiful snowy valley where we are camped. After hot dinner thanks to Bruce's stove, Paul, Mike, Dad, and I played 3 rounds of hearts. Now I'm about to undress and sleep until first light.
These guys are such great company. Courteous and caring, yet comfortable with crude humor. I'm looking forward to the next 13 days.
Day 2 - Donahue Pass to Some Lake
July 25, 2011
I tossed and turned and dreamt all night. I dreamt that I wasn't being faithful to my girlfriend, and that I turned gay for a bit, accidentally.
I woke to Dad gently shaking my leg. Looking around I saw that everybody was just beginning to get up. I ended up being one of the first ones packed, so I scouted the river we would soon be crossing. Soon, we were on our way. With my belly full of oatmeal, and my legs fresh from sleep, I felt good.
Donahue Pass was somewhat tricky as far as staying on the trail. Although it was a beautiful sunny morning, there was still a significant amount of snow remaining.
The hike went on for a long, long time. I am happiest when debating or talking with someone. Bruce is very intelligent but his wordiness makes it difficult to really build an argument against him. On the other hand, wordiness is great in the context of killing time. Mike is straight out obstinate. He told me that I couldn't prove that science could handle morality in a logical manner. When I asked him to define "morality," he would not, instead telling me to define it, and then refusing to accept my definition. Every time I finally was beginning to make some progress in the discussion, he would change the subject. He would answer direct questions not with a definite answer, but by a lengthy allegory that was barely relevant.
The views that we witness are breathtaking. At least I'm sure they would be if I actually appreciated beauty. Still, I get pleasure from pointing out views and wildlife and watching my companions' reactions.
Toward the end of the hike we met 2 guys who knew the Ridenours through Katelin. How weird is that?
I enjoy the implicit camaraderie that nearly every hiker feels. Warm welcomes, trading of information, and sometimes even sharing food is common with the hikers we meet.
Dad asked about Sara today. She's been on my mind off and on this whole trip. It's weird to have a successful first date with someone I seem to "click" with, and then immediately leave town for 2 weeks. Oh well. Hopefully she'll still be interested in getting together when I get back.
The last 4 miles of the trail hurt. I forced achy tired muscles uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, and then more up. Everybody agreed the uphill is killer. Nothing is worse than switchbacks.
At this point we were near a lake, with moderate mosquitoes and ants. It was our target destination, and a decent camp site. I voted to stop, but the guys wanted to go another mile uphill before stopping. I bit the bullet and joined the march. After finally arriving at the new destination, we quickly realized that this marshy, mosquito-infested, snowy area would make for a miserable night. We back tracked 1/3 of the way back to our original destination, to a camp site I remembered seeing. It is a good spot, but with another nearby lake, it is thick with mosquitoes. Not as many as the marsh though.
Dad tried out the instant mashed potatoes, mixing boiling water and bacon bits. It was heavenly. We ate that along with soup - teriyaki flavoring + Ramen + raw chicken (mixed with boiling water). That was good too but it didn't compare to the mashed potatoes + bacon bits.
The sun is about to go down. I'm going to force myself up off my sleeping pad and join back with the guys sitting on some rock. I am really looking forward to sleeping tonight. Hopefully I don't dream that I'm gay again, that was lame. We'll see what kind of wacky story my brain puts together.
Day 3 - Some Lake to Deer Creek Crossing
July 26, 2011
I woke up often during the night to air out my hot sleeping bag. The air was cool, but my bag is just so warm. Regardless, I got decent sleep.
After a quick breakfast, deconstructing the tent, and brushing my teeth, I was packed and about to head off down the trail. I get a kick out of being more responsible than Dad at least as far as taking care of my teeth. Paul politely requested that I wait a bit since it was going to be a while before everyone else was done packing, and it would be better if our group hiked together. So I went ahead to fill up water from snowmelt and waited. Soon enough I was on the trail with Dad, Mike, and Paul. The word was that Bruce and Chris were still packing but would catch up soon.
Despite a good night's sleep, I didn't feel great. I was sore and my feet already hurt. I mentally braced myself for an entire day of enduring pain. At one point Paul suggested that I hike my pack up on my back and tighten the waist strap. This helped tremendously.
Bruce and Chris were nowhere to be seen when it came time to go a bit off the trail to Red's Meadow Resort to pick up our resupply package. We hiked a half mile uphill to get there. The package was huge. Along with four 20-something hikers next to us, we had to toss some food out. I traded bacon bits for dried fruit with those hikers, telling them how great it tasted with instant mashed potatoes. We also saw the two girls that passed us the day before. Their names were Alley and Jule. Alley is a microbiologist. They plan to be out on the trail for an entire month!
After 50 minutes of lunch and resupply, we hiked back down the hill hoping to meet up with Bruce and Chris. Once there, we realized that the trail was actually back uphill, so we had to backtrack half a mile uphill.
Along the Pacific Crest Trail, we saw a bunch of construction workers working on the trail. When we approached, they would shout, "HIKERS!" and get out of the way. At one point I thanked a guy for working on the trail and he said, "Don't thank me, I have to do this to pay off my fines."
After a trek uphill, another meeting with Alley and Jule, and a lot of walking, I was thinking to myself, "My feet hurt, my back hurts, and I'm tired, but this is still a new day, so gear up." But much to my pleasant surprise, it was 3:40pm, late in the day, and only 20 minutes to our destination. At this point I started to mentally relax. Bruce and Chris were waiting for us at Deer Creek Crossing. That was good news. The bad news was they had been waiting for 45 minutes and wanted to move on. I switched from boots to sandals and again mentally braced myself for 6 more miles uphill.
I explained the Mineflayer AI I am working on to Bruce, who works on algorithms for a living, and he said that there were a few algorithms that fit the bill. I'm going to email him and ask what they are. I also told Paul I would show him Demetri Martin.
At 5:23pm, we found a decent spot and settled. A creek flows nearby and the mosquitoes are just as bad as last night. I think I killed at least 100 today.
While we were eating dinner and having a jolly old time debating various topics, a 20-something year old hiker named Kevin came by and asked if he could camp nearby. We were happy to have him come up and join the discussion. He is an American History major who "finally" got a minimum wage Starbucks job. I'm so lucky to have a profitable and enjoyable profession.
Everyone else is going to sleep. I don't want to feel like crap when I wake up so I'm going to put down the pen and zonk out.
Day 4 - Halfway to Duck Lake to Mono Creek
July 27, 2011
It was slightly cooler last night, so I woke up less times to air out my bag.
We did our morning routine and hit the trail. Kevin hadn't woken up yet. After a small crossing where Dad and I hopped across rocks and the rest of the crew trudged through, we had a small pass ahead of us. I was feeling good. So good, in fact, that I hummed the Muse cover of the song Feeling Good. At least it was something different than Micah by Five Iron Frenzy which has been stuck in my head this entire trip.
Anyway, I soon left the rest of the pack behind with my speed. After 400 feet of climbing and walking through a small pass, I entered a beautiful hidden meadow with a pristine lake in the middle. I took a break, taking off my boots to let my feet taste the grass. It was hot and noonish, so I stripped to my underwear and jumped in. By this time, the group caught up. Everybody loved the spot, so we all had lunch, enjoyed the meadow, and got eaten by mosquitoes.
At this point our 6-person troupe was on the trail together. I started discussing philosophy with Chris and Bruce. We talked about quality of humans, what gives human life value, and various contrived examples of abortion. Bruce did not agree with my criticisms of grad school.
We had been walking and talking for a long time. Having a discussion is a great way to walk miles upon miles without realizing it. Eventually Bruce wanted a break, but Chris and I pressed on. We began to go up Silver Lake Pass. I told him the story about sleeping under my desk. I could tell he enjoyed the story, especially the part about my fortress in the Capstone room.
Storytelling is something that happens often and naturally on this trip. As I write, the guys are sitting around a fire and Dad is telling Chris about a biking injury.
Once Chris and I got almost to the top of Silver Lake Pass, we lost the trail. 4 other hikers joined us, in the same boat. I decided to wait for everyone to catch up, just to make sure we all went the same direction. Bruce came along first, scouted for the trail, and yelled back when he found it. Chris took off while I waited for Dad and Paul. Once they arrived we trudged up the snow. Looking down we saw a frozen green/blue lake. As we trudged on, we couldn't tell where the trail was due to snow. Good riddance! Instead of tedious switchbacks, we climbed up a near vertical wall of snow, getting to the top of the peak fairly quickly. Here was a stunning view, a quick snack, and relief from mosquitoes. Paul read from his JMT guidebook about what the next 6 miles held for us.
We decided to try to get ahead on the itinerary by going another 6 miles downhill. We took off, excited to get ahead of schedule. After a few miles my feet started to hurt so I swapped my boots with sandals. This felt much better. I fell into step with Dad as we hiked down. At one point we saw a really cool waterfall. As we walked further, we learned that we would cross just under that waterfall, which was right before another. What fun! I almost fell in.
After just a few more switchbacks, we arrived at another river crossing. This one was violent. Paul fell several times, skinning both knees, but somehow saving his camera. Dad fell a little bit and his pack briefly ducked under water. So far everyone had borrowed Bruce's poles to cross the stream. I, "Feeling Good," tried to cross without them. A few steps in it was clear to me that if I took another step I would topple over and be carried downstream. I motioned to Dad, who threw one of Bruce's hiking poles to me. I deftly caught it in the air and used it to maneuver across. Good thing I didn't miss!
At this point, it was obvious that Dad was not feeling good. He had some bad blisters that were aggravated by the crossings. It was well past 5pm, our "usual" "look for a campsite" time, but the rest of the guys wanted to press on. We walked for another few miles after that, and finally, after yet another crossing, Chris, Bruce, and I made the executive decision to call it quits for the day and set up camp.
This is a good spot; as I mentioned, we have a fire going, and there are some dry, flat spots for tents. Dad and I had our favorite mashed potatoes + bacon bits. Dad feels much better after warming up and relaxing a bit. His bag got wet but only a little. He put it out to dry and it looks pretty dry now. The fire seems to ward off the mosquitoes.
Everyone is tired and going to sleep now. Dad is pumping up his mat. I think we walked 20 miles today. A lot of my food is gone - we'll see if I make it to the next resupply.
Day 5 - Mono Creek to Senger Creek
July 28, 2011
I hate mosquitoes.
I woke several times throughout the night, thankful, each time, that it was still dark and I didn't have to get up. I noticed that every time, the pain in my feet went down. Just when one more snooze would have completely obliterated my feet pain, it was time to get up.
Bruce started the fire again and I put a few sticks on to make it hot enough to burn some trash. As I burned the blue nylon t-shirt I had been wearing the entire trip, empty plastic bags, and moldy summer sausage, I smiled at the weight I would no longer be carrying.
After lazily finishing my morning routine, Dad, Mike, and Paul had already hit the trail. I wanted company so I waited until Bruce was done packing. I took the lead on the trail, however, and Bruce didn't keep up with my brisk pace, so I quickly got ahead.
This part of the trail was about a 1000 foot climb. Switchbacks became monotonous very quickly, but much to my delight, I had The Receiving End of It All by Streetlight Manifesto in my head instead of Micah. It wasn't to last though; by noon I caught myself mentally singing those silly lyrics with each step.
By 11am I became ravenously hungry. Dad gave me several large handfuls of sunflower seeds he had handy, but my stomach demanded more. We agreed to stop for a lunch break after crossing Bear Creek several miles ahead. I hiked with a fury so that I might get there sooner and abate my hunger. Along the way, I noticed that my feet were starting to feel quite bad even though it was still early in the day.
I ate pepper jack cheese, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, tomato & basil crackers, and pepperoni. Finally my stomach was content. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, were not. They continued feasting on us all day. There was naught but one or two moments of relief.
After lunch, I switched to sandals and we began another ascent up to Seldon Pass. I fell into step with Chris; we talked about music conventions like Magfest and percussion events, our similarly aged younger brothers and their various life issues, and the pros and cons of raising kids in a small town versus a big city.
This was quite enjoyable. Before we knew it we were looking at Marie lake - icy blue water surrounded by a meadow at the top of Seldon Pass. It seems amazing to me that there can be a lake at the peak of a mountain.
I sat down for a bit to wait for Dad and Paul, swatting at my legs, arms, hands, neck, and face. It was clear that Dad was having a tough time today. He has huge blisters from the balls of each foot to their respective toes.
Nevertheless, he trudged on with the rest of us. This part was several miles downhill - much easier on the body. My experiment with sandals was a huge success. My feet continued to feel much better ever since switching footwear at lunchtime.
I saw a marmot scitter across the trail. It was fun to see, but I still think the woodpecker that Paul and I heard the morning before was more interesting.
After a few miles I began to feel the familiar end-of-the-day fatigue. It is kind of an inexplicable pain that makes me want to stop and set up camp. If I try to pinpoint it, I find that yes, my feet hurt and my back is a bit sore, but that itself is not the fatigue. In the morning I can have the same pain but continue to hike 16 more miles.
The mosquitoes were relentless. Even while walking they attacked with a fury. At one point I stopped to wait for Dad, donated about a pint of blood, and didn't even get $20.
Finally we crossed Senger Creek and began to look for a campsite. We settled on one with a modest walk to water, mostly flat tent spots, and a fire pit. Dad and I shared our favorite potatoes + bacon bits and some rice. I have one more dinner and half a lunch left of food, but it should be fine since we're resupplying at John Muir Ranch first thing tomorrow.
I built a fire to drive away mosquitoes but it's hardly effective. They bite through cloth, nylon, and netting. When you kill one, the others are unfazed. I pulled my pants down for 5 seconds to drop a deuce, and now I have 3 itchy bites on my rump. I'm cowering in Dad's and my tent, with about 30 of them patiently perched on the netting, waiting for me to come out or accidentally press my back against one of the tent sides.
It might rain tonight. I felt a few drops and heard thunder in the distance.
The guys are sitting around in the "kitchen" talking. I'm deciding between joining them or going to bed immediately. The sun is still out but I'm sore, itchy, and lying on this pad feels oh so good.
Day 6 - Senger Creek to Something Meadow
July 29, 2011
According to Dad, a hiker named "Stick Man" camped neighboring ours, and he had been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico, starting May 1st. He was headed for Canada, but had to stop somewhere along the way to make more money for his expedition.
I fell asleep shortly after yesterday's entry. My aching body was happy with this turn of events, fixing itself up completely while I slept. Once I finally stepped onto the trail, I felt fresh, strong, and ready for the day.
It was only a few short miles downhill to John Muir Ranch, our final resupply. The food we packed there had to last us 7 days. Along the way, Paul and I saw a peculiar native bird. It looked and acted like a combination of a quail and a chicken. I heard its baby chicks softly chirping in a nearby bush.
At the ranch, our resupply bucket was a welcome sight. In the words of Paul, "This is better than Christmas!" Bruce used the hiker buckets with leftover food to resupply for himself and Chris, who woke up late and was missing. I scored a rice bar and a peanut-butter-and-honey tortilla for an immediate snack, and a bag of instant potatoes for dinner later.
Dad bought some Deet, and we all tried our cell phones for reception, but of course nobody had signal. There was a handy spring water facet for filling up water bottles, and a scale for weighing packs. Everyone's packs were between 34-37 lbs, my pack setting the high bound. We spent about 90 minutes at the ranch, organizing our food, eating, and discussing what to do about Chris. Just when we were about to take off, leaving Bruce behind to wait, Chris waltzed in. He had taken a wrong turn and had to double back.
"Chris!" Bruce shouted from around the corner.
"Yeah Dad?" Chris replied.
"Welcome!" Bruce exclaimed, with just a hint of patronization. Mike and I chuckled.
We left the ranch, virtually staggering under the weight of our new food. We took a breather at a junction hardly even a mile away, next to a roaring creek with a wooden bridge. Dad gave me his camera to borrow for a while, a suggestion I made a few days ago.
After we got up and crossed the bridge, the trail gradually took us for a tour along the lower left side of a thriving valley, with waterfalls to our right above, and a violent river to our right below. I fell into step right behind Dad for a while, until he suddenly stopped and I bumped into him.
Looking ahead, not 20 feet away, I saw a doe and her 2 fawns. I snapped a couple photos with Dad's camera and waited till Paul was done doing the same before moving on.
Eventually there was a convenient spot for water near the trail and I went to get some. The others pressed on, knowing that I would catch up soon. I sat on a mostly flat rock, sucking the river water through my bottle's filter, enjoying the break. I lingered, somewhat guiltily, watching the guys get further and further ahead. Eventually the mosquitoes started biting, so I gathered my pack and resumed the trail.
At this point, I sauntered leisurely along in solitude, knowing that Bruce and Chris were still far behind. I started thinking about the length of this trip, and my new home in Seattle, my new friends, Sara, and starting work at Amazon in less than 2 weeks. For the first time on this trip, I felt homesick.
The feeling passed however, as I set my mind to new tasks, for example, where to put my pack while taking a dump. Everywhere I looked there were anthills riddling the ground. Eventually I resigned myself to shaking my pack after doing my business, knowing that I was surely far behind the others. I wasn't even sure if I was following the right trail. Soon enough, though, I caught them on the uphill. It saddens me that one day, I, too, will be old and slow.
After a short hike into a denser area, I shouted a greeting to 4 hikers lunching on a nice sunny rock as I passed them by. I carefully waded across the rushing but relatively shallow creek, walked a bit, and then found my own sunny rock to rest on while munching some snacks and waiting for the rest of the group.
The sun beat down angrily. I wondered if I would burn, having forgotten sunscreen that day. Soon, Dad, Mike and Paul showed up, and eventually, so did Bruce and Chris. We discussed how far we planned to go today, but were interrupted when a single, large ball of hail landed on my pack. There was a brief moment of hesitation, and then everyone burst from their relaxing position into action mode, getting out raincoats and tarps to protect packs from taking on water.
It sprinkled for less than a minute. I was sourly disappointed. But 10 minutes later, the sky opened up in a deluge of rain and hail. It was amazing how fast the trail turned into a stream of icy water. The storm kept up for at least an hour. Instead of accidentally getting pebbles stuck in my sandals, I was getting hail. Amazingly, my feet kept warm.
Finally the group gathered. It was still raining, and there were no dry camp sites for 8 miles. As it was already 5 o'clock, we opted to try to find a decent place on the hill. We found 3 soggy but not swampy places and quickly pitched tents.
Mosquito myth: Mosquitoes don't come out while it's raining. False, false, false, false, false! Oh, here's another bite. False!
Most of Dad's and my stuff is wet. I went out while Bruce was heating water and made dinner for Dad and myself, bringing it to him in the tent.
I'm getting cold. I'm going to try to get warmed up and go to sleep. We have a hard day tomorrow and have to get up early.
Day 7 - Muir Pass
July 30, 2011
Although Dad and I were wet all night long, we were warm. By morning, the inside of my sleeping bag was dry; the moisture had steamed out while my body heated it up.
The others packed up quickly, wanting to hit the trail as soon as possible. I was the slow poke. While Mike, Bruce, and Chris took off as soon as they packed, Paul and Dad waited 5 minutes for me.
Today I prepared to hike a long way without stopping. I carried no water, to save weight, and instead kept my bottle in my shorts pocket to drink when I crossed a stream. In my other pocket, I carried deshelled sunflower seeds.
As we climbed, we came to an empty trash bag sitting in the trail. What luck! I sorely missed this last night - it would have kept my bag dry. Dad fell behind a bit. He was about .25 miles back when Paul and I caught up to the rest of the group. Mike and Paul, "planners," as Bruce calls them, were concerned about our pace. There was talk about ending the entire trip. Eventually, we decided to break into groups of two - the people who shared tents - and meet at the end of the day.
With that, Mike and Paul were off. They moved fast, concerned about the thunderhead clouds ominously forming above the peak behind us. I took the opportunity to rearrange my pack, getting out pepper jerky and trail mix.
When Dad arrived I informed him of the plan and we were off, leaving behind Bruce and Chris, who were still messing with their packs. I still hiked in wool socks and sandals, even though the terrain was snowy. We trudged endlessly through the snow fields, wondering when we would finally be over the pass. The snow had settled in a most unfortunate ruffle pattern, making missteps and sliding backwards common and exhausting.
The looming clouds which had been threatening us all day finally started to deliver. After a few drops of rain, dad and I put our packs down to dig out our rain coats, and I switched from sandals to boots. What a difference! I seemed to power right through the snow with those bad boys.
Yet the rain and the slope increased. Icy wind bit at my ears. I led; Dad trudging along slowly behind me. We passed several hikers going the other way, one of them pointing out a triangular shaped rock hut marking the top of the pass.
Just when the rain was getting violent, we made it to the door of the hut at the top of the pass. I tried the handle. The door slowly spun open. I couldn't see a thing, but it was warm, and I was greeted with a chorus of "hello"s. After my eyes adjusted, I saw about 8 hikers and a lot of gear seated on and around the bench that lined the wall.
Dad ate a snack and we waited out the rain. The hikers were friendly and talkative. The gentleman to my left, who I later found out was named Jaffey, was interested in a party of two to my right; a father heating water for "hot chocolate mixed with cider" and his 17-year-old daughter.
As soon as the rain let up I was out the door and down the other side of the pass. This side was steep. It was possible, however, to sort of run-ski down, making for quick and effortless travel. After a ways I looked back and was happy to see Dad already on the trail. As I watched, he slipped and fell, pausing a bit before getting up.
Eventually, he caught up and we hiked along the snowy mountainside together. At one point, the trail led straight downhill, and there was a perfect butt-shaped halfpipe in the snow alongside it. Dad did not hesitate. He plunked down, pushed off, and then gracefully and effortlessly sped down the causeway. I, of course, followed, getting snow in my pants and dropping my bottle toward the end.
We crossed a few streams and hiked down another mile or two. The terrain went from snowy to lush and green. We took a break to swap footwear and so that I could drop a dookie. Just when I was doing my business, it started to rain. We had no idea how far ahead Mike and Paul were, nor how far behind Bruce and Chris were. We decided to pitch the tent and wait out the rain.
Minutes after we finished the tent, Bruce and Chris came by, decked out in rain gear. They considered waiting it out with us, but ultimately wanted to keep moving.
So we waited. The rain pounded relentlessly. It was nice knowing my entire pack was in the tent and out of the rain. Dad and I snoozed for several hours. The rain just wasn't letting up. Finally, I woke to the sound of Dad putting shoes on. The rain had stopped, and it was sunset. Dad and I decided to quickly pack up and hoof it down the trail in hopes of catching the others. In two minutes we were packed and making headway.
Walking on fresh legs at sunset after a rainstorm is beautiful. The colors all change, the smell is different, and there is a spookiness to it. Dad pointed out a large rock to the right that looked exactly like a whale's face, and somebody had lined up rocks on the bottom layer to make it look like teeth.
Not even an hour after we left, we spotted a campfire and Paul. We were very glad to see each other, thinking that we had been split up. At this campsite, 12 hikers in total have gathered, including Jaffey and his friend. It was fun to sit around the fire and swap stories. Apparently everybody knows Kevin, the hiker who stayed a night with us. Bruce heated up some water for Dad and me - we ate stuffing and broccoli flavored rice.
Paul and Mike are still concerned about our pace; they want to get up very early and try to get over the next pass. Paul says it would ensure our success on this trip. I say let the planners plan. I'll follow along.
I'm running low on lunch food.
Day 8 - Mather Pass, Almost
July 31, 2011
Dad started getting ready next to me while it was still completely dark. I saw headlamps on in Paul and Mike's tent, and Bruce and Chris's tent. Thinking it was close to 3am, I was slow waking up. Finally I willed myself to begin putting on warm clothes and then tried to remember what to do next.
Eventually, I had my pack together, ate oatmeal, and brushed my teeth. Turns out it was actually 5am. Examining my bear cannister, I became increasingly alarmed at my lack of food. Nevertheless, I needed energy for the long hike ahead, so I got out lunch - a bag of rice and a bag of pecans - and stuffed it into my gym shorts pocket to eat on the trail later.
I couldn't find my nice long wool socks, dirty as they were, so I wore one of the two remaining pairs of cotton socks with my sandals.
The talk back at the camp was that we had to make it over Mather Pass today to ensure the trip's completion. If Dad and I hadn't made it to camp last night we would have had to cut off the trip early. On top of that, we learned from a sign by a ranger station that there was a rock slide blocking Whitney Portal. Dad thinks that "they" will clean it up by the time we get there. Mike doesn't, but thinks we can walk to town if we have to.
I was determined to not be a part of the problem. I kept up a brisk pace, uphill, flat, and downhill. There were several creek crossings with no bridge across. While others tried to keep their shoes dry, I stomped right on through in my sandals. Soon I had a large lead on the others, except Mike, who was close behind. The trail became overgrown with dense lush plants and grass, and I jumped when something with a furry tail scampered under my legs. I saw Kelley Flowers that Paul had pointed out to me - yellow, upside down pedals with brown spots. Also I was surrounded by Jeffrey Pines. Dad must have been having a heyday.
The trail began going steeply uphill, and I ate the bag of not-very-good rice, worrying about running out of food in a few days.
Fun mosquito fact: Mosquitoes can fly faster than you can walk.
Mike and I kept climbing, watching the foggy sky ahead forming ill-boding clouds. We did not like the look of that at all. Sure enough, after another mile it started sprinkling. I heeded the warning and stopped to put on a sweater, rain coat, and switched to boots.
The rain started to pour.
I found Mike just ahead, huddling under a patch of awkwardly shaped pine trees. He looked miserable. I waited there with him for about 30 minutes until Paul showed up. There was no evidence of our failed illegal fire attempt. Both my lighters were out of fluid, and the sticks we had tried to burn were soggy.
The three of us continued walking in the rain until we realized that there were no more camp sites ahead, and the relatively flat spot we were at presently was where we needed to wait for Dad, Bruce, and Chris. We used Mike's fly and sat on my ground cloth to shelter ourselves and our packs from the rain.
Finally, the rest of the guys showed up. Dad came under the tarp for a bit, but it was uncomfortable; when the rain let up just a little, we scrambled out and pitched our tent as fast as we could.
At this point I informed Dad of my food shortage issue. He looked concerned and offered me some crackers which I gladly accepted. Not that it would be enough. I decided to skip dinner that night.
Inside our tent, Dad and I examined our belongings. Surprisingly, our stuff got only a little wet. That garbage bag I picked up yesterday had worked wonders helping my clothes and sleeping bag stay dry.
With not much else to do, we snoozed for several hours. Finally it stopped raining, and Mike yelled at us to come out and "be social."
We played several rounds of Hearts while I ate the tuna that I turned down at the ranch but Dad had packed anyway. Bruce served a dish of Fritos and hummus. So delicious. Paul gave me a bag of cereal and pumpkin seeds. I feel pretty guilty about not packing enough food at the John Muir Ranch and mooching off of everybody. Not guilty enough to turn down their self-sacrificing offers and go hungry, though.
Mosquito myth: mosquitoes can't survive at high altitudes. False!
There has been much speculation about where, how far, and how long the pass is ahead. I think we were probably over-estimating its difficulty. That being said, we have to do 2 passes tomorrow or cut the trip short. I think it all depends on the weather.
Day 9 - The "Matherhorn" Pass and Pinchot Pass
August 1, 2011
High up in the thin air, the temperature dropped below freezing during the night. Dew formed on the clothes I laid out to dry and then froze. Inside my dry down-feather sleeping bag, I slept, warm and cozy.
That is, until 5am when I felt Dad waking up and putting on his warm clothes to start the morning routine. I could clearly hear the bridge of "Mermaid" by Anamanaguchi, playing in my head. Our performance today determined whether or not we would have to end the trip early. If we could get over both Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass, we would ensure success. The guys got ready especially fast; I was still shivering and crunching on frozen dry oatmeal when Paul and Mike took off. Not wanting to fall too far behind, I skipped brushing my teeth.
Not that falling behind was anything to worry about. The conditions of the pass were perfect - the snow had solidified and become very hard overnight. With food in my belly and plenty of sleep, I practically pranced up the steep treacherous pass. For some strange reason, I had the Jeopardy theme song with "I'm a little teapot" lyrics stuck in my head.
Dad and I made it up to the top of the pass first and had a celebratory piss off the edge. While waiting for the others I rearranged my pack a bit, changing into lighter clothes now that the glorious sun was shining on me. When I finished, Dad, Paul, and Mike had started down and Chris was still waiting for Bruce. Luckily I noticed Dad's camera he had forgotten. Yelling at him to turn around, I snapped a picture of his face when he realized he'd forgotten it.
I started down the steep trail, planning to eventually catch up with Mike and Paul in front. With the camera, though, I found myself looking for picture opportunities. I kept up a brisk pace, despite that, and soon enough gave Dad his camera back. I switched from boots to sandals and focused on catching up again.
I had this sharp pain in my left foot, in the tendons when I lifted my toes. I think it may be a lipoma causing problems. I want to have a doctor look at it.
Despite this weird new pain, I hurried and soon passed Dad again while he switched shoes to cross a creek. With my sandals I saved time by simply splashing through without changing footwear, but not without first dipping my bottle and having a drink. At one point Mike found a dead deer just upstream in a creek while looking for a dry crossing. I hope I didn't drink from that one.
I stopped putting on sunscreen two days ago, and I have not been burned. My only conclusion is that I have reached Level 10 Hiker and am now immune to the sun. I can't wait until I gain intrinsic mosquito repellence.
I had to run to keep up with Mike and his stupid long legs. After a while we came upon Paul filming a nearby doe. The three of us walked along until Mike stopped to change shoes for a crossing, while Paul and I waded carefully across without changing footwear.
Paul and I were pleased at the good weather, and the good time we were making. At some point Paul stopped to change into lighter clothes and I went on alone. I walked for some time, getting hungry and thinking about my rations. Finally I stopped for lunch: one measly packet of crackers, and a medium stack of pepperoni. Delicious. I snuck another small stack of pepperoni. I wanted more, but I knew I had to ration.
After that I kept on. I tend to go slowly when alone and in the lead. Sure enough, Paul and Mike caught up after a mile or two, and I followed them, switching into my boots for the upcoming Pinchot Pass. There was a bit of uphill climbing, but then we were there, along with two hikers who went by Major Upchuck and Bounce Box. It was a couple who had met on the trail a month ago. They were friendly, and they know Stick Man. At one point Upchuck asked me if I had a bowl, which seemed a queer question, until I realized it was another euphemism for Marijuana.
After a short break at the top of Pinchot Pass, Paul, Mike, and I headed down. We walked for a long way. We could see some clouds boiling in the mountains ahead, threatening more nasty weather.
Sure enough, after another long section of hiking, the rain started to come down. We stopped to get out our rain gear and then pressed on. By this time, I was starting to get ravenously hungry. It was hard to take my mind off food, and I began to feel somewhat weak. Still, we kept walking and walking, until finally I had to sit down and have a snack. Paul and Mike walked on. Before I even had my cannister unpacked, Paul shouted my name. I put my pack back on and followed. A suspension bridge led from the trail over a roaring river to what Major Upchuck had called a "tit perfect" campsite. Hardly any mosquitoes, plenty of room, more than one fire pit, and a toilet.
By this time the rain had calmed down, but it was about to pick up again, so Mike and Paul pitched their tent. I had to wait for Dad, who had half the tent, so I used the time to relax and take inventory of my food. 1 breakfast short, 1.5 lunches short, and 2 dinners extra. I ate a bag of not-very-good rice that Dad had given me and that I had just found was not sealed properly.
I worried that Dad was too far behind and would not make it today. Just when I went to nervously check the bridge, he was there, waving at me. I was amazed. He must have been in terrible pain. I grabbed the tent poles from him as soon as possible and began pitching the tent. Not a moment too soon. Once the fly was up it started raining hard and we took shelter within. It even hailed a bit. Not too long though, and the rain stopped and the sun came out, so I ventured out.
There were about 10 tents in this site. Some folks were playing Frisbee. Bruce and Chris's tent was not one of them, however. They were nowhere to be seen. Dad came out of the tent at Paul's coaxing, wanting to take his picture in front of a giant Jeffrey Pine in the sunset. After that we played Hearts, Dad sharing salmon with me.
After round 3, Bruce and Chris finally showed up - 2 hours after Dad. They had gotten lost and followed a wrong trail. Instead of the 20 mile day we had had, theirs was 25.
Bruce, being the generous man he is, immediately started heating water. I split with Dad the chicken noodle soup I got from the hiker's box back at John Muir Ranch, which was filling and delicious.
It was getting dark, and finally a family started the fire. They were friendly and happy to have me burn my trash. I sat with them and talked. They are taking 7 days to hike 40 miles, a much more leisurely and fun trip. We had fun swapping short stories about our home town climates, and a teenager showed me a video of him jumping off the roof of his house into a snow bank on his iPhone. We all headed for bed when the fire started to die. Gotta wake at 5am again tomorrow.
Day 10 - Glen Pass - 15 miles
August 2, 2011
I slept deeply, without waking or stirring the entire night. I dreamt that I was the protagonist in a Rube Goldberg Machine, and then that I was doing covert ops with David Hayden on the Death Star.
"Wake up," Mike intoned, from outside the tent Dad and I were sleeping in. I did better at waking up this time, almost immediately sitting up to put my warm clothes on. I didn't really understand why we were getting up at 5am again - we were no longer in a hurry - but I felt okay, so I saw no reason to fuss.
By the time I had eaten breakfast, brushed my teeth, and found the rumored toilet on the hill, the guys had all left, leaving me to play catch-up. Not that I minded. Bruce had left me a full package of freeze-dried strawberries on my bear cannister, claiming they were "extra." Hard to believe, but even harder to turn down.
As I was packing, one of the nice ladies from the campfire the previous night came out of the tent and gave me a handful of almonds, citing "motherly instinct." I gave her warm thanks and ate them all right then, continuing packing.
As I left and bid farewell, she asked, "Is that your jacket hanging up right there?" I mentally kicked myself.
"Why, yes it is," I replied, again thanking her profusely. Oh the misery she has likely saved me.
Hiking in my shorts and skintight t-shirt, it was cold. The valley's mountainous sides were so tall that the sun wouldn't come out for several more hours. Hiking kept my core body warm, but my arms and hands became numb.
Finally, the trail went so far as to escape the giant valley walls, and the glorious sunshine fell upon my face. I soon passed Dad and Bruce, who were moving slowly. Dad had finally used moleskin, but it didn't appear to be helping much.
In a few miles I passed a large party of elderly looking hikers, a few campers just waking up and having breakfast, and a ranger station. I considered going up there to ask for a weather forecast, and any news about the rock slide at Whitney Portal, but I wanted to catch Mike and Paul.
I soon did after hiking around a lake. They were preparing to start the real climb that was Glen Pass. They left just as I arrived, while I stayed a few minutes to swap footwear. The boots do much better in snow.
The pass was very steep, and very cold. I shivered at the unceasing icy wind. It seemed to get stronger the higher up I went. I paused to look down and saw a half-frozen lake with beautiful blue ice. Just as I was about to turn and keep walking up the switchbacks, I heard someone calling out. Spotting Dad and Bruce far below, I waved and hollered back.
Once over the pass, there was a nice downhill dirt slope that was perfect for speed-walking. As I gained on Mike and Paul, I passed about 25 hikers going up the pass the way I came down. They must be doing the 40-mile something-loop trail the campers last night told us about.
I caught up to Paul and Mike resting in a small, sunny, grassy area, where the wind died down. I joined them, sitting on the ground and leaning my back against a rock, which felt wonderful. Paul gave me a handful of M&M's and quite a few deshelled sunflower seeds. M&M is one of my least favorite candies, but as I munched that sugary snack right then, it was just about the best thing I had ever tasted.
Paul and Mike ended their break and took off, but I lingered. The spot I had chosen to sit was surprisingly comfortable, and there were no mosquitoes. I finished off my pepperoni and the strawberries Bruce had left me, with a somewhat guilty conscience but a mostly contented stomach.
I caught Dad but then changed back to sandals. I caught him again but then had to do business again, dumping my load into some poor groundhog's hole. Once I caught Dad a third time, I walked with him until camp. He was really hurting, his giant blisters throbbing with each step. We were very happy when we finally saw Bruce's tent.
The two guys we had crossed paths with countless times today, Yuri and David, were making supper at our camp. They cooked a delicious-smelling hot dish that made my grumbling stomach jealous. Dad showed everybody his battered feet, and Yuri gave him Neosporin, blue blister fixer pad things, and tape to fix up his feet. Here's hoping it works.
Dad and I had potatoes and rice for dinner, but then Bruce made a delectable vegetable stew, complete with onions he picked along the trail, and shared it with everybody. Then he made juevos rancheros and also shared that. If there is anybody who lives up to the "love your neighbor" principle, it is Bruce. Did I mention the juevos rancheros was to die for?
The end is so close, everybody can taste it. We're already fantasizing about the hot restaurant food and beer we're going to get when we're done, and we have the mileage of the next few days planned out. We have 36 total miles left. Our last day, Mt. Whitney, is going to be 14 and it's not flexible. So that leaves 22 to split between tomorrow and the next day. Currently the plan is 14 tomorrow and 8 the next. That way we can rest up for the many-thousand-foot climb that is Mt. Whitney. Also we plan to wake again at 5am, for some reason unknown to mankind.
Day 11 - Forrester Pass - 13 miles
August 3, 2011
The last pass.
I struggled to find motivation to get out of bed. It was cold and dark, and we didn't have to go very far to stay on schedule - not to mention that we had an entire day to kill tomorrow.
I ate my oatmeal breakfast hungrily. Food rationing is a terrible thing. It leaves me with a constant element of stress, and makes me think about food more often than I would if I were not rationing, causing me to feel hungrier. I'm eating plenty, especially with Paul graciously and consistently giving me some of his own precious food. But still, the very knowledge that I must ration gives me constant hunger and uneasiness.
I finished packing just before Dad. He had gone to bed early and slept well. His blistering feet had amazingly healed almost completely overnight. He changed the moleskin and secured it with tape that Yuri had given him last night. We were last to hit the trail.
Walking behind Dad, I could see the ease with which he stepped. Compared to yesterday, he looked pain free. He said as much, too.
We caught up to and passed Paul on the steep, frozen switchbacks leading up to Forrester Pass. We passed a group that had camped at the frozen lake. It must have been a cold night for them.
Eventually, the trail was covered in snow and we followed footprints instead. Those lead laterally across the ice-hard snow mountain side, then directly up the mountain toward the top of the pass. I would not say that I had altitude sickness, but I could tell my body was uneasy with being that high up. I did notice that I became short of breath much more easily.
Our group took a brief respite at the top. We all tried our cell phones but without success. Mike claimed that he got a text-message through, but I doubt it. I don't think the text message protocol includes a confirmation. I'll have to double check that when I get back. [Note: it depends on the network. It is possible to include confirmation, but it is not perfect, and it is not part of the SMS protocol itself.]
Our group continued on down the other side of the pass, but I lingered to eat a snack - some pepper jack cheese and a few almonds and peanuts. Dad shouted up - he had forgotten his camera again, so I grabbed it. Then Yuri and David made it up. I learned that they had run out of food and were trying to make it out today. I gave them the 700-calorie bag of pumpkin seeds Paul had given me that I had been looking forward to eating. This partly eased my guilty conscience about mooching. They thanked me, and then pointed out a black sleeping pad that someone left. Chances were decent that it was either Bruce's, Chris's, or Mike's, so I decided to take it. Then Yuri asked if I might send them pictures of the hike since their camera died. I got their email addresses and snapped a nice photo of them with the mountains in the background. Then someone made it up the other side and brought the good news that the Whitney Portal rock slide was cleaned up and passable again.
By the time I was descending the pass, the others were far ahead of me, and I had forgotten the sleeping pad. I dawdled along, not caring too much about the speed I was going on this short day. At one point I lost the trail to the snow, but saw it way in the distance and simply walked directly toward it.
Finally I got intolerably hungry again and stopped to have instant potatoes, and to change clothes and shoes. Dad whistled for me but I had already unpacked. Turns out he was waiting for me just ahead, simply because he enjoyed walking with me.
We walked together for the rest of the day. We saw Mt. Whitney looming ahead, and even spotted the hut at the summit. This was the first time we actually saw the "finish line" of our trip. This short day - about 13 miles - felt long to me. I can definitely say that at this point, I would much rather be done and home. That is not to say, however, that I don't want to finish the trip. I will thoroughly enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
I think it's funny that we are considering tomorrow - 8 miles uphill - a day of "rest."
When Dad and I finally arrived at the spot where the guys were waiting, we had the biggest interpersonal conflict we have had yet. Everyone except Dad wanted to continue hiking today, so that we could hike out tomorrow and finish the trip a day early. Dad was simply not up to the task, with his feet they way they were. Nobody wanted to be a jerk about it, but there was definitely a sense of disgruntlement. We ended up camping though, and after some time, spirits lifted and everyone warmed up to the plan. Mostly.
Dad and I took food inventory together. He gave me a bunch of lunch and breakfast food, and I will be providing a nice big dinner for tomorrow. Bruce gave us noodle-and-vegetable soup for tonight. We mixed it with our minestrone soup packages and it turned out delicious. I couldn't get enough though - I'm still hungry.
Zeo made it! We thought we wouldn't see him again, but sure enough, he came strolling by at 7pm. Ironically, he's probably going to make it out a day before us. Slow and steady wins the race.
Paul, Mike, Dad, and I played a full game of Hearts. I won, going for a run 3 times in a row and succeeding twice. When I retreated to the tent to hide from mosquitoes, Dad, Bruce, Mike, and Paul engaged in a religion/philosophy discussion.
The mosquitoes here are thick - possibly the thickest of any campsite so far. Yet I'm the only one who wears his mosquito net. I don't understand.
Dad had been calling Chris "sunshine" for several days because he likes to sleep in. Chris doesn't seem to mind - he's a good sport.
Almost every night we go to sleep with the soothing sound of a rushing nearby creek. Dad wanted me to mention that.
Day 12 - Mt. Whitney - 22 miles
August 4, 2011
I slept long into the morning. Dew had formed on Dad's and my sleeping bags and frozen into ice - a testament to our high altitude. Dad got up first, drinking hot coffee for the first time on the trip, thanks to Bruce and his stove. Dad enticed me out of bed with warm noodle soup and some oatmeal.
Our lazy morning quickly turned frantic as the mosquitoes swarmed in. It was not gradual; one moment we were peacefully minding our own business, and the next we were being attacked by 7 swarms. One for each of us, and another for Zeo.
Soon only Dad and I remained, trying to pack without being eaten. Brushing my teeth with a mosquito net on probably looked silly. Eventually we, too, were on our way.
Dad was in a chipper mood, feeling good and knowing he had another day of rest before tackling Mt. Whitney. Or so he thought. After a quick 6 miles, we came upon the guys all waiting around a junction.
"We need to have a discussion," Mike said. I laughed, because I had predicted this. Everyone but Dad really wanted to summit Whitney today, and finish the hike a day early. The alternative would be to finish in just 1 hour, by 9am, and have nothing to do for the rest of the day.
Dad saw that he had to either go along, or be the "stick in the mud" as he called it. As I watched, his facial expression and demeanor quickly flashed from horror of betrayal, to quiet acceptance, to grim determination.
Once it was "settled" that we were going to summit Whitney today and make it out a day early, I opened my bear cannister and scarfed down 2 days' worth of lunch food. Oh sweet calories.
We took off down the trail, knowing a long day was ahead of us. Dad's mood had visibly changed. He knew the last 10 miles would be misery. As if fate decided to add insult to injury, Dad stumbled as he partly tore a muscle on his leg. It was not enough to stop him from walking, but it did give him extra pain with each step. Paul gave him an Excedrin dose which seemed to help after a bit.
By the time we made it to Guitar Lake, which looks more like a bottle of Jagermeister than a guitar if you ask me, Dad's determination and grit had completely overcome his fear of pain and inability to make it today. He kept a strong and steady pace all the way to the junction.
It was a long way up. The summit of Mt Whitney is at 14,500 feet - today I would climb my first "fourteener." Although the sun beat down strongly and unopposed by clouds, it was downright cold in the thin air with the strong upward wind.
Finally we made it to the junction. One way would take us down to Whitney Portal, our exit point, and the other way, up to the summit. We left our packs at the junction, dressed warmly, and ascended. I felt like I could just flap my wings and fly to the summit without my 35 pound pack weighing me down. We made it up to the tippy top, took the obligatory picture, and made it back down to the junction in less than 90 minutes. That is a guess. I don't have a watch.
Dad was able to get cell reception on the summit and talk to Mom a bit. His mood was obviously improved after that. Dad seemed to walk with a vigor on the way down. I followed happily. The sooner we made it down, the more likely we would be able to have hot greasy restaurant food, and beer for the guys who liked it.
The switchbacks and steep down-steps were brutal. Still, we passed many people on the way down from Whitney, and were passed by none. Although we had walked far and still had far to go, we were invigorated by the finish line. I got hungry again and snacked on deshelled sunflower seeds.
It was a long walk to the portal, but it was downhill, and Dad somehow felt in good shape the entire time, keeping up his brisk pace.
Finally, we could see the portal and were on the home stretch. Someone we passed mentioned the restaurant/shop, saying that it would be open as late as 8:15pm, late enough for us to get burgers and beer. I let out a whoop and Dad and I high-fived.
When we finally got there, Dad was hurting, but we had made great time, arriving not too long after Paul and Mike. As we ordered food, Bruce and Chris arrived. We had all hauled down that mountain, eager to finish.
When the food was ready, I asked for barbecue sauce and doused my chicken sandwich and fries. It tasted like just about the best thing that I ever had. I even ate the pickle on my plate. The guys enjoyed a few beers too, clinking bottles together in merry celebration of completion. Paul responsibly contacted the van service guy and had him come pick us up and take us to Lone Pine village.
Here we had McDonalds milkshakes, showered, and are sleeping in a hostel. Tomorrow we have breakfast and then a bus ride to a bigger town that has a rental car place so that we can get to Los Angeles airport for our flights on Saturday.
I connected my phone to WiFi and saw all the stuff I missed while hiking. Looks like my rent check didn't get sent out correctly. On the other hand, Sara didn't forget about me! I invited her over for dinner Sunday, and she offered to give me a ride from the airport. I'm also really looking forward to my first day of work at Amazon on Monday.