Jul 24, 2013

John Muir Trail 2013

     The experience that changed the trajectory of my life in 2006 was once again on the agenda for 2013.  Having done it twice before, with the last one being in 2010, I felt I needed to give it another go.  Whether it's to reminisce, reflect, commune with nature, it's a trail that will always call out to me.  In my opinion, the Sierra's are the most raw and majestic mountains in the lower 48.  So when my friend Chris Price was accepted into the Hardrock 100 I figured there was no better trail to hike as a prep for that race than the JMT.  Its layout of pass, valley, pass, valley (repeat) at higher altitudes would be perfect for his training (my selling point to him) and that also means I would have someone to show the surrounding beauty this two foot path wanders through.  However, this journey would be more a challenge of endurance than the previous trips.  The plan was to complete the trail in 7 days, which is an average of 30 miles per day.  A daunting sum to some, quizzically questioned by others, and utter confusion as to why by many.  I admit that I could fall into any of those categories.  I love to reference page 155 of The Last Season when the idea of "miles" overtakes the entire point of being out there.  Here's a short excerpt by the books main character, Randy Morgenson:
     "What is the infatuation with 'est? Why are we beating our brains on a hard surface to be fastest, biggest, richest, on and on ad infinitum ad nauseam? I asked how many Audubon's warblers he'd seen or hermit thrushes he'd heard and he (JMT speed record inquirer and hiker) grinned sheepishly, looking down at his bootlaces. But this was an unfair question.  Such a hiker has probably never slowed enough to notice, but I continued: 'Have you tried meadow sitting or cloud watching?' 'Anyone can do that,' was his response.  There it is again. Machismo. This fellow is going to achieve, be a first, do things not everyone does or even can do.  That becomes his goal.  We're a restless breed, we moderns.  Hardest it is to sit still and be attentive to our surroundings.  Boredom comes to most of us very quickly."
     This quote certainly was certainly on the forefront of my mind when I told Chris, "Sure, we can do it in 7 days.  It'll just require us to hike all day long."  The interesting thing about long distance backpacking or ultrarunning is that the pain experienced out there is quickly forgot.  Chris had only seven days due to work and other arrangements but I knew we could be successful in that amount of time.  Fast forward 7 months later and we're kindly being driven to Yosemite Valley by Elissa, Chris's wife.  The first few days are always the more difficult due to the need to adjust to the routine of hiking 12-14hrs/day, having 25 pounds on your back, dealing with mosquitoes, eating dried foods, etc.  I admit the first few days were quite difficult as the bottoms of my feet were sore and tired and that dragged on me mentally a bit.  Chris was handling things quite well, especially for someone who has not taken a trip like this before. 
The first few days started at 630-645 with continuous hiking until 630-830pm with 20-30 minuted of rest intermingled for the entire day.  Fairly grueling work if I may say.  After Red's Meadow (mile 60) we started taking 45-60min at lunch to put the feet up and rest.  It was a very welcome change of routine that proved quite important to the longevity out there and to the health of the feet.  I was surprised on how warm it was out there even at the higher elevations.  I never once wore my down jacket and wasn't even needing a sleeping bag for most nights.  The mosquitoes never let up and my deduction that it would be a quiet skeeter season due to the low water levels were completely wrong.  We were swarmed most of the trip with temporary relief on certain passes.
The complete absence of snow was another surprise, especially on Muir Pass, where the snow tends to linger until August.  The beauty of these places, however, was not diminished, and experiencing the trip with someone who hasn't done it before is quite satisfying.  It's almost as seeing it for the first time again.  We kept pace, didn't run into bad weather (except the last day when we walked into a hail storm), and were successful at 630pm on top of Mt. Whitney 7 days later.
     Reflecting on this trip, the style of this trip is not something I would have interest in doing consistently.  I enjoy hiking most of the day but love the moments sitting in the late afternoon reflecting, enjoying my surroundings, and just being.  I didn't have time for that on this trip and I admit a twang of jealousy seeing the northbound PCTers stop at 4pm and lazying around until the evening.  This isn't to diminish the accomplishment of this trip.  I was glad to experience this, especially with Chris who was unflappable and an excellent backpacking partner.  I remember most of the trip but the things that stand out are: the fading sun giving way to a spectacular vista on top of Mather Pass and the high we were both on,  the amount of attractive single young PCT women heading north who DIDN'T read Wild, the storm to the east of Silver Pass as we were headed up, the lunch stop after Virginia Lake as we rested with our eyes closed in the shade with our feet up and a cool breeze coming over us, the stunning farts we both endured from each other depending on who was leading, and the climb up to Whitney, where a small storm cell was grumbling just to the west of us as we made our way to the summit where not one other person was present.
A big thanks to Chris for being a part of this, Elissa for driving us all the way up after a long drive the weekend before, and Marshall for being a great friend and picking us up on a random Wednesday after spending the night at the Whitney Portal.
     The fall and winter will bring exciting new adventures and treks: from the French/Swiss Alps to the South American Andes.  Oh, and the Leadville Trail 100 in mid-August. Stay tuned! (Click here for the full photo album.)

7 days later

Denali Expedition Recap

Summit Ridge I won’t be writing about the day to day as that was succinctly put in the twelve “Denali Transmit” posts which you ...