Tuesday, October 21, 2014

JMT Part 10: The end of all things

This is the final part in my series about hiking the JMT this summer. If you aren’t caught up, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 and Part 9!

 

Can’t get enough of our trip? Check out my dad’s trip report on trailspace.com


August 1, Day 24: Mount Whitney and Mt Muir


In the dawn light wafting over our little campsite, I realized it was August. “Rabbit, rabbit!” I exclaimed, a saying my family uses meaning good luck for the next month.

 

Our preparations started with being woken by Dad’s ludicrous bird sound (“Hing!”) at 5:15. It was colder than I was used to on the trail; probably because of our early start. 

 

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Looking back at Guitar Lake. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

We had set up our Wag-bags (waste disposal bags with powder to neultralize the odor) on a bear canister in a make-shift latrine. Originally members of the party were skeptical, but in the end it was deemed a great success. Dad, the inventor, was allowed to carry this particular bear canister (followed by loud rounds of the joke, “He’s carrying a load of s***!”)

We left camp at 6:50 am, first climbing gradually, then beginning to traverse the motherlode of switchbacks. They sure do a lot of trail building in California compared to Norway! Switchbacks with a low grade were a given on any hill.

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The switchbacks up to Trail Crest. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

I was feeling a little queasy as we headed up, and so I lagged behind. The weather was beautiful; not a cloud in sight. But we knew the clouds could come int quickly. We were in the shadow of the cool mountain, with a brightly light valley full of deep blue lakes spattered below us. Distant peaks glimmered through the haze.

The switchbacks eventually led to a junction, Trail Crest, where we left our packs. There were people pouring in from all three forks of the junction: one trail lead to the top, one to Guitar Lake where we came from, and one down to Trail Camp and Whitney Portal. It was the most populous stretch of the trail since Happy Isles, oh-so-many days ago. At the corner of the trail sat Worldest’s Fattest Marmot, glowering from under a rock, waiting to be fed. It literally looked like it had swallowed a bowling ball.

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Trail Crest. Photo by Pennie Rand

Once we left our packs and started the 2 mile ridge traverse to the top of the Continental USA, I started to feel better. Maybe I was actually acclimatized, and it was just my pack weighing me down all this time. I will never get used to carry big packs, I thought, not until I find one that fits me properly at least. 

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On the ridge: Karin, Zoe, Annavitte and me. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

I hiked with Annavitte and Karin, stopping frequently to take in the breathtaking rock formations and peering over the edges all the way down to Lone Pine and the hazy desert, thousands of feet below us.

There are several passages known as the ‘Windows’ along the ridge line to Mt Whitney, so-called because they are open on either said. Mom had heard and consequently obsessed about them. She asked every Northbound hiker for the last 4 days about them, and choose to believe the testimony of people who claimed they were ‘terrifying’ rather than others who said they were no big deal.

Quoth Mom crossing the broad, smooth path across the first Window, stopping to take in the view: “Is this a window?"

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Mom crosses the first window.

Me: “Yes!"

Mom, dubious of the non-terrifying opening: “Are you sure?” The windows were not a big deal after all.

As we came around the slope and saw the final massive, rocky, but not steep, slope to the top of Whitney, I saw Dad and Zoe far down the trail ahead of me and something came over me. I can catch them if I want to.

I wanted to. So I did.

It felt great. We were a high altitude now, and I booked up the trail. I passed hikers who had come straight up from Whitney Portal, gasping for air like fish on land. I was immune; I was something more powerful. I didn’t need as much oxygen as everyone else. I drunk in the felling of being fast, enjoying the feeling of all of my muscles urging me forward.

I caught Dad and Zoe a few hundred meters before the top, and broke out in a run. I was the first of our group on top (not that it mattered!), and by passing Dad and Zoe I ruined their JMT experience for the last time.

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Summite yoga on Mt Whitney.

On the top, there was homemade beef jerky, hugs and many pictures. Matt made a little speech about how we would take the completion of the JMT with us as a strength. Mostly, I think the JMT was about putting one foot in front of the other. We each got a surveyors mark pin of Mt Whitney. 

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We made it! Photo by Pennie Rand

Matt then held an impromptu mandolin concert to the general enjoyment of the 30-odd people on the summit. I took to summit yoga pics, and we headed down, not wishing to risk exposure to afternoon storms.

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Matt’s mando on Mt Whitney.

Dad and I decided to charge ahead; we had a mission in mind. It was called Mt Muir, a second 14-thousand foot peak along the ridge line back to where we had dropped our packs, and involved a scramble to the exposed summit (route description here). Mom, of course, was worried about gathering clouds, but Dad said they were fair weather cumulus. We had time yet.

We had trouble finding the actual gully up Mt Muir. At one point we started to scramble up the ridge just to get a vantage point, and in the end we found the steep talus slope that wound its way to the final, class 3 scramble to the summit. There was a trail broken into the loose slope. Once at the cliff to the summit, we went out to the far right, as in the red line below:

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Photo from summitpost.org

But the move to get up to the shelf at the end of the red line turned out to be too long for me. Dad went up, and I first I thought I would just let him go to the top and wait it out. But then I started to think about the other possible route, and decided to go down and try it.

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On the climb. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

The other (blue line) route was great, it basically consisted of a series of big steps up through the sheltered gully. After I met Dad on the ledge, we continued climbing, mostly easy, but with one ass-in-the-air traverse across a big boulder. Finally we squeezed into a crack between two rocks and we were just below the summit, with a thousand foot drop on every side of us except the way we had come.

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Dad on the downclimb

The final move to the top was easy, just pulling yourself up a sloped boulder covered in nubs. I knew I could do it, but the exposure was just to scary. So I sat just below the top, and let Dad go up and open the tiny summit register. We could see the trail below us, and I waved to the Rands passing below. We scrambled back down, satisfied to have done something a little extra.

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Mt Muir as seen from a distance - looking like the boss of the ridge even though the taller Mt Whitney is hulking behind it!

The rest of the day was a zillion switchbacks down a crazy steep slope to Trail camp. We got down and found a site just as it started raining. After the rain storm, I crawled out of my tent and watched stragglers coming down from the mountain. It would not have been cool to be out there during the thunderstorm.

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The last night at Trail Camp. Photo by Pennie Rand

Late in the evening, the final three stragglers came down. There was a couple, lightly dressed, who had been caught in the thunderstorm. The women was delirious from heat stroke or exhaustion or something, and could barely walk. She was being supported on one side by her husband and on the other by a boy scout who had helped them down. All respect to the boy scout for helping them, but I find it difficult not to be cynical. What did they expect, headed up a 14 000 foot mountain in t-shirts and shorts, starting late, with a little water and couple of Power Bars? Although the first death accident we heard about at Tyndall Creek had shocked me, after seeing people climbing the mountain, I’m surprised more people don’t die.

August 2, Day 25: Wotan’s Throne

The last day would be a 6-mile hike downhill to Whitney Portal and civilization. Dad and I geared up for one final side trip: sunrise on Wotan’s Throne. We started climbing around the steep, rocky massive above Trail Camp 45 minutes before sunrise, our tiny headlamps illuminating a few meters ahead of us. The back of the Throne was steep, but not as steep as the front, and we picked our way up. The sunrise was dramatic, red and black and illuminating the face of Whitney behind us.

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Dad on Wotan’s Throne

I chewed on a granola bar and looked down the valley where the trail would take us to our final destination. Hot showers waited, and endless food of our choosing. No more tortillas with peanut butter! There would be internet - I would final talk to Audun, after 16 days of silence. Then I turned back and gazed up at Whitney, and the sharp peak of Mt Muir. For a little while longer at least, it was just us and the mountains. Twenty-five sunrises and sunsets, and each more satisfying than the last.

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Summit yoga on Wotan’s Throne

We turned and headed down the slope to Trail Camp. It was almost over. We just had to put one foot in front of the other. Again. And Again.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Recovery Racing?

Today, I pinned on a bib, tied my running shoes and ran up a hill. But I wasn’t racing. What is racing, anyway? Most of the time, it’s a state of mind. It is the willingness to find your limit and find out what all your training is really worth.

Arriving home from 7 days straight mountain biking in Spain (more of which later) late last night wasn’t the best recipe for a race to begin with. But my friend Ivar was directing the race, and donating the proceeds to the annual national charity cause, which this is year is to help give people access to clean water. Running uphill in the mud? And for charity? I couldn’t resist.

My thoughtful boyfriend, Audun, said I could participate on one condition: that I didn’t race. That I ran it as recovery off of 7 hard days of biking. “Alright!” I said. “You can run with me, and watch my heart rate monitor! We’ll be slow together!"

So that’s how I got to be standing in the chilly Sunday morning breeze at sea level, fresh off the plane from Costa del Sol, ready to head 530 meters up to the top of Gråkallen

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Julie, Audun, me and Dad - ready to race (or something)

The start gun went off and 150 people charged up the hill. Audun and I jogged off, joking that we should have started sprinting as hard as we could go, just to bait the forerunners. Before we knew it, we were at the back of the pack, letting people slip by as they inevitably got caught up by the excitement of racing.

Part of me wanted to catch them, pass them and let them eat my dust. The other part of me was just enjoying the sunshine, the sensation of running, and Audun’s company.

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Working hard or hardly working?

We cruised steadily up the hill, stopping to walk any time it was steep enough for my heart rate to exceed 162 bpm. It was an interesting experience, racing against a heart rate monitor rather than people or myself even. I tried to do yoga breathing, to see if I could lower my heart rate. I couldn’t.

It was clever to give the heart rate monitor to Audun. That way, neither of us could lie, and we kept a steady effort up the hill, passing several runners who had started to hard. Sunday hikers cheered us on through the forest, but it felt kind of like I was hiding something from them. “I’m not actually racing,” I wanted to tell them, “I can be much faster than this.” 

The day was beautiful, and the trails wound passed a series of charming dams to Skistua, where the ultimate, steep climb up the ski hill to the top Gråkallen loomed. I got the same sensation I felt looking up the hill at Oslos Bratteste - like we would literally be going up a cliff. We jogged the final flat stretch before walking slowly, painfully slowly up the ski slope.

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What am I doing here? Halfway up the ski slope

The last stretch passed surprisingly quickly, and I felt guilty for not being in pain and giving my all the final meters to the finish in a burst of lactic acid.

All said and told, I prefer actual racing to this new form of recovery racing I tried today. Why go at it without giving it your all? It was an interesting exercise in restraint, but one I would rather go through in training. I’ll be back giving my all soon - once I’ve recovered for real!

Strava stats here.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, October 13, 2014

JMT Part 9: Dark and light

This is Part 9 in my series about hiking the JMT this summer. If you aren’t caught up, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 and Part 8! 

Can’t get enough of our trip? Check out my dad’s trip report on trailspace.com

July 30, Day 22: Center Basin - Tyndall Creek

The day we hiked over Forrester Pass started overcast but warm, pregnant with the possibility of thunderstorms. We started early, wanting to get over the highest pass on the John Muir Trail before any bad weather could set in.


On the climb. Photo by Annavitte Rand

As we passed above tree line and into a moonscape of rocks, I motored ahead of the group. The view grew more dramatic the higher I climbed, although it was hazy. Long, spiny ridges extended on either side of us. Finally I came over a crest in the hill and saw a small notch in the ridge - the pass!

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Matt, Pennie and Karin on the last stretch to the top.

I really chugged up the last stretch to the pass. Dad was closing in, motivating me to keep ahead and race to the top. I finally felt like all the time we had spent at altitude was starting to pay off. We were at 13000 feet and I could go hard. The top itself was pretty narrow, and sky pilot flowers dotted the rocks as the only vegetation. The trail heading down the other side was carved into what I would under most circumstances call a cliff. 

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Sky pilots on Forrester Pass.
We could see far into the distance, but were unable to identify Mt Whitney. We did, however, identify some ominous grey clouds above the valley in the direction we were headed. I put on my wool shirt, rain pants, and rain jacket in anticipation of some waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Slowly they trickled in, and I was pretty chilly by the tim I had eaten my blueberry Caveman Bar. We had a quick photo session, and headed down behind a couple to whom Mom regaled the whole Muffintop saga.
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Me, Karin, Zoe and Annavitte on Forrester Pass. Photo by Pennie Rand
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Nice trail work! Photo by Pennie Rand
Just before the ominous storm clouds brought rain, I took the most magnificent picture of a pika, poised at the edge of the trail, peering at me like it had never seen a human before.
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Why hello there!
The rain started a couple of switchbacks down the pass, and it came down hard, soaking us and hitting us with hail. We could see and glimmer of sun in the distance, and with that glimmer rested our hope. The glimmer became a beam that shone on us as we traversed the plane beneath the steep slope of the pass.
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Into Mordor. Or something. Photo by Pennie Rand
Unfortunately, a dark, broiling storm cloud had been hidden behind the first hit of rain. In anticipation of lightning strikes, our group decided to hunker down behind some boulders and wait for the worst to pass. Personally I would have preferred to continue and get even lower down, as we weren’t at a high point in the first place. The Strazilchek family hunkered under a tent groundcloth, while the Rands were a few meters away under a tent fly. I disliked the anticipation, being cold and wet and waiting. Listening to the thunder was worse than being out in it. I started to sing, and my family joined me - “My Favorite Things”, “Rocky Racoon”, “Part of That World”, and some Stan Rogers.
The closest lightning strike was about 3 seconds away, on a ridge line well above us. When we finally decided to start hiking again, it was still raining and I was freezing cold. We hiked fast - racing, really - towards tree line and cover, but I couldn’t help but admire the spectacular vista before us: The dramatic light, with dark clouds ahead of us and blue sky behind. A mountain ridge that looked like it had been sculpted with a giant chisel.
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Enjoying the view. Photo by Rick Strimbeck
We reached the first patch of trees, and had to cross one more open stretch before ducking into the trees for good. Annavitte was terrified of crossing the open patch. We discussed it. Dad and I were vehemently opposed to waiting anymore; I knew I wouldn't stay warm unless we set up our tents and I got into my sleeping bag, and we needed to hike at least a few more miles. We also didn’t see crossing the open patch as so dangerous. The actual probability of being hit is so low, especially when you’re not really at a high point. But perceived risk is very subjective, and the consequences of actually being hit are catastrophic.
In the end, we went for it, and charged through the cold rain to Bullfrog Lake/Tyndall Creek, where there was a bear box (very handy). This was about 1 mile from where we actually had planned to stop, but more sheltered, so we decided to call it quits for the day.
Zoe and I found a stretch of ground where the water wasn’t pooling, and set up our tent as fast as we could, but everything still got wet. And the floor still wasn’t waterproof (we need a groundcloth!). I threw in all of my dry bags, and clambered in, dripping. I then went through a complex process of changing clothes and unpacking in an order which minimized wetness. When I finally made it onto the dry(ish) haven of my sleeping bag in (semi)dry clothes, I realized that I had to pee. I stripped of my down jacket and made a mad dash out into the rain, returning to the tent shivering. That was the last straw. Zoe and I crawled into our sleeping bags and snack on crackers and cream cheese we had cleverly pilfered from the lunch bear canister, and read until the rain stopped.
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Zoe in the tent with Fritos.
That wasn’t until 5 pm, a full six hours after it had started! Matt, for some reason, stood outside for the whole time, jogging around the camp and chatting with the rest of us in tents. He said he wanted to save his dry change of clothes for when he knew would they stay dry. Personally I’m glad I got in the tent.
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Here comes the sun! Karin dries off.
Blessedly, the sun came out, and we crept out of our dripping tents. Everyone spread their wet stuff around on the rocks, and we basked in the warm glow. There was thick, hot potato cheese broccoli soup for dinner, and all was well. We just hoped we could stay dry the next day.
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And the drying process begins. Photo by Pennie Rand
July 31, Day 23: Tyndall Creek - Guitar Lake
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Foxtail pines in the morning light
The day dawned sunny, and the trail brought us up through a magnificent foxtail pine forest. Beams of light that I wasn’t able to properly render on cameras shone through the trees. We stopped before Bighorn Plateau, and spread out our things to dry before taking a side trip up Tawny Point. It was a 30 minute scramble, going hard without our heavy backpacks. Everyone but Mom and Zoe went. We could see Mt Witney from the top - the end was finally in site.
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The log book on Tawny Point. Photo by Pennie Rand
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Me and Dad enjoy the top. Photo by Pennie Rand
Fat, fluffy clouds materialized in the short space of time we were on top, but they were ‘fair-weather cumulus’ as Dad said, and nothing to be worried about. I ran down from the top, skirting the rockiest face to find soft soil on a ridge that descended into the foxtail pines. We packed up quickly and traversed Bighorn Plateau, a large flat area among all of these mountains, with a circular lake in the middle. There were marmots frisking in the grass near the lake.
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Looking down at Bighorn Plateau from Tawny Point. Photo by Pennie Rand
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Zoe and Mom cross Bighorn Plateau.
Us girls broke ahead and together we headed down to the intersection of the JMT with the High Sierra Trail at Wallace Creek. On the way, we met a rangerette named Chris. Apparently there would be a chance of thundershowers for the rest of the week. But she also said that in 8 years as a ranger, yesteday was the worst storm she had seen.
By the time our parents caught us at the crossing, it was high noon and we stopped to devour cream cheese, hummus and cheddar cheese with tortillas and chips (the luxuries of resupply!). My trail mix had gotten wet and sticky during the storm the day before due to some small perforations in the ziplock.
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The Tyndall Creek Rangerette and Mom. Photo by Pennie Rand
Mom had also talked to the ranger. Apparently a 75-year-old man had gone missing on Mt Whitney, and was just found dead on the north side of Whitney. His wife had been waiting below at Whitney Portal.
After lunch, we climbed up and over to Crabtree Meadows before started the ultimate ascent towards Mt Whitney. Near the Crabtree Meadows ranger station we met a huge troop of boy scouts. They nearly walked past the (mythical, but real) box of Wag-bags at the junction, until we shouted that they needed to stop. The Wag-bag system, which is intended to keep the amount of poop on Mt Whitney to a minimum by making people carry refuse out in plastic bags, definitely isn’t without flaws.
A helicopter also landed near the station. Mom saw an older woman, who she reckoned was the deceased man’s wife, get in. I wonder what happened to him. The Tyndall Creek Ranger didn’t know the cause of death.
From Crabtree Meadow, the trail climbs steadily to Guitar Lake, tucked in a sort of valley below Mt Whitney. I was really hungry, and tried to eat the gross, vegan Rise protein bar (which I had selected because it had the most calories of all the bars). My pack was weighing me down like an anchor, but I knew we were close, so close to our goal - no stopping us now!
The sun was stilling shining directly above us, be we appeared to be right between two large thunderheads: one above Mt Whitney, and one behind us. I hoped no one was up on Whitney right then; it looked really dark.
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Whitney - or Mt Doom?!
We arrived at Guitar Lake, the base camp for assaults on Whitney from the west. There were tons of people camped there compared to what we had seen on the rest of the trail. I found it rather ironic; remote places like Rae Lakes and Evolution Valley are much more beautiful in many ways, but much less crowded. But that’s the reality of mountains that are the biggest!
Luckily there was no shortage of sites, and we camped between some big boulders on a rise above the lake. Although the area around Guitar lake is mistreated due to its proximity to Whitney, it’s still pretty spectacular. We seemed to be on the cusp of a battle between dark and light, of thunderstorms and sun. The sun was winning at Guitar Lake.
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The camp at Guitar Lake. Photo by Pennie Rand
We swam in the lake. It felt magnificent, cool and clean and close to nature.
A rodent chewed a hole in my soggy trail mix bag.
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Dad cooks at Guitar Lake. Photo by Pennie Rand
We had tuna pea wiggle with double cheese for dinner. It was great. Matt played the mandolin. We purified water. We steeled ourselves. We were ready for Whitney.
- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 10, 2014

JMT part 8: Thru-hiking sucks

 This is Part 8 in my series about hiking the JMT this summer. If you aren’t caught up, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 and Part 7

 

Can’t get enough of our trip? Check out my dad’s trip report on trailspace.com


July 26, Day 18, Lower Palisade Lake - Marjorie Lake


Everyone was kind of out of sorts this morning. I was super tired for some reason, my one hip felt like it had a kink in it and Annavitte was feeling queasy. We started the climb towards Mather Pass at 7:30, and to improve the mood, we started to tell each other stories. I told the story of climbingMt Kilimanjaro (that was before this blog!), Dad told about his days as a hut keeper in New Zealand, and Mom about her catholic school days. And somehow, slowly, the stories fuelled our weary gang up the trail towards Mather Pass.

 

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Annavitte in the foreground and Mom in the background, on the climb to Mather Pass.

When we were nearly at the top of the pass, I saw bearded man going wicked fast, about to hike passed Mom below me. Mom was still fuming about Muffintop, so she took the opportunity to ask Fast Bearded Guy about trail etiquette. It turned out he was a park service trail crew guy named Tim (or, as we immortalized for the rest of the trail, Tim the Yeti, due to his hairy appearance). He definitely looked like he had been out there for a while. 

As I crested the top of Mather Pass, I saw Muffintop and co. This was super awkward because I could hear Mom talking about how he had yelled at her and how rude he was. I hollered, “Nice view here!”, trying to get her to look up the trail, and luckily, she took the hint. The view from the pass was nice. A sharp ridge extended to either side, and an open valley spread out below us. There were red and black mountains in the distance. Again, I wondered which of those mountains we would hike close to and which we would only see from this pass.

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Chilling out on Mather Pass. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

Muffintop and co left pretty quickly, dissipating the awkwardness, but we stayed on top for a while talking to Tim the Yeti, and yet another couple who had gotten engaged on the trail called Bob and Amber. They had tried to save weight at MTR by not sending in a ton of food, and as a consequence were already rationing their snacks. I was glad we had enough food. Tim the Yeti got an weather update from a radio in his pack. He thought thunderstorms would hit again tomorrow. 

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Tim the Yeti (in the middle) and Mom (right) on Mather Pass. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

As we trotted down the descent, into the view, everyone seemed to be feeling better. The clouds had started to gather by lunch time, but we trusted Tim the Yeti. There wouldn’t be thunderstorms until tomorrow. So we stopped for a quick lunch break in the shade by a river.

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Dad soaks in the scenery below Mather Pass.

We met Tim the Yeti again, later that day, heading down the switchbacks from Pinchot Pass, as we were headed up. He essentially trail-lapped us! He had collected his skinny, strong looking girlfriend, and they were headed down to the river to camp.

Anyway, we crested the switchbacks and arrived at Marjorie Lake below Pinchot Pass at around 3:45 pm. I was so excited to have some time to just hang out! We scrapped out a campsite in the rocks and settled in to relax.

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Bottoms up! The awful ‘Chickpea Curry’. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

The food that evening was the worst on the trail. We were eating vegetarian, because Zoe is vegetarian. Dad had decided he wanted to attempt a sort of chickpea curry, but with chickpea flour instead of chickpeas. It was awful, thick and overpowering. In addition, we had picked up rice in the hiker buckets at MTR, and it was half regular and half sushi rice. The result was half cooked, half crunchy rice to go with our thick curry. Mom kept saying, “we have to finish this! We can’t throw it out!” But in the end we had no choice; we went way off the trail, dug a hole with the U-Dig-It Pro and buried the leftovers.

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Sunset at Marjorie Lake

July 27,  Day 19, Marjorie Lake - Middle Rae Lake

Pinchot isn’t a big pass, but we got an early start nonetheless because wanted to be in position to go over the next pass, Glen, early the next morning. It was grey out, and looked like it could start raining anytime. Mom was chirping and exclaiming about the scenery, but I was feeling pretty grumpy.

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The trail up Pinchot.

We rounded the top of the pass quickly and headed down into another unfamiliar landscape. I had begun to dig a deep pit of despair and boredom. I couldn’t care less where in this vast landscape we were headed. It was the same every time after all. We went up and up, only to meet a downhill that wiped all of our efforts to zero. The trail relentlessly continued, and for some arbitrary reason we followed it. To what end? To Whitney? We could have driven to Lone Pine and climbed Mt Whitney in a fraction of the time. 

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Looking back at Marjorie Lake on the climb to Pinchot. Photo by Rick Strimbeck.

I had been left to my own thoughts for 19 days, and had finally reached a point of emptiness. Oh for the outside world! For something, outside our tiny world on the trail, to happen!

Partway down the hill Mom asked if I was alright, and I choked out a “NO!”, which lead to an outburst of hatred and despair. 

“You know what I’m going to write on my blog? THRU-HIKING SUCKS!"

“Well, then you can go out at Kearsarge,” Mom stated reasonably. Even through my mask of trail loathing, I knew bailing and going out over Kearsarge Pass would never be an option for me. For some reason, one I no longer understood, I would follow the footsteps of this trail to the bitter end. It wasn’t going to change my life, it wasn’t heroic, it didn’t represent something poetic to me. It would be a grind, but I would be damned if I would quit.

Having someone to talk to about anything at all did make a difference, and by the time we had reached rock bottom for the day at 8500 feet I was already on my way back up. We stopped for an extra good lunch. Couscous! And one shared packet of tuna fish!

I joked about the sadistic nature of the creator of the JMT. The whole project had become sort of a black comedy to me. “Muhaha, we shall build a trail up THAT cliff!” the creators must have cackled, “And then we will have them go a ways down that valley before they cross the river and go back up the valley!"

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Only one person at a time on bridge.

After lunch we crossed the river to head up the valley we had come down on this crazy suspension bridge. Only one person was allowed on the bridge at a time, and there were some broken planks in the middle.

On the climb up towards Rae Lakes, I hung back with Dad and had him teach me plant names. Anything, anything but the boredom of my own head. The rhythm of repeating latin names to myself, constantly scanning the ground for new flowers or old, familiar ones carried me up the hill.

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Teeny tiny frog!

Everyone was tired, especially Annavitte and I, to the point of giddiness. We had hiked 9 miles before lunch, and were shooting for around 15 total. We climbed up out of the rocky lodgepole pine forest and in into a vast valley whose end we could not see. I ate the last Snickers from the energy bar box, which might in fact have been the best Snickers I’ve ever eaten. Annavitte and I agonized about how little our sisters could be so much faster than us when they train so much less than us. We had no answers this question. All I know is that my backpack, 19 days in, was still uncomfortable, to the point that I was constantly shifting it around, constantly thinking about it as I hiked. All day. Every day.

We stopped at Middle Rae Lake near the ranger’s station. I had a refreshing swim and washed my hiking clothes with Dr Bronner’s. I used peppermint-scented Dr Bronner’s as toothpaste, soap and deodorant for the whole trip, and it actually work marvellously. (Protip: don’t use too much when brushing teeth, or it tastes very bitter!)

Later in the even, the promised thunderstorm final rolled in. We managed to get all of our stuff into the tents before crawling in ourselves to wait out the rainstorm. It hailed and rained, and the water pooled under me and Zoe’s tent and soaked through the floor. Luckily most of our stuff was in waterproof bags.

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If you look closely you can see the fat rain droplets in this picture.

The sunset after the rainstorm was spectacular, glowing orange over Fin Dome. It started raining again that night, but we had dug a trench around the tent to keep the water from pooling.

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Sunset over Fin Dome 

July 28, Day 20, Middle Rae Lake - Center Basin

Only one pass to conquer before our rest day! We were slow get ready, everyone was silly. Annavitte, Karin, Zoe and I did Grease, the latest of our musical renditions. As we say in Norway, you only have as much fun as you make yourself.

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Encouraging message on the trail.

I had coffee mixed with hot chocolate with breakfast, which essentially acted as rocket fuel. I started climbing truly fast for the first time in days. It felt great. I don’t like going slow and carrying a heavy load. I want to be light and fast. 

The trail reached the cusp of the Painted Lady Ridge. How I wished Dad and I had time to scramble up that magnificent, stripped peak! But we thought the weather might be coming in, and Dad and Zoe had to hike out over Kearsarge to pick up the resupply, so getting over Glen Pass took precedent.

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Zoe below the Painted Lady.

A shear wall seemed to rise in front of us, straight up to the only discernible low point between the spectacular stripped peaks around us. As always, the trail found a way to switchback up the face. As I climbed, I was passed by two guys going fast. I was impressed, even though I was going slower than at the outset. I joked to Mom that my JMT experience was being ruined - joking about Muffintop never got old!

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The climb up Glen Pass. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

At the top of the pass, we met yet another sweeping view, this time from a sharp ridge. The two fast guys had stopped and we chatted. It turned out they were frog biologists doing research in the High Sierras. One guy had a nice map and we idenitifed a few of the more iconic peaks in the distance. I also traded a Peanutbutter Clif Bar for a Black Cherry Almond one - so exciting for those of us who have been on the trail for so long!

In fact, a lot of our conversation had turned to food by this point. We had received intelligence that there was a burger shop at Whitney Portal, where we would exit the trail. We talked about this grill incessantly. I was planning so much eating when I got there. I was surprised how little I missed fresh fruit and vegetables - mostly I wanted high calorie food likes meat, eggs, potatoes. I was definitely having trouble eating enough.

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Annavitte and Karin on Glen Pass

We hiked down about 2 miles out to the Kearsarge Pass junction, where we stopped to repack. Dad and Zoe were heading out to Onion Valley to pick up more food and Matt and Pennie, so we took as much of their stuff as we could. The weather looked increasingly dark, so after we had eaten and dried out our things a bit we separated and headed out. I had a second, empty bear can stacked on the top of the one all always carried, making my pack ridiculously tall.

Earlier that day, Zoe had tripped and fallen. She bought these North Face trail running shoes for the trip, and they totally fell apart (Yes, they were brand new before the trip) to the point that she had to them wrap duct tape to keep to together. The result of this is that she doesn’t have great traction. Luckily she had some other running shoes in the car that she was able pick up at the resupply. Anyway, she had fallen scrapped her shin. I wasn’t worried; I’ve crashed too many times on my mountain bike. Mom, on the other hand, was hysterical. Even after Zoe had left us, she kept saying things like, “But what if she has to go to the hospital?!” I reassured her that Zoe would be fine. (Spoiler alert:she was!)

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The state of Zoe’s shoes.

The trail took us down to 10 000 feet again, and then we started climbing There was now only one pass between us and Mt Whitney - the biggest of them all, Forrester. As we approached the area where we had planned to camp, Center Basin, it started to rain, a light misting. It drizzled steadily for the rest of the evening, effectively keeping us in our tents except for a foray out to eat.

July 29, Day 21, Rest day at Center Basin

The long-expected rest day had finally come. I had big plans to finish my book (The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco) and lie on my tummy and eat my remaining trail mix piece by piece. It was overcast in the morning, and all of our stuff was still damp. Miraculously, the sun came out and we all emerged from our tents, setting out our things to dry, basking in the warmth.

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Gypsy camp at Center Basin.

Again, our main topic of thought was food. Spcifically, what food were could eat that day. I had most of my trail mix, and some tortillas with peanut butter. Oh, how I loathed tortillas with peanut butter. They made me feel awful every time I ate them on the trail.

We speculated about when the others would arrive, and I decided to jog down towards them. It felt great to be running, but I got rather out of breath. I don’t know if I set out too quickly in my excitement or if it was just the altitude.

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Reunited at last! Photo by Rick Strimbeck

I met Zoe and Dad, with Matt and Penney, about 15-20 minutes down the trial. The reunion at camp was joyous. Pennie had brought gifts - pickes and Fritos, exactly the foods Mom had been craving, and bagels!

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Fritos and wine - oh my! Photo by Pennie Rand

Matt wrote the Wag-Bag song in anticipation of us using Wag-Bags to poop in on our way up  Mt Whitney.

And Dad got so excited about a new type of bar Penney had bought (the Caveman bar) that we made an ad for it:

We were reunited and headed for the home stretch. Only Forrester and Whitney, the big two, to go!

- The Wild Bazilchuk