Sunday, September 21, 2014

JMT Part 6: That's nothing!

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

 

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


July 19, Day 11: Duck Creek - Squaw Lake


The vogue joke of the times was ‘oh, that’s nothing’ - riffing off the Monty Python skit where a couple of Yorkshiremen sit around and trade increasingly outrages stories. It got to the point where you couldn’t even remark, “It looks like it’s going to be a nice day!” without someone exclaiming, in a fake Scottish accent (someone the Yorkshiremen became Scottish!), “Oh that’s nothing! When I hiked the JMT, the sun shone so bright I got a third degree burn on 95% on my body!” The trouble with jokes like these is that they are very very funny, until all of a sudden there not. And in this particular group dynamic, my saturation level was lower than everyone elses’.

 

Leaving Duck Creek, I finally snapped, “That’s not funny!” at poor Zoe (sisterly love, I know). Then I pulled ahead, leaving behind the awkward silence of 7 people who were really enjoying themselves. This time I can’t even blame it on the hanger. 


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 Snack Break at Virginia Lake.

 

The mood blew over, and by the time we reached Purple Lake (spoiler: not particularly purple) we were snapping pictures and laughing again. The trail climbed steadily up to another gorgeous alpine lake, Virginia. We stopped for snacks, and ended up taking a half an hour break because the group was so spread out. It was sunny and beautiful and I kind of felt like just staying right where I was, to enjoy this incredible place. But it was still early, and we had to get as far up imposing Silver Pass as we could go.

 

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Switchbacks down to Fish Creek. Photo by Pennie Rand

 

Sharp switchbacks descended down to Fish Creek where we stopped for lunch and the obligatory freezing-cold swim/bath. I downed some crackers, but stayed away from the tortillas and peanut butter, which had consistently been making me queasy and dizzy after lunch.


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Sierra lilies near Fish Creek.

 

As we headed up Silver Pass the weather started to turn, a collection of grey clouds dotting the sky. We all jumped into our rain clothes and stuffed vulnerable items into our packs, expecting another hell-hail flash-flood storm like we had experienced before as the first rain drop hit. But we only got a light shower. All the same, we decided to stop at Squaw Lake for the night. Better to camp a little short of the Pass than go over in lightning and thunder. 


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 The camp at Squaw Lake

 

Squaw Lake was a popular place to camp, and we admired the variety of light weight tents around us. I can’t believe some of those wimpy tarps propped up on trekking poles can hold up in any sort of weather! 


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 Lean on me. Photo by Pennie Rand

 

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Rolling trail burritos Photo by Pennie Rand

 

There was a beautiful show of dark clouds and orange sunbeams all evening as we enjoyed our trail burritos and chocolate mousse. Matt serenaded us on the mandolin, making up the Silver Pass Song, and we went to be early, anticipating a long day.


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Sunset, looking down the valley from Squaw Lake.

 

July 20, Day 12: Squaw Lake - Bear Creek Trail

 

In the 13 miles from Squaw Lake to Bear Creek, we were hit by two thunderstorms.


The Dad alarm (involve him making different noises and shaking our tents) went off at 5:30, and tousled heads emerged in the dawn light to see that a single person Big Agnes tent had popped up during the night. We were making a lot of noise, bustling around and getting ready to leave, so I was surprised when the owner of the tent emerged. I expected some grizzled thru-hiker emerge to tell us to pipe down, cause he had been hiking till 2 am. What I didn’t expect was for a small backpack, already packed, to be chucked out of the tent, before a chipper brunette in a down jacket and shorts sprung out. She was a PCT hiker, but seemed surprisingly down to earth compared to all the others we’d met so far. (No offence, but most of the PCT hikers we met either seemed like soul-searching hippies or party animals or both). This PCT hiker had been hiking with another girl who had pushed through to Red’s (they were hiking the opposite direction as us) during the night. Wow, I thought, There’s hiking and then there’s hiking! I longed to be a fast, lightweight hiker, to be going far every day. But as I shouldered my heavy, still-uncomfortable pack, I knew the 13 miles we had coming today would be enough.


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Ready to go at 7 am sharp! Photo by Pennie Rand

 

An hour after leaving camp, we had switchbacked our way to the top of the pass. Zoe was ahead most of the time. As the member of our group who is least athletic in her daily life, there had been to concern as to whether she would struggling with hiking with a heavy pack, day in and day out. But Zoe seemed to take to the heavy pack like a fish takes to water, and was among the strongest of the group.


On Silver Pass we were treated to another view far into the distance in both directions. Behind us was a rugged landscape and blue sky, while ahead was endless even larger, sharper mountains, and ominous dark clouds. Mom spent the whole time on top searching for cell phone coverage to get news of our dog, Sebastian, who was being watched by a friend in Norway. As far as I know we had no cell phone coverage between Mammoth on day 8 and Whitney Portal on day 25.

 

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Moon landscape up Silver pass.

 

The dark clouds amputated our stay on top - we had many miles to go! I drank some more spring water on the way down from the pass. It tasted great, and I hoped my adamance to the whole purification thing wouldn’t backfire (we were purifying the majority of our water).


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The top of Silver Pass. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

The trail brought us down another succession of switchbacks down to the valley, in gorgeous juniper and other fur trees. The trees on the JMT continued to fascinate me. Some of them were so twisted they looked as though they had been braided.

 

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Dad on the descent.

 

The bad weather hit us on the way down, but luckily the storm didn’t last long. I got pretty damp, although we were in the trees when the thunder and lightning came. We stopped for a quick lunch at Quails Meadows, and met some other JMT hikers, including Susanne, who had been leapfrogging us. Two hikers we had met before had turned around on their way up Bear Ridge, where we were headed, because of the bad weather. They were headed out off the trail to Vermillion Resort (known as VVR) to treat themselves to a night of luxury. Little did we know that he was planning to propose to her!

 

We headed up the steep climb to Bear Ridge, still in the sun (would be fun to have a picture of the zig-zags on the map!). The trail was sharp switchbacks dug into the almost impossibly steep slope, but a forest of trees still managed to cling to the slopeside. I was not having fun going up. My backpack was heavy and uncomfortable and I was going slow. I put in my headphones and hung at the back of the group.


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Headed up Bear RidgePhoto by Pennie Rand

 

Finally the slope flattened to a more reasonable grade. Still the switchbacks continued. This seemed odd to me, in this flat terrain where you could easily go straight up. But that’s clearly how they build trails there!

 

As we traversed the top of the ridge through the trees, we saw enormous grey storm clouds headed our way. Fast. When the storm hit 10 minutes later, we decided to bunker down under a stand of large trees for a while. This second storm turned out to be not as bad as it had first appeared, but the parents swapped travel stories for 15 minutes before we continued. I was glad to keep hiking; it had been cold sitting still.

 

We were only supposed to have a 1.6 mile descent to the next trail junction before we looked for a campsite, but this stretched seemed way longer. I tracked the whole JMT on my tiny bicycle GPS, charging it off of a solar panel (check it out on Strava). This day the GPC recorded 15 miles where we should have hiked a total of 13. Dad was incredulous, “It must be wrong!” Later we discovered that this section had been corrected in terms of length in the newest JMT guidebook, and this section was in fact 2 miles longer than the guidebook let on to.

 

There were beautiful flowers on the descent, almost reminding me of a garden. Silvery mist shimmered over the grey and white granite of peaks across the valley.

 

We finally reached the junction, bone tired, and found a campsite a couple of hundred meters down the Bear Creek Trail by the roaring Bear Creek. There was a beautiful swimming hole, and Karin and I took a freezing, refreshing dip. There was also a fire pit, and for once we were below 10 000 feet and allowed to have a fire. I was sent out to collect wood for a fire, and I found tiny wild strawberries as I wandered. We had a big blaze going to no time, which mad up for the intermittent lack of sun and helped keep the rampant mosquitoes away.


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Mandolin around the fire. Photo by Pennie Rand

 

Dad was making white bean soup for dinner, but for some reason decided to use less water than in the instructions and thus served the soup as a kind of mush. He also suggest that we top it with some ghee, “to add to extra calories.” The ghee we had was pretty salty though, and the three tablespoons I cleverly added plus the concentrated soup tasted awful, like eating lumpy, warm butter with chunks of flour. I could barely choke it down, but I knew I needed the calories. 


“I’m never eating ghee again!” I gasped as I swallowed the last spoonful from my bowl. This was immediately translated into a charming song called “Ghee O.D.” on Matt’s mandolin. Zoe, Annavitte, Karin and I rounded off the evening with renditions of most of the songs form Oklahoma, as well as some from White Christmas. Be your own entertainment

 

July 21, Day 13: Bear Creek - Salley Keyes Lakes

 

We had planned to be ready at 7:30, so we were woken at 6 by Dad’s bird squawk and tent shaking. We had cream of wheat for breakfast, which I thought was terrible, tasteless and the consistency of glue. Then I proceeded to pack my things, and I was ready, at 7:30. Unfortunately, no one else was. So I sat down at read my Kindle until 7:45, at which point it looked like everyone was almost ready. So I stripped down to my t-shirt and shorts and put away my book. Alas, I had to wait another 15 minutes, and it was really cold standing around in shorts. 

 

At least we went fast when we got going. We took off like a freight train, and soon passed our friend Susanne. She moves slow and steady where as we bolt, get spread out and then stop and regroup.


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River crossing. Photo by Pennie Rand

  

The climb to Selden Pass was gradual and easy, through boulder-strewn forest and then out in to the open, alpine landscape.  We arrived at Marie Lake below Selden Pass around 11 am. Annavitte, Karin, Zoe and I were in the front, but I called a halt. The lake was just too pretty to pass up. The weather was beautiful, so the whole group took a break to go swimming before heading up the final climb to the pass. 


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Karin above Marie Lake.

 

On top of the pass, I must confess I was looking forward to the short hike down and a relaxing afternoon at Salley Keyes. But Dad would have none of it. “It’s the perfect circumstances for a side trip! Let’s go there!” he said, pointing at a peak on the ridge above us.

 

“Have you even looked at the map, Dad?” I said. It seemed like a kind of an ill-conceived plan to me, but I went along with him anyway. Someone had to make sure he didn’t trip on a rock in his eagerness to get on top of something and die.

 

So we headed up the rocky ridge from Selden Pass, headed for Mt Senger, unsure of how this wonder turn out. Once I got over my slight anxiety at starting a side trip I wasn’t sure I wanted to do, it was fun. We scramble up a rocky slope which gradually grew steeper and then turned into a pile of boulders strewn across the mountainside. We managed to find a pretty good route, with not too many loose rocks and a minimum of hard moves. Finally we approached (what seemed like) the top of the ridge. I could see the blue sky on the other side, and i felt my throat tighten at the anticipation of a shear drop. It wasn’t as shear as I imagined, although I wasn’t interested in falling down it. It was another pile of steep rock, extending down towards the Salley Keyes Lakes where we would be headed later.

 

The top of the ridge was impassable; we either had to scramble around the side we came, which became a pretty smooth slab, or go around the backside. I peered over the backside an spotted a series of ledges up the ridge. We manoeuvred over there, including a fun sort of spider move to get onto the ledges. But two ledges up I felt too exposed. The ledges were covered in loose rock, and the consequences of sliding were not good. So we turned, at about 11 700 feet. 


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Sketchy?

 

We picked our way down, grabbed our packs and trotted down to Salley Keyes Lakes. We found the rest of the gang, all set up. I read for a while, and then Annavitte started doing her strength training routine. I joined her, and then she said, “I wanna to pull-ups! Let’s find somewhere to do pull-ups!” Which resulted in this:
 

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A Finnish woman, hiking alone and clearly lonely, had wandered over to our camp and was chatting with mom. She had a bad stutter, which made it hard to hold a conversation. I wonder if she knew how lonely the JMT would be when she set out?

 

Later that evening, man was fishing in the lake, and Pennie wandered over to ask if she could fish too. He walked off to do something else, and she cast and managed to get the hook stuck on something in the lake. Hilarity ensued, ending in Matt swimming out into the lake to unhook the fishing hook. Poor, unsuspecting fisherman! Pennie didn’t ask to fish more.


 

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Salley Keyes. Photo by Pennie Rand



Tomorrow would be the big resupply at Muir Trail Ranch.

 

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, September 11, 2014

JMT Part 5: Guess what my last name is?!

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


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


July 16, day 8: Garnet Lake - Red’s Meadow/Mammoth

 

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Sunrise on Banner Peak. Photo by Rick Strimbeck


I got up extra early to watch the sunrise on Banner Peak, which rumour had it was particularly spectacular from Garnet Lake. There were some nice colors but they faded quickly because of clouds obscuring the sun. We got a late (hiker-time) start, and meandered the five miles to Shadow Lake by 11 am. Here one can either take the official JMT to Red’s Meadow, for 10 more miles of hiking, or hike 5 miles out to Agnew Meadows and take a shuttle bus to Red’s Meadow. Mom opted for the variant to Agnew Meadows, while the rest of us felt bound to the ‘real’ JMT, no matter how boring or long. We had a quick swim in the frigid inlet to Shadow Lake before charging off.

 

The trail climbed 700 ft on neatly graded switchback on a hill so steep I would struggled to climb it without a trail. We played a nearly endless round of ‘Fat Cat’, a game in which one player thinks of a rhyme and gives a clue to the other players so that they can guess it. (For example, I’m thinking of a Fat Cat for an overweight feline!)

 

We then traversed passed a couple of lakes before meandering steadily more downhill through the trees. It was a pleasant forest, but rather monotonous. With a couple miles to go to Red’s, the storm clouds rolled in for the third afternoon in a row. A few scattered drops fell and we pulled on our rain jackets. Then it appeared to clear up; maybe it would be another cop out like yesterday? But alas, it started raining again, hard. Like a sprinter gradually building up to full speed the rain came down more intensely. Then it started to hail pea-size chunks. The thunder was deafening; we couldn’t hold a regular conversation. The only thing to do was to trudge through the rain and count the time between the thunder and lightning strikes (2 seconds!). At least we were in the trees.

 

The trail quickly became a small river. I was cold, so I stopped to pull on my rain pants, but my shorts were so wet the pants were basically soaked by the time I got them on. We charged past Devil’s Postpile National Monument, and I admired the cool, hexagonal basalt columns, but was sure we would go back later for pictures. My camera was buried in my pack to keep it dry.

 

We finally arrived at the Red’s Meadow campground, but then realized that the store where we were supposed to the meet Mom and Pennie was another mile up the road. The campground was flooded, and looked to pretty bad, not like a great place to dry off. The ‘resort’ where the store was was a handful of wooden buildings at the end of the road, which was also being thoroughly washed by rainwater. 

 

In the cafĂ© at the resort we found Mom and Pennie, soaking wet from their hike out to Agnew and worried about us.  We wolfed down hot chocolate and boysenberry pie, and the good news unfolded. Pennie had booked us into a hostel at Mammoth Lakes. With beds, and showers! We jumped on the next shuttle bus to Mammoth, glad to leave the forlorn campsite behind.

 

Davison Street Guest House is the nitty-gritty hiker hostel in Mammoth. It’s cheap, and has a lofty common room where PCT and JMT hikers alike flock. One of Mom’s best childhood friends, Sarah, had driven from Seattle with her daughter Amanda to meet us in Mammoth. She had taken over the kitchen at the hostel and was cooking an enormous amount of chicken. Dinner was an excited affair, the first day of Mom’s birthday celebration (her birthday is July 18, so actually two days from then). As far as I could tell, the birthday celebrating part was mostly her yelling, “It’s my BIRTHDAY!” with increasing enthusiasm, but everyone was happy and full and excited and clean. 


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Chilling out at the hostel in Mammoth. Photo by Pennie Rand

 

One of the women staying in the hostel was this hippy lady named Jen, who collects trash and turns it into something useful. For example, she makes yarn out of plastic (plarn) and knits with it. She also was hiking wearing a green fleece tail. She had been hiking with a group, but wasn’t getting along with them and thought she wouldn’t be able to finish the JMT until she meet this other girl who had also lost her hiking partner. The crazy thing is, Jen and this other girl were totally compatible, had the same interests and everything. Serendipity!

 

Jen also hula hooped. Like she had crazy hooping skills. She could make the hoop turn around her arms and her nose, and move it all over. She had a little show in honour of mom’s BIRTHDAY. Maybe I should learn to hula hoop.

 

July 17, day 9: Rest day in Mammoth Lakes

 

Early in the morning, I woke, realizing that it was midafternoon Norway time and I could Skype with Audun (my BF). I went out on the porch and started talking to him, wanting to tell him everything I had seen and experienced so far. All of a sudden, a scruffy-looking guy in a sleeping bag shuffled around the corner and said, “Can you keep it down? We’re sleeping here…” Turns out there was a PCT hiker sleeping on the porch. I felt embarrassed for waking them up but angry for them ruining my call.

 

As I later learned, the PCT hiker’s name was Patches, and he was held up in Mammoth Lakes because of an inflected blister. So infected, in fact, that he had gotten sepsis, and ended up in the hospital the next day to have  a chunk cut out of his foot. Learning this made me feel bad for getting angry in the first place.

 

Dad, Mom, Sarah and Amanda shuttled up to Red’s Meadow to hike around Devil’s Postpile, but the rest of us opted for a ‘city’ day. Annavitte, Zoe, Karin and I wandered around Mammoth Lakes, buying postcards and snacks. We stopped by a sports store in town that we had heard about from the other hikers, Mammoth Mountaineering, just for the heck of looking at gear.  

 

Which is when we met Asshole Salesman. My theory is that this guy preys off newbie hikers who are insecure about the stuff in their packs. As soon as we told him we were JMT hikers he said, condescendingly, “What broke?”

 

I sarcastically answered, “My ball point pen,” which was true. The assumption that the only reason we would be in the store was because our gear failed ticked me off. 

 

Asshole Salesman then proceeded to tell me that my shoes were too small (I had sport’s tape on my feet because my sandals, not my hiking shoes, rub).

 

To add insult to injury, when we told him that one of our group had driven the van around to Mammoth Lakes, which was why we had clean clothes, he said, “So you guys are basically awkward car camping?” I’ll show you awkward car camping, buttwipe. How about you carry my pack for 15 miles tomorrow. 

 

We did not buy anything.


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The matching Team StrazilRand t-shirts. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

That evening we had a huge pasta dinner, and Matt, Pennie’s husband joined us, completing our group of 8. We toasted mom’s impending birthday again. She got “Boomf”, marshmellows with pictures printed on them (who knew?), and everyone got matching Team StrazilRand t-shirts with the JMT profile on them.


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Boomf! Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

July 18, day 10: Red’s Meadow - Duck Creek

 

In the morning, we had to catch a shuttle bus up to Red’s Meadow, to pick up the trail where we left off. In the middle of the rush to eat breakfast and pack up, we met Ferrari Guy. He was tall, with a mustache, and wearing cool mountain bikers clothes, even though he was old enough to be my dad.

 

“Hey,” he said, “Guess how many feet I biked yesterday? 100 000!”

 

I nodded, cramming cereal into my mouth. I was in a rush, but I chitchatted back in for with us.

 

“So where are you headed?” he asked, in a California drawl.

 

“Well, we are doing the JMT, which goes to Mt Whitney,” I answered quickly.

 

“Oh, so you’re with the plant dude!” he said.

 

“Yeah, that’s my dad,” I replied. (Dad is a plant physiologist).

 

“Yeah, when he said he worked with plants, I thought he meant a different kind of plant, if you know what I mean,” Ferrari Guy winked cheerfully.

 

He was an aerospace engineer. He had property in ever corner of California. If any one of the things he claimed were true, all of them were. Finally:

 

“Guess what my last name is?!” he exclaimed, clearly proud of what was coming.

 

Pennie and I played all excited. “What?!”

 

“FERRARI!” he roared.

 

Then we had to rush off to catch the shuttle bus. Forty minutes later we were at Red’s, but it took some reshuffling before we were ready to set off. I was antsy; one day and two nights was long enough to spend off the trail! My pack weighed 40 lbs as we set off from Red’s, even though we were carrying 5 days of food. I felt good, like I had gotten rid of all the excess. I wouldn’t have another opportunity to get rid of stuff; no more awkward car camping! 


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Matt tunes up before we hit the trail from Red’s. Photo by Rick Strimbeck.

 

Matt play an inaugural trail song on his mandolin, and we were off, up through another huge burn in the sun. 


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Traversing the burn. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

A few miles in, we left our packs by the trail to hike up a small cinder cone. A 10 minute scramble up the loose, red pumice lead us to an open vantage point. Another red cindercone was right across from us, with a verdant meadow spread below it creating an incredible contrast of color. In the distance, I could see Banner Peak, and it looked impressively far away. Looking in the opposite direction, I saw only unknown terrain. We would soon be traversing a tiny strip of the view in the distance, but the end of it all was still more than 150 miles away.

 

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Pennie on the little cinder cone.

 

The rest of the hike to Duck Creek passed quick. The trail goes through a forest, the soil going from volcanic back to granite, and gradually gains elevation. We set up camp by the creek early, so Zoe, Annavitte, Karin and I had time for an hour long yoga session before dinner time. Doing yoga after hike feels magnificent, and sounds really ideal (connect with yourself! and nature!), but is definitely more uncomfortable than at home. My sleeping pad is narrower than a regular yoga mat, and you have to avoid rocks and roots.


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Zoe, Karin, Annavitte and me, aka Mountain Yoga Goddesses. Photo by Pennie Rand

 

Today it was actually Mom’s birthday (“It’s my BIRTHDAY!”), so we had salmon pea wiggle (basically mac’n’cheese with peas and canned salmon) and no-bake maple cheesecake in her name. Then I took pictures of (yet another) gorgeous Sierra sunset before collapsing in my tent.


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- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

JMT Part 4: Run like the wind

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


July 13: Day 5, Cathedral Lakes - Tuolumne Meadows

 

When waking up at a beautiful lake like Cathdral Lake, nothing will do but a morning swim. I woke up my friends Sigmund, Erlend and Andreas whom I incredibly had met the previous evening, insisting that they join me. They are, after all, responsible for the frigid dip I have taken every January 1 for the last three years. They, of course, didn’t protest, immediately got up and jumped in the water. A 6:30 am. Or that’s how the official story goes ;)


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Happy campers. Andreas on the left and Sigmund on the right.

 

We bid farewell to our perfect campsite and my Norwegian friends, who were going the opposite direction, and I took up the rear, bopping along and listening to my MP3 player in quasisolitude. The trail was first flat and technical through the trees before turning into switchbacks down a steep hill. For the first time, but not the last, I mused that we were now loosing all the altitude we worked so hard to gain the day before.

 

This day would be short, only six miles to Tuolumne Meadows. But I was starting to experience the kind of hunger that comes from being outside all day every day, and I couldn’t wait for the burgers that rumor had it one could purchase at Tuolumne.

 

As we came to the outskirts of Tuolumne, our hiking pace turned into a frenzied rush. I was starving, but tried to fend it off rather than eat in anticipation of a huge lunch ahead. Mistake. We stopped at a signpost a mile from Tuolumne, but rushed off as soon as Pennie, who is slow downhill because of a bad knee, caught up. 

 

Around 11 am we arrived at the outskirts of the campground and chaos ensued. There was a rushed debate about whether to claim a spot in the main campground or try the backpacker’s campground, which might be cheaper. We finally trotted off to the backpacker’s campground, with part of our bewildered group trailing behind us, and grabbed the first empty spot, having heard rumors that these spots filled up quickly.

 

At this point I was starving, and I behaved atrociously; I think I might have actually growled in my quest to find all the calories. Lesson learned: snack when hunger! Mom was agitated about setting up the tents though, so Dad, Zoe and I went down to get food while the others set them up. On the way we stopped at the campground office. 

 

It turns out that at the backpacker’s campground you pay per person, while for a regular tent site you pay a flat fee which is cheaper if you are more than 4 people (and we were 7 at this point). Lesson learned: better to get the facts before making a rash decision about campsites!

 

Have learned some lessons, we thusly consumed gigantic burgers. And soft serve ice cream.


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Karin and Annavitte and ice cream at Tuolumne. Photo by Pennie Rand


We finally got settled into a campsite, and Annavitte and I went to look for a place to swim. The Tuolumne River is dotted with dreamy swimming holes, the kind with mild whitewater churning into a shoulder-deep shimmering pools with big polished rocks on the bottom. Everyone else joined us for a splash in the pools.


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Photo by Pennie Rand

 

Then the girls (Zoe, Annavitte, Karin and I)  went back to the campsite to do some strength training. Annavitte’s a cross-country ski racer, and her dedication to doing strength training for the better part of the trip was impressive. Although towards the end, things got harder and we had less excess energy. I wish she was here in Norway to help me keep up with the strength training I promised myself I would do!


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We also unpacked the resupply from the van, White Thunder, which Pennie had parked in Tuolumne before the trip. I had clean clothes to wear, which felt like cheating, and got rid of the things I had imagined were weighing down my pack. Mom set about cutting her book in half to cut weight. Her book weighed 900 grams, while my Kindle clocked in at 250!

 

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We consumed a huge dinner of chips, fresh salsa, burritos and fresh salad from the tiny campground store. Then most of us were gearing up for an evening hike up Lembert Dome, and something got me really ticked. I can’t really remember what it wa, something about our plan for the following day. But all of a sudden, I was irrationally angry and sick of everyone. So I stalked off into the woods and sat on a rock killing mosquitoes. All I wanted to do was call my boyfriend, Audun, but there was no cell reception. All I wanted was to be alone. Maybe I should hike alone. Or maybe I should just quit. Who it their right minds hikes the JMT with such a big group anyway. Then I had sort of an epiphany.

 

All this togetherness is hard, but it is a challenge in its own right. Maybe the JMT won’t be so much of a physical challenge, but a challenge of working as a team with my fellow hiker. I should embrace this type of challenge the same way I do physical exertions.

 

So I walked back to the campsite to apologize to Mom, who I had snapped at. Everyone had gone up Lembert Dome but Mom and Pennie, who were drinking wine. They had emptied the tiny bottle of wine they had.  It was 7:52 pm, and the campground store, which was easily a 10 minute walk away, would close in 8 minutes.

 

“Molly can make it!” they exclaimed.

 

I ran like the wind, although a slightly heavy wind because my stomach was super full and I was at altitude (8600 ft). I marvelled at how go it felt to move fast, unencumbered by my backpack, after days trudging heavily. Needless to say, I made it.


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Photo by Pennie Rand

 

July 14, Day 6: Tuolumne Meadows - bridge over the Lyell Fork below Donohue Pass

 

It took a long to reshuffle at Tuolumne the next morning, getting rid of all the excess stuff in our packs and packing the bear canisters, and we didn’t leave until 9:15 am. There were only six of us heading out of Tuolumne; Pennie was taking three days off to nurse her knee and driving the van around to Red’s Meadow, the next point we would see civilization.

 

Although I enjoyed the food, I was kind of glad to leave the little corner of civilization that is Tuolumne and get back on the trail. Except I missed Audun, but there was still no cell phone coverage, so I wrote another postcard, savouring the image of him reading it.


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Lyell Canyon

 

The trail lead us back into the forest and twisted up Lyell Canyon. This section was flat and easy going, but soon we would be heading up to Donohue Pass and the true High Sierras. Our tempo was causal, and we took a long lunch break to swim. Dad, ever the biologists, keys out flowers. There are so many flowers.


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Cold?

 

 It was nearly 2 o’clock by the time the trail started zigzagging up towards Donohue Pass. The forest was different as the climbing started; the trees became smaller seemed older, more mysterious, more magical. 

 

Then came the thunder, swiftly followed by the pouring rain, then hail, bouncing off the ground and my thighs in their short running shorts. Somehow, I felt really good in the adverse weather conditions, like I was on an epic quest or something. Beating the odds, fighting the weather.


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Putting on our rain gear. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

I lead the charge up Donohue, and we passed other hikers cowering under trees for cover. Maybe they were smart, but we were strong, brave and bold, so we forged on. I was drenched.


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Mist in the forest. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

At the bridge crossing the Lyell Fork, the rain was letting up and we decided to start looking for a campground. We picked out a site that wasn’t too wet, then barely had time to change into some warmer clothes before the rain came down again. We waited out this downpour, huddled under the trees eating trail mix. Now that we had stopped, I was cold, and just wanted the sun to come.

 

The rain did stop and we revelled in hot tang (pronounced HOT TANG! for the entirety of the trip, and the preferred beverage whenever it was cold) and warm clothes. The sun never came out though, and we spent most of the evening looking hopefully at the sky. I felt thoroughly damp, and hoped the sun would dry off all of our stuff the next day.

 

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The Lyell Fork. Photo by Annavitte Rand

 

July 15, Day 7: Donohue Pass - Garnet Lake

 

Our things hadn’t dried over night, and it was still chilly the next morning. We quietly munched on our oatmeal breakfast, layered in most of our layers, before setting of for Donohue, the first truly alpine pass. We climbed a mile or so through the forest before coming our onto a high alpine meadow. A rocky valley extended before us up to the spires of Lyell Peak.


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The view up to Lyell Peak. Photo by Annavitte Rand

 

We met a few other hikers as we hike steadily up towards the pass. Nico and Jasper, two JMT hikers who we also met in Tuolumne, were stopped to pump water in a high alpine stream. Everyone in our group except Mom decided to drink that water unfiltered. There’s been much discussion amongst us about whether or not water purifying is hysteria. In Norway, no one would ever consider purifying water in the mountains. You just don’t drink a source near a glacier or below sheep grazing turf. But maybe there are more impurities in the water in the Sierras? At any rate, we daringly suck down the cool, clear water. It tastes really good, and (spoiler alert) we didn’t get sick.


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Annavitte and Mom on the climb

 

If there’s one thing the High Sierras are good at, it’s flatly graded switchbacks, easing the need for power on the climbs. Along the switchbacks up to Donohue Pass were more flowers than I could ever hope to remember the names of (although Dad tried!). The vegetation petered out around 10000 ft as the trail approaches the final, rocky climb to Donohue. There were fat marmots lazing around the top, and a whole new landscape of Mammoth and the Eastern Sierras spread before us.


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Fat marmot, example 1 of approximately one zillion on the trail. Don’t feed the wildlife, people!

 

The weather was so nice that it’s hard to imagine the cold drenching storm the day before. A dozen or so hikers lounge around the top of the Pass. Jasper had a horse’s head mask he put on for a picture. 


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Jasper and Nico on the top of Donohue Pass. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

We hiked the Pass down a ways, and dark storm clouds start to appear. I wanted to continue, so that we will have hiked as far as possible before the storm hits. But Dad insists that we should take our time, we still have many miles to go and if we are going to get wet, we are going to get wet. So we stopped by a stream for lunch, drying our gear the last rays of the sun and rinsing off in the chilly water. 


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 Mom on the trail, before the thunderclouds roll in. Photo by Rick Strimbeck

 

I was scared of a repeat of the day before, and practically jumped into my rain pants at the first peal of distant thunder. But the ominous, distant warning proves to be just that, and we escaped with only a few drops. I soon took off my rain gear again, even though dramatic, grey clouds were visible on the horizon.


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Clouds over Banner Peak, from Island Pass.

 

We pulled over the smaller Island Pass to more thunder and a dramatic view of the Banner Peak range, and descended to Thousand Island Lake. Although our original plan was to camp here, we decided to push another 2.5 miles to Garnet Lake. Mom was not pleased. “I can do it,” she keeps insisting, “I’ll just be slow.” 

 

“Have you had enough to eat? Have some gorp!” I say. (Gorp means ‘good, old raisins and peanuts’ and is an expression we use for any kind of trail mix).

“No, it’s just that my feet hurt,” she sighs. Later she confided that she hadn’t been snacking diligently the way I was learning to do, as part of my Hanger Management Plan. 

 

At Garnet Lake, we had trouble finding a campsite. We first set up our tents in a sparse spot, only to realize that is was too close to the mouth of the lake, and thus an illegal campsite. So we moved our campsite to a small spot halfway up the switchbacks above the lake. The view was beautiful, but we had to fill all of our water bags and bottles and carry them up - 20 liters all together.


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The campsite above Garnet Lake, Mt Ritter and Banner Peak obscured by the clouds. Photo by Rick Strimbeck.

 

We regaled in more trail food, and Annavitte, Karin, Zoe and I sang all of the songs from the Sound of Music before hitting the sack at sundown. Tomorrow would be our longest day yet - all the way to Red’s Meadow.


- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

JMT Part 3: An unexpected meeting

This is part 3 of my trip report from hiking the JMT this summer. If you aren't caught up, check out parts 1 and 2!

July 11: Day 3, Day trip to Cloud’s Rest
Mom on the way up Cloud's Rest, Half Dome in the background

Day 3 was officially a “rest day”, although the plan was never to rest but to hike up Cloud’s Rest, a peak in close proximity to and higher than Half Dome in Yosemite. Cloud’s Rest was a magnificent day hike, climbing up through groves of trees to more exposed granite slabs. 

On the trail up Half Dome

I grew more and more fascinated by the trees the longer I spent on the JMT. Some are twisted, some tall and straight, some with scaly bark, some with no bark. They are frozen in some form of agony or ecstasy, contorted towards the sky or erect like columns.

The view from the top of Cloud's Rest was extraordinary, although we shared it with a large group of noisy boy scouts.

Almost at the top
Although I enjoyed the day hike, I was excited to make progress on the trail itself. That's one conflict I felt while thru-hiking - the only hiking that feels like 'real' hiking is distance along the trail itself.

July 12: Day 4, Sunrise Creek - Cathedral Lakes

After several days of ‘late’ (thru-hiking time late, that is) departures, we decide to shoot for a 7 am departure for our hike to Cathedral Lakes. It would be the longest day so far at 11 miles, and we wanted to do as much of it as possible before the heat of the day set in.
This resulted in everyone stressing and rushing around. Despite a chaotic morning, we were off by 7:10.

I started to feel like I needed some time alone, but it was such a hard thing to voice without seeming angry or like I didn’t enjoy the groups company. When we finally started hiking I accelerated at a pace I didn’t think anyone would care to keep. I was right, and I keep my distance for the first two miles through the trees, calming down. We were making progress on the trail. 

Annavitte, Karin and Zoe head towards the light

The trail crosses Sunrise Creek and then dovetails it, growing steeper up the shoulder of Sunrise Peak until it transitions into switchbacks. I felt glad we were doing this hike in the cool of the morning. I was also more comfortable in my backpack than the days before, but it was still easily a third of my weight. Slow and steady up the hill, I thought. I stuck my thumbs under my shoulder straps to get the tension just right.

At the top of the switchbacks, we met our first fellow southbound JMT hiker. Susanne had a tiny backpack compared to ours, and had attempted the JMT once before, but later in the season. I am so getting ride of some stuff in Tuolumne Meadows! I thought to myself. As we hiked down the slight incline towards Long Meadow, we discussed things that we didn’t need in our pack. 

I had been favorably surprised by the trail conditions so far. I was hiking in Cascadias (trail running shoes) - in Norway you could never do a hike like this is anything less than hiking boots. The trails are simply too rough. But in the Sierras dust is more of an issue. It filters through your shoes leaving your feet brown by the end of every day.

The rocky soil and contorted trees give way and open up onto the verdant Long Meadow. There is a High Sierra Horse Camp there, empty when we passed by. We stopped by the meadow for an early lunch, and ate tortillas with tuna and parmesan, peanut butter and Nutella. 

The end of Long Meadow. Photo by Annavitte Rand

After lunch, as I finished traversing Long Meadow, I start to feel dizzy and overheated. My stomach churned - maybe these big lunches aren’t such a great idea after all. I dipped my bandana and shirt in a small creek, which made me feel less overheated at least. 

Then the trail reenters the beautiful trees and the blessed shade, and starts to climb toward Cathedral Pass. I was hiking with Annavitte and Karin, but I felt so slow, so I hung back. Pokey! I thought, One foot in front of the other. The spectacularly pointy Columbia Finger stuck up above us. I wondered how hard it was to climb it.

A large group of Japanese tourists met us heading down. They all wore long pants and shirts, some with bandanas covering their faces. What a different way to deal with the heat! As I wonder what got them to travel this far to hike, and then I remembered that I came all the way from Norway.

As I crested the top of Cathedral Pass, a whole new view opened up below me. The mountains were grey, slabby spires extending far into the distance. Trees sprouted from the rocks of the distant peaks like a sparse beard.

Cathedral Peak on the right and Echo Peaks on the left

In no time, we hiked down the hill to Cathedral Lake, and find a small campsite where we could pitch our three small tents. Then everyone wandered down to the sparkling blue lake to swim. It was the perfect temperature, and we lay on a warm rock in the sun before going in again. Cathedral Peak towers above us. It is another perfect campsite.

Pennie and Karin enjoy the sun

Later in the evening, we lay around looking at Cathedral Peak through the binoculars (no wonder our packs are so heavy!). There was at least once group of climbers headed up the east ridge, and we could see some people on the very top of the sharpest spire.

Then I noticed a group of climbers, noticeably so by their dangling racks on their belts, hiking along the lake near our campsite. They stopped by the large rock we sunbathed on earlier, and stripped down to go swimming. 

“Climbers!” I exclaimed to Zoe, Annavitte and Karin.

“Are they good looking?” we jokde, and I trained the binoculars on them. But there was something eerily familiar about the white-blonde hair of one of the boys. Could they be…?

I snuck towards the lake. They were actually speaking Norwegian!

“Andreas?” I called out, “Sigmund? Erlend?” It was my friends from Norway, who randomly had planned a trip to the same area of California as me at the same time! 

Look who we found! Photo by Rick Strimbeck
They had climbed Cathedral Peak earlier that day, and showed me pictures from their climb. They pitched their tent near us, and we chitchatted until hiker midnight (way passed dark). It was a hilarious coincidence.

I woke up in the middle of the night, the full moon shining on my face like the headlight of a car. The landscape around me was drenched in moonlight. It made it hard to sleep, but was oh so beautiful. 

- The Wild Bazilchuk