JMT part 8: Thru-hiking sucks
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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