John Muir Trail.Day by Day. Part 3

John Muir Trail.Day by Day. Part 3

30 August • Day 15 

The morning began with the cloink cloink cloink of rain on our tent at midnight, followed by a thunderous boom and a crackling colorful streak of lightning. Justyna roused Erica to hurriedly cover the packs and stash the shoes to prevent them from getting soaked. We woke up groggy and soggy and slowly, carefully, avoiding the drops as best we could, bundled up and set out in the rain, churning up that regrettable combination of wet, cold, sweaty, snotty bodies.

But after having come over some of the tallest summits at the start of our journey, the one we ascended today, Selden, felt a bit whimpy at a mere 10,900 feet. We climbed to its peak easily breezily and then we scampered up hillsides, through muddy walkways and mushroom patches, on top of boulders and next to tall tall pines to find reception…annnddd finallyyyy…voilá! Reception, connection, and words and pictures out to you!!

We spent the night camping beside our trail friends Kaleigh and Stephen, laughing by a campfire, sharing tales of our lives outside of the Sierras.

31 August • Day 16

With the days behind us beginning to outnumber the days ahead of us, we feel in our stride as a team and as individuals.

We can move in tune with one another and with the sun, seamlessly setting up camp, breaking it down, cooking together, cracking each other’s backs, hanging one another’s laundry, scouting picture frames, encouraging one another to keep going, sharing warm words and tea – sharing this journey with one another, and with all of you by social media and blog, is truly special and helps make the trip that much more meaningful.

Today we strutted from Bear Ridge to a wide open granite slab a few miles below Silver Pass where we could look out on the valley below, containing Mono and Bear creeks. As we ate dinner, storm clouds surrounded us – we tucked away our belongings, huddled in the tent, and prayed for a safe night.

1 September • Day 17

Just one sizzle streak of lightning flashed last night – but we were on alert all night long, counting the number of seconds after a thunder crash, waiting anxiously for lightning to follow. Miraculously we remained safe and dry in our cozy tent and woke up to bright, sunny, clear skies. We moseyed from Silver Pass to Purple Lake, and a bit off trail towards Rim Lake to set up camp.

We’ve seen the scenery change dramatically since beginning this journey – for Justyna it signals that Yosemite Climbing is near; for Erica it means that Northern California, her roots, her home – is on the horizon.

The grandeur and scale of all that we see reminds us that all of this was here long before us – not just as individuals, but as a human race – and it will be here long after.

2 September • Day 18

We booked it 13 miles from Purple Lake to Red’s Meadow today, eager to reach our resupply, shower, and reconnect with a few of our trail friends who we knew would be there waiting with cold drinks and smiles.

We arrived on Labor Day Weekend, which denotes a major American holiday, and the unofficial close of summer. When we walked in to camp we were greeted with a dose of American culture that we weren’t ready for just yet, having spent weeks in the wild. There were shuttles full of camping tourists, a camp store filled with people loading up on ice cream and hot dogs, screaming kids, silicone boob jobs, cat calls – it was all a bit overwhelming. We hurried to collect our resupply buckets and shower tokens, then skedaddled to the backpacker’s camp (aka dirt bagger heaven) to join our friends. We all showered, did laundry and organized our resupply buckets. They ate burgers and milkshakes at the café, while Justy and Erica were happy with their supplies supplemented by fresh avocadoes and crisp apples from the shop.

Knowing it might be the last evening we share with the bright souls we’ve come to share the Northbound trail with we lit a roaring bonfire and shared in laughs, memories of the road, and plans for the future. We went to bed happy and warm – filled with food, fire, and friends.

3 September • Day 19

We intended to have a rest day – but by noon we were antsy and unenthused by the throngs of Labor Day campers at Red’s Meadow. So we said a sorrowful farewell to our trail friends, loaded up our packs and head out for a “half day,” which for us meant 8 miles straight up to Rosalie Lakes. Some zero day!

We had visions of arriving in the early afternoon with plenty of daylight to practice yoga, take pictures, swim and relax. We even took a small detour through Devil’s Postpile National Monument, imagining that we had loads of time to spare. As luck would have it, a storm was brewing and just before reaching our destination the sky opened up and the rains poured down. We were reminded of a quote from Maya Angelou: “Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, I’m going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that’s tough. I am going to snow anyway.”

We shivered as we hurriedly put up the tent, bathed quickly in the creek, then warmed ourselves with hot broth, tea, soup and chili. We crawled into the tent to thaw, chat and journal, all of our other plans no rendered impossible. The storm ceased as the moon rose – we again filled our bellies with hot broth and tucked ourselves in for the night, hoping for sunnier skies tomorrow.

4 September • Day 20

With just a few more days remaining until we reach Happy Isles, there’s a lightness between us, and an ease that comes with nearly completing a very large project.

However, our second “rest day,” which for us was another 7 miles from Rosalie Lakes to Thousand Island Lakes, was a challenge, our legs and bodies starting to feel the intensity of so many days on the go. Our thighs are uncooperative, our hamstrings tight, our feet aching a bit, and our noses sniffling. And the trail, at this point, is dotted in smelly stinky horse manure.

As soon as we reached our campsite for the evening, though, all our troubles melted away. Thousand Island Lakes was absolutely stunning, Banner Peak sitting in the background as horses grazed and pranced in the meadows. A nearly full moon rose over the lake, offering hope and grace.

5 September • Day 21

We hiked 15 miles today, crossing 2 (albeit small) passes, Island and Donahue. As we left Donahue Pass, we emerged at a beautiful grassy basin and up ahead we spotted a fellow hiker with an unmistakable yellow shirt and a pair of crocs hanging off the back of his pack. We knew immediately it was our dear trail friend Dave, who we affectionately called Grandpa, was traveling with his son and 2 grandsons. We could hardly believe our eyes!! We had left Red’s Meadow an entire day before him, and somehow he, a man in his 60s who slowly trudged along and who his grandsons nicknamed Tortoise, was ahead of us! We shrieked and gave him hugs and celebrated our reunion.

This trail and its people are ever full of surprises!

We also experienced lots of changes in weather today, from bright sun to pouring rain, to looming thunder, to smoky skies. We descended into Lyell Canyon, usually known for its snaking river, but which today was parched and filled with smoke from the fires that are plaguing South Yosemite. Our throats were dry, and our lungs were taxed as we were surrounded by the remnants of the fire. As we sat around our small jet boil stove heating up our dehydrated food, warming our hands by the tiny burner, and watching the blood red sun set, we felt like it was a sad apocalyptic future when the world as we know it is gone. We saw several burnt forests throughout our trek, and each time it was a solemn and heartbreaking experience. We hope dearly that the forest fire currently raging is successfully tamed, and that our forests and rivers and valleys are preserved for future generations. This land is too special to vanish!

6 September • Day 22

Today is the full moon in Pisces – also called the Harvest Moon. It’s said that this is the time to release, surrender and let go and that Pisces, being the mermaid of the Zodiac, offers us the perfect opportunity to soak up the spirit of any waters we might dip our toes into.

It feels like a powerful time to be concluding our journey, and as we walked into Tuolomne Meadows, which sits just above Yosemite Valley, we certainly feel like this adventure is coming to a close.

The domes and granite walls that surround us fill us both with memories. Erica has been traveling these woods since she was a teenager, and as they passed Cathedral Peak she was flushed with memories of climbing to its top last year, one of her first climbing routes. And Justyna was filled with memories of her first climb in Yosemite with her boyfriend Wojtek last year, as they tackled Lembert Dome.

This ending is bittersweet – we’re both looking forward to what comes next, and yet it is sad knowing that tomorrow’s dinner won’t be spent on a mountaintop; that our shower won’t be in a creekbed; that we won’t be crawling into our tent underneath a starry sky.

7 September • Day 23

As John Muir walked into Yosemite he exclaimed: “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything going on about them…”

We, like John Muir, are in awe of this natural temple, and can hardly believe that after 23 days of walking, we are exiting through its majestic valley.

The vast wilderness we’ve lived in for the last three weeks have been revitalizing, nourishing, uplifting, awe-inspiring –

And still, one of the most beautiful parts of this experience has been the people. And not just the ones we’ve come to know well that we’ve mentioned in a previous post, but also the hundreds of people we’ve simply passed by – people of all ages, races, shapes, levels of fitness, colors, sizes – each walking this trail in their own way, all with different intentions, attitudes, goals, stories…

Some people have been planning this for years; some applied for a permit on a whim; some, like us, acquired sponsors and are blogging and documenting their way through; some treat it like Burning Man, passing out trail names and necklaces; some want to complete it in 2 weeks while some will do it in pieces over the course of several seasons; some (well, one) has completed the trail 23 times; others, like Dave, his son Aaron, and 2 grandsons Jeremy and Wes are hiking for a cause, fundraising money along the way; some have mammoth-sized packs, others seem to carry only daypacks; some, like Tim, hike after a bout with melanoma to build and embody strength; others decide after four days that this kind of trip isn’t right for them and hop off; some are on their honeymoon; for some, this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For us, it is a gift. It is an opportunity to see the world in a new way, to feel into its magic and potency and to emerge enlivened, emboldened, humbled and grateful.

Sign in to my newsletter