Whew! We did it! In case you haven’t been following, Marc and I just returned from 3 weeks in California…and 16 of those days we were hiking our little buns off over 220+ miles on the John Muir Trail, from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. I wont’ sugar coat it: it was tough. There was blood (his), tears (mine), and sweat (both of us) but it. Was. Incredible.
While I didn’t waste any time getting back in the kitchen, I haven’t had the energy to actually make anything to blog so I figured I’d do a fun little recap of the trip. This sounds fun, yes? Sit tight, it might be a long one.
We flew into Oakland on July 5th and spent a couple of days in San Francisco with one of Marc’s college buddies, as we weren’t scheduled to start the JMT until the 8th. We couldn’t start until the 8th because that was the day we were able to get our permit to start. They’re pretty strict about the permits in Yosemite and permits sell out 6 months in advance. Who knew so many people are dying to live in the wilderness for weeks? So after a couple of days of carb-loading on pastries, sandwiches, and burgers, we were ready to head into the wilderness. (Below: the very start of the JMT and my awkward selfie)
We started our first day the way we started pretty much every day on the trail – bright and early. The sun became our natural alarm clock and there weren’t many days that we slept in past 6. It’s a good thing we started early on day one, because it was a tough one. We were planning to hike just around 10 miles, but somehow we ended up going over 15 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation change.
As I mentioned in my post that day, we were planning to do Half Dome, which is an incredibly steep climb that requires cables for the last part of it. Unfortunately, when we were almost up to the cables a Ranger informed us that there was 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms in the next hour, and they were strongly discouraging people from continuing on. While lots of people were still taking the risk and going up, we decided to play it safe and stop at the bottom of the cables. It was a bummer, but the smart thing to do.
In our original itinerary, our first day’s mileage was pretty low since the elevation change out of Yosemite was quite drastic. However, when we made it 5 miles more than planned on our first day and Marc realized we could potentially stay at Thousand Island Lake (which we had heard great things about) if we increased our next couple of days by a few miles, that’s what we did.
On the third day we were actually able to stop at Tuolomne Meadows where there is a burger stand and convenience store. We were more than ready for a burger (salmon burger & bacon for me) and a beer, though it was a little sad knowing this luxury was not coming every 3 days. We also stocked up on some cookies for me and Chili Cheese Fritos for him. Okay, I ate my share of the Fritos too. No judging.
While a lightning and thunder storm slowed us down for about 2 hours the next day, we still ended up making it to Thousand Island Lake, which was well worth the extra miles. (Below: Marc watching the thunderstorm in the distance and on our way down to Thousand Island Lake)
The thing that Marc and I both found amazing was the vast differences between the landscapes, within a matter of a couple of miles. One minute we’d be climbing rocky mountains, and an hour later we’d be among a gorgeous green meadow with wild flowers everywhere. (Below: just a few of the different sceneries we soaked up)
We re-supplied on food on the 5th day at a place called Reds Meadow. Not only was the bucket of food that we shipped waiting for us, but there were bathrooms and showers. It was glorious. Too bad my next shower wouldn’t be for another 11 days.
After the first week, the mountain passes started and didn’t stop. We typically tried to plan to do the passes in the morning, so we wouldn’t have to do a lot of climbing at the end of the day, but with other storms that slowed us down and general logistics for timing, two of the days we we ended up doing two passes in one day. As in we would do a mountain pass, hike a lot more, and then do another mountain pass. Those days were tough – physically and mentally. Luckily, we still found time to goof around.It was also a good thing we had each other, too. Marc was dealing with a couple of injuries during the trip (Achilles tendinitis and IT band issues) and I stupidly forgot my orthotics and had quite a bit of foot pain along with blisters, so at times we really relied on the other to keep our spirits high. Some days this involved me singing songs from the musical Annie but in the last couple of days, it really just entailed us talking about all of the food that we were excited to eat.Speaking of food, we did eat some decent stuff on the trail. The hit of the trip was definitely my dehydrated chili. We also really loved the meals that had pepperoni in them. The big fail of the food I prepared was anything with chicken in it. For some reason, it wouldn’t re-hydrate and was so gross. It only took a couple of failed attempts at re-hydrating the chicken before we actually took chicken out of every dehydrated meal that I made that contained it. After eating our fair share of hard, almost inedible chicken, I think it’ll be awhile before either of us can eat chicken again.
Our general day of eating went like this:
Snack: Clif or Kind bar
Breakfast: oatmeal or granola with dried milk
Snack: Clif/Kind bar and trail mix
Lunch: Tortilla with pepperoni/tuna salad or rice and beans
Snack: more trail mix
After 15 days of backpacking up and over mountain passes, through meadows and valleys, and across rivers and streams, the JMT ends at the summit of Mount Whitney which also happens to be the highest point of elevation in the continental U.S. We woke up extra early on our last day at 2:30 a.m. so we could see the sunrise. We weren’t the only ones getting up insanely early, and as we set out to start climbing up the mountain, we could see a trail of headlamps of those already making their way up. The headlamps combined with the spectacular sky of stars that morning is something I will never forget…it was beyond beautiful and gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
We made it to the summit around 7:00 a.m. which ended up being incredibly windy and cold. I’m usually a big wuss when it comes to being cold but the experience itself overtook me and all I could think about was how special and precious that particular moment was.
As suspected, the end was bittersweet. We were both excited for some good food, beer, showers, and a real bed, but I knew I would miss our little life on the trail. And I do. But I am so grateful for our 16 days and the memories we made. And who knows – maybe we’ll go back in 20 years to do it again? 😉
So that’s it – that was our trip! It was actually really hard to put things into words because so much of our trip was more about what we were experiencing and not what was happening…if that makes sense? If you have any particular questions about our time on the John Muir Trail, I’d love to answer them!