Friday, August 29, 2014

Day 8: Taking it Easy

*This post is from my 2014 JMT thru hike. I began 7/25/14 and finished 8/9/14. Missed the beginning? Read it here!

Blayney Hot Spring #2

It's officially August and I'm waking up to a zero day. I sleep in a little longer than I typically do, stretch, and have some breakfast. Kayla does yoga as I change into my rain jacket and leggings. It's laundry time. I have two large Ziplocks from the Muir Trail Ranch resupply buckets to use for laundry. I grab some Brommers soap and head to the San Joaquin river to wash my clothes.

I scrub each article of clothing into the San Joaquin, squeezing all the grime out. I then add a little soap, water, and a couple articles of clothing into a bag, zip it up, and shake. I fill the other bag with just water and switch out my laundry to do a rinse cycle. As I return to camp, John is neatly packing away his tent. I put my clothes out to dry on a rock and head back over to the hot springs. This time to a new spot. I hike out across the muddy field and find Andy and Kayla hidden behind the tall grass on the right. It's the other hot spring and this one's even hotter in the center.

After a nice long soak, we decide to head back over to Muir Trail Ranch and hit the trail. We're bored!

Andy says his knee isn't 100% but he's ready to get moving again. I think the hot springs helped. 

We cross back over the San Joaquin with our full packs, but downstream this time and it's better. I think the extra practice helped as well!

We take a moment to say goodbye to John Muir Wilderness. The next segment is part of Kings Canyon and Sequoia Wilderness. If you're loving my knee braces, right knee is for treatment and left is for preventative care. And of course style.

Crossing Piute Creek on a man made bridge is pretty amazing. It's amazing to think of the amount of work put into each section of trail.

I read in my JMT Hiker app that the San Joaquin River flows for 320 miles and was named by Gabriel Moraga, a Spanish army officer and early California explorer. I spend the next couple of hours thinking about what hiking in Central California must have been like for those early explorers.

I come to my first wire gate on the trail. These are stock gates and are used to control pack animals that the packers let loose to graze a night.

I make my way up the only big ascent of the day. I am rewarded with waterfalls and wood bridges for the effort.

Evolution Creek is much calmer than crossing the San Joaquin. At least while we are crossing it. I take off my footwear and ford the creek. It's close to my upper thigh. If it weren't calm I would be taking the alternative route.

Across the creek, we meet up with two dudes we just know as... "the dudes". Some hikers on the trail get called by their first names while others get nicknames. If we come across solo hikers, we tend to remember their real names. One of those solo hikers is Eric. We end up hiking with him throughout the day.

Eric camps with us for the night so we break out the cards. We play a couple rounds of "Shithead" and this time I'm not the only one who isn't well versed. Once again, loser does pushups. I quickly get good at this game. Eric tells us how hardcore we are, not taking our zero day and doing push ups daily. I inform him Andy and I are not doing additional workouts. Kayla and John are the real crazies!

"You don't want to be all legs when you get off the trail," John explains. He picks up a rock and does some crunches, inspired by another hiker, Rob's workout the previous day.

Setting up camp is really easy tonight. I pull out my ground cloth and my sleeping bag. It's the perfect night for cowboy camping.

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Gear Review: Gossamer Gear Mariposa (Dyneema)

Spending some quality time with the Mariposa on the JMT

In addition to physically preparing for a thru hike of the John Muir Trail, I had to make some changes to the gear I owned. Hiking for 15 days for about 10 hours a day, I needed a solid pack. This pack had to play a few roles. I was going as lightweight as possible so the pack had to weigh under 2 pounds, but still be able to hold a bear canister with up to 8 days of food. It also had to be comfortable as well as durable. I picked out the Gossamer Gear Mariposa for the job.

Gossamer Gear's motto, "Take Less, Do More" matched up with my idea of a thru hike. You can either be one who hikes to camp or camps to hike. I'm really in it for the hiking. Camping is the icing on the cake.

The Mariposa is 4244cu in. (69.5 liters). It's the largest volume pack Gossamer Gear currently makes. I was hesitant about buying such a large volume pack as I didn't want to fill it with unnecessary items, but with a Bear Vault 500 (BV500) and keeping my sleeping bag out of its stuff sack, I'd fill up most of the extra space for this trek. I also used this pack on some of my winter hikes. I'll get more into that later.

A bear canister can fit in vertically and creating extra padding between your back and the canister with a sleeping bag really makes it comfortable to wear all day, everyday. A bonus with this pack is it has load lifters while most UL packs go without.

Mariposa hanging on Glen Pass

External Storage:

The Mariposa has a total of 7 pockets: a large one on the left side (tent sleeve), two on the right, a large mesh one on the back, a flat one on the lid, and two on the hipbelt. The pockets on the hipbelt are nice and big. I put snacks in one and my camera (a point and shoot) in the other.

The hipbelt is bought separately for a better fit. I wear a size medium pack and a small hipbelt. Please measure your torso length before purchasing a pack! If you don't know how, you can watch this Backpacker Magazine video to learn.

This version of the Mariposa is made with 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric. All pockets are made of this Dyneema fabric for durability.


I have used this pack in winter on above treeline hikes in New Hampshire's White Mountains. It is listed as having a pack limit of 35 lbs. so it can carry your crampons and puffy. It does well in the snow and the top lid system helps to keep gear dry. The only concern is there isn't a great place to store snowshoes if you'd like to take them off.

Trekking up Mt. Isolation

In rainy conditions, this pack performs extremely well. The lid is designed to tuck any extra fabric inside itself which adds a layer of protection from the elements. I used a Polycryo ground sheet as a pack liner and my stuff stayed nice and dry. The outside pockets all have grommets which helps wet items dry out a little better and minimize pooling of water inside the pockets.

With a simple pack liner, my gear stayed perfectly dry

Suspension System:

For an Ultralight pack, the Mariposa does a nice job of managing pack weight. The suspension system is made up of the following:
  • Shoulder Straps with pre-curved pads.
  • Load Lifters
  • a removable hip belt that comes in 4 sizes (S-XL)
  • Inner Aluminum Stay
  • Sternum Strap
  • Removable sit pad
The load lifters are great to bring your pack closer to your back and shifts some weight to your hips. The aluminum stay and sit pad gives the pack more structure. I actually removed both of these items for my JMT hike as my bear canister helped do this job. I replaced the sit pad with an inflatable sleeping pad which was amazingly cushy.

Rolling into Muir Trail Ranch weighing it at 15 pounds with a full day's worth of food and water

Big changes:

Gossamer Gear just introduced a 2014 version of the Mariposa with some significant changes. The biggest is that it is made of 100 and 200 denier Robic nylon fabric which makes this an even tougher pack without adding weight. It also features a revamped unisex harness and padded hipbelt. After a couple of days on the JMT my shoulders were a little sore from the straps so I am happy to hear that the straps were updated with more padding for some more comfort, especially for smaller women. For a full review of the 2014 version see Barefoot Jake's site.

Can't see the Mariposa? That's how small it is :)

Manufacturer Specifications (From

  • Small: 25.75 oz ( 729 g. ) Average Total for all items included
  • Medium: 27 oz. (765 g.)  Average Total for all items included
  • Large: 27.60 oz. (783 g.)  Average Total for all items included
  • XL (tall):  30.00 oz ( 857g. ) Average Total for all items included. This was weighed with a XL belt and the long sitlight that comes with it.
This includes:
  • Total fully loaded weight Medium/Medium
  • Pack Body = 15.85 oz (409 g) (Average for medium size)
  • Removable hip belt = 5.15 oz. (146 g.) (Average for medium size)
  • Aluminum curved stay = 3.5 oz. each (96 g.) (Average for medium size)
  • Sitlight Pad  = 2.0 oz  ( 51 g. ) (Average)
  • xtra shock cord and cordlocks .55 oz (16 g.)
Capacity (Size Medium)
  • 4,244 c.i. (69.5 l.) total
  • 2860 c.i. (47 l.) in main pack body/extension collar
  • 1384 c.i. (22 l.) in all 7 pockets combined
  • 35 lb maximum carry capacity
  • Small (13″ – 16″ torso) (33 – 41 cm.)  {Generally fits people 4′ 11″ to 5′ 4″ , depending on body type and how you wear your pack}
  • Medium (16″ – 19″ torso) (41 – 48 cm.)  {Generally fits people 5′ 4″ to 5′ 9″ , depending on body type and how you wear your pack}
  • Large (19″ – 22″ torso) (48 – 56 cm.)  {Generally fits people 5′ 9″ to 6’2″ , depending on body type and how you wear your pack}
  • Xtra-Large (22″ – 25″)  ( 56 – 63.5 cm.)  {Generally fits people 6’2 ” to 6’7″ish, depending on body type and how you wear your pack}
  • 140 denier Dyneema GGridstop coated ripstop nylon
  • Select use of 1680 denier ballistic nylon for reinforcement.
  • Select use of 210 denier urethane-coated double-rip ripstop nylon
  • Select use of 30 denier silicone coated ripstop (silnylon)
  • XTC fabric for harness lining
  • Power mesh fabric – pad holder and large pocket
  • Black & Grey & Orange
Hip Belt Size
  • Small hip belt (25″ – 32″ waist) (64 – 81 cm.)
  • Medium hip belt (30″ – 38″ waist) (76 – 96.5 cm.)
  • Large hip belt (36″ – 44″ waist) (91.4 – 112 cm.)
  • XL hip belt  (42″-60″) (107 – 152 cm.)
(size medium)  The small is 2 inches shorter, the large is 2 inches taller and the XL is 4 inches taller than the medium)
  • Height 23” to the extension collar only
  • Width 11”
  • Depth 7.5″
  • Extension collar adds another 9” of height

Disclaimer: Allison is a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, but purchased this pack. The above review is her own opinion.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Day 7: Resupply! Or Not...

*This post is from my 2014 JMT thru hike. I began 7/25/14 and finished 8/9/14. Missed the beginning? Read it here!

We awake to wet tents, not because of rain, but dew. I am surprised that my Six Moon Designs shelter (a single wall shaped tarp) fared the best. I watch as John shakes water out of his tent. We quickly eat breakfast and try not to get any wetter than we already are. This morning I pack up quick and head down the trail alone.

I feel like I'm still half asleep as I warm up on a flat portion of the trail. I continue through an odd section. It is in need of a waterbar or two. I would soon learn that if the trail needs much work or you don't smell horse shit, you're probably not on the JMT. Unaware of this fact, I continue and come to a stream crossing. I quickly hop from rock to rock, unbuckle my pack, and carefully make my way across a very narrow log. I place both feet down on the ground and look ahead. Where does the trail continue? I take a few steps forward surveying the area. I'm pretty sure I spot it to the left... across a large stream crossing. I just landed myself on "Rock Island". I make my way over to the edge of the stream and prepare to wade across it. I quickly unclip my gaiters, remove my trail runners, and pull on each toe of my Injinji socks to take those off as well. I place my footwear into the mesh pocket of my Mariposa and toss my pack back on, making sure to leave the buckles undone. My left foot leads. In I go. The water is definitely cold enough to wake me up. I rely on my trekking pole to support me as I make my way across, being careful of my foot placement. As soon as I cross, I locate the trail and put my footwear back on. After just a few moments I pause and see Andy and Kayla coming down the trail. They had made the same mistake as me, but didn't end up on my Rock Island.

Not far down the trail I spot an animal in the distance. We take a couple minutes to figure out what it is as we approach it. It's an alpaca on a leash. Someone must still be at camp.

Luckily the sky clears and it turns into a typical gorgeous Sierra day. I think we appreciate the good weather more because of the rain we've had. The trail has been even more breathtaking than I thought it would be, and I hadn't even made it to Marie Lakes.

Marie Lakes could be one of my favorite spots on the John Muir Trail. John Muir Wilderness has already been quite spectacular. The reflection of the surrounding peaks and clouds really makes it difficult to leave. Thankfully I get the view all the way up Selden Pass.

My knee feels much better than it did yesterday, but is still not nearly healed. I don't have to try too hard to make it up 10,887 foot Selden Pass as the top is calling my name.

Looking down at the alpine lakes is quite the reward. For perspective, look for Kayla in the photo above!

We take a well deserved snack break. Kayla, Andy, and I chat and share snacks. Today is made even better because we have to polish off the beef jerky (and everything else!) before our resupply at Muir Trail Ranch.

After a long break, we decide to descend Selden Pass and catch up with John. We figure he's fishing somewhere. We pass Heart lake and find John at Sallie Keyes Lakes fly fishing.

John didn't have much luck at Marie or Heart Lake, but he catches a Golden Trout at Sallie Keyes Lakes!

We only have around four miles to get to Muir Trail Ranch, but it involves a lot of descending. My knee feels even better than it had in the morning, but Andy is not doing as well. He twisted his knee the other day descending a section and it's getting worse.

His demeanor quickly changes. He's not the same carefree hiker atop Selden Pass. I can tell he's worried.

"I don't know if I'm going to be able to finish the trail," Andy tells us. He looks defeated as he takes some Ibuprofen and adjusts his knee brace. We have two routes to get down to Muir Trail Ranch: a short, but very steep trail or a much longer, but more gradual descent. We leave that decision up to Andy.

"Let's just go for the shorter trail," Andy declares, looking ready for a long break. John and I begin to make our way to the ranch and Kayla hangs back to hike with Andy.

The trail descends quickly and I can make out the building in the distance. I make my way up the final set of switchbacks and quickly swing the gate open to Muir Trail Ranch. I'm halfway through my hike and I've made it to my resupply a day early.

I put my pack on the scale. With a day's worth of food and a litre of water, I'm at 15 pounds.


I set my pack down and walk over to the shed to ask for my resupply bucket. I sent this bucket weeks ago and will use its contents to fill my bear canister with seven days worth of food. I also packed myself the last few pages of my map series, new socks, and of course, candy. My fiance also tucked away a picture he drew for me that I promised I wouldn't look at before I shipped the package. It was tempting, but I didn't peek.

"Oh I recognize your name," the woman says to me. She goes into the shed and after a minute or two, pulls out my resupply bucket. "So when we picked up your bucket in town it was empty. It's never happened before."

My heart sinks. I feel tears well up as she explains to me what it looked like when they picked it up. She gives me a box from someone who never made it. I thank her and walk over to a bench with my new box. I said I wouldn't cry on the trail. I immediately begin to. I spend a few minutes, tearfully opening up my new box, trying to make light of the situation as I retell what happened to John. He uses his knife to help me open the box. Prying it open with my stubby fingernails wasn't getting me far.

I wipe my eyes and let out a laugh. The resupply box has two Mountain House chicken and rice meals, a few cup-a-soup packages and sanitary napkins. Two full packages of them.

"No wonder this girl never made it!" I chuckle, wiping the remaining tears from my eyes. I was over my self pity and ready to find replacements for my missing supplies. There was no way I would leave the trail now.

We spend some more time going through the barrels of food other hikers left behind. We grab some Gatorade powder, a Taste of India package, peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut packages, Icy-hot cream, and candy. The folks at Muir Trail Ranch hand me another unclaimed package. I rifle through it, grabbing a couple energy gels and beef jerky. Score! The rest is six days worth of Ramen repackaged in a large zip lock, oatmeal, and more cup-a-soup packages. I take two to mix in with some rice or potato meals.

I find it humorous that there's a whole bucket dedicated to peanut butter and jelly. I also find a 12 oz Clover honey bear and some nacho cheese. Doesn't everyone pack those foods?

My last stop at Muir Trail Ranch is the store. It isn't stocked like the other resupplies on the trail. They have some Dirty Girl Gaiters, shirts, first aid items, replacement gear such as water filters, and memorabilia for sale. I buy a pair of thick wool socks for sleeping at higher elevations (I did have socks packed in my resupply bucket), a flower bandana, and a knee brace. Andy and Kayla also buy one; the last of their stock.

We finally begin to hike to Blarney Hot Springs as we need some of its healing powers. We thought the springs were pretty secretive before we reached Muir Trail Ranch, but there's a sign pointing you in the right direction. Once we get close, we spot a group of tents. We really don't want to be in tent city. Without a second thought we decide to cross the San Joaquin river with our full packs to camp away from the crowds. I unbuckle both my clips, remove my shoes, and prepare to cross.

I enter the river and must forge through flowing white water. The water is freezing, but I focus on keeping stable. There are dozens of small, slimy rocks making it hard to place my bare feet. I take one step at a time, making sure to make full contact with the ground around the rocks. As I move forward, the water gets deeper and more treacherous. It's thigh deep for much of the crossing and I grasp onto my trekking pole as I slowly adjust my feet under the rocks. As I take my last two steps to the shore, I turn around and see Kayla begin to cross.

A little before the halfway mark she pauses.

"I can't find the next place to step!" She shouts over the roar of the river. John makes his way back across the river, sans pack, to give her a hand. Soon we are all across without incident.

"Holy shit. That was intense!" exclaims Kayla. We all agree. We planned on taking a zero day at the springs so the crossing would soon be worth it.

Once we're across, we see two other people camping. Rob walks over to us and introduces himself. He and his dad are hiking 400 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. He tells me where the path to the hot springs is and heads back to his camp.

We quickly set up and make our way to the opening of the small path, hidden among the undergrowth. The trail swings left and opens up into a muddy field.

Across the field lays a large natural hot spring. It looks murky but the view is stunning. I slip a toe in and it doesn't seem too hot. I lower myself in and it quickly becomes quite hot. We spend almost an hour without any company. Soon we are joined by Rob and his dad along with a solo male hiker, and a group of Germans. Our party of nine soon enough turns into a real party. Rob's dad announces he brought some wine and Southern Comfort to drink tonight. He pours some wine into a cup and we pass it around the circle. A few rounds of wine go by and we move onto the SOCO, each of us just having a taste. It's worse than I remember.

Dinner tonight is mashed potatoes, beans, cheese, and green tomatoes. We add in some hot sauce and olive oil. We are so relaxed at camp and already feel the hot spring doing wonders on our sore joints. We plan on staying at camp tomorrow for the day, but will we follow through?

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