Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 13: The Trail Isn't For the Tame

*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!*  



Getting up to Arrowhead Lake last night was a nice start for our push up Glen Pass today. Being under 12,0000 feet (just barely at 11,926 ft) we think today's climb will be a breeze. As we pack up the discussion revolves around how far we will go today. Forester Pass is "only" twelve miles after Glen Pass. We can either have a tough day today or tomorrow based on what's ahead.

We decide to simply hike and decide how we feel as the day goes on. Unfortunately I get my period and while typically I'm not affected by it at all, going up very steep switchbacks to the summit of Glen Pass is torture. 


Every few hundred feet I stop. I eventually unclip my hip belt and let my shoulders bear the weight of my pack. Thankfully I pack light! I glance up the trail to try and locate the boys. They seem to be miles away. I thought this pass would be easy.

I'm the last one to the summit. In fact, others have been passing me on the way up. I feel defeated. The shortest pass we've climbed in the last few days has beaten me. I'm not sure my ego can take any more and then Andy announces, "I think I could definitely hike Forester today!"

Shoot me now.

Kayla and I agree to keep going and see how we feel as we're apprehensive about this grand plan. We know there are a few campsites very close to the pass we can stay at if needed. We were worried about the lack of protection from the wind that close to Forester, though. At 13,153 feet, Forester Pass is the highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail. It's the pass I've been hearing the most horror stories about and the guys want to make that our second pass of the day.

Photo credit: Eric Estrin

Photo credit: Eric Estrin

Photo credit: Eric Estrin

The descent of Glen Pass is just as steep as the ascent. It may not look so big on paper, but it is one of the steeper climbs on the trail. As the day goes on, I begin to feel more confident about getting a big day in.

We run into the DC Ultralight group and they had to get over Forester Pass today. They have a shuttle service set up and a flight to catch the day they finish. One of the members asks us if we're going over Forester. We all look at each other and agree that we're still going to play it by ear.

As we hike I run the miles through my head and calculate elevation gain. Once we make it to Vidette Meadow we will be at only 9576' and must climb up to 13098'. We also must hike far enough to get down from the pass and protected from the wind to camp.

We come to an intersection and I stop adding. Kearsarge Pass Trail is an exit point off the John Muir Trail and where Eric will head. He will be completing the trail, but with his brother and friends from home to celebrate his birthday. Before he parts, he hands Andy a package of the most delicious pork jerky for us to have. While Eric was only with us for a few days, he was just as much a part of our crazy crew.

We continue down the trail making good time, but still not deciding on a specific camping spot. We pass part of the DC crew and as I make my way around the corner I spot someone somewhat familiar. It turns out to be Roleigh from the JMT Yahoo and Facebook groups. He's on his 7th JMT thru hike! We chat for a bit and get his advice on some camping. He pulls up an app and describes a few different options and tells us to keep an eye out for a plaque on the way down Forester. In all his hikes, he hasn't spotted it yet. I am determined to find it!

Before we continue, Roleigh informs us that the weather we've encountered on the trail is more intense than it has been in at least fifteen years. We leave feeling more determined and strong. Roleigh is a pretty cool dude.

The camping spots are mostly occupied approaching Forester. At 12,000 feet, it's windy and cold; not quite the best location to rest your head.

We finally decide to push on and give Forester all we've got. We're getting up and down this pass tonight!

The trail is steep and breathing doesn't come too easy, but I'm surprised to find that I feel great overall. I actually feel much better going up Forester than I did this morning on Glen Pass! We look back at where we came from and look down at the alpine lakes. They shimmer and dazzle us with deep shades of blue, trapping the final rays of light as the sun sinks behind the surrounding peaks. The peaks that surround us are jagged and impossible to scale on foot, but they call to me. As I hike I see them from another angle and they're even more beautiful than before; beautiful in a sort of masculine yet graceful manner. These mountains have seen it all.

Forester Pass is littered with glaciers and unfortunately actual litter. We pack out two full bottles of sunscreen, Aqua Mira, and a water bottle. How anyone can purposefully leave behind trash is puzzling to me.

By 6:30 the day starts to come to a close. The wind picks up and I unpack my puffy. We shout with joy at the sight of snow. Our first actual sign of snow in the Sierras. Without a second thought, we make a snowman.

The final push of Forester Pass is filled with joy. We laugh and joke as we hike. We holler at the top of our lungs. We are wild.

 It's 7:00 pm and I'm on top of Forester Pass. At 7:00 am I never thought I'd be up here.

Andy approaching the summit of Forester Pass

John taking it all in

We celebrate with Eric's pork jerky and send good vibes to him for his birthday. After our mini celebration I look down and don't see a single tree. It's going to be a cold one tonight.

The switchbacks are as steep as I expect them to be. After many miles and hours today, I'm ready for a nice meal and to rest up for tomorrow. I'm unsure if the weather will allow for that.

I descend quickly determined to get out of the wind tonight. I stop and look back to see Andy and Kayla's progress. I begin to think we may not get as far tonight. As I look back, though, I see the memorial plaque Roleigh had mentioned. Donald Downs was only 19 when he died.

I wait for Kayla and Andy to catch up so we can discuss camping options. The protected sites are miles away and we've covered a lot of ground already. We agree to camp at the first semi protected area with another room for our tents.

We stop four or five times before settling on a location. The sun has gone down and it's not an ideal place to make camp, but we can make do. We decide to place our tents together and form a shield to block our "kitchen" from the wind. We place our bear canisters around the stove as the water boils for added protection.

As we eat, we see a series of headlamps descend Forester. It's the DC crew. We quickly eat, add even more layers, and quickly fall asleep. Today was a big one.

Our exposed campsite the following morning

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

AMC Basic Trail Maintenance Course

Peak bagging New Hampshire's 4000 footers is how I like to spend my free time. Whether it's getting above treeline in winter or stringing together multiple routes to high peaks, I'm all about being on the trail. I've left a lot of foot prints in the White Mountains and decided to do something to give back.

I spent some time researching Appalachian Mountain Club's Adopt-A-Trail program. I know multiple trail adopters and they've really enjoyed having ownership of the work done on a particular trail. I decided to find a trail in need.

The Appalachian Mountain Club keeps a list of orphaned trails located in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. I soon became the proud adopter of a two mile stretch on the Osseo Trail.

AMC offers a basic trail maintenance course where you can learn the nuts and bolts of trail maintenance: drainage, clearing, brushing, and blazing. Everything I'd need to know to begin maintaining my newly adopted trail I would learn here. The course is even free of charge for new or current trail adopters!

I met Jack, our teacher for the course, and three other new trail adopters bright and early at the Camp Dodge Volunteer Center in Pinkham Notch.

Jack went over the trail maintainer work report, safety tips, and other essential information before we got outside.

Our first stop was the tool shed. It was important for us to know what tools are available to us as well as the proper tools to use for various projects.

We then headed to the Imp Trail where we spent most of the day. We would do some hiking while learning the proper way to maintain our own trails. We really focused on drainage, clearing and brushing waterbars and side ditches. In one day we worked on eleven waterbars!

The most useful bit of information I learned was how to look at the trail in a variety of ways. How will hikers see this section? Is the corridor easy to follow or may they get lost? Is it clear where hikers should step or may this section become wider from people avoiding mud or obstacles in the trail?

We also looked at how the water will flow in rain. we noticed small details like the slope in a waterbar. We learned ways to prevent trail erosion.

As we hiked back to Camp Dodge, we noticed there were very faded blazes where the Imp Trail intersects an unmarked trail. We got a paint kit and started painting. We all got a chance to paint our first blaze!

 If you have enjoyed being on the trails, I highly recommend taking some time to give back. If adopting a trail is too much, look into the following organizations for one day to week long work parties:

Appalachian Mountain Club


Cohos Trail

Society for the Protection of NH Forests

Green Mountain Club

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Friday, September 12, 2014

First Look: TWO New Gossamer Gear Day Packs!

Gossamer Gear just released two brand new day packs just in time for some fall foliage hiking! I already have big plans for these small packs!

Both packs are made with 100 Denier Robic ripstop nylon for the main body and have new air mesh harness. The material of these packs are made to be more durable than the 50 Denier ripstop nylon previously used on many Gossamer Gear packs.

Up first is the Type 2 Utility Backpack

The Type 2 is 1400 cubic inches (23L) and the ultimate multifunctional pack.

MSRP $99.00

15.65 oz  (444 g.) complete
  • .80 oz (23 g.) removable foam pad
  • 3.40 oz (95 g.)  removable belt
  • 11.50 oz (326 g.) pack only

Here's a closer look at what the Type 2 has to offer:


The Robic fabric on the body of the pack has a slick feel to it. It's tough and is made to shed water. Definitely a perfect combination for those in wetter conditions like we see in New Hampshire. Anyone up for some UL bushwhacking?

There is a Daisy Chain and an Ice Axe Loop. This will extend my pack us into winter when I know I won't need to store snowshoes as I can carry an ice axe and use the Daisy Chain strap my crampons to the outside of the pack.

  • There are two integrated hydration hose ports so you can run your hose right by the shoulder straps
  • Breathable shoulder harness with sternum and rib strap
  • Removable hip belt with two large pockets (weighs 3.40 oz) 
  • Velcro back pocket can hold a laptop for commuters. Note- there is not padding

Top lid features a large zippered pocket and a draw cord to secure your gear.

Closer look at the hip belt

The two large mesh side pockets are the perfect size for water bottles.The mesh has been redesigned to be stretchy and tough.

The Rukus is a whopping 2400 cubic inches (39.32L) and can swallow a lot of gear. If Mary Poppins was into UL hiking, she'd get this pack.

Up close with the Rukus:

MSRP: $65.00
11.8 oz  (335 g.) complete
2400 c.i. (39.32 L)

The Rukus is a minimalist pack without a ton of features. It's simple and has a large volume capacity for such a lightweight pack. The main body has an 1800 Cubic Inch capacity. slant top mesh big back pocket for easy access. There is an additional 600 c.i. (9.83 l.) of volume between the slanted and side pockets.

Air-mesh fabric on new unisex shoulder straps for less friction, more cushion and more comfort

Removable exterior foam back pad- 80 oz (23 g.)

Close up of the Air-mesh fabric and Daisy Chain

Internal zipper pocket for small essentials.

Both packs are great for day trips, but can you really use them on a multiday adventure? I packed what I would typically bring on a two day, one night trip in the White Mountains during the summer to see if I could fit it all in.

I included the following items:

32 degree Sleeping bag (in stuff sack)
Sleeping pad
Hammock and tarp
Additional clothing (long underwear, down jacket, rain jacket, extra socks)
Ditty bag (first aid items, headlamp, batteries, toiletries, etc.)
Food: Snacks for 2 days, breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Cookpot and MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
4 oz fuel canister
2 liters water (bottles or bladder)

I was very surprised with how it all fit. With the Type 2 everything fit perfectly. There was no additional room so I would have to alter my gear to possibly squeeze another day in (just camping with a tarp, going stoveless, etc.)

With the Rukus everything fit into the main body with room to spare! I could definitely go on a long weekend trip with this pack. I will be testing these two packs in the field in the next week and will have an update about how they perform.

Disclaimer: Allison is a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received these packs for testing. The above review is her own opinion.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 12: In Suspension

*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!*  

My legs are folded, knees against my chest as I wake. My sleeping bag's hood is cinched tight over my puffy's hood. The sun is not yet up. I slowly unzip my tent and peek out at J Bench Lake. It's one of the coldest mornings on the trail, but also the most glorious campsites. Our tired bodies were too busy with camp chores and getting to bed before more rain last night to really appreciate it.

I make my way out of our camp to use the bathroom and see a familiar face. It's Eric! We hadn't seen him since before Evolution Lake where he was meeting with a friend. We last hiked before the creek and before we lost John. We catch up and then walk to camp. Eric had started his day over an hour ago, but decides to hang with us at camp until we get going.

Andy reminds us that we have oatmeal from our Muir Trail Ranch resupply. Kayla and I are excited to have a hot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast. Unlike many hikers, we hadn't eaten a single packet on the trail. We use extra peanut butter to give our breakfast a little boost.

Shortly after breakfast the sun makes an appearance and motivates us to get moving. I spend the morning attempting to keep up with "Eric Long Legs". While I'm tall, every one of my steps is merely a half step for him. As we gain elevation, I feel myself breathing harder and having to take more frequent micro breaks. The trail is gorgeous and the terrain isn't bad, but it is noticeably more difficult to breath at this altitude compared to New Hampshire's 4000 foot peaks. Breathing aside, I feel great.

Pinchot Pass (12130') although a new highpoint on the trail, ended up being one of the easier passes on the trail. The climb is a little over 2000 feet, but it's steady. The views are incredible per usual and this helps with the ascent.

 Once down from Pinchot, our goal is to camp as close to Glen Pass as we can hike. I stop and pull out my map. The Harrison map set contains 13 pages. Happy Isles is page 13 and Whitney is 1. Today we're hiking on page three! I begin to think about our journey so far. How it had been vastly different than what I ever imagined but exactly what I was hoping for. Only a few more days until Whitney!


 As I hike, the sky becomes even more blue. The trail makes a dramatic change to meadows and really interesting wetland landscapes with towering mountains in sight.

 As I made my way on yet another switchback, the Woods Creek suspension bridge came into sight. This bridge was one of the sections I had been looking forward to. It's quite a treat to see a suspension bridge in wilderness. Especially one this long.

I climb up the steps to the bridge and as I take my first steps, I feel the planks wobble under me. The bridge sways gently as I pass over the gaps where wood once was. Once I reach the other side a group calls me over.

"Hey, are you the girl that's with John?" a camper asks.

"Yeah, there's a few of us." They recognize my purple skirt I assume.

"He asked us to pass on a message. I guess he doesn't have much food left. He's kind of freaking out. He said he wasn't going to slow down. Said something about you guys needing to find him. I dunno, he sounded a little crazy."

"Thanks," I reply. "We've been getting messages the last couple of days as we got separated by a creek crossing when we had all that rain."

Eric, Kayla, and Andy join, but before we head off we see a ranger. We are hesitant but Eric asks about the weather.

"It looks like there's going to be afternoon showers, but generally clear skies. More typical Sierra weather," the ranger informs us. A smile comes across all of our faces. "The rain we've been having was classified as a monsoon. That's something we normally don't encounter."

After our chat, we begin down the trail again. It's crazy to me that we had a monsoon. To me it was what I'd expect to encounter on a multi-day hike in New Hampshire or Vermont. I guess that's why it's so green there!

While I hadn't seen a bear on the trail (I was really hoping to!) I did run across a great deal of other wildlife including dozens of Mule Deer. One of the biggest features that differentiates them from other species of deer is their large ears. Their ears are always moving and do so independently of each other.

This mule deer was less than fifteen feet  from me when I rounded a corner. Instead of running off immediately, she simply turned her head toward me as she sat. I take a photo and drop my trekking pole to see if she'll run off. She doesn't move. After a few moments she stands up, gives me one last glance and begins to amble away. I doubt she's ever seen a firearm living here.

Around the next corner I come across some actual mules and a man camping out to deliver some provisions for a group of hikers. I chat with him for a while and Eric does when he catches up. The man tells us all about his job and seems to really like being out here. I learn that if you pay for a pack service and don't arrive when they are expecting you, they will wait for a bit, but then carry it out. Due to wilderness regulations they will not leave it. You are able to alter meeting times if you can reach them, but to me it seems like a risk to take when you're paying so much money for the service. I'm glad I opted to just carry more food at once.

The last few miles to camp are frustrating. Every few minutes someone recognizes my purple skirt and must give us an update from John. The other day he had separated from us with seven dinners and many snacks. He had no stove (Andy and Kayla carried their stove) or a rain jacket, but refused to take a half day and wait. The story transformed to him having seven days of food to three and now suddenly he has no food at all.

Only a few steps later a group asks us how we got lost. Lost? I inform them that we were never lost. I feel confused and annoyed from what I hear. John crossed the creek and made the decision to not wait for us. Suddenly we're being asked how we got lost and being told that John is freaking out and has no food.

A mile from Arrowhead Lake we decide to filter some water. A boy scout troop leader makes his way toward us bearing trail bars. He explains that he heard we were out of food. We chuckle, thank him for his kindness, and explain that we have plenty of food. Kayla decides to grab one for John. Moments later more groups try and give us some food. I explain the situation and it begins to make sense to them. Every single person we encounter has talked to John.

I appreciate how concerned everyone is, but just want to hike. I'm tempted to grab my leggings and take off my purple skirt. I don't want to hear anymore updates about John's location or his mental status. We talk it over and decide to not make a big deal of the situation, but divide the food better.

Minutes later I round the corner to Arrowhead Lake and see John's hat mounted on a trekking pole.

"Hey guys!" John exclaims feverishly. "I thought I wouldn't see you again."

A simple "Hi," was all I could mutter. I was annoyed that I was so close to John multiple times in the last few days but he refused to slow down or wait despite his growing concern.

Kayla greets him as cheerfully as she could and explains that we were concerned, but glad he's okay. The conversation goes from making sure he's doing alright and has eaten to trying to understand his logic. John believes that every decision he made was rational and we try to explain that he wasn't thinking as a group and wasn't making right choices.

"I wasn't sure if you had left the trail since just about everyone else did that day. I figure I had to make it to Whitney with the food I had," John explains.

"But that doesn't make sense. You can't hike that many miles with the food you had; especially without a stove," Kayla counters.

"I didn't hear from any of you! I kept passing messages down to people because I never got a message passed back to me.

"There wasn't a single person who passed us going Southbound. No one was hiking faster than us so we couldn't pass a message to you," I chime in.

Eric sits nearby while we confront John. I feel bad as it's his last night camping with us. We end the conversation by explaining we're just happy he's okay. We agree that John can hike ahead if he needs to even though he drove up in Kayla's car which is parked in Lone Pine.

John retires to his tent and we begin dinner. I decide after that we need some cheering up and grab my "Lakeside Cheesecake" from my bear canister. It's a Jello instant cheesecake mix in a Ziplock with powdered milk. You add water and let it sit in a cold lake for a few minutes. Once you give it a couple stirs it's ready! It is such a treat on the trail. I had been talking about this cheesecake for days and it tonight it lives up to the hype.

Arrowhead Lake

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