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.
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.
Last modified: December 6, 2014