September 4, 2014 / Comments (2)

Day 10: When Four Become Three

rain on the JMT
*This post is from my 2014 JMT thru hike. I began 7/25/14 and finished 8/8/14. Missed the beginning? Read it here!*  
Last night I slept for maybe three hours. I had been awakened by a thunder and lightening storm right over our camp. I had front row seats behind the bug netting of my tent as the storm lit up the lake a few dozen feet from us.
I ask the others about the storm and only Andy stayed awake throughout it. He explains when he exited the tent for a bit as he couldn’t sleep. It makes me feel better as I wasn’t alone.
The air chills my bones and I decide to keep my leggings and Columbia base layer on for the morning. I layer my rain jacket over and prepare for another day in the rain. The first day of rain was one of my favorite days on the trail. Maybe today will be just as great.
We discuss the plan for the day and settle on meeting at Palisade Lakes. It’s 12 miles from our current camping spot and sounds like a beautiful area. John begins first per usual and I am behind him after I pack up my last few items.

During the day’s hike I don’t take many pictures. My camera’s low battery indicator is on and I’m not sure why. The battery does indicate it’s two-thirds charged later so I think the cold weather is affecting it.

As I hike, I run into a couple of boy scout troops and a couple of section and thru hikers. Kayla, Andy, and John took the shuttle from Lone Pine to Yosemite and they have mentioned a few people who they started out with on the bus that are still going and who they’ve either out paced or possibly have quit the trail.

When I got on the bus at Mariposa, I was accompanied by rangers as it was 5:45 am on a Friday. The few people I had seen or hiked with the first couple of days have been long gone. I often think about the other hikers and wonder if they’re doing okay in all this rain.

Today the rain doesn’t let up. I spend most of the day getting in the miles, not taking too many breaks. Eventually I catch up to Uncle-Nephew.

“You sure were moving!” Uncle says to me.

“Yeah, just trying to make the most out of this rain,” I reply. The last time I saw this duo they had continued down Muir Pass in a lightening and hail storm. I’m very glad to see that they’re okay.

“Were you guys camping not far from the pass in that patch of trees?” I inquire.

“No, we booked it down and got as low as we could after that storm,” says Uncle.

“The lightening was really intense last night,” adds Nephew.

“You can go in front,” Uncle tells me. “You’re much faster.”

I’ve been playing leap frog with these two since we saw them at Muir Trail Ranch. “Uncle-Nephew” is our name for them. We actually don’t know their real names! While I was given “Lightfoot” as a trail name and it’s one that I like, I was referred by Uncle-Nephew as “Purple Skirt”. No reason to explain why. I find out that John is “Fishing Guy” and Andy is “Bad Knee” as they heard about him possibly needing to get off trail after he hurt his knee. The $5.00 soft braces at Muir Trail Ranch and a soak in the hot springs fixed that!

We part ways for now as I forge ahead. I soon come across a Northbound section hiker who excitedly tells me about his hike down the Golden Staircase.

“It’s that close?” I ask.

“Yeah it’s only a few miles away.”

The Golden Staircase is a series of steep switchbacks that quickly climbs 1500′. It is known as one of the more physically demanding sections of the trail. I hadn’t realized it was so close!

As I hike the trail becomes swampy in spots and soon enough there is water running down it. I push through trying not to deviate too much off the trail as it does create multiple routes and ruins the surrounding wilderness.

I make my way hopping from one rock to another, dipping my feet in water every three to four steps. It’s a difficult process. The trail comes to a halt and I stare across a creek looking for a way around. The water level is so high, the rocks used to cross are under many inches of water.

I hike to the left and find a stump at the edge of the creek. I unstrap my pack and steady my hiking pole. I place my right foot on the stump and push off the ground gently seeing how far I’d need to stretch my left leg to make it across. There’s no way I’d make it. The water rushes below me as I swing my leg back, placing it firmly on the sopping ground. The stump is positioned at the curve of the creek and leaves too much exposed area to cross. I continue down the trail following the curve of the creek. I spot two branches a third of the way across. I step onto them and leap across. It’s good to have a light pack! 

Of course there is a series of crossings on the wettest day on the trail. As soon as I make it over the first, I see the second obstacle. I make my way over to a low log bridging one side of the trail to another. It is slick and falling in would mean the end of my hike. I crouch down and sit on the log, straddling it. I bring my feet up as high as I can and place my palms down straightening my arms. I push on the log using my arms to bear my weight and scoot a few inches down the log. I feel incredibly stupid straddling a log and failing at even keeping my feet dry. At least I’m not in the water. After another five squatting pushups, I’m across.

I look ahead and see a man round a corner and disappear. I trudge through the water soaked trail faster and catchup with him.

“I don’t see a way to cross!” he yells over the water. “I’m going to see if there’s a way to cross down the trail.”

“I’ll let people know about the crossing,” I reply, trying to make myself sound useful.

As he investigates I try and look down the trail to see if I can spot Andy and Kayla. They’re usually not too far behind.


Ten minutes later Chris returns. “There’s no safe way across. There’s one little log and the water is worse up there.” I could see a small waterfall feeding the creek. “We were just going to camp right over there,” Chris says, pointing a mere thirty feet away. “I think I’m going to make camp around here and wait for my dad.

Chris and I make our way over to his “Plan B” camping spot. Every direction we go in turns into a swamp. The trail has water streaming down it and there’s no safe way to cross. Where the hell did John go?

“Did you see a guy with a green paid shirt?” I quickly ask.

“Yeah. We were leapfrogging for a while. I last saw him about twenty minutes before you caught up.”

Chris’ dad appears in sight and they greet each other. Chris introduces me to Dave. Without a pause, Dave heads up the trail, right through the swampy meadow to find camp. I make my way near them and try to scout out a spot for three. I have high hopes of spotting Andy and Kayla soon.

I find an acceptable spot and begin to set up, but there are too many rock slabs beneath the dirt surface. I quickly gather my tent up and begin to hike again, this time back to the first two creek crossings.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot Uncle-Nephew. I abandon my plan for a moment to check in with them.

“We had to really get off trail to get over that second crossing. How’s the rest of the trail?” Uncle asks.

“I didn’t make it past the third major crossing! There’s no safe way to make it over today. I’m going to set up camp and wait for Kayla and Andy.”

“We’re going to exit the trail early,” Uncle tells me abruptly. “I have a really short time frame between finishing and when I go back to work. Besides, this one has to get back to school,” Uncle explains gesturing to nephew. “We’ll exit at Kearsarge and then do the last section on another trip.”

I was disappointed to hear that Uncle-Nephew would be ending their trip soon. Besides my trail family, they’re the only ones I have seen on a semi regular basis on the trail. In just a few days, I’ve seen them become more resilient and falling in love with the trail, even hiking through heavy rain for the first time (on Muir Pass, nonetheless!)

I say farewell, hoping that the rest of the gang will see them once more before they head toward Onion Valley, leaving the trail we’ve bonded over.

I set off to find Andy and Kayla. I scoot back over the 2nd crossing and through some brush and mud puddles. This spot is the only place I can see Kayla and Andy before they get to the second crossing. It’s already been 45 minutes and I haven’t seen them. Uncle-Nephew hadn’t seen them either. I decide to make camp.

As I set up my tent, I know I’m breaking many wilderness guidelines. I’m camped right next to the trail and in between two streams, but I need to find Kayla and Andy. I’ve already lost John.

I grab my maps and some jerky while I wait. I think about John going across the last creek and where he must be. The Golden Staircase is shortly after and I couldn’t see why he would want to go up in this much rain or why he wouldn’t just wait for us.

I decide to keep busy and try to make a fire. In the rain. I have a lighter, coconut oil, and some paper that’s only slightly wet. This should be fun. I gather some small twigs and find dry pine needles hidden under small tree.

I have little luck with my wet fire and glance up. I see a dark green poncho heading toward me.

“KAYLA!” I shout out. An thin arm pokes out of the poncho’s sleeve and removes the hood. It’s a small Asian man. Not Kayla. A few other hikers catch up to him and begin trying to ask me how to cross. There’s a lot of miming and nervous laughs coming from across the creek. I point around the curve of the creek and walk them down to where I crossed. They all chat among themselves and I walk back up to where hikers usually cross. I unzip my pack and grab my JMT cribsheet. This is the only paper I have with me beside my permit. It lists exit points, shuttle services, phone numbers, and other vital information. I rip off a section I won’t need any attempt to burn it. It slowly blackens, but being in the top zipper of my pack, it got a little wet as well.

Once again, I see people coming my way. One person has a bright orange rain jacket just like Andy’s. Maybe it’s them!

It’s the French group. They approach the crossing and I expect to play charades with them too, but one of the men yells out, “how did you cross this river?”

I explain and he understands perfectly. He then asks about “the current water level and possibility of forging the last creek.” His accent is thick but he is fluent. We got the impression no one in this group spoke much English.

After given them an update of all things related to the creek, I ask them if they’ve seen my two friends. The man simply shrugs. We’ve seen them at least once the last couple of days so I figure they would have.

Before I have a chance of getting too worried, Kayla and Andy actually make their way down the trail. Kayla’s poncho is in a couple of pieces.

“It lasted longer than I expected. It was a worthwhile investment,” Kayla says nonchalantly. I can always rely on Kayla to be optimistic.

I explain to them how close I must have been to catching up to John and how he must have crossed the creek. They decide to stay on this side of the creek as I figured they would and begin to tell me about their day.

“So we came across this woman lying flat on her back on the trail. I thought she broke her back,” Kayla explains. “So we talk to her hiking partner and she thinks her friend has altitude sickness. She said she hadn’t eaten in three days. Thankfully a couple hikers who were doctors were right behind us. They said they could barely feel her pulse. They used an emergency beacon to call for help and someone got a ranger. A helicopter was going to airlift her.”

“If any one of us didn’t eat for a day, I’d find a way to get us off the trail,” Andy tells us as he makes an attempt at starting my fire. I appreciate Andy’s sentiment, but also become a little concerned. Mather Pass and Forrester Pass are still ahead, and of course Mount Whitney. I become slightly concerned about having altitude sickness after hearing their story.

We decide that John has either crossed the creek or died trying. And he has seven meals Andy and Kayla made. He also has no rain jacket. I find out that though Kayla and John went to college together, they hadn’t seen each other in three years and he’s changed a lot.

“He used to have a big group of friends in college and that seemed to be good for him, but now he lives so far away,” Kayla explains. “He’s like a lone wolf now.”

I spend the night at my illegal campsite wondering what happened to the lone wolf.


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Last modified: December 6, 2014

2 Responses to :
Day 10: When Four Become Three

  1. Dogwood says:

    Looks like you could have made a safer ford downstream. Sometimes the deepest spot in a stream to cross is exactly where the the trail is on each side of the crossing as those can be the areas that get dug out especially if stock crosses in that same area.

  2. I went up and down the stream and looked at the possible routes. Other folks had done the same and decided to do the same. It wouldn’t be worth it to go up the Golden Staircase right after in that weather anyway.

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