August 14, 2014 / Comments (1)

JMT Day 2: Free To Hike

pack mules
*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!

I feel the presence of the sun as it rises slowly into the morning sky. I stare out through the bug netting of my shelter as the colors of the sky change, growing more vivid with the passing time. Down trees used as natural barriers between campsites block my view at Little Yosemite Valley. After twenty minutes of stillness I hear someone stir. I unzip my tent and see the father-daughter team from yesterday in their sleeping bags. They had forgotten their tent, but it had been nice enough to cowboy camp.

I greet them and wonder why they hadn’t left for Half Dome. The cable section is notorious for being crowded in the afternoon and could easily rival a Walmart Black Friday sale line.

As I walk over to the campsite bear box, I contemplate my plan for the day. I’ll hike until I’m tired. This would soon become my daily goal. My itinerary was made so I could plan out the number of days I would need to complete this hike. I gave myself sixteen days plus two spare days in case I needed it. I would then make my way to LAX so I could fly back to Boston.

I quickly open my bear canister and shuffle through it grabbing my toothbrush and breakfast. Today it’s 1000 calorie granola. I add water, seal the zipper, and swoosh the contents around. Breakfast is ready. My whole trail diet requires no stove. That means little prep, no worrying about fire restrictions or running out of food, and cleanup means sealing a bag and licking my spoon.
I begin my daily routine: take down the shelter, pack my bag, hike.

As I make my way down the trail, I run into a couple of groups, giddy as they make their way to Half Dome. I soon pass the Half Dome junction and a sign reminding hikers not to forget their permit. I had applied for one along with my John Muir Trail permit, but did not receive one. It was a trip I didn’t care too much about doing. I was too focused on hiking to Whitney.

It feels nice to be gaining elevation. I think back to yesterday and the heat. Hiking from the valley my skin was slick with sweat and I felt myself working harder during the climb. I feel better today, ready for some bigger mileage.

At mile 13, I pass the junction to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. With a pass thru permit, I would have needed to camp here. Could I have done all that elevation gain yesterday? During this time I’ve met up with a solo female hiker. We talk about our planning, what our parents thought, and our gear. We had similar experiences with people’s reactions to us being solo females. I soon learn how different her hike may be compared to mine. She planned this hike only a month before and her rain gear is a heavy ski jacket that has been waterproofed.

“You girls going to Tuolumne tonight?” a couple asks.

“No. I don’t think so.” I respond. “We want to go for a swim at Cathedral Lake.”

“You should be able to make the bus down to Tuolumne before the grill closes at 5:00.” A hot meal sounded good, but it was only day two and I heard good things about Cathedral Lake.

“We’re doing the JMT so no shortcuts for us,” I respond.

“We’ll you could take the bus back in the morning and do the miles you missed.”

I knew I could make it to Tuolumne by 5:00, but I didn’t want to give up possibly my only 20-something female companion quite yet.

A couple miles later I hike out of view of my new friend. I pass Cathedral Lake on my left and continue down the trail. Doesn’t the trail go right by Cathedral Lake? I glance at the trail restoration signs and the hikers going right through. I unpack the entire contents of my bag to pull out my bear canister. 15 minutes later I am joined on the trail and we go down to the Lake. A father-son team joins us and they all make plans to camp. I’m not ready for my day to be done.

I unscrew my Platypus bladder and insert it into the pond, moving it around like a confused fish. One liter is all I need. I amble back up to the rock my temporary hiking partners are on and say farewell. I tell them I’ll see them down the trail.

“If you’re going to make it to Whitney in 16 days, we probably won’t see you.”

Off I go.

It’s nice running into people who you can hike with for a few hours or a few minutes and make a connection. I enjoyed having company for a few hours, but I was ready to put on some more miles.

Cathedral Lake

I start to descend a couple thousand feet to Tuolumne where I’d be spending the night. I make my way into the store filled prepackaged goodies and shockingly enough, fresh food. I make a few laps inside the store and settle on a boxed salad and a pint of chocolate ice cream for dinner. I stuff the items into the mesh pocket of my pack and make my way to the backpackers camp. I pass dozens of RVs housing weekend campers. As I take my last steps uphill (because, yes, they do have to stick the backpackers on top of a large hill) I see dozens of tents and not one empty site. I continue down a path of brightly colored tents looking for a single spot. I soon give up and just then get an offer to share a spot with a few other hikers.

I spend the next few minutes setting up my shelter.

“That thing doesn’t have a floor? That pack is pretty small,” I hear a man belt out. “You can’t possibly have everything in there.”

Here we go again. I push in the final stake and see three people gawking at my setup.

“Is that your pack?” I inquire, pointing at the large external frame pack nearby.

“Yeah. External frame packs are making a comeback.”

I soon see this may be true. In the next couple days I did see quite a few expedition size external frame packs being lugged down the trail. I finish my night listening to the same man tell me about his divorce as I scarf down a whole pint of ice cream. One of my proud moments on the trail.

Continue to day three…

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Last modified: December 6, 2014

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JMT Day 2: Free To Hike

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