Now where did I leave off? (John Muir Trail diary/trip report continuation)

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Sorry about that… things got busy here, but I’m back and going to finish my story where I left off:

I was going to blog my John Muir Trail journal one day at a time, but in an effort to catch up on our missed weddings and such, I’m going to just cruise it all through in one HUGE post… so here it goes:

(oh, and be sure to read carefully, because no one has guessed the correct number of blisters yet… so if you haven’t taken a guess already, give it a shot and see if you can figure it out. If you’ve already guessed, sorry… but you were incorrect)

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 3 – Monday July 7, 2008

Woke up to a nice sunrise – thought I’d missed my alarm, but I guess the sun can get me up pretty early. 21 miles to hike today… mosquitos are eating me alive…. hiked a long………. 21 miles to Red’s Meadow where we met up with Taylor and Peter who will hike the rest of the trail with us. (and who were kind enough to have cold beers waiting for us at Red’s Meadow!)

The miles were long, so we were excited to head into the Red’s Meadow Cafe and eat double cheeseburgers… (SOOOOOO yummy)

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 4 – Tuesday July 8, 2008

Only an 18 mile day. Left Red’s a bit late after a very fulfilling breakfast at the cafe. Nothing monumental from the day’s hike. We did end in a really really beautiful valley with a great meadow where we spent the night. Lots and lots of mosquitos once again. I HATE Deet and I HATE sunscreen, but by the end of today I sucome to both!!!!

My arms are getting gnarly red from the sun, not to mention the countless mosquito bites <Phil and I both looked like we had chicken pocks at this point in the trail…>

As we set up camp a short thunder shower came through, sans the thunder, plus the rain… We thought this would dampen the mosquito’s parade, but it didn’t, it only made them worse!

Took a well needed skinny dip in the river, it felt SOOOO good, except for the millions of mosquitos who promplete attached themselves to my bare bottom.

Blister count hit 7 today…

John Muir Trail Through Hike

The beautiful meadow and the switchbacks leading to our campsite.

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Top of a pass

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Self portrait, Cheryl says it doesn’t look like me…

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Small creek crossing

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Wow and wow (last time I did this trail all of these lakes were complete frozen over and everything was covered in snow)

John Muir Trail Through Hike 2008

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 5 – Wednesday July 9, 2008

I really really miss Cheryl A LOT!!! I knew I’d miss her whle on this trip, but I had NO clue how much. This is the longest we’ve been apart since we got married a year, 8 months and 6 days ago. (geez I hope I got this right…)

Today was truly MISERABLE… woke up feeling like total crap, my blistered feet ache… and I felt almost like I could throw up for most of the first part of the day. But, I made it…. 21 miles later, we finished battle the trail (two passes, big climbs, one with switchbacks for EVER) we got rained on, and for the last hour or two of our hike were just mobbed by mosquitos – now aptly named “Devil Flies” <I think this may have been in honor of the vernacular of Dave Berg>

Today all day I’ve felt like giving up – not quiting – just not aiming for Whitney on the 14th/15th. We’ve been hiking soo hard that I’ve really been unable to enjoy the granduer of these truly breathtaking mountains.

I’d rather slow down and enjoy everything and not finish at Whitney than to have the only enjoyable part of the trip be having met our original goal. But, I wanna make my beautiful wife proud and meet her at the end of the trail, having conquered this trail a second time.

-Time to break for dinner whilst battle the Devil Flies…

-Came right back to the tent, too miserable to cook with so many mosquitos!

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 6 – Thursday July 10, 2008

John Muir Trail Through Hike

This smiley face made my day as I hiked slowly and didn’t find much humor until I saw this, brilliant! Thank you to whomever was hiking and decided it would be fun to make my day.

Smiley face on the side of the John Muir Trail

Trail signs are just fun

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Made it over the half way hump today – picked up our re-supply from Muir Trail Ranch – spent too many hours just sitting around there, finally got back on the trail in the late afternoon… hiked into Kings Canyon National Park – probably the most beautiful part of the trip! Coming up the river (I believe it was a branch of the San Joaquin) was really amazing!

Because we got such a late start in the afternoon w

e stopped for dinner around 7:30, calculated mileages for the rest of the trip and decided to push farther in the dark to ensure we pushed past 20 miles for the day. Crossed Evolution River in the dark which proved to be uneventful, but fun/adventurous none-the-less – last time I crossed this river it was snowing on us, we had snow on both banks (probably 6-12″) and I went chest deep – sucked sooooo bad!! This time we went knee deep, and I didn’t catch a log between the legs half way across.

For the first time in a few days I finally feel like the end is in sight and I might actually make it and enjoy it.

Off to hike Muir Pass in the a.m. – but since we didn’t make camp until midnight – we’ll sleep in again… we’ve had the latest mornings this trip – everyone seems to really take their time getting ready.

Oh – I finally enjoyed the hike today… I actually got to look around and enjoy the scenery.

Now if only the BLOODY mosquitos would go away!!!

My heal blisters and pinky toe blisters hurt – but not getting worse, still only up to 7 total.

Right knee is a little sad, but hanging in there.

Taylor says we’re going to aim to top Whitney at su

nrise… should be beautiful as well as tiring. Can’t wait to see my gorgeous hot wife at the end of the trail!

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 7 – Friday July 11, 2008

Muir Pass Day –

It was NOTHING at all like I remember it. Last time I got altitude sickness and just felt like throwing up… and there was 3-7 feet (or more) of snow from before we crossed the Evolution River all the way over the top and down to the start of LeConte Canyon – post holing up to chest deep at times…

Come July 08 we’re talking a TOTALLY!!! different game. I didn’t get sick from the altitude – there was NO snow, only maybe two tiny patches of snow to walk across – it wasn’t really too difficult – long gradual approach – and the craziest part about it… there were these great big lakes, several of them!!! – last time we approached the pass by crossing over several GREAT BIG snow fields – post holing all the way… so – this time me and Taylor realized that on our last trip we walked across frozen lakes last time (very large ones… see pictures – probably over a mile long) and thankfully the late season ice held.

Phil brought all sorts of crazy healthy stuff on the trail to try and keep well nourished, and this was the greens mix that phil had been sharing with me on the trail. I convinced taylor to try it… it’s seriously the LIGHEST green powder ever and gets on EVERYTHING!

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Phil found these frogs all along this lake… later found out they’re endangered and being studied by some scientists that Phil met at the top of one of our many passes….

Lake frogs John Muir Trail Through Hike

Last time Taylor and I did this trail this lake was completely frozen over… we hiked right across it with no clue it was there… oops!

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Muir Hut on top of Muir Pass… pretty cool. And whoever said there was a marmot in there when they were there, well, it’s still chilling inside scaring people! lol

Muir Hut John Muir Trail Through Hike

I couldn’t pick a flower and bring it home for my lady, but I could take a picture…

wild flowers on the John Muir Trail Through Hike

Phil showing how to smoke a pipe while enjoying the views

smoking the pipe on our John Muir Trail Through Hike

Coming down from the pass one of the guys (I think Taylor) mentioned how if you took the snow patches away as well as the river/cree

k, this particular area would look just like the desert! Seriously, it could have been a scene from Death Valley – pretty, but un-expected for the Sierras.

Taylor, Phil and I got to our meeting point at LeConte Ranger station about the same time and decided to visit the ranger. He was a super nice guy, holed up by himself for 5 months in the back country. He told us about some sweet cross country hikes for the future. <he seemed familiar, and after some double checking, we realized he was one of the rangers quoted and written about in a book both Taylor and I have read “The Last Season” about a back country ranger who goes missing in this exact area of the Sierras)

Peter caught up with us a bit later and let us know his knees were killing him. We hiked another 3 miles past the ranger station in the dark… again…. I really don’t care for finishing a 20 mile day in the dark!

Phil did some exploring as we were looking for a camp site and found a packer’s campsite that was really well set up and looked like it was barely ever used (even had a Knack truck bed box for storage in the site)

After talking to Peter some more he decided that he wouldn’t be able to go on any farther with us on the trail and that he and Taylor would hike out over Bishop Pass as soon as Peter’s knees were up for it and that hopefully they’d be able to meet us at the end at the Whitney Portal where our wives will be waiting as well.

I think the guys want to meet us at the end simply because they know that as soon as we’re off the mountain we’re headed immediately to some good food!

From Left to right: Peter Dawson, Phil Peery, Tim Halberg, Taylor AbeelJohn Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 8 – Saturday July 12, 2008

BIG DOUBLE pass day!!!!

The way timing on the trail worked out, we had to pick a day to hike HARD and do two passes in one day, otherwise we’d need an extra day to finish the trail. So, we decided on Mather and Pinchot Passes for the double up.

Only 10 miles from pass to pass, we planned fo

r a 23 mile day. Both passes run right at 12,000′. We cruised right over Mather, I was slowed a bit by the elevation, but cruised through ok. Onto Pinchot – no problems here either, but we did get a bit of rain before passing over the top. After two good sized passes we were excited to finish the last 3 miles, drop below 10,000′ and set up camp with a fire. Well, we found camp at about mile 4 (24 miles for the day) and decided to press on a bit farther for something with a few less Devil Flies…

After a couple miles with no luck, I promised Phil if we hiked 20 more minutes we’d get to the Rae Lakes trail and good camping… At this point his kneww was starting to bother him, but like a champ, he pushed on. About an hour later and after a total of 28+ miles for the day, we hit the suspension bridge and found a campsite… no fire though 🙁

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 9 – Sunday July 13, 2008

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Yeah, we had some fun storms…

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike
Today was our “easy” day with only 15/15.5 miles of hiking. We woke up in the morning, did breakfast, I had a little accident in the morning (if you’re a good friend, as the story, I’m happy to share) and after taking care of the accident we started hiking to get up and over Glen Pass through the Rae Lakes. What started out promising to be a beautiful and relaxing day quickly turned into a bit damp of a day with drizzle coming down for most of the hike up the pass. As we neared the top of the pass the rain slowed down and gave us a bit of a break and allowed us to dry off a bit.

We hiked the last few miles down the pass and up our next valley on approach to Forester Pass. We decided to camp below 10,000′ so that we could have a camp fire (no camp fires over 10k – nothing over 9,600′ inside Yosemite National Park) We found the perfect site, set up my one man tent (we’d be sharing this the last several nights to keep a bit more warm – yes, it’s cozy) and then got a fire going. Shortly after getting our fire blazing beautifully and eating dinner, it started to drizzle again. Thankfully the tent was already set up. We decided to hang out, wait out the water and then kick back and smoke our pipes, but unfortunately the rain never let up and we were pushed into our tent by the drops of water. 20 minutes after hiding out in the tent we realized that my seam seeling job back home had missed a few key spots on the tent… and we had some minor leaks. Thankfully Phil’s tarp was nearby and we tossed that over my tent to keep totally dry and warm all night.

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 10 – Monday July 14, 2008

Forester Pass and Whitney Approach!
John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Well, after hiking almost 20 miles, today was the day where we would finally bring Mount Whitney within our sites. Poor Phil thou

gh has been battling some VERY SORE knees! He’s been a true champ though and not complaining, but I can see the pain as he walks. He can still beat me uphill, but when it comes to going downhill he’s definitely not 100%

Forester pass is a bit of a brute, and is the highest we’ve made it so far during this trip. At over 13,000 feet, Forester is a great clue as to how we’ll do at over 14,000′ on Mount Whitney tomorrow. The approach for Forester was a bit misleading at first, and was going on and on and on… but eventually we made it to the top, and the top was definitely a bit of a knife edge. Last time I went over the top of Forester there had been a large snow storm just a few days before, and when we got to the top, Taylor’s only comment to me was “You’re not going to like this….” (he knew from experience my great fear of heights…) Basically, you had to step down maybe 4-5′ over an edge of slippery snow down to the trail, which also happens to drop immediately to your left side about 800-1,000+ feet down the other side of the pass. Basically, a really sheer drop down a gnarly gulley. Well, this time there was no snow to step over, so without any fear I walked over the top of the pass and headed down the other side.

We passed a crew who were out in the back country for a few months doing a Donkey packing trip. (honestly, I don’t know if I’d be super into that… walking behind an animal all day that’s pooping, not my cup of tea)

We hiked for what seemed like forever and ever as we approached Whitney, and the farther we went the more and more I felt for Phil who was pushing hard with a pretty bum knee. So, as we got closer to the Whitney Ranger Station we decided to make a stop to visit the ranger and see if we could bum some advil to help. Thankfully the ranger was there and was helpful in the drugstore department.

Also about this same time, we discovered that on Mount Whi

tney there is no longer a toilet (there used to be – I think they just burned all the poop…) so, the new rule is, you carry a “WAG Bag” with you up, if you have to do your thing, you must do so in this kit, which includes a large bag, a baby wipe, a ziplock bag and some powder to nueturalize your odors… Yeah, let’s just say, we all tried our best to not have a reason to use the restroom on our way up…

So, we hiked away from the ranger station to finish out our last few miles on our approach to the base of Whitney at Guitar Lake. As we approached this amazing mountain we had some GREAT views of the setting sunlight lighting up this huge mountain as well as clearing clouds. Such a perfect way to approach this beast. And then we saw it… (well, Phil saw it, and yelled at me to hurry up as I was trying to catch my breath ever 10 steps due to the elevation…) I asked him what “it” was… he just said hurry up… I told him it had better be the elusive bears we’ve been hoping to see the whole trip, he just said to hurry up and stop taking breather breaks. Finally I caught up and quicky saw what “it” was… it, was a message in the middle of the trail sitting there with OUR names on it!!!!

What… on the back side of Whitney, and a note for us… ??? My first thought, our wives hiked out to meet us!!! HARDCORE wifeys!!! or..

. Taylor… the guy is an animal… but why a note and not a face?

I took a quick picture and then we picked up our hand written note. Low and behold, it was Taylor and he was just over the crest of the hill waiting for us at Guitar Lake! (I slightly hoped he’d brought some elusive beer to share on the trail) but alas, he hadn’t and our final rations of rum would have to do for the evening. We quickly ate dinner, caught up with Taylor about their hike out over Bishop Pass and finding a ride up to Red’s Meadow/Mammoth to grab Peter’s car. Taylor enticed us with stories of sitting in natural hot springs outside of Mammoth and fresh foods from restaurants in the living world!!! Then, it was off to bed for a sunrise attempt at Mount Whitney! (I tried to fight it, but the only offer I got was that if I wanted to sleep in, I could pack up the tent and carry it myself to the top… bah!)

John Muir Trail Through Hike Day 11 – Tuesday July 15, 2008

The final day, a hike up to 14,500+ feet, a sunrise at the top of the Continental United States, and an un-ending hike down and out!

Some people don’t realize it, but the 211 mile l

ong John Muir Trail actually ends at the top of Mount Whitney, but that doesn’t mean you’re done hiking, you still have to hike 10 miles out to the Whitney Portal. With this in mind, we got an early start, 1:30 a.m. to be exact!!!! Yeah, I usually wake up around 9 or 10 a.m. so this was VERY early for me. But I went for it. Taylor and Phil hiked quite a bit quicker than me, but I still made it up in time to sit down and start freezing my behind off as we waited for the sun to peak over the edge of the world. Taylor and phil pulled out their stoves and began making tea and oatmeal… but I decided to focus on sitting in my sleeping bag and trying to get warm.. not easy when you broke a sweat trying to keep up hiking up the trail!!

I personally am not a peak bagger, I could care less about climbing to the top of tall mountains, and the only reason I was on top of Mount Whitney was because it’s the end of the JMT… (that and it wasn’t raining, I swore up and down if there was bad weather I was skipping the summit and just heading down to the portal) So, being that I’m not a fan of topping out mountains, I have little liking for the top of Whitney. It’s really not a very beautiful view, when I think of the tops of mountains I think of looking down and seeing greenery, rivers, wild animals… but all you see from the top of Whitney is Lone Pine, and nothingness, no trees, just brown… (don’t get me wrong, I have a special place in my heart for Lone Pine, but I’d rather be looking down on Yosemite Valley) But, to it’s credit, Whitney was much more pretty at sunrise. Even with the frozen puddles of water in front of us on the rock (it was about 30 degrees when we got to the top at around 4 a.m.)

Sunrise was quite the thing to watch, just because you’re so high when you see it. I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it, and I can’t say that I’d ever do it again!!! lol

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

John Muir Trail Through Hike

Guitar lake… viewed from the hike down from our perch on top of Whitney. When you’re up close it looks nothing like a guitar… from above, it looks more like a bowling pin to me!

John Muir Trail Through Hike

On our hike down off the mountain I met the most amazing dude, celebrating his 60th birthday hiking Whitney from the Portal up in 6 hours or less, and he was on track to do it (saw him pretty close to the top) and even more impressive was that he was hiking in shorts!!!

Well, we pushed on and hiked down the ENDLESS trail…. my knees were hurting me enough to not saying anything but to not be stoked about stair stepping down for 10 miles!!! so I can only imagine how badly Phil’s knees must have been hurting at this point, but he pushed on and we all made it out and to the bottom of the trail. We even beat our wives.

The really sad thing is that after you get off a trail like the JMT, you feel like a champion, you just hiked 211 RUGGED miles in 11 days! (we met tons of people who were doing it in 20-30 days… and were shocked to hear how fast we were going) but as we exited the trail we were quickly humbled as we realized the Badwater Ultra Marathon finishing line was right where we hiked out at, and these ultra marathon runners were just finishing up what is know as “the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet” according to the official website. In less than 24 hours these crazy runners had covered 135 miles!!!! From Death Valley all the way to the Portal. Now that’s truly MANLY (and womanly for the girl who just set the new record – we actually got to watch her cross the finish line and I’m sure in some obscure runner’s magazine you’ll see my mug in the background of the finish line picture…)

John Muir Trail Through Hike

We hung out for a little while, talked to the men’s second place finisher of the Bad Water (he finished in less than 24 hours as well!!!) and then just hung out and waited for our beautiful wives to drive up. (Taylor doesn’t have a beautiful wife yet, but we’re on the lookout for him to see if we can help in that department…)

The girls showed up, we were sooooo happy to see their beautiful faces. We started sharing stories, Cheryl made my day and pulled out the sweetest gift! A pair of brand new rainbow sandals! I’d been saying for a while that I wanted/needed new sandals, and she timed things perfectly!

We headed down the hill to the Pizza Factory, ordered a couple of very large pizzas with LOTS of yummy meat, some beer and sat around and gorged ourselves for an hour before driving home to Santa Barbara.

My after thoughts:

Having hiked the JMT two times now, I don’t think I want to do it again. It’s time for a new trail… Also, I don’t ever want to spend 10 days hiking 20+ miles a day over crazy trails… in the future I’d like to do some smaller days and just enjoy things.

People have been asking me how the hike was, and my first comment is “miserable”… and it truly was, but I also loved every moment of it looking back. I’m glad I did it, I had a blast, I learned more about myself, I got to hang out with three awesome dudes, I really had a lot of fun. I got to go ultra light… I carried a base weight of less than 10 pounds and got to use a ton of fun new gear! (base weight is all your gear minus your water and food because those two weights vary as you eat and drink and such) with Food and water I may have been close to about 18-22 pounds at times…

We didn’t filter water, we purified once… I didn’t get sick. Stoked about that.

I have a ton more thoughts, but I’ve written WAY too much.

So, guess how many blisters I finished the trail with and see if you can score an iTunes gift card….

edit:

Phil asked me if I was in denial about my trail name because I never posted it in here… well, I’m proud of my trail name. (when you do a through hike your basically expected to have a trail name for when you sign a trail log, post about it or meet other hikers… I’ve always had the same nickname since I started riding bike trials, and so hence my name came forth on my first through hike: Turtlehead)

  • I'm going to say 7 blisters? It's the only number you give in the entire post. Great log though, I might eventually maybe want to hike that trail as well, though I have my eyes on the St. Paul trail in Turkey.

  • Wow!!! I'm so proud of you babe! You are seriously such a stud!

    Thanks for my wild flower... I LOVED it :)

  • admin said:

    sadly I ended with more than 7 blisters! I'm stoked to be back in Santa Barbara Photographing weddings and not worrying about blisters as much, but they're still trying to heal themselves...

  • Bonni said:

    I absolutely LOVED your post! I have heard a few fun sotries here and there but mostly just the over-arching "it was a great trip"! Thank you for taking the time to write it all out. These will be memories forever! I, like Cheryl, am SO proud of you guys!!!

  • Tim, that looks like such a fun time! I'm glad to hear you made it home safely. Was it worth cutting those tags off?

  • Ick - instead of choking down a powder, next time ask me for some Juice Plus+! I'd be glad to hook you up. :-) Seriously.

    That sounds like an awesome hike... though completely painful! After hiking up the Lower Yosemite Falls, and limping down (thanks to bum soccer-knees and loose ankles with no hiking shoes), I can totally relate to what you're talking about. Switchbacks are NOT my friend, nor are steps!

    Good for you guys! Sounds like an awesome accomplishment!

  • Majique Ladnier said:

    Great blog! Thanks for sharing it. I guess 11 blisters?

  • Warren said:

    Wow , thats an amazing accomplishment!
    Your story makes me want to take a long trip soooo bad now 2!
    W.

  • Jennifer McEachern said:

    WOW! How inspiring loved the blog! Jason will be so Jealous after he reads this. As far as the blisters go I going to say you ended up with 1 giant blister on each foot.

  • Ron and Tina said:

    WOW~ We are hiking the JMT next August, 3rd and final attempt. We plan on finishing no matter what. Loved your story. Mosquitoes were the reason we bailed on our first attempt. They were unbearable. Heavy late snow fall got in the way the second time. Snow cups from North side of Donahue Pass all the way to Red's Meadow and beyone to Vermillion...So, we bailed again.. Next year, we are going later, August. Loved your speed version. But, we are taking at least 20 days...my knees would be killing me at your speed too. Anyway, thanks for the laughs...We're heading down the grandcanyon next Sunday for a week of backpacking...Can't wait for that and the JMT next summer. thanks for a great story.

  • Andy Collins said:

    Thanks heaps for your blog. Really helpful in psyching myself up for the trip Stateside from OZ in early Sept to do the JMT...