I just hiked about 40 miles of the John Muir Trail from Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows. This section includes roughly 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail after they join as one at Thousand Island Lake.
I’ve decided I’m going to section hike the Pacific Crest Trail in short trips whenever I can steal away. This month, before school started, I was able to drop the kids off for a last blast of fun at grandma’s house and head for the hills. I hiked the 40ish mile stretch of the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail from Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows. What a summer treat! The weather was perfect (although excruciatingly cold at night which I wasn’t really prepared for). [*It turns out I went at the perfect time. Since then (as of the week of 8/20) forest fires have broken out and this trip would have been impossible to make now.]
I live in the Los Angeles area so my drive to the trail was through the Mojave Desert, a trip I haven’t made for almost a decade. I love the desert and I cried tears of reunion passing through Red Rocks Canyon State Park Area. Somewhere around the Bishop area I drove past a ranch with about 15 cowhides drying on a fence. That was different. Also, around that area I started to smell smoke. I’m not exactly sure where it was, but somewhere in the vicinity of that valley was a forest fire and it filled the valley with a substantial amount of smoke. I’d read a warning on the forest service website that there was some smoke still in the air from local forest fires, but it didn’t warn to stay away unless you already have some pretty intense breathing problems so I soldiered on. By the time I got to Mammoth I was well above any smell of smoke and didn’t perceive it again the rest of my trip.
Random notes from the trail:
Somewhere around Garnet Lake Southern California turns into Northern California. I grew up in Northern California and now live in Southern California so I perceive the difference between the two to be a crispness in the air and a definite quality of chill that is never quite the same further south.
If you ever feel lonely, all you have to do is fart. Farts have a way of making people appear on the trail behind you when you thought you were totally alone.
Going uphill my pack straps bug. Going downhill my knees bug.
The highlight for me was standing atop Donohue Pass at 11,074 ft. I claim to all who will listen that I stood atop a glacier on my hike. Perhaps that is or is not technically true, but it is true enough for me so I’m sticking to my story.
The first night, peeing in the dark, I got urine all over my silk AND fleece pants — basically my camping and sleeping clothes. This was a bummer because there wasn’t really an opportunity to wash and dry them on such a short trip so they had to dry out smelling of urine and I had to wear them that way the rest of the time. So gross.
Did I mention it was COLD at night? I woke up at Thousand Island Lake with frost encrusting my tent. I flicked most of it off but the tent was still wet. I wanted to get an early start that day, but instead had to lay my tent directly in the morning sun and wait for the damp to evaporate.
I hate walking on sand, which a lot of the trail is because it is so worn. It feels like walking backward some with every step. I confess that I was a bad hiker and sometimes stepped off the trench, I mean trail, and walked on the shoulder where there is firmer ground. Sorry wilderness.
The idea that kept dawning on me over and over again throughout my hike is “I can only be bere and see this because i walked here.” Nobody can drive to see the beauty that lines this gorgeous trail. Neither can anybody shortcut and dayhike in to see this natural wonderland. The only way to get to it is to go all the way through. It filled me with gratitude to have the health and the opportunity to make this trip.
On the JMT the hikers I saw were mostly what I would assume are “empty nesters”. People of a certain age, who may or may not be retired. Once the JMT rejoined the PCT I started seeing a different kind of hiker. They were mostly on the younger side, in their 30’s or younger. Many through-hikers with beards.
The first day my bear canister made an annoying creak inside my pack all day. The next day I encased it in a Chico daypack I carry before putting it in my pack. That solved the problem.
On the second day my hatred of filtering water won out over my fear of giardia. After summiting the glacier i I crossed the trail many times over streams that had flowed straight from what I can only assume was pristine rain and snow. Also someone told me that giardia cant live at 35 degrees (which I later learned is the opposite – it thrives below 35 degrees). I skipped filtering but did treat with chlorine dioxide for the rest of the trip.
Some people hike barefoot. I cant imagine hiking this trail barefoot. The terrain is to varied, the pack too heavy, and there are too many fields of tiny sharp rocks, pinecones and sticks. One would at least have to wear mocassins.
I ran into a guy who is running the trail 40 miles at a time wearing only a camelback and carrying some energy gel. He runs from town to town, resupply to resupply so he doesnt have to carry food or camp. That sounds great.
I walk with lots of sand in my shoes because its too much rrouble to stop and deal with it wearing the pack and it is way to demoralizing to stop the flow, take the pack off, then put it back on and start again so I soldier on one crunchy footstep at a time.
If you ever have trouble following the trail, no problem. Just follow the horse poop.
Animals think its super fun to poop on rocks that are perfect for hikers to sit on during a rest break. Be assured that if you set something down near a crack in a rock you will be setting it down directly on top if a piece of animal feces. Not that you will notice this until you pick it up again because you were too tired when you sat to take notice.
Day hikers look so clean and organized.
The thing I longed for most often on this trip was a garbage can
If you cook anything to eat you’d better be prepared to stuff all of it down ya or you must carry that old cold food with you for the rest of the trip. A half a cup of undercooked oatmeal saw as much of the John Muir Trail as I did.
Motherhood is perfect training for backpacking. Similarities:
You have to go until the end of the trail: there’s no shortcut out.
You sometimes have to keep going even when you’re too tired.
You have to reach behind you and feel around for things you need or to put something away while your traveling down the road, just like in he car, its just too much hassle to stop and start for every little hand-off.
You make easy-to-prepare, quick meals.
You’ll ask yourself “Why the hell am I doing this?! Then you’ll happen into a landmark that is so beautiful and inspiring that the struggle seems worth the momentary payoff.
The desire to get a little solo vacation motivates you to overcome all fears of and objections to braving the wilderness.
You have something to look forward to at the end, a loving family who is proud of you.
Walking aroundTuolumne Meadows village area the afternoon after my last leg of the trail with just my day pack I wished I had my real backpack. I wanted to show off that I was one of the hardcore ones. I didnt want people to think I was just another tourist, I wanted to be recognised as somebody that could do somehing hard. Perhaps that is a character defect i should tke a look at. Oh , hell, “all the world’s a stage”. Right?
One night I was craving salt and carbs so I boiled up some water and added chicken boullion and about a cup of Fritos. It was DELICIOUS. Food of the gods. In the morning my eyes were practically swollen shut from all of the sodium. I dipped my bandana in the river and reclined with it over my eyes while while i drank my morning coffee. I think that helped some. It was worth it though. Im a salt fiend. I’d eat that again right now. In fact, excuse me, im going to go make a snack.
Backpacking appeals to my style of housekeeping: organized but not necessarily clean.