Hey! Thanks for checking out the second half of my journal entry for our JMT hike! If the Images on this post are showing up really small, click HERE!
If you haven't read the first half, then click here to do so: PART 1
So at this point, around day 8 or 9, we got to our only resupply point, the Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), which is a ranch in the middle of nowhere that hauls in hiker buckets (5 gallon buckets) full of our food from the post office, via mule (and sometimes Horse, ATV, and/or a boat ride across a lake even?). They aren't nearly as accommodating as VVR was, but they have a tent set up and some tables so hikers can sit and sort out their food, scavenge through food left by other hikers and take a short break. We had a fun time, joking around about how much food we brought! Paul and I had so many Clif Bars and Pro Bars and Honeystinger waffles, along with all the oatmeal breakfasts and varieties of dinners!
I also weighed my pack, with about 8.5 days of food in the bear canister and 2 liters of water, it came to about 30lbs!
Then, stuffed TOO full from all the snacking we did while packing our canisters, the four of us trekked on! Below is a picture of us entering King's Canyon National Forest:
After a few miles, a cold cold river crossing, some unnecessary barefoot hiking (i don't know why i did that) and the new heavy packs full of this half's food, we found a great site where someone before us had built a great fire pit! That was really exciting, because we had been spending a lot of nights above 10,000 feet, so fire's are prohibited. It is also prohibited to build a new fire ring anywhere, so you have to rely on clearing and sits that already have them established, either illegally or they were grandfathered in. We started a nice cozy fire quickly and started on our dinners and Ryan just dropped his pack and grabbed his fly fishing rod! Dinner this night was a treat, I sent 4 freeze-dried Mountain House Mac and Cheeses, enough for each of us to have one! (Each one was 2 serving, which was necessary because of how many calories we tried to eat each day, and it still is never enough.) We were happy that night, but we had no idea what was coming the next day...
First, when we woke up, everything was wet and cold. This was pretty normal, but that day was especially wet, there was even a little frost on the ground. We all filtered some water, ate some hot oatmeal, and started to hike. Then, as we were on a sketchy creek crossing that involved some leaps of faith, some slippery and awkward debris (branches and logs) bridges, it started to snow.. This was the first time this had happened to us, we had been in storms already, but this storm brought cold temps and wet snow, not ideal. Most of us didnt have any waterproof pants (i only had shorts and wool leggings) but just rain jackets, so we decided it would be smartest to stop and wait it out. Ryan pulled out the Emergency Blanket, and we all huddled under a big tree and cuddled close. We stayed under there for about an hour and a half, mostly because it was like 10+ degrees warmer under the tarp than outside!
After that we continued to hike upward toward a small mountain pass. Soon the clouds cleared and we could see the storm continuing down the valley:
With the sky clearing, and us hiking uphill, we were starting to get warm, but huge wet snow bombs were falling from the tree branches so we kept on our rain gear... until we got to a clearing, and the sun started to peak through!
We were so happy that we dropped everything, took off our wet gear and went out into the sun! Below is Paul and Ryan enjoying the sunny sun sun:
We lost some precious time when we got stuck in that snow storm, so we decided to stop short of a mountain pass (that could potentially have snow on it) and find a spot only 8 miles into the day, ironically, at Evolution lake (below)
We found a place to stop, and set up our tent quickly to air it out, after some exploring (i accidentally got my self into a ditch where i had to free a chimney and slab that consisted of three or four 5.8 moves) and then some fly fishing (with little luck...)
it started to rain and storm again, quickly, we made some food and got in bed for the night, paul and i played some chess, but I'm not even sure we finished because it had been such a long day.. that was a great night sleep.. it was maybe 5pm when we fell asleep, but spending 14 hours tucked away in your sleeping bag is really an amazing thing in situations like this! :)
The morning, while chilllllllly, had better sky's and with a long day ahead of us, we trekked on..
I had tweaked my ankel a bit early on this day, so I started to fall behind the group, soon it felt much better, but I was being extra careful and extra delicate, because out here, a simple injury can become a disaster quick!
Muir pass, just short of twelve thousand feet was the highest elevation we had been on the trail so far, that was exciting, it was also so beautiful, it truly took my breath away when I got to the top and looked back:
On the top of Muir pass is the Muir Hut, which was built by the Sierra Club in 1930 to be an emergency shelter for hikers on this high altitude and exposed pass.
Here is a picture of Ryan, later that day, being his usual dangerous self:
This day was a long one, we were trying to put in longer days so that we wouldn't get too far behind, but that also made for sore feet, achy shoulders and tired minds. We kept pushing for further campsites, and although it was hard, it paid off because we found one with a fire ring that was below 10,000 ft! Such a wonderful thing, fire, friends, and food after a long day (around 18+ miles).
Ryan was especially excited on this day, here he is, practically running, because not only was it an absolutely gorgeous day out, but ways up there, was upper palisade lake, where he heard, there was the best fishing on the whole trail! (but not before we ascend the golden staircase.. the lake is about two thousand feet above where ryan is in this picture, up where the sky is the lowest...
This is a view from that two thousand feet of elevation gain, this picture below was taken from that lowest pass in the upper picture... the lake was an hour from here, and then another two thousand feet more brings us to the actual pass, Mather Pass.
Paul took a picture of me infront of lower palisade lake; as you can see, the trail holds a significant gain of elevation above the lake, even more so when we got to the upper portion. Nevertheless, ryan was ecstatic to try out some fishing there, so we made the trek down to the lake and took a load off while he tried to catch some fish.. Unfortunately, there was some wind, and it was getting to be mid day, so the fishing was not ideal, he or I had no luck out in the deeper water, but only in a creek feeding into the lake. We managed to catch half a dozen or so smaller trout and decided to fry them up with some olive oil and seasonings, that made for an awfully yummy, and boney, midday snack!
We made it to Mather Pass!
And to give you a little more perspective, above is the view looking back from mather, and the below panorama is a view looking forward, where we will be trekking down:
Then came Pinchot Pass the next day (all of these being over 12,00 ft):
After making it up to the top of Pinchot Pass, we got to descend over four thousand feet, to this cool little bridge, and then hike back up another two thousand before making it to Rae Lake, where we camped that night. :) Here is paul crossing the bridge
But it all seems to be so worth it at the end of the day when the view is something like this:
Rae Lakes Camp was above eleven thousand feet, and was seemingly going to be our coldest night yet. Along with that, the tent that Paul and I shared, was creating a lot of condensation on us every morning, it is an ultralight singlwalled tent, that made for a wet and cold second half of many of the recent nights. So, considering those two factors, we decided to buddy up inside the two others single person tents. Because their single person freestanding tents have a screen wall and then a rain fly on the outside of that with a few inch gap, their is less of a condensation problem. And, with two people cozied up in the smaller tent, more warmth!
The day after Rae Lakes was a brutal day, but an awesome day. We hiked over 16 miles, and crossed a twelve thousand foot pass called Glen pass, and then continued on, lost almost 2,500 ft elevation before hiking up and gaining over 3,600 ft in less than six miles to bring us up our highest pass yet, Forester Pass at 13,110 Ft, which was also Paul and my favorite ones thus far!
After making it up and over this pass, we bashed our knees down to about 12.k thousand feet and camped at our highest camp yet, I really like camping and spending time in these alpine biospheres, there is something really special about it:
Waking up at over 12,000 feet, with frost everywhere, and the sun illuminating the sky, but anywhere and everywhere near us is dark and cold, still hidden from the sun in a shadow from the surrounding ridges that won't be filled until hours after we are already hiking. Today, I woke long before anyone else, I think I don't like the cold more than everyone combined, around 6am I started to wake everyone, and by 6:30, I think people were up. Maybe by 8:30 we started hiking.
Very quickly, as we loose elevation, the landscape is changing once again:
Throughout the course of the day, we never drop below 10,000 ft, but we do loose, gain and repeat, constantly. For a long time, we are in a high alpine climate that is different from any that we have traveled in yet. That is the beauty of this trail, the diversity of biospheres and landscapes that we get to experience on a day to day and even hour to hour basis is incredible.
We stop for a mid morning group picture, start eating some of our mid day rations, and then continue on. While hiking, one can't help but analyze; How far have we gone? How far are we expecting to go today? What does the elevation charts look like? When is the next water source? What does tomorrows plan look like? Etc. Etc. Etc. And as the day was progressing, we realized that we were doing really well for time, and then we realized that we were feeling really good as well. Soon, someone suggested the inevitable, why not summit Mt Whitney today?
That is a crazy thought... but... it definitely was not out of reach!
The original plan was to hike 15 miles on that day to Upper Guitar Lake, get to bed early, and then the next day, do an alpine start (A.K.A. wake up at 2 or 3am) and hike the 5 mile, 3000 ft to the summit of Mt. Whitney, then descend off the backside and exit the trail 10 miles later.
We decided to see how the day went, and not get to set on summiting that day. If our bodies, the weather, or the time didn't seem right, then we would wait.
But sure enough, we got to guitar lake around 1pm, several hours before we expected to, and were feeling all right. We stopped there for a descent break, cooked our dinner, and saved all our lunch (granola bars and smaller quick energy) for the hike up. This was the last water source for the day, and the night on the summit and the morning hike down, so we each filled up 2-3 liters of water, so we could hydrate and cook for the next 12 hours. Some of us shared some instant coffee, and a few last sips of water that we wouldn't need to carry, and we were off.
Around 7pm that evening, we made it to the top, 14,500 feet, the highest point in the continental US. Ryan and Tatum had made it about a half and hour before Paul and I did, but when we all were up there it was nothing but uncontrollable smiles, laughter and hugs. The exhaustion was erased by the sheer happiness and accomplishment that we all were experiencing together, along with the beauty and magnificence of the cliff faces and the mountain ranges in the horizon, and the sun and the sky. It is not worth any attempts to even try and describe the beauty.
At the top, it was only the four of us and another pair who was planning on doing the same as us. We put our bags inside the little shelter on top, put on a few more layers, and enjoyed feeling like we were on top of the world. There was a little cell service on one of the edges, so I called my parents, who hadn't heard from me in weeks, it was so special to be able to share with them some of my bliss and excitement. It was so peaceful, sitting up there, on the edge, just watching the horizon, thinking about what we had done, imagining the future, but mostly, just being completely present in that magical moment.
Then the sun starts to set.
Oh My Goodness.
For what seemed like an eternity, the colors of the mountain ranges that we could see on the horizon were out of this world. And then when you turned around, the pastel colors that filled (and I mean FILLED) the rest of the soft dome that encapsulated us, were some of the softest and fuzziest colors that I have ever experienced. Best sunset I've ever seen. Hands down.
And then, I kid you not, it got even better. Once the sun was gone, it quickly transitioned to the brightest, sharpest, most beautifully star filled sky that I have ever seen. In the north woods of Minnesota, or even on other parts of this trail, I had seen some pretty mind blowing stars. But this was on another level. I felt like I was in space.
Eventually, the cold and wind brought all four of us into the little hut, where we decided that we were going to cook all of the food we had left (besides some oatmeal for lunch, and all the granola/energy bars for breakfast and hiking) and just celebrate. Finally, we all fell asleep, full of mashed potatoes and couscous and beans and lots of other yummy goodness.
Although I know it is hard to believe, it got even better than the sunset and stars; I got up around 4:30 am, grabbed my sleeping bag, and scooted on out to the edge of the summit, found a good spot, and got comfy. That was the most memorable view of the whole trip; on the horizon, above the 8 or 9 mountain ranges that were visible, was a band of colors. Magnificent colors that went an inch or two above the mountains and wrapped halfway across the horizon. Then above those colors, it faded to black, and above that black, was something I had never seen before. Usually, at this time of day, the rest of the sky starts to lighten slightly, the stars fade as the pre-sunrise glow slowly fills the sky. But from there, above the color, was the space-like, magnificent sky full of all of the stars. It was unimaginable. Indescribable. Magical.
I did wake everyone else up so they could experience the sun rise, which was also out-of-this-world, but I will never forget that pre-dawn experience.
Then we packed up and hit the trail by 6 or 7. It was a long, 10+ mile, 6000 ft descent, that kept going and going and going. Finally, by early afternoon, we were done. We exited at Whitney Portal, and we all had a burger and fries at the only cafe.
Ryan and Tator, paired up, to hitch hike into town. And so did Paul and I. They made it into town first, and went their separate ways. And Paul and I got a ride, and ended up taking it past the first town, and an hour north. We didn't have many plans, didn't have any planned way to get back to portland, but as we looked on our phones for options, we saw that there was a Greyhound to Portland that night at 8pm. So we kept hitchhiking north. We made it over 6 hours, with 4 rides, from the Whitney Portal, to the town of Carson City, just 30 minutes away from Reno before our luck ran out. We had over an hour before the bus left, and were so close, but no rides came along. It was getting dark, and hitchhiking becomes impossible then, along with the fact that there was no place to camp anywhere near this town, no wilderness we could except to, not even a big park we could stay in, so we walked into downtown, got a pizza, and found a cheap motel for the night.
In that motel, we saw for the first time, how skinny we were, how dirty our skin really was, and how much we missed being out in the woods, away from the shock of the lights and noises and commotion. We took showers and scrubbed and scrubbed all the dirt and stench away, that did feel good.
A silver lining of not making it to Reno that night, was that we found a flight for like $170, only 40 more than the bus would have been, and saving us way more time. So the next day we caught a bus to Reno (ended up being free), found a coffee shop to chill at for a bit, and ended up meeting someone who showed us around the town a bit. Paul and I were not impressed by Reno initially, to much noise and casinos and it just wasn't our style, but this guy, showed us the good parts of Reno, including a used bookstore and other cool stuff. It was fun to be able to see a side of Reno that we never would have seen, if we caught that Greyhound, or if we hadn't of came across this local.
Flight home. The End.