Tales From the Trail

*My next few entries are straight out of my JMT trail journal. They are unscripted and raw, but exactly what I was feeling at the moment.

~A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. The plan backed by your action makes your dream come true.

As we rode the elevator down from my sons apartment in LA I could feel everything inside of me tingling. He and his fiancée would be driving me to San Bernardino to connect with two more of our group heading to Lonepine to start the JMT. My son, stood in the elevator staring at me. He said to me “Mom, I cannot believe you’re doing this! But then again I can!” He explained to me that within the last few weeks anyone with an ear to listen was hearing from him about this adventure I was about to embark on. He said his friends sat slack-jawed as he explained the journey I would make over the 230 mile John Muir Trail. He hugged me. Tight. And told me he was so incredibly proud of me for what I was doing. “You gotta have big dreams, Kid. Dreams that are so big they are frightening, but you dream them anyway.” They dropped me at a Starbucks in San Bernardino to meet the rest of my group. I tried not to make too much eye contact with my kids. I knew they were having a little anxiety over all of this. We quickly explained that the itinerary that we had given to the family was going to be off after the first day as we had decided to make a slight adjustment. I asked if he could call dad to let him know. We hugged quickly as tears choked out of my throat. And I threw my pack into the back of a SUV heading for Lone Pine.

We got to Lone Pine to pick up the golden ticket AKA our wilderness permit and to meet with our fourth hiker.  From the office where you obtain your permit you can see Mount Whitney in the background. There she was. Jagged, ruthless, uninviting but one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever laid my eyes on. She stood out, but how could she not, being the highest peak in the contiguous US? I whispered a silent prayer asking for an able body, to be able to stand on her summit in a few days.

That first night we were dropped off at Horseshoes Meadows after a farewell pizza and beer in Lone Pine. We made camp at Cottonwood Pass Trailhead. The night was already cool as we met some fellow JMTers. I slept like a rock and was so overwhelmed and grateful for the fact that I was finally out here. It’s been a long time coming.

Day 1. We broke camp pretty early. Made a quick cup of coffee and ate a packet of oatmeal. We packed up and hit the trail by 8:15. The elevation was tough as we made our way over Cottonwood Pass. It was only a 5-mile day as we left Horshoe Meadows a day early to acclimatize to the higher altitude. My skin was already seeing the affects of being at altitude and I feared already it may never regain its moisture. When we got to camp and I sat on the edge of the first lake I realized I have NEVER in my life seen a bluer sky! I decided before we left that although alpine lakes are freezing cold, I had to submerged into as many as possible. It’s all part of the journey and I knew I would regret it if not. So I did. Fully submerged into the first lake. Chicken Springs lake. I knew had I not jumped in my husband would’ve been horrified. All in!

Day 2. Still staying a bit ahead of schedule we hiked 10 miles today from Chicken Springs Lake to Rock Creek. When we arrived I went into the creek fully submerging and then sat and soaked my legs and feet. I am SO dry! We met a guy yesterday solo hiking and we leapfrogged with him for most of the day. He is 60 years old. Jim. He is hiking the PCT. 2500 miles. He started in April. (This was now Aug) His advice “keep going and never stop!” I thought a lot about his advice and how pertinent it was for not only hiking the JMT, PCT or any other through hike but also in life.

This meadow we are camping in is gorgeous. I had a couple of views today that stole my breath. I cried a few times as we hiked totally astounded by the beauty and splendor of God’s creation. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful that it has brought you to tears? I highly suggest it. The stream we are camping next to is so clear you can see the trout swimming below the surface. I took a bath and did laundry today. Completely overcome with joy and gratitude.

Day 3. We hiked out of Rock Creek today and rested at Crabtree Meadows. I was very “into the hike today” and kind of stayed back from the rest of my group. At Horshoe Meadows we took our boots off, ate and soaked our feet before continuing on to Guitar Lake. This was our staging of Mount Whitney. Guitar Lake is our basecamp at 11,500 feet. I felt pretty good with the elevation gain so far after the first day at Horshoe Meadows only suffering from severely dry skin and a slight dull headache. This country is so gorgeous! We had our first water crossing today leaving Rock Creek and again at Crabtree Meadows. The water was low. Low enough we did not have to remove our boots. Guitar Lake is devastatingly stunning. We were ALL ready to be done for the day. The terrain was steep and rocky with no shade along the entire day. We set up camp above the water, Mt Whitney at our front door. It’s daunting. Guitar lake is like being on the moon. Completely surrounded by rock. The only way we were able to pitch our tents was to hold the guylines down with small boulders. I sat and was grateful to watch such an extraordinary sunset. I thought about my guitar playing husband and how much he would love this place. I felt an ache in the depths of my stomach, missing him. But I knew I was only a few days in to an almost month long hike. I needed to find the strength to put that ache to the side and just, Be Here. To shut off any of the outside world and tune in to what God would be revealing to me.

All of us by this time have been given trail names. A trail name is given to you by fellow hikers either from your group or others that you meet along the trail. K was given the name Under Duck by a PCT hiker he met at Chicken Springs after she saw him fully submerged and swimming in the lake. K was given the name Double Duece for her reoccurring walks for her morning constitutional. J was given the name Tadpole. When filtering our water that afternoon in a shallow pond teaming with tadpoles, she kept saying her water tasted like tadpole. And I was deemed Urban Hilary for my characteristics of loving a great metropolitan downtown (city girl) but with the heart of sir Edmund Hillary.

We had decided on a sunrise summit of Mount Whitney. I was very happy because I had really hoped to do this. Our wake time would be 1 AM to summit by 6:00AM. We went to bed early. I tossed and turned with a lot of excitement and anticipation and a little anxiety if I were being honest. Tomorrow morning we would see the sunrise from the highest summit in the contiguous United States!

The Last Supper. Pizza and beer in Lonepine California

Food and anything with any smell into a Bearcan. Check. Check. And double check!

And off we go….

Camp at Horseshoe Meadows

Chicken Springs Lake

My first swim in Chicken Springs Lake

Laundry Day

Rock Creek camp

First water crossing. Low water. Easy peasy.

Heading into the Whitney zone

Setting up camp at Guitar Lake

Guitar Lake camp. Base of Mt Whitney

When on the surface of the moon….