Tales From the Trail -A Wilderness Throne and Forrester Pass

~GRATEFUL for the nights that turned into mornings with the friends that turned into family.

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Look real close. See those two awesome women? K and J on Forrester Pass

*Let me start by saying if you are in ANY way squeamish with dirt, blisters, feet, skin or the likes, DO not scroll to the bottom of this post. Spare yourself now!

We left Mt Whitey and camped at Crabtree Meadows. We were exhausted by the time we got to CT and really just wanted to set camp, have a quick meal and rest. Although we had left camp at Guitar Lake, summited Mt Whitney, and hiked back out to Crabtree I was surprisingly not hungry. A through-hike phenomenon to me, as I knew the calories we burned and would need to replenish were substantial today. Also considering the next day, if I was low now, there was no catching up. I managed a few pieces of beef jerky and a small amount of cheese, but that’s all I could muster tonight.

We all thought it was funny that in the camp area at Crabtree there is one toilet. One. And its right in the middle of the campsites. Right out there, with nothing surrounding it. A wilderness throne. Trying to put your business together sitting out there is next to impossible while others just stand around and wait. Trust me on this, as I am living proof to sitting down and not 1 minute later having a guy walk right up, apologize and then proceed to go stand about 10 feet away. It was this day that I realized that all modesty, timidity, and discreetness was down the toilet. K dropped her entire roll of tp in there this morning!

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This my friends is a throne with a view…..of EVERYTHING!

Leaving Crabtree we had a long day ahead of us. We hiked to the switchbacks/the base of Forrester Pass. We had a couple points that we thought we’d stop, but we pushed through, continued on and felt good about getting to the base of the pass. This country is so gorgeous, words cannot and will not do it justice. Right at the base, there is a perfectly, azure, alpine lake. Making the promise to myself, I had to take a dip. I leaped in with gusto and popped back out from under the frigid water with a scream that I’m sure was heard for miles. I proceeded to try and walk on water at this point due to the temps. Unsuccessful, I managed to swim back to shore and dried off surrounded by granite walls waiting to be explored.

Tonight would be our coldest night.

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Backcountry Pippy

 

I had to switch out of my boots to my camp sandals today as my feet are terribly blistered and sore. Well-fitting boots are no match for calloused, running feet that are damp from creek soaking and sweat. They are really starting to get sore, and to save myself from the pain and a hope for some healing, I hiked in sandals all day. This resulted in yet another trail name for me; Backcountry Pippy. Must be the striped socks and braids!

There are a lot of marmots running around here, just eying us and waiting for anything to drop onto the ground for them. I am chasing them away while eating my reheated, dehydrated Chili Mac by rocketing chunks of granite at them. I’m sure they are harmless but know they will eat anything they can get their little paws on. I shortly realized after pitching, the opening of my tent is in their zone. Right in front of a den! I sit and stare out of my tent door to a fat little fella across from me. He blinks and sniffs at the air, as we make a truce. I will keep ALL of my belongings inside my tent tonight, away from his sweat and odor loving fatness, and he will….well he won’t try and get into my tent to devour the handles of my trekking poles.

We camped at 12,500 feet tonight and covered 13 miles.

Dawn was upon us as we packed up camp and left the base of Forrester Pass and made our ascent of the steep switchbacks. Seeing the sun rise over the mountain ranges is spectacular and the most majestic thing I’ve seen. What a gift! I have to pinch myself! It was slow-going as we descended the other side. Definitely a steep pass to maneuver. We came through some gorgeous wilderness today that smelled of mint and wild onion. This section had quite a few waterfalls that were just incredible and so life-giving to me. I needed this! Second to the ocean, waterfalls nourish my soul in such a deep and profound way. I decided that Vidette Meadows is a MUST for a camp on my next trip.

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” John Muir

We had a longer day than expected today and it was definitely a low day for us. We were tired and had a lot of unexpected vertical. It was rough on all of us. We knew going in this was not a cake walk and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that not all days would be sunshine and rainbows. Going into a hike of this magnitude we’d be fooling ourselves to think otherwise. It’s in the agony that you can realize what you’re truly made of. Your potential. The laying down of egos to allow for a helping hand. We tried to support one another any way we could, but it was just an off day. It happens, and that’s why I consider these friends family now. We have seen ugly together. We have seen pain and fatigue and the bruising of our minds as we fight for the last few miles in a day.

This is the second day I’m hiking in camp sandals. I’m not sure how well they are going to hold up over the sharpness and ruggedness of the land and granite. They are not supportive and I am watching each step as to not roll an ankle. Quite frankly, it sucks, but I don’t have an alternative at this point. My toe is not doing good, the skin has completely de-gloved off of my pinky and its probably some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt. J is worried I will get an infection at this point.We are headed into Onion Valley over Kearsarge Pass tomorrow for our resupply and I’m going to have to go to the Immediate Care.

Join the start of our journey HERE Tales From the Trail

And Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney HERE Tales From the Trail-Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney

Tales From the Trail-Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney

Into the mountains I go. To lose my mind and find my soul. img_0570

When we woke it was cold. I had smartly decided to wear a base layer under my hiking pants. I layered on a top base layer, a cold weather fleece, my down jacket, beanie, buff and my gloves. I was cold now but knew I’d warm in the climb. I put on my headlamp and unzipped myself from my tent. Immediately I noticed what appeared to be fire flies out in the night sky, which after taking a second look I realized where the headlamps of the hikers climbing Whitney ahead of us. Their lights danced in black space as they made their way up switchback after switchback in the freezing cold of the night.

The terrain of Whitney is rough and jagged. It’s granite boulders unfriendly. Sharp and serrated. As we started our way up we sludged through water running down the grassy slopes. The only green laying like a skirt at the bottom of this giant, granite treasure. My breathing was out of rythym and I wasn’t sure if the cause was the frigid cold, the accent or fear that had a grip on me. I can’t tell you why I was experiencing fear, other than worrying about altitude sickness, climbing in the dead of night or falling or quite possibly it was the fear of the unknown or the fear of failure.
As we climbed I could look out into the dark abyss below us and see the bobbing head lamps that reminded me of twinkling stars. I wondered how many would join us at the top for the sunrise.

Making it to Trail Crest was surreal. I had that a-ha moment of “I’m actually doing this!” Adrenaline rushed through my body. Trail Crest is the turn you take to the summit where the trail from Guitar Lake meets the Whitney Portal trail. It’s a staging area for the summit. Large packs are dropped and left here and slack packs are put on. The trial gets steeper and narrows at this point.

Previous to going to bed, we had packed our slack packs. Since we were returning to Guitar Lake we didn’t have to bring our big packs. We packed a small amount of food and enough water to get us to the summit and back.img_4946

Shortly after leaving Trail Crest I got ahead of K and K. J had decided that morning that she was going to skip the summit due to an injury from the day before. Being up Mt Whitney before she decided it wasn’t worth the risk to possibly take her out of the rest of the trip. At this point I was climbing alone in pitch black. No one ahead of me or behind me as far as I could see. I’m not gonna lie I was terrified! It was very empowering, scared me to death and allowed me to overcome some fears. I shook as I walked. I was cold and spilling over with unease. I had to get myself under control and allow my bravery to kick in. It was completely silent except for the wind on the side of the granite slab to my right. The other side a sheer drop. I learned right then I am a lot braver than I think I am. My entire world existed in a tiny dot of light from my headlamp. I couldn’t see further than 5 feet. As the trail narrowed I had a hard time being able to tell where I was going, a couple of times climbing over waist-high boulders dead center in the trail and watching every step I made as to make sure I planted my foot wisely. It was getting colder and colder and I was starting to get in to some snow and ice. I was anxious to reach the top and I was worried that I wouldn’t make it before the sunrise.img_0569

I prayed  and knew that God is not a God of fear. This calmed me. I was quickly reminded of all the fearful things He’s brought me through only to step to the other side of that fear and feel accomplished, free, able, unrestrained and….enough. I think moving past fear is healthy.  To do so is liberating. It changes you. You no longer feel the need to compromise or settle. And what’s funny is after you’ve smiled in the face of fear, you know you can never go back. You can’t go back into the unhappy relationship, the dead end job, the unhealthy friendship, the uneventful life, or the unloved and given-up dreams.  You won’t allow fear to trample you again. You may have the occasional whisper of fear, a hint that reminds you that you’re human, but it will never overtake you enough to disable you.

When I turned the final switch back I saw it. Silhouetted by the faint glow of the pre-risen sun. The hut! I made it. A sob choked out. Relief from my discomfort and a complete sense of joy filled me! A feeling of success washed over me. I went inside just enough to warm up a bit (the summit was in the low 20’s with a sharp, biting wind)  then I walked out to the summit table where ten others were perched waiting to be kissed by the sun. I sat alone and cried. I was overwhelmed, so caught up and grateful to be there right in this moment and as the sun rose I sat in praise! How awesomely, magnificent this gorgeous country is! How strong I am. How great our God is.

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*As I finish this blogpost I have just received confirmation of issue for another wildernesses permit for the JMT hiking southbound this time (SOBO) this July/Aug including, God willing, another summit of Mt Whitney!!

**Mt Whitney summit 14,505 feet

                                       May you always do what you’re afraid to do.

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….