Friday, July 29, 2011
I don't know where to start.
one of the best experience s of my life.
End of post.
OK, I will write more but there is no way I can describe how great it felt to be out there for so long. This was by far the longest backpacking trip I have ever made. How much did I like it? Well, all the time I kept thinking that doing Pacific Crest Trail ('only' 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long, vs 220 of JMT) would be a total blast. My ds agreed under the condition that he could stay connected with his friends, or better yet take them with us (RIGHT!!!).
I loved the simplicity of our days: Wake up very early. Say bye to the stars. Greet the sun (somehow it kept waking way after I did). Eat very simple and fast breakfast with Starbucks coffee (their instant is actually half way decent). Pack the gear. Hit the trail. Lunch in the most picturesque area we could find, which usually was just a few steps away. Hit the trail. Find a camping spot in the most picturesque area we could find (and you know how hard it is find those in the Sierras). Free time to explore, journal, do nothing. Dinner. Look at the maps so we would not get lost the next day (did not help much, but more about it later). Sleep.
A few words about sleeping. My nights in the outdoors are always full or waking moments, as I think it ought to be. I cannot imagine our ancestors sleeping soundly for 8 hours each night with all the hungry wild beasts around them. It seems my body has some connection to the past. In nature, I wake up often, look around and fall asleep again. When that happens at home, the next day I am a zombie. When I sleep outside, no matter how many times I wake up, I am rested the next day and ready to go. I think I will start sleeping in the back yard from now on. :-)
We missed the most difficult part of the trail, which is the southern portion, but even on the easier part, I had some
memorable embarrassing moments:
- On day number three I lost one of my lightweight shoes I was planning to use as camp shoes and for creek crossings. They were wet so I tied them, apparently not that well to my pack. One decided to explore the trail on its own.
- We got totally lost on Donohue Pass, the first major pass of our trek. In the in the morning and then happily followed the tracks left in previous days in the snow. We were the first ones to hit the trail so we were glad the tracks were so well visible, at least for a while because then they seemed to have dispersed and then vanished altogether. My GPS for some mysterious reason had lost its topo maps (they showed up three battery changes later(?) ) so we used paper maps and my preciousss iphone GPS to find our location. The altimeter showed we were higher than Donohue Pass. Hint, hint! That little diversion cost us over two hours of sun cup hiking.
I told that story to a very nice couple we befriended on the trail. Three or four days later at Vermillion Valley Resort a guy whom I had not met on the trail yet, comes over and asks if I my name is Ewa. "Oh", he says, "so you are the one who got lost on Donohue Pass". So see, we became legends on the trail.
BTW, people tell you that JMT is safe because there are many other hikers on the trail. True but it becomes a bit less safe once you get off the trail. Then there is nobody there so save your a$$.
- Silver Pass. This time, even though morning navigation was tricky again, we DID NOT get lost. Actually one, guy, Scott, who caught up with us praised us on finding an easier route over the pass. He seemed very fit and fast so I asked him to go ahead as I did not want to slow him down. He replied that my pace was perfect for him. I think (but I am not sure) I must have tried to show off a little so I was going faster than my usual snow pace. Soon I slipped and fell on my butt. Not once, twice. Thank goodness I was able to get up really fast hoping he would not notice. Sure! Scott was gracious enough to say that he was glad he was not he only one falling down. Like I believed him he fell even once.
- Creek crossings. We had numerous creek crossings, some challenging for us but we did very well. One of the creeks forked in three parts but the current in all three legs was still fast and very strong. The last leg mercifully had some big boulders to step on. Don't ever believe boulders are too big and too heavy to tip under you even if you see that they have not moved an inch after other hikers have hopped on them. I stepped on one that seemed solid but it was not. Soon I was flying down into the water; banged my head (not too hard - I will petition to require helmets on the trail from now on :) ), scraped my shin (leg protectors would be good too), and wet my camera (which miraculously recovered two days later and is just fine). Still I am very proud of our creek crossing skills. A much more experienced friend who hit the trail 5 days later messaged me that he got totally wet 3 times. See how skilled I am? :-)
- That one I have not shared with any other hikers on the trail so you will be the first to know. On day one, I stepped on my reading glasses bending the frame in such a way that I was unable to make it right. That did not help me much with reading the map, as you have probably guessed and my mobile updates on facebook are full of typos. Actually it seemed to me that with the lenses out of place the glasses became more useful for far vision than for any closeup work. Lesson: have a spare set of glasses or at least contact lenses. A willing to show off teenage son will do too.
Mary, I am sure now you will think twice before considering doing JMT with me next year. :-)
This year John Muir Trail presented hikers with more challenges than usual. Our snowy and long winter followed by a cool spring left a lot of snow on higher elevations. I loved hiking on snow but finding the trail at times was quite challenging. My dear teen proved to be a very good navigator and I seem to have developed excellent tracking skills. After a couple of days of on the trail training we were managing to find our way very well. The only problem my teen had with paper maps was that two finger swipe would not result in zooming in. I agreed with him that it was a serious design flaw that needed to be addressed.
- WOOL!!! My wool t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, socks, and underwear worked great! I was never too hot or too cold and, what really counts on the trail, the stink was minimal.
- external frame pack. I have always backpacked with an internal frame pack. I used to be a firm believer in superiority of internal frame packs. BUT during my training period, when my pack weighed 50 lbs I could not adjust any pack well enough so my back would not hurt a couple of hours into the training. Desperate, I followed an advice of one of the oldies from JMT Yahoo Forum and just a few days before we hit the trail out of desperation I bought a very cheap external frame pack. This is by far the best pack I have ever had. Period.
- Boots. OK, I know, I know, here I am advocating barefoot or at least minimal shoe running and hiking, and I find myself wearing heavy boots on JMT. Excuse: my trial trips to the mountains to try my Merrell Gloves in the snow proved very fast that I would not be able to deal with cold and wet feet. Four pairs of boots later (thank you REI for being so patient with me) I got a pair of hiking boots that my feet were grudgingly willing to put up with. After a few days my feet and the boots became good friends.
- Hiking poles. Never liked them. Took them on JMT only to aid with creek crossings. Learned to love them. For the first time my hands would not swell when hiking. They saved me from falling on my face numerous times.
- compression sleeves, not for their advertised benefits, but for sun protection for the arms. Thank you, Mary for your input here. They felt great on my arms and weigh a ton less than any shirt.
- solar charger. Maybe a bit heavy but greatly reduced battery waste and worked great.
- mosquito net. A trail friend from Minnesota told us that mosquitoes were worse than those in her state. Mercifully ours would vanish as soon as the sun went down. Apparently Minnesota mosquitoes do not.
- SPOT messenger. It is a safety gizmo that will alert emergency services when you get in trouble but also send short messages to your close ones, you know the ones on Facebook, using satellite connection. Messages can be only 41 characters long but till the technology improves, I am fine with that.
- cold beer (first one free for JMT or PCT hikers) at Vermillion Valley Resort. Need I say more?
Why don't they come up with freeze dried beer for hikers?
To be continued...