Day 7, 8/21:
Wow, it has been a big expedition! So far 130 miles in seven days with lots of elevation loss and gain. Legs are in the habit of cranking out 18-20 miles and it doesn’t even feel like that much anymore. I can feel that my mind is sharper and body stronger.
Day 8, 8/22:
Not much time for writing. Up at 6 a.m., on trail by 7, hats and sunglasses on around 9, sunscreen at 10, lunch around 1 p.m., more sunscreen, camp around 4:30, dinner by 6, cards, and bed. Feels good to have pen against paper instead of fingers on a laptop. Andy’s carving a spoon, Henry’s writing in his journal and Tim’s fishing. We’ve seen a lot of mule deer. They aren’t too skittish and come right up to the trail. Moon is nearing full and the sky is bright at night. The light gives me energy and I have to cover my eyes with a sock, so I can sleep.
Day 9, 8/23:
Have lost track of the days, other than it being the ninth day and to ration food for two more. Had to look at my watch to see that it’s Thursday. Favorite section so far: Evolution Lake. I’m certain that’s where we walked out of the mud and became human. This trip has taught me many valuable things and reinforced others.
Lessons from the JMT:
- Embrace the unknown.
- Plans change.
- Have high ambition and always do your best.
- Be spontaneous.
- We’re powerful and strong. And capable of more than we’ll ever know.
Day 10, 8/24:
We’ve arrived at Guitar Lake and it’s our final night on the John Muir Trail. Due to it’s proximity to Mount Whitney, it’s a busy camping area and a lot of tents are set up around the lake. We’re one day away from parking lots and burgers.
Today we met a group of Paiute women hiking the Nuumu Poyo—which translates to the People’s Trail. I had a conversation with them about the trail systems that ran through these mountains long before John Muir made the Sierra Nevada visible to mainstream culture. Jolie Vaela began the organization Indigenous Women Hike in 2017 to honor ancestral grounds and to empower women in her community.
Check out the amazing things Jolie’s doing at: www.indigenouswomenhike.com
There’s plenty of inequality when it comes to outdoor recreation. Race, income, gender, sexual identity are all factors that promote some while limiting others. I think about it a lot and the part I play in the system as a Caucasian millennial cis-gender female. I feel conflicted about my connection to these lands.
Day 11, 8/25
This morning we woke at Guitar Lake and hiked Mount Whitney. My legs felt sluggish on the uphill and I stopped a few times to hydrate. It was near freezing and I dug out my liner gloves before the race to the summit. Over the last few days, we’d been wagering who’d make it to the top first. Andy gracefully bowed out of any competition, stating he was happy to take his time and simply make it. So, it was down to Henry, Tim and I.
Henry was the first to make a move and dashed around Tim. My body woke up, we were racing. I drafted behind Tim and Henry. I didn’t want to burn out early. As we moved along, I noticed I was quicker on the downhills. I edged around Tim and got up behind Henry. The summit was still a mile away and on the next downhill I bolted around Henry and began to jog the ridge. Even once they were out of sight, I felt pursued and feared either one could come sprinting around the corner. Henry was a solid runner and gearing up for a cross country season. Tim had amazing second winds that come from a career of physically and mentally challenging experiences.
After a while, I eased back and took in the view. It was spectacular and the world cut away on both sides of the trail. The final push was gentle and I reached the summit at 9 a.m., two hours after leaving camp. I layered up and drank some water. The Pauite women were burning sage on some nearby rocks. Ten minutes later Tim and Henry arrived. And then a few minutes after them, Andy brought up the rear, just like he predicted. 🙂
We descended Mount Whitney and hitch hiked to Lone Pine. That was quite a shock: Dropping from 14,505 feet and near freezing temperatures to the desert and scorching blacktop. I saw the side streets Mallie and I had run and even the swing set from which I’d proclaimed, “I want to climb those mountains.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d been looking right at Mount Whitney. The circle was complete.
Day 12, 8/26
Took a van from Lone Pine to Yosemite. Amazing to look up at the dry Sierra Nevada and think about all the rich life that lives in the depths of those mountains. The deep blue lakes and crystal streams. The hawks and deer. The meadow grasses and pine forests.
Back in Yosemite, we drove down to the valley floor. The recent forest fires were very noticeable. It was the first time Henry saw El Capitan and Tim reminded his son he’d never forget the first time seeing these granite walls. He talked about the classic line on The Nose and how Lynn Hill became the first climber to free it. “She showed the guys,” he said.
Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwall, Alex Honnold, camp four, valley uprising, the Dawn Wall, Free Solo, the list of myths and legends goes on. It’s hard not to be inspired when you stand at the base of El Captain, lean your head back, look up 3,000 vertical feet and watch the ravens ride the thermals.
Moon is full. Henry and I were energized by all the rock around us and set off for the dome I went part way up on our first day in Yosemite. It was 6:30 p.m. and we put head lamps around our necks before setting out. The rock was steep, similar to a slide climb in the Adirondacks. Henry did awesome, he has all the natural talent and work ethic to be a really great climber.
On the summit, a woman wearing leggings and a stylish wool cape sat with her back against the rock.
“Where did you come from?” she asked with a European accent. I pointed to the ledge that seemingly dropped off and her eyes widened.
“What?” She stood up and walked over. “How?”
We chatted a bit about rock climbing, she shook her head and looked at Henry. “I’m very impressed.” The sun began to set and Henry and I dropped down the backside and bushwhacked to the road. It was an epic way to end an epic adventure. Aconcagua here we come.