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Rainmaker's 1999 JMT Journal
In hiking a thousand mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1999, I also hiked the John Muir Trail. (I completed the PCT on Sept. 18, 2001.)
The JMT is 211 miles in length. The northern terminus is in Yosemite Valley, and the southern terminus is the summit of Mt. Whitney. I climbed Mt. Whitney from the Crabtree Meadows side on June 30, and completed the trail at Yosesmite Valley on July 22.
My journal for the JMT portion of my 1999 hike follows:
Jun 30 - A day that I will never forget. I left Crabtree Meadows as soon as it was light enough to see. Most of my gear was left in camp, since I will hopefully return tonight. I carried my backpack, but took only extra clothes and food for the day, so it was very light. The scenery was beyond belief, right from the start, and it was one of those situations where you feel that you are the only person left on the face of the earth. I saw no one else for hours. When the sun finally made it up over the peaks, I was approaching Guitar Lake. I stopped for a short break, but was quickly swarmed by mosquitoes. I couldn't figure out where, or how, the trail was going to leave the valley, there seemed to be nothing in all directions except solid rock walls. However, the trail soon started switchbacking up a sheer cliff. The trail had been blasted out of solid rock, and was only about 2 feet wide. It was scary. It got even scarier when I came to a point where a rockslide had completely covered the trail with grapefruit and basketball size rocks. I had no choice except to climb across the rocks to get to the trail on the other side. The mountain was on my left side, and a sheer drop off of 500 - 1000 ft. was on my right. When I took my first step on the rocks, I told myself that this is one of those situations where if you slip, you die. I planted my left foot, and it promptly slipped out from under me. I seemed to be falling in slow motion. I knew that if I fell to the left (and into the mountain and rocks), that I could survive, but if I fell to the right and off the trail, that I would die. Falling down seemed to take an awfully long time, but luck was with me. I crashed into the rocks and held on for dear life (literally). When all motion ceased, I had a firm grip on a small boulder with my left hand, but my right arm and leg were hanging over the edge. I had pain in both my hands and my left leg, but I had no idea how badly I was hurt. I just lay there for a minute, planning my next move. I could see some blood on me and some of the rocks, but I had no idea where it was coming from. I very carefully moved enough so that all body parts were away from the edge, then slowly crawled over the remaining rocks to get to the relative safety of the trail on the far side of the rockslide. I then wiggled out of my pack and sat down. My first priority was to get my breathing and heart rate under control. A quick check of my pulse indicated that my heart was beating at almost 200 beats per minute, and I was hyperventilating. I leaned back against the mountain, closed my eyes, tried to relax, and had my breathing under control in less than a minute. My heart was still pounding, but in another minute or two, my heart rate was out of the danger zone. Next, I had to see where all the blood was coming from and determine how badly I was hurt. I had small cuts on both hands, and a larger cut on my left shin. My main concern, however, was my left knee, the one that had hit the rocks. I've been to many orthopedic doctors concerning my knees, and I have paid attention and asked many questions. I gave my knee a quick examination. There was no lateral movement; it was still "tight", which was a very good sign. The kneecap had taken a good blow, but there was no fracture. The ligaments were not painful, but one tendon was. Most importantly, I could still put weight on it. In other words, it still worked. Diagnosis: Blunt trauma to the patella, resulting in contusions and mild sprain of the upper patellar tendon. Treatment: Take 3 Ibuprofen, continue climbing the highest mountain in the Lower 48, try not to hit the knee on any more rocks, and worry about the consequences of all this reckless behavior tomorrow morning. I know that mountains are inanimate objects, but to me, they are "spiritual beings". Clearly, this mountain was testing me, or else we had just gotten started off on the wrong foot (no pun intended). So, I told it, "I've been waiting a long time for this, and its going to take more than that to get rid of me. But if you want to continue to try to kill me, take your best shot. I'm still here." With that little ceremony done, I put on my pack and continued my ascent. I climbed several more hours without further incident, and without seeing another person. However, the trail was very scary, and poorly maintained. Several times, I almost quit. Shortly after I passed the trail junction with the Whitney Portal Trail, I came upon a woman sitting on some rocks, visibly shaking. She was the first person I had seen since I left Crabtree Meadows about 4 hours earlier. It was not cold enough for hypothermic conditions, so I assumed that she was scared and not far from going into shock. We exchanged "hellos" and I asked her if she was all right. She said that she was, but that she had had enough, that she had decided to wait where she was for the rest of her group to come back down. I told her that I was scared, too, and that if she wanted, we could try to reach the summit together. She declined my offer, and I continued on alone. One snow field and an hour later, I reached the summit of Mt. Whitney, which is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail. I really felt that I had earned this one, and I basked in the warm sunshine. The scenery was unbelievable; I felt that I was literally on top of the world. There was no sign of civilization in any direction; nothing but snow covered peaks as far as the eye could see. Soon, however, I had to reluctantly leave the summit in order to get back to Crabtree Meadows before dark. Before I left, however, there was something else I wanted to say to the mountain. I told it, "You scared me this morning, but you don't scare me now." My descent was without incident, however, I did stop at the pile of rocks that had almost cost me my life. I urinated on them, made an obscene gesture in their direction and then continued my descent. When I saw Margo at Crabtree Meadows, she said, "Would you tell me about your day on Whitney?" I did, but it took a while.
Jul 1 - My knee hurts a little, but it works, and I've hiked with worse knee pain than this. This was an unbelievable day, coming on the heels of the adventure and misadventure on Whitney yesterday. Hiked in alpine beauty all day, first across the Bighorn Plateau, then into the high country approaches to Forester Pass. Camped by a tarn (small snow-melt fed pond) at an elevation of 12,150 ft., according to my trusty Avocet watch / barometer. Margo and I are only a few miles from the pass, which at over 13,000 ft., is the highest point of the PCT. Everything was going so well; then the Marmot From Hell showed up. He stood up on his back legs, took a very long look at my tent, and I knew there was going to be trouble. He was very subtle at first, acting like he was just foraging; but edging ever closer to my tent. A rock thrown in his general direction seemed to have very little effect. A few minutes later, he was back, this time more interested in the various food items where I was sitting. When he got close enough, I "nudged" him with one of my hiking poles and said, "That's close enough, pal". To my utter amazement, the pesky little varmint bit the tip of my stick! The rules of engagement had been set; the gauntlet had been cast down. I examined my stick for bite marks, and told him that he had just stopped being cute. I then picked up a hand full of gravel and threw it in his face. Now, I thought, we are really communicating! He ran away, but I knew he would be back, and I took advantage of the lull in the action to gather artillery (small rocks) for the siege that I knew would follow. I considered my situation. I was defending a fixed position in territory that was unknown to me. The marmot was familiar with the terrain, had the support of the locals (other marmots), was very patient, and would use the hit and run tactics of guerilla warfare. Hmmm, I thought, I have another little Viet Nam going on here. A few minutes later, he was back; this time making a somewhat less subtle try for the inside of my tent. Time for a change in tactics. I chased him until he ran under some rocks, then gave him some carefully measured non-injurious jabs to the ribcage with the hiking stick he had so brazenly bitten about a half hour before. Rocks thrown in his direction he was ready for; but being poked with a hiking stick was a new experience for him, I expect. Anyway, it did the trick. I allowed him to make his escape, and there were no more encounters during the evening and night. Margo and I began to soak in the beauty and grandeur of our campsite. This was indeed the "Range Of Light", a phrase often used by John Muir to describe the High Sierra. We both basked in the warm sunlight, and tried to take it all in. However, the "light show" was just beginning. Sunset was followed by the rising of a nearly full moon. It cast beautiful light and shadows on the jagged peaks that surrounded our campsite. I slept half in and half out of my small tent, knowing that this was the most beautiful night that I had ever spent in the outdoors. I kept looking in the direction of Forester Pass, wondering what adventure tomorrow held.
Jul 2 - While I was preparing breakfast, the Marmot From Hell returned with another marmot, probably his mate, or perhaps just a partner in crime that hoped to share in the booty. More rocks thrown; more marmots peeking out from under boulders. However, they were a bit late. I took down my tent and the siege effectively ended. I figured it was a draw; I hadn't driven them off, but they hadn't gotten to my tent or food, either. In the end, I did what we should have done in Viet Nam; announced that I'd won and packed up and left; leaving any ongoing squabbles to be sorted out by the locals. An hour later, I had a lot more to worry about than thieving marmots; Margo and I had taken a wrong turn. We had started up the nearly sheer rock face on the south side of Forester Pass, and we were lost. Well, not exactly lost; we knew where we were, we just couldn't find the trail. We searched for an hour to no avail. I finally said to myself that enough was enough. I sat down and relaxed a few minutes, then decided that I was going to find the trail with my eyes, instead of my feet, even if I had to sit here and look for it the rest of the morning. After 10 minutes of carefully examining every feature on the rock face for any unnatural appearances, however slight, I noticed a section of rock that appeared to be "straighter" than the area surrounding it. Margo was several hundred feet closer to it than I was, and I directed her to the area I had seen. A few minutes later, she shouted that she was back on the trail. Once again, we were on our way. The ascent to Forester Pass was "exciting" in that the trail has been blasted right out of the rock face, and it is relatively narrow. However, it didn't seem as scary to me as it would have had I not climbed Mt. Whitney the day before. Before long, we reached the narrow pass at an elevation of 13,200 ft. Wildflowers greeted us, along with blue skies, cool air, warm sunshine, hardly any wind and some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. Needless to say, it was difficult to leave. Entered King's Canyon National Park and hiked to Kearsarge Lakes, after leaving the PCT / JMT on Kearsarge Pass Trail. We will hike 8 miles on the Kearsarge Pass Trail to Onion Valley tomorrow, and then hitch-hike about 25 miles to the town of Independence to resupply.
Jul 3 - Margo, who is much faster on the downhills than I, left early for a "power hike" to Onion Valley. It is Saturday, and if she cannot get to Independence before noon to pick up our boxes and mail at the post office, it is entirely possible that we won't get out of Independence until Wednesday. As it is, we will have to wait until Tuesday for the post office to reopen, so that we can remail our "bounce boxes" ahead before we leave. Also, since it is the 4th of July weekend, we expect motel rooms to be at a premium. She will try to get rooms for us before they are all taken, and needs to get to town as quickly as she can. I had the luxury of a slower and more enjoyable hike over Kearsarge Pass and down to the road at Onion Valley. I got a ride with the very first car that passed, but it took over an hour for the first car to come by. I eventually found Margo in town. She had made it to the post office and picked up our mail and packages scarcely minutes before it closed, and she had secured the LAST motel room in town, which she graciously offered to share. While sitting on the bed, I bent at the waist, twisted my torso, and picked up a heavy box off the floor. I immediately had a severe back spasm. Cursing my own carelessness, I wondered if this was the beginning of the end of my hike for this year. ( It was. )
July 4 - July 5 were spent resting, recuperating, resupplying and waiting for the post office to open in Independence, CA.
Jul 6 - Got a ride from Bob, the owner of the Vintage Motel. He charged Margo, English John and I only $5 for gas. What a bargain! It would have been an almost impossible hitch hike. My pack is very heavy, and my back is hurting badly. One more stupid mistake with my back, and I'll probably need a medical evacuation in a helicopter to get out of here. Its frustrating. And painful. However, I knew the odds when I came out here in April. Hiked back over Kearsarge Pass at 11,000' and camped at Charlotte Lake. My back somehow held up and feels no worse, and may even be a little better. We are camped right on the lake and very much in the heart of bear country. Its very good to be out of town, and back in the High Sierra wilderness.
Jul 7 - Crossed Glen Pass at an elevation of 11,900'. Met Just Jane and her companion. She lives in Vermont, and I've talked with her previously in some trail-oriented internet chatrooms. The north side of the pass had a very bad looking snow field, but it wasn't as bad up close as it appeared from a distance. I have learned a lot about walking on snow from Margo, and she has also taught me the basics of ice ax use. I've noticed that it has a lot to do with confidence. As Ray Jardine once said, you probably won't fall until you think you should. He calls it "Brain Lock". I'm very glad that I didn't send my ice ax home from Independence. I feel a lot better just knowing its available, even if I don't have to use it. Today, I needed it; however, someone with more experience could have easily gotten by without it. This is an incredible wilderness experience, and my back better hold up. I'm determined to finish the John Muir Trail at Yosesmite even if I have to crawl there. English John and I camped at Woods Creek Crossing, where there is a swinging bridge that I will cross tomorrow. Margo went ahead. It feels so good to have unlimited water in camp, a welcome change from the desert. Its also wonderful not having to carry 5 and 6 quarts of water through 20 and 25 mile waterless stretches in 100 degree heat.
Jul 8 - The mosquitoes finally got the better of me. I have not used any DEET since Viet Nam, because of the images that the smell of the stuff conjures up, especially at night. However, I'm now splashing it on like all the other hikers out here. Skin, clothing; it doesn't matter. It is not unusual to be swarmed by 50 - 1 00 mosquitoes when ever we stop during the day, or when we are sitting around camp at night. The bugs make me very thankful for my insect-proof tent. I would hate to be out here in a tarp. In fact, I wouldn't be out here in a tarp. Climbed to the top of Pinchot Pass at 12,100' and did a long, snowy traverse in the process. Did the pass solo, but saw Scott and Robin at the top. There are a very nice young couple. I met them in Independence, and I enjoy their company. Robin has a great marmot story: She encountered a large marmot on a rock directly beside the trail. She stopped, made a dismissive gesture with her hands and said, "SHOO, SHOO; GO AWAY!". She and the marmot stared at each other for a moment, then it jumped off the rock and went after her ankle. She said she screamed and ran back down the trail, with the marmot in hot pursuit. When she returned a few minutes later with Scott, the Macho Marmot was nowhere to be found. Whenever I need to laugh, I think of dainty, proper little Robin being chased down the trail by a marmot. I'm now camped alone in the wilderness, with indescribably beautiful alpine views in all directions.
Jul 9 - It appears that I have dodged the bullet concerning my back. For some reason unknown to me, it has held up. It is now seemingly back to what passes as "normal". In other words, it hurts, but it works. Reached the top of Mather Pass about 9:00 a.m. I got to the pass too early in the day, and the snow hadn't been softened by the sun. So, I had to use my ice ax again to chop some steps. There was also a hairy snow traverse on the north side of the pass. Hiked past beautiful Palasade Lakes, then into Palasade Gorge. Hiked about 14 miles and camped at the Middle Fork of King's River amid pines and giant hemlock trees. Camped at the base of a large and noisy waterfall, where 2 rivers come together. There are towering peaks all around. Descent from Mather Pass was over 4,000' .
Jul 10 - Made a 4,000' ascent and finally reached Muir Pass. There is a stone shelter at the pass, one of only a few on the PCT. Muir Pass is different. To reach it, I had to go past many cliffs, valleys, alpine lakes, rushing streams, snow fields and rugged peaks. It was an austere, bleak, inhospitable and surreal world, but also strangely beautiful and inviting. Weather cold and windy, lots of clouds and fog. Hiked 15 miles and camped at Evolution Lake. A rough but beautiful day.
Jul 11 - An almost "normal" day (if there is such a thing on the PCT), except for the hordes of mosquitoes in Evolution Valley, the fact that my back is very painful, and it rained twice. Left King's Canyon National Park. In what was quite a feat by the trail engineer bureaucrats, I couldn't help but notice that not only did the trail not pass within sight of King's Canyon in King's Canyon National Park, but hikers don't get to see even one Sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park, either. Way to go, guys!! You did a great job! Hiked about 13 miles, and camped just above the San Joaquin River.
Jul 12 - Still cloudy and threatening rain, and the mosquitoes are Southeast Asia bad. Climbed Seldon Pass, and forded several rivers afterwards. Wildflower displays are awesome, plants that I've not seen before. Believe that Shooting Star is my favorite. Hiked about 17 miles, made a tough 1,200' ascent right at the end of the day. Camped on Bear Ridge, near first trail to Edison Lake. This is the first time that the data book has been wrong about the availability of water. There is supposed to be a spring or creek here, but there is not. Had to backtrack about a half mile back down the mountain to get water. Mosquitoes are swarming, and that's putting it mildly. Put on protective clothing, DEET and my headnet, and tried to ignore them. The buzzing is maddening, however.
Jul 13 - Got up at 4:50 a.m., had a light breakfast, no coffee and was on the trail by 5:30. Hiked 5 mosquito plagued miles to Edison Lake and caught the 9:45 shuttle boat to Vermillion Valley Resort. Margo, and 3 couples; Scott and Robin, Jeff and Melanie and Mike and Ellen, are also here. They were to leave in the p.m. to go back to the trail, but a severe thunderstorm changed their minds and they decided to stay another night. Had a nice nap. Had a $5 shower in a bathroom that was absolutely filthy, and a $14 dinner that consisted of a fair salad and a not-done baked potato. The couple who run the "resort" are nice and friendly, but the place is a rip-off. I'm anxious to leave.
Jul 14 - Caught the afternoon shuttle boat back to the PCT and the John Muir Wilderness. Hiked about 2 miles and camped near a rushing stream. This is a wilderness paradise, but the continuous 15 mile days, the incessant and maddening mosquitoes, and my very painful back are taking their toll. I'm starting to think how nice it would be to be home. However, I try not to think about it too much.
Jul 15 - Climbed Silver Pass. Hit a snow pack on the north side before I even started down. It was steep, almost too steep to walk. I thought about sliding down on my rear end, but decided not to because of my back. Saw an elderly woman at the pass who is thru-hiking the JMT. Was a bit concerned about her. Either she was hypothermic, very tired, or has been out here a bit too long. She offered me some of her snack food 5 or 6 times while we were talking, even though I declined it each time. She obviously needed it more than I did. Her clothing was far from adequate, and I felt badly for her. She was from Austria, and her face was extremely weather-beaten, except for her crystal clear and sparkling blue eyes. She had a good spirit, but as Margo would have said, she (the elderly woman I encountered) is "working through some challenges", and I expect alcohol is one of them. Hiked about 17 miles and camped near Purple Lake. It must be a great place to camp, hundreds of mosquitoes can't be wrong.
Jul 16 - Hiked about 13 miles to Red's Meadow Resort. I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities. I was expecting a small store near a meadow on a dirt road, however, there is a paved 2 lane "highway", a very large grocery store with a souvenir shop, and a café. There is also a campground and free mineral hot showers. Will long remember the shower! I'm kind of bummed out, trying to work through it. Saw Scott and Ellen at the store; they said that Margo had gotten off the trail here yesterday (?) and had taken a bus to the town of Mammoth Lake. Scott said that he doubted that she would return to the PCT this year, that she had had a rough couple of days after they left Vermillion Valley Resort.
Jul 17 - Had a nice, but expensive, breakfast at the café, with Rio, Justin and Matt. Got a late start. Went by Devil's Postpile National Monument, which is my estimation, is vastly overrated. Big pile of rocks. Big deal. Hiked about 12 miles and camped about 2 miles south of Garnet Lake. Temperature is colder and dryer, it may freeze tonight. Met Mary, a southbound JMT hiker. She said that while she was in Tuolumne Meadows Campground, a bear slashed through her tent, even though there was no food in it. Luckily, she was not in the tent at the time, but I don't think it would have mattered if she had been; the result probably would have been the same. The Yosemite bears are a different breed.
Jul 18 - Hiked past several beautiful alpine lakes. Thousand Island Lake is somewhat misnamed; I believe Forty Island Lake would have been more appropriate. However, it is beautiful, regardless of it's name. There were spectacular views of Ritter and Banner peaks; quintessential rugged peaks of the High Sierra. Will long remember the spot where I took my morning break, Thousand Island Lake several hundred feet before me, and Ritter and Banner peaks looming in the distance. It was hard to leave, especially since my gut feeling tells me that this is all coming to an end soon. Later, made my ascent of Donahue Pass, which seemed to go on forever. When I reached the top, I found a beautiful campsite about 1/10 of a mile above and to the east of the pass. It was only early afternoon, but there were no mosquitoes, and the elevation was too high for bears, so I decided to stay. There were 2 resident marmots, but they seemed content to stay away from my tent and food. After an hour or so, we just ignored each other and went on about the business at hand. They foraged; I rested, prepared coffee and dinner, and soaked in the beauty and spirituality of the place. I spent a pleasant, but windy, evening. The alpine valleys and snowy peaks seemed to go on forever. This night was special. I was there in the high country alone, and it’s a different world up there. Seemingly, there was no one else within a hundred miles. And the marmots kept their distance.
Jul 19 - Will never forget my 11,000' campsite at Donahue Pass last night. Had a hard freeze, the water in the small tarn next to my tent was frozen solid this morning. This had a devastating effect on the resident mosquito population. Most of them are dead. Hiked about 12 miles through Lyell Canyon to Tuolumne Meadows. Yosesmite National Park is busy and confusing; I feel like a small dog lost out in the middle of a highway. I'm not accustomed to all the noise and rapid movement of vehicles. Bent down to get water; forgot and bent at the waist instead of bending my knees. Had some severe pain in my back, but it has subsided. Back feels fragile. I know I have a few boxes at the P.O., but I'm leaving here to hike about 23 miles to Yosesmite Valley to finish the John Muir Trail, then I'm taking a bus back here to continue on the Pacific Crest Trail. Will wait to get packages until I return here from Yosesmite Valley, to avoid having to carry extra weight down to the valley. Camped at the backpacker's campsite in the RV campground. Ah, wilderness! There's nothing like the sound of generators, radios, TV's, slamming doors, barking dogs, diesel engines, crying babies, screaming children and screaming adults. And everyone packed together like inner city residents in some ghetto. I don't get it. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of generating (and enduring) all the stress and noise, why don't these people just spend a quiet week-end at home?
Jul 20 - My back "went" while I was sitting on a bench at the store this morning. Have a lot of pain in the bundle of nerves at the lower end of my spine, and it is causing weakness in my legs. However, it is not as bad as it could be; I can still walk, and I can still lift my pack. Packed up in late afternoon and headed for Yosesmite Valley, but took a wrong turn and lost several miles and hours. Opted for a fresh start tomorrow morning and returned to the RV campground. This was kind of a wasted day. But if you are going to waste a day, Yosesmite National Park is not a bad place to do it.
Jul 21 - There is a multitude of trails in the area of Tuolumne Meadows, and surprisingly, the John Muir Trail is not well marked. Found my way through the maze, finally, and headed back out into the wilderness. Went through some gorgeous and unique scenery in the vicinity of Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks. Camped at Sunrise High Sierra Camp, where the mosquito population seems to be thriving. There is an old hippy camped above me, and several couples camped below me. Surprisingly, the old hippy used to live in Young Harris, Georgia; about 30 miles from my home. And one of the couples below me has a sister in Marietta, Georgia and they visit the area regularly. And their daughter in law, who is with them, vacationed at Lake Rabun this summer, which is less than 20 miles from my home. All this in Yosemite National Park in California. It is indeed a small world.
Jul 22 - Left camp after a beautiful sunrise. Hiked about 13 miles into Yosemite Valley and finished the John Muir Trail. There was no one around to share my enthusiasm except a park service employee who was emptying trash cans. He got the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail confused; told me that I hadn't finished the John Muir Trail, that it continued all the way to Canada. Right. I was too tired to argue with him. I just took a deep breath, and asked him where I could catch a shuttle bus. He gave me directions, and an hour later, I was dining on pizza, french fries, salad and a giant soft drink at Yosemite Village. This was followed by a giant cup of coffee and a cheese danish. Later, boarded another shuttle bus for the backpacker's campground. The valley is absolutely beautiful, but its beauty lies in the steep cliffs and waterfalls that surround it. The valley itself is kind of like Mall Of America meets the wilderness. Feel great concerning the completion of the JMT. However, as usual, the beauty was in the journey, not the destination.