Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Final Note

Random post-JMT thoughts --

I've now done two "short" thru-hikes (the Camino de Santiago and the JMT).  I hike all the time at home and usually summit a mountain or two every week, but thru-hiking is different from day hiking.  When I day hike, I enjoy the woods/vista/mountain, but I look forward to getting back to the house in the evening for a shower and a good meal.  When I thru-hike, I live moment to moment.  Since I know I will not be going home for that shower and meal, I concentrate more on the environment I am in, the people I meet along the way, and my innermost thoughts.  It's a long-term meditation.

I now feel like I belong outside most of the time, and that, if I did not have two children, I would be content living in a tiny shack with just the bare necessities of life.  Don't get me wrong -- I love this chapter of my life, and it is my privilege and honor to share these years with Alex and Sage.  My daughters are my purpose right now, as they should be....when they go to college, however, I will be prepared to let them go so they can live their lives.  My purpose will appropriately change -- with every passing month, I feel my empty nest years will be spent hiking long-distance trails as long as my legs will keep moving.

From 2008 until now, and, hopefully, for at least a few more years, I have been/am so fortunate in having two of the best hiking companions anyone could ever ask for.  Alex and Sage are cheerful, sweet, and strong.  They are good company.  I can never assume they will want to hike throughout their childhoods -- it certainly looks that way right now, but teenage-hood is fast approaching and who knows where their independent spirits will take them.  I hope they will want to continue to join me every year (and every week, at home) in the mountains and on outdoor adventures.  I will treasure every day I have with them out there.  If and when they decide they want to hang up their hiking boots, then I will respect that decision.  As of right now, they want to do all the Terrifying 25 trails with me next summer, they want to ascend Idaho's Borah Peak, and they'd like to do another thru-hike if we can fit it into our 2015 schedule.  So I know I at least have one more year with them out there.  :)

As for JMT-specific advice -- I feel I addressed most everything I could offer in terms of my own experience in the blog and in the gear review section.  If anyone has any questions that aren't answered in my previous posts, then please feel free to email me at  I am no expert, of course.  However, if my experience thru-hiking this trail during the month of August in 2014 can be of use to anyone, then I'm happy to answer whatever questions I can.  Of course, what worked for me may or may not work for you.  HYOH.

Peace.  I don't yet know for sure which trail we will thru-hike next.  I'll post a note on my main blog when I have that information.

Friday, December 19, 2014

JMT Hiking Day #17: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal. August 27, 2014

**Around 15.5 miles with about 3400 feet of elevation gain and about 6100 feet of elevation loss.

Our final day!

I was up at 3am.  Looking out my tent flap, I could see multiple headlamps moving along the path through the darkness.  I roused the girls and we quietly broke camp; not everyone was waking early so we did our best to not disturb the sleep of those who were not aiming for a sunrise ascent.

The early morning was nowhere near as cold as I'd anticipated.  We loaded our packs, filled the water bottles, and headed up the mountain in relative comfort.  Sage led the way.  A string of headlamps could be seen all the way up the mountain.  We tried to take photos of the hikers before us, but none of the images came out.

This is Sage in the dark...

I enjoyed ascending the switchbacks before dawn.  The lack of light made the climb feel easy since we couldn't see very far in front of us; there were no psychological issues about how much farther we had to go.

Slowly, dawn arrived as we neared the intersection with Trail Crest.

Photo by Alex Herr

Photo by Alex Herr

Looking back toward Guitar Lake...

Photo by Alex Herr

The sun had risen by the time we reached Trail Crest, but that was okay.  We were still glad we had begun hiking so didn't matter that we hadn't seen the sunrise from Whitney's summit.

We reached the intersection with Trail Crest and dropped our packs (in the photo below, you can see the temporarily discarded packs of other hikers).

We felt light as feathers as we walked the final 1.9 miles of the JMT toward Whitney's summit.

View through one of the "keyholes"

Photo by Sage Herr

The summit is straight ahead and to the right...
you can kind of see the summit building up there.

Photo by Alex Herr

Liz and Mike crossed paths with us -- they had been first to reach the summit that morning and they had enjoyed the sunrise up there.  They warned us about the temps -- cold -- and wished us farewell and good fortune.  It was nice to see them.  Jim and Bryan soon followed -- they too had woken up before us and had already reached the summit.  They also warned us about the freezing summit temperatures.

A few more hikers passed on the way down, each warning about the frigid temps.  We never felt that cold up top, however -- I think the extremely early risers had gotten the worst of the cold because they had reached the top immediately after the sun had risen.  By the time we arrived up there, the sun had been out for a while and had warmed the rocks and air a bit.

Approaching the summit, with the hut right before us...

The (sideways) summit register

Summit!  Our 44th state highpoint -- and the official end of the John Muir Trail!  We were technically finished!

Photo by Sage Herr

Photo by Alex Herr

Photo by Sage Herr

We took an hour or so to enjoy and explore the summit and the summit hut.

Alex notices how much JMT trail is embedded in her skin...
we were all fairly filthy at this point.
Views from the top of the Lower 48...

Photo by Alex Herr
We eventually decided to head down.  Though we were finished the JMT, we still had to get off the mountain.  Eleven miles stood between us and hot food (and milkshakes).  Down we went.  When we stopped to retrieve our backpacks, we saw Stewart, the fellow we had seen off and on for the past five days.  We had caught up with him and gotten past him every day, no matter how much earlier he had begun the day's hiking.  He therefore proclaimed that the girls should be dubbed "Freeway" (Sage) and "Lex Express" (Alex) for their speed and endurance.  So there you have it -- the girls finally have trailnames.

Down down down we went, toward Whitney Portal.

Photo by Alex Herr
The famous "100 switchbacks" were not a big least, not to us, going down.  I can see how they would feel absolutely awful to a day hiker who wasn't used to the altitude, though.  Here we are, at the top of the switchbacks, with the lake at Trail Camp down below.

One of the more unique switchbacks, near the bottom of the set....

Once down the switchbacks, we walked past Trail Camp and down into the woods...

The descent felt like it took forever.  The closer we got to the bottom, the more each of us very much wanted to be done.  We knew there was a cafe down there, and a nearby town with hostels, so once we got close to the bottom, out of the Whitney Zone and a few miles from Whitney Portal, the hike became psychologically DIFFICULT.  The path just went on and on and on...and the worst part was that we could tell where we had to go but we couldn't go directly there.  We had to hike back and forth across a gazillion long switchbacks.  Sage in particular was unhappy with the switchback situation.  She's a mellow kid who almost never complains about anything, but we are used to NH hiking, which almost always means hiking straight up and down mountains,  She likes her hiking to be direct, not meandering all over the side of a slope when all you really want to do is hike straight toward the goal.  I assured her that I was as frustrated as she was, and we encouraged each other by talking about how much food we were soon going to eat at the cafe.

We can see the road!
Those last switchbacks did eventually end, and we found ourselves at the trailhead by the parking lot.

Woo-hoo!  We'd hiked from Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal in 23 days (17 hiking days plus 6 rest days).  I dumped our wag bags in the specified dumpsters (right by the trailhead) and we walked toward the glorious cafe.

Jim and Bryan were at the cafe, and they led other hikers in a round of applause when we arrived.  That was very kind of them.

The cafe had burgers (yum!), milk, and Sprite (and other drinks)...but alas, no milkshakes..those would have to wait.  No worries, though.  We ate cheeseburgers and I downed a bottle of milk -- I craved calcium!  We couldn't completely finish the burgers -- they were delicious, but our stomachs had shrunk...we became full very quickly.

The kind owner of the cafe gave me the name of Whitney Hostel in nearby Lone Pine.  We had finished our hike a full day early, so I had no reservations for the evening.  Luckily, the hostel had space.  We finished our food, hitched a ride to Lone Pine (which is what everyone else does), and arrived at Lone Pine in the late afternoon.

We booked a private room (there's a traditional hostel area if you want to pay less and share) and took a good look at ourselves in the mirror.  None of us had looked in a mirror since Muir Trail Ranch, which had been nine days ago.

We were so dirty!  I took photos to celebrate our lack of hygiene.  Mind you, we'd been living and hiking in these same clothes, unwashed, for the past nine days.

Our packs had held up well (love Gossamer Gear!) --

Two showers later, I still had dirt embedded in my skin.  I didn't mind.

The rest of the evening was spent doing laundry, eating pizza, finding and consuming milkshakes, and watching TV.

This had been a wonderful adventure.  

I'll finish the gear review during the coming week, and I'll post a general summation of tips and JMT-specific advice soon after that.

I hope this journal continues to be helpful to those planning their own hikes.