Friday, September 26, 2014

JMT Rest Days #1 and #2 (Trail Days #6 and #7) : Reds Meadow Resort. August 10-11, 2014

With the morning came sunshine, and not just the solar variety.  Sage beamed.  She didn't wheeze, she didn't seem exhausted.  She beamed.

She also kept coughing. Not as much as she had the day before, but enough to make me glad we had arrived at Reds a day early and would therefore have two days of lounging instead of one.  We couldn't check into our reserved room until the afternoon, but we could hang about the resort and eat a ton of food at Reds' cafe.

Reds Meadow Campground has a check-out time of noon, so we left our tent and walked the 0.2 miles to Reds Meadow Resort (there's a trail leading to the resort from the campground -- it starts behind the dumpsters by the restrooms).

Approaching Red Meadow Resort's cafe.

There, at the cafe, we had hot chocolate and pancakes.  That hot chocolate was the creamiest, most delicious thing...I felt like I was pouring liquid life into my stomach.  After two sips, I realized how much my body needed hot food...going without a stove was the right choice for weight reasons, but my goodness, how we missed hot meals!

We didn't demolish the pancakes like I thought we would.  We felt full rather quickly...I guess our stomachs had shrunk over the past few days.  We took our time and ate as much as we could, then we walked back to the campground and packed our things.  Sage coughed every five minutes or so, and she seemed tired and sniffly, but besides that, she was fine.  Still, I was glad we had two days of rest ahead of us.

Once packed, we walked back to the resort and looked through the hiker bucket (a bucket where thru-hikers can ditch things they no longer want and/or take things other hikers have ditched).  The girls scored a bunch of lollipops and hard candies, and I took some beef jerky.  We then sat outside and played cards until early afternoon.

We saw Connie again.  She had arrived last night, and now she was on her way out -- meaning, she was getting off the trail and taking road transportation south.  She wanted to ascend Whitney, and she was behind schedule, so she was going to skip part of the trail.  I said goodbye to her...and I have no idea what became of her.  If you ever read this, Connie, then know it was a pleasure meeting you.

We also saw the kind fellow we had spoken to on top of Donohue Pass.  He was getting off the trail as well.  Unfortunately, he had sustained a knee injury and didn't think he could continue without making it worse.

The time came for us to check in, so we picked up the key from the General Store (seen below, with the red hiker bucket to the right of the door).

Our room for the next two evenings was the left section of a nearby building...

Our room had two large beds and a bathroom.  There was no television, but the internet access was fast and reliable.  The girls borrowed some books from the cafe, and we settled in for what would be two days of resting, eating, and pushing fluids.  During those two days, Sage's cough and sniffles persisted.  Though I was no longer worried about her succumbing to HAPE, I did need to know exactly what was going on with her so I could figure out how to proceed.  I therefore decided to take her to Mammoth Lakes Hospital after we checked out of Reds, just to be safe.  This would potentially put us a day behind schedule, but hey...who cares.  I needed to be 100% certain Sage was healthy enough to continue before heading back out on the trail.

**Next post -- Mammoth Lakes Hospital, and how we managed to give Sage an extra day of rest yet still wind up ahead of schedule.

I'm behind on our gear review -- I'll try to add another review late tomorrow evening.  I promise, by the end of this journal, everything we carried will be listed and reviewed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

JMT Hiking Day #5: Thousand Island Lake to Reds Meadow Campground. August 9, 2014

**Around 16 miles with 800-1000 feet of elevation gain.

***Some of the day's photos were accidentally deleted during the evening of August 9.  As I frantically used my iPhone to search the internet for information on High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, my clumsy fingers hit the camera button more than once and somehow managed to erase a few images.  My apologies for this post's relative lack of pictures.

We awoke to cold drops of water falling on our faces.  Again.  The condensation was much worse this morning.  I roused the girls and we took turns carefully moving all our belongs out of the tent.

We were ahead of schedule; our reservations for Reds Meadow Resort were for August 10 and 11.  We therefore decided to have a short hiking day, since we didn't want to arrive at Reds a day early.  The morning sun warmed the rocky banks of the lake, so we took advantage of the light and draped our tent over some boulders.  We took our time eating breakfast and enjoyed wandering up and down the rocks.  I took a trip down to the water where we'd heard the lapping sounds, hoping to find some prints on the sparse sand.  No such luck -- there were no prints of any kind.

Connie appeared and walked down to the water; as she filled her bottles, she told us where she had camped, which happened to be about fifty feet higher from where we had pitched our tent.  We spoke for a while, then she moved on.  She was hoping to reach Reds Meadow Resort by early evening, so she needed to get going.  We casually waved goodbye and continued to lounge.

10:00 came and went before we moved on.

Hiking away from Thousand Island Lake
 After an initial ascent, we hiked downward, first toward the beautiful Emerald Lake, which looked like a fantastic place to swim, then toward the even more picturesque Ruby Lake...which also looked like a fantastic place to swim.  It was nearing midday by the time we reached Garnet Lake, which most definitely looked like a fantastic place to swim.  So we swam.  Well, the kids swam.  I waded a bit, since my older bones too quickly feel the chill of mountain lakes.  Alex and Sage seemed to think the water was warm as toast.  Even so, I instructed the girls to not submerge their heads, since I wanted to prevent colds.

Heading toward Garnet Lake,
which is far more beautiful than my one photo of it suggests.

While the girls were splashing, I saw the Japanese couple we had seen at the train station in Merced, and then again at Lower Cathedral Lake.  We smiled and waved at each other.  While the girls were drying off, we saw Connie approaching with a fellow we hadn't met.  We had gotten ahead of Connie without seeing her -- she must have gone off trail for a few minutes at some point, and we'd walked right by her.  She introduced the fellow -- his name was Joe, I think, then she continued on her way, determined to reach Reds in time for dinner.  The girls and I shared some snacks with Joe, then he continued on his way while we lounged in the sun.

As we were lounging, we heard....lap-lap-lap-lap.  I jumped up and looked toward the water.  There -- there was the cause of the worrisome sound -- it was a mama duck with three ducklings.  Her webbed feet made a soft, gentle, rhythmic splashing sound as she slowly paddled through the water.  The ducklings made no sounds at all.

The girls and I laughed at ourselves and happily watched the ducks for a few minutes before shouldering our packs and moving onward.

We crossed the bridge at the northern section of Garnet Lake and immediately went the wrong way.  The more obvious path is to the left after you cross, but it didn't take long for us to realize we'd made a mistake.  That obvious path quickly becomes narrow and looks poorly maintained.  We backtracked, only to run into a group of three men and one woman who had followed us into the wrong area.  They didn't seem to have a map or compass with them, so they watched as I took out the map and showed them that the correct path goes around the other side of the lake for a while before turning southeast.  We were moving faster than they were, so they let us go ahead.  The climb up and away from Garnet Lake has a few strange wrong-turn options, but our map and compass set us straight whenever doubts arose.

All was fine and well with our world until we ascended the switchbacks between Shadow Lake and Rosalie Lake.  Halfway up, Sage started coughing.  Within five minutes, she went from coughing every 30 seconds to coughing every ten seconds.  Ten minutes after that, she could no longer talk.  Her pace slowed to a crawl and she wheezed with every breath.  The onset of all of this was incredibly rapid.  She was fine and cheery one minute, then ten minutes later she was in extremely poor condition.  It was scary as hell.

I weighed our options.  Gladys Lake was our highest point of the day at 9575 feet, and it was two to three miles away.  After that, it was a straight descent into the Devil's Postpile/Reds Meadow Resort area, where we could get medical help if needed and enjoy breathing more oxygen at 7700 feet.  Backtracking would mean having to ascend many miles up and over 10,000 feet before getting back to a low-altitude area.  Continuing onward made the most sense.

We stopped and drank water at every switchback, and Sage's coughing and wheezing lessened somewhat with the decreased pace.  We eventually made it up to Gladys Lake, where she begged me to set up camp.  I told her no, we couldn't, that we had to get her down to lower altitude.  I took Alex aside as Sage rested and told her all I could remember about High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, and that I was worried Sage might have it, and that it was absolutely crucial we get her down to lower altitude immediately.  If this was indeed HAPE, then spending another night above 9000 feet could kill her.

Alex said she could take Sage's backpack if needed, then she went over to her sister.  She took Sage's hand and started telling her jokes, and even now, weeks later, as I sit here and write this, I am SO PROUD of Alex for taking care of her sister like that.  Alex encouraged Sage to get up and start moving.  She told Sage that it was all downhill from here to Reds, and that she'd feel a lot better once we got a little lower.  Sage wasn't happy about having to continue, but she did so, and on her own two feet.  With every hundred feet of descent, her breathing improved and the frequency of her coughing decreased.  By the time we got to 8500 feet, her breathing was normal and her coughing occurred every few minutes instead of every few seconds.

Though it was a straight descent, it was still a 7-mile walk.  I offered to carry Sage, but she refused and, once we were below 8500 feet, walked at breakneck speed.  She was grumpy and irritable, and she couldn't talk above a whisper.  I allowed her to walk on her own since her breathing had returned to normal...and I certainly didn't mind getting to lower altitude sooner rather than later, for her sake.  I was prepared to swoop her up if I felt it necessary, but Sage carried on, stronger with every step into more oxygen-rich territory.

Moving down into Devil's Postpile
 We reached the sign shown below and Sage, in a whisper, insisted we take a normal "smiley-photo."  I gave her a hug, then we took the picture.  Sage was mad at herself for not being 100% (in spite of my assurances that this wasn't her fault and that Alex and I cared far more for her well-being than we did about the trail).  Posing for this photo cheered her up a bit, since, to her, it was proof that everything would turn out just fine.  Everything did indeed turn out just fine eventually, but of course, at the time, I didn't know how anything would turn out.  Right after I took the photo, Alex took one of Sage's hands and I took the other.  We then made our way to the Visitors' Center at Devil's Postpile, caught the shuttle bus to Reds Meadow Campground, and found a site for the evening.

Sage rested on a picnic bench and ate the only thing she wanted to consume -- chocolate-covered caramels.  Alex pushed fluids on her while I quickly readied everything for the night.  Since Sage was now breathing without a wheeze and coughing much less frequently, I felt it safe to wait until morning before perhaps visiting a hospital.  I knew the best remedy for HAPE, if this was indeed HAPE, was immediate descent and rest.  We'd already descended to lower altitude, now Sage could rest.

A German father-son duo camped in the site next to ours.  The father asked about Sage, and I told him our story.  The girls played cards as I spoke with the duo for a few minutes, then I got the girls into the tent.  Alex slept well, but Sage woke every couple of hours to cough for a few seconds.  I stayed up late searching the internet for all I could find on HAPE, then I finally went to sleep knowing that, given Sage's immediate improvement upon descent, I had done the right thing.  If she had still been wheezing and coughing hard at 7700 feet, then I would have flagged down a ranger and taken her to the hospital.  As things now stood, I felt she would be fine for the night and would likely be greatly improved in the morning.

I was right -- she was better the next morning, but we'd eventually visit Mammoth Lakes Hospital anyway.  I'll write more about that this Friday evening.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

JMT Hiking Day #4: Lyell Canyon to Thousand Island Lake. August 8, 2014

*About twelve miles with roughly 2560 feet of elevation gain.

The day did not start well.

I awoke to the feel of cold water dripping on my face.  Confused, I opened my eyes and -- condensation.  Massive amounts of condensation covered the inside of our tent's roof and walls.  I carefully sat up and looked at the girls.  Their sleeping bags appeared to be soaked.  Not good.

Moving slowly, I put all our things outside the tent to prevent them from becoming "rained on," then I woke the girls.  I told them to move carefully and to avoid the walls and ceiling if they could.

It wasn't just our tent --- Melissa and Bobby's were wet too.  I felt better about this, in the sense that I now knew it wasn't our specific tent that was the was simply the atmospheric conditions within the canyon.  We'd have other wet mornings in our immediate future, but each and every time, everyone else around us, regardless of their tent's brand, would have the same issues.

We spent some time drying the tent with hiking towels before packing up.  Thankfully, the sleeping bags, in spite of having been repeatedly splashed, were dry on the inside.  Later, I'd find that the outside of the bags dry on their own after a few hours inside their stuff sacks (I doubt they'd do that after having been dropped in a river...we're talking condensation here).  The self-drying aspect was a huge plus.  (I'll add a sleeping bag review to our gear page after I finish writing this post).

Melissa and Bobby were purposefully slow to pack up; they weren't in a rush.  On the contrary, they didn't want to do a lot of miles that day; their intent was to take it slowly and enjoy the scenery and, of course, each other's company.  We bid them a fond farewell and began our hike toward Donohue Pass.

A mile and a half later, Sage realized she was missing the wool hat she's had since she was four years old.  That hat has been with us on so many hikes -- it held a lot of sentimental value.  She refused to emotionally let it go, so I backtracked with her a while but -- no hat.  Several people had passed us, heading toward Tuolumne Meadows, and I had a feeling one of them had picked it up.  Sage became upset -- and (this is the really bad part) -- I lost my patience.  I loudly fussed at her for losing the hat in the first place.  It was not a good scene.  Somewhere in there, we ran into Connie again, who must have thought Joan Crawford had risen from the dead.

I eventually chilled out and apologized to Sage for losing my temper.  Sage apologized for losing her hat.  Then we all realized we hadn't eaten much for breakfast.  We hadn't eaten much for dinner the night before, either.  Come to think of it, we were all rather thirsty as well.

It's amazing how quickly and thoroughly you lose your appetite on a multi-day hike.  You simply become uninterested in whatever food you have in your canister.  The hunger returns, with a vengeance, after a week or so of being out there, but the first few days are different -- you often don't feel hungry or thirsty, even after hiking ten+ miles.  The resulting lack of food can therefore wreak havoc on your body...and emotions.

The girls and I had a quick second breakfast before continuing onward.

The climb to Donohue Pass consists of a steep section, followed by a flat-ish section, followed by another steep section.  The first steep section takes you out of the canyon and into a lovely wooded area (with a couple of lakes and plenty of high-altitude camping options).

Looking back at Lyell Canyon

We caught up with Connie again during the second, flat-ish part of our ascent.  She commented that she was moving more slowly than she had planned, since she wanted to photograph almost everything she saw.  I understood her dilemma -- my photos below don't do the scenery justice.  Connie graciously took our photo by a particularly picturesque lake before we parted ways yet again, the girls and I hiking onward while she lingered to snap some more photos.


The third part of the climb is above treeline.  The girls hiked quickly and strongly, not realizing they were now above 10,000 feet.  I purposefully did not tell them how high we were, since I didn't want psychological altitude issues creeping into their psyches.  Sage led the way, walking at her usual pace.  Neither girl seemed affected by the altitude.  We therefore carried on as usual, moving speedily and taking very few breaks.

In retrospect, I should have slowed our pace on this ascent, even though both girls acted as though they were at sea level.  There were no headaches, there were no problems breathing,  there were no negative signs whatsoever -- BUT -- hiking that quickly and that hard on our second day at high altitude was a huge and potentially deadly mistake.  I'm getting ahead of myself, though...I'll discuss this issue thoroughly in the next installment of this journal.

Up we went...

Donohue Pass.  11,056 feet.

We dropped our packs and spent some time enjoying the accomplishment of the ascent.  We ate, drank, and chatted with the five or six other hikers who lounged in the immediate area.  One fellow, whose name I can't remember (sorry!) was particularly nice.  We'd see him off and on over the next two days.

Connie arrived just as we were packing up to leave. We exchanged greetings before beginning our descent.

Moving on...

About half a mile down, I realized I didn't have my hiking poles.  Arg!  I had left them at the top of the pass...and I did not want to hike back up to retrieve them.  I acknowledged to the girls that I had done exactly the thing Sage had done that morning.  I hadn't been careful and I'd lost a piece of gear.  It was a humbling, but healthy, confession.  I apologized to Sage once again for having become Monster Mama that morning.

I let everyone who passed me know that there were now free hiking poles at the top of the pass.

We had one more pass to conquer before arriving at the evening's destination.  Island Pass is tiny, just 500 feet or so.  Unfortunately, the sky was dark and the clouds were thick by the time we arrived at the base.  After discovering from descending hikers that the trail over the pass was mostly in the trees, the girls and I decided to hike onward.  We wouldn't be (all that) exposed if a storm began.

Luckily, the storm held off until later in the evening, and we were able to get over the pass without atmospheric troubles.  The view from the top of the pass was, of course, stunning.

The descent to Thousand Island Lake was lovely -- our first glimpse of the lake and all its little islands was breathtaking.

Thousand Island Lake is a popular camping spot, for obvious reasons.   There are therefore strict regulations on where you may and may not camp.  Unfortunately, the sign at the foot of the lake, by the intersection with the PCT and other trails, isn't clear.  You're supposed to camp beyond the first island...but it isn't obvious exactly where that first island is located.  Some of those little land masses run together, and the girls and I couldn't tell if we were definitely past the no-camping zone or not.  After careful inspection, we pitched our tent in a spot that had obviously been recently used.  It was close to the water -- but not too close -- and nestled in some short trees.

No sooner had we set up camp when, once again, the thunder and rain arrived.  Once again, we were thankful for our timing and, once again, we dove into our tent to wait out the storm.  The thunder was loud and there were a few flashes of lightning, but, once again, the storm only lasted a half hour or so.  After the storm moved on, the girls and I came out, ate dinner, and enjoyed an amazing sunset before retiring for the evening.

Just before falling asleep, I head a lap-lap-lap sound.  I sat halfway up and listened.  Lap-lap-lap-lap.  "What is that?" Alex asked.  She and Sage were both awake.  I told them I had no idea.  Marmots playing in the water?  Probably not.  People?  No, there were no voices or human sounds.  Alex said the noise sounded like our cats drinking water.  Lap-lap-lap.  She was right.  The girls and I looked at one another with realization dawning.  Cats.  Lapping water.  We're in the Sierras.  Mountain lion territory.  Alex wanted to go out, walk down to the water, and see what this was...if this was a mountain lion, then she wanted to see it.  I told her NO...she is just the right size for a yummy snack, so she wasn't going anywhere.  We lay there and listened to the sound for long minutes.  It went on and on and on, without a break.  Our curiosity grew and grew...if it was a mountain lion, then it sure was thirsty!  Neither the girls nor I were frightened; there isn't one documented case of a mountain lion attacking anyone in a tent, and there are no verified reports of a mountain lion attacking anyone on the John Muir Trail.  I figured as long as we stayed in our tent, we'd be fine.  Eventually, we each drifted off to sleep.  The next day, we'd discover what had made the noise...

The next installation of this journal, "JMT Hiking Day #5: Thousand Island Lake to Reds Meadow Resort.  August 9, 2014," will be posted by late Monday evening.

I'll post my sleeping bag review late tonight, Sept. 21.

Monday, September 15, 2014

JMT Hiking Day #3: Lower Cathedral Lake to Lyell Canyon. Aug. 7, 2014

**11 or 12 miles with minimal elevation gain.

In spite of our best efforts to hasten our routine, it took us two hours and fifteen minutes to break camp.  As I previously wrote, we'd eventually get this time down to an hour and forty-five minutes.

Many of the tents were gone when we made our way past the lake, though we did see the Japanese couple from the train station and two other backpackers.  We waved at the Japanese couple, who recognized us and waved back.  One of the other backpackers asked if we'd like our photo taken.  I thanked him and replied in the affirmative.

By Lower Cathedral Lake

The walk into Tuolumne Meadows wasn't as straightforward as one might hope.  From Lower Cathedral Lake, one hikes about 5.5 miles into the area.  If you follow the JMT proper, as we did, then you won't walk by the post office or the grill (both of which we needed to visit).  If you walk toward Tuolumne and, instead of taking a right and following the trail which roughly parallels the road, you continue straight and take a right ON the road, you will more easily find the post office and the grill.  We followed the trail proper, which had a few intersections, and found ourselves about to walk out of Tuolumne before we realized we had to veer off the path and walk the road a bit in order to pick up our resupply and order some cheeseburgers.

From Cathedral Lake, heading toward Tuolumne Meadows

Entering Tuolumne Meadows
Walking along the trail, as opposed to the road, brings you close to a natural soda springs.  Alex wanted to take the 0.1 mile detour to check it out.

Onward, toward the post office -- and cheeseburgers!

The post office, convenience store, and grill are all in the same building.

The post office fellow -- who was incredibly kind and cheerful, in spite of probably having to say the exact same thing to about a billion thru-hikers every single day -- explained that he distributed the hiker resupply buckets/packages every hour, and that we should relax and hang out until he heard us call our name.  This was fine with us -- the grill beckoned, and the line wasn't long.  We took our place behind a few day hikers and waited to place our orders.

Cheeseburgers and Sierra Mist (a Sprite-like drink) and french fries -- oh my!  It all tasted WONDERFUL.  We'd been living off almonds and trail mix for three days, so this food was ambrosia.

We took a seat on an outside picnic table and fielded questions from tourists/dayhikers.  It was obvious, from our body odor and filthy appearance, that we'd been away from civilization for a few days.  Folks were supportive and impressed with our thru-hiking plans.  We had some nice conversations with various people.  We also recharged our cameras and phones (there's a power strip inside the convenience store).

When our name was called, I approached the post office and listened to the spiel -- recycling goes here, empty buckets go there, and please go through your resupply by the specific tables across the parking lot from the post office.  I took the bucket and the cardboard tube I'd mailed to myself, walked across the parking lot, and joined a few other thru-hikers in the designated area.

My pocketknife and hiking poles were in the cardboard tube.  I'd mailed them so as not to deal with TSA agents confiscating them at the airport.  The resupply bucket was filled with far too much food.  We still had 1/3 of our original food left...there was no way we'd need all the calories I'd sent to myself.  Alex and Sage picked out the things they wanted most (sesame-bran sticks, dried fruit, specific types of flavored almonds, various kinds of M&Ms, electrolyte mixes, granola, Snickers bars, pistachios, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and power bars).  I then gave our leftovers (summer sausage and extra granola) to a fellow who was hovering nearby and hoping for hand-outs.  This young man was "backpacking around the Sierras all summer" and could use any extra food we hikers wished to give him.  That was fine with us -- it was a win-win situation.  He got free food and I got to lighten my pack weight by three pounds.

The girls and I had originally planned to stay in the backpackers' camp, but, once again, it was early in the day (around 2pm) and we didn't feel like stopping.  We therefore agreed to hike another 4-6 miles and camp in the canyon.

Before we took off, I used the restroom and, at the sinks, met a woman named Connie.  Connie introduced herself and asked if we were hiking onward.  When I said yes, she asked if she could camp near us that evening, if we happened to end up in the same vacinity.  I told her of course, and she left the restroom and hiked onward.  We'd catch up with her later.

The girls and I gathered our things, walked out of Tuolumne Meadows, and headed toward Lyell Canyon.

It was a flat trek, so the miles went quickly.

We couldn't search for a place to camp until we were past an avalanche slide, roughly four miles from Tuolumne Meadows.  In the photos below, the girls point at what we think is that slide.

A mile or so later, roughly five miles from Tuolumne Meadows, we decided we'd look for our evening spot.  We were now in the trees, and the sky was looking ominous.  We wanted to get the tent set up before the boomers arrived.

We consulted the guidebook and looked for a certain camping spot.  As we were looking, we caught up with Connie, who was also searching for a place to pitch a tent.  We joined forces and, unfortunately, discovered the guidebook is wrong about a supposed camping spot by  the Ireland Creek junction...that camping site doesn't exist (or it's incredibly well hidden).  We therefore continued up the trail a bit, mindful of the overhead rumbles and increasing cloud cover.

I eventually saw a faint herd path leading off the trail toward the Lyell River.  The girls and I followed it and found a few camping spots within the trees.  We decided to make this our home for the evening.  Connie, however, wanted to see if there was another site farther up the trail.  We said our temporary goodbyes -- the girls and I would see her again the next day.

As the girls and I pondered exactly where to pitch our tent, a couple slowly walked by on the John Muir Trail (we could see the trail from our camping spot).  They looked like they were searching for a place to stay, so I hollered to them.  They came over to check out the area, then asked if it would be okay to camp nearby.  Their names were Melissa and Bobby.

Melissa and Bobby were newlyweds, and their faces glowed with happiness and serenity.  It was truly a pleasure to meet them.  The John Muir Trail was their honeymoon.  They carried a ton of photography equipment; Bobby explained he wanted to document their adventures so they could experience the trail all over again when they were older.  They also had fishing gear and a ton of other miscellaneous items.  They stated they had to move more slowly than they would otherwise because of the weight they were carrying -- each of their packs weighed over 40 pounds.

The thunder was getting louder, so the girls and I got the tent up and safely stored all our belongings.  Then the rain and the hail came, just as it had done the previous evening.  The girls enjoyed watching the small bits of ice bounce off the ground as the storm briefly raged.  The tempest lasted about half an hour, then the clouds moved on and the sky cleared.

Deer came along and wandered around our site just before we turned in for the evening.  I could see Melissa and Bobby sitting together on a log by their tent, watching the wildlife.

Once again, the girls played cards inside the tent until we ran out of daylight.

**JMT Hiking Day 4: Lyell Canyon to Thousand Islands Lake, will be posted by late Thursday evening.

Friday, September 12, 2014

JMT Hiking Day #2: Little Yosemite Valley to Lower Cathedral Lake. Aug. 6, 2014

**About 14 miles with roughly 3600 feet of elevation gain.

We slept well.  Before our trip, I worried I would fret over potential nightly bear visits and therefore rarely sleep a wink.  I had envisioned difficult hours of auditory paranoia -- every sound would be something large and hairy trying to break into our tent.

Thankfully, I experienced absolutely no unnecessary mental anguish.  The sight of that bear submissively turning and walking away at the sound of my yell had dispelled all my worries.  I slept soundly that night, knowing that if a bear did indeed try to come into our tent, a shout and a blow of my air horn would scare it away.

I woke at dawn (around 6am).  I roused the girls, and we proceeded to break camp.  This took much longer than expected.  We put our hiking clothes back on, loaded our backpacks, took down the tent, brushed our teeth, tied our camping shoes (Crocs) to our packs, and ate breakfast.  The entire process took two and a half hours.  We'd eventually get this routine down to one hour and forty-five minutes.

Our hiking clothes were still damp from the washing I'd given them.  Ack.  Lesson learned -- from this day forward, I never washed our hiking clothes (except our underwear, which almost always completely dried overnight).  Wearing dry but stinky clothes is far better than putting on ice-cold, wet clothes first thing in the morning.

By 8:30, we were ready to roll.  We walked out of the campground (leaving the Dartmouth fellows still sleeping in their tents...we wouldn't see them again until Muir Trail Ranch, eleven days later).

After 1.3 miles, we reached the intersection with the trail that leads to Half Dome.  Alex, Sage, and I looked at one another with huge smiles on our faces.  From this point on, we'd really be on the JMT.  Yes, we'd technically been on the JMT all morning, but now, we'd likely meet only other JMT thru-hikers.  At least, that's what we thought at the time.  This turned out not to be all that true, since we were heading toward Tuolumne Meadows.  Tons of people dayhike and do two or three day backpacks from Tuolumne, and we would end up meeting quite a few such folks.  Not that there's anything wrong with dayhikers and three-day backpackers.  Usually, those people are us.  Meeting fellow thru-hikers, however, is something special.  You know you'll likely see them again, and a camaraderie often develops.  That's what we were looking forward to..and we'd eventually get it.

Heading away from Half Dome,
toward Sunrise High Sierra Camp and Cathedral Lakes

We left the Yosemite/Half-Dome crowds behind and continued along the trail.

The tree in the center of the photo below was stripped of most its bark.  The bark was at the base...massive chunks!

There are plenty of intersections between Half Dome and Sunrise High Sierra Camp, but each intersection is well-marked.


The open woods were gorgeous.  Walking through the tall, stately pines felt liberating.

The climb to Sunrise High Sierra camp was surprisingly tough for us.  The path was rarely steep, but we were hiking at 9500+ feet and we weren't yet acclimated to the altitude.  We felt good, but we needed to stop after every few switchbacks to catch our breath and drink water.

We met a nice father-son team on our way up; they were heading in the opposite direction and they let us know we were close to the top of our climb.  Congrats to the son, Thomas, who begins his college career this year at Middlebury College in Vermont.

We also met a young man named Matt -- Matt did the Camino last year, just a couple months after we did.  We enjoyed sharing our memories of Spain.

We reached the top of the switchbacks and were rewarded with this view --

From here, Sunrise High Sierra Camp is only a couple tenths of a mile away.

We reached the Camp, filled our water bottles, and took a food break.  The girls and I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so we broke out our large bag of peanut M&Ms and snacked away.  The bag was demolished in less than five minutes.

We had originally planned on sleeping at Sunrise High Sierra -- it looks like a nice place and the manager, who I ran into while walking to the compost toilet, is charming and nice.  However, it was early in the day and the girls felt strong.  We decided, therefore, to head over Cathedral Pass and sleep next to Upper or Lower Cathedral Lake.

On our way up the pass, we met a friendly, energetic family hiking in the other direction (coming into Sunrise High Sierra).  The man called out, "This must be Trish, Alex, and Sage!"  Then he said his family had read my book.  The encounter was flattering -- it really lifted our spirits.  The man and his wife have three kids, Zack, PJ, and Mia, and each looked like they were hiking strong.  It was truly a pleasure to meet them.  We spoke for a while and the family was so kind!  Our conversation seemed to give us an energy boost; after we said our goodbyes, the girls and I hiked onward with renewed vigor.

Cathedral Pass is minor as far as passes go.  It's isn't all that exposed...still, when the clouds gathered and the thunder began, I became uncomfortable.

View from Cathedral Pass
We hurried over the pass and into the trees.  The thunder came closer and boomed with greater frequency, but, thankfully, we remained on the outskirts of the fury.  The next day, I heard from other hikers that the storm had unleashed most of its drama over Tuolumne Meadows.

Upper Cathedral Lake from the JMT

We reached Upper Cathedral Lake and saw "Restoration Site -- No Camping" signs posted everywhere.  We therefore hiked another mile or so down to the intersection for Lower Cathedral Lake.  There's a half mile trail leading off the JMT toward the lake -- we followed it.  The thunder was now LOUD and I thought the lightning was going to fly in our direction.  There were a few, tiny, sad looking sites where we could technically pitch our tent, but our guidebook said there were tons of great sites close to the lake.  We had reached the end of the trail, but we couldn't see those fabulous sites.  Befuddled, we turned right and walked to the small ledges by Lower Cathedral Lake.

From there, we still couldn't see anything obvious.  The thunder was constant and we were standing on rock, so I hurried the girls around the right side of the lake and into the trees.  There -- a few tenths of a mile from the end of the path, in the trees -- were the campsites.  At least fifteen tents were already set up.  There really are a zillion beautiful sites around that lake -- you just have to walk down the path, take a right to the lake, walk over the ledges, and go into the trees to get there.

We found a flat spot and set up camp just in time.  One minute after we safely stowed our gear, rain and hail came pouring down.

The storm only lasted twenty minutes (by Cathedral Lakes...apparently, the storm lasted for hours over Tuolumne Meadows).  The sun then came out, melted the hailstones, and dried the ground.

Camping by Lower Cathedral Lake
I didn't bother washing our hiking clothes this time.  Instead, I hung them up outside to air out overnight.  This strategy worked well for the rest of our thru-hike.  The night air never eliminated the stink from our clothes, but it did lessen the smell substantially.

The girls played cards until it was too dark to see, then we began our snoozing.

*The next post, Hiking Day #3 - from Lower Cathedral Lake to Lyell Canyon, will be posted by late Sunday evening.

**Gear Review -- Backpacks!  See the Gear page for my reviews on the Gossamer Gear Gorilla and the Gossamer Gear Quicksak.  I used the Gorilla and the girls each used a Quicksak.  In sum -- we LOVED them!  A+