John Muir Trail Journal
September 2-25, 2003

by Julie Kananioka'aina O'Rielly

Julie Kanani O'Rielly:
48 years old, 5'3", 124 lbs. (117 lbs. at end of JMT),
Pack Weight: 37.5 lbs. with 11 days' food, to 24.5 lbs. with 1 day's food remaining. (Base weight consists of: 20 lbs. gear, clothes, etc. + 3.5 lbs. water.)

Rich Apple:
49 years old, 5'7", 148 lbs. (132 lbs. at end of JMT)

Guidebook: Guide to the John Muir Trail, Thomas Winnett and Kathy Morey, Wilderness Press, c1998

Maps: John Muir Trail Map-Pack, Tom Harrison, c2001

Please note: mileage and elevations are approximate and to the best of my knowledge.

"South it is then. I always like going south. Somehow it feels like going downhill." (Treebeard in Lord of the Rings)

"It's a beautiful day. Don't let it get away…" (Bono, U2)

Day 1: 9-2-03, Tuesday
Yosemite Valley/ Happy Isles (4,035' el. / 0 miles)
to Sunrise Camp (9,400' el. / 13.7 miles)
Day's distance: 13.7 miles

Curry Village, Yosemite Valley 5:45 AM Time to get up and get moving! We have breakfast at Curry Village coffee shop. I order an extra large coffee knowing it might be my last for the next 23 days.
Apple is elated to find "milkshakes" on the menu board and requests an "extra chocolatie" milkshake. Alas, he is disappointed to learn that they aren't set up to make milkshakes this early in the day. Deprived of the milkshake, he adds a chocolate chip cookie to his otherwise lo-carb breakfast.

Full of coffee and carbs, we return to our room at Curry Village, organize our packs and I make one last phone call to my husband. We drive to the trailhead parking near Happy Isles and I realize I forgot to ask the ranger for a trailhead parking permit when we got our wilderness permit the day before. We aren't about to go all the way back to the Wilderness Center to retrieve one, so I write down my name, our Wilderness Use Permit ID number, issue date and proposed exit date on a scrap of paper and leave it on the dash board of Apple's car.

The shuttle stop is nearby, so we wait for the next bus to Happy Isles. We figure we'll be doing plenty of walking in the next few weeks, so no need to do any extra. A bus soon arrives. Hooray! But it is completely full! Boo hoo! The bus driver gives us an apologetic shrug and drives on by. Anxious to get going, we start walking, and then a second bus comes along. We flag the bus down, and the driver kindly stops to pick us up, but says not to tell anyone since she really isn't supposed to stop anywhere but at the designated stops. We thank her profusely for bending the rules.

9:30 AM At Happy Isles trailhead for the official beginning of the John Muir Trail! I've trudged up this portion of the JMT to the top of Nevada Falls many times before. This morning, I'm so excited to begin our dream trip (and energized by the coffee?) that I practically fly up the trail. Apple and I are both hopeful to get a solid start on this first day of our long trip.

Just past Little Yosemite Valley near the trail junction for Half Dome, we meet a solo hiker, a young man in his early 20's. This is the last day of his trip. Asking him how many days he's been out, he modestly tells us twenty-three. Upon further questioning, we learn he has hiked the entire JMT starting at Whitney. Wow, we're so impressed. We wonder if there's any chance that we also will complete the entire trail. Seems like a long, long way from here!

After hiking about 9.5 miles from Happy Isles we arrive at the signed Forsyth trail junction (8,150' el.). A colleague friend who just completed the JMT two months ago on a solo trip, said she had found water and a pleasant campsite or two near this junction. Still feeling strong, we decide to move on. If we can manage an additional 5 miles, we'll get to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, which would make for an excellent start to the entire trip.

After the Forsyth trail junction, a steep climb up a set of switchbacks takes some of the wind out of our sails. We both start losing the excited adrenaline rush of earlier in the day, and begin to wonder if we'll get to Sunrise H.S. Camp before nightfall. Reaching the top of the switchbacks, the sun, now low in the sky, colors magnificent billowy clouds in pale shades of pink and orange. Distant lightning and great booming thunder entertain us as we hike on towards Sunrise H.S.C. We are gifted with a gorgeous sunset before the dimming light turns all to shades of gray. In the twilight, we cross a little stream having a tiny desperate tent space but it's too close to the trail for decent camping. As darkness and cold fill the world, we stop to retrieve windbreakers and flashlights from the depths of our packs. When we meticulously packed our gear this morning, neither of us had considered that we might be hiking after dark. The realization hits home that this isn't going to be our typical backpacking trip. An exciting first day! Apple has hiked this section of the trail to Sunrise Camp years ago, but in the opposite direction, and he's beginning to wonder if, in the darkness we possibly missed the turnoff to Sunrise. I say we keep moving since it always feels like one has hiked farther than one actually has…especially in the dark. It's now about 8 PM. I recommend we hike another 30 minutes. If we don't reach Sunrise or find a good place to camp with water ahead, we can always backtrack to the little stream we saw next to the trail.

8:30 PM (dark!) We spy the distant twinkling campfires at Sunrise Camp! (9,400' el.) The campfires are an otherworldly magical and welcome sight! We are greeted by friendly Sunrise campers who marvel at us hiking after dark, and say they've been entertained watching the glow of our headlamps floating down the trail. We find our way past the tent cabins to the far boundary of the backpackers' camp area. Amazingly, in the moonless dark, we discover a nice spot at a respectful distance from other campers. We get our tents set up and finally, at 9:30 PM, we munch our well-earned pita bread and cheese dinner. I take a baby aspirin before going to bed, having read that it helps prevent altitude sickness. Want to be in shape for climbing Whitney (what, 23 days away? and 205 miles farther..if we make it!). I also hope it might help fend off any coffee withdrawal headache. We shall see. I fall asleep as soon as I hit my heavenly 3/4 length Thermarest.


Day 2: 9-3-03, Wednesday, Moon First Quarter
Sunrise: 6:39 AM, Sunset: 7:34 PM
Moonrise 9:40 PM, Moonset 10:27 AM
Sunrise Camp (9,400' el. / 13.7 miles) to Tuolumne Meadows (8,700' el. / 23.9 miles)
Day's distance: 10.2 miles

1:30 AM Raindrops are pitter-pattering on the tent. Groggily I slip into my boots and emerge from the warmth of my cocoon to secure the rainfly. After the excitement and re-settling back into my bag, I begin to ponder if Garcia bear canisters are leak-proof. I don't want to give up the warmth of my bag a second time to check, but think, next time if rain threatens, I'll simply turn the canister upside down. Maybe I should do that every night, just in case. I drift off to sleep imagining the canister becoming a vat of soggy pita bread and granola soup…yummmm!

6:30 AM I hear Apple rustling out of his tent responding to the call of nature, his natural alarm clock. Would love to sleep longer, but we should get moving. Time to hit the trail, Lazy Bones! Burnin' daylight! I'm sure today will be a piece of cake…it's only about 10 miles to Tuolumne Meadows…easy after yesterday's 14-miler from Yosemite Valley to Sunrise Camp! With that pep talk, I get my reluctant ass outta the sack.

A magnificent morning! So gorgeous, it is truly overwhelming. We are so lucky it's so warm this late in the season! No rain leaked into the bear canister last night. My shoulders feel achy but they usually do after the first day of backpacking. I assure myself that the ache is nothing new and to be expected. I feel a couple very minor hot spots on my feet after yesterday's long hike for which I'll consider using moleskin if they get any worse. I haven't used moleskin for years since I discovered that Smartwool mountaineering socks and Bridgedale sock liners work so well. 65ºF and the skies are overcast. As we eat breakfast, it threatens to sprinkle, so we set aside our cold cereal (keeping our eyes open for hungry critters) and pack up the tents. Want to get the tents packed so as not to risk having to carry wet gear. The sun prevails. We feel so lucky!

9:15 AM We both feel great and hit the trail for day two of the JMT!
We meet a woman who thinks she knows me, but then realizes I just look like someone she knows. Her friend agrees that I look like so-and-so. She gets out her map so we all can identify Columbia Finger, Tresidder Peak, and Echo Peaks. She keeps calling me by the other woman's name. Funny. They are on a day hike and ask us where we are headed. Apple tells them we are hiking the entire John Muir Trail to Mt. Whitney. They look at us aghast in disbelief. I reply using a remark Apple had made upon deciding to hike the JMT, "Well, it won't be any easier next year!"

At upper Cathedral Lake we stop for lunch. Beautiful warm weather. I remove my boots and socks and treat me hardies to a cool soak in the lake. They sure do appreciate it! Beautiful clouds and magical lightning dancing in the distance. The rain in the northwest looks like clouds falling sideways. I guess that's exactly what rain is!

Listening to the thunder, Apple muses that it isn't nearly as loud and "crackly" as the day before…The sky immediately responds with a great BOOM and downpour. We laugh in wide-eyed disbelief. Hey, somebody really is listening up there! Thinking the thunderstorm will quickly pass, we hold off using our garbage bag pack covers since they would only seal in the moisture. The rain persists, we decide to stop and put on pack covers and rain jackets, and I take two Advils for my caffeine-starved achy head. A couple hundred yards later we stop again so Apple can put on his rain pants.
To keep our spirits up, Apple begins to chant, "Be at one with the earth, be at one with the sky, be at one with the water…" We laugh, but it is true.

We stop for a while under some trees for protection, hoping that the storm will ease up, but it persists, so we venture on in the soggy downpour.

Trudging along in the mud and rain, getting soaked to the bone and starting to feel vulnerable and foolish, I begin to silently question my reasons for undertaking such a long hike as the JMT. Hearing a noise coming up from behind, I turn to look, with any luck it might be a bear! Apple says, "Here come a couple more idiots!" I just about pee in my pants laughing. I include ourselves, of course, among the "idiots" hiking in this torrential downpour. Apple must have been having the same doubt-filled conversation as I. We aren't the only nature-loving fools out here. I think of the tarot card, The Fool, with his little knapsack, smiling at the sky and about to walk off a cliff. A little dangerous yes, but, ahhh, such freedom!

We meet up again with the woman who thinks she knows me. She and her companion look at us with pity and ask if we have a reservation at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge where there are tent cabins with warm beds and blankets. I tell them we plan on staying at the backpackers' camp in Tuolumne. A rain-soaked Apple looks at me, "Lodge? There's a lodge?" I respond, "Now don't go soft on me, of course we're camping out."

The rain is relentless. After arriving at the junction near Tioga Road and making our turn towards the Tuolumne store and campground, we stop so I can don my rain pants. I now wish I had put them on much earlier when Apple did. My pants and boots are now saturated. Oh well, it is only water. I had been hoping that my extra long home-made rain jacket would be long enough to keep my legs dry, but the rain has soaked my nylon pants and my legs are starting to get chilled. The wet is also creeping uncomfortably close to my cotton panties (the only cotton item I wear). But we aren't far now from the campground. Apple is still asking me about the "lodge" and being so soaked and cold myself, it's starting to sound like a pretty good idea. We arrive at the Tuolumne ranger's station just minutes before their 5 PM closing time. Waiting in line, our backpacks covered with huge black garbage bags, soaking wet inside and outside of our rain gear, we must look like half-drowned hobbits. I'm now thinking I should have let Apple talk me into bringing his slightly heavier but much more durable REI pack covers. There's a man in line ahead of us who is so clean and dry, he's probably either staying in a Winnebago or at the lodge. He asks us where we are going and tells us to "have fun." I know he means well, but at this point, in my cold, water-soaked state, I'm just not in the mood since this isn't what I'd normally call "fun." I'm starting to have serious doubts that we'll be able to complete the John Muir Trail. If this wet weather continues, it will slow us down so much that our time, and more importantly our food (and also very likely my patience) will soon be depleted.

Finally, we reach the head of the line. The very pleasant ranger helpfully gives us the phone number for high sierra lodge reservations. Worrying over the weather forecast, Apple asks the ranger if she has the number for the Mammoth Dweeb report, his favorite weather forecaster for this area, which has a detailed (although sometimes cryptic) weather forecast for the Mammoth area. Apple had the Dweeb number himself, but left it in his car in Yosemite Valley thinking we would no longer need it. The Mammoth area has it's own unique weather pattern and Apple is amazed that the ranger doesn't have this number handy, nor has she ever heard of it. Nor can we find a listing for the Dweeb number in the ranger's phone book. We'll be calling my husband as soon as we get to a pay phone, and I'll see if he can find the number for us.

We leave the ranger's station and find a pay phone only to discover the phones have been knocked out by the lightning storm. I convince Apple that it's really not worth trudging all the way in the rain to the lodge since, in my experience, the high sierra camps are always booked way in advance, and in this weather, if there had been any vacancies, I would bet a day's ration of cheese that other wet campers have already snatched them up. Apple relinquishes and we make our muddy way towards the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. There is a long line of cars waiting at the kiosk to be assigned car campsites, but hell if we are going to stand in line in the rain behind people who are warm and dry sitting in their cars. The friendly ranger at the campground kiosk welcomes us to the head of the line and then directs us to the backpackers' area.

The Backpackers' Campground has always held a magic for me whenever I car-camped at Tuolumne. These people must be on some excitingly long journeys I would think. Backpackers stopping here for a re-supply and just a night or two rest before continuing on the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. And now here we are, Apple and I, braving all elements. There are a quite a few other kindred fools already here. Immediately I feel right at home. We arrive just as it is getting dark and, not being too picky at this point, we take the first empty site we see. There's a huge puddle in the flattest area for tents, so we pitch our tents on a slightly sloped but puddleless area of the site. As we survey the campground, we realize we have a very pleasant and relatively private site located on the outer edge of the backpackers' area. Each site has its own picnic table and a big metal bear box - what luxury! The backpackers' campground is self-serve; you place your money in an envelope and then into a steel box. The backpackers here are quiet and respectful since they are used to being really out there far away from other people and love it that way. I'm so glad we didn't get a tent cabin at the lodge. The pouring rain has turned to just a misty sprinkle. Things are really looking up! We empty our packs into the tents. We store our food and scented items in the metal bear box along with our wet backpacks which we lay on top of our poles to keep them from sitting in any possibly sticky food remnants left by previous campers. With that done, we head back to the well-stocked Tuolumne store to purchase beers for a well-earned treat. I try again to call my husband but the phones are still out. I worry that the phones may remain out and I will have to move on without being able to talk with him. Fortunately, I had warned my husband that there might be telephone problems on the trip. If the phones remain out, he'll at least get a postcard from me in a few days letting him know we made it to Tuolumne Meadows and moved on.

Apple and I have a dinner of bread and cheese from our food supply, and lovely Nut Brown Ales from the store. It has stopped raining and we're starting to see a few stars giving us hope that the weather is clearing. We are pretty exhausted and agree to wait until morning to decide whether to take a layover day in Tuolumne to dry out, or to continue on the trail and maintain our 10 mile per day plan.


Day 3: 9-4-03, Thursday
Tuolumne Meadows (8,700' el. / 23.9 miles) - layover day
Day's distance: 0 miles

We wake up to a few clouds, but no rain. A beautiful day for hiking, but boots, packs, and some of our clothes are still so wet we decide to stay at Tuolumne and dry out. Even some things that I thought were securely protected from the rain in my backpack got wet. I realize I had forgotten to seam-seal my pack liner bag. Oops. From now on, I'll keep my socks, hat, long underwear, etc. inside a plastic garbage bag imbedded in the very center of my pack to ensure they'll remain dry. I begin to wonder how many days the sunshine will shine its glorious face upon us, and how many days we might need to hike in the rain. We acknowledge that we're frittering away a perfectly beautiful hiking day, but nothing is lost since we are enjoying where we are. Nor do I want to risk getting blisters from wet boots. This might be our only chance to completely dry out before encountering more rain. And, I vow to put on the pack cover (i.e. garbage bag) and rain gear early, as soon as the next downpour starts falling in earnest.

We strategically drape our damp clothes and gear in a sunny tree near our site, and angle our boots to take advantage of the sun's heat. Steam rises from our boots as the water evaporates. I also dry out the synthetic cotton balls I had used instead of lambs wool as padding in the heel cup of my North Face Targa trail shoes.

Donning our water mocs, we walk to the ranger station. Hooray, the phones are working and I catch my husband before he leaves for work. He gets on the computer and tells us the weather report and gives us the Mammoth Dweeb weather phone number that we'll call later for an update.

We head to the Tuolumne post office to retrieve our re-supply boxes. We hiked from Yosemite Valley sharing just one canister and had mailed two tightly packed canisters to the Tuolumne Meadows post office. We're going to mail home the extra canister and each carry one of the fully packed canisters. It really helped a lot not having to lug all 11 days' worth of food up from Yosemite Village. Also in the re-supply boxes we have clean underwear, extra plastic bags, nail clippers, post cards and stamps. I find that a couple of the plastic bags are just the right size that, if need be, could be used as boot liners to keep my feet dry in a future downpour. I'll put these at the top of my pack, in my rain gear sack. I make a new improved pack cover out of a jumbo garbage bag from my re-supply box. Amazing how small things can make you so happy when you're on the trail. I'm so grateful to have the new extra large garbage bag, as my old one was already pretty badly torn after only one rainy day. It takes a while to sort out our re-supply and decide what to send back home, which isn't much besides the extra canister and dirty underwear and the nail clippers.

We chat with a young couple camping next to us who have a floorless Shires Tarptent. They really think it's great except for the time that mice crawled on them all night, and another time when frogs clung to the inside of the tent and croaked all night. I'm already thinking of getting a nice ultralight Shires tent for my next trip, but after talking with our neighbors, I'll definitely get one with a floor.

Tuolumne Meadows is perfect for our unplanned layover day. We take a leisurely stroll up Tuolumne River and find a sunny spot to swim. In the afternoon we get veggie burgers from The Grill next to the post office and take them across Tioga Road for a picnic in the meadow. We purchase more beers and cookies at the store to save for an evening treat.

8:30 PM While on the phone talking to my husband, we see a huge light flash in the northern sky to the west of Lembert Dome. Can't figure out what it is. Seems too big for a shooting star. May remain just another cosmic mystery from out here on the trail.


Day 4: 9-5-03, Friday
Tuolumne Meadows (8,700' el. / 23.9 miles)
to Lyell Forks Base Camp (8,900' el. / 32.5 miles)
Day's distance: 8.6 miles

Hear rustling about 4 AM in the Tuolumne Backpackers' camp. I hope it's a bear. I peek out of my tent, and see that it's a camper who has set up camp between sites and is stowing food in our site's bear box. From the look and movement of the slight-framed silhouette, the form appears to be a woman. She couldn't have gotten more than five hours sleep since she wasn't here when we went to bed. She must be on quite the adventure hiking solo after dark, and getting back on the trail before light. I silently wish her well on her journey. Perhaps she's hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!

We arise at 6:30 AM, eat breakfast and start packing up. The weather is holding, there are a few billowy clouds, but no hint of rain. We are so grateful. I call my husband about 8 AM and fortunately catch him before he leaves for work. It is great to talk with him since the next possible telephone (if it's working!) won't be for another 33 miles at Devil's Postpile/Reds Meadow.

Anxious to get back on the trail after taking the unexpected layover day already so early in the trip, I stuff my pack a little too hastily and it shows. Definitely having a "bad pack day." My pack looks like a melting snowman. Apple patiently says he'll be happy to wait so I can re-pack. I reorganize and am glad I take the time to do so as my pack feels much more centered. The weather is perfect and I am so glad we took the day off to dry out. I feel revitalized and optimistic.

9:30 AM We are ready to hike. Looks like we're the last ones to leave camp. Oh well, we'll probably get earlier starts as the trip goes on. As we leave the campground, we stop to chat with a friendly Tuolumne ranger who commends us on our ambitious undertaking.

It's a beautiful hike up Lyell Canyon! Along the trail we meet some elders dayhiking from Tuolumne Meadows. We start referring to them as "The Ancient Ones." We think they are at least 15-20 years older than ourselves, and that is ancient indeed! The ancient woman said that we were "living her dream" to hike the entire JMT. She and her husband had hiked sections of it over the years and we were inspiring her to consider completing the last section they had missed. (Although her husband looked like he might require additional convincing.)

We stop for lunch at a perfect spot just past the Ireland Lake Junction. Apple says this is the most beautiful place he's ever been. There is a small waterfall and comfy places to sit. I take off my boots and soak me hardies. They sure like that! Heel cup of my right shoe isn't troubling me much anymore. The thunderstorm soaking must have stretched out my shoes! In this respect the rainstorm soaking was a blessing in disguise.

3 PM Arrive near Lyell Forks Base Camp (8900' approx.)
Just a half mile or so before the large "base camp" area where the trail crew is camped, we find a nice site on the west side of the trail with a fire ring and large flat areas for pitching tents. We have great views of the Kuna Creek water chute tumbling down the rock face directly across the canyon and can admire Amelia Earhart Peak high above our camp.

Pumping water from Lyell Fork, we have to watch our step as we make our way on the soggy ground where the creek meanders in twists and turns on the canyon floor. We stash the bear canisters a little distance from the tents and I tie my TKO Ursack to the base of a small sturdy tree. Apple jokes about the Ursack as "being designed by bears, for bears…a flimsy food bag left on the ground for easy access." I maintain that it's better than nothing, since there is no way we can stuff 11 days' worth of food, vitamins, toothpaste, lotion, etc. into our canisters. He keeps rolling his eyes and lacks any respect for my Ursack. (Yet he has no hesitation about using it to store his excess scented items.) I maintain a limited, realistic faith in the Ursack. It's made of a material stronger than Kevlar, will at least slow a bear down, and it is rodent proof. But it should never be left completely unattended. We're only using the Ursack temporarily until are able to cram every single scented item into our canisters. Lyell Canyon is infamous for its numerous camp-visiting bears. Both Apple and I truly love bears and we would never want to be a bad influence on them by mismanaging our food and scented items.

Yippeee! There's enough daylight left to gather wood for a small campfire!

Long after dark as we sit by the campfire sipping a bit of Yukon Jack, "The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors," we see the light from a hiker's headlamp bobbing along the trail. A curious sight and we now understand how we ourselves appeared a couple nights ago when we hiked after dark into Sunrise H.S. Camp. The young hiker stops to ask us about campsites in the area. Apple tells him there are likely to be more sites ahead along the west side of the trail. I point out to him the trail crew's campfire light at Lyell Fork's Base Camp near the end of the canyon. The young hiker thanks us kindly and moves on. After he leaves we both feel we should have invited him to camp with us. We start referring to him as "The Young Jesus" whom we turned away in his hour of need. From this time forward I will be sure to invite anyone who is hiking after dark to share our campsite.


Day 5: 9-6-03, Saturday
Lyell Forks Base Camp (8,900' el. / 32.5 miles)
to 1/3 mi. North of Jct. Rush Creek & Waugh Lake Trails (9,800' el. / 39.5 miles)
Day's distance: 7 miles

6:10 AM I hear a voice and immediately jolt awake thinking that it must be Apple alerting me of a bear. But it is only the banter of early hikers already on the trail! Apple says, "What do these people do? Hike past dark, wear their packs to bed then pop up at 5 in the morning to start hiking again?" Even though we wake up each morning by 6:30, we don't seem to be on the trail until about 9:30 AM.

Apple is up and about so I ask him to please check on the Ursack. He finds it untouched. Chilly this morning, but clear! I pull myself from the warmth of my GoLite sleeping "quilt" and emerge to be greeted by a beautiful new day.

I start getting organized and move my bear canister and Ursack to our dining area by the campfire ring. Ready for breakfast, I go to open my canister and find it, what?…unlocked?! In my morning sleepiness, had I already unlatched my canister? I can't remember doing so. I am aghast that I might have been so negligent as to forget to lock my canister the night before. Perhaps I was so concerned about the Ursack that I forgot to double-check my bear canister?! And here in the bear haven of Lyell Canyon of all places! I am so embarrassed that I might have possibly forgotten to lock my canister that I don't mention it to Apple. I do ask Apple that we make it a policy to double-check each other's canisters to ensure they are both locked. I still can't believe I might have left mine unlocked! I guess I am only human, and I have found that humans aren't always very smart, or as smart as they would like to believe. I recall that on a backpack trip to Chilnualna Lake, Apple forgot to lock his canister. I'm beginning to think that this might unfortunately be a somewhat common mistake since, with the lid on, you can't tell whether the canister is locked or not just by glancing at it. Fortunately, no critters tried to investigate the canister last night!

6:45 AM (35ºF) Another beautiful, and so far, rainless (keep our fingers crossed) day! Really looking forward to starting up Donohue Pass. The pass looks formidable from here! We are humbled as we gaze at the glacier near the towering peaks we are to hike. So exciting!

Pumping water from Lyell Creek, I find a deflated helium balloon that was probably released from some festive event many miles away. I doubt people would release balloons if they thought about them eventually falling back to earth to become litter and health hazards to wildlife. I put the balloon and string in my trash bag to pack out.

9:30 AM We are packed up and just about ready to hit the trail. This is a beautiful dreamy place. I honestly physically feel like I am dreaming. I am living my dream. Maybe this is naturally how humans are supposed to feel all the time. I feel so lucky.

12 noon We stop at a tarn just a little below Donohue Pass, have second breakfasts, take a photo, and pump a quart for each of us before fording the outlet and continuing toward the pass. Anticipating that it will be windy as we approach the pass, I use the string from the garbage balloon to tether my hat to a buttonhole of my shirt. Our acquaintance, "The Young Jesus," of the night before, also comes along the trail and stops for water at the stream. We apologize that we neglected to invite him to share our site when he was hiking after dark. But he tells us that it all worked out very well for him. He camped at the main Lyell Forks Base Camp and talked long into the night with the trail crew supervisor and is now considering a job working for the park service. We learn he is from Napa and from then on we refer to him as "Jesus of Napa."

2:50 PM We arrive at Donohue Pass (11,050' el.). Expected it to be windy, but surprisingly there's just a very mild breeze! There is magical music at the top of Donohue Pass. I ask Apple, but he can't hear it. Apple has a look of worried concern…is he thinking I am losing my mind so early in the trip? Maybe it's the wind blowing through the mountains that I hear. Whatever it is, it is unlike anything I have ever heard before. This feels like the perfect place to cast a prayer for my friend, Stan, who also knows and loves the magic of the mountains. I humbly ask the musical wind to carry my wishes into The Power to give them energy and make them real.

We stop for a very pleasant lunch and ooooo and awwww at the magnificent views of the White Mountains, June Mountain, and Banner Peak. There's a sign at the top of the pass that says we're now leaving Yosemite National Park and entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It's exciting to be leaving Yosemite Park as it's always been my familiar home away from home, and now I'll be hiking an area entirely new to me. My guidebook says that this part of the JMT, from the top of Donohue Pass to Island Pass, is the only section that is east of the crest.

Both Apple and I have sore shoulders today as we are each still carrying over 12 lbs. of food from our Tuolumne re-supply. Glad we didn't carry it all the way from the Yosemite Valley floor!

When we arrive at the Rush Creek ford at the Marie Lakes junction, Apple finds a narrow place just south of the established crossing where he is able to leap across the rushing creek without removing his pack or boots. I fear I won't be able to make the jump with my shorter legs. Rather than taking the time for me to remove my boots and pick my way across the creek in my water mocs, Apple insists on jumping back across the raging creek to carry my pack across for me. I worry about him slipping, but he says he'd never take any chances he wasn't sure of. What a nice guy! Without the pack weight to hold me down, I easily make the leap across the creek.

6 PM 60ºF, (approx. 10,000' el.)
We make a stealth camp about 1/3 mile before the Waugh Lake Trail junction. Our camp is secluded up a shelf to the west of the trail. There's a beautiful creeklet with a small waterfall where we can conveniently get water and rinse off. So very pretty in this elfin glen!


Day 6: 9-7-03, Sunday
1/3 mi. North of Jct. Rush Creek & Waugh Lake Trails (9,800' el. / 39.5 miles)
to Rosalie Lake (9,350' el. / 50.2 miles)
Day's distance: 10.7 miles

6:30 AM The day greets us with a beautiful sunrise sky dotted with a few non-threatening pink clouds. Clear, dry, and a warm 50ºF inside my tent. Happy to find that my freshly laundered (well, rinsed out, anyway) cotton undies successfully dried overnight hanging on the friendly nearby tree. And today I get a brand clean handkerchief since it's day 6! How lucky can a camper girl be?! I put on my cleanest dirty socks and look forward to hiking over Island Pass.

Beautiful day, the skies are clear and the air is dry. I remain wary since there's always the possibility of a sudden rainstorm.
But right now the sun is shining his glorious face upon us, so we're both applying lots of sunblock. We feel so very lucky with the weather today!

As we break camp Apple sings his favorite Captain Beefheart tunes. Perhaps it annoys me because I don't know the lyrics and can't sing along. Or perhaps I am just truly not a Beefheart fan.

Uh oh, Apple fears he has lost his precious blue Patagonia expedition weight socks. He suspects they may have gotten jumbled into my gear when we were drying everything at Tuolumne Meadows. I carefully search my gear, but don't find them. Now, sadly, he thinks he probably left them on the picnic table bench at our Tuolumne campsite when he was loading his pack. Fortunately, he has two other pairs of thick wool socks. He sadly laments the loss of his soft and fluffy clean blue socks since he reserves them to wear as a treat at night to keep his tootsies warm. Oh, dear, well, I think we'll manage somehow. ;-) And, anyway, Apple should feel liberated! To poorly paraphrase (pooraphrase?) Bob Dylan, "When you've got no blue socks, you've got not blue socks to lose."

9:30 AM, 73ºF
All packed up for our usual 9:30 AM start. So nice and warm today! I have my pack on and am sitting on a friendly log. Apple said he was just going to the creek to quickly rinse the dirt from his hands after rolling up his tent. But now I see he's at the water's edge taking more photos. Apple takes some great photographs so I won't nag him about dawdling. He has the talent to focus in on stunning details, and to capture beautiful memories of the wonders we meet in our travels. After we return home, his photos are able to jog my memory for places I might have otherwise forgotten. And I must admit, he has been using great restraint (for him), limiting his photography time, so we can maintain our hiking schedule.

I still can't believe we are really hiking the John Muir Trail with our goal being Mt. Whitney so many miles away! I keep telling myself, "Free your mind and your ass will follow!" These words from a Funkadelic song seem so literally appropriate out here on the trail!

Island Pass is a very gradual climb, it's quite a pleasant stroll. Thousand Island Lake is so beautiful. I am realizing that there aren't enough words in my vocabulary to describe "beautiful" . . . will have to work on that!

12 noon, 65ºF
We pause just south of Thousand Island Lake (9,833' el.) for second breakfasts. It's a pleasant 65ºF, and getting windy so we leash our hats, mine to the top buttonhole in my shirt, Apple's to the tag on the back of his shirt.

Very windy going over the precariously narrow log bridge crossing the outlet of Garnet Lake!! It's a long way down with madly rushing water far below. Wouldn't want to take a tumble here! Leaning into the wind, we take turns inching our way across the bridge. Love having the hiking sticks to keep balance for things like this! There is a place a little farther down the creek where we could have made a wet crossing if we hadn't thought the log bridge safe. Always good to have options!

2:45 PM, (approx. 10,000' el.)
We are at the top of a ridge between Garnet and Shadow Lakes. Something GOOD is kicking in today! Tuning in to different body parts that I haven't focused on in a long time. Hello left hip, hello twinge in my back. Getting the chi moving to new places, working out the kinks. I feel great!
Apple and I have worked out a way to equitably share the weight of the items we both use. I carry extra water since I have accessible outer pockets on my Wild Things AT pack, and Apple carries the water filter stowed in his zippered pocket of his GoLite Gust pack. We push ourselves up the switchbacks from Shadow Lake (a very steep 656' climb) to Rosalie Lake. To keep us going, we sing a Brian Eno song, "Rosalie, I've been waiting all evening, Possibly years I don't know, Counting the passing hours, Everything merges with the night…Rosalie, We've been talking all summer, Picking the straw from our clothes, See how the breeze has softened, Everything pauses in the night."

5:45 PM We drop back down the other side of the lake ridge and arrive at Rosalie Lake (9,350' el.) just before the sun leaves her eastern shore. We hastily remove the food canisters from our packs to get things bear safe and run to the still sunlit east side of the lake. We meet a father and son camping on the northeast corner of the lake and feel rude for running off without much conversation. We so want to catch the last of the sun's warmth for a quick rinse in the lake. Surprisingly, the water is not too freezing cold, but it is still a bit windy. We are so grateful for the tiny spot we've found lit by the final rays of the day's sunshine keeping us warm (well, warm-ish) as we dry off from our quick dip in the lake. We both rinse out our nylon hiking shirts and pants. Boy did they need it! I also rinse out my sockliners and undies.

After setting up camp, we have cheese and pita bread for dinner in the dark. Mice! We can feel them scampering over the tops of our water mocs that we wear around camp. I hope they find a few yummy cheese crumbs. Boy are they quick! They scatter from the flash of our headlamps, and the stomping of our feet. They must live under the big boulder near our dinner area. That's where I would live if I were a mouse at Rosalie Lake… it will be good protection during the snowy wintertime not too long from now. I re-sing the Brian Eno song in a mouse voice. "Ro-o-sa-lie, I've been waiting all evening…" Apple joins in, also in a mouse voice and we are both extremely amused with the new mouse rendition. So appropriate here at Rosalie Lake. Sure is good to laugh at the end of the day.

9:30 PM We turn in for the night. The wind is getting stronger.

12 Midnight The howling wind wakes me up. A fine dust is blowing through the netting and into the tent. I get up to remove the laundry from the line before it is blown to Never-Never-Land. Clothes sure dry quickly in the wind! Apple is also up closing his tent windows and securing his laundry.


Day 7: 9-8-03, Monday
Rosalie Lake (9,350' el. / 50.2 miles)
to Devil's Postpile/Red's Meadow (7,600' el. / 57.3 miles)
Day's distance: 7.1 miles

6:30 AM Wake up.
7:45 AM 49ºF
Wind has died down. Another beautiful day!
9:15 AM An early start today (ha ha). Well, early for us, fifteen minutes earlier than normal!
Near Johnston meadow, we meet Reinhold Metzger hiking the JMT south to north attempting to complete the entire JMT in under 5 1/2 days. At first we think he is nuts, but he is very physically fit, so maybe he'll make it. He's almost completely out of water so I give him some of mine. He generously offers us some of his peanuts which we decline knowing his supplies are few and he will need them.

3 PM (approx.) Arrive at Devil's Postpile
(7,550' el.). We hike past the fascinating geological sculpture of Devil's Postpile, and arriving at Reds Meadow Resort (7,600' el.), I call my husband from one of their two pay phones. It is so good to hear his voice! It's been three days and many miles since the last time I phoned him from Tuolumne Meadows. It's beginning to dawn on me just how long this trip is. He relays the sad news that one of our favorite musician/songwriters, Warren Zevon, died yesterday. We now ponder the dream that Apple had Saturday night about Zevon's passing. We had known that Zevon wouldn't be of this world much longer, but it is coincidental that Apple dreamed about attending Zevon's funeral the night before he died.

The restroom at Reds Meadow offers not just any old soap, but powdered Boraxo soap! Unbelievable how much dirt washes off my hands. I had actually believed some of it was suntan, but down the drain it goes! I inform Apple that my tan has washed off!
At the Reds Meadow Café, Apple and I both have veggie burgers. They aren't on the menu, but Apple asks if they might be available, and the chef gladly prepares them as he sings along to the Rasta music playing over the speakers. The chef apologizes that he is out of lettuce and gives us extra tomatoes and lots of chips instead. Not cheap but very yummy! We figure at this point we deserve a little treat.

Before the day is done we hope to reach Upper Crater Meadow which is about 4 miles to the south. After our leisurely and yummy luncheon, we get a rather late start about 4 PM. It will probably take us about two hours to reach Upper Crater and it could very well be dark before we arrive. Oh well, won't be the first time we hike in the dark. The Reds Meadow staff tells us that we can hook up with the trail closer to the café and store than where we had arrived via the stables. But don't believe it! We took their advice and too late we found ourselves at the junction of the trails to Fish Creek and Rainbow Falls! We should have gotten suspicious when we started going downhill, as to a creek gully, rather than heading uphill as we should have to higher meadows. We retrace our steps and plod back up the trail towards the resort. By the time we find the correct trail junction for the JMT, its already 6:30 PM. We could continue on towards Upper Crater Meadows but we would not only be hiking in the dark, but hiking exhausted in the dark. So we agree to return to the Reds Meadow store and inquire about the nearby campground or other accommodations.

We are in luck! At Reds Meadow they have a room available with a hot shower for $70. Well worth it! We decide to stay at Reds Meadow, take hot showers, get a good night's sleep and regroup in the morning. We soon forget our frustrating experience after quaffing a couple beers from the little store. No shampoo in the bathroom so we inquire at the store. The cashier says they have shampoo for sale, but it would be a waste to buy a whole bottle. She takes us to the back room and lets us go through a collection of supplies left by packers who wanted to lighten their loads. Yippee, we find some Dr. Bronner's soap with about a half inch remaining left in the bottle. Just enough for us, especially after we dilute it with a couple inches of water. We also purchase postcards, and Apple gets some cookies. Unfortunately they don't sell stamps, but I still have one left in my pack from Tuolumne Meadows.

I make a second phone call to O'Rielly, my husband, to let him know we've had a change of plans and are staying at Reds Meadow for the night. I don't want him to think we are dummies and got lost, so I emphasize how numerous the trail junctions are around Reds Meadow, and we got "off-track" rather than "lost." He agrees it is the wise thing to do as it is getting late in the day and we'll be able to get a fresh start in the morning.

The hot shower is heavenly! I also actually wash with soap (what a treat!) Using barsoap, I wash out my shirt, socks and a pair of undies. We plan to get to sleep early tonight and arise at the crack of dawn to hit the trail.


Day 8: 9-9-03, Tuesday
Devil's Postpile/Red's Meadow (7,600' el. / 57.3 miles)
to Duck Creek (10,100' el. / 68.3 miles)
Day's distance: 11 JMT miles

Feeling greatly refreshed after a good night's sleep. We have breakfast at the café. Both the store and café are open 7 AM to 7 PM. On the walls of the café they have photos of some of their more famous visitors, Tom Hanks, Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter… Nice to see photos of some of their favorite horses too, giving them a place of honor on their café walls. We enjoy a wonderful breakfast. I really catch a buzz from the coffee after being caffeine-free since Yosemite Valley.

At 8 AM I phone O'Rielly and am so happy to catch him at home before he leaves for work! This is my last chance to talk with him until we arrive (if we arrive) at Whitney Portal! He says all is fine at home and the cats are both well, although my sweet cat, Kahsha, misses me a lot. She's been sleeping on the couch where I had arranged my pack gear. And she's been spending a lot of time sitting on the sill looking out the window just above the couch. I told O'Rielly to give her a gentle hug for me and tell her I miss her and I will come back but it will be a while more. Very difficult to hang up. I will miss hearing my husband's sweet voice. But, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, and this girl feels so fortunate to have such a supportive husband, and be able to fulfill her dream of hiking the JMT!

9 AM Apple and I are packed up and feel optimistic about making some miles today after the luxurious R & R. We're not getting the super-early start we had planned, but that doesn't surprise us. Starting out from the resort, we make the unfortunate mistake of following a cute hand-painted "Muir Trail" sign made by the resort, rather that searching out the official PCT/JMT trail sign and picking up at the stables where we had originally entered the resort. We start climbing up switchbacks which seems right, but eventually we both feel we are heading too much east and too little south. We continue since we are hiking through a burned-out area which jives with the guide book description. Any wooden trail signs that had ever been posted here would have been burned to ashes in the forest fire and not replaced as of yet. Still in the burned out zone, we arrive at an unsigned trail junction. The spur trail leads south (the way we feel we should be headed) but there is a big log across the trail discouraging its use, so we decide to continue on up the open trail. I begin to notice the lack of boot prints on the trail which seems odd for the normally well-trodden JMT. There are quite a few horse hoof prints, implying that this is mainly a pack trail from the Reds Meadow stables. Hmmmm, we both start feeling that we have once again somehow gotten off-track from the JMT. We look longingly at the Red Cones off in the distance, knowing we should be approaching them if we are headed in the right direction. The Red Cones to our south-west are getting smaller and smaller and soon become completely out of view.

We entertain serious doubts but decide to continue up the trail and cling to the slim hope that we might still be on course, or hopefully not too far off course. Neither of us wants to backtrack downhill and lose all the elevation we have gained. Apple says he will really be pissed off if we find ourselves on top of Mammoth Pass. I recommend continuing forward until we find a sign post to confirm our location. Right now I am so very glad I'm not hiking alone. If I am going to get lost, I really don't want to do it alone! I get a panicky feeling when I am lost, and this little sidetrip wouldn't be too jolly if I were alone. I tell Apple that I couldn't do this trip without him and he replies he wouldn't do this trip without me.

We meet two elderly (well older than us) gentlemen coming towards us on the trail. Boy, are they a welcome sight, the first hikers we've seen all day! They are on a day hike from Mammoth Lake and tell us that we are indeed approaching Mammoth Pass! (9,380' el.) On their Mammoth area map they show us where they recall seeing an unsigned trail that leaves McLeod Lake and would most likely lead us back to the JMT without having to backtrack towards Devil's Postpile (which Apple and I have now renamed "Devil's Triangle"). Most grateful for the hikers' help we continue on and soon arrive at the official trail sign for Horseshoe and McLeod lakes. Apple is not pissed off after all, but actually has a very "oh, well, on we go" hobbit-esque attitude. We share the blame for getting off the JMT and keep apologizing to each other. And anyway, who cares if we are a little off course and are taking an unplanned detour? It's not like we're trying to win a race or anything.

Noon (approx.) McLeod Lake - No, this isn't on the John Muir Trail. But it is a very pretty lake! Windy here! I think of my sister in-law who kept her maiden name of McLeod. Apple takes a photo of the lake. I'm a little anxious to find our way back to the JMT and not so much in the mood to take photos myself, so I'm glad Apple is taking one that I'll be able to share with my sister-in-law. We chat with an elderly couple at the lake who are on a day hike from Mammoth. They share their map of the Mammoth region and confirm there is a trail leaving the west side of the lake. On their map it is a faint dotted line leading towards Upper Crater Meadow. Apple chats for a while with the man about his camera which is similar to the camera Apple has always taken backpacking in the past, but for our JMT trip Apple purchased a new lighter weight, more compact digital camera.

We find the unmarked trail and although it is unsigned, it does have reassuring blue diamond metal markers high up on the tree trunks every few hundred feet or so.. the type of markers for cross-country ski trails.

Okay, now we're getting back on track. I keep using the line from the Big Lebowski, "Nothing's fucked here, dude." And indeed nothing is. We are in the magnificent wilderness, we have plenty of food, and the weather is great! We are very lucky indeed to be anywhere at all out here! We aren't lost at all, we're just someplace we hadn't planned on being. I find I do get panicky when I'm feeling lost, so this new philosophy is extremely comforting. I file it away, knowing it will calm me in the future whenever I'm feeling lost.

I kiss the PCT (/JMT) sign when we finally arrive at the trail junction. It's all good!

My eyes are wide open today, experiencing a new awareness of my surroundings. Maybe it's because of our little sidetrip off the JMT. I now know I really need to be aware of all the signs, not just depend on a wooden sign someone has posted, but look at where I am and depend more on myself and my instincts and my own map and compass!

Would love to see a bear. I scan the woods constantly in the hopes of meeting one.

When we arrive at Upper Crater Meadows (8,920' el.), I am so happy I take off my pack, roll onto my back and shake my feet up in the air. Feels good, and I am very happy we've resumed progress on the JMT. I pump water here and Apple takes photos.

3 PM We have lunch on a trailside log just south of Deer Creek. The guidebook and fellow hikers have warned us that there is no water between here and Duck Creek, 6 miles farther, so we top off our bottles.

6:30 PM We arrive at Duck Creek (9,945' el.) where there is already a group of hikers setting up camp. Someone calls "Mr. Apple" in a German accent. It is an elderly gentleman we had chatted with at the Red's Meadow store. He's part of a group of ten backpackers all camping at Duck Creek. He tells us that their trip leader had said there is good camping just a ways downstream. Having looked upstream where we found the ground to be too damp and fragile, we take his helpful advice and find a good spot to camp on the southside of the creek downstream from the crossing. There is good creek access and it's nicely secluded from The Group of Ten. No one else is camping here besides us and The Group of Ten. This is uniquely fortunate since, at other times of the year, popular Duck Creek can be very crowded.

We calculate we hiked about 14.5 miles today including our little sidetrip to the top of Mammoth Pass!

Full moon tonight! The moonlight reflecting on the rocky canyon wall across the creek from our camp looks so much like snow, we can hardly believe it isn't. We are tempted to go touch it to see if it might be.


Day 9: 9-10-03, Wednesday, Full Moon
Sunrise 6:45 AM, Sunset 7:32 PM
Moonrise 7:51 PM, Moonset 6:36 AM
Duck Creek (10,100' el. / 68.3 miles) to Silver Pass Lake (10,350' el. / 80.5 miles)
Day's distance: 12.2 miles

Awake at 6:20 AM
7:15 AM, 32ºF
The water bottles in our chilly creek canyon campsite have iced up overnight! Joyously, it is a beautiful clear day! We talk with a young hiker from The Group of Ten who is from Scotts Valley, not far from where we live. Nice to talk with someone from our home county of Santa Cruz. He has only enough time off from his job to hike the JMT as far as Piute Creek and then must leave the trail to return home. He talks tents with Apple. A hiker in their group has a Warmlite tent like Apple's, but to save weight, didn't bring stakes and at each new camp has the time-consuming chore finding the appropriate rocks to stake out his tent.

10 AM 39ºF
We hit the trail. Our latest start yet. Oh, well, who cares! Beautiful sunny blue sky. We should probably get an earlier start, but hey, we want to appreciate where we are, not feel pressured by an irrelevant schedule. Things happen in their own time for a reason. We have hiked about 70 miles so far, and are really happy with our progress and good luck. This is much farther than either of us has ever hiked before in a single backpacking trip.

11:45 AM We arrive at Purple Lake (9,928' el.). Apple toddles off to take photos. I sit in the shade and take a couple photos from where I sit. A hummingbird is sampling flowers nearby. Almost noon and it's really quite warm and sunny. Don't want to get burned so I remain in the diminutive shade of the shrubby lakeside growth.

1:55 PM Lake Virginia (10,338' el.). Very sunny, hungry but we keep hiking in hopes of finding a good shady spot. The trees are sparse and stunted at this altitude, but we finally find a lovely shaded area on the east side of the lake near the trail and have lunch.

After a pleasant lunch, we head down, down, down into Tully Hole (9,500' el.) and back up and out of Tully to climb up, up, up to Silver Pass. We are pretty used to the ups and downs of the trail at this point. Ridiculously obvious, hey, you're in the mountains, you go up one side of the mountain, and down the other side, up the next mountain and down the other side. I sing "the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see…"

We pause to chat with The Group of Ten next to the creek before Squaw Lake where they are making camp for the night. Seeking solitude for ourselves we push onward towards Silver Pass.

6 PM We arrive at Silver Pass summit (10,880' el.).
Magnificent views from the pass. We can see the mountains far off in the distance where we are headed and also a long way to the north from where we came.

6:50 PM We arrive at Silver Pass Lake (10,400' el.). We are so lucky to find the lake to ourselves. There is very little camping at Silver Pass Lake where one won't harm the delicate alpine lake edge. In this fragile 10,400 foot environment we see only one non-destructive campsite, atop a sandy rocky hill. (The area reminds us a little of camping in the magical Lost Canyon of Mineral King.) Our site is located on top of the rocky knoll between the lake and the trail. There are some great sitting rocks for dining and even a couple short trees. Yippee, there's still time to set up camp before it the sun goes down!

As the bright full moon rises this evening, it lights up everything with a fairytale glow. No need at all for a flashlight. Everything looks so magical in the moonlight, especially with all the sparkly reflective granite. It's an added blessing to be able to conserve our batteries. Since we've been eating after dark so often, we're using our flashlights a lot more than on any previous backpacking trips.


Day 10: 9-11-03, Thursday
Silver Pass Lake (10,400' el. / 80.5 miles)
to southside Bear Ridge (9,900' el. / 94 miles)
Day's distance: 13.5 miles

Awake at 6:30 AM
We both agree that Silver Pass Lake is the most beautiful and magical site so far. We both really love the stark high alpine landscape. The bear canisters free us from the worry of finding a tree to hang food. By the look of the twisted stunted trees, it's obvious that this exposed high altitude area must be frequented by strong winds. But lucky us, there is only a gentle breeze during our stay here.

Must say we're pretty proud of ourselves having made it over Silver Pass at the end of the day yesterday. We would prefer to get an earlier start before hiking over a pass, but sometimes it just can't be helped. Apple keeps saying, "We're rad!" But I correct him and say, "Our hardies (i.e. feet) are rad!" My advice to one and all? Be good to your hardies, maties, and they will carry you far and wide!

The sky is clear and blue this morning. What a great camp! It wasn't too cold last night, didn't wake up chilly at all. There are woodpeckers, chickadees, and we hear some birds cooing in the nearby trees that we're unable to identify by sight, but they sound like doves. This morning we'll attempt to beat yesterday's 10 AM departure time. It will be difficult to leave this very beautiful magical place.

I picked up some trash, duct tape and a Band-Aid, and stowed it in my garbage baggie. It is the least I can do to honor these beautiful places by carrying out some of the debris of "civilization." Thank goddess (or the power of your choice) for all this beauty. I will never understand why humans gave up all this beauty for the lifestyles we live that have paved over so much. I suppose we made a gradual decline into "civilization."

Apple keeps saying this place is "cougat," a word from the Woody Allen movie, "Sleeper," meaning "extraordinarily wonderful."

11:50 AM Fortunately we have no problem at all with the ford of Silver Pass Creek which is described in the guidebook as a "possibly fatal crossing." This time of year the water is so low, it's a beautiful cascade rather than a raging waterfall. We still take great care not to slip at the crossing since it's on a steep hillside and a long way down.

I've started using Eucerin lotion on my hands, especially my finger tips, which are becoming a little dry and cracked in the dry high altitude air. That lotion really helps a lot. I bring about 1/2 oz. in a tiny container and, if I'm frugal, it can last 15 days or more.

Apple hasn't been worrying about the osteo-arthritis in his hip for the past couple days. I showed him some warm-up movements to loosen his hip joint before hiking which he tried a few times, I think just to humor me. He says his current regime to get his ol' bones moving for the day is to "pound his body into submission" from the get-go in the morning, no stretches or anything. Never knew Apple was such a masochist. Perhaps it's more of a self-flagellation deal. Well, whatever he's doing it seems to be working. Maybe we baby our bodies too much, what they really want is simply to move.

I sure love it out here…. no telephone lines, none of the background electric buzz that we are subjected to day and night at home. At home we are "victims of comfort" as the blues singer Keb' Mo' says.

12:05 PM We just crossed North Fork Mono Creek (8,940' el.), the second water crossing noted in the guide as "wretched" and "possibly fatal." The water goddesses are smiling on us today as the water is low and beautiful and easy to cross, stepping carefully on the exposed rocks. Pretty cascades here. This really is a great time of year to be hiking when the water is down, yet still plentiful. We stop for second breakfasts and admire the beautiful flowing water.

The Group of Ten soon arrives and we watch them make their way across the creek. One or two gets a wet boot from stepping on a wobbly rock. They stop for lunch a little ways down the trail and we learn they are going to camp at Quail Meadows near the junction to Lake Edison/Vermilion Valley Resort. Seeking seclusion for ourselves, this gives us the necessary incentive to push on up the infamous Bear Ridge switchbacks.

There are some wonderfully rounded rocky outcroppings along the trail through Pocket Meadow. I point out one section to Apple saying it looks like Big Rock Candy Mountain. He quips, "Let's just hope one of those jawbreakers doesn't come loose!"

Climbing the Bear Ridge switchbacks, we stop for a much needed rest and to replenish our LifeSavers which we suck for steep climbs. From our vantage point, as we climb higher and higher, Apple notices Graveyard Peak in the far distance to the north. Graveyard Lakes was our first backpack trip together when no one else could get the time off work, or just plain didn't want to go. That was a 5 day/18 mile round trip. At the time, I thought that was a big hike!

Bear Ridge is a bear of a climb. Don't see any bears, but we call to them. "Here bear, bear, bear. Here bear, bear, bear." But alas, no bears reveal themselves. I like to think that the bears are around us, but wisely maintain their distance from human beings.

6:15 PM We make it up and over Bear Ridge. I spot a campsite on a shelf on the southside of the trail just past a little stream where we can get water. Great views from here. We're sitting on the southside of Bear Ridge looking into the panorama of our future. After hiking up and over Bear Ridge, I was really ready to stop, and glad we did. This is such a great camp and it seems we have the entire mountain all to ourselves. After setting up camp, we rinse off in the little stream. We'll be eating dinner in the dark again tonight. Sure like my Petzl Tikka headlamp. Apple's Petzl Tikka is starting to flicker and is giving off a strobe effect which annoys him…possibly something to do with a small crack he's noticed in the casing.

Yesterday a hot spot developed from a niggling sock liner nubbin rubbing the side of my right big toe. So this morning I applied moleskin for the first time on the JMT. Thought it best before hiking up the somewhat gnarly Bear Ridge. Really glad I did, as now the hot spot has disappeared. Better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to me hardies!

Day 11: 9-12-03, Friday
Southside Bear Ridge (9,900' el. / 94 miles)
to Sallie Keyes Lakes (10,200' el. / 103 miles)
Day's distance: 9 miles

Beautiful sunrise from our southside Bear Ridge camp. Took a photo of the big moon in the beautiful blue morning sky. We want to get an early (for us) start this morning to get some distance from The Group of Ten. No offense, they are pleasant and quiet enough, but it's just that there's so many of them! It is difficult to pass such a large group if you want to get by on the trail. And camping, there isn't much privacy with so many people nearby.

Notice little froggies jumping around camp this morning. Hope we didn't step on any in the dark last night and they were all tucked away in their froggie burrows after the sun went down.

Sunny clear blue skies this morning. Perhaps we'll make it over Selden Pass before the end of the day!

9:10 AM 60ºF
On the trail-early for us!
10:10 AM
Seeing ants now and again cross the trail as I'm hiking along. I walk carefully so they can continue their ant lives in this beautiful place.
At the Bear Creek Trail Junction (8,960' el.) Apple can't stand it any longer. He has to stop for a photo break. I can't blame him for stopping; it is a magical beautiful rushing creek. Sign says 7 miles to Selden Pass.

12:15 PM We are just past the junction to Seven Gables. I remove my boots for the ford across upper Bear Creek. Feels great to cool off me hardies, and always glad to have the insurance of not slipping, twisting an ankle, or inadvertently soaking my boots and socks. After crossing the creek we find a little shade and stop for second breakfasts as I dry my feet sitting on the beautiful banks of Bear Creek.

We continue hiking towards Selden Pass and the trail wanders away from the creek. Our bottles are almost dry and we now wish we had filled them back at the Bear Creek ford.

The previously intermittent rattle of one of my Leki hiking poles has now become a consistent rattle every time it touches the ground. It's starting to really drive me nuts. (And that's a short drive.) Using an Eagle's song, I change the words slightly and sing "Don't let the sound of your own poles, drive you crazy…" We stop and Apple takes my noisy pole apart and compares it with his own. We see there is a gap, where there should be none, between the locking mechanism and the main shaft of the lower section of the pole. I use a piece of the string, from the balloon trash I found in Lyell Canyon, wrapping and wedging it into the gap creating a make-shift washer to tighten the pole. Happily, this does the trick!

The trail veers away from the creek for awhile making it difficult, and possibly dangerous, to attain water access. It's getting hot and the trail is starting to go up, up, up. We begin to wonder whether we are on the right trail since it seems to be gaining elevation too soon for a Selden Pass approach. We ration our water and just take occasional small sips. Fortunately, before we run completely dry, Apple spots a creek access where we can filter water. Ahh, lovely water. Why did we wait so long? There is always the debate whether to carry the weight, or go a while with less, in the hope that there will be accessible water another mile or two down the trail.

We stop briefly to admire spectacular Marie Lake, a very exposed high mountain lake. It's hot today and the sun is baking down on us. As we head up the switchbacks to Selden Pass, it's mesmerizing and unreal looking back on beautiful Marie.

We reach the top of Selden Pass (10,870' el.) and then head down the sweet magical canyon caressing Heart Lake. The amazing Sallie Keyes Lakes (10,200' el.) soon come into view. We follow the trail over the unique isthmus between the two lakes, and pass the place where Apple camped on a trip years ago with friends, Tim and Yolanda on the southern shore of the eastern Sallie Keyes. We head for the still sunny southeastern shore of the lake.

It's only 4:30 PM when we make our camp at a lovely site with plenty of tent space on the southeastern shore. We are so grateful to arrive while it's still sunny and warm and take a refreshing and much needed dip in the lake. There's time to rinse out socks, undies, pants, and shirt. We tie a rope in a still sunny spot between two helpful little trees and hang our garments to dry. A little bit of a breeze has come up which will speed the drying process. We see some people (The Group of Ten?) who appear to be camping or maybe just stopping for a rest at some sites on the isthmus. But, lucky us, we have the eastern lake all to ourselves!


Day 12: 9-13-03, Saturday
Sallie Keyes Lakes (10,200' el. / 103 miles)
to Muir Trail Ranch/Blayney Meadows Camp (7,790' el. / 106.4 JMT miles)
Day's distance: 3.4 JMT miles

Slept in until 8:15 AM!! at lovely Sallie Keyes. Had a dream that some of my co-workers and I at the library were being transferred to work at the "Cowgirl Saloon." We were going to have to wear cowgirl outfits with knee length fringed skirts, cowboy hats, and toy pistols. Then I had a dream where Apple and I were hiking the JMT and went right by the house of our friends, Stepho and Dr. Barry. We reluctantly hiked right on by feeling the need to keep moving…

Apple has been up for a while. His internal alarm woke him at 6 AM.
He keeps laughing like Curly Joe of the Three Stooges ("nya nya nya").

Really looking forward to our re-supply boxes (actually buckets) at Muir Trail Ranch! Clean shirt and underwear! Oh, yeah, and more FOOD!! Did a good job with the first 12 days of food. Taking inventory, I have today's ration plus four trail bars (Outdoor Balance & Luna bars) remaining. The trail bars would have been my emergency food if we had run into rainy weather or had an injury causing an unscheduled layover day or two.

It's a mostly downhill trundle from Sallie Keyes to Muir Trail Ranch. And yippee our buckets have arrived safe and sound. The people at the Muir Trail Ranch are very helpful. Their little store is very small and limited to just a few items like postcards, t-shirts and Band-Aids which are quite pricey since they have to pack everything in from Florence Lake. They do not sell any food.

Tonight we'll be camping at the Blayney Meadows campground. Al tells us that there are no steel bear boxes at the campground, but plenty of bears. Since we aren't sure everything from the re-supply buckets will immediately fit into our canisters, we take Al up on his offer allowing us to retrieve tonight's dinner and leave the rest of our re-supply in the stone MTR storehouse for the night. We'll return tomorrow to sort out our food, and mail things home.

We easily find the Blayney Meadows campground and get settled in. In search of the hot springs, we cross the river and a camper directs us to both the hot springs and a small lake. First a pleasant swim in the lake and then a nice soak in the hot springs. We learn there are actually two hot springs. One is close to the lake and the second is a little ways to the north through a field. Hot springs are indeed a miracle of nature, especially when you've been backpacking with only the occasional chilly splash in high Sierra lake waters.


Day 13: 9-14-03, Sunday
Blayney Meadows Camp / Muir Trail Ranch re-supply (7,790' el. / 106.4 JMT miles)
to Footbridge over South Fork, San Joaquin River (8,350' el. / 112.6 miles)
Day's distance: 6.2 miles

After a leisurely morning at Blayney Meadows Camp on the San Joaquin River, we return to the Muir Trail Ranch to sort out our re-supply. This is our only opportunity since Reds Meadow to send postcards to family and friends and a letter to my husband. Al of the MTR informs us that the mail won't be leaving until the following Friday via pack horse from the Muir Trail Ranch, which means our postcards and letters won't arrive to their destinations until just a few days before we ourselves plan to arrive at Whitney Portal. That is, if all goes according to plan.

We sort out our supplies on a nice picnic table they conveniently have for that purpose. Besides food in my re-supply bucket, I have a pen, postcards, stamps, 1 clean shirt, 1 pair clean socks, and 2 pairs clean underwear, nail clippers, fresh batteries for my Petzl Tikka headlamp (although my original batteries end up lasting the entire trip), and extra reading glasses. I decide to keep both pairs of reading glasses in order to have a back-up pair. I love reading the maps, and certainly wouldn't want to impose on Apple for all map reading, journal note taking, and any other close work!

I wish I had also included a big mailing envelope for returning items home. We had thought we would just mail things home in the re-supply buckets, but Al informs us that this would cost $45 for each bucket plus the cost of US mail. We don't have a whole lot to send home so we each purchase a padded mailing envelope at $4 each from Al. I manage to stuff my envelope with my dirty shirt, undies, a pair of socks, the pen and nail clippers I had planned on using and returning home, and the restricting and so-far unused sternum strap from my Wild Things backpack. Anything to lighten our loads! Al weighs our bulging envelopes and calculates the postage and portage fees. After jam packing our bear canisters with our new food supply, we leave some extra food and supplies in a bucket the Muir Trail Ranch keeps for hikers in need.

As we finish sorting things out, another southbound JMT hiker named Jack Frost (really!) arrives to retrieve his re-supply. Jack Frost left his car at Whitney Portal after making arrangements with a shuttle service to drive him back to Happy Isles to begin the JMT. He had mailed $360 pre-payment to the shuttle service but the driver never showed up at Whitney Portal and there was no answer when he tried calling them. After waiting as long as he could at Whitney Portal, some kind person gave him a ride to Tuolumne Meadows, and he began the JMT from there. After hearing Jack's sad story, I wonder how we will do with our shuttle back to Yosemite Valley. My plan is to contact a shuttle service that I spoke with before leaving home, and organize our ride with when/if we reach Whitney Portal. She said she would charge $195 for a ride from Whitney Portal to Happy Isles and hadn't asked for pre-payment. Jack gives me the business card for a shuttle service to call which he heard was very dependable but charges $450 for a ride from Whitney Portal to Happy Isles. Well, Apple and I figure we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. First, we have a bit more hiking to do before worrying about our shuttle at Whitney.
I smile, thinking how I'd already shared this worry with Apple when we were in the planning stages of the trip back in Santa Cruz. Apple had replied that if we hiked all 220 miles and all the way to the top of Mt. Whitney and then had trouble getting a ride at the end of the trail, heck, he'd buy us a car in Lone Pine!

And surely, right now, a ride back to our car in Yosemite Valley is the least of our worries. Weather and injuries are our main concerns out here, not that we're able to do anything about these factors except to be as prepared and careful as possible.

1:30 PM We finally strap on our undeniably heavy packs and get started. Oof! With the addition of the food re-supply, our packs are the heaviest they've been the entire trip. Apple repeatedly remarks how heavy his pack is. I'm thinking, "Well, duh so is mine!" I begin to get a little annoyed wondering if Apple is insinuating that his pack is heavier than mine. I facetiously ask if he would like me to carry anything of his so he can lighten his load. We're both carrying equal amounts of gear, food, etc. so Apple's pack can't possibly be heavier than mine. Attempting to give Apple the benefit of the doubt, I theorize that the perceived weight of his load probably does feel heavier to him, while the actual weight of our two loads is the same. At 40 ounces, my Wild Things AT pack has additional padding in the shoulder straps and hip belt which Apple's 20 ounce GoLite Gust lacks. I strive to go light, but am very happy with my Wild Things pack and its extra ounces of comfortable padding.

Let's get goin', Pappy! Time to settle in, put the new improved Trudge-O-Matic in low gear, get high on some endorphins and enjoy the splendor. The trail has a nice gradual uphill to the Piute Creek Bridge crossing and then flattens out as it becomes a dramatically narrow trail following the San Joaquin River towards Evolution Valley.

The music of the San Joaquin River sounds like elfin harps and song. It puts me into a dream state as I fully open my senses to all there is to see, hear, feel, taste and smell in the magnificent wilderness.
I now realize that in contrast, when I am at home, in my citified surroundings, I often close down my senses out of self-preservation. To survive and preserve well-being, to preserve mental and physical health, our bodies must be stressfully overworked having to constantly filter out all the electronic beeps, computer buzz, traffic noise, CRT computer rays, fluorescent lighting, etc. It's no wonder that we feel so rejuvenated after a backpacking trip. Hiking along, I focus on the music of the river. Maybe it's just the water drumming on the rocks but it sounds so magical to me like an acoustic guitar and gentle singing. Makes me believe in fairies.

5:30 PM We stop to camp by the footbridge over South Fork Joaquin River. Hiked only about 5 1/2 miles today, but we feel like that's plenty considering our late start and carrying the heaviest packs of our trip with the additional 14 lb. food re-supply.

This truly is a magical place. Three deer visit us, a mom and two fawns. Camping not too far away, there is a polite and friendly group with whom we chatted earlier on the trail. We think they are probably father, son, and the son's friend. They are far enough away that we can't see or hear them unless we happen to venture down to the river at the same time as they.


Day 14: 9-15-03, Monday
Footbridge over South Fork San Joaquin River (8,350' el. / 112.6 miles)
to Evolution Lake (9,200' el. / 121.9 miles)
Day's distance: 9.3 miles

We arise at 6:30 AM in our riverside campsite. It would be nice to make at least 10 miles today, but I've grown much less concerned about making a daily 10 miles, since everything seems to even out as long as we keep moving along at a reasonable pace. I'm so very glad that we aren't on a strict schedule or have an absolute deadline like so many other hikers we've met on the JMT.

We bask in the wonder of The Hermit as we hike through Colby Meadows in Evolution Valley. Apple tries to be humorous by talking with a New York accent. I have to ask him to stop since it's really starting to grate on my ears.

5 PM Arrive at Evolution Lake. We do rudimentary camp set-up and then hasten to the still-sunny side of the lake to rinse off in the nippy yet beautifully crystal clear waters of Evolution Lake. Rinse out some socks too. We return to our campsite poised at the lake's outlet just in time for a magnificent sunset. As we pump water for the evening and following morning, we have trouble with Apple's Pur water filter. Apple tries tightening a hose and unscrewing the filter a notch and for some reason that seems to fix it. In the interest of less weight, we had opted to share Apple's Pur filter rather than my First Need purifier since the Pur weighs a couple ounces less. I'm a little, but not much, concerned about the Pur failing us since the water is so deliciously crystal clear here at the Sierra crest. If the pump does have a complete failure, I would definitely feel safe simply filling our bottles from creeks on the uphill side of the trail. I also begin to ponder if it might actually be insulting to the beautiful water to force it through a filter before drinking it. Whenever we backpack in the Sierras we are always so grateful for the delicious Sierra water. We both delight in guzzling about threes quarts each per day of this Sierran crystal tonic.

The night sky is magnificent here at Evolution Lake! We feel so close to the stars and there are so many of them tonight! The moon has begun to wane. We have such a magical camp here at the lake's outlet. We learned of this site from a young woman about 20 years old from Washington state whom we met earlier in the day. She's solo hiking south to north and has been on the trail for 3 1/2 weeks. She was extremely modest about her accomplishments. She said she had done quite a bit of solo hiking in the cooler climate of Washington state and was really loving the wonderfully warm, dry September weather of the Sierras. Her plan is to continue hiking as far as Lake Tahoe and then maybe catch a bus home from there.

2 AM The wind really picks up in the middle of the night. I hear Apple leaving his tent no doubt responding to the call of nature. I ask him to please check our socks to make sure they aren't blowing off the clothesline. Next thing I hear is an outburst of laughter. Apple says our socks are still on the line but they are frozen stiff!! No worries about them flying away since they are frozen solid and folded over on the line!

I wake up once more during the night for some reason suddenly panicked about the validity of our wilderness permit. I was thinking that Sequoia National Park wasn't listed as it should be. Checking the permit, I found everything to be listed correctly. Funny false fears and unnecessary tedium that sometimes occupies the mind. There are so many better things to contemplate. I have no real worries except to keep putting one foot in front of the other.


Day 15: 9-16-03, Tuesday
Evolution Lake (9,200' el. / 121.9 miles)
to Big Pete Meadow (8,900' el. approx. / 133.5 miles approx.)
Day's distance: 11.6 miles

7 AM The socks are still frozen stiff. Pretty funny!! Talk about "freeze dried!" Apple's backpack has been chafing him so this morning he's folding his fleece hat over the back of the waist of his pants for extra padding.

9:45 AM We are packed up and starting on the trail towards Muir Pass which lies 5 miles south. Beautiful morning hike from the outlet around the north and then east side of pristine Evolution Lake. We next hike past starkly beautiful Sapphire Lake and continue on a long gradual uphill to Muir Pass. I am so excited to see the Muir hut at the summit. "The hut! It's the hut!!" I dislike most buildings, but this one is so sweet. I've seen many photos of it, but never knew if I'd see it in person. It was built by the Sierra Club in the 1930's. The hut has a very solid door, a glass window, and a fireplace, the main structure ingeniously built with stones placed in the round creating a sort of beehive structure. It would be a wonderful place to weather out a snowstorm if one had to. (Although it does smell like pee. Sheesh, what's up with that?)

2 PM Windy on Muir Pass! There is a woman sitting with her back against the south wall of the hut to keep out of the wind. We have our lunch in the shelter of some nearby rocks on the south side of the hut, and enjoy the views. The woman says she is waiting for her husband to return from a nearby mountain peak climb. They were supposed to meet two friends at Muir Pass today and then continue north. The husband is trying to contact their friends with his 2-way radio and climbed a nearby peak for better reception. We get descriptions of the friends and promise to relay a message if we pass them on the trail.

Most descriptions say that it's easier going south to north over the majority of the passes on the JMT. But not Muir Pass! We're sure glad we are hiking north to south on this section of the trail. Down, down, down we go. The way is rocky and radical and beautiful! It is steep, uneven, and sometimes hard to follow the trail down the south side of Muir Pass. This is the most rugged section of trail yet! Snow clings in pockets against the canyon walls. Water runs in rivulets and streams all the way down. We hear the water running beneath the rough rocks that are our trail. I imagine this section must really be challenging during the springtime snowmelt!

As we continue our descent, we meet a couple from Mammoth who at first we wonder if they might be the missing friends. They tell us they passed a couple toddling along the trail farther south. They also tell us that the weather is supposed to hold for the next ten days. That is great news! We are so very lucky!

When we reach flatter ground, we see a man and a woman casually sunbathing on a rock. These are the friends of the couple waiting atop Muir Pass. They both look in good shape, and the fellow looks like he could be in the marines. The woman, well, she appears to be more dressed for a tennis match than hiking. We tell them their friends are worried about them, but they seem unconcerned and don't think they will make it to the top of Muir Pass today, but will try to meet them at Wanda Lake tomorrow. Well, I guess that's up to them.

Just as the sun is setting we find a camp spot in upper Big Pete Meadow. I wear my headlamp to pump water at the small stream a short walk from our site. My feet are pretty sore after hiking on the uneven rocky trail. Uncharacteristically, I don't feel hungry, but I know I should eat so I join Apple for dinner in the dark around 9 PM. I start to fall asleep as I sit on our dinner rock, so I brush my teeth and turn in.


Day 16: 9-17-03, Wednesday
Big Pete Meadow (8,900' el. approx. / 133.5 miles approx.)
to Upper Palisade Lake bench (10,880' el. / 146 miles approx.)
Day's distance: 12.5 miles

Wake up at 5:30 AM to the sound of a loud rockfall coming from up canyon. I peek outside and see that all is well in our camp. Cold out there! I return to sleep until we rise for breakfast at 6:30 AM.

At 8 AM I check my tiny thermometer-- 40ºF. Nippy!! At 9 AM it's still only 45ºF and the sun is just hitting the top of the canyon wall above our camp. I do a little dance around camp to warm up. Please, sun, come to our camp…we will be ever so grateful!! At last sunshine arrives to our camp. Yippeee! Ahh, warmth!

Each morning I have gotten into a routine of psyching ourselves up by saying, "Blue skies, easy hiking day today! Looks practically all downhill!!" They are cheery motivating thoughts, and I find myself actually trying to believe the part about "downhill." Or at least I hope there's not too much uphill. It would be great if we reach Palisade Lakes today!

I put away my fleece mittens, but wear my fingerless glove liners to keep my hands warm as we hike. It is chilly this morning! Le Conte Canyon is a beautiful flat stroll. After making the turn at the junction up towards Mather Pass, we soon regret not filling our water bottles just previous to the junction at the easy water access along the Middle Fork Kings River. Oh, well, we aren't too far from water, but it looks like it will be a scramble down off the trail to get to it. The trail up Palisade Creek Canyon is the most overgrown section of trail we've encountered so far. It smells wonderful as we break through the sage brush and other aromatic plants. We see a desperate campsite along the trail that has a way rough way down to the Palisade Creek for water. I stay above with the packs while Apple scrambles down to fill our bottles. Hmmm, as I wait for his return, I read the trail description. I was so tired last night that I went to sleep without my usual study of the next day's hike. I now see that we have the Golden Staircase to climb before arriving at Palisade Lakes. Yikes! I've heard that's a tough section! Now I wonder if we might end up camping at Deer Meadow tonight as there's a lot of uphill between us and Palisade Lakes. We'll just see how it goes…

Apple admits he's a little cranky today for some reason. His self-diagnosis is PMS, "Pre Mather Pass Syndrome." He's so funny! Even when he is cranky, he is the best hiking partner!

We reach a burned out area amidst which must be Deer Meadow, although we don't see any truly meadowy area. The moss is so luscious and juicy emerald green here. It must be thriving on the nutrients from the burned trees.

Contrary to my morning mantra, there is quite a bit of uphill today. Just before the Golden Staircase, I'm entertained by the tiniest chipmunk I have ever seen. Including his tail, he is only about 3-4" long! Tiny!! As we start up the Golden Staircase switchbacks, we meet two hikers who look to be in their early 30's coming down the trail. They look at us with sincere pity and warn us of the climb ahead, saying we'd be very lucky if we made it to Palisade Lakes today. The woman even said she was sorry. They skeedaddled pretty quickly down the trail probably for fear of witnessing a couple mid-lifers having heart attacks from overexertion in the middle of the wilderness.

The Golden Staircase is tough for me. I keep telling myself to "keep moving forward." Apple, making a play on my Hawaiian name, "Kananioka'aina," starts calling me "Ka Narly-ok'aina." He says he's really impressed every time he looks back and sees me steadily chewing my way up the switchbacks. My stamina is holding, but I'm getting a little delirious from exhaustion and the rising elevation. I find myself laughing uncontrollably at Apple's jokes. Apple is afraid I might actually topple off the trail! At this point he is genuinely concerned and recommends I pull it together. Smiling and laughing….what can be wrong with that? I really am fine, never better, actually. Just have that "out there, up there" euphoria. It's a blend of effort, beauty, and pleasure infusing the senses.

6:30 PM Starting to get dark as we make camp on the shelf above Upper Palisade Lake. Another long day … about 12 miles. It was tough and I am exhausted, but I am so glad we pushed ourselves today. Tomorrow will be easy! Only 3 miles to the top of Mather Pass.

We eat our dinner in the dark. Apple is getting really worried about his lower back where the belt of his GoLite Gust pack is rubbing it raw. Since Evolution Lake he's been folding his fleece hat over the back of his pants to create extra padding to relieve the chafing. I've started calling it his "butt hat." He's worried that his back is getting worse and can now feel bumps of some sort. I offer to take a look. Examining him with my headlamp, it appears to me that now, in addition to the chafing, he has a rash or acne probably from the sweat. He defensively argues that he never gets acne, and is frustrated because he can't see it for himself. I try holding my mirror and aiming my headlamp so he can see his backside. We start laughing hysterically, thinking how weird we must look right now. It is just too funny. I tell him that if he doesn't believe my findings, he can ask someone on the trail tomorrow to take a look at his rashy back. We suspect other hikers might think we are a little strange. Apple says I stink. He should talk! Maybe it's time to get to a camp early enough to rinse off! We laugh until tears roll down our faces. It is so good to laugh.
I fall asleep exhausted and happy.


Day 17: 9-18-03, Thursday, Last Quarter Moon
Sunrise: 6:52 AM, Sunset: 7:11 PM
Moonrise 11:54 PM, Moonset 2:31 PM
Upper Palisade Lake bench (10,880' el. / 146 miles approx.) to lower Lake Marjorie (11,000' el. approx. / 157 miles approx.)
Day's distance: 11 miles

I wake up at 7 AM Brrr, 35ºF. There's frost on the tents. All is a beautiful crystal sparkly fairyland. I wonder, are we now perpetually delirious from altitude and exhaustion-a great high actually! Or is it the beauty of it all infusing our souls with a new vision and perspective. Whatever "it" is, it's wonderful! Truly beautiful camping here near a little stream above the east side of the lake. The Mather Pass summit is only about 3 miles away. Maybe we'll camp at Lake Marjorie's outlet tonight. We'll see…

Now every morning Apple asks, "Well what do you want to do today?" And I reply, "Oh, I dunno. How about a little hike?"

10 AM We hit the trail. I apply some Eucerin lotion to my dry cracked hands and give some to Apple too. Apple says he likes the idea of having a manicure while hiking up Mather Pass. Funny! He never ceases to amuse me!

11:40 AM We arrive at the top of Mather Pass (12,100' el.). Amazingly quiet with no wind at the summit. We have a very pleasant second breakfast and enjoy the magnificent views. Spectacular views to both the north and south from up here! We'd been hoping for a peek of Mt. Whitney by now, but we sure can't identify it on the horizon.

As we drop down the south side of Mather Pass, we meet a young solo hiker heading north. He points out the distant mountains to the south that hold Marjorie Lake, our day's destination. It looks so far from here, but we are beginning to get accustomed to the idea of walking from one horizon to the next each day. I am contentedly impressed with the distance we accomplish day to day. He recommends camping at the lowest Marjorie Lake since it has such an expansive view north.

Today's afternoon temperature warms up to 79ºF!

5 PM We arrive at the lowest and smallest Marjorie Lake just off the west side of the trail. We call her "Little Marjorie." We make camp on the north side of the lake where there are indeed expansive views from the rise looking north.

Nice to arrive at camp before sunset for a change! Apple says he is doing a "full wash" today and rinses his pants along with everything else. There's just enough sun remaining to take a quick dip in the lake. Brrr. The water is cold! I rinse out my shirt, socks, and undies. I take a quick dip myself and have two pairs of long underwear tops and bottoms, and my GoLite Coal jacket ready to wear upon exiting the chilly water to keep my body temperature from dropping. Apple becomes really chilled after his dunk in the lake. He says his feet have gone numb and feel like stumps. I start getting seriously concerned for him. After changing into his warm evening wear, he dances on the hill in the last bit of sunshine and soon warms up.

Contemplating the 'morrow, we're in a great position for going over Pinchot Pass! Should be easy!

Started my period today.


Day 18: 9-19-03, Friday
Lower little Lake Marjorie (11,000' el. approx. / 157 miles approx.)
to Woods Creek Crossing (8,492' el. / 165.4 miles)
Day's distance: 8.4 miles

6:30 AM Greeted by a magnificent sunrise. I yearn to keep it always as a photo but my camera isn't nearly big enough to capture the entire landscape. I snap one futile photo anyway. While I'm at it, I take another of the mountains reflecting in Little Marjorie, the lowest and smallest of the Marjorie Lakes. Love to look at the reflections sideways creating totem figures and wondrous creatures in "sideways world."

7:30 AM and it's still a nippy 29ºF! Frosty tents, for the second morning in a row, and the laundry is frozen on the clothesline. We decide to wait until the sun hits camp to dry things off before packing up. Beautiful morning! Apple is taking lots of photos!

8 AM Things are warming up fast. Feels great!
Yesterday evening before turning in, I took some of the elastic that I have for sealing off my sleeves and pant legs from mosquitoes and other blood sucking critters. Since we've had nary a bug on this entire trip, I put the elastic to use by sewing lengths of it onto my GoLite Fur to keep the sleeping quilt wrapped around me. It worked well last night! GoLite no longer sells this Ray Jardine inspired sleeping quilt. The "Fur" was made to attach to a Thermarest with GoLite "Burr" velcro straps. But at these lower temperatures, the system has become too drafty for me. I mailed my Burrs home from the Muir Trail Ranch. I'm not planning on abandoning my Fur on future trips, but when I get home I plan on sewing the two edges of the quilt together with a strip of lightweight nylon knit material to eliminate the drafty gaps.

We use this drying out time to plan our future campsite goals for the remainder of the trip. We know we want to camp at Guitar Lake the night before climbing Whitney, so we work backwards from there. We'll have 5 more camps before Mt. Whitney. Our calculations include one easy 7 mile day from Woods Creek to Rae Lakes, with the rest being roughly 8.5 to 13 mile days.

10:15 AM We are ready to start up the trail. Not too late of a start considering we defrosted the tents and let them dry before packing up. The hot spot on my big toe has subsided so I will go moleskinless today.

12 noon We reach the top of Pinchot Pass. Wondrously rocky crags here-like being in the parapet of a castle. So very peaceful. Only the gentlest of breezes. It is so quiet we hear the beating of birds' wings as they fly by. Apple says, "It's so beautiful, you have to 'Pinch yo' self to make sure you're not dreaming."

We merrily hike half the day before encountering another human being. At the junction to Sawmill Pass about 3.4 miles before the Woods Creek Crossing, we meet a teenaged solo backpacker has already hiked 15 miles today! Since he isn't carrying a bear canister, he thought he'd have to hike all the way to Arrowhead Lake for the next steel bear box. Sure is relieved when I tell him there are steel bear boxes at the Woods Creek camp. After the teenager leaves, Apple, hoping that we'd have the next camp area to ourselves, says, "Sheesh, why didn't you just go ahead and invite him for dinner too!?" That Apple! I reply, "Now what if he were Jesus hoping to rest his weary bones?" We start referring to this hiker as "Baby Jesus" since he's younger than "Jesus of Napa" that we met at Lyell Canyon/Donohue Pass.

5:15 PM We cross the one-person suspension bridge over Woods Creek. Since we carry bear canisters, we won't need to use the steel bear boxes here at Woods Creek. Even though the canisters weigh close to 3 lbs. each, we both love the convenience. They enable us to camp anywhere we like, irregardless of the availability of bear boxes or trees for counterbalancing. It would really be a hassle on this trip especially, to try to find a tree for hanging food since most nights we'd be searching after dark when we're already exhausted.

Other hikers are already camping along Woods Creek where the steel bear boxes are located. We continue for a while up the trail and locate a nice secluded site to the east of the trail along South Fork Woods Creek.

Feels like we've had an extra long day today. Hope we're not getting burned out. We're both really tired this evening and our feet and shoulders are sore and achy. This petit malaise is soon cured by a good slurp of Yukon Jack.

7 PM Beautiful creek here. Looks like a good place for leprechauns! I'm hearing the singing and music again, but Apple still doesn't hear it.

After dinner, I inventory the remainder of my food which doesn't look like a whole lot. But I know that I calculated everything carefully and it should be plenty for six more days. If I eat full meals, I'll only have trail bars left when hiking down the east side of Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal, and that is perfect! Wouldn't want to carry any unnecessary weight! That's for sure!

I sure miss O'Rielly and the cat girls. But it is so beautiful here. I can't imagine being cooped up in a house or office… although it would be nice to wash my hair and take a long hot bath.

Apple makes a campfire ring which he'll dismantle in the morning. We have a small fire, our only campfire of the entire trip since Lyell Canyon. It's cheery to have a little fire.


Day 19: 9-20-03, Saturday
Woods Creek Crossing (8,492' el. / 165.4 miles)
to Middle Rae Lake (10,538' el. / 173 miles)
Day's distance: 7.6 miles

6:20 AM Another truly beautiful day!
Not so cold this morning, maybe because of the lower elevation (8,492'). This morning I feel the need to ask Apple if he's getting weary of this trip. He immediately says he is not. And in that I hear him say, "It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. The folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't… Those are the stories that stay with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why." What a guy! That was all I needed to give me renewed inspiration. We agree that it is hard work, but we are slowly reaching our Mt. Whitney goal. We are now on Map 3 of Harrison's JMT Map-Pack. Today we just have a short 7 mile hike to Rae Lakes. I'm really looking forward to Rae Lakes, I've always wanted to visit that area of the Sierras. It will be great to camp at Rae tonight and from there we will be poised to hike up Glen Pass.

11:45 AM We're almost to Lake Arrowhead and Apple's sunglasses have come unscrewed, so we stop to fix them. Nice place for a break to admire the beautiful white mountains around here.

We spend about half an hour trying to get Apple's loose screw back into his glasses, but to no avail. The screw is just too tiny and there's some sort of springy thing involved. We decide to move on and fix them under more controlled conditions at Rae Lakes where we'll be able to empty our packs in search of repair materials like wire and thread. Seeing lots of deer all along the JMT. Lots of birds too-mostly juncos and chickadees and one that looks like a big gray parakeet.

We both wonder why we aren't making better time today. For some reason we're both moving sort of slowly, and we thought this was going to be an easy day. Apple voices his concerns that we aren't eating enough food to meet the demands we are putting on our bodies. I assure him that all the nuts and protein bars we've been consuming contain plenty of protein and calories. I imagine that we're just a little tired and sore from pushing ourselves every day. Apple finds that to be a reasonable reason.

12:45 PM We stop at Dollar Lake for lunch and to filter water. Still having problems with the Pur pump. Pretty Dollar Lake is crystal clear and has lots of fish. They are so peaceful swimming in their beautiful home, I'm glad we're both vegetarians and don't have any desire to eat them.

3 PM We arrive at middle Rae Lake. Our site is located in the southeast corner of the lake and has a great view of The Painted Lady and another magnificent rock I call "Monkey Face." Sunny but breezy. And hooray, we have time for a swim before the sun sets. At long last, there is time before sundown to rinse out my hair! The last time I got my hair wet was Blayney Meadows! I usually refrain from getting my long hair wet since it takes so long to dry.

Apple now thinks he has shingles on his back. I maintain it's probably just the continuing irritation from his backpack chafing.

Rae Lakes is truly gorgeous. I would love to return here again sometime and get to know this place. Miraculously we seem to have the entire area to ourselves. Saw two groups of two, but they were just passing through!

My period started the day before yesterday and is at an end already. Never had a period so light and short before. Must be from all the exercise and eating less than I normally do. Whatever the reason, I am grateful!

As the sun starts to lower in the sky, we see a few campers choosing to stop for the day at this beautiful place. We think one of them might be Baby Jesus filtering water at the lake's edge near the campsites where the steel bear boxes are located.


Day 20: 9-21-03, Sunday
Middle Rae Lake (10,538' el. / 173 miles)
to Center Basin "Golden Bear" Creek crossing (10,500' el. / 183.8 miles)
Day's distance: 10.8 miles

6:45 AM, 40ºF
Heard coyotes singing last night. Very cool. To be so wild and free!

Big day today-going over Glen Pass and then hopefully as far as Center Basin Junction. Rae Lakes is so beautiful, but we're on the "love 'em and leave 'em tour" as I've started saying. So away down the trail we go to see what beauty awaits us ahead.

9:30 AM We hit the trail, and by 11:15 AM we reach the top of Glen Pass. Hiked two miles in a little less than two hours, not bad for hiking straight uphill. I take a photo looking back towards Rae Lakes and our campsite. Very calm at the summit. No wind or people. Birds are contentedly flying around the small nameless lakes near the summit. Pappy's snap happy up here (i.e. Apple is taking lots of photos). We can still see the small glacier on the mountain top way to the north that we could see from Palisade Lake and then again from Pinchot Pass.

4:45 PM We arrive at Center Basin Creek which flows from Golden Bear Lake. Apple locates an excellent campsite just before the creek ford. We're camped on a shelf on the northside of the creek that includes a spacious flat granite area, great for dining and stargazing! I call it the dance floor because it is so big and flat. We rename "Center Basin Creek" calling it "Golden Bear Creek." Amidst the elfin ferns, we rinse ourselves and clothes, and fill our water bottles for the evening.


Day 21: 9-22-03, Monday
Center Basin (Golden Bear) Creek crossing (10,500' el. / 183.8 miles)
to Tyndall Frog Ponds (10,800' el. / 193 miles)
Day's distance: 9.2 miles

6:10 AM, 34ºF
8:45 AM Our earliest start yet!
10:45 AM We hike up the Forester Pass trail, winding back and forth along the little baby Bubbs Creek. Glad we got started early today! Lots of rough, rocky uphill. Met a solo woman and her furkid coming downhill. She and her pup camped last night at the starkly beautiful nameless lake just south of Forester Pass.

I sure love it out here!!

12 noon Reach the top of Forester Pass. Very serene. Absolutely no wind on the pass so I change the film in my camera with no fear of flying dust. The hike to the summit was long but not too tough. Great views! But there's worrisome smoke from a big fire several miles to the south. I pull out a Luna bar for a snack, but before I open it, Apple suggests we conserve our food until we learn the location of the fire, as it could keep us from proceeding as planned. Alas, I reluctantly accept his sage advice and save the Luna bar for when I'm really really hungry. This fire could very well cause a major change in our plans if it lies between us and Whitney.

Two hikers soon join us at Forester's summit. They are carrying lots of gadgets, including a cell phone, GPS, and a radio. They are also heading to Whitney and are concerned by the fire saying they don't believe there is any other established alternative route between here and Whitney. If the fire is along the JMT, we might have to abandon our goal and turn back, or try to wait out the fire. The friendly hi-tech hikers are unable to get cell phone reception. On the radio they are receiving a broadcast from Bishop, but it's only news of a basketball game, and then a movie review. We hope to learn more about the fire's location before we hike down the south side of the Forester. We would hate to have to turn back at this point, but whatever will be will be. While waiting for the news on the radio, the four of us take each other's photos at the top of Forester Pass. Using our naked eyeballs and hopeful thinking, Apple and I decide the fire has got to be farther south and west of the JMT. Still no news on the radio and we can't dawdle any longer. We thank the hi-tech hikers, wish them well, and move on. The sooner we get going, the sooner we'll find out for ourselves how close the fire is to the trail.

4:15 PM Arrive at Tyndall Frog Ponds. Really pretty here and the ponds are a comfortable distance from the trail. We have the place all to ourselves and find a nice site near the middle pond away from the currently vacant main camp area which has steel bear boxes. We rinse off at the pond's edge and I'm surprised that the water is so cold. Maybe the pond is deeper than it looks.

5:45 PM We now clearly smell the smoke from the forest fire, and the sky is getting hazier. The wind had previously been blowing southwest, sending the smoke away from us, but it has died down now allowing the smoke to settle.

I inventory my next two days worth of food and cram my Ursack into the bottom of my bear canister, saving space in my pack.

Earlier today we passed a trail sign that said 16.1 miles to Mt. Whitney. I can't believe we are so close! We are now on Map 1 of the Harrison JMT Map-Pack! There are only 2 more planned camps left, Guitar Lake and then probably somewhere on the east side of Mt. Whitney. It's sad to be nearing the end of our trip, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing my loving and supportive husband, my sweet cat, Kahsha, and monkey catgirl, Kittenish.


Day 22: 9-23-03, Tuesday
Tyndall Frog Ponds (10,800' el. / 193 miles)
to Guitar Lake (11,500' el. / 205.7 miles)
Day's distance: 12.7 miles

6:15 AM
Last night I thought I heard footsteps around my tent, but it was just wind blowing the rolled-back rainfly. I was hoping it might be a bear, but no such luck.

7:30 AM Still only 33ºF. There's a beautiful delicate frost sparkling on the plants by the pond's edge.

8:30 AM I always find it miraculous how quickly my body warms up once the sun hits camp! I remove my polar fleece jacket and pack it away for the morning. Ah warmth! Beautiful sunshine!

Apple has a plastic bag with a handle in which he's been storing odds and ends. "That's it," he proclaims in mock frustration, "we have to go home now. The handle on my shopping bag has broken!" What a funny guy!

We speculate what the forest fire might be doing. Not seeing or smelling any smoke this morning. We hope that means the fire has burned itself out!

We get our usual 9:30 AM start and at around 11:30 AM we stop at Wallace Creek for second breakfasts.

2 PM Crabtree Whitney Ranger Station. We stop for lunch and to pump water from the pretty creek. We're now only about 3 miles west of Guitar Lake.

I see a squirrel in Whitney Creek, and it's hard to tell if he's swimming or floundering. I worry that he might be in distress so I keep an eye on him until he's safely on a rock and drying off. Just in for a little swim, I guess. I had never thought about squirrels swimming before. I have so much to learn.

3:30 PM We stop at Timberline Lake and take pictures of the mountains reflecting in the lake. Apple's digital camera battery dies. As he replaces it, I take advantage of the unplanned break, relax, have a snack and drink water. Not sure which peak is Whitney from this westside view, so I try to fit all the major peaks into the two photos I take here at Timberline.

4 PM We arrive at Guitar Lake. We chat with a solo hiker who had just left Orange County and wants to bag five 14,000' peaks before he thinks about choosing a career. I tell him it sounds like a good plan to me. A good way to put things into perspective.

There are already about five other tents pitched around Guitar Lake. We were actually expecting it to be much more crowded, so we're quite pleasantly surprised. This is the most populated camp we've shared since Blayney Meadows. Even though the terrain is treeless, there is still plenty of room for people to find secluded spots amidst the rocks of the lakeside. Never any problem anyway, people are all so friendly out here. I really love trail people---They are my peeps!

Guitar Lake is situated high above treeline and is completely stark and exposed. For once I'm glad we didn't get here earlier since it would have meant baking in the sun. We are so lucky it's not windy. I can imagine the wind really howls through here when it wants. We make camp along the "neck" of the guitar. We're located just around a bend from our closest neighbors, and completely out of their view, so it feels like we have the place to ourselves. I have a great swim in the lake. The water in the guitar's neck is shallow keeping it amazingly warm for 11,500' el. I rinse out my shirt, socks, and undies for what will probably be the last rinse of the trip. Lovely dinner of tofu jerky, crackers, and dried pineapple. Not once this entire trip has either of us been bored with our simple uncooked food.

We spend some time quietly stargazing the humbling and peaceful night sky and then to bed at 9 PM. Big day tomorrow!


Day 23: 9-24-03, Wednesday
Guitar Lake (11,500' el. / 205.7 miles)
to Mt. Whitney summit and then to bench below Trail Camp (11,500' el. approx. / 217 miles)
Day's distance: 11.3 miles

6:30 AM Up and at 'em! Exciting day ahead!
Today we hike to the tippy top of Mt. Whitney! We're very well rested, and only about five miles from Whitney's summit. We debate whether to hike all the way out today to Whitney Portal. That would be a long haul. I would love to call my husband letting him know we made it and feel great! The last phone was at Red's Meadow, so I haven't talked with him for fifteen whole days! Of course we'll just play it by ear and see how our time goes. We'll probably camp at Trail or Outpost Camp if it gets too dark to hike all the way out.

Last night I dreamt I was home and holding my cat, Kahsha. I told her she could bite me if she were angry with me for being gone so long, but she didn't, she just purred.

8:30 AM and it's only 34ºF, but the sun rises over the crest, things are warming up fast! I pack away my fleece hat and polar fleece jacket, and put my cold trail bar in my back pocket to thaw it for a snack later on. I pump four quarts from Guitar Lake which should last us to the top of Mt. Whitney and beyond. Another gorgeous day!!

9:15 AM, already 72ºF and warming!
We start on the trail. We calculate that it's about 15 miles all the way out to Whitney Portal. We definitely want to spend some quality time at the top of Whitney, so we'll just have to see where we end up once it starts getting dark.

I had never thought about hiking Mt. Whitney until I started dreaming about the John Muir Trail and learned that it was the grand finale of the entire trip. Now I am so excited about today's unique hike I can hardly stand it.

To the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey" Apple sings, "On top of Mt. Whitney, all covered with rocks, I made it heeere, Without my blue socks…"

12 noon We reach the dogleg junction to Mt. Whitney. The trail is rocky and awesome and a very long way down. Apple quips, "Welcome to Gnarlyville. Have a nice day!" Only 1.9 miles now to the top! Apple begins to feel peckish, so we have second breakfasts before venturing on. We leave our backpacks with the others at the junction and put water, lunch, cameras, etc. into our daypacks to make the trek to the top.

2:15 PM We arrive at the broad plateau that is Whitney's summit (14,491' el.)! Using his digital camera, Apple takes a little video of us dancing a little celebration jig and then we relax and have lunch. The panorama is amazing! It's still a little hazy from the fire. We feel so lucky that the forest fire didn't keep us from this magnificent experience. We sign the summit register at the hut and at about 3:30 reluctantly head back down. Although we are well covered, and wearing sunblock, I feel like I'm starting to cook in the hot sun. Fortunately, the altitude isn't bothering either of us at all.

6:15 PM We reach crowded Trail Camp. Although it's getting late, we keep moving in the hopes of finding a last camp to ourselves a bit farther down the trail. We put on our headlamps, windbreakers and I, my fingerless gloves and push on.

As the sun sets, the steep downhill trail becomes a little precarious in the semi-darkness; we watch our step, but keep a steady pace.

7:45 PM Just as it really starts getting pitch black (very little moon now), we fortunately find a good place to camp about a quarter of a mile before Mirror Lake. No camping is allowed right at Mirror Lake. We can hear water, but can't see it and hope it's accessible. We set up our tents and situate our bear canisters a safe distance from our gear. Now we can search out the water. In the darkness, we amble down a shrub-filled ravine, and find a beautiful stream with adequate access for pumping. On our return to camp as we clamber back up the slope in the darkness, I reach down to assist Apple since he's carrying the bulk of our water bottles. Not seeing me grab his arm in the darkness, he screams and just about jumps out of his skin! We both laugh hysterically!

Our last night of the trip we sip the final swigs of Yukon Jack and are endlessly entertained by a marten's green eyes darting around camp. Appearing and disappearing. Amazing how the marten can cling to rocks that we know to be so steep!


Day 24: 9-25-03, Thursday, New Moon
Sunrise 6:56 AM, Sunset 7:02 PM
Bench below Trail Camp (11,500' el. approx. / 217 miles) to Whitney Portal (8,360' el. / 222.4 miles)
Day's distance: 5.4 miles

5:30 AM Woke to the sound of footsteps. Disappointed it's not a bear. Some spry fold are already pounding up the trail to Mt. Whitney!

Another gorgeous day! We amble down the remaining few miles to Whitney Portal. There we'll check out the store for Whitney and JMT souvenirs and see about getting a ride back to Apple's car at Happy Isles. 'Spose if we don't get a ride, we could take another month off work and hike the trail south to north back to the car (ha ha, that was a joke).

They only have an expensive satellite phone for public use at the Whitney Portal store, so I use my credit card to call my husband. So good to hear his voice and he's so proud we made it! At the snack bar we order a satisfying lunch of veggie burgers. Yum, hot food! The store has a scale for hikers to use, to weigh gear and all. I weigh in at 120.5 lbs. and that's with boots and everything! I estimate my weight at about 117 lbs. sans clothes and boots. Always the joker, Apple says he's sure nobody would mind if I stripped down to nothing for a more accurate weigh in. I roll my eyes and laugh being as the scale is smack dab in the middle of the public area of the store near the register and front door! That Apple!

There's no public transportation out of Whitney Portal. Neither of us has hitch-hiked since our twenties but we put out our thumbs hoping someone will take pity on us and give us a ride. Expensive SUVs with plenty of room pass us by….this is going nowhere.

Apple introduces himself to a couple of rock climbers, Lisa and Cameron, who are loading up their gear in the parking lot. They very generously offer to help us out. They only have room for one of us so Lisa asks another climber to help. Apple gallantly tells me to take the ride with Lisa and Cameron and he'll catch one later in a separate truck.

Lisa and Cameron are so kind to give me a ride. They are both from British Columbia and taking some time off work to rock climb in the Sierras. Lisa works with Outward Bound, and as an environmental therapist, she takes troubled people into the wilderness to heal their wounded spirits. What great work she does. We need more like her in the world!

1:45 PM I'm standing in a patch of shade on a corner in Lone Pine. Hot here! Apple is getting a ride with from two other rock climbers and their dog. I sure hope they were able to squeeze him into their very tightly packed truck and he finds me standing at this main intersection in Lone Pine.

Yippee, I see Apple coming and flag him down. We locate a phone at the nearby pizzeria. I make a call to Lou at Kountry Korners backpackers' shuttle service, but she's not sure she has a driver available for us today. We buy showers at Kirk's Barber Shop and feel ever so clean using soap for the first time since the showers at Reds Meadow Resort. After a few phone calls back and forth, and a few bars of "Stuck in Lone Pine again…" (to the tune of Creedence Clearwater's "Stuck in Lodi Again"), Lou of Kountry Korners confirms a ride for us back to Yosemite Valley. At 9 AM tomorrow morning, Lou's driver, Jeanie, will pick us up in front of the Dow Villa Hotel, where we'll spend the night.

We enjoy pizza, beer, cookies, buy some souvenirs, and explore the pleasant and friendly town of Lone Pine. The view of Mt. Whitney from Lone Pine is magnificent. Were we really at the top only yesterday?!!


Post JMT 9-26-03, Friday
At 9:20 AM, Jeanie picks us up in her white van at the Dow Villa Hotel. She knows the area very well and is a great tour guide as we drive up 395. Around 2 PM, we arrive at Happy Isles trailhead parking and find Apple's very dusty car. We give Jeanie a $40 tip since we feel that the agreed upon fare of $195 just wasn't enough for such a long drive.

In Yosemite Village we get sandwiches at the deli and use the phone to call my husband. I have never felt so healthy, self-assured and pleasantly immune to the valley tourist hubbub. Occasionally, I share knowing smiles with other hikers who retain the laid-back uncomplicated spirit of the wilderness. The dreamscape of the wilderness is the real reality. Modern "civilization" with all its inventions is a cheap trick, a clunky illusion. Alas, it is back to home and jobs for Apple and me. As always, we both promise to hold on to the magic of the mountains….and start planning for the next trip.

 

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