The journey continues for our two girls overcoming new heights, emotional exhaustion and physical challenges. Read their memories of the second part of the John Muir Trail below.
22 August • Day 7
Despite a cozy bed and a warm shower, we rested fitfully at Mt. Williamson Motel, eager to replace the sound of roadside traffic with creeks and birds and the crunching of rocks beneath our feet. By 830 am we were back out on the trail with smiles in our hearts and conditioner in our hair, heading back over Kearsarge pass to rejoin the JMT.
After 5 hours or so, we felt we'd covered enough distance for the day and we stopped beside a small lake at 11,200 feet, about a mile shy of Glen Pass. We happily spent the afternoon practicing yoga on our thermarest pads (our yoga mats didn't make the cut in our fastidious and ruthless packing), bathing in the lake, and plotting our route for the next few days.
In some ways it feels like we've only just begun. With the new moon and the eclipse at our backs, we feel lighter, and like we're being given a new start. We’re ready for the next two weeks.
23 August • Day 8
We've got our morning routine down - coffee, trowel mission, breakfast, thaw ourselves in the sunshine, break camp - and at 9 (or thereabouts) we return to the trail.
Today we hiked our longest distance - nearly 14 miles. Along the way we saw pools of melted glacial water, sitting atop glistening white ice. Topaz lakes dotted our surroundings with emerald islands whilst swift white water flowed down huge slabs of marbled granite. We saw periwinkle butterflies; snow bridges; and even a bear! We didn't make it to camp until after 7, where we set up the tent, trying to outwit the swarms of mosquitoes and warmed ourselves with hot food before nodding off in a dream of the day's beauty.
24 August • Day 9
As the days go by, we're starting to feel more and more like reflections of nature, rather than something outside of it. We see ourselves in the trickling waters, in the slopes, in the lichen-covered boulders, and in the swooping sparrows. We feel our minds emptying of urban life, and filling with wonder and clarity.
On our way down the trail we saw at least a dozen workers, tirelessly maintaining the trail, their faces muddied and tanned, their arms and legs strong from a summer of backcountry living. We felt grateful for their efforts and were left in admiration of their commitment.
We set up our tent in a beautiful creekside spot, amid boulder slabs and next to a friendly man, Michael. Tomorrow is another day, another Pass - Mather.
25 August • Day 10
Today we woke to a frosted tent and frozen limbs, waited for the sun to peek over the mountains, then hiked the 4 remaining miles to Mather Pass, which looked intimidating from afar, but turned out to be gentle and sweet. We descended down what's called the Golden Staircase, an impressive set of switchbacks that lead to Palisade Creek. The view from the Golden Staircase was stunning, one we shall never forget.
We knew it would take time to acclimatize to the mountains - the altitude, the long distances, the dehydrated food, the heavy packs - but we didn't consider how long it would take us to acclimatize to one another. It feels like we didn't quite give ourselves enough time in LA to really connect, and our time there was intense.
At times, the trail can be testing. We're attempting to care for ourselves and each other in trying conditions, and along the way we sometimes bicker. We went to bed barely even saying goodnight.
26 August • Day 11
We slept for 12 hours last night. These long, hot days of hiking 6-10 hours have taken its toll. A new day, brings new challenges.
Luckily, our spirits are lifted by the presence of our fellow walkers. There's Shelly from Minnesota who rises at 5am to get a good hiking start to the day; there's Jo, a solo female traveler who expects to complete the trail in 15 days; there's Marie and Strider from the Mt. Williamson Motel who shuttled us to and from the trailhead, washed our clothes, blessed us with necklaces and sent us on our way with bellies full of fresh peaches and advice for campsites along the way; there's Michael, a respiratory therapist in in Reno who has been exploring the Sierras for the last 25 years; there's Callie and Stephen, a couple from Wisconsin who will go to Romania after completing the JMT and who we seem to keep criss crossing paths with each day; there's Brian who hiked 16 miles in a day to camp at the same rock he and his father sat twenty years prior; there's Tim who loped to the top of Mather Pass looking straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and launched into tales of his glory days climbing Yosemite walls with Jim "The Bird" Bridwell; and there's LaVon, a woman who must be in her 70s who takes the teeny tiniest steps you've ever seen - as we were hiking into Onion Valley to resupply she was going the other way back over Kearsarge Pass to rejoin the JMT, and we passed her again heading over Pinchot Pass several days later, and together we three watched a bear cross our path; and there have been countless others who smile, encourage, share the trail and campsites and bug spray and make the days go by a little easier.
We walked from Deer Meadow even further down into Le Conte Valley - 15 years ago a fire raged in Le Conte Valley and the trees' charred remains still stand. The area feels like a cemetery, although new growth is fighting through, giving a simultaneous sense of vitality.
After marching through the valley we hiked way back up again to a perfect perch at 10,500 feet, nestled beside a waterfall and beneath a perfect sky, lit by a brilliant sliver of a moon. Justyna captured the starry sky on her camera, the mountains silhouetted by the dark night. Tomorrow we'll face Muir Pass, the tallest remaining summit of our trip, and descend into Evolution Basin.
27 August • Day 12
Our pace on the trail is slower than anticipated so we've been counting out our meals, rationing our salt, whiskey, chocolate, soap, sunscreen and other sundries, rationing ourselves until next resupply at Muir Trail Ranch.
But there’s no rush. This experience is too precious. We have relieved ourselves of pressures that has allowed our relationship and friendship to strengthen.
Coming up and over Muir Pass was stunning! Snow-capped waterfalls, icy bridges, pristine and serene lakes surrounded us, leading us into a world of quiet boulders, cascading waterfalls, and wide-open space. We reduced our pace because Justyna fell ill and also to take in the spectacular encvironment. We hiked through Evolution Basin and landed in McClure Meadows where the sunset on the river had us both grabbing our cameras, and feeling blessed for this journey.
28 August • Day 13
We hauled ourselves eleven miles from McClure Meadows to Muir Trail Ranch for provisions and contact with home. We picked up some treasures - peanut butter chocolate cups! Lavender soap! Nutritional yeast! Pumpkin seeds! Toilet paper! We didn't realize how badly we had been craving certain luxuries. It was fun to watch other hikers rifle through the boxes of items left behind, and to see people ecstatic with their new supplies. We began to set up camp about half a mile away and suddenly the heavens opened. The sky was a strawberry pink so rich it turned the water and stones pink too.
We'll try our best to get words out to friends, family and sponsors tomorrow!
29 August • Day 14
We laid around camp, catching up on laundry, drinking several coffees, practicing a little yoga and reading and writing a bit too. The sun and rain took their turns, so we moved laundry from the tent to the rocks back to the tent, on to a line and back to the tent, on and on.
In the hottest part of the day we set sail for Sallie Keyes Lake, where hikers have reportedly received good cell reception. With our food freshly resupplied and water a ways off, our packs felt HEAVY. The steep climb to rejoin the John Muir Trail was tiresome, eased only by the fact that we knew we didn't have far to go, and we could reward ourselves with a cocoa or tea or matcha upon arrival. We arrived just in time for a sunset dip in the lake, but unfortunately still have no phone connection. We'll try again tomorrow.