We had to change our original plans for July 4th weekend due to injuries preventing us from doing any backpacking or too much hiking. Though we did still want to get outdoors, so we got out to Shenandoah for a Friday hike. Have to get rid of that steak, hotdogs, and beer somehow. #merica
Recently, I’ve driven up and down the I-81 corridor too many times. Usually it is during the night so I can avoid the worst traffic on the busy freeway. I was doing the drive this time on a Sunday afternoon, so I thought I’d break it up with a hike in Shenandoah National Park. It was the perfect respite on a hot evening.
For many, Mt. Whitney is an emotional, spiritual, and personal final closing point of the three week long walking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the John Muir Trail (JMT). It is the tallest point in the continental 48 states and a symbol of one’s achievement through the struggles against nature and oneself. At least that’s the perception I have regarding others on the trail.
I wish I have a grand conclusion to these trip reports about my JMT finish for you, but I just don’t. I’m sorry if I’m making it sound anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have reached it and I enjoyed the views from the top of Whitney upon the surrounding peaks and the desolate valley of granite below, but I wouldn’t say it was anything different than just another day of hiking.
Perhaps I was emotionally fulfilled already now that I’ve once again returned to my familiar hiking position of following Meg’s butt on the trail; perhaps it was that I would to continue to do so in Peru immediately after this; perhaps it was because my experience of the physical challenges on the JMT was relatively mild for me; perhaps it was because I took zeros back in society to recharge; perhaps I didn’t think the view from Mt Whitney was the best I’d seen ever or even my favorite on the JMT; perhaps it was because I didn’t finish at the same time as Chris, Cindy, Diana, Bob, Jack, John, Alex, Steel, Mallory, Jean, and other new friends I met along the way; perhaps it was the a-hole who tried to rush us off the of the summit of Whitney just so he can have the summit to himself to camp at; perhaps it was my annoyance at the a-hole for an hour after leaving the summit; or perhaps it was the seemingly never ending and pointless switchbacks before our finish at Whitney Portal.
All of these statements were true, but really the key, I believe, was simply that the day I hiked Mt. Whitney and finished the JMT was just as typical as any other day on the trails I’ve hiked around the world. The experiences I had on this last day was what I expected and continue to look forward to in the future on my never ending thru-hike. But that’s not a negative, because I am a hiker and I am fulfilled by hiking. Regardless if it was the final day I spent on my JMT hike, I was happy doing something I like and will always continue to do…
and then write insanely long “magazine style” trip reports of it. Hope you don’t mind the load time. 🙂
This is part 6 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
A key aspect I’ve highlighted (part 3) about hiking alone on the John Muir Trail (JMT), or traveling alone in general, is that you are not really alone. You end up meeting new friends at places you camp or major stopping points like Red’s Meadow, Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR), and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). You may end up hiking with them or see them multiple times over the course of your hike, forming trail families (tramilies). When traveling, you end up at hostels where everyone shares your attitude of explore the city or town so it’s easy to make new friends and explore together.
While that social component is very much present on the JMT, there is still plenty of solitude you will experience at part of your hike. This solitude for many of us gives us the opportunity to reflect and gain that aspect of self awareness that we may not have the chance or time to do in our busy and noise everyday lives. Nothing like the sound of your feet crunching the trail mixed in with nature’s soundtrack of rushing water and singing birds to allow you to get lost in your own mind. It can also literally get you lost on the trail when you are so in the zone that you miss trail markers, which may have happened in an early part of this trip. Solitude is a huge part why I hike and I’d say a beneficial quality of hiking. With the uncertainty of my career during this later portion of my graduate studentship, solitude and reflection was something I looked forward to. This is also why I don’t typically listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music when I go out for a hike and I’d recommend that everyone start off hiking without those either.
However, feeling lonely is also common as a solo hiker with so many more days on the JMT and other thru-hikes than a typical backpacking trip. Even though I looked forward to the solitude of are part of this hike, I also reached that point of loneliness. For me, this is part of the reason I can never see myself doing any of the long distance thru-hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and Appalachian Trail (AT). Of course, the point that we feel lonely and the aspect of how each of us deal with it is different. Commonly, this is where the audiobooks, music, and podcasts are a welcome distraction.
My solution these past 7 years is, of course, Meg. This was the first hiking-centric or backpacking trip I had taken in a long time without her due to circumstances out of our control. That unpleasant loneliness served as a reminder of what is truly important in my life. And within that, I learned the axiom to help guide me through this uncertain point in my life.
This is part 5 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
Throughout my hiking career, there are always days that just does not go your way.
It didn’t go my way when my hiking partner abandoned me on the Tour du Mont Blanc when we had missed the correct trail. I was never more miserable on our aborted attempt up to Long Peak where I didn’t get enough sleep, probably felt altitude sickness, and was shivering uncontrollably in the little rocky hut at the keyhole. Getting sick also brought our first attempt at Ausangate to an end. The thought of “what did I get Meg and I into,” crossed my mind several times when we flew 2 days down to Torres del Paine only to walk through a consistent downpour where visibility was a minimum to begin our trek. That kind of weather would return to greet us on our first time through the Huemul Circuit, but added to the sopping rain was one of the steepest and most dangerous downhills on slippy dirt I’ve every hiked down. Staying in Patagonia, “Oh No” and several other words of anger were spoken when we accidentally snapped a pole in our tent on the O-circuit, but at least it was near the end of our hike and it worked out. The other time our tent pole was snapped in the Lofoten Islands by crazy winds brought our hike to an end. The panic that threatens to wash over me when we realize we were lost in a snow covered terrain during a way too early season hike of the Walker’s Haute Route is not pleasant. Neither was slogging a full day through soft snow, post holing with every step, also on the Walker’s Haute Route. Nor was trying to skip going up a snow field by going further ahead to the next lodging only to be dumped on my a thunderstorm … yes on the Walker’s Haute Route. That hike had quite the experience now that I think of it, it’s a wonder Meg stuck around after that.
When I started writing this, I did not anticipate a trip down memory lane of the most terrible days we’ve had on the trail. However, these are only a portion of the overall hiking experience. An reflection Arnold and Becky had about backpacking in the earlier part of my trip was that it consisted of 60% suffering and 40% benefits. That specific ratio can be argued, but tolerating the suck is a necessary part of achieving the awesomeness in hiking or really anything worth doing.
All those terrible, no good days that one can experience during a hiking career can emphasize all the negatives and can push us emotionally past that point of quitting. But it is hard to make sounds judgements after those kind of days while in the state of low moral. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you are ever thinking of quitting something after a bad day, don’t make that decision until you’ve had a goodnight sleep and a fresh mind. If you still feel the same way in that refreshed state, then you truly know that is the right choice.
While the John Muir Trail (JMT) during the peak season is relatively tame in comparison to some of my other experiences, there are times when the trail will test your tolerance. The section between Red’s Meadow Resort and Muir Trail Ranch was the section that tested my tolerance the most.
This is part 4 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
When you hear people talking about the John Muir Trail (JMT), they speak of it having a special aura. The impression created for prospective thru hikers is that the JMT ought be done as a whole from Yosemite to Whitney or vise versa for the full experience. While the aesthetics of the JMT is indeed inspiring, it in itself isn’t the reason for JMT’s aura. To that point, you really don’t need to do the JMT to witness the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the impression I came away with from both talking to the locals and personally experienced on my hike is that the JMT is only a glimpse of the wonderment within these mountains. “To really enjoy the aesthetics of these mountains, you just have to get off established trails into the many valleys,” said a local backpacker I met on the trail. Ofcourse, not everyone have the experience to plan something like that, but there are plenty of trails criss crossing the Sierra Nevadas that you can use to plan backpacking trips providing infinite aesthetics.
The combination of the number of people on the trail, everyone having the same frame of mind, having the same shared experience, and camping at similar spots makes it easy to bond and form friendships. It also makes for one of the best solo backpacking experiences as you are never really alone if you don’t want to be. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on several popular, remote, and usually longer duration hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, Walker’s Haute Route, and the O-Circuit in Torres Del Paine. To a greater extent, it is also similar to the city to city hostel backpacking travel experience where it’s easy to to meet new friends to explore the city. The JMT is just an expanded version allowing for a better chance for you to capture that aura.
The section heading out of Yosemite National Park and up Lyell Canyon out of Tuolumne Meadows is where many of these friendship and trail families start to form. The reasons that lead to this is that everyone have started to establish their prefered pace, you start to get out of the touristy crowds of the main Yosemite trails, the options of the track becomes singular or highway like as some locals say in jest, and there are specific stopping points that everyone tends to end up at. It was during this section that I met the friends I’d see throughout my hike in Chris, Diana, Cindy, and Bob.
This is part 3 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.
This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted. Read More
For the last 3 years, we’ve enjoyed the southwest companion pass. On multiple occasions on this blog, I’ve mentioned that it is currently the best travel hack. The companion pass has provided us the means for direct trips to fly out to Colorado for our road trip, visiting Arcadia National Park for July 4th, visiting family for the holidays, attend the many weddings, and helping us reposition for our international trips. Recently Southwest has also announced that they will be flying to Hawaii as well. One destination I’ve had my eye on when I went for it initially 3 years ago was Southwest’s international destination of Costa Rica.
Maryland? Yes, this is a hike report about a local Maryland hike as we start to transition to the D.C. area.
Over the past few year, we’ve had our delays and plans go awry. But it always seemed we were able to figure out new plans and were able to achieve what we wanted to do. So we were due to run out of luck at some point and the norse gods were happy to be the ones to bring all my plans crashing down and then some.