A great morning. There are few mornings like this is life, knowing you'll be granted almost certain success. The hard work is done, you're coasting.
The hike up to the Bighorn Plateau and across the plain felt otherworldly – it didn't even feel like the Sierra but like we were transported somewhere else. Huge rolling expanses that beckon you to run valiantly, crying, while carrying a flag, or to tear up the terrain in a pickup truck in slow motion.
Right outside of the Crabtree Ranger Station there was a huge container of wag bags – as I had guessed – despite the Yosemite Ranger’s insistence that ‘they ran out.’ I begrudged the extra four ounces.
Guitar Lake was beautiful, surrounded by in imposing amphitheater of rock walls. I tried to guess where the trail wended but was utterly lost in this new terrain. At a nearby campsite we watched sneaky marmots snatch food items out of a careless hikers backpack. Jason called to warn the owner but the site was empty. Despite it being hot and sunny, puffy clouds were gathering around the summit and bodeus to keep up the pace. Each switch backup to Trail Crest was a test in patience – I knew around one of these turns we would be deposited onto the Main Trail, with only two clicks to the summit. We were both in our own little worlds, listening to music, just enjoying the moment and trying to soak in every last detail – in a few hours this epic would end - not just the last nine days, but the last seven months of training, planning and toiling. Eleven months earlier our journey was nothing but a nexus of an idea in our heads, and soon it would be history.
|The regal bowl by guitar lake, coming up the backside of Whitney|
Once I saw the hikers on the Main Trail above us it was all over. We practically floated over the rocks as hikers stepped to the side. At the junction we met a fellow thru hiker coming down from the summit. We congratulated him. He was pouting about the marmots that raided his bag while he tagged the summit. Jason marveled at the full size cast iron skillet strapped to the outside of his pack. ‘That’s for frying fish!’ the hiker replied. Jason and I oohed and awed at the idea of eating fresh caught fist every night. Jason asked how often he ate fish, to which the hiker replied, ‘Eh, just once.’
The last bit of MainTrail, past Mount Muir, was all new to us. We hopped from rock top to rock top elegantly passing hikers who looked near death. Jason was ahead of me. A woman coming down from the summit asked me if I was part of the nine day JMT party. I said I was. ‘My hat goes off to you,’ she said. ‘That’s amazing.’ Struck by her kind words I felt a pang of emotion and started crying. Once near the top, Jason said, Well, I guess this is it,’ and pointed to the summit hut clearly in view above us. I immediately started crying. We were there. The last few minutes we basically jogged to the top, impatiently passing others. The Last few steps we grabbed each other’s hand as we approached the finish line. I placed my hand upon the hut. It was 2:30 pm. We were done.
Up the switchbacks to Trail Crest! Can you feel the energy?!
The miles, they have ticked away.
This was my second summit, and Jason’s third. We spent about an hour on top, resting, eating, taking photos, signing the register, and being amused by the emotionally hardened backcountry ranger (with a Polish last name like mine). Watching the excitement of others as they tag the top for the first time never gets old, whether they are newbie weekenders, hardcore day hikers, or fellow thru hikers. I couldn't help but get excited thinking about bringing my friend Jim up here next spring. Jason got the idea of bringing back a pebble from the summit to give to his god son, with the intention that his mission would be to return the rock to the mountain one day when he grew up; a great way to inspire a kid and give them a worthy goal.
As Jason and I pointed out the fourteeners to fellow fastpacker Joe, I realized how thoroughly we had come to know this place, and I felt proud. Now we can add another notch to our belt. I spent a good amount of time taking in the view of the interior Sierra – it felt different now. I looked north and could identify Forester Pass, so far away. We were there 24 hours ago. Months before the JMT, in one of my women’s athletic apparel magazines I read an interview with an athlete who said one of her life goals was to hike the John Muir Trail. I read that and wondered if I had what it takes to hike the trail, to make it all work out. It was an earnest question, not merely rhetorical. I had stopped short of my goal so many times in the last few years, I wondered if I was tough enough to live up to the level I chased so eagerly. It was fulfilling to finally know the answer to all my doubts and demons.
|Bob, the best guy around|
By this time the summit was becoming enshrouded with clouds and it began to rain, so I put on my hard shell and readied myself for a couple boring hours finishing up the last 11 knee pounding miles to the Whitney Portal. As everyone fled the worsening weather on the summit there was one hiker coming up the trail. I looked at him and was shocked to see a familiar face. After a few stunned seconds it hit me – it was Bob, the guy we had met on Split three months earlier. He spotted me and gave me a huge, sly smile. ‘What are you doing here?’ I demanded. Turns out our new friend Bob had been following our Spot tracker and decided to intersect us while he was in the area. He even brought us a beer to celebrate our success, our first alcohol in nine days. What a guy! Bob said he couldn't believe how coherent we were after what we had been through, and I assured him it was still the adrenaline from the summit and that we'd be crashing soon.
Once we passed Trail Camp the sun came out and we chatted with the Whitney hikers passing us on their way up to camp. Many asked eagerly if we had made it to the top. Jason Regaled some with our true achievement, but to most people we just said yes and left it at that. One guy made a comment that we'll have sore feet tonight. ‘Where are you coming from?’ one woman asked. ‘The John Muir Trail!’ I excitedly answered, hoping to floor them. All the hikers in the group seemed impressed. ‘Wow, all fifty miles!’ she remarked.
Heading down to our salvation, Lone Pine and the Owens Valley
Somewhere around Outpost Camp I thought we were almost done when Jason discovered we still had three miles to go. I groaned like child at the thought of having to slog another three miles. It would take forever! The crash I predicted to Bob had arrived; my body was robbed of all energy. I took a caffeinated gu and resolved to push through all pain, wasting every last bit of energy I had to be able to get of my goddamned feet! I charged ahead and Jason followed suit. One by one we overcame hikers and blew past them. I probably looked like a crazed person. In fact I was a crazed person. After a few miles at the quickened pace it felt like my legs were on autopilot. I've felt this sensation a few times before in my life, as if you can’t stop. Momentum is a powerful thing.
I know each turn of the Whitney Trail like the back of my hand, so I was well aware of where we were as we hiked out. It was growing dark as the day came to a close. Soon we were back at the start, walking through the Portal in disbelief and astonishment. No more miles to walk. We stood again at the Mount Whitney Trail Sign and got our picture snapped by a friendly woman.
After the friendly woman took our photo Jason and I gave each other a hug and a kiss. It was over. I grabbed our cache from the bear bin where we had stashed our food and deodorant ten days before. We walked back to our trusty steed and gave the final test… she started right up. We called the Dow Villa to book a room – they had availability. And the last item on the never ending checklist was to secure a reservation at Season’s for dinner –we would just about make it there before the kitchen closed if we rushed.
Back at the parking lot and no more miles to walk
We dashed to Lone Pine where summer was in full swing, as Whitney hikers walked up and down the street. At our hotel we did a 'first rinse' of the nine days of grime. Goodenough for dinner.
From the Dow Villa we hobbled over to Seasons. We ordered two local Double Nuts and cheered to another adventure complete. The beer tasted great, and the calories were well earned.
I felt contentment and at peace with myself and the world. It’s a feeling I wish could never be washed away, a glow I can carry about myself for the rest of my life, but slowly this dammar varnish will be gradually scratched away by the evils of the world. Soon I will forget this feeling and will return to reality. I’ll return back to my world where I don't have a job, and bills must be paid. Back to grocery shopping, making dinner, and doing laundry. Oh! But to have these memories, these precious, precious memories, it makes it all worth while.
Sitting in the booth, Jason and I sat in silence and gazed out the window. There wasn't much to say, but there was a lot on our minds. Ever-moving for nine days we didn't have much time to stop and ponder. Now with the task complete I felt like I had all the time in the world. This can be a blessing and a curse. The biggest burden in accomplishing a goal is not always in the thing itself, but in the inescapable low you encounter after. A year of dreaming, seven months of training, endless logistics, nine days of pushing… it all ends in an instant. In a way I'm free, at the same time I’m lost again, needing to attach myself to another dream. Sometimes I wonder why I partake in these big adventures, only to comeback and have to start all over again. But inevitably, I come back, looking for a new challenge, a new reason.
The sense of accomplishment and confidence I had at that moment may be the greatest of my life. Of the million things that could have fallen out of place on our trip, I'd like to think that it was our optimism and perseverance that pulled us through, yet I know it was also a great deal of good luck. It’s by rare syzygy when life plays out in such flawless accord, and flawless it was. Such experiences are rare. My memories of that entire summer fill me with nothing but happy thoughts, it is a bright spot in my mind that I often revisit, trying to remember the moments of ecstasy and beauty beyond words, lest I forget what it meant to me in that moment.
It was all for something – it was for me. And I have the privilege to keep it in my back pocket and pull it out when I choose, either to regale friends or simply to remind myself of what perfection feels like. For the rest of my days I can say, 'I hiked the John Muir Trail, and it is the one of the best times in my life.'
|Celebration to another adventure complete|
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