An epic escape

•August 31, 2008 • 1 Comment

We woke up at 4:30 to the gale that hadn’t stopped all night. Brian’s leg has not improved. We wrapped his leg in athletic tape and began up Glen Pass. Didn’t look so bad compared to some of the other stuff we had come over. Two words, “False Top”.

note: This is a phrase we coined which is pretty self explanatory but describes a common occurrence on the JMT. Only when you believe with all your heart that you are NOT at the top of a mountain will the JMT allow you to pass. Any mumbling of “nearly there” or faint hope in the last few sweaty steps of the last ridge  and all you will see is another mountain range expanding infront of you.

So after we cockily walk up the first little baby hill we idiotically surmised was Glen Pass we got to see the real thing. It was the steepest thing I had ever seen. Dark crumbly rock, steep and exposed , it looked like Mordor. This is the first time I have been scared for my life going over a pass. With Brian doing his best to keep me calm about his injury, limping behind me. But as it was said in Lord of the Rings, “not nearly frightened enough”.

An hour of climbing in Gale force winds while boulders are flying down from the top of the pass threatening to literally knock us off the mountain and we find that the top of this pass is a 25 yard narrow crumbly trail with a 2,000 ft drop on either side. And it is really freaking blowing, like 60 miles an hour. So in between gusts of this crazy wind we had to get across this section. Half way into my mad dash the wind blasted and I had to drop to my hands and knees to keep from getting thrown off balance and over. It was like an action movie, or a horror movie, whatever.

Brian limped all the way down the others side, he is in a lot of pain. We have come to quite a predicament. If brian can not hike an average of 18 miles a day on his bum leg for the next two days we will not have enough food to get out of the wilderness! We will starve and then we will die.

Ok maybe not, but we won’t have enough to eat that is for sure. Here comes a very hard but obvious decision for us, we can not finish the trail with brian in this injured state. We had to hike out now. Miraculously, this discussion took place at the only trail junction to civilization for 100 miles. We have been ridiculously  blessed on this trip. The JMT is not going to let us pass for free though. We have to hike over another 12,000 ft pass and it is blowing harder than it was this morning. After a last sad glance up the JMT me and gimpy hobbled up kearsage pass. This was scarier than the first one.  It was blowing so hard. I am going to say 90 miles an hour at the top and only brian can know if I am exaggeratin, but I don’t think so. Those 7 miles went something like this.

“Be careful”

“I will, you too”

“ok”

“keep a wide stance, wide grip on your trekking poles”

WOOOSH WHOOOOSH

“If it is a really crazy gust just stop and squat down”

“ok, I love you”

“I love you too”

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH

“If you get thrown off try to get your poles into the side of the mountain to self arrest”

BLAST

“Holy Shit!”

GUSH

“F@%$!”

VROOOM

“are you ok?”

WOOSH

“we are never getting off alive!”

We did make it though. Brian actually did get blown into the side of the mountain. The light at the end of the demon hurricane vortex was that as soon as we got over the top we met two middle teachers eating real sandwiches and huddling under a rock for shelter. They offered to take us all the way to lone pine. Joy! a bed, a shower, a burrito supreme.

Bob and becky dropped us off at a hotel with the vanilla ice creams they bought us and wished us farewell. People are amazing. In less than 3 hours from our near death experience we were showered, drinking a pitcher of bear and inhaling (people in the restaurant were literally staring at us) two large pepperoni pizzas.

So that concludes our adventure. We are physically exhausted but mentally bright and spiritually clean. This has been a trip of love, realization, danger, beauty, determination pain and great peace. We are sure to do it again.

Rae Lakes

•August 30, 2008 • 1 Comment

We hiked the rest of the way up pinchot pass this morning between 6:30 and 8:00. After that we ate breakfast and walked. For as Bill Brison noted in A Walk in the Woods, “this is what we do”. We had to get down from ten thousand something feet to eight thousand feet and back up to ten thousand feet in the course of a 15 mile day. This up and down is especially grueling on our already aching bodies. It was a tough day, by the time we got all the way down to the valley we had a 6 mile uphill climb to the base of Glen Pass. We are sore, smelly, dirty and beat as hell. During the last 6 miles the weather turned stormy and it began to gale. However when we got to incredible ray lakes the sun came out. And although it is windy as hell (the tent is threatening to cave in on us) I can absolutely see why this is my Mom’s favorite lake. (who hiked the jmt back in the years of external frames and 60 pound packs). The mountains are like nothing I have ever seen. Monstrous and cragged they are black with huge difining orange and white  stripes that contour around their ridges. Our camp spot has to be the prettiest on the lake with views of these tiger mountains and directly below fin dome (looks exactly like a huge dorsal fin. I am sure my mom stopped here because as an artist she always demands excellent views and this one is absolutely the best. It is very reassuring as I sit here in my aching dirtieness to know that my mom was here (who can no longer hike because of illness) just as dirty and hungry looking out over this lake only a few days away from completing this incredible trail.

ps Brian’s leg is really bothering him. Beginning to be worrisome, seems like very bad shin splints .

climb the mountains and get their good tidings

•August 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Brian woke up very sweetly today at 4:30 and we were at the top of Mather Pass before sunrise. In fact its ray’s first touched us at the very summit. Nothing like the sense of accomplishment you get by hiking a 12,000 foot pass before sunrise. Brian taught me the circle of fiths (music theory). The pass was marmotless and as brian said “everything you could want out of a pass” as when you get to the top you start going straight down the other side again with beautiful LOTR (lord of the rings) views. We had oatmeal by a pretty lake on the other side and then walked all the way across the valley to the next mountain range which we proceeded to cim up. Our spot for tonight is halfway up pinchot pass. As we powered up the switch backs we realized we actually were enjoying them. I mean it feels pretty awesome to exercise when you are this in shape. We got to lake marjorie in record time for us (before two). We are camped at a lovely open space at the base of a mountain w. red rocks. We did all our chores and are now lounging around in our tent because its kind of blowing and cold out. Apparently we have a few 20 mile days ahead of us.

The Golden Staircase

•August 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We are camped on a grassy patch that slopes into a white sandy beach that dissipates into a shallow turquise in between kind of lake in the middle of upper and lower palisade lake. At the top of the world half way in between the valley and the 12,100 ft Mather Pass. Brian is happily organizing the bear bin on the grass while I take a hot bath next to him. It looks like a scene from “into the wild” but before you get too jealous let me detail the horrors of what it took to get here. Since we jsut came over a huge pass yesterday we walked through a canyon for the first part of the day. Yes we did get up at 4:30 again and this time we had breakfast after we hiked a few miles (too spread out our food) because we are starving all the time. This is all good and well and then we get to the end of the canyon to this place called “the golden staircase”. Which I can describe as no less that 400 switchbacks of crumbly granite, completely exposed to the 90 degree sun with a meager patch of shade every 150th switchback or so. We hadn’t even eaten lunch before we started and couldn’t stop because we didn’t want to be frizzeled like fritters in the heat. After two hours of this we were soaking wet and dizzy and saying things like “get mad at that golden staircase” and “what the hell is this”? We finally got to the top and climbed around the lake to eat our meager lunch which just made us hungrier. Everything hurts on our bodies and we are only half way up this pass. These days will be beautiful if they don’t kill us.

Muir Pass my ass

•August 27, 2008 • 1 Comment

We woke up at 4:3o. I am serious. Did I mention that Brian hates to get up when the stars are still out and you can see your breath so we can pack up and hike 15 miles up a pass (again). Yeah he really hates it. He usually whines in his sleeping bag when I tell him it’s time to get up until I pull the plug on his air mattress. Then he will whine louder in his sleeping bag on the cold ground. When he finally gets up, (or sits up) he will whine in an upright position trying to sleep like that. He does eventually get moving although if he says anything to me at all the first hour of the morning it is usually something like, “Balls, I  Hate the morning”. But can you blame him? We were hiking up switchbacks with forty pound packs hours before anyone we know was actually thinking about getting up and all they have to do is roll out of their comfy bed and turn on the coffee maker. Our reasoning is, we have to hike over these mountains any way and its a lot easier when your not stuck on the side of a pass in the devil hear. Pass, speaking of, Muir pass is what we went over today. It was by far the most beautiful thing we have seen yet. Passes in the High Sierra are kind of a double edged sword. Like Muir pass was full of sweeping greenery, the kind that can only come from alpine snow melt and cathedral like mountains and waterfalls and lakes so clear you could see frogs swimming 30 feet down at the bottom. On the other side you are going up switch back after switch back of crumbly rock in the devil sun which wouldn’t be soo bad if the altitude wasn’t twelve thousand feet in elevation and making you dizzy . And 9 times out of 10 when you get to the top of a pass there is a troop of marmots sitting at the top so big and fat you mistake them for seals waiting to charge you and get your food. Of course this is when I start to hyperventilate at 12,000 feet so brian has to walk all the way down the other side of the mountain before he can refuel on a moldy power bar and shitty trail mix. The day was beautiful, don’t get me wrong. Some of the most startling and epic views I have ever seen. I’m just saying, this isn’t easy. We are camped in a beautiful meadow with towering granite that looks like yosemite and it’s time for bed.

Evolution Valley

•August 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We hiked for about 10 hours today. 7:30 to 5 with the fullest packs we will have to carry. We entered beautiufl Kings Canyon and hiked up the crystal clear San Jaquin River all day. In the afternoon we made it to evolution valley (which is just as pretty as Yosemite, towering granite mountains and sweeping golden meadows sprinkled with indian paintbrushes, buttercups and blue bells, shimmery streams and no people not any). In fact the first people we saw today were some JMT’rs that were handing us the bundel of credit cards and money that we had dropped on the trail. Um yeah. The universe has been good to us on this trip. We camped at the base of muir pass on a gorgeous sunlit campsite by the river. I even had enough sun shine to do laundry and wash my hair. Ahhh. The sun stayed out so late we ate dinner in our underwear. Tomorrow starts the pass a day week.  Muir Pass 11,979 ft, Mather Pass 12,100 ft,  Pinchot Pass 12,130 ft, Glen Pass 11,978 ft and the infamous Forester Pass 13,180 ft.  We start for Muir pass at 6:00 am tomorrow so we can get over it before it gets too hot. Tonight is our 16th night on the trail. Crazy because it feels like I have been out here my entire life and at the exact same time It feels like I’ve just arrived.

hot-springs and tests from the universe

•August 25, 2008 • 1 Comment

You think your so enlightened and then you drop your camera into the water and loose all your JMT pictures. But before that, Brian and I woke up and bush whacked our way over a few ridges to the same beautiful Marie lake. Up close she was just as stunning. We got to a little cove that was very shallow and saw (we couldn’t believe our eyes) a school of giant rainbow trout swimming back and forth. There were like hundreds. So as I was handing brian the camera we missed the interception and splash. We retreived it after a full dunk and it worked for like a second then nothing. As  Un-zen like as possible I started sobbing. All my pictures lost. In fact I continued to sob all the way up Seldon pass and most of the way down. Ekhart Tolle says, “The universe will give you whatever you need for the development of your consciousness.” I resent it bitterly. I used my pocket knife to take the camera apart so maybe some water would evaporate, and miraculously it worked. I was so elated. Brian was happy for me too. I sang all the way to Muir Trail Ranch where we picked up our food drop. We have to carry nine days in this one so we had to sacrifice snacks (my favorite part of the day) but since the most intense hiking is coming up, we won’t have time anyway. We camped at a little backpackers campground where we forded the river and sat in natural hot springs that a PCTr in Yosemite recommended. We talked with many other naked JMTrs in the sulfur pools who were all very down to earth hippies. Nice social change and tomorrow back to solitude. I am just happy as a clam, (as long as I have my Camera)