After months of planning, my husband and I decided to section-hike the John Muir Trail during July and August of 2015. The JMT is a 211 mile section of breathtaking alpine landscapes, nestled in the middle of the high Sierras, and only reachable by foot (or horse).
Day 3, and we are finally getting our hiking legs. This was Silver Pass at 10,700 with Lake of The Lone Indian in the background. After hiking most of the day during thunderstorms, it was incredible to see blue skies. Marmots, squirrels, and baby chipmunks everywhere!
“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” – John Muir
Evolution Lake at 10,860 feet elevation. It was here that Theodore Solomons, the visionary of the John Muir Trail, named the first six peaks of the Evolution Range after the most prominent figures in the new field of evolutionary biology; Darwin, Fiske, Haeckel, Huxley, Spencer, and Wallace. I left part of my soul here.
Things I learned on the trail…
1. Marmots steal socks.
2. Thunderstorms are scary at high altitudes.
3. I can hike faster when mozzies are chasing me.
4. I’m married to the most beautiful man (I already knew that).
5. Alpine chipmunks can make me smile no matter how tired and exhausted I am.
6. I am stronger and tougher than I ever imagined.
7. Finding flat-ground for your tent really does matter.
8. After hiking all day, the physical exhaustion leads to a lovely peacefulness.
9. Noises in the night could just be the wind, or a bear breaking into your food.
On our second-to-last night on the JMT we got stuck at 11,000 feet during a lighting storm while climbing the arduous ‘Golden Staircase’. It wasn’t safe to attempt the pass so we setup camp in the rain at Palisades Lake next to a marmot family. It rained and hailed all night. When you’re at that elevation, the lightning claps feel like a sonic boom going through your body. We heard two helicopter rescues that day. Very grateful to have made it home safely.
This is my favorite photo from the trail. It’s pretty easy to take a beautiful landscape photo out there, but what you don’t usually see is the bloody heels, weeks of sweat, and literal tears it takes to hike these incredible mountains and survive in the wilderness.
This was the view from our campsite at Starr Camp. We had hiked from Evolution lake earlier that day, and crossed Muir pass at over 12,000 feet, which are two of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. When we arrived at Starr, we had enough time to set up camp, make dinner, see a mum marmot feed her two noisy babies, and watch an older man teabag the creek in front of two startled young female campers, all before we fell asleep at 7pm.
This is Lilia, a true badass that works for the National Parks Services. I met Lilia when I was climbing the “Golden Staircase” which is known as an arduous climb for southbound travelers on the JMT… Lilia not only climbed the Golden Staircase that day, she was on top of it, swinging a sledgehammer to break up rocks to repair the trail. What an incredible woman.
Every muscle in my body hurts from hiking at high altitude and lugging our 40-pound backpacks, but I feel so grateful to be out here in the wilderness. This is Muir Pass; it was like we were walking on the moon.
The things we saw along the way, we will cherish forever. It’s comforting to know that these beautiful places exist and that when life gets too hectic, we can close our eyes and feel the mountains embrace and protect us.
As a homage to Ryan Dewitt, we packed one of his famous plaid shirts with us on our trip… When you pack for a backpacking trip, every ounce counts since you’re hauling the weight on your back, over the most rugged terrain you’ve ever met, day after day. Carrying Ryan’s plaid shirt with us was a way of saying we love and miss you Dewitt.
This was our last day as we descended 6,000 ft from the John Muir Trail and back into civilization. There was a thunderstorm rolling in on the left which was setting off flash flood warnings on our phones, but this little red baby volcano was showing us the way home. I knew the JMT would kick our butts and throw us deep into the unknown, but i didn’t expect to come home and feel homesick for the mountains (even though I had never been there before). Cant wait to go back again next year!!