So now we’ve all been placed in a unique situation. Back in the states, unemployed but not, and yet being paid a thousand dollars a month by the US government to effectively do nothing at all. Being dropped back into a world that we’d all left two months prior was initially all too strange, but most of us got moving. Quickly.
I got wrapped up in a plan to hike the John Muir Trail, spanning the highest stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from Yosemite National Park to Sequoia National Park. Two hundred and ten miles through the High Sierra, between 7,500ft and 14,500ft, and with a total elevation gain of over 80,000ft. It is considered to be the marquee stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, and one of the most famous thru hikes in the world. No simple task, but seven of us leapt at the opportunity. Once everyone in our group of seven was confirmed and properly outfitted we convened and began. Within ten days we had gone from the Jungle of West Africa to the alpine meadows of Yosemite.
For all of the instant and accessible beauty of the High Sierra, it was quickly apparent that we were nowhere near the fitness level that we would need to be to complete the trail the way, and in the time frame, that we wanted to. And yet for all of our physical shortcomings, there was never a moment without plenty to enjoy. From the very first day on the trail we hiked over 11,000ft Donahue Pass, taking us south out of Yosemite and into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. From the top of the pass in the slowly fading daylight, I could see out past Mammoth Mountain to what I thought was the Evolution Range spur of the Sierra’s, at least fifty miles away.
Every day was difficult, but with immense reward. We often woke tired, achy and cold, and it was a privilege to be able to sleep below 8,000ft whenever the opportunity arose so as to not expose ourselves to the bitter night cold, even in the peak of summer. Days were almost always very long and the distances covered daily varied. As did our abilities to cover them, and fitness level person to person, which did takes its toll on our group. We began as a group of seven, but only our group leader, George, knew and understood what problems were created by such a large relative group given the situation we were in. Our differences in pace were immediate, and exacerbated by any all climbs along the hike. At several different parts along the trail we split up and then reconvened, allowing faster hikers to cover more distance, or steady hikers more time to cover the same amount in a longer day. The inevitable did happen as we individuals called it quits at various parts of the trail, their bodies not able to handle the constant and unforgiving nature of constant declines and inclines and the strain it would put on joints and lungs not equipped to handle the thin mountain air.
By the 100 mile mark, a group of three of us had charged ahead from the other two remaining hikers; another two having decided to quit before injury or sickness became a real issue. My friends Amanda, Ben and I had decided to force a harder pace in order to finish the last hundred miles of the trail and summit Mt. Whitney in seven days to meet the time line of another plan we had committed to.
We lasted two days on our quickened pace and could no longer hide the wear and tear we were all feeling, even as the scenery became even more remarkable. Morale was dipping with the hardest stretch of the trail still ahead of us, and a further 75 miles of hiking still to go. The morning of what would’ve been our most brutal day we went about business as usual, waking up at 6am to pack up our camp and prepare everything for a potentially difficult day. Instead of heading off on the trail however, we sat and talked, and reevaluated how badly we did… or did not want to continue our hike.
Turned out we had all come to feel like our finishing the hike on top of Mt. Whitney had become more of a chore than a joy, so we decided that it was in our best interest for our bodies and minds to bail off the trail and make our way back to Sacramento. We made our way over Bishop pass in heavy winds, descended out of Kings Canyon National Park and into Owens Valley.
I’d heard about the established hitch hiking culture of highway 395 on the backside of the Sierra’s, but never would have assumed it would be as easy as it was to get where we needed to. Simply asking directions from a couple taking their dog out for a relaxing morning led to us three not only getting a ride back into Bishop, but a hot curry dinner, clean bed for the night, breakfast, and a ride up to Mammoth Mountain to the next best spot to hitch hike our way north. Needless to say, Mike and Janna took care of us. And I made sure I let Mike know the view of Mt. Tom from their house was unbeatable, to which he replied it was the defining factor in purchasing the lot.
Mammoth, and then Tuolumne Meadows presented no problems either. Within fifteen minutes on both occasion we were picked up by people in Subaru Foresters (which was also what Mike and Janna drove), and everyone was more than happy to take us where we needed to go. I’d never had such an easy time hitch hiking before, and to do it so easily with three people hardly made any sense whatsoever. Not that I didn’t appreciate the hell out of it, I really did.
And now we have a couple days to lay low before the next adventure, a cross country road trip to Chicago, with many dates and locations in between.