John Muir Trail Aug/Sep 2017

Quartz Mountain Trailhead, walking into the smoke of a Yosemite fire.

52lbs on my back

I have a tendency to carry extra, just in case. My spin/fly rod with my spin reel, line and all lures, floats and other odds and ends. My fly reel, 4 leaders of different lb test, flies of various size, colors, types. Of course nail clippers, small scissors, handyman multi-purpose tool. I think you are catching on – I pack things, pack backups and then pack another – need I reiterate, just in case. Thus the silly weight.

24 days 250 miles including 3-4 “zero” days. Quick math puts us at 12.5 miles per day. Definitely achievable. Good plan, 4 caches set, fairly easy daily walks, so we set out. But as with any long hike, things change. We didn’t cover as much ground per day, so we used zero days to make up our time. We were still behind for our last (and critical) cache drop, so the plans changed yet again. My point – best laid plans entail having Plan b,c,d . . .

4 people, good to have pairs. I have been Blessed to have hiked many times with several skilled people, thus allowing me to gain experience and confidence in the wilderness. I enjoy solo, But I would take and prefer a fellow experienced hiker in a heartbeat. On this trek, I was with two extremely experienced people. Thus our separation mid trip into pairs. We were concerned about missing one of our critical resupplies. So one of my friends and I marched onward at a fairly aggressive schedule to meet that food drop. The morning we separated, one hiker got injured. They readjusted and ended up hiking out. We found out a week later. If at all possible, I recommend having a partner.

Smoke/Fire, Rain/Hail, Oh my!

Another hail storm and these pellets hurt! But the tent handled it well.

2 days sun, 5 days rain/hail for four weeks. Hmmm, weather. I always say altitude is the great equalizer. But foul/unpredictable weather is the real test. Flexibility, safety, awareness of changing conditions and the astuteness to make sound decisions while under duress are all true tests with weather. On this trek, we were tested with 6 days of severe hail, huge temperature drops, aggressive storm squalls, smoke from fires nearby – and this is the Southern Sierras!

Flora/Fauna

Effort mixed with beauty: mountain passes, vistas, waterfalls, flowers, meadows and wildlife. Too many times we get caught up in the, “are we there yet” and “we need to cover xx miles before we pitch tent.” If planned well, there should not only be some flexibility with distance covered (and if necessary where we can make it up), but also to stop and “smell the roses.” One thing I do is stop, then slowly rotate 360 degrees and absorb what I am seeing – where I am going, where I am, and where I came from. This includes seeing (valley/mountain views, active beehive, fish in the stream), listening (hooting of an owl, the wind whispering through pines) smelling (the vanilla/chocolate scent of Ponderosa, soil scent after a storm), feeling the moment (moisture change/temp drop), or just being in the moment. I have a pretty good eye/ear or just vibe (Spidey sense?) at times. This helps me spot marmots, mink, different birds, coyotes, deer, fish, varieties of plants, a snake crossing the trail, an ant hill (lets camp over there instead), scat of many species including ursa (lets NOT camp here), etc. Don’t miss these things. These critters are sharing their back yard with you, so enjoy every opportunity.

Being in shape – to carry your house, walk many miles in a day, unpack and set camp, lie down on the ground and sleep, then to get up in the am, repack, start again – is not just the physicality of the walk, but you must also prepare the psyche. Positive mental attitude can overcome many physical and mental self-created barriers. Using humor versus whining overcomes nearly anything thrown at you. From the medical side – take care of your feet (wash, dry, air them often and carry a good medical kit), eat often (3 meals and snacks in between) and eat well. My body has different requirements than my hiking partner. Know what you need, how much you need, and when you need it. Bonking, migraines, blistered feet, heat exhaustion and many other potential issues can and will derail a carefully laid out sojourn and put not only you, but your fellow companions in jeopardy.

 

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