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Strength and Smokescreens – Bishop to Vermillion Valley Resort

(This blog entry is from my Patreon blog, where you can see my Adventure Blog entries before anywhere else while supporting my trade and craft. Along with early blog posts, Patreon backers also receive access to trail comics, drawings, and videos.)

Originally posted: 8/03/2018. Transcribed from handwritten journal.

July 21st – Saturday – 2.3 hiked -??? Total

Back in the trail! Sort of, anyway. Since we weren’t able to get out of town until noon and had a 2,500-foot climb first thing over a pass, and storms were moving in… we made camp at a lake just before the pass.

We have 5 to 8ish days of food in our packs and really wanted to take it easy. We’ll be getting up bright and early to take Kearsarge again and then Glen Pass in the early afternoon.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out what to do with my afternoon. It’s only 2 pm and I’m in my tent! Eating and drawing don’t seem like a bad idea.

July 22nd – Sunday – 9 hiked – 157 total – 10,558 feet

Another short day, although not as short as yesterday. Taking both Kearsarge (11,760 feet) and Glen (11,949 feet) in one day took a lot out of me. I don’t think I was properly acclimated either since I’ve only been taking a half dose of my Diamox. Guess I need the full dose after all.

It took me way too long to cross Glen; it was grueling. Stopping and trying to catch my breath every 10 to 15 steps. In the last .2 miles, I fought back tears. I wanted to cry. But why? I knew I’d be over this thing eventually. It was just so hard.

I had fallen in line with a large group of middle-aged women on their yearly ‘epic adventure’ and I took some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling up there. I forced back my tears and channeled my despair into anger. No, I would NOT suffer. Things may suck and be difficult, but suffering is OPTIONAL.

Summiting the pass was rather anticlimactic, and I made my way down the other side just after eating a Luna Bar. Lunch (Rae Lakes) was only 1.8 miles ahead, but also down 1,500 feet of extremely rocky trail. The trail was closer to a ball pit than anything else. It took me nearly 2 hours to cover that 1.8 miles, and soon after arriving the afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. We’re uncomfortable hiking in thunderstorms, and this one didn’t seem to know when to quit. So we called it a day.

Tomorrow we line ourselves up to summit Pinchot Pass, then Mather Pass, Muir Pass, Selden Pass… 4 more nearly 12,000 foot passes in the next 75 miles, and then we stop going over the 10k mark for the rest of the adventure.

I’m enjoying this experience, but I’d love to stay between 6,000 and 10,000 feet.

At least there I can breathe.

July 23rd – Monday – 10.3 hiked – 167 total – 10,279 feet

Today was a short day that felt like a long day. Granted we didn’t leave camp until 8:30, but it still felt like forever.

I was hiking alone from the start, Bones taking off at his casually speedy pace. I decided to take it easy, enjoying the sights. My morning was full of meadows and alpine lakes.

I decided to try hiking to an audiobook. Previously I’d been hesitant to do so, worried about being distracted and tripping. My experience was quite the opposite. Listening to Terry Tempest-Williams’ narration of her book “The Hour of Land” had me hyper-focused on the trail in front of me, but also left me cool and collected. There were only 3 hours of the 17-hour recording left, and it quickly ran out. My post-book haze had me thinking intensely about our national parks, their purpose, their needs, and our relationship not only with the parks but with all wilderness, and the future of us as a species.

The book ran out just as the trail started getting hard for me, and in its absence, I struggled up the mountain. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t breathe. I was barely moving a mile an hour. Soon, the afternoon rain rolled in and I put up my umbrella. During the rain the sun would swing back and forth behind the clouds, causing sun showers and thick, humid air. It choked me. The steep climbs in the Sierra are often assisted with huge man-made steps cut from stone. Sometimes as high as 2 feet, these steps kill me and cost twice as much energy to hoist myself. I envy the long-legged. My stomach continued to protest, and my lungs never ceased their quivering. I had no choice but to stop at every steep step and gasp for air.

The last half mile took nearly 45 minutes. I stumbled into camp, a small rocky area flanked by a rushing creek, and a sweeping vista of the valley below, and I broke into tears. I sobbed into my knees, sitting right in the dirt without my sit pad. It was hard, so hard. I couldn’t get any words in between my hiccups, and Bones feared something had happened. He had already been here for hours. Nay. Just the difficulty of the day reaching the surface in a messy emotional outburst.

Now I sit in my tent, listening to the thunder roll through the valley once more, while I wait for my mushrooms to hydrate. Miso ramen tonight. Tomorrow we take Pinchot Pass, and if I’m feeling well enough, Mather Pass as well.

July 24th – Tuesday – 16.1 hiked – 183 total – 10,853 feet

We overslept this morning by a half hour and weren’t on trail until 6:45 am. Strangely, JMT hikers never seem to be on the trail until 8 o’clock. Meanwhile, Bones is already stressing about making enough miles today, and I already felt like crap. Same shit as yesterday; weak, quickly out of breath, and slightly sick to my stomach. Have I not acclimated yet?

Bones was up most of the night with a toothache, he thinks it’s infected. Hopefully it calms down.

At our first break, I give in and take some Dramamine and later more painkillers for this headache. It takes 3 hours to hike the 3 miles to Pinchot Pass, but we got there eventually. No time for selfies, we have miles to bag. Bones desperately wants to do at least 15 miles today, which means taking Mather Pass as well.

Thankfully, the trail between the two passes is smooth and gradual. It threatens to rain but doesn’t. We take a long break anyway, and I fill myself with food. I think my ‘illness’ is from lack of calories. After eating half my weight in tortillas and cheese curls, I feel loads better. We easily take Mather Pass and make it to camp by 8.

Today is our 8th wedding anniversary. Yay us.

July 25th – Wednesday – 14.7 hiked – 198 total

Today was a sleepy day, no doubt about it. I was startled awake at 4:30 am by a deer near my tent, and couldn’t get back to sleep. More than half of our day was downhill and mostly gentle, but I couldn’t keep a rhythm for more than an hour. It’s not that I’m ‘tired’, per say, just sleepy.

I’ve also learned that I don’t like Hiker Hunger one bit. You swing from energized to starving and nauseated so quickly you forget what it’s like to simply be not hungry. Absolutely nothing satisfies me. I’m never full, and minutes after finishing a meal I’m hungry again. All I think about is town food, and what I’m going to order when I find a god damn Denny’s.

Bones and I also come to the conclusion that most JMT hikers (200 miles of the PCT in the Sierra Nevada) are greedy, selfish, inconsiderate jerks. They smell like deodorant too. I’ve never met a PCT thru/section hiker that acted the way these asshats do. There’s too many of them too. I never expected the SIERRA to be so CROWDED. Elbow to elbow in tent sites.

Don’t they have a cap on permits?

July 26th – Thursday – 15.2 hiked – 213 total

Today had a rough start. With 4.4 miles to the famous Muir Pass, and 2k feet of climbing, I wasn’t doing well. My legs were weak and heavy, and my balance was off. After a particularly challenging creek crossing, I lost myself in a fit of emotion. I cry too much. But even strong people cry, that’s what they all say. An hour and just a mile later, Bones forcefully takes a large amount of weight from my pack and dumps out a liter of water too. Of course, I wept–this does not make me feel strong. He does this out of love, he wants me to succeed. But being stubborn isn’t strength.

My lighter pack helps, but once we hit 11k feet it was a battle for oxygen. My inhaler isn’t working like it’s supposed to–it dispenses slowly and lightly, I don’t think it’s providing me with any benefits.

The Muir Pass approach is majestic though. I wish I had the time to appreciate it. Will I ever have the time to enjoy where I am? We even cross some snow, which was a nice change.

We reached the pass and the also famous Muir Hut around 10:30 am, 4 hours after we left. But know what? This is our last 12,000 foot pass, and we’ll never hike this high again (on this adventure, anyway). Turns out Selden Pass is only 11,000ish. Amazing.

I didn’t get to enjoy the Hut very much. It’s made completely from nearby stone, and inside the round structure are benches that wrap around the room, interrupted only by a bricked up fireplace. Above the mantle is a rack of Antlers and a plaque, I think. I couldn’t stay I site very long, as the stale musty air gave me a coughing fit despite the wide open door.

We didn’t linger at the pass, it was hot and exposed, and we saw the day’s storm clouds in the distance. 6 miles to trees. Blarg. I was so tired, I stumbled along, nary taking a break. It was hot, and I barely had 20oz of water left (despite being surrounded by lakes and crossing streams frequently). I hungered, and zoned out. But we eventually found some shade by a lake 3 hours later. I was starving but nothing in my bear can appealed to me, or looked like something I could keep down.

Bones then made a big pot (cup) of cabbage heavy Miso soup. We split it, passing his charred aluminum pot back and forth. It was divine, and just what I needed to work up an appetite. I made the one meal I had been saving for a day like this: Hiker Pho. And I used Bones’ larger pot to double the broth. We split this as well, savoring the incredibly unique anise broth and chewy rice noodles. I had been cold soaking mushrooms since the morning too, so it had a rich, meaty broth.

After that, I was still hungry, so I decided to break I to the foil pack of Tuna I picked up in the Kennedy Meadows hiker box almost 150 miles ago. Bones dared me to eat it on one of his cheddar sandwich crackers, and it was in fact the BEST thing I had eaten in what feels like a lifetime. He gave me the whole pack of crackers and I savored the crunch, salty, creamy, and fishy thing I was putting in my mouth. I felt like a million bucks after that, and we both put in our headphones for some Downhill Jam to camp in another 5 miles.

Metallica, by the way, is excellent Downhill Jam music. I rocked the trail, hopping from one rock to another, pounding the dirt with vigor. It only took an hour and a half to reach camp, which was empty of other hikers for once. Finally, camp early and all to ourselves.

Not that we did anything special anyway. We’re below 10k feet but were too tired to have a fire. Instead, we planned out the next few days. We’re less than 60 miles to Mammoth, the next town and resupply stop. But tomorrow we’re visiting the Muir Trail Ranch, where legend has it JMT hikers overload the hiker boxes with goodies they don’t want to carry.

More food! NEW food, please!!

July 27th – Friday – 13 hiked – 226 total

First thing this morning we crossed Evolution Creek. For the first time, I forded a crossing that went higher than mid-shin. All the reports said it was no more than the knee-high, but these must have been some tall hikers because it went halfway up my thighs! Although swift in the middle, it wasn’t that bad. It could have been easier, though, had I water shoes. I don’t have to mind doing these barefoot though. I call water crossings like this Foot Washes.

It took us another 3 hours too hike the 6.5 miles to MTR, the trial is so rocky and treacherous. My ankle has been a hurting, and all I could think was “one good roll and I’m out of the game”.

Finally, we arrived, albeit ‘late’, and concerned the boxes would be empty. But much to our delight not only were they overflowing but they were meticulously organized by foot type, as well as toiletries and gear. We were able to load up on lots of new and unique foods we never would have been able to afford anyway. Due to necessity, I’m no longer a vegetarian, but I doubt I’ll be eating much meat in the frontcountry. We hung around a few hours, letting hikers come and go, as we picked off their leftovers like hungry vulchers. There was a kitten here! I was more than happy to get my kitty fix while I was here.

Around 30 minutes before we planned to pack up and go, a hiker strolled in and announced to their friends that they probably had strep throat. Bones and I made a French Exit after that

The hike out of MTR was very steep, 2.5k feet in just 3 miles, and on top of that, the air was hot and dusty. I had 2 asthma attacks without a properly working inhaler. I hate feeling so weak.

At camp, we grazed on our new munchies with passion, then fled to our tents to avoid the mosquitoes.

July 28th – Saturday – 20.8 hiked – 246 total

Sometimes you just gotta take the good with the bad.

We woke this up morning feeling great, and took Selden Pass by 9am.

But immediately we knew something was wrong. Instead of the usual expansive landscapes, there was nothing but haze beyond the first ridge. A few hours later, after talking to some southbound hikers I learned there was a new fire burning in Yosemite Valley, and the Lyons Fire had not only broken containment but there was a second, separate one. This quickly explained my difficulty breathing yesterday, but made me fret for the future. There was already thick smoke in the air, I could clearly smell it, and to get to Reds Meadow/Mammoth we would walk right by the Lyons Fire. My new inhaler is waiting for me in Mammoth.

Bones and I talked it over, discussing our options. We decided it would be in our best interest to hike into VVR today (which we had planned to skip) and get out of dodge. Another hike ended early due to my health. Oh well. We hiked down the Bear Creek trail an unmaintained trail that we didn’t learn was 10 miles long until someone told us halfway through. Shit. But we did it in just 4 hours. It was steep and smoky. I kept a wet bandana over my face. It helped a little.

We got to the trailhead and found out it was another 6 miles down a rough jeep road to the resort. Shiiiit. But we got a ride from an extremely generous couple, and had fun on the bumpy road in. At VVR they refused any compensation for the ride, and we arrived just in time for a BBQ dinner. I drank my fill of hard cider and collapsed in my tent.

Tomorrow we figure out the future.

The difference of a day and some rain to temporarily wash away the smoke.


August 3rd – Friday – Bend, OR

So! We’re all caught up on my hand written journal pages. Clearly it’s been a week, and clearly, I’m no longer in the Sierra Nevada!

After a few days recovering and deliberating in VVR, as well as Bones working off our tab as a dishwasher (he had a lot of fun though), we caught a lift to Fresno 3 hours away and hopped on a train to Bend, OR. Here we plan to hike the last 200 miles of Oregon to get to Trail Days in time! I’m looking forward to cruising Oregons’s smooth trails and re-hiking the section hike that BASHers took place on!

View from the train as we passed through the Castella area of Northern California. So much smoke.
Mt. Shasta, barely visible through smoke.