JMT Diaries: Day 4 & 5

Day 4: Thursday August 16th – 13.5 miles

Mt. Whitney Summit to a campsite before Wallace Creek

Day 4 was one of the most anticipated days of our trip. If we had been able to stick with our original SOBO permit we would have started at Yosemite and finished with Mt. Whitney and exited the trail at Whitney Portal, but because we had to switch to NOBO last minute due to the fires it was the first mountain we would have to climb, and the biggest. I was a little nervous to start the trail with the highest peak of our entire trip, but because we started 25 miles ahead at Cottonwood Pass that gave us a few warm up days before hitting our first mountain. Since we were coming from the trail and not from the Portal, we’d be going up the mountain and then back down from where we came instead up going up one side and down the other. This meant we were able to leave our tent and packs at the base of the mountain and climb with only the necessities: water, food, and headlamps. Knowing I wouldn’t have to wear a pack made me feel light in heart and on my feet.

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Our alarm was set for 4am, but even before that we heard several groups of campers hike past our tent in the early hours of the morning as early as 1 or 2am. Even though it was dark when we woke up, I felt like we were late risers compared to all the other hikers that had passed us. I ate a meal bar and some energy gummies that our friends had given us the day before hoping it would give me the boost I needed to start the day.

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As soon as we started up the mountain, I began to feel sharp, gas pain in my stomach similar to the pain I had felt the day before, only this time it was worse. I realized it must be the gummies that had been gifted to us because I’d been eating meal bars for days without any problems, and my stomach pain from yesterday was also after devouring several gummies. I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to eat any more of my new delicious trail “candy” and also angry that I was having to climb the biggest peak on the JMT with terrible stomach pain. Logan didn’t have any problems with the gummies and was doing fine, but he was worried I might be like this for the whole climb. At first, the knot in my stomach made me not want to move, but I realized the faster I went the quicker my body could get rid of the painful gas. So, I just kept pushing through the pain and eventually it subsided and I was able to hike with a settled stomach.

 The view as we climbed up the side of Whitney in the early hours. You can see Guitar Lake to the right and the other lakes we passed on our way up.

The view as we climbed up the side of Whitney in the early hours. You can see Guitar Lake to the right and the other lakes we passed on our way up.

The morning was cold and I started the hike that morning with several layers of jackets and clothing, but after hiking for 30 minutes or so I was already taking layers off. This was a trend that reoccurred most mornings on the trail. We would start with a lot of warm layers and lose layer after layer as the hike went on and our bodies warmed up from moving around. Once my stomach felt better, the rest of the hike felt easy because at least I didn’t want to curl up in a ball on my side any more. We would take rests and water breaks and passed a lot of other friendly hikers on our way up. The sun rose fairly quickly and we realized we didn’t wake up anywhere near early enough to catch the sunrise on top of the mountain. Those early risers probably made it to see the sunrise on the mountaintop, but we were freezing even with the sun out so I was glad we didn’t start that early. Even though it was bright outside, the sun was on the other side of the mountain and our faces and hands were freezing from the elevation. The higher we got, the colder the temperature. My body had warmed up, but certain parts of me were still frozen and I wished so badly that the sun would shine down on my cold hands and face. We passed a few hikers who were on their way down whose faces were blue. When we said hello they didn’t even respond, which was the only time we met not friendly hikers on the trail. I’m pretty sure they were just freezing, but it was such an unusual occurrence for people not to smile and wave as we passed them.

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As we got closer to the top, the trail got rockier and more difficult. You have to be really careful – it feels like you could easily break or twist an ankle when walking on the extremely rocky parts of the trail, and I didn’t want to lose the use of my ankles or fall off the side of the mountain one bit. Looking over the edge made my stomach turn. We would pass by areas where the mountain opened up and just a little bit of sun would shine through. I would try to warm up by the sun but then we’d have to keep going ahead where there was no sun for miles. The hike up Mt. Whitney was only 4 miles but it’s a pretty tricky terrain once you get closer to the top and it didn’t feel like a short trip.

We felt energized and excited the closer we got to the top of the mountain. I was thankful I didn’t have my pack on my back and excited to get to the top. I was also excited to finally get phone service so I could text my mother in law that we were safe. I had forgotten to text her when we left for the trail and there was zero phone service anywhere on the trail thus far, I knew she must be worried because we had been texting her every day on the road trip out there letting her know where we were and that we were safe. Logan told me he had heard there was phone service at the top of Mt. Whitney so I was looking forward to being able to contact her and my family, too.

When we got to the top of the mountain we walked up to the emergency shelter where you can sign your name and press the “easy” button hidden inside. The climb was nothing but easy, but I pressed the button anyway and laughed. I felt so happy that we had made it to our highest peak! I lost no time finding a spot with phone service where I could sit and send messages to friends and family. Logan made fun of me for being on my phone on top of a mountain with beautiful views all around, but I was eager to ease my family’s conscience and apologize profusely to my mother in law for forgetting to text her before we left. She was thankful we were okay and only a little mad at us for forgetting to text her.

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After sending all my messages, we checked out the beautiful views and got some other thru hikers to take pictures of us so we could prove we made it to the top of Whitney. We didn’t stay long. It was cold and we planned to hike at least 10 more miles that day, so we started to make our way back down the way we came. We passed lots of hikers on their way up and we encouraged them that they would make it to the top soon and warned them about tricky and slippery rocks. We had big smiles on our faces because it was sunny out and going down felt so much faster than the climb up the mountain. You can get momentum on some parts of the trail going down, but you still have to be really careful in rocky areas so you don’t trip. We passed our Canadian friends who had given us free food the day before and said our goodbyes since they were heading out towards Whitney Portal and we were going back to the trail. I didn’t tell them that their gummies had made me sick to my stomach.

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Later in the morning, the sun was right on top of us and it was beating down hard. Being that high up means you’re closer to the sun and it felt like we had gone from freezing and dark in the early morning to incredibly hot and bright once the sun was out. We were trying to hike as fast as we could to get down. Logan was ready to be down the mountain so he could use the bathroom. There’s no privacy on the rocky mountain and if you have to go number 2 you’re supposed to bag it and carry it down with you, which was not something Logan was eager to do. I was excited because I had been telling Logan all morning that I wanted eat powdered eggs once we got back to our camp, another food item our Canadian friends had given us the day before. I love scrambled eggs and I figured it would be a really comforting food to eat once we got back to our tent site.

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As soon as we got down the mountain, the sun felt like it was right on top of us and there was no wind or cool breeze to ease the heat. There were no clouds to block us from the direct sunlight either and we were still really high in elevation when we arrived back at our campsite from the night before. I have never in my life felt the sun so intensely, but I didn’t want to take my long sleeves off in fear that it would burn my already sun kissed arms and shoulders. After using the nearest facilities (just kidding there are no facilities), Logan laid down in our tent and passed out within minutes. I wanted to do the same because I was so tired from climbing a mountain and waking up so early morning, but I was sweating profusely and even inside the tent it felt unbearably hot. There was no place to hide from the sun, and my only comfort was sticking my feet in the freezing cold water of the small streams by our tent. This was worst heat we experienced on the entire trail. It almost rivaled being in Death Valley the week before during our road trip out to the trail.

Once Logan woke up we made food and I was so excited to try the powdered egg. Unfortunately, it was not as I had hoped. It looked like cheese from a can but tasted like egg and that flavor and texture combo really made me queasy. Our trail magic food failed me once again. As soon as I took a bite Logan knew from my face I wouldn’t be taking another. He ate all of the so-called “egg” and then made me another meal because he’s nice like that. Logan couldn’t believe how picky I was on the trail. He assumed I’d be so hungry that I’d eat anything, but there’s just some things I won’t eat – and powdered egg is one of them. Looking back I probably wasn’t eating nearly enough due to my pickiness. I wasn’t eating enough meal bars because I was getting so sick of them. I begged Logan to make us hot meals instead, but he was worried we’d run out of fuel and food too quickly if we ate them for every meal.

Once we ate and packed up our campsite, we started heading back down past all the beautiful lakes and spots we’d passed by the day before. We were running from the sun and also potential storms because weather can change so drastically on a mountain. One second it will be hot and muggy and then a cloud passes over you and you’re freezing or an intense hail or rainstorm could start out of nowhere. It rained on us a little and eventually we did end up putting on rain gear, but nothing heavy enough to write home about or to make us uncomfortable. The rain actually cooled us down and felt nice. We actually had very mild weather out on the trail compared to what a lot of other hikers had experienced. All the hikers we passed asked if we had experienced a golf ball sized hailstorm the day before but I guess we had just missed it. We were really lucky with weather and thankfully that continued for the rest of the trip.

The rest of the day was really easy because it was a combination of uphill, downhill, and flat stretches. It can get really annoying going just uphill or just downhill but the combination of the two feels really nice and is easier on your body. I was also feeling super energized the second half of the day from getting food and rest after the Whitney summit. Climbing Whitney made me confident that I would be able to finish the rest of the hike. I figured it would all get easier from here on out if that was the tallest mountain we would be climbing. My back was no longer hurting, even with having to wear my pack again for the second half of the day (I’m sure my back appreciated the break!) and my feet were starting to get used to the miles. We passed by lots of friendly hikers and eventually made it to a nice flat campsite a little before Wallace Creek. It was a relaxing evening and I was thankful Logan had brought me on the trip. Our tent and the surrounding mountains were finally starting to feel like home. 

Day 5: Friday August 17th – 14 miles

Campsite before Wallace Creek to a campsite just after Forester Pass 

We woke up and packed our things fairly quickly on day five. We were getting into a routine and everything was easier and more familiar. I started the day feeling accomplished and ready to take on the next challenge. I couldn’t believe I’d hiked Mt. Whitney the day before and I was really proud of myself! I did it! The beginning of the day was easy, we went downhill and uphill back and forth for a few miles, but then the rest of the day went gradually uphill for miles and miles. At first I felt like I could do anything and pushing my body was easy. Mt. Whitney had boosted my confidence and I was convinced nothing could stop me now, but after a while I was losing steam and also losing patience with Logan. Every time I needed to stop or slow down Logan would call me a turtle, which only frustrated me. Did he not see how hard I was trying?? He only meant to jest but I was tired and thin skinned by the late afternoon. I was also probably not eating enough calories for all the miles we had been hiking. Going uphill was definitely the hardest part of the trail any day for me because I was always trying to keep up with Logan the whole time who can go a lot faster and had way better stamina. I didn’t want to feel like I was holding him back, and it frustrated me when he would comment on my pace. We talked it out and I let him know I needed his encouragement and that his jokes made me feel inadequate and upset. Being on the John Muir Trail is so dramatic. You’re seeing dramatic scenery the whole day and you’re feeling dramatic because you’re tired and hungry and in awe of the beauty around you. Dramatic is probably the best adjective for the trail, Logan and I decided, but it’s not the kind of drama that’s terribly stressful. It’s the kind of drama that keeps things interesting and makes you feel accomplished after a long day. I think Logan could have hiked the JMT in half the time if I hadn’t been there, but I know he was happy I was there with him and that he was proud of me, even though it could be frustrating to wait on me to catch up.

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The scenery was beautiful and we stopped fairly often just to stare at the world around us. The trail was really open and there was a new view around every corner. It was seriously so hard to take in. We kept wondering when it would sink in and feel real, but I don’t know if it ever really did. I definitely miss the views the most. It was amazing to wake up and see that kind of beauty all day. It made me feel small and extremely lucky to be there. There’s so much world out there!

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In the early afternoon we arrived at a group of small lakes near the base of Forester, our first pass. A pass is where you go up and over a mountain. Mt. Whitney didn’t count because we had gone up and back the way we came. We stopped to refill water and eat lunch and ran into our friend Kota and his parents who we had met the second day of the trail. It was fun to see them again and catch up. We were discouraged by a lot of other hikers to continue ahead because there was a cloud looming over to the right of Forester and storms can be dangerous when you’re climbing over a mountain. Usually people try to hike passes at the beginning of the day when you have more energy and the weather is less likely to get bad, but we accidentally kept hitting them near the end our days due to poor planning on our part. We decided to go up anyway and some hikers coming down the mountain assured us the weather was fine. We didn’t get any storms from the looming clouds, but the closer I got to the top the worse I felt.

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Forester was my hardest pass. Logan thinks it was because I wasn’t eating enough because I didn’t like the meal bars. He kept trying to force feed me meal bars and I could barely take bites because I hated them so much. I was being and feeling very dramatic, and the trail was being dramatically steep and difficult right back at me. We had been going uphill gradually for most of the day already, but the top of Forester took “uphill” to a whole new level. I had to stop and rest at every switchback once we neared the top. Logan was really annoyed at my pace and I was feeling desperately tired and wanting this mountain to be over. After what felt like the most grueling couple miles of my life we finally made it to the top. It was extremely sunny and windy at the top of Forester and it felt pretty scary - like if the wind hit you too hard or too suddenly it could knock you off the top of the mountain. The views were beautiful but I was too tired to enjoy them. I was mad at the mountain. I should have been mad at our poor planning with food and timing.

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Walking down Forester was easier in one sense because at least we weren’t climbing up so it wasn’t as tiring, but it felt like it took forever. It was so rocky so you had to go slowly and carefully and Logan and I were both exhausted from how long we took to get over the pass. After a few hours and lots of “are we there yet” moments we decided to eat dinner and rest before we got to camp because it was getting late and we didn’t want to cook after dark. We were both so hungry that we ate two meals. After dinner I changed into my thermals (which I used as PJs) since it was windy and cold and I knew I would want to go to bed as soon as we got to camp. We hiked a few more miles before arriving at a campsite just before dark. There were several other hikers eating dinner at our campsite that were hiking from the other direction and planning to hike Forester in the morning. I wanted to hang out and make friends but I was too exhausted. We set up camp and felt elated to be done with the day and go to bed. I was so happy to see my sleeping bag and my tent. It felt like home.

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