Miles: 13 (22.5)
I wake to a chilly morning–I can see my breath. What a difference a day and a few thousand feet make. The 6 a.m. scene is so serene I consider just stopping my hike right here (just kidding…). The air is crisp and smells of the back-country mountains, a smell I fell in love with in Colorado but was absent in Yosemite Valley.
I take a long time packing up and eating breakfast. I’m being intentionally lazy, which is a wonderful thing to do sometimes. I enjoy each task, separately; no multi-tasking. Dress. Gather water. Break down campsite. Re-pack my backpack. Boil water. Eat breakfast. Clean dishes. Stand and stare into nothingness.
There are no chores in this place. Equal parts necessity and pleasure.
I set out walking at 7:45 and hike through an old growth forest with giant moss-covered trees. Ferns carpet the ground. After some time I come to a large meadow with knee high grasses and mule’s ear hanging over the trail and brushing against me as I walk by. I put out my hands on either side and high-five the vegetation as I hike. Morning light shoots sunbeams through the trees and the sun rises slowly, as if only hinting at the noon-time to come.
I reach the gorgeous Taft Point, my final lookout “point” on the Pohono Trail. The park service has built a guardrail on the edge of the cliff and you can stand with your toes on the precipice and lean over into nothingness. When I say the drop was over a thousand feet, I mean: the drop was over a thousand feet, so I back away. A lady arrives who hiked the JMT in two sections over two different years and we speak for a few minutes.
I see more and more people as I hike and realize I am close to a trail-head. Hikers are out in numbers as the day is clear and bright. I keep watch over Sentinel Dome off to the east, which I’ve been eyeing for a couple of miles and wondering if the trail will take me to the top. Then I’m at a junction and unsure which way to go. I regret my lost map again. Sentinel Dome is above me, and I choose to take the trail leading to its summit, which I reach by noon. Eventually it becomes apparent that I will have to backtrack to get to my destination: Glacier Point and the Panorama Trail. Oh well, I chose wrong and the consequence is only another vista, with the added pleasure of dozens of German speakers spitting out their language.
On the way down, an older gentleman with a bare barrel-chest and white beard comes thundering down the mountain and sending off some major Hemingway vibes.
“Where are you coming from?!” He asks.
“The Pohono Trail, Tunnel View.”
“That’s a helluva climb! I’ve done it four or five times. Can’t beat the views though!”
“No, it was wonderful.”
“So where are you headed?” He has sped past me now and I am talking to his broad back and black cap.
“Whitney.” I say.
“OHO!!! The John Muir Trail! Good for you!” He flashes a thumbs up at me and increases the distance between us. “I have one piece of advice for you…Don’t be a lightning rod!” And then he’s off and gone and I holler a thank you at the space he used to occupy but I suspect he never heard it. He had rounded the corner.
I descend further and leave the Pohono Trail at Glacier Point, which is choked with tourists and cars and I get out as fast as possible after I’ve refilled my water bottles. I cut down into a valley once again and see Illilouette Falls as the heat rises. Again, sweat drips from my face. At a river crossing I stop to tend to the blister on my foot and soon begin the next climb to Nevada Falls. In this country there is no east, west, north, south. Only up, and down.
On the way to Nevada Falls I pass a woman with a badly sprained ankle, sitting with her husband. She is crying and can’t put any weight on it, which is bad news at this point: a 6 or 7 mile walk to the next trailhead. There’s little I can do but hike on, and promise to make an emergency call when I can or at least tell a ranger in Little Yosemite Valley when I pass through. I leave them and hike fast. Two hours later, on top of the bridge over Nevada Falls, I get reception and make a call to the ranger station. The water crashes over the edge. I look down into the rift below and think that somewhere in that crease in the mountains is the Mist Trail, which that poor woman has to walk down unless a helicopter can lift her out.
I am officially on the JMT.
I start climbing again, this time out of Yosemite Valley for good. I can see Half-Dome above me; it’s after 6 p.m., and I’m tired. I want a campsite with water, but this section is known for being dry. I load up with 3 liters at the last reliable source and prepare to dry-camp. My back is wet from sweat and dried rivulets streak across my dirty face. “It’s not enough.” I say out loud, thinking about how I’ll have to ration my supply.
I begin stumble-hiking. My poles clack loudly on the rocks with each step; I don’t have the strength to lift them high enough. As I reach the junction to Half-Dome I think, “This isn’t easy at all! This is very hard!”
I see a man. I spit out a question along the lines of:
“Nope, just scoutin’ the area,” he says. “Hikin’ it tomorrow. Camped up near Sunrise Creek.” The man has a thick grey mustache and a creased face.
“There’s water?” I say.
“Yep, just a trickle though.”
“That’s good enough!” I say and mumble a thank you. I take off. Half a mile to camp and water. I drink down a liter as I walk. I reach my site a little after seven and make quick work of camp. People are all around, but from my site I can’t see them. The JMT hiker highway! I inhale my dinner and walk into the woods to look around. I walk back, and get in my tent. Then, briefly, I fall asleep.