I’m Lost! – Day 5 on the JMT
Restless Legs and Other Annoyances
I’m lost! Ok, not yet. Right now I’m still in bed. I woke up thirty minutes before my alarm went off… around 5:00 a.m. this morning. Still in a halfway dream state, I stalled for a minute, laying there, trying to will myself to get out of bed. I didn’t sleep well. Restless leg syndrome and my stupid shoes that kept invading my space, kept me awake. I can deal with the shoes, but the legs were agony. This went on for hours, it seemed. What causes restless leg syndrome? Doctors don’t really know. To be honest, I’m not sure if what I was feeling was actually restless leg syndrome. The feeling is hard to explain.
Let Me Paint You A Picture
Let me offer you an analogy that might help you understand the experience. Imagine you are having leg surgery. Soft music fills the air as the surgeon turns on his favorite guitar solo, Led Zepplin’s iconic song ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Closing his eyes, the surgeon allows the rhythm of the song to take him over. At that moment he interlaces each of his fingers into various tendons between your toes and up the back of your leg, plucking and strumming each delicate cord to the tune of the soothing melody. As he slowly pulls each string, your body flexes and stretches, toes point and strain, to relieve the tingling sensation and tension. This repeats over and over until the song concludes, or more often than not, you pass out from utter exhaustion, later waking to only its unpleasant memory.
Looking down, I noticed that my pant leg was up. Maybe it was cutting off my circulation? With desperation, I pushed my pant leg down and began vigorously rubbing my legs. I don’t know what else I can do. The shoe problem I fixed. Instead of storing them near my feet where they repeatedly slid back down in my direction, I ended up hugging my bag of shoes. As uncomfortable and strange as that may sound, it was so much better! It reminded me of the nights that I slept with my babies in my arms. Was it the most comfortable position, no. Did I get sleep, yes. As for the legs? I don’t know. I eventually fell asleep.
Early Bird Catches The Worm
Despite the lack of sleep due to restless legs and shoe invasions (Not to be confused with alien invasions. There was no probing to my knowledge), I knew I had to get up. It was imperative that I hit the trail while the snow was firm. With reluctance, I threw on my clothes, got out of bed, and with a little hesitation, put on my shoes. I eased my foot slowly into the first shoe, but with a sigh of relief, I realized that my shoes were not frozen. Not only that, they were actually warm! Wet, but warm. It was heavenly.
I packed up my things, shoved my hammock in my backpack, did a quick brush of my teeth and hair, but did not eat breakfast. There’s just no time! I grabbed a protein bar instead and shoved it into my shoulder pocket. Then off I went like a bat out of hell. Who came up with that expression anyways? I’ll have to look that up later.
Like an agile doe, I could go at top speed on the icy trail, sprinting across the tops of the suncups. I was making amazing time! Luckily, almost immediately, I found a tiny spring to filter water by a tree. My bottles were completely empty. Minutes later, I was skipping across the snow fields once again in the early morning twilight. Hours continued to pass at this pace, and the thought of possibly getting home today crossed my mind. No such luck! I got lost, or rather not necessarily lost; I just was not where I was supposed to be. My blip was clearly marked on my GPS map, yet regrettably, my blip was not located anywhere near the trail. Gah!
I was way off track from where I should have been and it took me at least an hour to get back on track. I kept coming upon a meadow and I would think, “Yeah, that’s the meadow I saw yesterday,” so I’d book it, sprinting in the direction that I was sure would lead to Lower Yosemite. My GPS is slow at updating by at least ten minutes, but I was so sure. Nope! Once my GPS finally moved my blip, I could see the reality of things. I need to go left. So I’d go left and I’d see another meadow. This must be the meadow! Once again, my GPS finally updates again, nope! Wrong meadow. I need to go left. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m just going in circles, but I do what my GPS says.
Finally! The correct meadow! I increase my speed to a sprint once again. I can tell the snow is starting to soften, but not to the point where I’m slipping yet. Luckily the sun was still hidden. Cloud cover was keeping her at bay. I kept going, trying to traverse the suncups with a quickness and finally, I arrived at Sunrise High Sierra Camp, once again. Not too bad. It’s still before noon.
A VERY Short Lunch Break
At the base of the stairs that lead up to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, I slipped off my pack, in need of a relaxing lunch break. It was a cozy spot with a perfectly shaped rock for a bench with a backrest, a stump for a footrest that doubled as a table, and a waterfall for filtering, with the extra bonus of a soothing melodic trickle. Lunch is not my most gourmet of meals. Each day is the same; tortillas with peanut butter, string cheese, and salami. Luckily, I never seem to get tired of it.
Noticing that I had cell service, I decided to call my fiancé, David. I wanted to let him know that I’d be back by tomorrow. I wasn’t sure how he was going to take this news, since I had told him the day before that I was quitting and turning back. Needless to say, he was a bit upset. He thought I’d be home today. His work takes him out of town most of the time and he wanted to see me before he headed out of town for two weeks. I said I’d try. Maybe I could hike faster.
Let The Slush Begin
I shoved my food in my face, packed up again, and headed back out on the trail. The snow was definitely getting softer by now and I had to maneuver much more carefully on the sun cups to keep from falling. I was doing good though and keeping a good pace. Finally, my GPS said we were in the final climb up through the trees to the highest point on this day of the trail, 9,740 ft. I couldn’t wait to be heading downhill. The slushy snow was making it almost impossible to climb without slipping back down. If I could have, I would have thrown in the towel and started over tomorrow. Nope! Must get home, so I trekked on.
I had to carefully select my route so as not to slip down the mountain. Although I was making ok time and happy with my progress, I checked my GPS. I was off track… again, and needed to go left. That doesn’t make sense. Left is down, and I need to get higher. I settled for straight. Checked my GPS again. I needed to go left. I was getting way off track. Gah!
I end up glissading down a few levels to make quick progress. This was my first time glissading (sliding) down the mountain, and as scary as it was, it was also exhilarating and fun! I continued on and checked my GPS. How can I still be off-trail? I go left again and once again check my GPS. Nope, you need to go right. What!?!? I now needed to scale the mountain, again. This went on for a while.
Finally, I came to the final push, and a push it was. I looked at the steep hill and felt the soft snow. This is impossible! I had to do it though. There was no other option. I just needed to read the mountain. Carefully I stepped using the sun cups as stairs when I could and chiseling out steps when no suncups were available. It took time but I made it, and I was awarded with the best view! Unfortunately, I came to the realization that this wasn’t the top. I kept going and going for what seemed like forever. Finally, I said “Fuck! This has to be the top!” I checked my GPS. It was in fact the top.
As I looked to my side I saw someone. Another hiker. I’m sure they thought I was crazy talking to myself. This was the first person I’d seen in two days. Soon I realized that there were in fact three hikers. We waved, yelled hello across the snow, and asked where each other were going. They were JMT Southbound and I was heading back to Happy Isles planning to finish in September. I hope they make it! Pressed for time, I moved on.
Downhill Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up To Be
It’s all downhill from here! Should be easy, I say. Wrong! I was so wrong! If you thought uphill in soft snow was scary; downhill was horrific. Slick snow and downhill don’t go together unless you can glissade, which I couldn’t because there were no clear paths. My only saving grace was the dirt patches and rocks intermixed between the snow. Down, down, down, I went like Alice in Wonderland. I thought I was doing great and making up for lost time. Wrong! Go left my GPS said, so I did. Go left more my GPS said, so I did. You know how this story goes. I got lost, or rather way off track. Every so often I’d see the tracks of the three JMT hikers I had just passed, but then I’d lose them. This continued on for a while.
As if by magic, the heavens began to shine down on me, as I saw a piece of the trail. Glorious dirt, with that soft sandy texture created by thousands of feet crushing the pebbles on the path year after year. I am found!!!! Wrong. I quickly lost the trail again amongst the snow. How much more left do you want me to go?!?! Apparently way more than I did.
I decided I wasn’t going anywhere until my GPS updated again, so I plopped my ass down on a large fallen tree and waited. While waiting, I called David. “I’m lost,” I said. He was no help though. He was getting his hair done and had no time to talk. Bla! I just wanted someone to whine about my day to. It’s probably best that I don’t, though. Whining never got anyone anywhere. Instead, I checked my GPS. It had updated, and I set out to find the trail again.
Can I Get Anymore Lost? Hold My Beer…
After following the line of the river for a while I realized that I needed to cross over to the other side. Luckily there was an easy jumping point and I didn’t even get my shoes wet. Ok, I’ve got to be on the trail by now, right? Wrong! Go left! I did go left! Dammit! Arguing with my GPS won’t do me any good though. I’m never going to win. I keep going and going… left. I fall a few times in the slippery snow, one time with a sharp snow ridge right between my legs. Ow! I’m so glad I’m not a man. That could have been much worse. Pulling myself up, I keep going.
At this point, I’m roaming through dead brush and fallen trees. One would think I was walking through the Valley of the Dead. Tall stalagmites of naked charred lumber scattered the land. Luckily we had such a wet year. The ground brush was starting to come back, but the trees would need more time. I glance back down at my GPS. Like a broken record, it says to go left. What else can I do? I go left.
It never seems to be enough though. I feel like I’m trying to please a teacher that will never be pleased. It will never be enough. Looking up, I come to what looks like the Great Wall of China. Now what do I do? Do I scale the Great Wall? My GPS says that is where I need to go and I see now that there is no other option. With that, I scale the wall and with tears in my eyes, I see a magnificent view… and more importantly, the trail. Thank god!
I Am Found!!!
I rip off my microspikes. I’m done with you! I would have thrown them off the cliff of the mountain… but, you know… that wouldn’t be very Leave No Trace of me, would it. Instead, I shove them begrudgingly into their little pouch that hangs off the side of my backpack. Let’s just vow not to look at each other again for the rest of the trip. With that, I skip down the trail like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’m on my way! I take pictures and sing. I’m just so happy. With a newfound glee in my voice, I call David and let him know the good news. I’ll be there tomorrow for sure. I am found!
Up ahead I see a river. “Hmmm… I’ve got to go”, I say. It looks like I have my first river crossing. As I get closer I notice that it’s not as bad as I thought. The water is rushing for sure, but other hikers or possibly rangers, I’m not sure, have built up a log dam to cross over. I’m able to easily walk across using my trekking poles to balance myself. Soon after, I come across another river crossing. This is a smaller river, and I could have easily walked through, but I see a tiny log just a little ways up the path so I don’t have to get my shoes wet. Score!
Thru-Hikers Are Always Your Friend
Up ahead I see a man coming my way. He looks like a thru hiker so of course I stop him to talk. I love talking to other thru-hikers. His name is Greg, and he has two weeks off to try and get as far as he can on the John Muir Trail. While talking about the snow, he shows me a topo map (CalTopo) he uses to see snow satellite views in real-time. Awesome! I need this app for sure next time I travel in the snow! We part ways and wish each other luck. Later that week I saw a post on the Facebook John Muir Trail group. Greg got off trail five days later near Agnew Lake. The endless supply of suncups had done him in. Hopefully, he can head out again next year.
I’m so close! On the verge of collapsing, I can’t wait to arrive at my campsite. As I zero in, I come to a river and see two guys fishing. I wave and then as I walk away, I instantly lose the trail. Wow! This is embarrassing. I’m not sure they should even let people like me go backpacking. I must hold a record for how many times in a day I can get lost. This talent of mine extends far beyond the boundaries of the forest though. As my mind wanders, I can easily get lost driving home from work on the same street that I take every day. Are you impressed?
Hmmm… Are All Hikers Always Your Friend?
Back to the trail. So, I come to an area that stops at the river. Does it cross the river? It looks like it does, but I don’t want to be wrong. I’ve gotten lost enough times today. I just want to go to sleep. Risking sounding like an idiot, I ask the guys if this was the right trail to reach Clouds Rest Junction. They say yes, and point me to a trail heading up the hill. Thanks, I say! I go on ahead, but before heading up the hill I stop to check my GPS for confirmation. While checking my GPS I see the two men stop fishing and go up the trail they pointed towards. Weird. I look at my GPS again. Wait! This is Clouds Rest Junction! I’m here! Glad I checked.
I think about the two men. Hopefully, they just thought I had said Cloud’s Rest and missed the Junction part. I hate to think that something bad could have happened should I have walked up that hill. I’m not sure why I would think that. I normally feel so safe in the forest. I talk with everyone and I never get this feeling. For some reason with these two, I got a bad feeling as soon as I said hello. Shake it off. I don’t want to give my fiancé a reason to say I need to carry a gun. I just don’t find the need. I’m sure that I’m just tired and overthinking this.
My Last Night
Up ahead I try to find a place to camp. There are quite a few other people already here and the great spot from my first night on the trail is already taken. I hope I can find a secluded spot. Tiptoeing through the brush I head far back off the trail. Nothing pops out as being an amazing campsite, so I decide to settle on whatever two trees I can find. That made things easier. I find a cute little spot not terribly far from a water source. Let’s make this quick, I say.
First, I set up my hammock. Sleep is all I care about right now after all. Next, I get water and proceed to cook dinner. While my dinner cooks, I decide to clean up camp. There are tons of sticks on the ground which doesn’t look great for a midnight pee. It only takes a minute to brush everything away with a stick. After eating dinner, I pack up all my things, get dressed for bed, write in my journal, eat my Snickers bar, and head to sleep… hopefully. My legs are bothering me a bit. Let’s hope this is not a repeat of last night. With that, I close my eyes.
And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.
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