This is our normal.
Everyone has their “normal”. A standard something where you know exactly what to expect, without anything crazy/out-of-the-ordinary happening. It’s the routine that you think nothing of and do not question it. Cause it’s normal. It’s supposed to happen.
Our normal is not knowing what to expect. It is waking up between 2am and 4am in the morning, before the sun, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking what comes at us in these tall, tall mountains to the best of our abilities. Our normal is hearing “creeks” before we see them, and knowing we’re going to have to get to the other side, somehow. Our normal is going up eleven and twelve thousand foot passes under the stars or in slush and glissading or heel stepping down the other side. It is having constantly wet feet and smelling like cow piss. It is finding routes through snow patches in the forests and hoping to reconnect with the trail (or giving up and using an app). We do not question the snow or the water levels because most of us have never seen these places before. They told us about the danger and we decided to go for it and now this is what we know the Sierra to be like. We cannot imagine them otherwise; it’s just how they are. It is purely something we have to do to get closer to Canada.
The Sierra are passable. Many people have made it to Mammoth and beyond. I saw multiple people doing this past section solo. I definitely don’t condone that but it is possible. We had limited information on the conditions for each obstacle so all we could do is get there and do it. Whether there were going to be massive fields of sun cups or a beautiful, lovely, clear, dirt-trail, we really didn’t know till our own two eyes saw it. And that was ok. We did not think otherwise.
Flicker brought up the normalcy of risk. It’s when things that typically are risky and cause fear become less scary and you think less about the danger at hand. When you constantly do not know what to expect, this happens. When you ford stream after stream and then a WATERFALL, this happens. When you posthole up a pass and still manage to get to the top, this happens. Crossing logs still sketches me out, but crossing decently strong currents with my feet in the water has become less nervewracking and more adrenaline-rushing. Everything is still intense but we are becoming more comfortable with the dangers presented to us; whether that is a good thing or bad thing, I don’t know.
We made it to Mammoth, with hopefully the most intense section of the trail behind us. All of us are unscathed, but exhausted. We made it in eight days, two days faster than planned. We saw gorgeous vistas, crystal blue water, and fields of green meadows. We forded the two most talked-about streams – Evolution and Bear – without any scares or scars. And now we are in the beautiful, tourist town of Mammoth on July 4th, totally exhausted but relieved. Eight days is the longest I have been in the wilderness and I can say I am beyond stoked to be back in town. This past section was my absolute favorite despite all of the emotions and obstacles. We learned so much in the realm of mountaineering and existing out here. If you care for the details, here is how the past eight days of our extraordinary life panned out.
Santa’s Helper gave us a hitch to the trail head to Kearsarge Pass and we began our climb with our packs filled with eights days of food. Hopefully that will be our longest carry. So much snow melted the two days we were in Bishop, making the way back to the PCT trailhead much easier to route. It was a chiller day, and S&M, Flicker, ATeam, and cowboy camped in a tiny flat spot a mile from Glen pass. It was surrounded by snow with a view of everything below us, around 11,000 feet. Good start to the craziness we were all expecting.
Technically we only did 16 miles but over snow fields, through creeks, and over a pass. Glen was stupid steep but we did it in the early morning under the Milky Way and stars so we had the most traction in our microspikes. Longest time it has taken me to complete one mile.
We had the Lake Arrowhead outlet ford on the otherside, but decided to take a detour to avoid the chest deep water. Instead, it was only waist deep and slow-moving. Note: I swear I did all these fords and passes, but there aren’t very many photos. Either my phone was somewhere dry during the fords or I was making sure people were getting across safely. And when you are climbing a wall of snow, you don’t have the balance to take your phone out for a photo.
We crossed Baxter Creek, which wasn’t awful, and it was an unlabeled creek that was the most sketchy. S&M, Flicker, and I crossed at spot with a very poweful, crotch-deep pool. We all made it through, but that was definitely pushing a limit. Who knows how many extra creeks we have to ford this year cause there is just so much water. Luckily, Wood’s Creek had a suspension bridge. It. Was. Janky. Swung so much and had some missing planks. But bridges are such a luxury and we are so grateful for em.
We began the climb to Pinchot with the plan of camping at the base. And that is where S&M, Flicker and I got left behind. The others were ahead and went for Pinchot. We we were so zonked after battling miles of suncups and slipping and sliding every where in the awful things. Sun cups, not fun cups (copyright Flicker). We planned on getting an early start the next day to catch up…but ended up doing the next couple days mostly just the three of us.
Day 57: By Palisade Creek, 823.2
Long, long, long day. So freaking long. We were hiking from 3:30am to 6pm. Pretty much walking the whole time. The stars were amazing again for our 2am wake up and Pinchot wasn’t bad with the hard snow. At the top we couldn’t see a path down, even with our headlamps, so we rock scrambled down. Not super fun in the dark. We thought we saw our ditchers leaving an island in the snow, so Flicker went ahead to catch em, but no success. Kinda funny since I ended my last blog saying how excited I was to do the Sierra with these people. Oh the irony.
We went for Mather the same day and it was the hardest of the passes. I had a panic attack once I was on top. It was steep, slushy, and there was lots of postholing. I didn’t look up or down. Just took two steps then moved my ice axe. I hit my comfort level on Mather. There were rocks below us so if we fell it would hurt. I slipped twice and my heart definitely skipped a beat. I heard Flicker cheer and thought she had made it to the top. Turns out I was at the top. And that’s when I lost it. The tears came, I was taking quick, short breaths, and I just thought of my Uncle Michael. He died after snow fell away from under him, causing him to fall down a rock face. It could have easily happened on Mather. Flicker gave me hug, I actually let her hug me, and I calmed down. But there is no denying that Mather was scary. I’m just happy I kept it together till I was done. Mather Pass
After the panic attack I looked up to see Airplane Mode, Blis, and crew also at the top! It was so nice to see familiar faces. We ended up hiking down with them and camping with them. And the fun did not stop at the pass. The trail took us through granite waterfalls that we took micro baby steps down to avoid slipping. We went around more rocks, which meant more postholing, and walked above a frozen lake. There was route-finding, snow-walking, and pure exhaustion. We just wanted to be done.
After all the gnarly shit, we hit a sweet vista. A view of the valley we would walking through and the peaks ahead. So naturally we took four million photos. We finally hit the Golden Staircase, a series of steep switchbacks, but really it was the Golden Waterfall. The trail was mostly a small creek with water cascading over each switchback. It was beautiful, but also meant our feet were soaking wet again.
Our first short day! We actually got clear trail to walk on! Man, snow makes me grateful for dirt. Lovely, brown dirt. And only one semi-gnarly creek crossing where we ended up walking along a very brambled log. Almost a “normal” day. And guess what? We got Trail Magic! I couldn’t believe it. Trail Magic in the Sierra! This guy named Bullfrog hiked in and brought hotdogs and BBQ sauce. So good. We sat there for maybe an hour and a half. Then mosied onto lunch then finally our campsite.
We found some wild onions and did some foraging, fresh veggies for dinner. Yee. Oh! Forgot to say Two Taps, who was ahead dropped his ice axe so Flicker carried it for the nwxt six days. Ridiculous. Anyways, we camped again at 11,000 feet on a tiny rock island surrounded by snow.
We did 25 miles. 25 miles in the Sierra. Talk about nucking futs. Jesus. From 3:30am-7pm. Did the 2:30am wake up and saw headlights below is. We though it was Blis and crew but turns out it was Unger and Wasabi and their team! We thought they were way ahead but nope. We ended up hiking the pass with them. Took a bit of a long route but made it to the hut.
We sat in the hut for a while and began the gorgeous descent down. I want to come back here on a drier year. There were so many lakes that were too cold to jump in and just basin after basin. Wasabi, Unger, and Neon all jumped in a lake; they are crazy. They said it was brain-freezing cold. S&M, Flicker, and I left and continued down, down, down into the green, green valley. We followed Evolution Creek for while and its water was Dalmation Coast, Croatia blue. Totally clear to the bottom. So we Greek nymphed in and skinny dipped in its blue waters. Refreshing to the max.
We decided to do the high water alternate for the Evolution ford; people were saying chest high even at the alternate but when we crossed it was barely crotch deep. And very slow moving. This ford was so huped up and it was a freaking breeze. Total cake walk. I didn’t even believe it was the crossing it was so easy.
Day 60: North Mono Creek, First Ford, 879.5
An eighteen mile day. Another big one for the Sierra. I think the only thing that bums me out about this section is that with all the lakes frozen over, you can’t swim. Another reason to come back. But even though it was too cold tonget in the water, the scenery has been gorgeous and these past two days have been my favorite of the trip ao far. We had an awesome sunrise this morning; the mountains were glowing pink as the sun peeked over them. Flicker, S&M, and I climbed to Selden Pass, which ended up not being too steep or snow-covered on the south side. North side was a different story. It felt like a wild goose chase looking for tracks in the snow, I kept repeating to myself, “Wabbit twacks” and, “Duck season, wabbit season, duck season…”. It does make you feel a little bit like Strider from Lord of the Rings though when your single track of microspiked footprints leads you to the trail. I win.
Once the goose chase was over, we had so much visible trail again. God it is so nice. You can see where you are going and I even appreciate switchbacks now. Cause skiing on my six inch long feet gets hard on the knees. We had the Bear Creek Ford today, which was supposed to be the other doozy. More and more John Muir Trail hikers started appearing in this section, they typically southbound, so every time we saw a group we would bombard them with questions to get the smallest idea of what was coming up. Most of the time they were JMT section hikers and had not hit Bear Creek yet. So we did what we had done and just got to the creek to see what we had to deal with.
Someone had written “log” in stones with an arrow. We walked down stream to find a freshly fallen log, still with all of its branches, crossigg the creek. The first bit rolled a little, but Flicker, S&M, and I all made it across safely. BOOM too of the notorious creeks DONE. Accomplished. It makes you feel so good to conquer obstacles you heard were impassable in Kennedy Meadows. We did it. We freaking did it.
The Hilgard Branch ford was actually more difficult cause the bott was granite. AKA really slippery even for calf-deep, medium current water. And it immediately fed into Bear Creek so the run out was shit. But we made it across, using other rocks to support the backs of our heels to prevent us from slipping. Three women taking on nature.
The plan was to meet S&M’s boyfriend by the Vermillion Valley Resort trailhead. It worked out, and she ended up going with him and Flicker and I decided to skip VVR and push through to Mammoth. We camped right before our first Mono Creek ford and had a campfire. If I had the time and energy to do a post on all the people I’ve been hiking with I would, cause they are amazing. Flicker is a ceramist from Colorado and is just super rad. I’m so lucky to have met people this awesome out here.
Day 61: Purple Lake, 893.6
Two chill days to get to Mammoth. We planned on meeting S&M at Purple Lake but she didn’t make it. We planned on meeting her and boyfriend in Mammoth if that happened.
Flicker and I crossed the log first thing in the morning. I know log crossings may seem like a gimme compared to a ford, but these creeks are legitamately impassable through the water. They are white water, with stupid fast currents, and waterfalls as run outs. So logs or walking up or down stream for however many miles is our only option. And logs are scary. When you have extremely powerful water rushing underneath you, and know that if you fall you are going wayyyyy down stream, it psychs you out. You have farther to fall and nothing to look forward to in the landing. So we were always quite tentative on logs.
We began our three thousand foot climb to Silver Pass. Crossed Mono Creek again on another log and ran into Unger and Crew. This log was wet and slippery but had lots of branches for us to hold onto. Then, wait for it, we fordes a waterfall. Not kidding. Probably the coolest thing I have done. It was actually totally fine, but so, so epic.
As we crossed the pounding water made it hard to breath and all of our clothes got damp from the spray. The one pool of white water we had to go through was nothing. Ah! It was so cool! I can’t believe we forded a waterfall. Wow.
We had a good amount of miles in suncups after that, which always causes frustration. There really is just no good way to cross them. They suck. But we slowly got to the top of the pass and had two sweet, sweet glissades down. Steep, fast, and fun.
At lunch, we finally, after seven days, ran into Two Taps and ATeam. Flicker gave Two Taps his ice axe back and we hiked with ATeam through Mammoth. I got to check off another bucket-list item today too: swim in a lake with ice on it. Lake Virginia. I even touched the ice. Mind you, every time we get in a lake now it is skinny dipping. Cause who wants wet clothes. So full naked dunkage in an ice-covered lake. It took me a while, but I did it. I even hiked with my hair down for a bit. Breaking all my own rules.
Day 62: Mammoth Lakes, 903.5
Town, civilization, people July 4th, society. We made it. We made it eight days in the Sierra with the high water and snow and everything. I was actually excited to be in town. Longest I have been in the wilderness. And it was beyond amazing. Super difficult but an unbelievable experience that I would not have given up for the world.
The miles were easy into Mammoth and we took Mammoth Pass to get to civilization. Jumped in Mcloud Lake (with a bra and underwear on cause all the July fourthers were there) and then dorked our way through the snow to the trail head. Seeing cars and people and ALL of the red, white, and blue was so nice. My hair was one big not, I hadn’t taken my shirt or shorts off for eight days (I sleep in em so I can get ready faster in the morning) except to jump in freezing water, and my skin looked like a tortise shell it was so dry and cracked. We sprinted down to the free trolley yelling and cheering. I’m sure the people on holiday thought we were wild animal children or something.
We are staying at a trail angel’s place and zeroing. The first zero in a while I am looking forward too and feel like I have earned. We went to the brewery and had a very mellow July 4th. All of the “normal” (lay people I call them) people quickly became overwhelming with their crowns and hats and makeup and high heels. Someone gave me a free AnnieP hat (they are typically around $30), so real stoked on that.
I now want to go back and do the JMT on a “normal” year. But then again, what is normal? Every year has its challenges and danger. Two years ago there was NO water. Now we are dealing with the opposite. But I want to see the creek when the water is not overflowing its banks and the trail is not its own creek. I want to see the meadows as meadows and not as flood plains. I want to be able to walk on flat, dirt trail up to the passes. I wouldn’t change what I experienced for the world but now I am curious about a different normal. For another time and another place. But I am curious. Yosemite Valley is next and Tahoe. Mah hometown! Here’s to learning a shitton, defeating fears, and getting through a freaking tough section. Here’s to adventure and doing what you love. No, I will never have a desk job. Not when I can do stuff like this. Cheers, and Happy Fourth. Please ignore the double chin. I suck at selfies.
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