The Stairway to Heaven – Day 1 on the JMT

Wake up! – a bit too early

Today I woke up at 5:30 am.  Seriously!  I really could have used some extra sleep but instead, I had to wake up at 5:30! Gah!  I even went out of my way to book this room at Camp Curry just so I could count a few extra sheep, because hey, who doesn’t love counting sheep?  I love sheep!  Well, apparently my unconscious mind hates sheep.  Who knew?!  Instead, my mind was busy jumping for joy at the thought of us hiking up the stairway to heaven that is the beginning of the John Muir Trail.  My mind would rather die and go to heaven than count sheep.  My mind is a masochist I say.  I’m not sure it’s safe that we head out into the wild together, but at this point, I think it’s too late to find another hiking partner.

I laid there for an hour despite the antsy nagging of my mind.  There was actually a lot I had to do before heading out onto the trail, and I knew it.  I had to fix my tarp, take a shower, get dressed, reorganize my bag, check out of my cabin, get breakfast, locate the wilderness office to pick up my permit, find a new parking spot, and get over to the trailhead.  “Fine!” I said.  “I’m getting up!”

My awesome cabin at Camp Curry Village

Welcome to Camp Curry Village

First Things First – prepping for the day

First things first, I started with my tarp.  I received this new Dyneema tarp from Hammock Gear months ago, but the procrastinating side of me decided to wait till I got to Yosemite to prep.  I never did say I was the smartest cookie in the jar.  First, I laid out my tarp and cut guyline for each tie out.  I also added bungee loops so that the tarp wouldn’t receive too much tension.  It wasn’t laborious work, but just another task to delay how fast I could get out on the trail.  Once done, I folded it up nicely and stuffed it back in the side pocket of my backpack.

Taking a shower was next on my list.  I knew that a week without showers was ahead of me, so I wanted to take this last opportunity to scrub down.  Luckily there was soap in the shower.  The receptionist said they had run out, so it was a gamble on if I would get any or not.  Score!  The universe is on my side.

Afterward, I pulled out my travel bag with my hiking clothes.  A lot of my outfit was new for this trip.  I am determined to minimize my stink on the trail, so I have new wool digs from Ridge Merino, including a wool bra, underwear, leggings, and a sun hoodie.  I also have new hiking shoes from La Sportiva, cute artist series socks from Injinji (love my toe socks!), and gaiters from UltraGam on Etsy.  The only items that have hiked out on the trail with me before are my trusty old “Be Kind” trucker hat and my hiking skirt from Purple Rain Skirts which has only made one appearance out on the trail.  Wow, I look like a noob.  LOL!  I don’t care.  You can read more about all of the gear I’m carrying and wearing in my “Tales From a Backpacking and Hammock Gear Addict on the JMT (Part 1)” post.

Breakfast in the Camp Curry Dining Pavilion

Appeasing My Tastebuds – breakfast

I made sure everything was clean in my cabin (I hate to make work for service staff), packed up, and left to check out.  First up on my list, was breakfast!  This was another reason that I wanted to sleep at Camp Curry.  They have so many amenities available right in camp and an amazing breakfast is one of them.  I headed into the cafeteria, grabbed a tray, and scanned over the menu.  Do I want a breakfast burrito?  No, that’s too quick.  Maybe I want oatmeal?  No, I’ll eat that on the trail.  I settled on milk, eggs, bacon, and a pancake.  Yum!  My tastebuds won’t enjoy any of those on the trail.

I sat in the cafeteria to enjoy my meal.  People-watching is my jam (yes, I’m a creeper).  I love looking at everyone and wondering what they do, where they’ve been, and what they are planning to do that day.  Most looked like day hikers with their families, ready to enjoy a nice relaxing day at the Disneyland of the hiking world which we call Yosemite.  I’m not knocking Disneyland or Yosemite.  I actually love them both.  That is just not the feel I’m going for on this trip though.  I can’t wait to get out of here.  I drop off my empty plate and tray, then head out to my car.

Mistakes to Learn From – don’t drive in Yosemite

Remember how I said yesterday that getting there is half the journey?  Well, today was a journey for sure.  Mistake 1:  I took my car to get my permit.  Mistake 2: I missed the turnoff and had to do another loop of Yosemite.  Why are these mistakes?  Well, like I said, Yosemite is the Disneyland of Hiking and there are a “flock” ton of people!  I made another major mistake on this day, but I didn’t realize it till the next day.  You’ll have to wait till my next post for that one.  It’s a doozy for sure!

I left my coveted parking spot to get parking closer to the Wilderness Ranger Station near the Yosemite Village Store.  Dumb!  I should have taken the tram.  Not only that, but to help aid with the craziness that is Yosemite, they created one-way traffic.  That means if you miss your turn, you have to circle the whole park again which costs you 20 minutes.  Yep, that’s what I did.  I missed my turn.  Doh!  I finally park my car in the 30-minute Village Store parking lot and almost got lost trying to find the wilderness permit station (Don’t judge me.  Yes, I’m heading out into the wilderness alone).  Luckily I found it though.

Permit Acquisition – you’re heading out where?

“I need to pick up my permit please.”  “Sure,” the ranger says.  He looks up my permit on his computer and then looks back at me.  “You’re not planning on hiking the entire JMT are you?”  “God no!” I say.  I’m just hiking to Tuolumne Meadows and back.  He looks relieved.  “I’ve seen a few hikers set out for the full trail, but there’s a lot of snow,” he says.  Nope, I’m only slightly crazy… not insane.  I also let him know that I want a permit to hike Half Dome.  He sets it all up and stamps my permit with the Half Dome stamp. He doesn’t charge me for it though.  Score!  Instead, he shows me pictures of the bridge that is out further down the John Muir Trail.  I’d seen the picture before and we talk about how crazy this whole year has been.  He lets me know what trails are closed and where to park, then I’m out of there.  Off to the backpackers’ parking lot.  Or so I thought.

Stepping foot on the John Muir Trail. Mile 0

Only 211 miles left to go on the John Muir Trail

Crossing the bridge at the base of Vernal Valls

A Parking Fiasco – is this Disneyland?

I made the Yosemite loop again for the millionth time and came to the Camp Curry turnoff (this is where the backpackers’ camp and parking are located).  Closed!  The lots were full and the ranger would not let me in.  So, I went to the Ahwanee.  Closed!  I went to the store.  Closed!  I went to the next lot and the next.  Closed!  They were all full and closed!  I finally made it to lot 7 and muzzled my way into a “parking spot.”  Let’s just say that’s what it was, although it is debatable.

I loaded up my pack on my back, grabbed my trekking poles, locked my car, and went to the tram.  A line as long as Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland awaited me.  At this moment I hate Yosemite!  At this moment I hate Disneyland!  People, lines, high prices.  Gah!  I get on a bus instead of the tram.  Busses have fewer stops than trams.  Do you know where it drops me off???  Camp Curry!  Right where I started my morning!  This is kind of disheartening.  I walk the last mile to the trailhead from there.

The Mist Trail – we’re on the trail!

The walk from Camp Curry to the Happy Isles Trailhead is shaded and relaxing.  I don’t mind the extra mile because in no time I’m finally on the JMT!  And so are a million other people.  They all have tiny packs on though.  I feel like a Sherpa among all the day hikers.  My body aches and I’ve only started.  I take a break and another.  This repeats about every 5 minutes.  Then I get to the mist.  This is the Mist Trail after all.  The JMT section is closed.  I’m in awe!  And I’m getting wet.  Like we’re in a tsunami kind of wet.  I don’t care though.  I climb stair after stair with water pelting me from all sides.  Vernal Falls is raging.  I’ve never seen it like this.  This is amazing, and it’s the stairway to heaven where all people will disappear and nature will take over!!!

Top of Vernal Falls

Top of Vernal Falls

Lunch at the top of Vernal Falls

I take a lunch break at the top of Vernal Falls.  I’m designated by other hikers as the official photographer for all around since I seem to know what I’m doing. Meanwhile, I get a basic picture of myself from another tourist.  Boo!  I should have told them what to do.  No worries, I’ll have the memories in my mind forever.   I set up shop overlooking the river before the falls. Salami, string cheese, tortillas, and peanut butter is what I break out. This will be my lunch for the next six days. The only part I change up is the type of peanut butter (honey or hazelnut).  Yes, my taste buds were about to embark on a wild adventure that would make even Indiana Jones jealous!  Not quite.  LOL!

Natural water fountain out of a rock on the way up the stairway to heaven to Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls – the stairway to heaven

After lunch I continue on my stairway to heaven… or rather to the top of Nevada Falls. I want to kill myself.  Stair after stair after stair.  They never end!  My hips can’t take one more stair, but there are a thousand more.  Of course!  At this point, I take breaks every 2 minutes, pretending like I’m just taking in the view, but really, I’m grasping at the last few breaths I can muster up.  I climb.  I talk to a woman in her 50s who wishes she’d started backpacking when she was younger.  “You and me both!” I say.  I climb.  I talk to a guy who congratulates me on my fearless just do it attitude.  We talk Gear a bit.  I could talk gear for hours, but I don’t have hours.  Instead, I wish him well and I climb.  I talk to another guy about backpacks.  Oh no!  I’m stuck in the gear-talk trap again.  This time I try to cut things short and continue on.  I climb and climb some more.  I want to cry, but I don’t.

My friend, Shannon texts me.  “You’re almost done with the hard part!”  I love that she keeps an eye on me. It makes me feel safe.  I climb.  She texts and says I look off track.  I’m not.  I just took a detour to see the falls (and catch my breath).  I climb.  She texts again.  “You’re so close!”  Thank god!  I can’t take this much more!  The first day is always the worst.

This is how we do it. Following the John Muir Trial

Clouds Rest Junction – setting up camp

I finally get to the Clouds Rest Junction.  This is mile 7 of the John Muir Trail.  I practically run… ok, let’s be real…  I actually stumble out into the trees like a dog trying to find a place to die, only I’m trying to find a place to set up camp.  You have to be at least 100 feet off the trail and 100 feet from a water source.  At this particular junction, those rules were a bit difficult, but I got close enough to complying.

In a state of delightful delirium caused by exhaustion, I found myself face-to-trunk with the most captivating trees known to humankind. With the grace of a seasoned cowboy, I lassoed my feathery bed between them and then with gusto, slipped into my eccentric blend of silk, wool, and insulated fluffy pajamas, feeling like a fashionista lost in the wild.  Once properly dressed, I cooked up a so-called “gourmet” dinner of marinara pasta (that would have made my Italian Nana cringe),  and filtered water so pure it could rival unicorn tears.

Attempting to capture the essence of this surreal experience, I mustered up just enough energy to jot down a few comically illegible words in my journal before devouring a Snickers bar that seemed to seductively whisper, “Embrace the chaos, for you’re just a deliriously tired soul seeking chocolatey solace.”  And just like that, the magic of the moment faded as I passed the “funk” out, tangled in my fancy sleeping cocoon, dreaming of marinating in pasta sauce with a sprinkle of stardust. Ah, the adventures of a sleep-deprived thru-hiker!

Marinara pasta on the trail

Passing out in my comfy cocoon.

Happy Isles to Clouds Rest Junction

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Comments 6

  • Jeff Greene : Jul 2nd

    Yosemite is so annoying, but somehow always still worth it. Good luck!

    • Chana Putnam : Jul 5th

      So true! Despite all the people, the views are always worth it. It never gets old.

  • Ian Westcott : Jul 3rd

    I’ve never stayed at the wood-sided cabins in Curry Village, I always went for the tent cabins. Were they worth it?

    I spent a half-week in the Valley last week, and yeah, the parking situation is horrendous. The Valley and the trails are a lot of fun once the car situation is taken care of, but that situation has to be the #1 priority in the morning, dictating your schedule. Everything that needs to be done with a car has to be done before 8am, preferably well before 8am. During high season, when I go to Curry Village, I park once, leave my there, and then pick it up again when I’m ready to leave Yosemite for real. 🙁

    Normally you wouldn’t have had to circle the park to get back to your starting point, but the Sentinel Bridge is down, that’s the normal cut-back route.

    How on Earth did you put this post together inside the park? I’ve very rarely found much cell reception in Yosemite.

    • Chana Putnam : Jul 5th

      The wood cabins were totally worth it for me! Right before I head out on the trail I like a good night’s sleep and a hot shower in the morning. I’ve never stayed in the tent cabins though, so I don’t have them to compare to. I think I’ll try staying in one next time.

      That is true about the bridge! I was thinking I didn’t remember having to drive so far when I was here before.

      I didn’t finish my post until I got back from my trip. I just journal while I’m out there. In September I’ll write and post on trail since I have a few nights booked at Red’s, VVR, Muir Trail Ranch, and Independence.


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