The JMT Diaries: Notes from the trail

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Note #1

Spending time in the backcountry is often romanticized, until one spends an afternoon trying to do nothing. Then there is a special kind of person that it takes to truly enjoy the nothingness of time. We do things like dishes and wash clothes because it is what there is to do. And we find great solace in staying busy. Our minds are rarely idle so when given the chance to not worry, we spend it feeling guilty that we are doing nothing. When in reality we are doing the most relevant thing with our time, being.

Cathedral Lakes was a stop we made as part of our Brother Meinkey optimized travel itinerary. Originally, we had planned to push onto Tuolumne Meadows which would have given us right around ten miles, but also would have left us in a less spectacular camp setting. So we had a short hike from Sunrise Creek to Cathedral and we were there by noon.

We had camp set up by and everyone had eaten lunch, washed their clothes and pretty much done everything that was relevant by 1:30. We had all been excited about the prospects of sitting around the lake and swimming/bathing. The icy wind that was blowing across the lake had different ideas about this. We quickly put on our puffy jackets and pretended like we were waiting for it to warm up before we went for a swim. All in all, every one but KB took a bath, but no one went for a swim.

I spent the afternoon sitting on a granite slab watching my clothes dry. Every 20 minutes or so I would turn my socks over and check their status. The sun felt awesome on my few exposed spots of skin. Until the wind blew and then I kind of wished I had covered them up. It was a cycle of juxtaposed temperatures and sensations.

KB took a nap.

Ben unpacked and packed all of his gear 37 times. I counted.

I have no idea what Shelby was doing.

I felt content sitting on my rock, but then again I was enter 24 hours of being hypoxic. My brain was left with little oxygen and the awake dreamscape I was experiencing had more to do with that than any mental strength or pre-disposition to doing nothing. I just couldn’t think. At 2:30 I got super paranoid that we were going to be way behind schedule. KB and I spent the next 30 minutes figuring out where we were and how it would affect our trip. We were fine. Truth be told, if my socks hadn’t still been wet we probably would have packed everything up and hiked to Tuolumne. Ben would have been right behind us.

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Note #2

Day hikers – it’s amazing how quickly we begin to divide ourselves out from other “groups” of people, setting ourselves up as better, tougher, more hard core. Within hours of setting out there is a downward glance at anyone not carrying enough gear for at least an overnight adventure. We also feel the same derivative as the PCT hikers come through having already been on the trail for a few months. They are dirty, lean and into the constant rhythm of what it means to be nowhere for months on end.

We started the JMT in Yosemite Valley. This means that we are following the same trail that anyone hiking Half Dome would. Luckily, Half Dome is heavily regulated and the day permits are hard to come by. This doesn’t mean we didn’t see an old Asian man stopped in the shade with his family. As we walked by he was putting a mostly empty water bottle back into a duffle bag. No one else in the group had any “gear.” He zipped up the bag. Dayhikers, pftt.

Based on my observations from this trip, humans will always divide or gather into groups.

While we were in the Backpacker’s Camp, I got up at night to take a leak. This happened to coincide with the exact moment that a backpacker sleeping under the stars (sans tent) was awoken by a bear’s nose tapping him on the forehead. The call of “Bear!” was heard. Immediately there were headlamps shining in the direction of the bear which happened to be between me and the bathroom. Soon the majority of the camp was up and shooing the bear. The bear didn’t give a shit and neither did I. As soon as I could remotely say the bear was out of my way, I hit the john.

As Brother Meinkey observed, humans are tribal and we all joined forces to safely remove the bear.

Part of that tribal instinct is apparently directly linked to elitism. As we grouped ourselves in with different trail users, we soon found ourselves looking down on those who were doing less or different things than us. Day hikers, overnighters, ultralite hikers, PCTers. Wow, did you see the shit that guy had attached to his pack? Where the hell is that guy going, he doesn’t even have a pack? Good Lord! They should really issue a test before giving permits to Half Dome, half of these people don’t even have water…

jmt23Note #3

I took only two photos today. I haven’t felt this spent since I was laying in a culvert in northern Mexico. I have a fever and the body aches that go along with it.  I spent all of last night adjusting my bag for the temperature swings my body was experiencing. It made for a long night. I felt god in the morning as we dropped from Cathedral Lake, but once we reloaded the bear canisters my pack weighed a ton and my feet started to ache. We stopped for lunch but then no one wanted to eat so I didn’t, mistake. I have no appetite but I know my body is hungry…

That last day on the trail was interesting to say the least. It was the closest thing I’ve experienced to an actual death march in ages. 14 miles, hypoxic and fully loaded with about 15 pounds of just food. My pack that I had praised for its comfort just days before, weighed me down like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I chalked it up to the extra weight, but in hindsight being hypoxic may have had a lot to do with it.

P. L. and R.

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