John Muir Trail – The Beginning

John Muir Trail – The Beginning

It’s 5:30AM and I’m sound asleep face down on my sleeping pad in the dirt by the Lyell Canyon Ranger Station in Yosemite National Park.  As anyone who has met me can attest, I possess a distinct and often demonstrated ability to sleep in most any position, and I was finding this particular patch of ground to be more than suitable for catching up on some much needed shut eye.

Molly, Kate, and I had rolled out of San Luis Obispo mid-afternoon the previous day and had picked up Sarah and Carl from the lovely town of Bakersfield as we sped toward the Whitney Portal – not before getting caught in a torrential downpour going over the Tehachapi Pass. We arrived at the Whitney Portal around 10:00PM and left Kate’s car along side the road with rocks under the tires (safety first) and piled all five backpacks and people into my car for the drive to Yosemite.  We sorted group gear under the gas station lights at the Whoa Nellie Deli on the outskirts of Lee Vinning. Molly was leaving with the car early the next morning to return to SLO and anything we didn’t want in our packs needed to be in the car when she left.  A slight delay in her research project at Cal Poly meant she was not able to join us on trail until we got to Muir Trail Ranch, which turned out to be an auspicious turn of events. After the gear sort, it was a short drive to the Lyell Canyon Ranger Station where we pulled off the side of the road a short distance away from the actual ranger station and we pitched my tried and true four person blue car camping tent (a much appreciated hand-me-down from my parents camping days) and all piled in setting an alarm for 5:00AM, which was only three hours away.

Two summers ago I had completed a 90 mile loop starting and ending at Road’s End in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park with my friends Peter, Nick, and Ellie.  We spend the majority of our miles hiking North on the John Muir Trail (JMT) – a well travelled trail roughly 220 miles long running along the crest of CA from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney. After running into a good friend just South of Glenn Pass doing the JMT during that trip, I was bit hard by the Muir Trail bug.  Fast forward up through college graduation and a tumultuous summer involving at various points moving twice, the death of my beloved Subaru due to a transmission failure (RIP), the end of long term relationship, my sister’s engagement, studying and taking the GRE, and applying to grad school all while working my first full time real word job and the JMT was sounding better and better by the hour.  With my acceptance into the Community and Regional Planning Program at the University of Oregon, I had my ticket to quit work and hit the trail. Interest and commitment among my friends oscillated until I was able to get four people to actually commit to the trip; Kate, my close friend, housemate, and a founding member of Adventure Club at our house. Molly, an all around outdoor bamf going to school in Tacoma and in SLO doing research at Cal Poly for the summer. Carl, my old roommate and running/climbing/hiking/backpacking/pizza-making partner from many past trips.  And Sarah, his girlfriend and an accomplished climber of Pacific Northwest mountains. Failure to secure JMT permits through the lottery system meant we were stuck vying for five of the ten next day permits given out from the Lyell Canyon Ranger station each day.  Although the permits are issued at 11:00AM, the first-come-first-served favors the earliest of wake ups.  Which is all a long winded way to explain why at 5:30AM, having found our selves second in the permit line at the ranger station behind only a solo hiker, I had wished Molly a safe drive back to SLO and promptly passed out in the dirt.

With our next day permit in hand, we spend the remainder of our time that day packing and repacking bear cans and backpacks, searching for for white gas for our stove (apparently all of Tuolumne had been missed on the white gas resupply the previous week, but with a MSR whisper light stove we were able to purchase $0.99 of unleaded gas and called it good), chatting with fellow hikers, and eating our last big meal at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.  Family-style dinner at the canvas walled lodge tent resulted in painfully slow service, entertaining company, and mediocre at best burgers.  With a light drizzle falling outside and the last bus having left half and hour ago, our spirits were saved by five delicious berry cobblers each complete with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream all purchased by Tim. Tim, the man seated next to me had swapped stories of his adventures with me during the interminable wait for our meal and assured us that he remembered being young and poor and now that he was old and rich wanted to treat us before the start of our trip.  Tim’s kindness was not yet over as we had only trudged a quarter mile back toward our campsite in the dusk light and mist when who should appear but Tim and his car with room for all four of us to pile in the backseats.  We all gave our thanks and appreciation to Tim before locating our site in the backpackers campground and calling it a night.

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