JMT Day 4: Scots Love the Sierras

Date: 8/21/17 | Miles Hiked: 15.6 | Passes: Donohue, Island

Trail life had been getting to me. The delayed start to my trip caused a swelling anxiety to interfere with the what was supposed to be a relatively stress-free time in my life.

I spent evenings thinking about how I would catch up to my original plan and days cursing the climbs and water-soaked trails that slowed me down. I knew this stress was self-inflicted and unnecessary, yet I couldn’t shake it. And the fact that I couldn’t shake it gave me even more anxiety and caused me to dislike myself and question my sense of adventure.

So, on the eve of day 3 after reading some John Muir, I vowed to be more like him. If you’ve never read John Muir, here are a few things you should know:

  • He uses a lot of exclamation points. Like, A LOT. His writing is meant to be shouted from a mountain top, not read quietly on a couch.
  • Every little bit of nature is amazing to him. He would journal about how wondrous a creature the anaconda is and speak of its glory while being consumed by it.
  • Nature is his religion. He sees God’s handiwork in every aspect of the outdoors.

To really drive it home, here’s a John Muir quote from his book, My First Summer in the Sierra:

“How wondrous fine are the particles in showers of dew, thousands required for a single drop, growing in the dark as silently as the grass! What pains are taken to keep this wilderness in health, — showers of snow, showers of rain, showers of dew, floods of light, floods of invisible vapor, clouds, winds, all sorts of weather, interaction of plant on plant, animal on animal, etc., beyond thought! How fine Nature’s methods! How deeply with beauty is beauty overlaid!”

I thought if I could combine my unwanted sulkiness with his unwavering enthusiasm, we could form a normal human psyche. And as luck would have it, on day 4 I met the female reincarnate of John Muir: Kira.

JMT Day 4

After only hiking for about a mile, I lost the trail approaching Donohue Pass. A wall of streams suddenly separated me from the mountain. After a few minutes of attempting to realign myself using a GPS app on my phone, I saw another hiker going down the trail I had originally tried to follow.

It was a young woman who had pieces of gear attached all over the outside of her pack and was carrying a garbage bag that looked to be filled with clothes.

I shouted to her, hoping we could find a route together, but she kept moving. I resolved that she was probably some crazy lady and wondered how I’d get to the trail.

Moments later I saw another woman — Dianne from Calgary — and told her I’d lost the trail. She had gotten insight from a group of northbound hikers, so I followed her.

We caught up to the young woman who’s attention I had tried to get earlier. She had a freckled face, wild tufts of tight brown curls and was holding a plastic bag of gear to her chest as she scanned our surroundings. She spoke to Dianne with a slight accent.

I later learned her name was Kira and she attended university in Scotland. She had wanted to hike the trail with a friend, but when the friend bailed she got a last-minute permit to do the trail on her own. As a student she couldn’t afford the best gear (explaining the external use of pack space and garbage bag), but it didn’t seem to bother her. She and Dianne met on the trail and decided to hike it together.

The three of us considered a calm stream crossing that looked to be about knee deep. It would lead us to a grassy area we could cut across to reconnect with the trail. Kira didn’t fancy that (her words), and in the early morning chill I didn’t really fancy it either.

Instead we hiked through thick brush and rock-hopped over two rushing streams before Kira decided that the best way to the trail was up a boulder field.

Dianne, being the more sensible one in this odd couple, decided to backtrack through some grass to meet up with the base of the trail. Kira’s plan would have us connect with the trail after it had already started climbing.

I chose Kira and the boulders.

Up we went, eventually getting caught in brush and pines on the face of Donohue. The trail was farther away than I thought, and the thick vegetation we scrambled into was making the boulder field less appealing. I was starting to regret my decision.

Kira grabbed a handful of greenery and shoved it in my face.

“Wild mint!” She pressed it to her nose and inhaled deeply. “Isn’t it incredible? I just love it here!”

I had noticed the minty fresh smell and was hoping that if nothing else, getting tangled in it would give me a natural perfume, masking the odor I had acquired while hiking.

Kira’s enthusiasm was almost as refreshing as the mint. I tried to will myself to be more like her. To be more like John Muir. To enjoy the adventure and bask in my surroundings.

We eventually found the trail. Dianne casually hiked past us as we pulled both the weight of ourselves and our packs up onto the path. Clearly she made the better decision.

Back on track, I had a snack before saying goodbye to these women. Their exit day was weeks after mine, so joining their crew didn’t make sense.

On my way down from the summit of Donohue I finally had my moment. My, I love it here, the Sierras are amazing, I get it now moment. It was gorgeous. The rocky top gave way to a stream surrounded by wildflowers and stunning mountain views.

John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

A pair of northbound hikers I paused to chat with brought up the solar eclipse. I excitedly told them it was happening in 30 minutes, and they said it had actually just happened. I reflected back on a period I spent thinking it had gotten suddenly overcast and realized that must have been it. So that was my 2017 total solar eclipse experience.

Island Pass offered just as spectacular of views as Donohue, and I was officially back in love with the JMT.

John Muir Trail

It rained a little on and off throughout the day, but it was clear by the time I made it to camp. My mouth watered as I thought to the future: I was heading to Red’s Meadow for resupply and a burger.

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