Date: 8/27/17 | Miles Hiked: 16.4 | Passes: Muir
I started my day with Muir Pass.
The trail from the north side was nice, gradually bringing me up and past a number of lakes until the inevitable switchbacks. I locked my sights on the famous Muir Hut as soon as it became visible and used it as a mental boost to push me up the final, steep ascent.
The round, stone hut blends in well with the rocky summit. It almost looks like the structure is the natural result of wind and time shaping the mountain. But in reality the Muir Hut was constructed in 1930 by the Sierra Club in cooperation with the Sierra National Forest. It’s intended to be a temporary shelter for hikers caught in storms on this exposed section of trail.
While this was a rare, blue sky day, I of course needed to spend some time in this historic structure. I took off my pack and rewarded my hard work with a summit snack — the sweet-sour combination of Peanut M&Ms and Sour Patch Kids. Another couple who I had met briefly on my way up the pass joined me for a break in the hut.
The young woman had started at Happy Isles, and her significant other (the first person I ever saw to don a male hiking skirt) met her at Red’s. They were clearly happy to be together, snuggling up and getting affectionate across from me in the hut. I stared them down as I inhaled my M&Ms. Alone.
I learned that the female half of this couple had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail solo a few years ago. She asked if I had planned to do any longer thru-hikes in the future, a “where do you see yourself in five years” type of question for backpackers. I said I was good with just the JMT, telling her I didn’t have the mental fortitude to do a six-month backpacking trip solo while giving her props for the accomplishment.
“That makes sense,” she said, “but the community on longer hikes is different. People stop and talk. You make friends and develop a support system. On the John Muir Trail everyone is hiking with their heads down, stressing about making their miles so they can get back to their jobs.”
On that note, I awkwardly discussed my end date, which involved me hustling without even having a job to get back to. She gave me a concerned look and a power bar. This became the new norm when I told people my end date. The receiving of worry and food. The worry I could do without, but the food I always accepted.
The hike down from Muir Pass was a bit tricky, with snow fields to cross and a number of rock hopping stream sections. These technical aspects took me forever with my pack, which seems to be growing. I felt like I was flying along the first half of the trail, always passing others, rarely being passed. Now people with tiny packs zipped past me, commenting on the size of mine.
“You must be carrying a lot of weight!” Yes. Yes I am. Thank you for pointing it out.
My knees and feet could feel it, aching on descents.
Just as I was hitting my afternoon slump, I passed a well-known rock formation that looks like a whale with an open, toothy mouth. I smiled to myself as I looked at the affable rock beast. This was definitely a time to throw down my pack and snap some photos, which is exactly what I did.
Not surprisingly, the afternoon slump returned and I was thankful to arrive at camp in Deer Valley (which was a very fitting name). Wind gusted through the area, despite tree coverage, and I struggled to set up my tent.
After some frustrating tent wrangling I walked to the next camp up in search of water. I chatted with the group of men in their 50s whose tents and packs occupied the site.
They pointed me to the nearest water source, which was a slow stream that widened to a pool of clear, calm water near their camp. It looked like a beautiful spot to swim, and they confirmed that it was. The group poked fun at each other’s reactions to the cold water as they told me about their afternoon swim.
We talked a bit about our trips. I confirmed I was alone, and one of the men commented on the number of solo female hikers he had met.
“I think it’s great, but I always wonder… aren’t you afraid of bears?”
I thought this was a strange reaction to have. Was he afraid of bears? Why would bears pose more of a risk to female hikers than male hikers? If a bear attacks a human, I think that human is going to have a pretty rough time fending it off, regardless of gender.
He seemed like a nice guy, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that anyone in a group is safer than anyone hiking solo. I smiled and told him I wasn’t too worried about bears on the trail.
Their group was north bound and planned to exit over Bishop Pass the following day. I told them my Mt. Whitney exit date and they instantly began thinking through my likeliness to meet that goal. They told me they had done one pass a day, which put them at 9-12 mile days. It was tough but they did it, so they thought it seemed like a solid plan for me.
Finally! A boost of confidence. One pass each day sounded very doable to me. My head was back in the game, and I was excited to position myself in a spot to start bagging passes.