JMT Day 12: A Decision Driven by Hunger

Date: 8/29/17 | Miles Hiked: 16.9 | Passes: Mather, Pinchot

Well, I really did it this time. So much for my one pass per day plan. You can see from my notes above that I made my way over two, count ’em, two mountains today.

The morning started off so well. I was up and over Mather in record time, and I even got to do a little bit of class 3 scrambling near the top. It was so much fun!

John Muir Trail Mather Pass

On my way up I passed a middle-aged man who became agitated with me for no reason. I greeted him with a loud and chirpy “good morning!” from behind so he knew I was there. He was startled, asking me where I camped and deducing that I had been gaining on him all morning. (Yes, that’s why I’m passing.)

“Are you also summitting Pinchot, today?” he asked.

“No, just Mather!”

“I’m considering hiking Pinchot,” he said, “It’s only an extra mile. You could easily do it at that pace. You’re practically running up the mountain.”

His tone made it clear that me passing him was frustrating. It somehow made me feel rude for doing so. I wanted to say, look buddy, just because I’m moving faster doesn’t mean this is easier for me.

Instead I tried to pick up the pace even more so I could set some distance between myself and this man who I very much did not want to talk to.

At the top of Mather I ran into a young man trying to finish the trail on the same day as me. Finally, someone who had the same goal! He was planning to climb Pinchot, saying summitting that peak was the only way he could see finishing the trail on Saturday instead of Sunday.

What? No. I was still convinced that hiking just one pass per day would leave me summitting Mt. Whitney on Saturday, September 2. I expressed this to him and he disagreed, saying my plan would require some big mileage days.

John Muir Trail

The hike down felt long. I could see the trail in front of me from miles away, my left knee ached, and I was starving. I also couldn’t shake the thought of my busted plan. I didn’t want to hike Pinchot. I wanted to give my body a break. But I also wanted to rejoin the real world and all the food it had to offer.

I’m not sure if at this point on the trail I had started to ration my snacks more or if my body was finally coming to terms with how many calories I was burning, but I started to feel hungry all the time. I was running low on protein bars and candy, but I had plenty of dinners. While this was comforting, I was getting sick of eating Mountain House and tuna. I dreamed of burgers, ice cream, chips, candy bars, pancakes… actual food! I was starved for food I couldn’t eat on the trail.

In the words of John Muir, “No lowlander can appreciate the mountain appetite, and the facility with which heavy food called ‘grub’ is disposed of.”

John Muir Trail

I made myself wait until noon to eat lunch. Pure torture. The tuna and pasta didn’t seem to be enough to sustain my ravaging hunger. I wondered about summitting Pinchot… it would only require losing and gaining about 1,500 feet of elevation within a mile. Totally doable. But storm clouds and rumbles of thunder seemed to solidify my plan of not climbing it.

When I finally rolled into camp around 3 I eyed up the pass. It was close and the clouds seemed to have cleared. The catch? I would need to hike 5 miles after summitting to find a decent spot to pitch my tent. Could I handle that? Could my knee?

I looked at the map and realized a Saturday exit wasn’t doable unless I added a 20 mile day — with a pass. And I was hungry. Literally, for real food, and figuratively, to show the doubters that I could complete the trail in 16 days.

I pounded some beef jerky and made a game-time decision: Pinchot was mine. I’d been feeling strong on switchbacks, but my knee was slowing me on downward climbs and straight paths, taking the fun out of hiking.

John Muir Trail Pinchot Pass

I made it up Pinchot quickly and saw stormy skies. Great. I was heading to the wrong side of the pass. Blue skies where I left, storm clouds where I was going.

John Muir Trail Pinchot Pass

Luckily I only caught a few drops on my way to camp. Situated at 9,700 feet, my new site seemed preferable to the alternative of 11,200 feet I’d have slept at had I not gone over Pinchot.

I was surprised at the number of people summitting the pass from the north side as I came down close to 4 p.m. It seemed way too late to be hiking up a mountain. But wait — was this my fate now? My old plan had me summitting a pass every morning. Now I was positioned to hike downhill each morning and hike over a pass each afternoon. When I’ve hit my slump. And am at my hungriest. And when the weather is at its hottest or stormiest.

There was no turning back. The new plan called for two 15 mile days and one 12 mile day leading up to Mt. Whitney. So much for coasting.

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