5 Small Items that Made a Big Difference on My Backpacking Trip

Preparing for a backpacking trip involves spending a lot of time and money on gear. The research and cash that goes into all those lightweight items in your backpack can become overwhelming. But not everything has to be as complex and pricey as buying the perfect tent. Some of the tiniest items can make a big difference on your backpacking trip. Continue reading “5 Small Items that Made a Big Difference on My Backpacking Trip”

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JMT Day 10: Over the Muir Hump

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. Continue reading “JMT Day 10: Over the Muir Hump”

JMT Day 9: Hike at the Speed of Beauty

Date: 8/26/17 | Miles Hiked: 11.4

Today was a treat yo’self day.

Feeling good about my progress on the first half of the trail, I decided to reward myself with a late start, a hot breakfast (oatmeal for the win!) and a short day of hiking. Most of the day consisted of gradual uphill hiking, with two big switchback climbs helping me gain about 2,500 feet of elevation. Continue reading “JMT Day 9: Hike at the Speed of Beauty”

JMT Day 8: Hump Day! Reaching the Halfway Point

Date: 8/25/17 | Miles Hiked: 16.2 | Passes: Selden

This day wasn’t what I needed it to be. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion — the halfway mark and a resupply at Muir Trail Ranch — left me feeling disappointed. Continue reading “JMT Day 8: Hump Day! Reaching the Halfway Point”

JMT Day 7: The Trail is 50% Mental

Date: 8/24/17 | Miles Hiked: 17.3 | Passes: Silver

It’s fitting for me to come to this portion of my hike on Halloween. Why? Because it includes my scariest night on the trail.

Night 6 and the Mystery Neighbor

I woke up on night six to the sound of twigs breaking. Any feelings of grogginess were immediately trampled by my racing heart as the rustling noises continued.

Something was outside, and it was approaching my tent. Continue reading “JMT Day 7: The Trail is 50% Mental”

Are We Doomed to Phone Addiction… Even in the Backcountry?

I like to consider myself a person who can handle life without my cell phone and all the glorious technology it offers better than the average human.

I can leave it in a different room for a good chunk of the day. If I forget it at home when I go to work or run errands I only have a split-second panic attack. I can easily go without it when camping or spending time with friends.

I have the ability to sit in nothingness and just think or observe without reaching for a device to scroll. Growing up with a tendency to get lost in my own thoughts helped me master that dying art.

This is why I was surprised at how often I reached for my phone or glanced at my GPS watch while backpacking the John Muir Trail. Continue reading “Are We Doomed to Phone Addiction… Even in the Backcountry?”

JMT Day 6: Deja Vu, But Reversed

Date: 8/23/17 | Miles Hiked: 14

The sounds of coyotes paired with a particularly chilly evening made for a difficult night’s sleep. A thick layer of frost on my bear canister in the morning made me feel justified for freezing in my tent the night before (apparently I needed proof that it was cold?).

Today’s hike took me along a section of trail my husband and I had done northbound last year. I already think about him often on the trail, and today he was on my mind constantly.

John Muir Trail

I took a long break at Purple Lake for lunch, stopping at the first lakeside opening that was clear of other hikers throwing down their packs for the same reason. I wound up at the same section of the lake where my husband and I had jumped in the year before, losing our breath to the cold water as we submerged.

There would be no jumping in today.

I ate lunch, waded up to my knees into the ice cold water, watched some trout and closed my eyes on a rock. It was nice to take such a long afternoon break.

Purple Lake John Muir Trail
Purple Lake

Then I continued to Lake Virginia, singing an altered version of Train’s “Meet Virginia” along the ascent. “Lake Virginia. I can’t wait to… get to Lake Virginia yeah e yeah, hey hey hey.”

I remembered camping at Lake Virginia last summer and being swarmed by mosquitoes while filtering water. I paused to take pictures at this beautiful, marshy lake surrounded by wild flowers. But I decided to descend to a warmer (and just as buggy) spot before setting up camp.

Lake Virginia John Muir Trail
Lake Virginia

As I hiked down to my campsite, I remembered how much of a struggle it was to ascend the same section the previous year. I thought back to that trip — four days and three nights traveling north along the trail — and how different it felt from my current backpacking experience.

The details of that trip overwhelmed me, so I stayed out of the planning process completely. The goal was to meet a friend who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He was behind his expected itinerary, so my husband and I got to experience the Sierras on our own.

I was merely a passenger on that trip. I didn’t do any route research prior to arriving at the trailhead. Elevation gain, loss, terrain… I was oblivious. I didn’t even realize the trail would lead us over a pass until we were standing on top of Silver. I remember it being difficult, but I didn’t think about it until we were doing it.

Maybe that’s the preferred method.

On my own, I know everything. I know how many miles I have to hike. How much elevation I have to gain. How much elevation I will then lose, only to gain back the next day. Where I need to be before I can set up my tent. How many days I have left of climbing and descending and climbing again.

It’s almost too much to bear. I am a chronic over-thinker, and I have a lot of material to work with on the trail. I feel mentally defeated on ascents because as I’m struggling to climb, I think about all of the ascents I have ahead of me before finishing the trail. It is nearly impossible to stay in the moment. To take things one day, or even one hour, at a time.

A long descent after Lake Virginia brought me to a campsite near a loud stream — white noise at its finest. Mosquitoes and rumbles over Silver Pass chased me into my tent early.

It’s incredible how quickly the landscape in the Sierras can change. From a gravel desert spotted with giant boulders — a place I imagine to be barren of all life — to a lake surrounded by wild flowers, complete with ducks, trout and far too many insects, all within just a few miles.

What joy these hidden surprises must have brought the original inhabitants of this land.

Not just the sights, but the thought of survival. Imagine being in a rock desert, thinking, “This is it. I’ll never eat or drink again. It was nice while it lasted.” And then, a few hours later, seeing a lake teeming with life.

Even now, without the threat of death so palpable, my days are filled with highs and lows based purely on human comfort.

The despair of trudging up a pass, the sheer giddiness of being at the top, the pain caused by a heavy pack, the relief of nearing camp, the contentment of eating and sitting, the loneliness before sleeping. The thought of how many more days like this must be endured before completing the trail.

Trail life is beautiful and horrible at the same time. It’s the complexities of life stripped to their bare minimum, exposing you to the unavoidable pains and pleasures of being alive.

JMT Day 5: $12 Shower Feels Like a Million Bucks

Date: 8/22/17 | Miles Hiked: 14.7

This was it: the day of my first resupply. I was heading to Red’s Meadow and had spent a while thinking about how much time I should spend there, considering the fact that I was a half day behind my original plan. Continue reading “JMT Day 5: $12 Shower Feels Like a Million Bucks”

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. Continue reading “JMT Day 4: Scots Love the Sierras”