Whatta section. As I walk I often ponder how I’m going to explain the sections I’m hiking, what stands out, what themes reveal themselves. And really the only way to describe these miles is INTENSE. Intensely beautiful, intensely challenging. The trail threw everything it had at me, and I, in many ways, wasn’t prepared to deal with the challenges.
This post covers the first couple sections of the High Sierra and a large portion of where the PCT and the John Muir Trail become one in the same.
From Kennedy Meadows, we hiked out as a group of 5, weighed down by our new Sierra gear – ice axes, micro spikes, and bear cans, all together adding about 4 or 5 extra pounds of weight to my pack. It rained and hailed for the first 2 or 3 miles which was the perfect send from the desert.
I was chronically the caboose of the group during this section, being the shortest, and the slowest climber. The sierra are steep and tall and monstrous, big elevation gains and losses. The caboose life isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. It led to shorter breaks and a certain amount of anxiety that I was holding the group back (due 100% to my own attitude, not the attitudes of my hiking pals). It really wore me out mentally and physically. I started skipping breaks, pushing myself to keep going, not eating enough, etc. I was also battling a stomach bug that made eating really unpleasant, which also led to low energy and an unsustainable hiking lifestyle.
In our first section (Kennedy Meadows to Bishop), we crossed a few bigger streams, summited Mount Whitney (the tallest peak in the lower 48 states), and worked our way up and over Forester Pass (the tallest point on the PCT and first big mountain pass of the trip). The streams were totally doable, Mt. Whitney was a hard and long but enjoyable climb, and then we got to Forester Pass. The passes in the High Sierra were still largely covered in snow…which meanssss…we had to scale the slope in the snow, with no trail, just our ice axes, until we could reach a small section of trail where the snow had melted. This climb showed me that I am mildly afraid of heights, and definitely afraid of falling. It was the first big test for our group, and we passed. Everyone made it safely (although I was totally freaked), and we were rewarded with our first glisade on the other side. We were making it through the High Sierra. Phew!
After a zero in Bishop and some planning, we set out for a 90 mile, 7 day stretch to the Vermillion Valley Resort. I was confronted with stressful situation after stressful situation. Stream (read: gushing river) crossings, snow covered mountain pass climbs, scrambling over loose rocks, losing the trail, finding the trail, and long snow walks. It was slow and hard and so exhausting. The passes made me nervous, the streams made me nervous…and the trail has a way of taunting you as you approach the “scary” things. For example, crossing wide, open snow fields for hours, staring at the snow covered pass you’ll have to climb. Or crossing countless small streams, thinking about how allllll that water is flowing to the same creek you’ll have to cross in a matter of miles. Needless to say, it really messed with me. I experienced some serious environmental whiplash, snow, mud, SO much water. Big climbs, big views. It was truly sensory overload!
About a day before getting to the Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), I had convinced myself that it was probably a good idea to skip the rest of the Sierra for now, my group should hike on without me. BUT, with some rest and kind encouragement from my long-time hiking pals, I decided to hike on with them.
After some space from this section, I can appreciate the intensity, the snow, the challenges. It showed me (in a very direct way) that I need to be attentive to my own physical and mental needs, that it’s ok to accept help from people, and that doing hard things makes doing hard things easier in the future. I feel a bit weathered, but stronger after that section. I learned a lot about how I can be a better communicator, better hiker, and more functional member of a group.
As always, there are a zillion other details and moments I would love to share, and hope to share when I see you all! Stay tuned for the Sierra Pt. 2 post (spoiler: it was so much more enjoyable!)
Feel free to give me a shout if you have questions or just wanna say hey!