John Muir Trail – Days 2 & 3

For most of day 2 we hiked along the Mono Creek. We didn’t have views of the mountains for most of the day since we were deep in a marshy basin, but eventually reached the John Muir Trail after about 10 miles. We made great time since we were trying to outrun mosquitos all morning, so we took a long lunch break and jumped into the river.

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Balancing the desires of 5 women was interesting, with some of us preferring to hike hard and fast and cover as much ground as possible, and some of us wanting to go slow and take a lot of breaks to enjoy the scenery and the moment. Some of us wanted to go quickly for the first half to allow for a slower pace for the second, and some of us wanted to start slow and build up the pace gradually. It was interesting seeing as time went on how the smaller groups of 1 or 2 or 3 evolved as we found out who our best match was for pace and conversation. I was continuously in the back but I was fine with that. I hike by myself enough to know what works best for me and how to cover long distances.

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We hiked another couple of miles along the JMT to a beautiful campsite above a roaring creek. There were a surprising number of other campers there because the trail map didn’t show any other campsites until the other side of Bear Ridge, about 3 miles on.

IMG_1867 IMG_1916 IMG_1918Some people consider Bear Ridge the hardest part of the entire trail because it is very steep, gaining 1,980 ft over less than 3 miles, but the entire ridge is under the tree line so there are no views to reward you. Kristen and I hiked together that day and after the switchbacks quickly lost sight of the rest of the group. We all met up for lunch on the other side of the ridge and got sprinkled with the first bit of rain while we ate. We descended down to Bear Creek and took off our shoes to cross.

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Because of the strenuous climb I had planned on camping by the river after a total of 10 miles. The next day I had 12.5 miles planned and a few of us wanted to push on to even out the mileage. There was a lake at the base of the next pass and Kristen and Maggie got it in their heads to get up to there to camp, which would have been an 11.5 mile day with 4,600 ft of elevation. They were pushing on as I was getting tired and worried about the rainstorm that had continued intermittently and had started to rumble with thunder. Eventually I caught up with Bekka and Daisy and we started looking out for campsites. 

After a flash of lightning I decided I was not going any further since the trees were starting to thin out and we set up our tents on a few little tiers of granite near the river. It was a lovely campsite but the mosquitos were unbelievable. They bit us through our pants, through our socks and shirts. We ended up all piling into my tent to eat dinner together and play some cards, then went to bed early. 

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The next morning was a turning point for our group. The storm had mostly held off overnight and the skies were overcast as we set off in the morning. Kristen likes to start the day slowly so Maggie and Daisy took off in the front, I hiked along by myself in the middle and then Bekka stayed back with Kristen. About an hour into the hike up to Selden Pass, just before we passed the last few trees, the sky opened up and dumped freezing rain. I took cover under an overhanging boulder for a bit and then when it lightened up a little decided to find Maggie and Daisy. About 200 ft up they were huddled under a couple scrawny pine trees off the side of the trail, already shivering with cold. They both hiked in shorts and Maggie hadn’t gotten her coat on before the downpour. We rode it out for probably 15 minutes, hoping it would let up. It didn’t.

Eventually Bekka and Kristen reappeared, and Kristen didn’t want to stop. She was afraid that if she stopped the cold would catch up with her so she wanted to keep pushing on. Daisy and I had no interest in going over a pass in a lightning storm, and we quickly decided to split up. Maggie was getting very cold and decided to start hiking again with Kristen, Bekka decided to stay with us. We agreed to meet on the other side of the pass, then I quickly created a lean-to shelter from my groundcloth and some pieces of paracord, weighing down the back with rocks. We got out sugary snacks to try to keep our metabolisms up and got our warmest clothes out of our packs. We listened for the thunder that didn’t get any closer, and after another 10 minutes the rain stopped. We popped out of our shelter and discovered we were only a few hundred feel from Marie Lake. I still think it was the most beautiful view of our entire hike.

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As the storm continued to blow away, the fog lifted over Marie Lake and it was breathtaking. We were still wet and cold but started to walk again, high after the adrenaline of the hail storm. We took a ton of pictures and were so happy we had waited to hike the pass until we could see the view. Selden Pass isn’t particularly high or rugged at 10,870, but it overlooks lakes on both sides and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. There were also a ton of marmots sunning themselves after the rain and Bekka’s 57 photos are proof of how ecstatic she was about it.

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We passed a bunch of other hikers at the top who confirmed our friends had made it up, and said they looked happy and warm. That was a relief as we descended the other side and took lunch next to Heart Lake.

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I’m still proud of how we all handled that whole situation – we each made the decision that was right for ourselves and did not pass judgement on each other. I love that the group was big enough for everyone to have a buddy. However being in that situation did change the rest of the trip. Kristen and Maggie both started to question why they were out there and if they were really having “fun.” 8 days was a big commitment. 80 miles was a big commitment. Compromising pace and mileage and campsites is difficult. Before the start, Kristen and I had talked about possible bail-out points. After the storm the idea grew in her head, and started to grow in Maggie’s as well. 

1 comment for “John Muir Trail – Days 2 & 3

  1. January 19, 2018 at 8:23 am

    I love hearing about all the group dynamics and relational configurings. Five women on a hike. How bold. MAkes me wonder, if we (Liz and I) could ever convince our friends Barb and Brie to go on a trek with us, how we could possibly get anywhere without a complete scrambling of nerves. Still, it would be such a great adventure to go out exploring the west with a group of friends. Sigh.

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