My John Muir Trail adventure continues: First a quick note about the opening photo of Half Dome. Photo was taken a little before the JMT/Half Dome junction. From this vantage, you can barely make out the line of hikers going up the cables to reach the top.
July 17, 2015, Yosemite National Park
I woke up knowing that the day ahead of me would likely be one of the hardest of the first half of the trail. Day 1 featured 2,000′ of elevation gain, but I only had to cover a little over five miles. From what I’d heard from other JMTers, the climb up Sunrise Mountain ranked as one of the hardest days on the trail. I’ve learned from my two trips on the JMT that it’s preferable to do my hard climbs in the morning when possible. Unfortunately, this was one of the days when I had to do my hardest climb after my mid-day lunch break. Being only my second day on the trail, it truly kicked my ass. And looking back on my 25 days on the trail, I’d rank it as my second hardest day on the trail. #1 was my final full day on the trail from Crabtree Ranger Station to Mt. Whitney and down to Trail Camp.
photo note: in recent years, as I’ve spent increasing amounts of time surrounded by nature, I’ve become ever more curious about the natural world beyond just photographing it and reveling in it. Geology, botany (wildflowers & mycology, especially), the effect of wildfires and drought on the landscape, why certain ecosystems exist where they do and so much more. My educational training is more liberal arts than scientific, so my wonder and observations are those of a layman. So when I saw two different trees seeming to fight for the same spot coming out of the cracked boulder, I found it fascinating. As did the close up detail of the rock below.
Weather wise, the day was glorious…almost too glorious. I would’ve preferred it about ten degrees cooler. Early on, upon leaving Little Yosemite Valley, once I rejoined the main trail just past 7:15, I started encountering quite a few day hikers heading up to Half Dome. I was happy to get past the junction and the remainder of the day, I enjoyed relative solitude on the trail.
Rocks, trees, animals, and of course wildflowers:
For more than an hour, after reaching the next junction (Clouds Rest), the views were somber as I hiked through the area damaged by last September’s Meadow Fire. I knew I’d come across it, but to walk through the charred landscape was sobering. Some take solace that fire is a part of the natural cycle of a forest’s life, but it saddened me nonetheless to realize that I’ll likely not live long enough to witness the forest’s full rebirth. It’s also sobering to realize that the Meadow Fire burned a significant amount of forest (close to 5,000 acres) yet the Rim Fire of 2013 (Yosemite) and this year’s Rough Fire (Sequoia) were both more than 20 times that size.
I photographed the groundsel above when I stopped to refill my water bottles along Sunrise Creek in the middle of the burn area. I was worried that the water might not be the cleanest because of the amount of ash and possibly latent fire retardant chemicals in the vicinity, but the water seemed to be fine (and I used extra drops of Sweetwater after filtering).
It was a relief to finally re-enter green forest, but my relief was short-lived as this was also around the same point where I started the long steep portion up Sunrise Mountain. Although I did part of the JMT in 2014, starting from Glacier Point in early August, I had to skip the section from Little Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows to return to Yosemite Village for a new stove. (I blew up my MSR Whisperlite in a spasm of unexpected stupidity my first night on the trail. This year I had a lighter, more Idiocy-proof Pocket Rocket with me and I avoided any similar mishaps.)
After my lunch break of tortillas, salami & cheese, I pressed on, ready for the climbing to begin. I admit that although I steeled myself for a hard climb, it was even harder than I’d imagined. Over the previous months, I was careful not to overtrain like I felt I did in 2014. So although my back and legs were sound and injury-free this year, I did pay the price in perhaps a little less endurance. But from what I knew of the terrain ahead of me over the next week, I knew that this would be my hardest day in that span by far and I was right.
During the climb, I had to keep stopping much more than I’d wanted to and the heat was taking a toll, but eventually I made it to the crest and then it was a nice descent to reach Sunrise Backpackers Camp by 4:00. I initially walked past the Backpackers Camp and went to the High Camp center. I’d never been to any of the Yosemite High Camps so even in my momentary exhaustion, I was happy to explore the rustic facilities. I even bought some candy and a lemonade which was an unexpected treat. And although it was only Day 2 on the trail, I found the idea of sleeping on a cot in a tent cabin with a wood burning stove very enticing. It made me want to plan a future visit. Once I made it back to the Backpackers’ Camp, settled on a site, set up camp and had my dinner, I was happy to discover that I still had energy to walk around the nearby meadow with my camera. As the sun set behind me to the west, I sat for an hour at the western edge of Long Meadow watching the fading light paint the peaks to the east.
One aspect of this year’s trip that I found gratifying was that after finishing my hiking for the day I seemed to have much more energy to find better quality sites. Last year, there were quite a few times that I just grabbed the first site I stumbled upon because I was too exhausted to look further. This caused me to sometimes camp on uneven surfaces or sites exposed to wind and the elements.