My last night on John Muir Trail in 2013 was a night to remember.
That day I had awakened a little later than normal, at my campsite near Wright Creek. I had slept late for a couple of reasons: first, I didn’t have far to go this day. My hike would be less than nine miles to Guitar Lake.
Second, the day before had been a difficult one. After climbing the highest of all the passes on the John Muir Trail, the 13,200 foot Forester Pass, I had gotten caught about a third of the way across the Bighorn Plateau when the thunder and lightning began. I didn’t really want to turn back (although that would have been the safest option), so I took a different tactic: I decided I would jog a hundred steps, then walk a hundred steps until I got off the exposed portion of the trail. That approach had been successful, but it had also been stressful and tiring. Also, thanks to a problem with a packer, I was in severe calorie deficit.
The hike to Guitar Lake went as planned and I arrived a little after noon. The thunder and lightning of the previous day was gone, but the sky threatened rain. By 12:20 p.m. I had found a suitable site to spend my last night on the trail. By 1:00 p.m. my tent was up, my water topped off, and everything that needed to stay dry was protected.
At about 1:20 p.m. I was in my tent when the sky opened up in a big way. It began with heavy rain and wind. My Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 seemed hopelessly fragile and inadequate against the deluge, but, to my delight, not a drop of water intruded. After about of hour of this it was time for the hail.
It wasn’t particularly large hail – I’d say larger than a pea but smaller than a marble – but it was coming down hard and there was a lot of it! I started watching the seams of my tent, assuming that if it was going to start coming apart, it would begin there. Again, I was happily surprised. My little tent was providing all the refuge I needed against this raging storm, at an exposed campsite, well over 11,000 feet elevation.
By mid-afternoon I was rather enjoying myself. It’s hard to be scared when you’re grinning – this was pretty cool. The storm, with all its fury, was providing nothing more than background music in my snug sanctuary. Time for supper!
I eased open the downwind flap of my tent to provide a little ventilation and put together my Jet Boil. I had three things left to eat: two energy bars (for breakfast and lunch the following day) and a complete Mountain House fettuccine alfredo! Soon I was pouring boiling water into the pouch and the aroma of pasta and cheese was filling the small space. Fifteen minutes later I was warm in my sleeping bag, reading my lightweight e-reader, and enjoying a hot meal.
There are moments on the trail that are so perfect that they leave memories that endure for as long as one lives. This was one for me. Later, the storm turned quiet as the rain and hail turned to snow, although less than an inch accumulated. I remember the quiet well; it’s funny how a snow falling in a windless landscape deadens all noise.
The next day wasn’t clear, but it was dry. I made it to the summit, down the trail to Whitney Portal, and into town.
The next night was spent on a mattress, between clean sheets, after a great meal at a Lone Pine restaurant. I’m sure it was far more comfortable, but I don’t remember a thing about it. There’s a lesson there, somewhere.
Good hiking, Ray
Hi Ray – love your blog. My comment isn’t directly related to your post. Three of us are doing the last 110 miles of JMT the last two weeks of August – finishing at Whitney. We want to arrange a food drop at the intersection between the JMT and the ‘Bishop Pass Trail’ for August 22. Its at mile 135. Because of cost we want to see if another group wants to share in the food drop. Do you know of a blog/bulletin board where we could post? Thanks! Jeff firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the kind words, Jeff. The Yahoo John Muir Trail group would be my choice. Not only are there lots of JMT hikers there, they also have a spreadsheet listing when people are entering the wilderness. Good luck!