Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of the John Muir Trail, and, more generally, hiking in the Sierra Nevada. In fact, I like to call myself the unofficial chief evangelist of the JMT. I’m counting the days until my next adventure.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all beautiful views, clear water, and friendly marmots who sit on rocks and cheer as I walk by. There are a few things I don’t miss a bit when I finally leave the trail. Here are my top five:
#5. Yosemite Valley in August. I am not a Yosemite Valley snob. I love the valley and I enjoy spending time there. I got married there! Even I have to admit, though, that a hot, dusty, crowded August weekend is not a time when the valley is on its best behavior. Not only is it hot, dusty, and crowded, no one in the crowd seems to be having a very good time. Mostly I see people who are there because they felt they had to check it out while they were in California. They want to check the block and get the heck out. No fun.
#4. Groups who have no idea what the rules are. During my last thru-hike I camped my first night out of Red’s Meadow near Purple Lake. Once I got my tent set up I decided to walk back down the trail, to the lake, for water. While on the trail, I tripped and nearly fell on my face. My tripping isn’t all that surprising; I’m not known for being particularly graceful. Except that I tripped on a tent rope, staked ACROSS the trail. A group of about a dozen hikers had camped right next to the trail and right next to the lake. Later that night, they had a good sized fire, despite the fact that they were prohibited. I found out later that the group had been earlier fined for camping at the Thousand Island Lake outlet stream. Apparently, no one learned a lesson.
#3. The middle third of the descent from the summit to Whitney Portal. Hard to believe after all the climbing you do on the John Muir Trail, but the stretch I dread the most goes downhill. It comes after the switchbacks, going to the portal. I’m always amazed that I still have knees when I’m done.
#2. Not sleeping the first few nights. As I tinker with my sleeping gear, this has gotten a little bit better, but I still have problems at least the first two or three nights on the ground. A good sleeping pad helps, as does making sure you don’t get cold. Part of it is just psychological, especially since I am almost always camping alone. You never know what might be lurking out there!
#1. The smell inside my bear canister. I look at bear canisters sort of how I look at dentistry—my life would be SO much more unpleasant without it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Trying to stuff a canister into a reasonably sized backpack so that it is both in the right spot, weight and balance wise, and near the top, so that you can get to it for lunch, is nearly impossible. What is the worst, however, is the strange alchemy that takes place as the aromas from the different items within it blend. Despite the fact that they all, individually, smell pretty good, the combination is disgusting. I’m half tempted to leave it open at night to air out, but I’m afraid I’d scare all the bears away, and I really do like seeing them from time to time.
Good hiking, Ray