My wife, Kathleen, and I hiked a portion of the John Muir Trail in the summer of 2007. I am a huge fan of hiking with your spouse, but that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I’d like to describe one of the many memorable experiences we had on the trail.
It was June 22nd at about 9:30 in the morning. We had camped at the southern end of Lyell Canyon the night before, and had just reached the top of Donohue Pass. We shed our backpacks and were resting our weary legs when we saw a group of hikers coming from the opposite direction.
There were three: two men, who appeared to be in their mid-thirties, and a young boy we would later learn was twelve-years-old. I’m afraid neither of us can recall the young man’s trail name. I seem to remember it was a synonym for “rascal”, while Kathleen thinks it was a synonym for “impatient”. In the fifteen minutes we spent with him, either would have fit.
As we talked to the group, the young, impatient, rascal was almost vibrating in place—about to burst with some inner energy. He wore on his face this look of anticipation, seemingly hanging on every word, waiting for us to finally get around to asking the magic question.
“How far are you going today?”
One of the older men mentioned stopping in Tuolumne Meadow for cheeseburgers, and then pressing on.
“Where are you heading past Tuolumne?”
At last the boy’s eyes lit up. He flung his arms in the air and shouted, “Canada!”
We hadn’t realized it, but we were in the company of PCTers. (The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is a walking trail that stretches from the Mexican border in Southern California to the Canadian border in northern Washington State. It is 2,663 miles long. A mother/daughter team hiked the entire trail in 2012.)
Neither of us will ever forget him. His enthusiasm was infectious, his confidence high, and his pack rode lightly on his shoulders. And this wasn’t merely beginning-of-the-trip excitement. Donohue Pass is almost halfway through the state of California; it’s a long, long way from the Mexican border near Campo, where they had begun months earlier.
To this day we wonder if he made it all the way. We hope so, but, regardless, we’re sure he stepped off the trail a different kid than the one who stepped on it. If our young rascal had been a company, I would have bought stock in him on that very day.
Unfortunately, far too few kids get the experience of long distance hiking. While planning an assault on the PCT—and getting the time off to do it—is practically impossible for most people, I can think of no better alternative than the John Muir Trial.
At a little more than 200 miles it is just about the perfect distance: long enough to seem impossible for young hikers, and short enough to be doable. The weather is usually benign in July, August and September.
The fauna is as benign as the weather. There are mountain lions, but there are no recorded mountain lion attacks against people on the trail, and the bears are more interested in your trial mix than you. A grizzly bear hasn’t roamed the Sierra Nevada for nearly one hundred years. If you are foolish enough to hike early in the season the mosquitoes may exsanguinate you, but even that is avoidable with a little repellent.
There are few, if any, navigational challenges, and the trail is generally uncrowded—without being totally deserted. In short, you are unlikely to get yourself in trouble, and if you do, someone will probably come along to help out.
Introducing young people to the wilderness is hardly a new idea. A fellow by the name of John Muir may have put it best:
Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.
Consider giving this gift to your son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.
Good hiking, Ray