Saturday, September 30

Self Portrait XXXXXIV In White

We stay with Gracie and Moe, which is a treat and allows for real quality time with my parents. Things also move a bit more slowly than London which gives us a breather from work and school and exams and all those things that cause stress.
Adam informs that I look like a homeless person.

Attached At The Hip

So, while we are in California with an unplanned two weeks, Madeleine is attached to my hip, just the way I like it. No money, no car, the poor dear.

Madeleine in Berkeley

Madeleine re-unites with her old friend Sweetie Pie. The cat has been around for 12 years, rescued by Grace from under a refuge bin in an Oakland parking lot. Sweetie was the runt of an already stray litter and Grace grabbed the deliquent animal, stuffed it in a gunny sack, then locked her in Katie's old bedroom for about a week or so. Yes, a cat kidnapping. And we and Madeleine are grateful for it. I'm sure the cat is too.

Retrospective In Red

My review of the JMT: Spectacular. Extraordinary. An adventure of a lifetime that I will retell until I am dead. Madeleine has written a college essay, if she so chooses. Would I have liked to finish it? Hell, yes. Are there things I would have done differently ? Of course.
Firstly, and possibly my biggest mistake, was the food. Backpackers are sensory deprived. Food takes on an extra importance. I stuffed our bear canisters and resupplies with dried fruit, buffalo jerky and cranberries (blech), fig newtons (never again), honey drops with vitamin C (puke) and freeze dried mountaineering food and other such nonsense. Instead : candy. And lots of it. Snickers bars. M&Ms and Oreos. Butterfingers. Calories and more calories. I should have included more super salty snacks like salamis, cheese, smoked oysters and sardines with crackers (very Euro style). I was thinking healthy. I mean, WTF ?
Madeleine and I grew sick of our food by Day 5 or 6 and towards the end we could not stomach what we had. So our efforts required maybe 4000 or 5000 calories a day and I imagine we were consuming less than London and below 2000.

Back To Normal ?

"Ugo Rondinone: The World Just Makes Me Laugh,” at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
The post JMT re-entry is, I admit, a shock. 10 years of dreaming, one year planning, 11 days of hiking and now it is.. over ? As my wise father says, "it will always be there" and, indeed, I think of returning next summer or - at least - sometime to finish the bastard off.
We get Madeleine to the emergency of the Oakland Children's Hospital where she is ex-rayed and given the OK by the doctors. Afterwards we gorge ourselves on Chinese food and grandparents; Gracie and Moe hear the story first hand.
Madeleine and I have grand ambitions to go to Hawaii or Mexico to surf or drive along the California coastline.
But for now I must regain the 15 lbs I've lost on the trail

Sunday, September 24

Helicopter Off

The ride from the trail to the landing terminus is about one hour over the most breathtaking and heartbreaking mountains in North America. It is like swimming over seabed cliffs that rise and fall thousands of feet. It is frightening at first then just a trip.

We are joyously greeted by Adam and Jasper who, on a Tuesday, make the six hour drive from Oakland to meet us and conclude the adventure. It is a remarkable way to end the JMT. Knowing your friends are there with love and support when it is needed the most.

Trail's End

Madeleine re-fractures her collar bone on Mather Pass while scrambling up a washed out switch-back - imagine climbing a ladder with a 45 lb backpack with the rungs slipping downward. It requires a supreme physical effort placing an unusual amount of weight on our arms and upper body. Madeleine's clavicle has a weak point from the last break now exploited by the effort and backpack; she hears a 'pop,' and then pain, which she hides from me for two days, no complaints. This kid is tougher than nails.

We make camp before Muir Pass, one of the challenging passes with 5 miles of dangerous snow trekking, and realise moving forward no longer an option. For my part, I am exhausted and can barely piss let alone set a camp or carry a backpack.

We are fortunate to meet Marty, a firefighter from Georgia and a certified EMT, who assesses Madeleine's break. Remarkably a ranger appears (I squint to make sure I'm not imagining it) who has a walkie-talkie for outward communication (we have emergency beacons but reluctant to use them). We put together a plan of action and a helicopter arrives the following morning, circles a granite rock several times, then lands. We are on our way out.

Saturday, September 23

Palisade Creek

We descend Mather heading to the Golden Stairway, a vertical switchback next to a cascading waterfall. Fortunately we are doing it downhill.
The streams bountiful with trouts wiggling against the flowing water. So many I can reach in and pluck them from the water.

Friday, September 22

Mather Pass II


Mather Pass

We hike out of the South Fork basin to Mather Pass, where Madeleine re-fractures her collar bone scrambling up the mountain where the switch-back has been washed out.

Stephen Mather (1867-1930) began his working life, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, as a reporter for the New York Sun. Later, he worked for the same company in which his father held a senior position: the Pacific Coast Borax Company.

Just before the turn of the century he left the PCBC and, with a partner, began his own borax company. They did well.

By 1914, at age 47, he was a millionaire, had retired from the borax business, and was indulging his passions for the outdoors. That same year he toured Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks and came away unimpressed with the upkeep and administration of the properties. It just so happened that the current Secretary of the Interior was an old classmate, so he fired off a letter of complaint. The Interior Secretary’s response would change history.

“Dear Steve: If you don’t like the way the national parks are run, why don’t you come on down to Washington and run them yourself.”

Within two years Congress had approved the establishment of the National Park Service, and Mather was its first director.


Another view of Painted Lady and Rae Lakes at sunset.

Wednesday, September 20

Fin Dome

At 11,693 feet, Fin Dome stands as a sentinel rising from the ridge separating Sixty Lakes Basin from Rae Lakes. Mountaineers, unlike us hikers, bring rope to reach the peak.

Painted Lady - Rae Lakes

We hike Glenn Pass with these three fabulous women from Flagstaff, Arizona. The snow and ice cliffs on the pass are intimidating - and physically challenging - but, together, we make it across. Women are tough. Great for Madeleine to see it.
Every turn of the trail presents something new and somehow more wondrous.

Monday, September 18

Kings Canyon South Fork

At the Kings Canyon South Fork, five or six days before we reach the river, two hikers are pulled under the water and unable to escape their backpacks which hold them under until they are drowned. A path is created parallel to the river to avoid the crossing and sends us upstream two miles until it is safe to forge our way.

Madeleine Crosses

Unlike Madeleine, I do not have sandals so my hiking boots are soaked, adding unwanted weight. There are a few things I would do differently - footwear for stream and water crossings being on the top of the list. Candy and salty foods the other. By now, we are horribly sick of our rations, which I packed thinking : healthy. Instead of dried apricots, honey drops and freeze dried packets, I would stuff the bear canisters with candy bars and cheese, salty salami and smoked oysters. Crackers. Anything to get away from buffalo jerky and cranberries. 

Sunday, September 17

Pinchot Pass

 The above my favourite photo of me and Madeleine.

Another Day Of Hiking

We meet Bret and Brent, who deliver food to us on mule at Bubbs Creek. Real cowboys they are, who live on the range in the summertime (Bret fixes water systems in the winter). Good sense of humour, nice trail stories. Bret fishes a bunch of trout which we relish (I've already lost a few pounds). We meet a couple gals from Ohio who inform that they decided to hike the JMT on a drunk-pledge to each other while at a college party in Columbus. As both recently graduated, seems like a fun thing for them to do.

Kearsarge Pinnacles

The mountains surrounding Kearsarge Lake were a favourite of Ansel Adams.


After crossing Kearsarge Pass, we camp at Kearsarge Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park.
Photo of our REI Half Dome 2 tent for two, assembled in less than three minutes.
Madeleine and I fall into our various routines : she connects the tent polls and together we build the tent; I blow up the sleeping mattresses and fire up the Jetboil to to heat water for dinner. Never a complaint from either of us. It's a fun thing.

Saturday, September 16

Mt University Sunrise

I stumble from my tent at 5AM to walk a mile to Mount University and Gilbert Lake, 10,500 feet. Madeleine tempted to join me the evening before but unmovable at such an early hour. I stumble along the trail with a headlamp and my carmera, feeling like a kid again.  The two photos about 30 minutes apart.

A Place Of Remarkable Beauty

Photo taken on the switchback to camp two on the Whitney Trail. The pictured mountain presents a drop of perhaps 2,000 feet.  This is the photograph I have chosen for my office wall.

A New Attitude

Wednesday, September 13

Mount Whitney Trail

We camp at Outpost Camp (10,300 feet) on the Mount Whitney Trail in the Inyo National Forrest.
Mirror Lake near Bighorn Meadow. The prior day lightening storms passed through creating dangerous conditions in the mountains. We experience rain and hail that lasts for 12 hours testing our gear.
Intrepid hiker. 
2017 was a record winter for snow in the Sierras and the snow pack ensures the rivers are over-flowing, the forests green and the wildflowers plentiful.

Sunday, September 10

First Look

Driving into the mountains from Lone Pine.

Behind the first range is Mount Whitney which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the contiguous US. It is also a popular summit because it is accessible during the summer season to hikers without climbing equipment.  Whitney is famous for its 97 switch-backs from base-camp to the near-summit. The entrance to the trail, eventually connecting to the JMT, is at the Whitney Portal or 8.2k feet.
At the Whitney Portal store we meet the proprietor Doug who is a committed communist with a PhD from Berkeley. We have lively conversation on Karl Marx and JMK as well as Berkeley in the 1960s, "a golden time", he notes. Doug gives me a book on George Mallory, no charge, and asks me to mail it when done. He also convinces me not to take my snow axes, purchased the day before for 1 REI, and offers to mail them to my parent's house, again for free (still awaiting arrival).

Practice Day II: Ruby Lake

Our second day in the Sierras begins at Mosquito Flat, the highest trailhead in the Sierras at c.12k feet. From the start, the grade is around 7% for the first 2 miles, before kicking up to over 12% at the start of the switchbacks (near Ruby Lake, pictured), for about 1.4 miles. We encounter first minor snow on the trail which nonetheless requires spikes.

First Trail

I begin my transformation to the trail on a practise hike to Gem Lake from the Silver Lake trail head, or about eight miles out-and-back. Gem is our first experience with switch-backs, which causes asthma and nose bleeds for Madeleine but rewards with a beautiful view of an alpine lake and waterfall. Our backpacks are heavy and awkward and we struggle with pressure points on our shoulders, back and hips.

LA And Out

Madeleine decides to have her hair corn-rowed for expediency on the trail (no washing?). We find a salon in East LA that caters to the style.
We find a Wahacan restaurant in Korea-town of all places while renting a car.
I originally planned bus transportation from LA to Lone Pine, a desert town located on the Eastern side of the Sierras but was convinced otherwise by Adam. Instead, we drive the 3-4 hours to Mammoth (7,900 feet) to begin our adjustment to altitude and continue our preparations.
Lone Pine btw is a central location for Hollywood Westerns from the 1950s with over 100 films shot here and in the surrounding mountains.


Relaxing before the adventure.
Eitan recovers from his ACL tear and so unable to do the JMT with me as planned, post-GCSE and sweet 16 years of age. Madeleine fills the void without hesitation: she is 'all in', no coaxing nor suggestion from me. I sense she feels an opportunity to escape the shadows of her older brother.
We try our 65 litre Gregory back-packs for the first time: filled with food and equipment, each weighs about 25 kg. We shed unnecessary clothes, field books and accessories to drop the weight. Whatever goes in, goes in on our backs.
Our team includes Adam (clothing, poles and sleeping system), Peter (back pack and hydration); Ken (emergency extraction); Moe and Grace (food; Bay Area pre-JMT base camp) and Christian (LA pre-JMT base camp). Also included is Sonnet, who helps make the whole thing happen with her encouragement, patience and planning assistance. Without her it would have been nowhere.

Los Angeles

Christian meets me and Madeleine at LAX.
Christian and Lisa 'hosted' our equipment in their garage for six months as I notch my checklist from Patagonia and REI. 
So freely did I spend at REI that I created a useful currency unit: 1 REI equals $500. 

JMT Pre Planning

Guy and food for 24 days.
On Guy and the John Muir Trail: He completed the JMT in 2003 with his son Jacobus and wrote a book about the experience, pictured. Guy opened my mind to the idea of the adventure, which I have been thinking about for ten years and planning for about a year. Prior to the trip he provides advise and share some notes; Jeanine gives me a zip-bag of homeotherapies covering spider bites to altitude sickness.
Guy is as close a thing to Yosemite Sam as I will ever know. He is inspiring.

Photos From The Summer I

Jasper and last morning, pre departure.