Thursday, September 13, 2012

John Muir Trail V. Lake Marjorie to Guitar Lake. Bonks, Monsoons, and Living Above the Clouds

Editor's Note: If your husband hardly ever reads your blog in months, and suddenly decides to read it, probably a good blog post for him NOT to start with is one that mentions a certain hiker we named Eye Candy. OOPS!  

Halfway up Glen Pass
We had been wondering when winter would arrive, and at Lake Marjorie it seemed it had: frost and ice had a tentative grip on our wet gear and the grass. There was almost a sense of urgency in the air: keep moving. But as always the sun made all the difference, slowly spilling over Pinchot Pass as I climbed higher among the jumbled rocks.

This 16 mile day took a toll on each of us, mostly because it brutally dove to 8400 feet from our 12,000 foot pass, and then we had to endure a heinous 2,000 foot slog up a hot and dry canyon. There's usually a moment in every adventure where you question your sanity in choosing it, and this was the place. Because I stopped to dry out rain-soaked gear at a small tarn, it was nearly five when we staggered into Rae Lakes, a beautiful, shimmering set of connected lakes. It was our hardest day yet. Though I was feeling strong, so many days without a rest had begun to show diminishing returns.

I guess the slog was prettier than I remembered.

Beautiful Rae Lakes

We pounded down the trail in a hurry to meet our last food drop, the pack train from Onion Valley. Many people forgo this drop due to its expense and the fact that you sit and wait between the hours of eleven and one, which sets your hiking day back a great deal. We decided it was worth it instead of rationing food or trudging under an immense, nine-day load. We had met others on the trail who were victims of poor planning and faced a long hike out to Independence to restock. While we waited, we ate the last of our food and dreamed about what we really wanted to eat: salad. pizza. Instead, we received our resupply with more trail food. I munched on Goldfish without enthusiasm as we packed up our canisters and headed towards our river camp before Forester Pass.

Headed to 13,000 feet

Peering down from the gap on Forester

The rest of our hike we would be above 10,000 feet and often much higher. The nights were cool and occasional rain sprinkled overhead, but thankfully not the huge thunderstorms of Muir Pass. A ranger near Tyndall Creek told us we were caught in a monsoonal flow, wet air sweeping  up and across the mountains. In the evenings we sat around in our puffies and hats. Gone were the hot summer days of the Valley and beyond.

These pictures are of the Bighorn Plateau. Love.

As I hiked towards Guitar Lake in falling rain, our  last campsite, a nagging pain in my right leg intensified. I thought I knew its cause--the large stone steps of Forester Pass and the descent from 13,000 feet. It felt like a shin splint, but I worried that it might be a stress fracture. Gobbling Vitamin I by the handful, I knew I wouldn't quit now.

The last campsite--Guitar Lake
Guitar Lake was exposed and wind-scoured, not a tree in sight. Hail fell like popcorn as I struggled with my tent. A few other souls were perched here, and every time the rain and hail stopped, they emerged from tents like I did, to wander around this formidable landscape and to gaze upward at the slopes leading to Mount Whitney. We all wondered what was to come.

Stark, wind-swept, beautiful.


  1. Ha, ha, did you tell hubby he was eye candy, too?
    Love your posts, and your pics. I want to take a long hike and climb impossible climbs while toting a heavy pack and eating Goldfish crackers.
    Thanks for sparking some good dreams.

  2. I had wondered how that 'eye candy' bit would sit with J...
    I just figured that since you post so openly about all your adventures, thoughts and foibles that he must be seriously open-minded (or something like that).
    I can't imagine myself being very magnanimous about it, but there you are.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure, I'm loving it.

  3. If anyone knows my husband they know that this was meant as a joke. Yes, we all saw a man we appreciated, we talked to him for about five minutes, no big deal. My husband knows he is the only one for me and that sometimes good-looking people cross our paths, we can enjoy the eye candy but it means nothing...

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