Alright, I know it has taken me 3 weeks to write this, but I simply wanted to rest and not have any overarching responsibilities. But now's the time.
So to put it simply and honestly the John Muir Trail was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my entire life. For two simple reasons (1) I am NOT a backpacker and (2) The monotony and minutiae that goes hand in hand with backpacking is honestly too boring and too slow. Let me explain. The plan was to do the entire JMT in 10 days with a 27 pound pack, in other words fastpacking it. This was not to ambitious nor to difficult, if we had decided to push on and suffer it was completely plausible. But the first day of the trek was quite truthfully the hardest day of my life. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. I hated it and loved it. We planned on going from Happy Isles, Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows. 24 miles with around 6,000 feet of gain. As an ultra runner I'm used to running long, hard miles, but with very minimal gear. Light gear. This trek was not at all what I was used to. And here's my brutal story of day one of the John Muir Trail.
We started early and said our goodbyes and for the first 13 miles or so you climb out of the valley and crest a mountain. So the majority of the elevation gain of the day was there. It started out fun, we were excited and apprehensive of what was to come, but happy. I soon realized that backpacking, even with a pack as light as ours, was way different than trailrunning. Backpacking is slow and tiring in a different way. With all that weight you feel it, quickly, and you learn to loathe it. So was the same with those beginning 13 miles. It was boring and since you weren't that high in elevation yet you were climbing through trees and so without being able to see where you're headed, it's absolute torture. We hiked through a burned out forest, through meadows, near sheer drop offs, and up one of the steepest climbs I've ever seen. When we got to that climb I looked up and shook my head it was so crazy. We did rest however, we stopped and did yoga on a big slab by a stream and it was absolutely peaceful and beautiful. At 2:30 we reached Sunrise Meadows, still 10 miles away from Toulomne, and we stopped for lunch. We had avocado and tortillas and Trailbutter! It was awesome. Next we had Cathedral Pass, the last big climb. So another 1,000 feet up we went, slow and steady. At the top we tried to get some signal and took pictures then headed on down. The trail rolled and gradually made its way down and we stopped on a sloping section of trail to rest and massage our shoulders, because again that pack is a killer. Through the trees we spied a meadow and so putting two and two together, our destination was "Toulomne Meadows" and so we assumed that this meadow had to be it. We excitedly moved along down the hill meanwhile I was thinking and mentally preparing myself for a finish to a long day, I thought we were done. Then we saw a lake, there's no lake at Tuolumne. Frantically we checked the map and lo and behold we aren't done after all. We still have another 6 miles. This was one out of three of the lowest points in my life. The first being those first brutal 13 miles. And now this one, I thought I was done and we weren't. We trudged on and met a really nice guy who we talked to and that cheered me up a bit. But we had to keep moving. We soon started a steep switch backing decline which we lightly jogged down and that was fun. After some more rollers and another steep decline we FINALLY REACHED THE MEADOW, kinda. The trail meets a road, but you don't cross it like you think you would to get to Tuolumne, the trail stupidly takes you up and away from the road for a mile and then you cross. Not done yet though, you walk the the meadow on a large dirt road that goes to seemingly nowhere. Soon you turn onto a service road and then intersect with the SAME ROAD AGAIN! By this time I was dead tired and it was night. We knew the Tuolumne Cafe was closed, but we wanted to get there to have a place to take a break and then find the backpacker's camp. We couldn't find the cafe however, so we looked for the backpacker's camp and that was also impossible to find. A PCT-er helped us and eventually we made our way over there and... you had to pay and... we didn't have change to pay the correct amount. We went to the restrooms to change into warmer clothes, because well, it WAS FREEZING! By this point we were destroyed mentally, emotionally, and physically. We had no idea what to do. We just wanted our family to be there to make the decision for us. Because, it was between camping in the woods around Tuolumne and having the possibility of getting kicked off the trail or camping in the backpacker's camp and not being able to pay. After much, much deliberation and confusion I made the decision to just try our luck in the camp. So we headed up there and picked a spot, threw our stuff down, and set up our tarp. We set up our sleeping bags, but not our sleeping pads. Also, we didn't want to make food so we split a date bar and went to bed. Finally, to top it off our tarp was on a slope and a rock was poking into my back and hip and it was already midnight. We planned on waking up at 5:00, but were so tired we slept in until 5:30! And in those 5 and a half hours I probably got 2 hours of sleep.
July 15 was to be blunt the worst day of my life. It was without a doubt the lowest possible day of my life. The physical pain, emotional suffering, and mental confusion made me hate that stupid trail and stupid backpacking. After a few weeks I have looked back on that first day and been able to think a lot about it. I'm grateful for it. It taught me more than I ever imagined and it was the best way to connect with my dad. I am honored to have spent such a tough time with my father. So all in all I'll say thank you to the first 25 miles of the John Muir Trail. Thank you.