The JMT 2018 Series – Story 5 – The Imperfect Storm

July 22, 2019

Smoke fills the corridor and obscures the mountains as we hike through Goddard Canyon above the San Joaquin River.

This story, the fifth in a series, starts on day eleven of our John Muir Trail (JMT) hike of 2018. It’s of collection of grumblings, disenchanted anticipation, childish breakdowns, and uncharitable cruelty happening over a week, concluding in redemption.

A radiant sunrise woke me up at Evolution Lake, about a week and a half into our hike, bestowing a benevolent and glorious morning, a contradiction to the storm we endured the day before. My husband and I had slept in because we needed to dry out our gear after the onslaught of wind and bombardment of rain. Luckily, the sun was ready to meet the challenge of returning our equipment back to order. Rather than accept the day for the splendidness that it was, I recalled a vexatious night and found myself still annoyed. Why is it that some days you just soak it all in and enjoy an experience for what it is, and other days you seem to find fault with everything?

Placing Blame Where It Does Not Belong

I awoke in the middle of the night having to pee. It happens, and when nature calls, one can try to ignore the summons, but at some point, you have no choice but to comply. The particular campsite that we chose made the prospect of having to surrender to a mid-night urge even more unpleasant. The only place we could use as a privy area was quite a distance off, across the trail and up the adjacent mountain. I suppose you could have called it a large hill, but it more resembled a ridge. The landscape ascended abruptly from the trail with a few disruptions of sandy benches, some obscured with shrubbery, which created a scattering of acceptable spots.  

We set up camp at Evolution Lake amid a storm, but the sun made an appearance and presented us with a marvelous sunset.
We set up camp at Evolution Lake amid a storm, but the sun made an appearance and presented us with a marvelous sunset.

My pStyle, a female urinary device that allows me to relieve myself without having to altogether drop my drawers, was missing. Joe said he had brought it down from our bathroom spot before we went to bed, but I couldn’t find it (yes, we went together). I guessed we had left it up on the menacing bank, the only place where we could have privacy and adhere to Leave No Trace principles. In the middle of the night, I walked all the way up that steep nightmare to go look for it, headlamp aimed hoping not to see any shining eyes looking back at me. It wasn’t there. I got back to the tent and told Joe that I wasn’t able to find it, and he said he thought he swore brought it down. However, it wasn’t where I saw it last, and it wasn’t with the rest of my latrine kit.  

I was panicking, irrationally. It is not a critical piece of gear, the FUD (female urinary device) was more of a luxury. I could have simply just continued on the remainder of the hike pulling my pants to my ankles every time I had to tinkle, but the thought of having to inconvenience myself in that fashion made me irate. Fumbling around the tent, disturbing any chance of a restful slumber for my poor husband, I happened to lift up my mattress, and there it was. I was intensely agitated, pissed off really. I yelled at Joe for not putting my stuff back where it belonged; however, in retrospect, I realize that I was the one to blame. 

One should not go into the backcountry expecting someone else to be responsible for your own gear. You bring it in, you keep track of it, and you bring it out. The concept is that simple, even necessary.

Dung Central

After getting a late start, around 10:00 am, we sojourned along on a pretty uneventful hike until we reached our target camping location for the night. The trek was mostly all downhill, and we just trudged on to make the miles we needed so that we could arrive at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) for our resupply the next day.

Even with leaving late, we were able to hit our mark. We actually made it a little farther than planned. We decided to stay on the traditional path of the JMT rather than take the alternate route for the infamous Evolution Creek crossing. It was later in the season, a drier one with no lingering snow, and the water crossings we encountered so far were not treacherous. If we had faced a raging, abyssal torrent of water when we reached Evolution Creek, we would have simply just turned back to travel through the Evolution Meadow, avoiding the hazardous ford.

There were supposed to be a few campsites along this route before the creek crossing; however, as we passed two of them, they did not tempt either of us. We continued on until we came upon a tiny little, almost obscure, sign off the left side of the trail atop a 4×4 post that read ‘STOCK CAMP.’ Next to that sign was a not-so-well-traveled path heading back into the trees. Following that little path, we ventured back well into the woods where we found the stock camp. There was a decent firepit fashioned from nearby stones, a home to furry little rodents darting in and out of the rocks. In addition to potentially problematic gnawing critters, there were copious remnants of horse dung that were strewn about the area. So, we decided we would wander farther back into the wood and try to get closer to the creek that ran mostly parallel to the trail. It was only when we almost hit the creek that we found a secluded campsite behind the stock camp. There was nobody camping anywhere in the area, we were well hidden from the trail; we could have walked around naked if we wanted to. Areas to use as privies were bountiful, after all, we were not too far from horse-crap central. Finally! No problem finding privacy to take care of business.

It had threatened to rain all throughout the day, thunder resonated in the distance, but we lucked out, and we were spared from being on the receiving end of another storm. It was a miracle! We rejoiced in not having to brave the elements and endure relentless winds, inundating rain, or battering hail.  

Into the Fire?

Despite some grumbling thunder and lightning periodically lighting up the sky, the evening was mostly uneventful and peaceful. We awoke to air thick with smoke and thought it could have been from a campfire nearby. As we began hiking, it started to get denser, obscuring the looming mountains, and stinging our nostrils. It was a bit unnerving not knowing if we were walking into a new fire that could have been sparked by some lightning last night. Yesterday, we had already passed the McClure Meadow ranger station. It would be a while until we came upon another one to gather any updated information on fires burning in the area. 

As we proceeded down into Goddard Canyon where the trail met the San Joaquin River, the corridor along the valley started to take on a murky, almost opaque, appearance. The heavy air shrouded the peaks and ridges in the distance, and breathing became more laborious than it already should have been. My eyes started to water and my throat, with the increased number of breaths, felt dry and scratchy as if I had swallowed sand. I drank some water, hoping to relieve the discomfort; however, it did very little to soothe the irritation. The choking and coughing didn’t help.

Disgustingly Disgusted

The smokiness persisted the entire way as we exited Kings Canyon National Park and entered the John Muir Wilderness. Unable to fit all of the food in our bear canisters to last all the way to Vermilion Valley Resort, we had sent resupply packages to MTR. Hopefully, they would be there waiting for us. By this point, I was also looking forward to some ‘civilization,’ so a stop at the ranch was a highly anticipated diversion.

The trek to MTR from Evolution Meadow thankfully was mostly downhill. At first, after leaving our campsite, the terrain was gentle enough. Even so, my legs and feet were burning, and they didn’t want to work. Joe got a knot in his calf and finally joined me in the club of gastrocnemius confundus (a term I coined for burning cramping calves). I was tired of being the only one who had issues with their lower extremities. The fact that someone else was sharing in my misery selfishly gave me some comfort.

I’ve had issues in the past that nearly put an end to my hiking endeavors. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had Morton’s Neuromas that caused excruciating pain when I would hike any considerable distances. This affliction was the catalyst for my demise during a 2015 Appalachian Trail Thru-hike attempt. I had taken a fall, injured my hip, and ultimately ended up fracturing my calcaneus (aka heel bone). 

After healing from that injury, I attempted to hike the John Muir Trail later that year. However, an unfortunate bout of Acute Mountain Sickness (altitude sickness) experienced by a member of my hiking party, in addition to continuing neuroma issues, brought that effort to a halt. 

I spent the next year (2016) having surgeries in both of my feet. I lost the entire summer and fall recovering from a dissection of those loathsome neuromas in conjunction with metatarsal osteotomies.

Although I now can backpack without incapacitating pain, I am not totally free of discomfort. I have some residual nerve sensitivities that cause burning as if searing daggers were being plunged into the balls of my feet. I also have tight ankles and as a result, poor dorsiflexion, which in turn causes tight calves and ultimately cramping, especially going uphill. These are issues that now plague me, they don’t stop me but sometimes can create a world of despair.

We finally reached the junction for the trail to Florence Lake and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), leaving only a 1.5-mile segment to MTR. The path was full of horse crap, it felt like playing a game of Frogger, except instead of trying to land on a log, we did all we could to avoid the landmines. And like the last 1.9-mile push to the summit during 2017’s Mt. Whitney odyssey, the side-trail to MTR felt like it was one of the more drawn out segments we had ever hiked.

The chaos and disorder revived memories of obnoxious train and subway commutes to my old job in New York City, where courtesy rarely existed, and self-interest was paramount.

Arriving at the ranch, we joined the queue of backpackers retrieving their prized parcels. Once we were handed our 5-gallon bucket (used to safely endure the journey from the post office, across Florence Lake, then another 5 miles on horses and/or off-road vehicles, plus hungry critters), we proceeded to the area reserved for us all to sort through our goodies. Apparently, as we had seen in the previous days, some storms had rolled through one after the other. The ground was soaked, saturated to the point where the water had nowhere to go, and the area where we were corralled was one large mushy mud pit. The earth gave way underfoot just like when you step in a pile of dog poop. I could have sworn I smelled poop, perhaps the sensation created a phantom olfactory response.

Throngs of backpackers balanced on wooden planks and unloaded their goods on cluttered tables, vying for space to sort through their supplies. They were all strategically trying to organize them without having them fall into the mucky sludge. I waited my turn until a spot was vacated and proceeded to play the game of shuffle and balance. 

There was a ‘power station’ on the side of the resupply storage shed where you could plug in your electronics for recharge. The charging station was a Rubbermaid bin perched on top of a wooden bench, straddling a puddle. It contained several entangled power strips plugged into a multi-receptacle extension cord that snaked out of the side of the shed. In order to reach the lid to expose the electrified menagerie of cameras, cell phones, and batteries, you had to step on a wooden plank laid across the puddle surrounding the bench. Taking my chances, I plugged my phone into the only remaining outlet. I hoped that the rubber soles on the bottom of my boots would protect me from being electrocuted.

The chaos and disorder revived memories of obnoxious train and subway commutes to my old job in New York City, where courtesy rarely existed, and self-interest was paramount. The scurrying about of human beings like ants swarming through meandering tunnels burrowed beneath the ground. The jockeying for position to be the first one on and the first ones off the rail cars. The smell of too many bodies jammed in hot confined spaces induced flashbacks that didn’t belong in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada.  

The ranch offers ‘short-stay’ accommodations. However, we learned that during peak JMT hiking season, unless you plan ahead and make a reservation, the chances of procuring a place to stay at the ranch are nearly impossible. No reservation means no meals, no amenities, and no place to mingle in a ‘civilized’ atmosphere. The resupply services are limited to having ranch staff haul your bucket from the Post Office, storing it, and handing it over when you arrive (for a fee proportionate to the effort).

They emanated the smell of soap and machine-washed clothes. I don’t know why I was annoyed, but I was. Perhaps it was the fact that they smelled so good and we reeked. Or maybe it was a combination of their rudeness and my envy.

I was disgusted by the whole MTR experience since I was looking forward to some respite and hopefully some hospitality, but there was none. This was my fault; I accept full responsibility. I could have made a reservation, but after our experience in 2017 having to exit at Shepherd Pass, I was hesitant to do so. That year we were running behind, and we were not going to make our resupply rendezvous, so we ended up exiting at the dreaded pass. Also, I was under the impression that this place was a ‘backpacker’s haven.’ However, as is the case when you idealize something in your mind, you’ll find that things aren’t as gratifying as you expected. Regardless, between the disappointing blow and the frenzy-induced anxiety, it was an experience I would not wish to repeat.

Inconsideration

Since there was no place to stay on the ranch grounds, we needed to hike another half mile to find a tent site. The only good part about being there was being able to offload our garbage. We found a mostly secluded campsite near the South Fork San Joaquin River. It was an ideal place to take a zero day to rest and perform some housekeeping chores. I say ”mostly” because although we thought that we were in a hidden location, a group of young people intruded into our campsite while we were eating dinner. They hiked straight through as if we weren’t there. 

We slept in the next morning until 8:30 am. Once we wiped the cobwebs from our eyes, we had coffee and breakfast skillet wrapped in a tortilla. Both of us took a dip in the icy cold water washing off the stench from the past few days, and did laundry, washing every article of clothing we had with us. 

After doing all the housekeeping chores through the day, I started sweating, and my pits stunk again! I rubbed some hand sanitizer on them, hoping that would kill the obnoxious smell. 

We thought we were alone and were in our underwear when a group of kids came traipsing through. Joe and I dove into the tent to avoid being seen as the kids seem to have no regard for privacy and walked right through our site although the trail ran well below it. I exclaimed we were naked in the tent and they didn’t seem to care. Then shortly after, some lady came through while I went to the river for some water (in my underwear) and she walked right past Joe in his underwear. He said “”Hello!”” 

These ‘visits’ annoyed me. They weren’t from filthy backpackers like us, the infiltrators were ranch guests who were out for a day hike, stroll, whatever you want to call it. They emanated the smell of soap and machine-washed clothes. I don’t know why I was annoyed, but I was. Perhaps it was the fact that they smelled so good and we reeked. Or maybe it was a combination of their rudeness and my envy.

A Cozy Little Breakdown

After loading up our packs with the heft of our newly crammed bear cans, we started our 6-mile ascent along a whole lot of steep trail to the next campsite. The total elevation gain up to Selden Pass was 2,800 feet, but we were planning on stopping somewhere near Sallie Keys Lakes, about 1.5 miles shy of the pass. 

A graph depicting the elevation profile of the northbound climb out of MTR back to the JMT (click to enlarge)
A Guthook app graph depicting the elevation profile of the northbound climb out of MTR back to the JMT (click to enlarge)

The climb out from MTR back to the JMT was painfully arduous. As was customary for our morning start ascending up some dreadful incline, my calves started to ache. The ache then graduated to wrenching cramps that felt like the muscle was tearing away from the bone. I had to stop frequently to take a breather and try to loosen the over-taught tissues. The trail had a grade of 902.6 feet/mile, and we were thankful that we only had to labor up .9 miles; however, it seemed to never end. We struggled up short, cruel switchbacks, deliberately stepping to avoid piles of fly-ridden horse crap. The stink wafted around us like a toxic fog and continued to worsen as the air heated up. I sympathized with the wretched beasts who left their marks, thinking how frightful it probably was to go down this escarpment. At some points, I had to use all the strength I had in my upper body, leaning on my poles, to try to get some momentum to take another step. My pack felt like it weighed a ton and pressed down on me like a bag of cement; the weight of it probably not too far off. Of course, this is an exaggeration, my pack only weighed little more than half of that. 

One should not go into the backcountry expecting someone else to be responsible for your own gear. You bring it in, you keep track of it, and you bring it out. The concept is that simple, even necessary.

Once we hit the main trail, the gradient wasn’t as awful, it became ‘not as steep,’ dropping down to a lesser unpleasant 642 feet/mile, but the climb was far from being over. We had scaled switchback after switchback the entire time, across an open, exposed, Manzanita-covered mountainside that had very little shade. The combination of heat and effort made it feel like, in the end, we had traveled 10 miles, but in reality, we only did 5.7.  

The constant uphill grind and the carrying of a cumbersome pack had taken their toll. In addition to the debilitating calf pain, I also now had knees that were plaguing me. Every step felt like I had knives piercing into the joints behind my kneecaps. The day turned out to be absolutely grueling, and I needed some relief. 

Already feeling fatigued, I asked my husband to grab the Advil out of my inaccessible top pouch. I was too tired to take the pack off and have to put it back on again, that sometimes becomes a burden in itself. I explained to him that the bottle of Vitamin-I (the hiker’s nickname for Advil) was inside my homemade mylar cozy (a pouch used to keep food hot while cooking/eating on the trail). He unzippered the compartment on top of my pack, reached inside and fumbled around, and then I heard a sharp rip. However, it wasn’t the rip of the Velcro used to keep the pouch closed.

I knew immediately what had happened, but still asked the question, “Did you just rip my cozy?”

“Uh, yeah,” replied Joe reluctantly.

Irrational me lashed out again, I completely lost it in another breakdown. I threw my pack down on the ground like a 5-year old having a tantrum and then lambasted Joe. Poor Joe. All he tried to do was help me, and there I was berating him to no end. Again, it was no big deal, nothing that couldn’t be fixed. But my physical state took over my brain, and I acted like a crazed maniac. To add to the charade, I plopped down onto the ground, crying with head in hands, and wailed, “Leave me here. Just leave me here to die. I don’t care. Just go and leave me here.” 

Joe called my bluff, picked up my pack, and proceeded to continue up the trail. I yelled, “Why are you taking my pack?”

“You have the stove in there,” he bellowed back. 

Joe, the composed one, struck a chord. I thought to myself, “Wait! I need the stove!” It was then that I realized that I was making no sense at all. If I was going to resign myself to die out there alone, why would I need the stove? I begrudgingly begged him to come back, and I put on my pack, pouty face and all, and we both continued up the trail.

After a short time, I felt so bad about my behavior, I apologized to Joe profusely. 

This is what sometimes happens when you push yourself to limits you never thought you could. Your body agonizes with the strain of the activity you’re forcing upon it, and your mind just goes haywire. It almost felt like I was possessed, and I was embarrassed. Good thing we were alone and there was no one else on the trail with us that day! Later on, Joe admitted that he was ready to carry my pack for me. Talk about feeling like a complete jerk! I was ashamed. It’s times like these when I realize that my husband is genuinely a good egg, and I’m blessed to have him.

As the Wind Blows

As we continued our ascent and neared Sallie Keys Lakes, we contemplated going over Selden Pass just to lessen the burden of the next day’s hike. It was about 2 pm, and the climb up Selden and down the other side was going to push us past our limits. We decided to stop at the far end of Sallie Keys Lakes and wait until the next morning. This would allow us to have enough energy and stamina to make the planned 8.8-mile hike the next day, the majority of it downhill. Downhill hikes do not bode well for me at all due to the pounding my feet take.

Something must be understood about the distances we hike daily. To the standard thru-hiker, the mileage sounds nominal, almost absurd, but we are lazy hikers. In addition to the physical challenges my asshole feet will sometimes present, we don’t like waking up before the crack of dawn. We enjoy taking our time to really be in the moment, soak in the experience. With that being said, anyone who has performed any long-distance hike can appreciate that pushing your body day-after-day can sometimes make even a single mile seem endless. 

Two lakes make up the ‘Sallie Keys Lakes,’ connected by an isthmus that had a relatively easy-to-cross stream running through it, binding the eastern and western bodies of water together. This particular year, there wasn’t a lot of water. However, we could see that if we had come through this area the previous year (2017), crossing this isthmus could have been difficult. 

…the juxtaposition of elements created a tapestry of visual stimuli.

We found a flat sandy spot at the second lake on a bluff overlooking the water. The overlook created some difficulty getting water because of the abrupt drop-off from the rocks we were perched upon. However, the view was stunning, almost transcendent. 

Brilliant green trees against the vivid blue of the sky and the pale silvery granite created a stark contrast between the ephemeral vibrant living, the eternal ether, and prehistoric earth. It reminded me that what may feel everlasting for a human being, is only an instant in the grand scheme of things. 

The sun rises, creating a mirror image on the glass-like waters of one of the Sallie Keys Lakes.
The sun rises, creating a mirror image on the glass-like waters of one of the Sallie Keys Lakes.

It was windy, which at first, we didn’t take any notice of, but as we proceeded to put up the tent, it presented some challenges. We were able to keep the tent from blowing away, but as we started to unload our gear into the tent, we noticed a considerable chill from the whipping air. 

Joe went to get water to prepare for the evening’s dinner while I started to set up our home for the night. While I was doing so, I could feel some particles swirling around the tent. Some of them ended up in my mouth as I wrapped my lips around the valve to inflate the sleeping pads. I looked around and noticed a layer of dust that coated everything in the tent; I passed my hand over the floor of the tent only to have it covered with grit. The sandy dirt that surrounded the area was infiltrating our shelter, and there was nothing to be done about it.

A Dramatic Day Without Drama

Luckily the wind died down and didn’t persist through the night; however, the morning was chilly, very chilly. The sounds of ducks in the lake woke me up, but we remained in our warm sleeping bags for a while just so we could keep warm. We didn’t leave the campsite until about 9:06 am. 

The day started with another climb, this time up and over Selden Pass. The traverse turned out to be relatively mild and astonishingly quick for a ‘pass.’ Even so, we took it slowly so I could stop a few times to stretch my calves and shake them out. Thankfully, pausing to immediately address those tightening muscles paid off because they seemed to loosen up throughout the day, allowing me to enjoy the hike without any lamentation. 

Once over the pass, we were greeted by the picturesque scenery of Marie Lake. The weather was absolutely delightful, not a cloud in the sky. I imagine the view of the lakes after Muir Pass would have been just as beautiful if it weren’t so ugly that day. 

Again, the juxtaposition of elements created a tapestry of visual stimuli. A bright azure firmament watched over an irregularly shaped cobalt lake, nestled among verdant splashes sprawled across gray stone. Peaks jutted up disrupting rolling hills, reaching higher and higher as the landscape extended out into the distance. 

Marie Lake, as viewed from Selden Pass, is one of the gems of the Sierra on the John Muir Trail that invokes feelings of awe.
Marie Lake, as viewed from Selden Pass, is one of the gems of the Sierra on the John Muir Trail that invokes feelings of awe.

It was also the first day in a while where the sky wasn’t filled with smoke. I was amazed at how blue the sky looked. We don’t see blue skies in the east like you do high in the mountains of the Sierra. Have you ever flown in an airplane and looked out of the window? Have you ever looked up from that window, up past the troposphere, towards the substratosphere? If you have, this is the only way I can equate how deep the color of the sky was compared to what we’re usually accustomed to. ‘Sky’ is not the term that adequately describes the realm above our heads in the domain of geological giants, ‘heavens’ is more appropriate. 

The entire trek after the pass was a gentle downhill making our target of 8.8 miles easier than I thought it would have been. It still took us almost 6 hours to complete thanks to our lackadaisical attitudes about ‘getting it done.’ We stopped for several breaks, including a 30-minute interlude on the shore of Bear Creek where we stopped to appreciate the sound of water moving sinuously across rocks jutting above the surface.

Eventually, we concluded the day’s business and set up camp again. All in all, we had a prosperous day, drama and obscenity free.

The Long and Winding Non-Road

The next morning was frigid but clear; there was no sign of smoke and no wind to exacerbate the chill. My hands were frozen from washing a few items of clothing, so we were yet again delayed in setting off. I had to wait a while for my useless fingers to become functional so we could pack up. 

This day was the day we were planning to arrive at Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) on Edison Lake. VVR was a popular resupply point for JMT hikers, proclaimed to be a rustic paradise treasured by many. 

As usual, the first part of the hike was uphill, and my calves were uncooperative as usual.  

It had also started to get hot, which I found perplexing because in one moment I was freezing and then the next I was sweating. Backpacking can be a world of extremes, changing in the blink of an eye. 

As we progressed, the terrain leveled out for a while wandering through a refreshing forest, but then came the switchbacks from hell. They were not as tough by any means as the Golden Staircase was, but they were ridiculously LONG and seemed to go on forever down a dreadfully steep mountain. I suppose it was better to have drawn-out switchbacks. That type of terrain made for a less extreme descent than to have short, sharp declines that used more energy to keep from skidding down.

On the way down, we had met up with an oncoming pack train luckily before we reached the meat of the switchbacks. There were spots on a few switchbacks where there would have been nowhere to go to let a train of 7 pack horses go by. The trail was so narrow. On one side you had a slope so steep that you couldn’t possibly have moved off to the path to let a mule loaded with a pannier go by. Then on the other side, a drop-off comprised of loose, crumbly soil that wouldn’t allow for anyone to get any footing without sliding down to the next switchback. 

The fact that someone else was sharing in my misery selfishly gave me some comfort.

The further down the switchbacks we got, the hikers we met seemed blissfully optimistic. However, those we had seen nearer the top definitely seemed they had been through some shit. There was one guy who was the exception. He was almost all the way to the top by 10:30-ish and I had asked him if he came from VVR and he said he had. That means that he made it up the switchbacks in one hour because the Edison Lake Ferry drops hikers off around 9:30 am. Holy wow!

Joe had remarked, “Enjoy!” to a couple of ladies hiking up the switchbacks, and one of them said, “You’re a funny guy!” 

Yup. That’s Joe, Mr. Sarcastic.

The ground leveled out again for a while though some hot, dense jungle-like forest before more short switchbacks resumed. 

Feeling drained and overheated, we took about an hour break just short of the trail to VVR. We refreshed ourselves with cool water from Mono Creek and begrudgingly shared our snacks with some ants who insisted on partaking. Greedy little buggers! I rubbed my feet and enjoyed the respite from the monotonous hike.

Eventually, we moved on and finally reached the trail to VVR, a 1.4-mile long mucky, muddy path. We didn’t dawdle too much by this point. We needed to be at the boat landing by 4:45 pm or run the risk of having to hike an unmaintained 5-mile trail all the way to the resort. 

The ferry, The Edison Queen, picked us up on schedule and shuttled us across the extensively long Edison Lake. It took about 35 minutes to go from one end to the other, and I was grateful that we didn’t have to hike the distance. As I gazed off, I watched the outboard motor from the ferry stir up the water. The turbulence created turquoise crests that curled around like ribbons in a mesmerizing dance. I pondered about how, at one time, this lake did not exist. It was created in 1954 with the construction of Vermillion Dam across Mono Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. From the back-end, the lake looked like it belonged there, and was created slowly over time. However, as we got closer to the front-end of the lake, you could clearly see that it was indeed man-made.

Redemption

We arrived at VVR and were treated to a beer. The resort is renowned in the hiker community for their appetizing menu and generous portions, so with that being the case, we made sure to order some dinner. We were not let down. I ate a plate of finger-licking ribs that would have rivaled a serving in any self-respecting rib joint, combined with a heaping side of mashed potatoes. Whatever it was that Joe ate, I can’t remember. I was too engrossed in devouring my own meal to take notice, but I remember him saying, “That was really good!”

We had asked about accommodations (again, I didn’t make reservations), and at the time, there were none. This was not unexpected, especially after our experience at MTR, but this time we were not disappointed. After dinner, we were informed that there was a ‘glamping trailer’ available.

We walked up to ‘Big Red,’ as the trailer was called, ironically the same name I assigned to my pack. It was a large travel trailer, the kind you pull behind a more powerful vehicle than your average SUV. When the door was opened by the host, we walked in, and I squealed out like a little child opening a present on Christmas morning. It had a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom in the back, and bathroom outfitted with a toilet, sink, AND shower! To us, yes, this was glamorous camping indeed. 

I asked our host if there was running hot water, and she said, “Yes.” I then asked if the toilet worked, and she smiled before replying, “Of, course!”  

I jumped up and down, again like a juvenile. For some reason, I often took on the persona of a 5-year old, but the fact of the matter was that Joe and I were both ELATED. We couldn’t believe our fortune, talk about euphoria! We had a shower with HOT RUNNING water and our own toilet!

Oh, the joy to be able to poop without having to find a spot to dig and perform the onerous squat, and to be able to wash our hands with warm water, and generously use soap to get legitimately clean! And on top of all that magnificence, the trailer was right on the shore of the lake. What an unbelievable view!

It was like heaven. After being out in the wild for over two weeks, the things we expect as a given in the civilized world suddenly become cherished luxuries that we cannot show enough appreciation for. Simple commonplace things like a toilet and hot running water are never taken for granted again after having the experience of not having them for weeks. 

On the shore of the lake, the sun behind us, we watched the effect of it dipping below the horizon. The close of the day created that characteristic alpenglow that always paints the distant mountaintops with a rosy radiance here in the Sierra, while shadows of blue and glimmers of pink reflected in the water. We watched until it was gone, and the colors of dusk faded away, heralding the night.  

I stand by the shore of Lake Edison at Vermilion Valley Resort watching the alpenglow on the mountains in the distance as the sun sets at the end of the day.
I stand by the shore of Lake Edison at Vermilion Valley Resort watching the alpenglow on the mountains in the distance as the sun sets at the end of the day.

That evening, I slept the best I had slept in days. The bed in the trailer was so comfortable. That old thick slice of foam that could have been original. It did not matter because didn’t care, it beat the blow-up sleeping pad that we’ve been laying on top of the hard, unforgiving ground.

It was sometime in the early morning when I woke up because I had to pee, and I was freezing cold. I had opened the vent above the bed before going to sleep because it was a little warm inside the trailer, and now it was frigidly cold. I shut the window but wasn’t able to enter a deep sleep again until the sun was already rising.

We woke up at a casual 8:30 am. The only reason I actually got out of bed was that I had to shower and then go do laundry before the next wave of hikers arrived around 10:15 am.

Hungry, we decided to go get some breakfast, which consisted of pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, and coffee. We feasted like we never had eaten before. Our appetites had been stifled by the combination of altitude and exertion. But on this day, kismet had awakened senses that had been dormant. 

We indulged ourselves throughout the day, sitting at the bar, knocking back a couple of beers while watching ‘Deadliest Catch’ on TV.  What else could we ask for? We were living in a veritable oasis, Shangri-la. This is not to say that the backcountry of the Sierra is not unlike paradise, but the appreciation for those things that make our lives a little easier cannot be overlooked. 

Oh, glorious day! For what seemed like the first time in a week, I had no complaints. I was contented, amenable, and most of all, grateful. I looked at Joe and said, “Now, this is living! I’m so happy that you’re with me.”


Read the entire series: 
The JMT 2018 – The Series – An Unexpected Adventure


Resources:

  • Ferguson Fire– The Ferguson Fire was a wildfire that burned 96,901 acres in three national conservation areas: Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, and Yosemite National Park. It burned uncontained for 37 days and killed 2 firefighters, injured 19, and caused $171.2 million in damages.
  • Muir Trail Ranch– family-owned High Sierra wilderness guest ranch located at the halfway mark along the John Muir Trail that offers resupply services for backpackers.
  • Vermilion Valley Resort– a high country rustic resort at Lake Thomas A. Edison that provides various services, including resupplies, for John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers. 
  • DIY “Designer” Freezer Bag Stand up Cozy – Make your own cozies with a gusset, stand-up bottom and velcro closure flap with this instructional video.
More about Go. Own It

ADVENTURER | PHOTOGRAPHER | TRAVELER | BLOGGER | PHILOSOPHER

4 Comments
    1. Once againintersting & well written, maybe could do without the p-ing segment though ;-|

      Have you considered walking the Camino de Santiago, it would be an experience that would provide an extraordinary writing opportunity, I would very much like to see the finished results…

      1. Periods and peeing, nobody wants to hear about those things! I have no idea why not. For us women, those are quite challenging things to deal with in the backcountry and is a topic we often discuss extensively in group settings believe it or not. LOL

        Yes, the Camino de Santiago is on my list of things to do. Someday.

    1. I loved the peeeeeing & poop stuff just like any 7 year old would.
      You are a wonderful writer.
      As always, dump him & become a writer !

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