The Legend of OneBoot: Days 4 and 5 on the John Muir Trail

I woke up on Day 4 at Lower Sunrise Lake sore, and really needing to go to the bathroom. So I grabbed my ice axe (poop trowel) and went on the hunt for my bear can so I could get my poop kit. Where did I put my bear can, though? I walked by tons of great poop spots I had checked out the night before, up into the rocks, back down to the lakeshore, multiple times.

Great! This is how it all ends. No bear can means no trip. Augh! I kept pacing around (at this point, my need to poop increased and decreased in an oscillating manner), getting more frustrated by the minute. Finally, walking back from the lakeshore one more time, I found my bear can right where I had left it: in an easy place to find (but not so easy to remember). I went and took care of business, continuing on with my journey.

The great poop adventure (I’m liking the word poop today, forgive me) cut into my morning time significantly, but I got on the trail by mid-morning which wasn’t so bad. As I was leaving, a family stopped to take a “facilities break” and we talked about each others’ journeys. The other hiker I camped next to wasn’t there in the morning, which was a bummer, but oh well!

Getting on the trail, the elevation rolled smoothly. I passed by a few meadows, rivers and lakes, and eased into my stride. Coming down to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp, I was amazed at the beautiful campsites that were there. Bathrooms, fire pits, oh my!

At the intersection with the John Muir trail, I decided to have lunch along the creek. The mosquitoes were bad, but the DEET and Permethrin were working fantastically. By this point, I needed water as well, since I forewent using my Camelbak (too big of a pain in the ass). As I was lounging, taking in the beautiful greenery and granite domes, a guy by the name of Greg hiked by along the official JMT route.

Quite a beautiful lunch spot!
Quite a beautiful lunch spot!

He couldn’t believe I was dealing with the bugs so well, but he wished me well and told me he’d be camping at Cathedral Lakes if I wanted to join him. Hell yeah! Another JMTer! I was already making friends and told him I’d see him there. I got on the trail again, and continued trudging.

Toward the end of the day, the incline got steeper and I started coming around a point jutting into the sky. Was this already Cathedral Pass? I asked a couple at the top, and they confirmed it was. Awesome! Silly me, I should’ve looked at the map because I still had some more uphill and downhill to go before the day was over. It was only the plateau underneath Columbia Finger. Once again, expectations got the best of me and the last push to Cathedral really kicked my mental ass.

The beautiful, yet elusive Columbia Finger...
The beautiful, yet elusive Columbia Finger…

Coming up to Cathedral Lakes, I saw signs saying that the trail to the lake was closed due to marshy conditions. Oh no! Where did Greg go? It looks like people are down at the shore, do I break the rules? No, I continued on around the bend, crossed a creek, and walked up on the granite slab, where Greg was camped. Awesome!

Loneliness had settled in during the push from Sunrise to Cathedral and I craved human connection. Two days camping solo was harsh on my spirit, which is weird coming from an introvert. This trip helped me to learn that solo day trips are great, but having a small crew of people to hang out with and share experiences with is invaluable. I’m a small groups introvert!

Setting up my tent was a challenge as there was no soil. So I improvised and learned how to use rocks to anchor my tent. Put a skinny, long rock in the tent stake loop, and put a heavy rock on top to hold it in place! Get down with your smart self, Doug!

Got my tent set up right underneath Cathedral Peak!
Got my tent set up right underneath Cathedral Peak!

The mosquitoes were bad, and Greg spent most of his time in the tent, but I was able to do some laundry, hydrate, and check out the waterfalls nearby. The campsite was perfectly situated right underneath Cathedral Peak! As we were hanging out, we saw a female deer near the stream. Nature was at my fingertips and it was awesome.

Some of the Waterfalls We Found Near Our Campsite
Some of the Waterfalls We Found Near Our Campsite

As we settled in to the evening for dinner and sleep, a few groups of hikers passed by and fear of missing out plagued me. They looked like younger crowds and like they might be more fun! But I stayed where I was at, ate some dinner, bonded with Greg, and went to sleep. I was ahead of schedule and ready to resupply in Tuolomne the next day. To top it all off, I was learning how to be grateful for where I was at and who I was with in that exact moment 🙂

The next morning, Greg and I woke up to freezing cold. My hands kept going numb preparing breakfast and breaking down camp! Greg got his stuff ready super quick and was on the trail before me. He had to meet a lady friend (her name was Kendall) in Tuolomne before getting back on the trail. We exchanged information and he was on his way.

Shortly after, I got on the trail as well. I was looking forward to a strictly downhill, flat day (according to my map) and got frustrated at the first sign of incline. What the hell! My mental capacity did not sign up for this! The views were beautiful, though, and I continued trudging on. As I neared Tuolomne, I ran into the elderly couple from Little Yosemite Valley again and they were excited to see me doing well! How cool! So many supportive people out in nature!

I got lost and frustrated again, not knowing where to turn off for the post office, but finally I found another guy and we checked in at an information station to point us in the right direction. The official JMT was closed in the meadow for restoration, so I had to walk along Highway 120, but eventually, I got to the post office / restaurant.

This place was a PCT hiker haven! Power strips, hiker boxes, community spirit, etc. Awesome! I plopped down at a table next to some thru-hikers and tried to join in on their conversation. It was hard getting an edge in word-wise and I was very intimidated. Then I remembered that they had been hiking with one another for almost 1,000 miles by this point, so I was late to the party. The camaraderie I saw inspired me to want to do the PCT next year, however!

Some people were nice enough to let me plug my devices in to charge once they were done and I was able to get my resupply package, a Diet Dr. Pepper, and a nice meal. I put mayo and hot sauce on my potatoes to get more calories. It was odd, but didn’t taste bad at all! I knew I might want some more dried fruit, so I picked up some apples. I almost got some cheese, but figured I didn’t need it at this point. Some of the PCTers loved it though! Carrying around a brick of sharp cheddar was apparently the thing to do!

Back at the resupply table, the PCTers were gabbing away, so I figured I’d try to join in. I told them that I had been to Sonora Pass a couple weeks before starting the JMT and snow was covering the whole trail, making it hard to navigate. They expressed some appreciation, but I felt like it was the only thing I had to offer to make them think I was worthy of conversation. My pride was definitely at a low point, even though I had just conquered some rugged Yosemite terrain.

We talked some more about water filtration and what to expect on the passes. They told me that the axe and crampons I brought probably wouldn’t be necessary, but warned me that Muir Pass and Forester Pass were the worst, snow-wise. It was all good information, and while it made me feel over-prepared, I guess it was better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!

I thanked the PCTers for their advice and wished them well on their journey. Then, I finished packing my things, made a couple donations to the hiker bins, and made my way on the trail. Within 15 minutes, I met a couple more JMTers and got back into my hiking groove. The weather was clear, temperatures were a little warm, but it was mostly pleasant. Having just resupplied, it was difficult to keep pace with the others, but we exchanged pleasantries nonetheless and went our separate ways.

As I trudged through Lyell Canyon, the 10+ miles of hiking started to catch up with me. I knew I had to pass the four mile camping marker before day’s end, but I was exhausted. I didn’t want to stop for water because that would require taking off my pack, cooling down, and warming up again. This was the first bad decision of the day.

Feeling woozy, I saw the beautiful scenery in Lyell Canyon, but it was hard to be grateful for as I walked through deep, sloshy mud. I trudged on, and eventually reached Ireland Creek. Awesome! This was the trail branch I would need to take to get to Amelia Earhart Peak the next day. Now I just need to look for the knob to the right of the trail for my campsite! I got the campsite intel from Elizabeth Wenk’s book and it was my first time taking advantage of it 🙂

What’s this, a creek crossing without a bridge? This is new and unexpected! I had known about Bear Creek and Evolution Creek, but Ireland Creek was not at all on my radar. I saw a couple felled trees that were used to cross the creek, but I was not confident in my balance and I was exhausted, especially with how thin the trees were. So I decided to ford the creek. I took my boots off, put on my TEVA hiking sandals, and proceeded to throw my boots across the creek. Mind you, I had never crossed a powerful creek before and did not know that you’re supposed to tie the boots to your body or pack.

I wound up, like I was going to throw a ski-ball to infinity, and let go of the boots too soon. They went straight into the water. Oh no! One is getting taken downstream! Please stop! Is that my boot? No. How about over there? No… What the fuck? Where did it go? There were so many obstructing logs in the creek that I thought my boot would have definitely stopped. But it didn’t. I kept walking / running downstream, and eventually the creek forked into a couple more creeks and into the Lyell Fork.

Well shit, what do I do now? My boot is nowhere to be found. The other boot was sitting patiently, soaking up water at the edge of the creek. Maybe someone will find its partner? Maybe I should throw my other boot in, like the movie “Wild”. Reese Witherspoon did it, and she’s cute, should I? Nah, I’ll keep trudging on.

Then, this group of Canadians walked up while I was in my crazed state, and with desperation in my voice, I told them I had lost my boot. They didn’t know how to react, naturally. I mean, how would you react to a frantic guy with a big ass backpack, outfitted to the nines, telling you he just lost his most important piece of equipment? You wouldn’t!

They hadn’t seen my boot, and crossed the logs across the creek with infuriating ease. They were supportive and wished me well, then continued on with their journey. Crazily, I decided to push on. The knob I had been looking for was pretty close to the creek crossing. Climbing up it, I came upon these two other backpackers. “Shit, they probably don’t want me camping near them. I’ll plop down on this crappy rock.” It was too difficult to set up my tent on the rock, so I asked the two guys if I could camp near them, out of desperation.

They timidly obliged and I started setting up my stuff. I told them the story, and they were pretty shocked. Fortunately, they were understanding enough and nice enough to not make me feel too bad. We got camp ready and started talking about our journeys. They were going from Reds Meadow to Happy Isles, and I was obviously going the opposite direction. They were from the Chicago area and told me about adventures they had been on like Mount Baker, in Washington, where they took a mountaineering / backpacking class. How cool!

Grateful for this shelter, especially after losing my boot!
Grateful for this shelter, especially after losing my boot!

As we made our dinners, we exchanged thoughts about favored backpacking meals and about my over-optimism to pursue side trips along the JMT. It was that night that I came to terms with losing my boot as a sign that maybe I didn’t need to climb all of these insane peaks that have no trails going to them. I couldn’t anyway, since crampons don’t work with TEVAs! Doing the JMT was awesome enough in itself. What did I need to prove? Nothing!

Wrapping up the night, I decided that I would take a zero the next day to see if anyone had seen my boot in the river. The guys I were camping with said they would keep an eye out as well. I was nervous about continuing on in TEVAs, but would cross that bridge when I got to it.

The fellowship and sunset that night really helped to soothe my nerves. I found brotherhood on the trail during a time of vulnerability. The guys were optimistic of my success, and I supported them as well. Thank you all for reading today! In a few days or so, I’ll have the next leg of my journey, to Reds Meadow, uploaded for your viewing pleasure.

Remember, take a hike and spice up your life!

– Doug

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  1. September 20, 2016

    I always enjoy your posts! Keep it coming and keep a tight grip on those boots! Those granite peaks are so alluring!

    • Doug Busack
      September 20, 2016

      Haha. Thanks! It was a beautiful trip and a lesson worth learning!

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