Stretching 211 miles from Yosemite Valley in the North to the highest point in the continental United States, Mount Whitney, at the southern terminus, the John Muir Trail is the gold standard for thru-hiking. Hikers experience it all: High alpine lakes, rushing streams and rivers, conifers and aspens, numerous passes over 12,000 feet and all without crossing a road. You simply cannot dream up a more classic
backpacking route. And I had the privilege of doing it.
Bagdad, AZ to Tuolumne Meadows Campground, CA
Via Chicken Springs Rd, Whitney Portal, CA and Lee Vining, CA
The journey started for me on Friday, September 24, 2010. I managed to wrap up all loose ends at work and get on the road by noon. The anticipation of starting the hike had yet to nab me. I was more worried than excited for I had no guaranteed way of getting from Whitney Portal (the end point of the trail and my trip where I would park my car) to the start of the hike in Yosemite Valley. The good news was that I got an early start and had nearly 2 days to hitch my way to the start of my hike on Sunday.
The drive to Whitney Portal was uneventful. I did take a dirt road for 45 miles from Wikieup AZ called Chicken Springs Rd. This secret route eliminates the need to drive north to Kingman saving at least 45 minutes. I am happy to report it took me 7 hours of travel time to Whitney Portal even with the 1 hour shopping trip at the Vons in Barstow.
I rolled into Whitney Portal just after 7 o’clock with the intent of finding a ride 13 miles down to Lone Pine, CA. Lone Pine is a small town with the main drag being highway 395. If I could get here, then the hitch to Yosemite would be much more doable.
I went to the Whitney Portal store to ask around about getting a ride. Many Mount Whitney hikers had just finished up for day and were celebrating with beers and burgers. Within minutes, two guys named Carmen and Matt offered me a ride to Lee Vining which would all but guarantee me success in getting to the starting point on time. They turned out to be Lawyers from San Francisco smashing out the 22 mile summit hike in a day. They even bought me a hamburger while we road tripped north and discussed backpacking techniques and shared war stories of our adventures. Wow…That was pretty easy.
I underestimated the length of the drive north to Lee Vining. It took nearly 2 hours. At one point during the long drive, I took note of how lucky I was to not only get a ride to for that many miles, but to get a ride with 2 great guys who bought me dinner on the way. Things worked out surprisingly well so far.
Carmen and Matt left me at a dirt parking lot near the Mobil gas station and the YART Shuttle bustop at roughly 11:00pm on the chilly Friday evening. This is where I met Jeff and Anna. Jeff accidently hit a rock with his Prius on the way up Tioga pass into Yosemite so he was forced back down the hill to the aforementioned dirt parking lot. The rock he hit pinched the exhaust system shut thereby rendering the already puny Prius powerless. My heart went out to them since they had a big weekend of climbing planned including Cathedral Peak.
The tow truck driver said he could take it and have it fixed by the end of the weekend. Jeff and Anna were rejuvenated and filled with hope. They decided to leave the Prius behind in Lee Vining to get repaired while they would take the shuttle in the morning and enjoy the weekend. They were back on schedule and I felt good enough about the situation to find a flat spot in the bushes 50 meters from the Mobil Gas Station and finally sleep after a long day of travel.
Just as I was getting ready to go to bed, big Bob showed up. He was a big, happy dude driving a King Cab Ford F-150. He offered all three of us a ride up the hill to Tuolumne Meadows campground where Jeff and Anna had a site reserved. I was tired and just wanted to go to bed but my thought process was simple: A ride now is better than a ride later. I hopped in the truck and advanced further along in my journey well ahead of schedule.
By this time it was 1:00am and big Bob was chatting up a storm about his work in the geothermal energy consulting business. We kept him going with questions about the where, what, and how of geothermal energy. He had no shortage of stories: 50 Megawatt power plants in Hawaii, a detailed analysis of the hotels of the eastern Sierra along the 396 corridor, and million dollar startups. It was fascinating stuff and he had just drunk a 64 oz gas station coffee so there was no shortage of excitement to the stories. I, being without the stimulation of coffee, couldn't resist heavy eyelids and struggled to stay awake.
Finally, I arrived at my resting point for the evening at 1:45. I tip toed around the group of climbers camped out all around me, opened up my bedroll, threw my entire pack in the bear canister, and fell asleep instantly.
What a Looooong day?
What a lucky day? This turned out to be the most memorable part of the JMT adventure.
Photo: John Muir and His crucial Beard
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