A Grueling Day Two on the JMT

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”   —Edmund Hillary

Day Two

September 3, 2018
Start of climb from Lyell Canyon to Rush Creek trail junction
Total distance walked: 7.6 miles

I woke at 5 AM.  Darkness surrounded me and all was quiet save for the soothing sound of rushing water.  I expected to hear a chorus of birds as the sun rose, but the morning was still.  Forty minutes later I emerged from the tent not hungry, but needing a cup of coffee to keep from getting a caffeine headache.  I collected water, purified it, then easily lit the stove to heat it.  Things were going well.

While sipping my hot cup of joe, I looked over at the nearly empty Beast sitting in the tent’s vestibule.  There were tiny sprinkles of white paper on the ground next to it.  Taking a closer look, I realized that I had left four mini-PayDay candy bars in the hip belt pocket overnight.  A rodent had chewed through the pocket and eaten half of a bar leaving a mess of shredded wrapper on the ground and a quarter-sized hole in the pocket.  Luckily I brought Tenacious Tape and was able to patch the hole.  Lesson learned: unload all food and keep the pack inside the tent at night.

Repacked and ready to go, I told my trail family that I was heading out.  They were much faster hikers than me and would pass me soon enough.

JMT, Yosemite
Climbing out of Lyell Canyon. The dun-colored grass is where we were yesterday.

At an elevation of just over 9,000 feet, I began the climb out of Lyell Canyon on a series of rocky switchbacks.  The trail was shaded by lodgepole pines, and elderberry bushes fringed the path.  It felt great to be out in the cool morning air.  When the switchbacks ended I was happy as a lark at having climbed the mountain and was ready to conquer the next.

JMT, Yosemite
A hiker crossing the footbridge over the Lyell Fork. Half of the hikers I saw on the trip were my age or older.

My legs felt strong and capable.  I didn’t think of my pack as The Beast and I no longer wanted to go home or dump food and belongings.  What a difference a good night’s sleep made!  I chatted with a group of hikers then pranced with joy over the bridge.  From there the trail climbed again under the dappled shade of mountain hemlocks until reaching a meadow and a little lake-like creek.

JMT, Yosemite
The trail.

My trail family reached the crystal clear creek just as I changed into water shoes.  One by one we rock hopped across.  Even with the rocks, my feet got wet.  On the opposite shore, I collected more water then dried my feet with the bandana and changed back into hiking shoes.  I read that keeping your feet clean and dry was the best defense for blisters.

JMT, Yosemite
An easy rock hop to the opposite shore.

Leaving the babbling brook, the trail climbed a sunny slope with several streams and many trickles of water to cross.  On one stream crossing I accidentally dunked my foot to the shin on a loose rock.  I was a little shaken, not because my whole foot—sock, shoe and pant leg—was wet, but because my hefty pack made it difficult to lift out of the stream.  What if the water had been deeper and moving more swiftly? I thought.  Instead of trying that again, I wandered upstream until I found a log to walk across.  Once across I took off my shoe, dried my foot with the bandana and wrung out my wool sock hoping it would dry quickly and not cause blisters.

JMT, Yosemite
Looking down at the little lake we crossed.

The trail made a U-turn around a mountain and dropped down to another creek crossing.  This one had boulder-sized rocks making it easier to get across.  I could see Lyell Glacier, which is now considered a permanent snowfield, not a glacier.  Once on shore, the path climbed by way of switchbacks.  I found my trail family sitting in what little shade they could find, having lunch.  I stopped and ate too, though I still had no appetite.  The others picked up their things while I rested, confirming that they’d wait at the top of Donahue Pass, and continued on.

JMT, Yosemite
View from the rock bridge.

Slowly I made my way up a faint trail that climbed broken granite slabs along sandy passageways.  Surrounded by granite and fully in the sun, instead of slathering on more sunscreen, I changed into my long-sleeved shirt and continued the grueling climb up Donahue Pass.  There was no getting out of it.  This was going to be a physical, mental and emotional trek.  There were many tall steps, knee-high for me.  Drenched with sweat, I stopped every few feet to catch my breath and to see where my trail family was.  Looking up, I saw Dan way up high.  Oh my gosh!  We’re going up there?  How?  The trail to where he stood was not visible.  My heart pounded as I prayed my way up the mountain: Lord, please give me strength to continue uphill, wisdom to discern the trail, and confidence to climb it.  I prayed it over and over with each step I took during the 40 minutes it took to climb to the top.  As I began to summit, I saw my trail family cheering me on.  I picked up speed and tears filled my eyes.  Emotion took over.  I cried my way to the top thanking God for getting me up that mountain.

JMT, Yosemite
Approaching the summit on Donahue Pass.

I was flabbergasted.  Just yesterday I was ready to go home and today I climbed up Donahue Pass, out of Yosemite National Park and into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

JMT, Ansel Adams Wilderness
On the summit of Donahue Pass.

We congratulated each other at the top before making our way down the opposite side of the pass.  The trail going down was much easier to follow with its well-defined switchbacks.  It had a nice view below of the meadow-covered basin.  Dark clouds filled the sky.  It was a long way down and my trail family pulled farther away disappearing into the meadow as I negotiated the steep steps downward.

JMT, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Boulder-strewn meadow.

They had been waiting 45 minutes in the meadow before I reconnected with them.  Dan found a campsite but the water situation was bad.  We decided to camp at Rush Creek instead, still a couple of miles ahead.  Together we entered the dark forest, but my shaky legs couldn’t carry me as swiftly as the others.  Down they went, deeper into the forest until they were gone.  After an already grueling day, two miles seemed endless. While descending the many switchbacks to Rush Creek, it began to rain and I heard a roll of thunder.  Then I came to a log crossing (one of three) over the quick-flowing creek and thought, the Lord only gives us what we can handle.  I can do this.  

JMT, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Rush Creek water crossing.

If truth be told, I am an absolute chicken when it comes to water crossings and this was a day filled with them.  I found it amazing though, that fear never entered my heart and I crossed them with ease.

It was nearing 6 PM when I reached the campsite—accessible by another log crossing.  My trail family was already set up, but they saved a space for me.  My brain was so fatigued that it took two tries to pitch the tent.  It was a different type of fatigue than yesterday, fatigue from a day of hard work not lack of sleep.  I was beat and my body was sore.  I still had no appetite and ate only to lighten my backpack before turning in at 8 PM.  The camp was filled with people who chatted and laughed.  By 9 PM (hiker midnight) all was quiet except for someone coughing.  Some poor guy coughed all night long.