September 4, 2018
Rush Creek trail junction to Shadow Creek
Total distance walked: 8.4 miles
“HOT WATER!” I heard a woman yell before I was out of the tent. A group of Sierra Club women were camped a level above us. Apparently one woman was in charge of food for all of them. I really wanted to sneak some of their hot water for coffee, but didn’t want to leave my comfortable cocoon.
Once I was up and moving, albeit slowly, I walked over to my trail family with a mug of sugary java in hand—from water I heated myself. They were doing camp chores and eating breakfast. I learned that they had given the trail name of “Broncho” to the man who coughed all night (and was still coughing). Because of his hack, I had a terrible night’s sleep. It was hard to get going. Every muscle in both legs were sore. The lack of sleep really affected my attitude about the trail. That’s when I began to question whether I could go alone for 18 days.
“BREAKFAST!” the cook shouted again. Lucky ladies. I had yet to have breakfast. Walking back to my tent, I began the tedious chore of repacking. “Oatmeal, anybody want oatmeal?” the camp cook walked with a pot in hand asking all the campers. “Please take some because I don’t want to carry it,” she said. I’m carrying my own oatmeal, I thought, and I haven’t eaten any of it yet. But my coffee cup was empty and I was hungry. I held it up to her and she ladled in a large spoonful. It was the most delicious oatmeal—old fashioned oats, not instant like the kind I brought—filled with salty macadamia nuts and plump blueberries. It was a great pick-me-up for the slow start I was experiencing.
Gradually, everyone left the campsite except us, we were the last to leave. We began calling each other, The Late Starters. I headed out first around 9:30 AM. The climb up Island Pass was immediate, but it was nothing like yesterday’s climb. Hoping it would give me an energy burst, I chewed on a strawberry energy bite. My trail family was moving slowly too, but had no problem overtaking me.
That morning I walked through a dry lodgepole forest interspersed with granite, a sandy trail at times. There were many northbound hikers who passed me, all friendly and all with partners. The climb up Island Pass was over before it really began and if I wasn’t so tired I would have said it was easy. Beyond the pass were gentle ups and downs. I became excited while ambling through a long meadow when a view of Banner Peak appeared. That meant I was getting close to Thousand Island Lake.
Now I am getting into some beautiful territory, I thought. Thousand Island Lake is dotted with dozens of rocky islets, hence its name, and Banner Peak stands regally above it. I saw my trail family spread out on the rocky shore and heard the barking cough of Broncho who was nearby. Interestingly, I noticed that we were seeing the same people over and over, like Broncho, Booty Shorts, Bloody Nose, The Aussies, Chatty Cathy (trail names we secretly bestowed on others).
Although it was cloudy, the sun-scorched rocks made it quite warm on shore. Adam, whose trail name became “Aqua Man” jumped into the water and swam. I took off my shoes and dipped my feet into the chilly, but refreshing water. It was nice to hang out with my trail family and the others for awhile.
Since I hiked at a leisurely pace, I always felt like I needed a head start. I left Thousand Island Lake before my trail family.
What I thought was an extension of Thousand Island Lake as I passed it was actually pretty Emerald Lake.
The rocky trail climbed, it traversed a footbridge then turned into a narrow and shady path under mountain hemlocks.
I recalled a YouTube video I watched of the JMT. The guy on the video said, “and here’s ANOTHER lake.” Yep, that’s how I felt as I approached yet another beautiful lake, Ruby Lake surrounded by colorful granite walls.
A northbound packer met me head-on on the slender trail. I moved out of the way to let her pass and gazed into the deep pool of water.
Continuing, the trail climbed to the ridgetop above Ruby Lake. This climb felt more difficult than the climb up Island Pass, but beauty surrounded me and I enjoyed the hike. Next, I carefully descended the rocky switchbacks to Garnet Lake. It began to rain, so I sang Singing in the Rain. I couldn’t remember the words, but sang what I knew then hummed my way down the mountain.
Garnet Lake was to be our camping spot. I searched and found a few secluded places. By some miracle I had arrived before my trail family, so I thumbed the pack off my shoulders and waited near the footbridge, out in the open so they would see me. It was windy and drizzly. I wrapped my pack with a rain cover and donned a hooded rain jacket for warmth. Staring up at Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak, watching the water ripple in Garnet Lake—this was my favorite day of all.
Dan arrived first. Aqua Man and Erin (now referred to as Slip Knot due to some fishing mishap) lagged behind. Dan wanted to press on, so I followed him thinking, “Blazing Saddle” is the trail name for him. Each day he blazed through the trail to find the best camping spot. Before long Slip Knot and Aqua Man were climbing the steep ridge. Together we reached a saddle then came to a crazy talus slope.
It was a 1,110 foot downhill slog on switchbacks filled with scree, like tailings from a mine, not big pieces of granite like Donahue Pass. I had never seen anything like it. It felt like one little earthquake would send the whole mountainside tumbling down. Blazing Saddle went first, then Aqua Man, Slip Knot, The Aussies (an Asian couple from Australia who were traveling the world and had caught up to us), then me—who became known not as Scorpion any longer, but TJ (Tenacious Janet—love it!). Down we went, slowly, getting our hiking poles stuck between rocks, waving to each other, past a small meadow and through a tiny canyon. By the time I reached the canyon, I was alone.
The trail entered the forest. I was glad my pack was covered already because it began raining again, then hailing. Being alone in the forest was eerie especially when hearing the distant boom of thunder. It made me think of what my friend told me before I left: you will be scared, but that’s okay, you’ll get over it. It was late in the day and I made good speed (for me) thanks to the downhill trek. I caught up with the Aussies when they stopped to cover their packs. We walked and talked together until reaching a junction to Ediza Lake. Blazing Saddle’s bag was propped against the trail sign so I knew we were camped nearby. I said goodbye to the Aussies, who were heading to the lake, as Blazing Saddle came to retrieve his bag. He led me to our off-trail campsite near Shadow Creek. As I set up my tent, Aqua Man was trying hard to light a campfire with a bow he made and a spindle stick, just like my own son would do.
My clothing needed to be washed and hung to dry, water needed to be gathered, I needed a bath, and dinner needed to be prepared, but I could barely keep my eyes open.
I trudged through the chores, ate a cold dinner and bedded down for the night inside my cozy sanctuary. Swaddled in my warm bag with soft socks on my feet, I felt content. The sound of the rushing creek lulled me swiftly to sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED…