[to ~2 miles south of Forester Pass, 11.7 miles hiked]
Day 4 was a doozy. But before I go there, let me rewind to Day 3 for a minute. I had thought about going with Toby to Mt. Whitney. I felt confident that I could get it done if I wanted/needed to, but we had some hard days coming up and I was scared of burning myself out so early in the trail when I didn’t have my trail legs yet. And in the end, I just didn’t care that much. I think a lot of people would feel like doing the JMT without Whitney would make the trail incomplete. I didn’t, especially since we were doing extra miles anyway. I have the High Sierra Trail on my bucket list, which ends on top of Whitney as well. The thought of doing it on the HST, when I would actually have trained on the trail first, was much more appealing. It will be there when I’m ready. So, while Toby climbed Mt. Whitney, I did my best impression of a sloth for most of the day. I had started reading Lord of the Rings (I kept telling people I was reading it because if Frodo and Sam could make it to Mordor, I could damn well make it to the end of the trail in Yosemite Valley) and I read for hours and hours, the way I rarely have the time or focus to read anymore. My other goal was to eat as much as possible, since so far the altitude and exertion had really killed my appetite and I had not been eating nearly enough the last two days.
So on the morning of Day 4, I was hopeful about the day ahead. If anything we were both more worried about Toby, who had done such a hard day the day before. I had rested, I had had three solid meals the day before (for whatever value of “solid” one can apply to trail food), the elevation profile just showed gentle undulations all day ending with a slow climb to set up for Forester Pass on Day 5 — today was going to be great. And it was. . . for about half an hour. We had a gentle climb out of Crabtree and it was okay, but harder than expected. We also kept having to stop for little things – I forgot to put on my sun gloves, Toby needed something out of his pack – and it was ruining our rhythm. And then it started feeling warm. Suddenly the really gentle little hill that we were climbing (I seriously cannot emphasize how small and easy this looks on the elevation map) felt really terrible. I was panting and sweating and apologizing constantly to Toby for my pace. He was nothing but sweet and supportive, and I’m guessing if he was annoyed with me at all it was for my constant apologizing. [Correct. But seriously though, I don’t recall you being particularly slow here. –Toby] [That is weird because I’m pretty sure I saw a turtle cruise past us. –Cyn] I had to slow down to my steep switchback pace; any faster and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath at all. My morale was not helped by the fact that we crossed paths with several groups of what seemed like boy scouts and their group leaders going southbound. They were just loping along on this gentle downhill (for them) saying absurd things like, “oh we only have a little farther to go, just 8 miles.” And they were sticklers for rules. One group saw us coming and moved all ten people off the side of the trail to make room for us. When I gestured at them to carry on while we stepped off, the one in front said, perplexed, “but uphill has the right of way.” I managed to gather just enough breath to say “I know, but I need a break,” humiliated to admit that on a hill that was barely perceptible. They shrugged and sprang past like antelopes on a grassy meadow on their long boy scout legs, each one politely thanking us as he passed. All of this is to say, I was not in the best mood.
Oh, did I mention it was a ten year anniversary on this day? It was our ten year anniversary. And I felt like a jerk for being in such a bad mood.
We stopped for a much appreciated nuun (our preferred electrolyte drink — we talked many times over the weeks about how it made this trip possible) and snack break at a creek. We started seeing some mosquitos, but they weren’t too bad. At one point a guy passed us going southbound and I saw that there were two huge rips in the seat of his pants. I turned to Toby and said, “there’s got to be a story there,” but we never got a chance to hear it, sadly. After the break it was a bit more gentle climbing that still was feeling harder than it should. [Here we crossed Wallace Creek, where we met some High Sierra Trail hikers who’d just turned onto the JMT for their last few days, and then Wright Creek. We both agreed that the log “bridge” on the latter creek looked too unstable, so we changed into our sandals and forded. As we were drying off and putting our hiking shoes back on, at least seven southbounders crossed on the log with no problems at all. At least we got a refreshing cold dunk for our feet? –Toby] We got to a short little set of steep switchbacks, which were pretty, I think. My memory is a little fuzzy from all the oxygen deprivation. When we got to the top, Toby exclaimed “This is Bighorn Plateau!!” It’s an iconic JMT spot and we had both been looking forward to it. Sadly for me I looked around, saw zero shade, and wanted to hike on to someplace that I could sit down and cool off. Toby managed to keep his sunny attitude and asked me to take some pictures of him, which we did, and then agreed that we should try to find a shady place for lunch. We did find a slopey little spot on the side of the trail. We pulled out the stove and made a hot meal (I think I chose ramen because it’s my favorite trail food) and rested our bodies while enjoying the view of the mountains in front of us. Fortified a bit by carbs and sodium, I was ready to move on. We hiked about another 1.5 miles to Tyndall Creek. [On the way to Tyndall, Cyn looked around and said, “This is breathtaking…in the good way.” Hahaha. –Toby] We rock-hopped across (this often meant me going first, getting frustrated after a few rocks, and just wading through in my trail runners, which dry pretty quickly, while Toby followed finding a perfect route and coming out the other side with dry feet), and then sat down to decide what to do. It was five miles from there to the top of Forester Pass, the highest pass on the trail and our first major pass of the trip. We could have done all of that in the morning, but it would be nice to knock some of it off that day. We decided to take a good long rest at the creek, and then hike about 1.5 more miles to a campground that was labelled on the map.
We used the creek water to cool off, ate some snacks, chatted with passing hikers, and took off again around 3:30. [At Tyndall Creek, for the first time in four days, I blew my nose in my bandana, producing a truly ungodly amount of boogers. It was glorious. Backpacking life, dudes. –Toby] It was a gentle uphill, but much less gentle than the morning had been. But for some reason I felt so much better. It was a gorgeous climb — mountain meadows with little streams trickling through and epic mountains in the distance all around us. It had cooled down a little too. We hiked for a while, looking for the campsite but never seeing it. Finally we stopped to check the map and realized we had overshot that campground by about a mile. But there was another campground marked in 3/4 of a mile or so, near some lakes. We decided to aim for that. If we did, we’d have fewer than 2 miles to do up to the pass in the morning.
I was listening to music and was doing okay, but I kept thinking the lakes would be just over the next hill, or right around the next turn, and they never appeared. Eventually I asked two women coming the other way if there were lakes ahead. “Oh yeah they’re literally right there,” they said, pointing to a spot that seemed to be just over a very small hill. But I learned last summer that asking questions of people coming in the opposite direction is never helpful. We got to the spot where we thought they’d be, and they weren’t there. I told Toby I couldn’t go on. We were at 12,000 feet now and I was starting to feel nauseous and dizzy. The altitude was just kicking my ass. I wasn’t cranky anymore. I was actually having a great time at this point, but I was done for the day. [While Cyn sat on a rock for a minute, I went on up to the top of the next hill, still hoping the lakes would materialize, but no. Then I was done too. Stupid lakes. –Toby]
We backtracked a little to a spot where we thought we might find campsites, and very quickly we saw a gorgeous spot that had been obscured to us when we were coming uphill. We were within view of two waterfalls coming off the mountains, with a nice little stream running nearby. It was idyllic and one of our favorite sites of the whole trip. [My trail journal says “…then found AMAZING EPIC site!!” Part of that excitement might have been because we were so desperate for a campsite by then, but it also really was that beautiful. –Toby] I tried to sit and soak it in before starting camp chores, but my nightly crying jag was also kicking in. I think this time it was set off by something like Toby handing me my water bottle without me needing to ask for it, and me thinking I have the sweetest boyfriend and therefore, of course, tears. I was a mess. Toby sweetly set up the tent for us while I tried to get myself together. He went off to get some water and I got in the tent to blow up my sleeping pad. I blew three breaths, and got so dizzy that I had to lay on the floor of the tent for a minute and wait for the world to stop spinning. I repeated that process for several minutes until my mat was inflated (it usually takes about 30 seconds). Toby came back and when I told him, he said that he would have done it for me. More likely than not this made me cry again. We ate dinner sitting on rocks and looking at the setting sun, feeling really lucky to be where we were. Like really, really lucky. [Like, really. –Toby] We talked about all the years we had been dating and the three years before that that we had been friends, sort of overwhelmed with how much our lives and even we have changed in that time and how well we still fit together both despite and because of all of those changes. We had packed a special dessert for our anniversary, a freeze-dried s’mores thing, but we were exhausted and I was still queasy so we decided to save it for another day. We curled up in our sleeping bags and I think I was asleep within a minute. [I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t get over how unbelievably beautiful this place was, and just kept looking out my tent door at a waterfall, then turning over to look out of Cyn’s side at the sunset against the mountains, then turning back to the waterfall. –Toby] But I know I ended the day feeling like it had been so hard, but also really wonderful and special. A pretty perfect way to celebrate 10 years of dating. [Co-signed. ❤ –Toby]