JMT Day 6: Celebrity Sighting

[to the second Kearsarge Lake, ~6.5 miles hiked]

We woke up in our beautiful campsite a little later than usual, since we had a short day ahead of us. Toby came back from peeing and said he saw deer droppings near our camp; he was adorably excited that a deer had been so close to us in the night. [In fact I was so excited about this that when I’d spied the poo, I literally said out loud “Oh, cool!” –Toby] Soon, though, we realized that it was warmer than usual that morning, and we wanted to get out quickly to try to hike as much as possible before the heat set in. This is the day that I started a new routine of eating breakfast on the trail instead of at camp. I was usually slower packing up than Toby, and we really liked to get going quickly to hike while it was cool for as long as possible. So instead of holding us up by eating, I pulled out a bar and munched on it as we hiked our first mile.

We spotted this flower for the first time. So pretty! Luckily there would be much more of it over the following week or so.
We spotted this flower for the first time. So pretty! Luckily there would be much more of it over the following week or so.
The trail started with three miles of gentle downhill along Bubbs Creek. I loved this section of the trail. There weren’t the wide open views of all of our previous days, but I loved being nestled in a valley with the mountains rising around us, listening to the creek tumbling along beside us, surrounded by trees. Such a peaceful stretch of trail. I was lost in this sort of happy meandering when suddenly I took a step down off a rock, stepped on a stick I didn’t see, and rolled my ankle badly. I trip a lot on the trail and recover well. I’m clumsy, but I’m good at being clumsy. This felt different, though. It hurt, a lot, and I thought I felt something pop. I hopped around for a minute trying to put weight on my foot, visions of our trip ending just six days in flashing through my mind. Toby was concerned, encouraging me to rest and make sure it was okay. But surprisingly after a minute or two the pain started to subside. I took a few steps and it felt alright. I took a few more steps and the pain disappeared. I decided the “pop” was probably the stick rolling out from under my foot. Whew. Crisis averted.

Bubbs Creek, where we stopped to filter water in the morning.
Bubbs Creek, where we stopped to filter water in the morning.
Soon after, we approached Vidette Meadow and a new crisis confronted us: mosquitos. They were swarming and instantly sunk their little suckers into Toby, and toyed with me a little too. We practically ran through that section, knowing that the trail would start climbing soon and hoping the mosquitos would drop off as the elevation increased. [As I recall, it was difficult to run here because we had to navigate several small water crossings along the way. Sometimes I felt like I was in a video game, like a really unpleasant version of Frogger, trying to hop across the rocks as fast as possible while mosquitos attacked from all sides. –Toby] But unlike my ankle, mosquitos were not an issue that were going to resolve completely anytime soon. They plagued us off and on throughout the next couple of weeks. We started climbing the switchbacks. They were steep here and soon this climb was feeling like one of the hardest of the trail. The mosquitos were still swarming and Toby was miserable since the mosquito consensus seems to be that he is much tastier than I am. Finally he relented and put on his headnet and it was almost instant relief for him. That tiny piece of gear became one of the most useful and important things in Toby’s pack for a good portion of the trip. [This is not an exaggeration. I don’t know why I stubbornly delayed putting it on, because it changed everything. I still got eaten up on my arms sometimes, but having protection for my face was a lifesaver. It also improved Cyn’s hiking experience, because the headnet significantly reduced my whining/grumbling about mosquitos. And I was pleased to realize that after a minute or two, I’d completely adjust to it and forget I even had it on. Though this did lead to some comically disorienting moments when I tried to take a drink of water or eat a bite of food without taking it off. –Toby]

Things started getting a bit better as we got higher. We started catching some breeze, and the trees opened up a bit so that we could see the incredible views of the valley we had just climbed out of. We crossed paths with two guys who asked us about the nearest lakes because they were trying to swim every day. [Brave souls. Those mountain lakes are wicked cold! –Toby] We told them about the little lake we swam in the day before and they said, “Oh just six miles? That’s not bad!” I still couldn’t get used to hearing people pair words like “just” and “six miles” on this trail. That would come much later for me. Everyone we were meeting at this point was finishing up their JMT trip while we were still just beginning. I had to remind myself of that often and looked forward to being that cavalier about six miles in the Sierras.

This grouse was right on the side of the trail and did not seem at all interested in moving, even though she made nervous clucking noises as we snuck past.
This grouse was right on the side of the trail and did not seem at all interested in moving, even though she made nervous clucking noises as we snuck past.

On the switchbacks out of Vidette Meadows.
On the switchbacks out of Vidette Meadow. It was starting to level out here a bit, hence the smiling.

The view from the climb, looking back on the valley we'd walked through that morning.
The view from the climb, looking back on the valley we’d walked through that morning.
Finally we saw a junction sign. I loved seeing signs because it was proof that we had gotten somewhere. I was so excited about being done with that heinous climb that I barely saw the guy standing off the trail to my right. But suddenly I heard Toby exclaim, “Are you John Ladd?!” I didn’t recognize the name, but I saw that he had a sticker on his shirt with a URL and realized that he was a celebrity of the JMT. He has spent years and years exploring this trail and now runs a huge annual survey that provides invaluable information to hikers about what the trail is like, what sort of obstacles to expect, etc. The sticker was to advertise the survey to passing hikers. It also turns out he is a super sweet guy. He chatted with us and told us stories of trail magic (unexpected good luck or kindness) he’d experienced on this trip. [For instance: he told us he’d lost a tooth on one of his first days out, as you can see in the photo. Not wanting to exit unless he had to, he asked every hiker he passed if they were a dentist, and met someone with a satellite phone who called her brother, a dentist. They determined that it was fine to keep hiking! John Ladd is hardcore! –Toby] He asked us to relay a message to the owner of the motel where we were resupplying, who was one of his emergency contacts, that he had been really dragging the first couple of days but would still be exiting at his originally-planned time and place. It was comforting to hear that even someone so seasoned and experienced had hard times.

Toby geeking out over his first JMT celebrity sighting.
Toby geeking out over his first JMT celebrity sighting.
After saying goodbye we turned off the JMT onto the Bullfrog Lake Trail. We would take this to Kearsarge Lakes to camp for the night, and then in the morning we would climb over Kearsarge Pass in order to get to a trailhead for our amazing, incredible, much-needed resupply and stay at Mt. Williamson Motel. We stopped for a quick snack and water break, and felt excited about being able to camp early and really relax for the afternoon. The trail quickly got very exposed and very hot (again), and we trudged along a bit here. But the views were spectacular, and the climbing was mild. I tried to focus on those two things but I was starting to bonk, and feel bad about myself for bonking even though this was technically an easy day.

Bullfrog lake, our view during a short rest while Toby taped some hotspots on his feet.
Bullfrog Lake, our view during a short rest while Toby taped some hotspots on his feet.

Swamp onion on the side of the trail. Probably should have snagged some of these for my couscous.
Swamp onion on the side of the trail. Probably should have snagged some of these to liven up my couscous.
This stretch was short, though, just two miles. So some whining and lots of jolly ranchers later (the jolly ranchers help a lot with thirst, and taste refreshing, so I was usually sucking on one when I was climbing, especially when it was warm), we saw the turn off for Kearsarge Lakes. This is a popular weekend spot for camping and fishing. It’s only six miles from the easily accessible Onion Valley trailhead, so even though we were there before 2pm, most of the campsites were taken. [John had advised us to go on to the last of the lakes for maximum quiet and privacy, but I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly hot it was this afternoon, so we settled happily for the second lake. It was so hot that the external battery wouldn’t even charge our phones until things finally cooled down at dusk! –Toby] I sat with the packs while Toby scouted around. He found a site set off a bit from other people. It didn’t have shade, but it was close to the lake, fairly private, and low on bugs so we jumped on it. We set up the tent, put all the smellables in the bear cans, and booked it to the lake. We waded into the cold, cold water and felt refreshed almost instantly. I tried to ignore the fact that there were many severed fish heads resting on the muddy bottom (how does that happen? are those bait for fishing?). I watched my step and waded out up to my waist. After much talking myself into it, I dove out toward the middle of the lake. It was wonderful. There is nothing better in the world to me than swimming in a lake surrounded by mountains. I couldn’t stay in as long as I wanted to, but I was so happy to be there.

Our tentsite. I have zero idea what I'm doing in this picture.
Our tent site. I have zero idea what I’m doing in this picture. [My guess: taking off your shoes to walk down to the lake. –Toby] [Oh yeah that makes sense. –Cyn]

Our view while we ate dinner. This was a pretty magical place.
Our view while we ate dinner. This was a pretty magical place.
We spent the rest of the day huddled in the shade a little way from our sunny sauna of a tent. We both took turns laying in there after swimming, enjoying the baking heat for a little bit, but we couldn’t tolerate it for very long. We spent lots of time reading and journaling and resting and eating anything we wanted since we’d be getting more food the next day. [I’m pretty sure this is the night that we finally ate our special anniversary dessert of freeze-dried s’mores. It was more like just chocolate pudding with marshmallows, but still a nice treat, and almost everything tastes amazing when you’re surrounded by mountains, sitting on a bear can in front of this stunning, peaceful lake at sunset. –Toby] I fell asleep that night fantasizing about a sandwich from Subway. It was the one thing I knew we could get in the tiny town of Independence, where we were headed the next day, and I had become obsessed over the last couple of days with the thought of a foot-long sub with roast beef and tons of mayo piled with all of the fresh(ish) vegetables they had to offer. It was gonna be awesome.

–Cyn


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s