JMT Day 25: Penultimate

[to just before Cloud’s Rest Jct., ~10.5 miles hiked]

We had a noisy night at Upper Cathedral Lake: the various people camped close to the lake were up late laughing and singing, and the still water only amplified every sound. I woke up a few times in the night because it was so cold, and in the morning discovered a little condensation on the inside of the tent. I found it hard to get going, reluctant to actually begin our penultimate day of hiking. But miles must be made.

The day before, Cyn had mused, “If we made a word cloud about this trip, what would the biggest words be?” We listed the things we’d said most frequently these last three weeks: Hot. Wow. Holy shit. Mosquitos. Gross. Oops. And, of course: Sorry-I-farted. Yes, the backpacking life is truly a glamorous one. As if to prove that point, Cyn’s morning bathroom stop involved the disgusting discovery that her chosen spot had already been used by a hiker who had neither marked it as used nor done a good job of covering up behind themselves. Fun! [I used approximately an entire bottle of Purell after this incident. I didn’t actually touch anything gross but got too close for comfort. What on earth is wrong with people. Digging a hole is not that hard. -Cyn]

As always, once we got back on the trail, the magic returned. A few last glimpses of Cathedral Peak, a quick photo at what we thought was probably Cathedral Pass, and then we were walking through a wide meadow, the trail tread so gentle that I carried my trekking poles in one hand and munched my breakfast bar out of the other.

Upper Cathedral Lake in the morning.
Upper Cathedral Lake from our campsite in the morning.
On Cathedral Pass (elevation 9,703 ft.), or close to it. Like Island Pass, this one was so gentle that we wouldn't have known it was a pass if not for our map and GPS app. Still: last official pass of the trip!
On Cathedral Pass (elevation 9,703 ft.), or close to it, with Cathedral Peak in the background. Like Island Pass, this one was so gentle that we wouldn’t have known we were on a pass if not for our map and GPS app. Still: last official mountain pass of the trip!

A bazillion golden-mantled ground squirrels surrounded us, popping up and down out of their tunnels, and occasionally sounding their high-pitched warning cries. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a coyote appeared, crossing the trail just a few feet in front of us. It was beautiful. We froze in place, awestruck, but it never even glanced our way. Just loped along, focused on the ground squirrel breakfast buffet spread out before it. Cyn and I silently shared a look of wonder, grateful to be witnesses. No, I decided, I could never be out here long enough to take this for granted.

Just about where the coyote crossed our path. I think this is Long Meadow.
Just about where the coyote crossed our path. I think this is Long Meadow.
Cyn takes in the view.
Cyn takes in the view.
More views. So much pretty.
More views. So much pretty.

We walked on and soon reached the Sunrise High Sierra camp. There were several tent-cabins here, and although I love being able to set up our little backpacking tent wherever we want, this camp did look like a pretty cool place to stay for a different kind of adventure. We looked at the map and noted the many side trails near this spot, imagining a future trip in which we rented a tent-cabin, base-camped here, and spent a week just exploring on different day hikes. We passed the Sunrise Lakes Trail junction, where I’d once anticipated detouring for a side trip up to Cloud’s Rest, but we no longer had time for that. One day, we promised each other. [Sorry, Tobes. Stupid achilles tendon. -Cyn] [Oh well, we’ll just have to go back! 🙂 -Toby]

Getting close to Sunrise High Sierra camp.
Getting close to Sunrise High Sierra camp.

The day was dry and hot, but this was our last real stretch of uphill for the whole trip. After some time without seeing water, we crossed a clear but shallow and stagnant pool. Not an ideal source, but we weren’t sure we’d find better. [It was also pretty large and very clear, so it wasn’t the worst water source either. –Cyn] We sat, one of us filtering while the other ate PopTarts, then traded. A very brave mouse skittered around the edges of the water, eyeing our snacks. “Get outta here,” I said, waving my arms at it. “No hantavirus for us!”

Then we entered the burn area. This was the result of a much more recent fire than the one near Red’s Meadow, and regrowth had not really begun. It was an eerie place, full of dust and ash, blackened tree skeletons as far as we could see. We hiked soberly, trying not to kick up too much ash and taking in the sweeping views made possible by the complete absence of foliage here. Eventually we hit water again, and followed Sunrise Creek for a while.  [When we did see water here I was so glad we’d filled up at the stagnant pool. This water was bright green from all the minerals that the burn released. –Cyn] The burn area ended abruptly, as if a line had been drawn, with lush green on the other side of it. We scrambled downhill a bit to eat on a large boulder just off the trail. Later, we ran into some SOBOs who were on the second day of their thru-hike. I can’t remember our conversation exactly, but I know it quickly became clear to Cyn and me that none of them had looked at the map, and that they didn’t seem to know where they were headed or what landmarks to expect. I remember thinking that I hoped they had a map. We urged them to fill up on water now, and wished them good hiking.

Getting close to the burn area.
Nearing the burn area.
Burned out blackened trees. It was so intense here.
Burned out blackened trees. It was so intense here.
Views across Yosemite from the burn.
Views across Yosemite from the burn: new green ahead, ash and charred trees at our backs. Half Dome in the distance, there.

Only 8.7 miles left to hike. Sad face.
Only 8.7 miles left to hike. Sad face. [So so sad. –Cyn]
We looked for potential camping spots. Sunrise Creek bubbled along right next to the trail on our left, and we climbed up a tiny side trail to our right to find lots of flat tent sites above. It seemed like it could get crowded here, but we were tired and ready to soak our feet in that cold water. So we might not have the most picturesque or private campsite for our last night on the trail — it was okay. Cyn set up the tent in a shady-ish spot, shrieking with surprise when she found a big spider on her arm, and I filtered yellow-tinted water from the creek. [Better than bright green? –Cyn] A father and son who were already set up across the way called over to ask if they could borrow our water filter. Theirs had broken, and they’d had to resort to boiling their water to purify it. I lent them our little filter and also gave them the remainder of our Aqua Mira drops, which we no longer needed now. [They had a hard time accepting the drops, but we explained that we were almost done and definitely could do without them. And then we explained the concept of trail magic, a phrase they hadn’t heard before, and it was so nice to be able to pass a tiny bit of it along. –Cyn] They were out just for the weekend, and had all sorts of things with them, including a huge plastic multi-gallon water container. “It collapses!” the man assured me. Later we were joined by a mother-daughter team who were also out for a couple of days. They too had very large packs, with a full aluminum cook-set. I decided that the saying must be true: the longer the hike, the smaller the pack. (I’m no ultralighter, and I’m not interested in judging other people’s packing decisions, as we all make choices for our own reasons — I’m just always curious about what different people feel is important to bring and worth carrying.)

Just as we’d finished laying out our sleeping bags, I heard a familiar voice and was delighted to see The Venetians arrive! [Yay!!!- Cyn] Such a treat to see them again on our last night. They set up near us and we enjoyed a final trail dinner together as they generously shared some snacks they’d bought at the Tuolumne Meadows general store. Big black ants — fat and round, like blackberries on the move — crawled over our feet and into our shoes, but never bit us. Bees congregated around us as well, getting more excited when J. spilled his noodle soup. We somberly discussed our hike through the burn today, and then compared plans for tomorrow. They intended to climb Half Dome before exiting the trail. We had decided to skip it, even though it was included in our NOBO permit this year. We had 6.5 miles of pure downhill into Yosemite Valley, and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time in case all that descending aggravated Cyn’s foot again. (Confession: I know Half Dome is iconic and all, but I’m much more interested in climbing Cloud’s Rest.) [I am not that interested in the extremely steep climb up Half Dome that requires hanging on to cables and walking on wooden planks for traction. We’d had a ton of amazing views on this trip. I was okay with skipping this part. –Cyn]

Near dusk, we said goodnight and crawled into our tent, but I couldn’t fall asleep. In part, this was because I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the father-son and mother-daughter pairs discussing what they needed to store in their bear canisters. “Should I put the sunblock away?” one of them asked another. “Do you think they’d go after sunblock?” Yes, yes they would, I said fervently in my head, and turned to Cyn with wide eyes. She sat up and checked for her headlamp. “We should be ready. If a bear comes into camp tonight, it’ll be us and The Venetians who have to deal with it,” she whispered.

But mostly, I couldn’t sleep because it was the last night, and closing my eyes meant waking up to the last day. It felt impossible to process this, mentally and emotionally. We were now officially on the final page of our map, and I was ready for fresh food, a long shower, and my beloved apple juice. But I didn’t want to stop hiking, I didn’t want to leave this feeling and this landscape. I gazed out the mesh window at a perfect sunset. Cyn saw a shooting star. Tomorrow, the end.

Perfect sunset at our campsite.
Sunset at our campsite.
Two dirty, happy hikers in the tent for their last night on the JMT.
Two dirty, happy hikers in the tent for their last night on the JMT.

–Toby


2 thoughts on “JMT Day 25: Penultimate

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