“I needed a reality check. I was lost on the first day of the most challenging trek of my life.”
Trippin’ Through My 60s
Leaving the working world behind, Reg closed his office door for the last time. Rejecting a life of golf and relaxation, he soon discovers his new passion where he least expects it. In Trippin’ Through My 60s, Reg and his wife Sue continue their adventures on four famed European long-distance trails:
Scotland’s West Highland Way
The Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc
Italy’s Way of St. Francis
England’s South West Coast Path
Unexpected turns, humor and memories of life in the Sixties create the backdrop in this gripping story as Reg tackles backpacking escapades the push him to the edge.
It was hard to anticipate just what hiking the John Muir Trail would mean to each of us. It’s been equally difficult to put into words a complete description of our day in/day out journey along the John Muir Trail. We struggled, we learned, we laughed and we celebrated. Each day was a combination of emotions that left us both exhausted and exhilarated as we climbed into our tent each night.
It was our 26th day of walking when I began tracking the barefoot prints leading down the switchbacks to Garnet Lake. I wondered if someone was walking in those barefoot shoes, the ones with individual slots for each of your toes. But the prints were so perfect, as if each step had been carefully placed to create the most precise impression.
Playing the part of a JMT detective, I tracked the footprints downhill. They all looked pretty fresh, so I figured sooner or later Reg and I were bound to catch up with the owner. Up ahead, carefully choosing each step along a rockier part of the trail was Ken, the barefoot hiker. We exchanged a few pleasantries. If my memory is correct, at that point he had walked 148 miles without shoes. An unusual approach to hiking the John Muir Trail, but as our friend Lori is fond of saying, ”You’ve got to hike your own hike.” We played leapfrog along the trail throughout the morning before losing sight of him. When we told the story around our dinner circle that night, Emma, the packer who led our mule train, laughed and explained that when she came up behind him on the trail and saw his shorts and black leggings, she assumed it was Reg and (ready to give a lecture on safety) shouted down at him, ”Where are your shoes?”
That was the only day we saw Ken and we wondered what had become of him. While scrolling through Facebook the other day, I stumbled upon a post which led me to Ken’s blog post and my questions were answered. I’ve included a link for you below.
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While walking the John Muir Trail is a major accomplishment for even the most experienced of hikers, the creation and ongoing maintenance of the path are the true achievements. It is certainly no stroll through the park! Every day presented unexpected challenges for us along rough and rocky trails, testing our feet, ankles and knees. How do hikers do it without trekking poles?
Water crossings can present a huge problem for early season John Muir backpackers. Having watched countless YouTube videos showing some rather frightening river levels, we were wary of what might flow through the trail in our path. Unfortunately, (but lucky for us) California is experiencing a drought along with what was a low 2020/2021 snowfall year. Even Evolution Creek, which often presents a fast running, thigh-high obstacle, was only ankle deep. That was the only place we chose to take our shoes off due to the lack of large stepping stones.
Reg and I got pretty good at navigating rocks across waterways, but we were happy to see a number of bridges scattered along the trail. A few of them were much appreciated, even after the dry winter season.
While the water levels weren’t as high as we expected, the countless meadows remained surprisingly green and, in some cases, quite lush. We found them to be a relaxing contrast to the sharp angles of steep granite passes and rocky pathways.
We were surprised by the sheer number of lakes, ponds and watering holes scattered along the John Muir Trail. Most were so crystal clear that we could count the fish swimming about. Our group was lucky enough to camp at a few of them and Reg and I enjoyed lunch along the shore of others. In between, I snapped photos left and right, hoping I’d be able to remember which was which.
We crossed into the John Muir Wilderness on August 18th, our 17th day of walking. The following day we tackled another pass – 10,898 ft. Selden Pass. Perhaps because of the lower elevation, the approach to the pass was not nearly as stark and rocky as some of the other passes. We enjoyed the wooded trail, passing by several lakes as we slowly climbed.
“Hurry up!” I heard the shout from Steve, one of our group members. He was standing above me at the top of the pass. “Hamburgers and hot dogs!” I didn’t believe him, but I hurried to the top, just to make sure I wouldn’t miss out if, by some miracle, he was telling the truth. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What I saw sent me dashing back to the trail to yell the very same thing down to Reg…”Reg, hurry up! Hamburgers and hot dogs!”
Like a mirage, our trail angels appeared as we summitted. Fully prepared with a gas grill, they had hiked up to Selden Pass with 50 pounds of frozen burgers and buns, hot dogs and buns, ketchup, mustard, a cooler of Sierra Nevada beer and banana bread for dessert! The four had flown from across the country with a plan to surprise the father (who was walking the trail) of two of the young men, but all who passed by that day shared in the surprise of a lifetime.
*Click on the title above to activate slideshow below.
The packers were sharing stories of some of their crazy adventures when I first heard the term “Type 2 Fun,” an experience that is no fun as you live it, but in retrospect, one of the best times of your life. For the record, “Type 1 Fun” is enjoyable from start to finish. The dreaded “Type 3 Fun” is that never again feeling you get when you simply hope to make it home in one piece. Below is a link to an interesting article Outside magazine published on the subject. It explains why Reg and I keep going back to long distance trekking; the idea of a harmonious passion, or being absorbed in an activity that you choose to do because you love how it makes you feel.
Above are some examples of our Type 2 Fun days.
Slide 1 – 11,926 Glen Pass,Slide 2 and 3 – 12,130 Pinchot PassSlide 4 and 5 – 12,100 ft. Mather Pass
The mountain pass climbs were definitely Type 2 Fun for us, but once to the top, with gorgeous views like this, the experience quickly became Type 1 Fun. Tomorrow I’ll share more fun from our journey to the top of Selden Pass. I promise you won’t want to miss it!
*Click on the above title to activate the slideshow below
Reg and I are not the type of hikers who study the trail map in great detail every morning. As long as we are confident we can get from point A to point B, we look forward the surprises the trail offers, so we were quite pleased when the morning began with a pleasant walk along a fairly flat dirt trail.
But on our 6th day of walking we were aware there would be no escaping the tough climb ahead. Those of us who chose to sit out Mt. Whitney had no choice but to conquer 13,200 foot Forester Pass. The day wore on and the trail became steeper and rockier as we continued the 2,300 foot climb to the top of Forester Pass. We soon found ourselves on a series of long switchbacks, struggling over chunky granite cobblestones and clambering over boulders that stretched our legs to the limit.
And then the mules caught up with us. Normally they were roped together in 3 groups led by Emma, Wyatt and Tate on horseback. Before starting up the pass, the mules were untied for safety. They are pretty sure-footed animals, but if one slipped on the narrow, steep switchbacks while tied together, they would fall like dominoes, scattering rocks and boulders on hikers below.
I’m afraid my photos don’t do the scene justice, nor do they show just how treacherous and how tight the final switchbacks to the summit are.
I’m looking pretty relaxed after what was easily the climb of my life, but at this point our day was only half over. What more could John Muir confront us with?