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Posts Tagged With: Long Distance Hiking
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.
I’d encourage you to read through his story. It’s inspiring and may just encourage you to ”hike your own hike” someday too!
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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?
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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.
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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.
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Crossing Wallace Creek and climbing 1,000 feet to the Bighorn Plateau eventually brought us to one of our more unique and out-of-the-way campgrounds near Tyndall Creek. The day was hot with long shadeless stretches that were especially tiring for all who had summited Mt. Whitney the day before.
It might appear charming in the photo but by the time we all reached our campsite (a good mile off the trail and not well marked) it was late and getting dark. We all still had to set our tents up, organize our things and filter water for the next day…and we were all tired, cranky and hungry. Thinking back, this was possibly the low point of the trip for Reg and me. We went to bed wondering just what we had gotten ourselves into.
However, it wouldn’t be the last time that our itinerary seemed at odds with the reality of our day. We were learning that a John Muir Mile could not be trusted to cover the same short distance as a regular mile. And we had many more miles to go.