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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?
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.
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We entered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks area, covering 20 miles in 2 days to reach Guitar Lake where we spent 2 nights. The trail eventually led us along Rock Creek where our second campsite was located. The next morning we had just over 3,000 feet of elevation gain before finally reaching (dragging ourselves) up to our Guitar Lake camp.
Guitar Lake, elevation 11,400 feet, is a popular starting point for the iconic Mt. Whitney climb. Due to the quickly changing weather conditions at the top of Whitney, morning is considered the best time to start the 3,100 foot climb…and the earlier, the better. Our group of climbing hopefuls was scheduled for a 4:00 am breakfast call. Who would attempt the climb? Who would make it to the top?
Because Reg and I both were quite sick in early March, we are entering into our fourth week of self-isolation at home in Oregon. Did we have the virus? Who knows, but timing, as they say, is everything. These past few weeks have given us much time to reflect.
We may be stuck indoors, but we enjoy the ever changing view out our front window.
We returned from England and our South West Coast Path adventure last year in early October. As it turns out, over the past six months, our timing has been extremely fortunate. Two days after returning home, I found myself driving 600 miles south, to California, to assist my 93 year old father who was still living in my family home…alone. I bullied him (yes, I did) into a move to an assisted living facility, both for his safety and our family’s peace of mind. A fortuitous move as his health declined rapidly over the next couple of months.
We said goodbye to my Dad (pictured above) three days before Christmas. He was the last of his generation on either side of our families. He hoped to one day celebrate his 100th birthday, but that was not meant to be. In January, with the help of an amazing realtor (who snapped the official “sold” photo of Dad’s house) we sadly closed the door of the home and life he loved. Our boys and their partners all made the trip out to California, joining us, along with my brother Kenny, as we said our final goodbyes.
Reg and I returned home in February, feeling somewhat lost as we came to terms with the fact that we were now the “older” generation. As we settled back into a routine we began to feel the pull of adventure once again. Perhaps another distance trek would get us back on track. But where?
As you can see, we are not at a loss for ideas.
Once again, timing proved to be everything. The decision of where to go was taken out our of our hands. For the time being, we will remain armchair travelers, experiencing adventure through our television programming. While not as exciting, it has allowed us some pretty amazing adventures…ones we’d never dream of attempting. For now, we’ll focus on remaining healthy and settling for walks around the neighborhood.
Sue and I packed British sun and optimism when we began our trek in Minehead on the South West Coast Path on September 8. More than three weeks and 200 miles later, fierce winds and horizontal rain could not keep us from our finish at Land’s End.
Back home in Ashland, Oregon, still packing jet lag, it is time to reflect.
Best parts: Astonishingly rugged coastal scenery, remoteness, walking cliffside, the weather, few other trekkers, Hartland Quay-to-Bude section, unyielding climbs and descents, thousands of stairs.
Worst parts: The weather, remoteness, Hartland Quay-to-Bude section, unyielding climbs and descents, thousands of stairs.
How can that be? The weather was mostly great the first two weeks; just two days of rain, not bad for England. Then it turned on us and only let up for brief spells the rest of the way. Fierce winds nearly blew us (and our packs) over on precarious cliffs. One day, we had to turn back. On a couple of days, the winds made it too dangerous to walk at all. That is when the remoteness became a negative; if anything happened, we could be stranded far from help.
The Hartland Quay-to-Bude section tested us like no other trail ever; 9,000 feet of mostly steep elevation change, 15 miles, 10-plus hours. But over our pub dinner that evening, we were exhilarated because we had done it. That is what keeps us trekking. It tests us, extends us, and sometimes slows life to a crawl. We thrive on its simplicity and routine.
Backpack life: We lived out of several Ziploc bags that contained our rolled up, super lightweight moisture-wicking clothes. We sat on each one, zipped them shut, and stuffed the compressed bags into our packs in just a few minutes each morning. Our packs weighed about 20 pounds each, although Sue’s was a couple of pounds heavier. Plus the weight of water in our bladders.
Accommodations: We stayed in B&Bs, hotels, a hostel, and several apartments. Most included breakfast. Lunch was a picnic on the trail, sometimes wet. Dinner was usually in pubs, unless we had a kitchen…then we enjoyed dinner at home.
Thru hikers: We were surprised that there were not more people on the trail. Most were day walkers; some told us they were walking a section, then catching a bus back to their starting village. Some were walking for several days, but we did not meet anyone who planned to walk more than that. Sue talked to an English couple who had walked the entire 630 miles of the trail, but had done it in sections over years.
Jam or cream first? How one dresses scones is a hotly debated topic in Devon and Cornwall. But, why does a country with clotted and double cream put low-fat milk in their tea and coffee?
Animals: Sheep, goats, pheasants, and cattle (and their poo) were abundant. We often walked among them; once, a cow refused to budge off the trail, forcing us to detour.
Shipwrecks: Monuments and plaques mark the demise of many ships off the rugged coast over the centuries.
Gates: We climbed, squeezed through, and passed through more gates than I could count. Kissing gates, stiles, latching gates. Even some kinds I had never seen before.
Health: Sue and I each got hit by a bug that, thankfully, lasted only about a day. Sue wore a knee brace for a few days as a precaution and her careful foot care prevented any major blister problems. We battled soreness, especially in the morning. Once again, Sue was the stronger walker, especially on the relentless climbs. Neither of us is fast, but you can trust your bets on Sue conquering just about any trail.
Fitting end: As we sat in the restaurant at the Land’s End Hotel, the setting sun was our dessert. Like the trail, it made us appreciate the moment. We put on our boots and packs each morning and plunged into the unknown, knowing that no matter what was ahead, we had to do it. Each day was unique, but most were cause for celebration.
Our soggy, arrival at Land’s End will forever be imprinted on our memories, a goal we worked extremely hard for some days. However, our last day of walking was filled with visions of the historic remains of the region’s tin mining industry. Fortunately, the rain caused me to pack my good camera deep inside my pack, or I’d probably still be out on the bluffs snapping photos.
Much like the Doc Martin series put the little village of Port Issac on the map, the BBC series Poldark brings the world to the Pendeen Coast, where the Geevor Tin Mine (closed in 1990) remains open as a tourist attraction.
As we walked out of Pendeen, we were surprised by the number of crumbling remains of a once thriving mining industry. While it all seems very romantic now, history tells a different story of the dangers that lurked underground.