“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.
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.
It was pitch black when Reg shook me awake and said, “Honey, I’m leaving.” Up until that point, I don’t think Reg had definitely decided to make the climb. It was 4:00 am and having made the decision to take a rest day, catch up on chores and better adjust to the altitude, I grunted and rolled over.
While I puttered around the campsite with three others who chose to remain behind, Reg and seven hikers from our group, along with Lane, one of our packers, journeyed to the top of the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. There is no easy way to the top, and from what Reg said, much of it was a group effort of encouragement.
The afternoon brought good news from all seven hikers. Everyone had made it to the top, the weather was perfect and Reg managed to correct his wrong turn on the way down…before ending up at the wrong trailhead.
Pictured above is Lane, our walking packer who often brought up the rear of our daily hikes – checking on our progress and making sure we had what we needed. According to Reg, he was full of encouragement in the early morning hours of the Whitney climb. The photo on the right shows Guitar Lake, shaped like, you guessed it, a guitar. What a surprise!
What other surprises will John Muir’s Trail hold for us?
If you remember our last post, you’ll recall that over a month ago we were getting ready for the trip of a lifetime; a 243-mile, mule assisted trek along the John Muir Trail. I don’t know about Reg, but I certainly had plenty of misgivings right up to the moment we first set foot on the trail. We would be surrounded by wilderness with very few escape routes. A number of concerning “what ifs” had kept me up at night.
Regardless, our journey began on schedule August 2 at Horseshoe Meadow in California’s Inyo National Forest. We arrived to a bustling corral that looked straight out of a Hollywood western. Our final group count equaled eleven hikers, four packers with four horses and eight or ten mules…for some reason, Reg and I could never agree on the mule count.
*click on headline at top to view slideshow below*
Our 4.5 mile route for Day 1 took us up over 11,160′ Cottonwood Pass, then on to Chicken Spring Lake (11,242′) for the night. Total elevation gain: 1,400 feet. Was it really just 4.5 miles?
And so, after a dusty first day, we put up our tent, blew up our air mattresses, unrolled our sleeping bags, filtered our water for the next day and found just enough time for a short rest before dinner. What would the next 29 days reveal?
Reg and I spent last year, stuck at home, watching every YouTube hiking video we could find, dreaming of the time we could get ourselves back on one of Europe’s long distance trails. “If only we were willing to camp with our backpacks -tents, sleeping bags, the whole bit,” we’d say. “Then we could hike some of the gorgeous trails in our own backyard.”
It was after a visit from friends Kathy and Doug early last spring that our plan quickly (impulsively) took shape. Their suggestion to my joking, offhand remark about needing a Sherpa if I was ever to backpack the John Muir Trail, was to look into one of the mule supported pack station trips available in the Eastern Sierra.
And that’s how we’ve found ourselves packed and ready to set off August 2 on a mule-assisted, 30-day, northbound backpacking trip along the John Muir Trail…and no, the mules are not for us to ride.
Distance: 243 miles, beginning at Horseshoe Meadow and traveling north, finishing at Happy Isle in Yosemite Valley.
46,800’ total elevation gain and 52,700’ elevation loss over the course of the trip.
There are seven of us in our group, plus the staff who will tend to all the details of transporting everything needed via mules, plus large bags of our stuff – including our tents, sleeping bags and pads, clothing and whatever other necessities we choose to bring. We will all carry individual packs with water and water filters, rain gear and whatever else we want to have at our fingertips. There will be no end of day hot shower or comfy bed that we’ve enjoyed on previous treks. We’ll have to set up and take down our tents, roll up our sleeping bags etc. There will be a decent amount of roughing it. The good news is we will have three meals/day provided by the staff cook. Should be an interesting trek. We’ll return with a full report once we’re back in civilization.
Full disclosure: We did not walk up the mountain. Our intention was to wander around up top to get a feel for the altitude, so we chose the gondola for a quick and easy ascent. We were met with gorgeous 360 degree views from what felt like the top of the world.
Reg struck up a conversation with a couple who had made the walk up from the main lodge, claiming to have completed the 2,000 foot climb in about 2 hours. They seemed a little surprised that we had taken the easy way to the top. Feeling a bit wimpy and wanting to salvage our pride, we decided to walk back down the mountain.
It turned out to be a great decision. The hike was well marked, not too steep and filled with jaw-dropping scenery. The trail filled our morning, depositing us back at the lodge right about noon…just in time for lunch!
There really is no place like home…that’s true for me at least. Friends of ours know those “happy to be home” feelings don’t last long with Reg. He’d just as soon sell the house and live the nomadic life. That is not a lifestyle he can have with me. I insist on a home base. That being said, we managed to make a comfortable home within Minnie’s walls for the last 2 month. I thought it would be fun to share all our campsites with any of you who might be planning an extended camping trip of your own. A little inspiration perhaps. We cheated just twice with hotel rooms, once for convenience and once to avoid the Nevada heat.
With all the recent talk of increased RV and travel trailer sales, we were worried that finding space might prove difficult. Traveling in early spring with no firm plan seemed to help. We chose to drive a more northerly route first and found most campgrounds with plenty of open spaces. Not wanting to get stuck in a Walmart parking lot or roadside rest stop, we reserved 2-4 days in advance. There’s a limit to how much we’ll rough it. Thanks to all who followed along with us. We plan to be back with more adventures soon.
Located just off Interstate 70 in the Colorado town of Frisco lies the Rainbow Lake Trail. The easy walk winds its way up through a forest of Aspens and past the remnants of what must have once been a stand of evergreens. Acres and acres of cut trees, all neatly stacked pyramid style, left us wondering if the bark beetles had devastated the large swath of trees.
We should be home tomorrow, having covered about 9,000 miles over 9 weeks on the road. It’s been a fantastic trip and Minnie has taken good care of us. That doesn’t surprise me though. The real Minnie, Reg’s Mother, Minnie Spittle, had some 1950s travel trailer stories of her own to tell. A strong woman, we like to think she’s watching over us as we criss-cross the country.
A few miles outside of Breckenridge, Colorado, at just over 10,000 feet, lies the trailhead for three lakes; Mayflower and the Upper and Lower Mohawk Lakes. Our plan was to try to make it to Mayflower, the lowest of the trio. It was tough going at first, but we wanted to test ourselves with some high altitude hiking while here.
It’s not large, but Mayflower Lake (above) sits in a pretty spectacular setting. Given the overflowing parking area, we were surprised to find we had the place to ourselves. After a rest and a quick snack, we decided to push on towards Lower Mohawk Lake, just under a mile up the trail.
The trail markers were few and far between. A dreaded water crossing bisected the trail, a true test of balance. Graceful…we were not, but we made it across the rushing stream without incident. An old cabin appeared, a sort of hut with benches and what looked like an operable wood burning stove. From there the trail all but disappeared, and as we ate lunch (at 11,400 feet) groups scrambled their way up and down the steep rocky hillside in front of us. We decided we’d had enough.
We returned via the Spruce Creek Trail, a beautiful, shaded walk through trees and open meadows (above) with views up the mountains. All in all, a successful day up high in the Rocky Mountains.