Thirteen year olds dream big. Take Theodore Solomons’ envisioning, in a sense, what we today call the John Muir Trail:
The boy of thirteen who gazed at the Sierra Nevada on a pristine spring day in 1884 was totally unaware that any human had ever set foot in the range. From his uncle’s ranch near Fresno, young Solomons stared at the distant mountains, for the first time seeing them not merely as background objects, but as “the most beautiful and mysterious sight” he had ever beheld. The Holsteins grazing in the vast fields of alfalfa faded from the foreground, and he envisioned himself “in the immensity of that uplifted world, an atom moving along just below the white, crawling from one end to the other of that horizon of high enchantment.” These sentences, written fifty years after the fact, are obviously a romanticized version of a youth’s vision. Still, one would like to believe Solomons’ claim that it was on this very day that he first imagined the “idea of a crest-parallel trail though the High Sierra.”
-Steve Roper, Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country
Me, on a summer outing with my Scout troop, learned of the John Muir Trail at its junction with Mono Creek and learned that it “ran the entire length of the Sierra.” I resolved then to hike it one day, “the backpacking trip of all backpacking trips,” spending “months” in the mountains I longed for each summer.
That was 38 years ago; another thirteen year old dreaming big. It is undoubtedly a romanticized recollection too, but that is the way with long held dreams. In 3 weeks I intend to live this one.
However, dreams have a way of unfolding in their own time.
Three years ago while hiking the High Sierra Trail, resting at Guitar Lake after summiting Mt Whitney I met Mule Skinner, a JMT thru-hiker. As he shared the joy of fulfilling a life’s dream I mentioned thru-hiking the John Muir Trail next summer a fitting celebration for my 50th year. Mule Skinner grinned as this was his 50th year fête; he would finish tomorrow a 50 year old then celebrate his 51st the next day.
But my 50th summer came and went. I was on assignment in Israel.
My 51st also expired without a JMT hike. A busy work schedule that summer allowed only a family trip to celebrate the kids’ commencements; Michael graduating high school, Christine ASU. It was a great trip, to Alaska, with some outstanding salmon fishing, but it wasn’t backpacking the JMT. Though come fall I did score a thru-hike of the Tonto Trail Grand Canyon.
Now it is summer number 52 and there is a vacation window. Not “months,” but just long enough; the last week of August through Labor Day.
Where the boy dreamed, this middle-aged man plans and schedules, and with a modicum of fuss one by one turns those dreams into reality. I start by talking it over with Nancy and then formally booking the time off work; this about a week ago. Come the weekend I update a three year old itinerary, figure out the logistics, and book a few beds including 2 nights in Curry Village. There is a lot left to do: finalize the gear list and menu, shop, pack and ship a resupply, book the trailhead shuttle, get a permit, and more. And though it is three weeks before I leave, to make sure the resupply arrives before I do, I need to nail things down over the next week.
The high level plan:
· Hike from Happy Isles to Whitney Portal, 8/24-9/5
· Include Half Dome hike on Day 1
· Food cache at Red’s Meadow for pickup on Day 4
· Food cache at Muir Trail Ranch for pickup on Day 7 – need to mail this by the 3rd or 4th
· Be on the trail by 7:00AM every morning and finish the day whenever, wherever I choose
· Leave work early on the 21st, drive about half way; stay the night in Victorville
· Drive to Yosemite Valley on the 22nd, stopping to leave a change of clothes at the hostel in Lone Pine and food cache at Red’s Meadow; stay the night at Curry Village
· Up early on the 24th; start the hike
· Finish Sept 5th, bum a ride to Lone Pine; stay the night at the Whitney Portal Hostel
To do list (now):
· Prepare itinerary – done
· Book Curry Village – done
· Book place in Victorville – done
· Book Whitney Portal Hostel – done
· Book Mt Whitney Shuttle – left request and call back number
· Prepare gear list
· Prepare menu
· Prepare resupply inventory lists – done
· Prepare shopping list
· Repackage food
· Repackage miscellaneous consumables
· Pack resupply buckets
· Mail MTR bucket Monday or Tuesday of next week
To do list (week before the trip)
· Pack bear canister
· Pack the backpack
· Print three copies of itinerary; leave one at home
· Buy tortillas; just before I head out
With a plan and to do lists in place I relax a bit; I can get ready without worrying about overlooked details and simply let the excitement build.
Not so my wife. She worries. I’ll be hiking, well at least starting out, solo, and as is my way will carry no electronics save a camera and wrist watch. But this after all is the John Muir Trail and I expect to, if not meet, at least see lots of people, and there are myriad opportunities to bail. The reassurances offer at most meager solace; perhaps I offer them with too much confidence?
At 13 days and roughly 220 miles the John Muir Trail is my longest hike yet. It seems the older I get the more I push myself. I’ve achieved an enabling convergence of low pack weight, fitness, and experience, and feel pressed to take advantage of it. Not to be fatalistic or anything, but one doesn’t know about tomorrow so I choose now. And if God grants me a long healthy life, all the better; I’ve no problem being a centenarian backpacker.
Philosophizing aside, this looks like this time I really get to hike the JMT. I leave in just 3 weeks and can hardly contain it.