Saturday, September 14, 2013

John Muir Trail, Chapter 1

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Hello everyone, I am back at home after completing the JMT!!  I arrived home on Monday, the 10th of September and returned to work on the 12th.  I have 703 pictures to sort through....I've been thinking about how to document the trip and of course I'll "blog" everything, but I've decided to do it in "chapters" of approximately 5 days each.  So, here goes on Chapter 1.

I love to fly over the Sierra Nevada and try to recognize features - lakes, peaks, etc - it's unusual when I do and this time, I didn't recognize anything as we descended into Fresno on August 12th.  The mountains, forests, and lakes seem to go on forever - I was thinking, "tomorrow, I'll be down there, starting the big WALK".

This photo was taken by Jeff Williams, the 4th member of our initial party, just after we hit the trail on Day 1.  Ron Maier is on the left and that's Mike Nix on the right.  Mike, Ron, and I were all in for the full JMT, while Jeff was able to join us for the first 3 days, including a major summit of Half Dome.  We all started from Happy Isles, which is the official beginning of the trail.  The guiding company, Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, starts their JMT trip from Tuolumne Meadows, which is 23 miles up the trail.  They do this for 2 reasons - one, it's very difficult to get permits for large groups coming out of Happy Isles, which is the most popular trailhead in Yosemite and probably the entire Sierra, and two, from Happy Isles you have to climb over 4,500 feet in 3 days - a brutal opening stretch, even if you could get the permits.  But - we were sure we were up for it!  So, back to the photo - the last item on the list on the sign is "Mt. Whitney via the John Muir Trail - 211 miles"!!

This is a precious picture of Jeff and I on top of Half Dome on day 2.  We camped at "Little Yosemite Valley" on our first night after climbing about 1700 feet from Yosemite Valley's floor.  This day, we had to gain another 2700 feet to the top of Half Dome - with the help of the cables you see below.  The slope gets as high as 48 degrees on the final pitch to the top - it's dizzyingly steep, and hard to capture that sense of the slope on film.  Anyway, when I was in the throes of chemotherapy and getting ready for the transplant, Jeff said "Dan, you will get through this, and you and I will stand together on top of Half Dome again".  (Jeff and I had climbed Half Dome once before, in 2000).  I was game but unsure.  What a great moment with a great friend.  I can't tell you how encouraging and supportive Jeff was throughout my ordeal.  That's what friends are for!  

The 4 of us out on Half Dome's "diving board", with the valley 4,000 feet below.

 This is Mike, descending Half Dome with the assistance of the cables.  I thought this photo gave the best perspective on what a 48 degree slope looks like.  Yes, it's THAT STEEP.  On day 3, the next day, we had to say goodbye to Jeff, and he headed back down the trail and to pressing matters at work.  We were now the 3 musketeers (or something) until we connected with the guiding company a few more days up the trail.

Below you will see a sunset photo taken at our next camping spot, the Sunrise High Sierra Camp.  The hike that day was a "butt-kicker", 9 miles and 3200 feet of elevation gain with the last 1500 feet coming over just 2 miles of trail.  The camp is at 9400 feet, and features a dining room, very small store, about 25 'tent cabins', and a backpacker camp.  We stayed in the backpacker camp (natch), but we were able to invite ourselves to dinner for a mere $30 bucks a head.  The dining room luckily had a few extra seats so we dined on roast pork with cherries, polenta and mixed vegetables, plus salad, soup and a lovely pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.  A fantastic feast compared to the "trail gorp" we brought with us.

 Mike and I the next day (day 4) on our way to Cathedral Lakes.  Cathedral is one of the most picturesque areas in Yosemite so we wanted to give ourselves some time there.  Our hike that day was only about 4 miles, so we arrived at our campsite at around noon, giving us plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings.  This photo was taken on the trail enroute to Cathedral Lakes.  The peak on the left side of the photo is Cathedral Peak.  John Muir was the first person to summit.  I have not and will not - it's way steeper than Half Dome!

Here Mike is setting up his prayer flags.  Mike is a Buddhist and also brought along the elements needed to set up a small altar.  Not my cup of tea, but it did add a spiritual dimension to our spectacular surroundings.

I spent a good part of the afternoon fly fishing.  I brought the hand-made fly rod that my brother-in-law's brother, Keith McElrath, made for me, and many of the hand-tied flies that Dan Lofaro made for me.  Unfortunately the fish did not cooperate on this afternoon - but what a setting, with Cathedral Peak as a backdrop!!

The next day, day 5, we hiked into Tuolumne meadows to meet up with our guiding company and new fellow backpackers.  We had about 7 miles to go so we took our time.  We arrived at the Tuolumne lodge, which resembles a High Sierra Camp, at about 2 pm and checked in (Ron had secured us a reservation just a week prior to our trip, so we were going to sleep in beds that night), and had a cold beer.  After sorting through our gear and deciding what we could live without, we headed down to the meeting place.  Not too much to report, except we met our guides, "Terri" (not her real name), the lead guide, and Carlos, the number two.  Carlos was full of personality and jocularity, while "Terri" was more serious, but she seemed competent.  I had asked about how many times they had guided the full JMT and the answer was that "Terri" had guided it once for SYMG and this would be Carlos' first time guiding the full trail, but he had done many shorter trips on and around the JMT.   Hmm.....did they have enough experience??  We shall see.....I will continue with Day 6 soon....stay tuned......


  1. Congratulations, Dan! What amazing beautiful photography, and an excellent "Chapter 1". I'm looking forward to following the full story - great job!

    1. HI Linda, we miss you at IBM! Hope you are having a fabulous time. Thanks for checking in!