It’s here. It’s finally here. After months of planning, training, packing, gear purchasing, paring down, and stuffing more food than is reasonable into a bear can, the time has arrived. Tomorrow morning we’ll depart LA for the Eastern Sierra Interagency Center in Lone Pine, where we will pick up the permit that we reserved for our trailhead back in January. I would say that I can’t believe it’s already time, but it honestly feels like I’ve been thinking about this trail for a zillion and a half years. For months now I’ve been poring over maps, writing notes about river crossings, debating the merits of fleece versus down (spoilers: I’m bringing both), triple-checking my solar charger and external battery and InReach messenger settings, and going back and forth about whether or not I need my ice axe (I think I’m bringing it just in case). I am tired of planning, tired of talking about it, and tired of waiting. I’m ready. My boots are sitting by the door, my pack is loaded up, and I am 10000% ready to go.
I’m an optimistic person, but I’m also a cautious person, so I don’t want to oversimplify or understate the dangers that this year presents – a record snowfall in many parts of the Sierra leading to swollen stream crossings and miles of snow well into July is nothing to take lightly. However, recent NOBO reports on the JMT Hikers 2017 Facebook group indicate much faster melt and much more dry land in the southern half than the northern, which is great news for us. One report even said that the entire area between Cottonwood and Crabtree is completely snow-free (this still sounds too good to be true to me, so I’m taking that observation lightly). Another indicated that the infamous snow chute on Forester Pass is nearly melted out. These are incredibly good signs. Both Timmy and I are feeling strong and ready to go beyond our planned itinerary for the first day (instead of 5 miles we want to hike about 12), and we’re both so jazzed to get out there and see what the incredible, infinite, majestic High Sierra has to show us, teach us, give us. Of course we want to make it to Yosemite, but even if we only make it as far as Kearsarge, or Taboose, or Bishop, we will still have been out there, and that, after all, is really the point of this whole thing.
The psych is high right now, and I’m so excited that I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sleep tonight and tomorrow, but I am also experiencing a feeling that is hard to place or to describe. It’s something deep, a profoundly moving sense of gratitude, solemnity, and grace as we approach our trailhead. It’s almost identical to the feeling I had the night before I started the Camino de Santiago two summers ago, when in the evening I watched the setting sun cover the town of St. Jean and the rolling Pyrenees in soft pink light, feeling the turning of the earth and knowing, in my heart, that I was absolutely where I was meant to be. Although I do not doubt the constant and gentle workings of the Divine in everyday life, there are really only a handful of times in my life that I can point to and say with certainty that goes beyond emotion, “God was there.” That night was one of them, and this moment before our departure feels like one as well. It’s hard for me to explain why the mountains pull me so strongly, or why I feel like a magnet drawn inextricably to the Sierras, or why, even though it’s grueling, smelly, sticky, and stupidly hard, the simple act of doing nothing but walking for days on end speaks peace into my soul. But all of this is true on a primal level. In reading his words, I feel a kindred connection with old bearded John Muir, the gentle, observant wanderer in the mountains. I feel so blessed to have the health, the ability, and the opportunity to walk in his footsteps in the rugged California landscape he loved so much.
I’m going to try to sleep, but my expectations aren’t so high for that. 🙂 I’ll also try to add updates while I’m on the trail, but it’s more likely that I’ll write afterwards, so hold tight.
In closing, let me leave you with a few words by John Muir himself:
“Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled, and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy-laden year … give a month at least to this precious reserve. Time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”
Life is nothing without curiosity and wandering. Here’s to our wild places, our mountains, and those who explore them.
PS: If you’re interested in having a look at our route and planned itinerary, here’s a link to a map I put together: https://caltopo.com/m/78MU