The Ultra Experience

Here's to the adventures of my life which are usually ultra marathon trail running or fly fishing but may include other trips, experiences, thoughts, opinions, or pretty much whatever I want. As co-founder of Altra Footwear my life and adventures seemingly revolve more around developing and promoting the best footwear in the world...and I love it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

John Muir Trail, Part 1

July 24th 2008 THE DRIVE
The trip had finally begun. After much preparation we (myself- Brian Beckstead and Golden Harper) left Orem, Utah at 7:00 am for our long awaited John Muir Trip. The drive was long and boring as we drove through the Utah/Nevada desert. It didn't get much better until the rolling hills of California and the rollercoaster road of CA-120. As we began to rise up into the Sierra's we got our first glimpse of what lay before us. Rocky, steep, and beautiful, Yosemite National Park, it was breathtaking. Merely driving through the park was an adventure.

We arrived at the wilderness permit office in Toulumne Meadows at 4:30 pm to gather updated information on the trail and pick up our wilderness permit. Although the official start of the Muir Trail is at Happy Isles, Toulumne Meadows is the first major junction. It also serves as a great place to grab some warm grub. Anyways, as we arrived so did 3 hikers whom we discovered were also fastpacking the John Muir Trail and had covered the mileage from Happy Isles so far today. They however, were taking 11 days to our 9 days. We wished them well and would expect to see them later on the trail.

After getting our permit we stashed our packs in bear boxes with the idea of hiking those first miles with no packs and accessing our gear the following day. This would have worked perfectly if not for a few problems that I will mention later. We then continued on into Yosemite Valley and the trails beginnings.
Yosemite Valley matches all the talk! Beautiful, crowded, and pesky bears. Within 30 seconds of pulling up to the backpackers camp a small brown bear ran past us followed closely by a man yelling. We chuckled until we realized that the bear had come from the direction of our future camp site. We shrugged it off and set up camp. One problem is the parking. We had to park nearly 3/4 mile our campsite. It was a pain. Anyway we went to sleep with happy dreams...until I was awakened suddenly in the middle of the night with Golden whispering in my ear about a bear being in our camp. Being half asleep I went into emergency mode claiming that we must scare it off and make noise. I did not have my glasses on and never did get a good look at the bear. Golden laughed at my safe yet semi-panic stricken response as the bear moved away harmlessly. It was the last bear we saw on the journey.

Day 1- July 25th, 2008 START YOUR ENGINES!
Woke at 5:30 am happily looking forward to the adventure that lay before us. However getting the car, stashing all smelly items in bear boxes, and finally getting to the start took quite a long time. Heck, it was a hike just to get to the start of the hike but by 7:00am we officially started the John Muir Trail!
The trail made no illusions as to what would take place. Up and up we went with throngs of over people. Most of these people were day hikers who were going up to see the waterfalls or bagging half dome. We ran most of the flat sections and much of the gradual uphill wanting to cover this first section as fast as possible, especially since we didn't packs. We didn't look at the mileage as carefully as we should have and thought we only had 22 miles to toulumne meadows so we took a water bottle and several granola bars. We failed to understand the steepness of the terrain and that toulumne meadows junction was 22 miles yet our packs were at the far end of toulumne meadows mile 26.8....turns out that it's a large meadow.

However we were still oblivious to this fact as we ascended past Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. These iconic waterfalls matched any picture I'd seen and are a wonder of nature. Soon we branched off the main river leaving the crowds far behind us and began our way to the high country. After 14 miles we had already gained an astronomical 5320 ft and were standing at sunrise meadows! A popular yet perfect place to camp we took only a moment to enjoy the view before we headed on to our goal.

Next was the Cathedral's: Cathedral Lake, Cathedral Pass, and Cathedral Peak. Named after the namesake mountain it was a gorgeous area where we decided to stop and soak our feet in the lake while we enjoyed our surroundings. The water felt amazing and as of yet we had progressed quickly with no problems. However our water was gone and we ate the last granola bar at the lake. We did have our emergency filter straws which enabled us to stay relatively hydrated.

From our break at Cathedral Lake it was all downhill but soon after starting my stomach turned south. I was no longer able to run the downhills and our progress was slowing as the temperatures were rising. Soon I was taking emergency bathroom breaks and getting worried. It took forever to arrive at the junction and when we finally did, we realized our mistake and began slugging up the trail to our packs. Toulumne meadows is a big freakin meadow.
Luckily on the highway was a burger stand and convenience store which we were overjoyed to see. However my stomach and nausea were increasing and I couldn't eat more than some french fries and ice cream. Golden who, although a bit tired, seemed to have no problem downing a burger and fries. My nausea wasn't much better and Golden soon came over looking pale as a ghost. As we talked about what was happening we realized that we hadn't planned for sodium intake on this section of the trail and we were experiencing a serious electrolyte deficiency. I went and got a large coke and a salt shaker then alternately began downing straight salt followed by a swig of coke. It was a desperate attempt to recover from our self causing malady. We went across the street and napped in the meadows hoping it was pass. Golden's problems hit a little later than mine but over the 2 hrs at the meadow he must have gone to the bathroom 4-5 times. It wasn't looking good for the remains of our journey.

Although still not fully recovered we had no choice but to keep going. Our permit required us to hike 4 miles past where we stashed our packs and we still had almost 2 miles to go to that point. We stopped and bought some chocolate milk and snacks at the convenience store before heading off. By the time we got to our packs 2 miles later we were feeling surprisingly better! We took another 30 minutes filling up our water bladders and arranging our packs but I could not believe the turn around. Although I didn't mentioned it but I was having serious doubts about our ability to keep going. I wanted to die a mere 3 hrs earlier yet here I was feeling 100% better and putting on my pack! It goes to show how important electrolytes are in long distance events. Those four miles went quickly and we set up camp just before it got dark.

Feeling increasingly confident, we drank and ate as much as possible to rejuvenate and refuel our bodies for the next day. We had travelled almost 31 miles with a scary setback. It was almost good for us because it made us more humble and pragmatic at our outlook, planning, and nutrition yet we were still on pace.

Day 2 July 26th 2008 THE BIG DAY/GARNET LAKE
Woke again at 5:30am, yet this time we were on the trail at 6:00am. We started in Lyell Canyon which has a beautiful stream running through it and a large deer population. I was surprised at how many tents we passed with people still them. Also I was shocked at how many fish were jumping in the stream. I was dying knowing how easy they looked to catch. This became an ongoing problem as the trip progressed. Lots of fish and no fishing pole.

We soon started climbing to Donahue Pass. The terrain was much different today which makes sense being that we started at 8600 ft instead 4300 ft! Lakes appeared and disappeared throughout this beautiful climb. We felt surprisingly good yet I didn't want to kill myself off today so we set a nice consistent pace up Donahue Pass. We still must have passed 40 people over this heavily used area. Most were just out for the week. Golden thought he saw his future wife on the trail but I had to drag him away claiming that she wouldn't be legal for another couple of years. She was very attractive though!

Donahue Pass was a classic Sierra pass. Blue skies, jagged peaks, hanging glaciers, and magnificent views in every direction. It was somewhat daunting looking into the distance and seeing endless mtns knowing that we had to pick our way through them over the next week at the rate of nearly 30 miles per day. However, with feeling as good as we did and a long downhill ahead, we wasted little time and off we went. The miles went quickly and soon we were at Thousand Island Lake. There was no allegorical explanation in naming this lake. It was absolutely picturesque with the clear blue water and mountains rising up at the far end of the lake. It wasn't time to stop yet but who knew it could get better. However, Garnet Lake somehow manages to trump about any view in the world!

We spent over two hours soaking up Garnet Lake. We swam out to an island, bathed, enjoyed the views, and relaxed. It was inspiring! Our confidence was up and we were feeling strong. We then did a few calculations and figured we would try to make it to Reds Meadow that night. It looked as though it would be more or less a steady downhill after an initial climb, however we discovered it was much more. Each lake was 200 ft lower than the next yet between each one was a climb and descent. Up and down we went hoping that we would get to Reds Meadow in time for a burger. We pushed hard and when we realized we had topped the last climb we decided to run.

From Gladys Lake we began a slow run but the trail was smooth and a perfect grade to start moving quick which we did. Down into Red's Meadow we ran but like our previous meadow experience, sometimes meadows are big. By the time we reached the bottom I was spent. My feet were starting to hurt and I was really tired. 32 miles will do that. We needed to get to the resort and we had only reached the ranger station. I finally forced down a bar at Golden's suggestion but the next 1 1/2 miles to the resort became known as the Red's Death March. We did however go through Devil's Postpile National Monument which was cool. Very similar to The Giant's Causeway in Ireland although this is a classic example of how Giants are far superior to the devil. It was still geologically fascinating. Soon we could smell food and found ourselves at a road intersection where several people noticed our weary features and when we asked them where the resort was they responded by saying 1/4 mile up the hill and that there was an outdoor BBQ going on. We began sprinting.

Finally we reached the resort at 7:15pm. To our dismay the BBQ had ended 15 minutes earlier and it's correlating restaurant also closed at 7. What restaurant closes at 7pm? We were devastated, however the convenient store was still open. We grabbed some soda and ice cream bars which we quickly devoured and set off to find the backpackers camp and the rumoured hot spring showers. The camp was busy and we set up camp with everyone else. (These backpacker camps are reserved for people coming, going, or passing by with a wilderness permit and are a free-for-all mess but very cool and convenient)
Just after dark we went up to the hot spring showers. They are pretty much rusty tin walls, a pipe with a nozzle in each room, an old bath tub, and absolutely no lighting. I'm pretty sure it's where horror movies got their start. The water was nice and it set us up to sleep great which was needed because I was exhausted! We had covered over 33 miles and a lot of ups and downs but it was a fantastic day which put us well ahead of schedule.

1 comment:

Howlett Blog said...

Wow Brian, crazy! We've had a good time reading you and Goldie's adventure (it's about time too, I've been awaiting this post for months...ok, maybe weeks). The scenery is spectacular and the distance covered, what a feat. Must have been an awesome trip, glad you guys both came home to tell about it :-)
Jeremy and Leslie