About the Author: Deborah Peel is a writer, blogger, marketer, mother, lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. Her passion is writing to build a better world and sharing her backpacking and hiking adventures, one step at a time.
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I began the super modified approach to my JMT journey with renewed excitement and determination on day 4. There was no disappointment in my pack! Returning from one last saunter to the privy with a view, I found ranger Laura loading my tent and liter of water into her pack. With a big grin she lifted her pack and asked, “Ready to go?” She acted like it was no big deal, but I was delighted to hike together, giving me such reassurance as I started for the top of Guyot Pass. She praised my “ranger pace” but soon gained on me as we started the rocky ascent. We agreed to meet at the top and she scampered like a deer up the trail on her well-muscled legs. Reclaiming the gain of 550’ was easier with my lightened load; I was down to just the food I’d need for a couple of days. What a novice error I’d made packing way too much food in!
This was the day I opened my eyes to the magnificence of the trail, especially while stopping for breathing breaks and nursing the mean ache in my hip. I began to study the twisted, ancient trees standing sentinel on the hillside, to appreciate the scent of hot granite under foot, to be part of the trail landscape and let it fill my spirit in a holy way. The wilderness was my church and slowing down to greet it properly made me feel so very small and so big at the same time.
I raised my trekking poles in victory as Laura and two U.C. Davis students cheered my arrival at the top of Guyot. Laura casually finished eating an apple and I added my tent and water to my pack before pulling up a comfy rock in the wind whipped sunshine. Here I was at 10,880’ in elevation and I was feeling healthier already. I saw Laura off with a hug and a promise to reconnect by email and she went tripping quickly back down the trail. What a great job she did monitoring the trails and taking care of people and the wilderness with the same committed, kind approach.
I dug out tuna and tortilla for lunch and my coveted Fig Newtons for dessert. Just then, a figure dressed in khaki from head to toe came panting up the trail from Rock Creek. He introduced himself as Ron “Selfie” Randall from Reno and he was finishing the PCT after flipping when the June snow drove most thru-hikers out of the Sierra. We exchanged proud descriptions of our families and the different challenges we’d each faced hiking these mountains. I awarded him my last Fig Newton in congratulations for his PCT hike and he graciously joined the Hike for Harvey, contributing his last 645 PCT miles to the cause! The trail magic of human connection lifted me up and after lunch I was pleased to start down the hot switchbacks toward Guyot Creek.
I took my time on the descent, looking forward to the cool, green oasis that I knew awaited me. Coming along the Guyot plateau I met Katie and Jim, a couple headed for the JMT. She squealed when she spotted my teal bandana indicating I was part of the Ladies of the JMT Facebook group. I knew I’d found a sister on the trail when she pointed out her teal hiking dress. We exchanged the typical hiker “What’s your name? Where ya from? Where ya going?” before cheering each other on in opposite directions.
During my initial ascent two days prior, I’d foolishly passed up the chance to camel up at Guyot Creek. This time, I dropped my pack and stopped for a long break. It was one of the prettiest parts of this trail with water sparkling and splashing like a giggle over the tumble of rocks and brilliant green grass and wildflowers framing its banks. I would have loved to take up residence for the night, but I was feeling hearty and ready for more miles. I cameled up, filtering water to fill both my water bottles.
By 3:00 p.m. I came to the rush of lower Rock Creek and determined the narrow log downstream wasn’t my best option for crossing safely. Instead, I removed my boots and socks and waded across knee-deep in the ice-cold water, using the 3-point method (foot, trekking pole, foot) to move through the pressing water to the other side. Success and no wet boots! After a 7-mile day, I was the first person in camp and staked out a prime spot adjacent to the creek with a sweeping view of the meadow and mountain.
I took a 1-mile stroll up to the ranger station, but no one was home. I admired the outdoor kitchen and sleeping loft – what fun it would be to bunk there for the summer! The path along a creeklet skirting massive boulders made for a beautiful return to camp, where I discovered two new arrivals. It was going to be women’s camp tonight with Sarah, a 40-year-old veterinarian, and Loren, a 27-year-old road planner, joining me. They came in looking pleased with their first 15-mile day and it was fun to learn of their plans to reach Guitar Lake the next day and then go up Mt. Whitney, just as I’d planned to do. Ranger Christine Gooch stopped by for a friendly chat and let me know she’d been expecting me. It warmed my heart to find out ranger Laura had radioed ahead, still watching out for me. More human trail magic.
Only one thing was missing as I gobbled down a tasty dinner of chili mac mixed with chipotle potatoes – no more heartburn, no more altitude sickness! Down at 9,520’, I was tired in a good way as I marveled at the splendor of a Rock Creek sunset through the bug net of my tent. I had learned an important life lesson when I stood at the base of the JMT and decided to change my trip and hike out. I’d learned to be flexible, a hard thing for a planner like me. I knew, despite giving up my dream of hiking the whole JMT, the journey was far from over. Trail Tip: Be flexible in mind, body, and spirit.