Sept 3, 2012 — Happy Isles to Clouds Rest junction

John Muir Trail day 1 map

John Muir Trail day 1 map

Spent the morn­ing dri­ving around the val­ley with Lupi­ta. I couldn’t help but include this pic­ture of her eat­ing ice cream. She sure loves it! We also stopped by Bridalveil Fall before she dropped me off, it was pret­ty much a mist.

Bridalveil Fall, mostly a mist

Bridalveil Fall, most­ly a mist

Lupita enjoying her ice cream, hey eyes on the road!

Ice cream!

It was a bit of a strange feel­ing being left alone, how­ev­er many peo­ple were still around, my ride was leav­ing, the last teth­er. A feel­ing of free­dom mixed with no turn­ing back. Not that I even enter­tained sec­ond thoughts but usu­al­ly when I go on a back­pack­ing trip I leave and return to a car. If for some wild rea­son I was attacked by a bear and it ate all my food on the very day I began then trip (and there are some crafty bears in Yosemite let me tell you!), well there is a car wait­ing patient­ly at the trail­head, a means of dri­ving back home if some dis­as­ter strikes. I guess it’s all men­tal. That’s when it final­ly sunk in. Lupi­ta took my pic­ture and was gone. Four weeks in the wilder­ness, months of plan­ning, years of antic­i­pa­tion, it had now begun and it just hit me. Well there’s only one way to go I thought as I began my walk through the woods. Strange­ly enough there was a few min­utes of no peo­ple, a brief moment I could record a quick video of myself begin­ning this mem­o­rable trip, well record­ing it with­out being embar­rassed that oth­er peo­ple were watch­ing me that is.

Starting the John Muir Trail!

Start­ing the John Muir Trail!

The trail wound through thick for­est cov­er and before long I was walk­ing on asphalt. “Mount Whit­ney 211 miles, that would be quite a hike!” A man stopped to look at the big wood­en sign with all of the trail dis­tances with his wife. “That’s what I’m doing!” I thought to myself as I kept walk­ing through the throngs of peo­ple, most of whom were not car­ry­ing any­thing more than small day­packs. There were def­i­nite­ly oth­er peo­ple start­ing the JMT today, every­day I was sure, but they prob­a­bly would have all start­ed ear­ly in the morn­ing. I was hang­ing out with Lupi­ta but oth­er­wise it makes sense to start ear­ly, if only to beat the mid­day heat, it was in the 80s sun­ny and I was sweat­ing.

211 miles to Mount Whitney!

211 miles to Mount Whit­ney!

After about a mile, 400 feet of ele­va­tion gain and weav­ing through the crowds of peo­ple I came to the base of ver­nal falls and “restrooms and treat­ed water, the last till Tuolumne” as my guide­book described it. There were peo­ple crowd­ed around the two sinks like a hot­dog stand at an amuse­ment park. I wait­ed and filled up my water blad­der. I have a water­fil­ter but I fig­ured if there was treat­ed water I might as well fill up here. At least enough water to last a cou­ple hours.

The ground squir­rels hang­ing out here were plump, on human junk food no doubt. Always with a quick eye to snatch up a dropped piece of cliff bar or oth­er morsel left inten­tion­al­ly or oth­er­wise. I can see the draw of feed­ing them, they just look so cute, sit­ting on their haunch­es, tiny fur­ry paws care­ful­ly grasp­ing a piece of can­dy bar as they quick­ly chew it, turn­ing it around, tiny teeth and whiskers fever­ish­ly work­ing away at it, lit­tle nose sniff­ing around, mov­ing quick­ly up and down. Stuff­ing it in their face as their cheeks expand, tail flick­ing up and down How can one resist!

A rather plump California Ground Squirrel waiting for the next handout

A rather plump Cal­i­for­nia Ground Squirre

After just 10 min­utes I was alone. The trail split up, Mist Trail to Ver­nal Falls went left and the John Muir Trail went right. One minute I was sur­round­ed by peo­ple and the next I was by myself. It was kind of nice actu­al­ly. The trail kept climb­ing high­er and the switch­backs start­ed, peo­ple passed me but every­one was head­ed down, prob­a­bly from half dome I guessed.

Crafty Scrub Jay that snatched up my dropped almond

Crafty Scrub Jay

The tree cov­er was spot­ty and I was afford­ed high­er and high­er views of Yosemite Val­ley, climb­ing out. I stopped for a break at one point, almonds were the cur­rent snack of choice. I was feel­ing real­ly good, so hap­py to be on the trail. I was a lit­tle ner­vous about going up half dome, Lupi­ta told me when she went up it took her an hour to build up the courage. I had looked online to try and get an idea of what it was like, but it’s so hard to get a real idea from pho­tos and videos. I even watched a video of a guys POV cam­era going up with­out stop­ping, on the out­side of the cables no less. Peo­ple were hang­ing on to the cables for dear life. I don’t think that real­ly helped with my morale at all. What was I in for? Sud­den­ly with a loud squawk and a swoosh a big Stellar’s Jay appeared from out of nowhere and snatched up an almond I acci­den­tal­ly dropped not 3 min­utes ear­li­er, right next to my foot. He caught me by suprise! How in the world did he see that?! It came so close too! I pulled out my cam­era and did a short video of it. His dis­tinct squawk­ing fol­lowed me along the trail for the next 20 min­utes “I got­ta be more care­ful with my food” I thought, some crafty bug­gers around here.

I thought it looked like Half Dome...it IS Half Dome!

I thought it looked like Half Dome…it IS Half Dome!

It wasn’t long before I got a view of a mas­sive mono­lith of gran­ite from between the trees. It looked like half dome. “This is Mount Brod­er­ick” I began to nar­rate a short video as I point­ed the cam­era through the trees “It’s beeeaau­uu­ti­ful! Exposed, pol­ished gran­ite. Kin­da reminds me of half dome” Turns out there was good rea­son for that. It was half dome! As I found out about an hour lat­er, over­hear­ing a guide on horse­back. No won­der it looked so much like half dome, I laughed to myself.

From top left: Half Dome, Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap, Nevada Falls

From top left: Half Dome, Mount Brod­er­ick, Lib­er­ty Cap, Neva­da Falls

Reach­ing Clark point I got a prime view of Neva­da Falls with 3 gran­ite mono­liths ris­ing out of the val­ley like sen­tinels of the water­fall. Half Dome, Mt Brod­er­ick and Lib­er­ty Cap. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I didn’t get a good pic­ture until lat­er on, almost to the top of Neva­da Falls so they don’t stand out as much, but you can see it in the video…coming soon!

Just above Nevada Falls. Cold and refreshing on a hot day

Above Neva­da Falls. Cold and refresh­ing on a hot day

It was so refresh­ing tak­ing off my shoes and wad­ing into the frigid pool above NevadaFall. It was sur­round­ed by some nice slabs of gran­ite and seemed to be quite the pop­u­lar spot. Lupi­ta had men­tioned that she saw fish when she was here a few years ago, sure enough, there were fish. I wished I could have hung out for longer, maybe throw some shorts on or do a lit­tle fish­ing, but I had to get to camp so I didn’t tar­ry.

The trail sign just passed the water fall indi­cat­ed there was 215 miles until Mount Whit­ney, wait a minute, it was only 211 at the start of the trail…at this rate by the end of the day I would be even fur­ther from the end point than when I start­ed! That’s not how you hike a trail.

A rather persistent Douglas Squirrel munching on pine nuts at Half Dome Junction

Dou­glas Squir­rel munch­ing on pine nuts

I had a bit over 3 miles to go until I set up camp. I was going to get up very ear­ly the next day to go up half dome. I want­ed to beat the crowds. I decid­ed how­ev­er to camp at the trail junc­tion a half mile past the junc­tion with half dome, there was sup­posed to be some good camp spots and and water, but nobody had warned me about the bear!

I was pret­ty wiped out by the time I arrived at camp that night. Not sure if it was the alti­tude or the bland taste but I was bare­ly able to fin­ish my din­ner. I had to choke down the last few bites between fits of uncon­trolled gag­ging induced with each new spoon­ful. It was about 9:30 pm, just as I was about ready to go to sleep when I heard it, a noise I was dread­ing slight­ly and one I would have been total­ly fine with not hear­ing the entire trip. “Hey! Get Out­ta here!” fren­zied shouts and the bang­ing of pans. It could only mean one thing…there was a bear in camp!

I have seen a bear once before this while I was back­pack­ing a few years ago with my friend Nicholai in the San Gabriel moun­tains. The bear we had seen then how­ev­er more or less ignored us, was rel­a­tive­ly small and was in the light of the day. There is some­thing about a 3–400 pound bear roam­ing around out­side your tent at night that I find slight­ly unset­tling, no mat­ter how many peo­ple say “They are more afraid of you”. Tell that to the guy camped a hun­dred yards from me who got his back­pack swiped from right next to his head while he was try­ing to sleep! I’ve seen pho­tos of car doors crum­pled like tin foil by a bear who smelled food inside. Oh and don’t even think about run­ning, black bears have been clocked at 30mph.

It wasn’t ten min­utes before I saw two eyes star­ring at me in the mead­ow, head­ing toward my tent. After I heard the shouts I decid­ed to stand watch for a while. I was pret­ty sure the bear would be mak­ing his rounds, boy was I right. “Hey! Get out­ta here” I shout­ed as loud as I could and knocked my trekking poles togeth­er repeat­ed­ly. I was in for a sleep­less night. That’s the last thing I need­ed after my first day on the trail!

Closer view of the bear canister. That's bear slobber on the lid!

Bear slob­ber

My bear canister just after the midnight marauder sauntered back into the woods.I got back in my tent and into my sleep­ing bag, but before long…clang clang clang “Hey! Get out­ta here!” clang, clang. The bear seemed to be par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of the the guys camped up on the ridge. Then it went quite. All of my food was safe­ly inside my bear can­is­ter, a clear blue plas­tic bar­rel 8 inch­es in diam­e­ter and about a foot tall that is sup­posed to have been test­ed on bears. It’s essen­tial­ly “bear proof” but I don’t want to put it to the test. I put my 2 small pots on top of it so if a bear knocks it over the clang­ing noise might wake me. I was almost drift­ing off to sleep when I heard the pots fall. My blood ran cold, the idea of a huge ani­mal right out­side my tent, only a thin nylon bar­ri­er between the two of us, it was ter­ri­fy­ing. I jumped out of my sleep­ing bag, unzipped the fly and point­ed my head­lamp into the night. There he was, a mas­sive (to me) black bear, prob­a­bly 3 feet high at the shoul­der, 5 feet long, gnaw­ing at my bear can­is­ter. He glanced up at me, almost annoyed when I start­ed shout­ing and bang­ing my hik­ing poles togeth­er. Star­ring at me for a few sec­onds he then slow­ly turned around and mean­dered off back into the dark, per­haps he would have bet­ter luck at the next tent. I stood there for a few min­utes, shak­ing. I hadn’t real­ized it before but I was shak­ing, my adren­a­line was pumped up and my heart was rac­ing. Like clock­work, ten min­utes lat­er the shout­ing and bang­ing resumed. The bear had returned to the guys camped on the hill above. Need­less to say I didn’t get much sleep that night. Every gust of wind and pine nee­dle falling on my tent was a bear and made me tense up antic­i­pat­ing the dread­ed noise of my pots falling over again or worse a big hairy beast rip­ping apart my tent look­ing for some almonds I for­got in my back­pack, no longer afraid of humans after one too many encoun­ters.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the bear but I hope this sketch helps get the idea across

My Picas­so draw­ing of the bear I encoutered

It wasn’t just the shouts from the oth­er campers that kept me up. It did at first and for some rea­son the bear seemed to like the camp­site up on the ridge, I heard them shout­ing the most. After 30 min­utes or so the shout­ing died down and I heard a strange noise, a loud whack­ing sound, like some­one throw­ing a rock or some­thing hard at anoth­er rock, maybe at the bear I thought. How­ev­er it went on for about 2 hours. There is no way some­one would be throw­ing rocks at a bear for that long, at least not with­out also scream­ing at it and mak­ing more noise. It was kind of odd I thought. Over the next few days I would put the pieces togeth­er of what it was caus­ing the noise and it sure sur­prised me!

I looked at my watch, it was past 1am. There was no way I’m get­ting up at 4am I thought. Maybe 6:00. I still want­ed to get to Half Dome before the crowds arrived.

 

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