I was a little apprehensive but mostly excited as I set off towards the trailhead. I was walking into the wilderness, on my own for the next 4 weeks. My longest trip had been a one week trip in Newfoundland last October, and that didn’t exactly turn out as planned. The multitudes of people of all shapes and sizes wearing everything from jeans to the latest fashion, didn’t exactly conjure images of remoteness and tranquility, something I had been imagining in my mind as I planned the trip. I kind of expected this though. It was after all Yosemite National Park, one of the most visited in all of the US. Regardless I couldn’t get over the fact that I was starting the John Muir trail with asphalt under my feet surrounded by people. It felt more like Disneyland.
Starting in Yosemite and ending on top of Mt. Whitney (or vice versa) the John Muir trail travels 210 miles through the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Eastern California. It is often considered the highlight of the Pacific Crest Trail (A trail running from Mexico to Canada). And I’ve heard it described by some as the most beautiful mountain range on earth.
It was labor day weekend, Monday and I had spent the last day and half wandering around the valley exploring with my friend Lupita. We didn’t end up doing the backpack trip we had planned along the south rim of the valley due to leaving a day late but that didn’t matter, it was so amazing just being there. We arrived on Saturday night, late, around 2:30am and I had to get up at 5:15am to get in line at the permit center. I wasn’t sure exactly where Yosemite Village was in relation to the campground but I had an idea, although finding a trail (the most direct route) through the campground would be difficult at best, in the dark. By the time I finally nailed down all of the details to my trip there was no way any permits were going to be available. They all get reserved around 6 months in advance, it’s quite a popular place. I had read online that you should get there really early in the morning to ensure you get your permit. I would have to find the office in the dark and wait until it opened.
Forcing myself out of the tent at 5am was painful. I stumbled around in the dark hoping I was going in the right direction. It was around 2 miles to the village mostly along an asphalt road. I hoped the cars rushing by me weren’t going to the permit office. What if there were other people as crazy as I was and there was a full line of people waiting for permit! A line of 10 or more people sitting in chairs trying not to be caught sleeping by a wary patrolling ranger ready to jump out from behind a tree when you nodded off. I imagined it being like a line at an REI used gear sale, for those of you who haven’t waited in one it can get pretty long and usually involves tents set up in line by people arriving at 9pm the night before. All these thoughts stewing in my head as I walked in the dark. The tree cover broke at a large meadow, the views were jaw dropping. Granite walls towered above me, bathed in moonlight, stars filled the sky. Gazing across the meadow at the slick granite that seemed to glow in the dark, it started to sink in, I was in Yosemite! We were in such a hurry last night to get here and I was dead tired, but there were definitely worse places to be. Heck I could be behind a computer working on some crazy deadline, a scenario that had become all to common in the years on the job.
I walked by the permit office…nobody! It couldn’t be, was I at the right building? I walked around to the other buildings, a post office, visitors center, Ansel Adams Gallery and the permit office right in the middle. Nobody. I walked up to the building and someone appeared out of nowhere, it was Fred from Tennessee, he had gotten in late the night before and slept in front of the building. I was so tired but happy I had secured my spot in line. I heard they reserve 3 or 4 permits for walk-ups, permits that you can’t reserve online but could pick-up the day before you wanted to leave. As long as I held my spot in line I would be guaranteed a permit for tomorrow (Monday, Sept 3rd)
6 hours later I was walking back into camp with my permit. The valley was alive with people…everywhere! I was excited, it was just a matter of time before I started my 4 week backpacking trip. 4 weeks I thought, that’s a long time to be on the trail. I intended to hike the John Muir trail last year (2011) but work got in the way. I ended up on a film in Nova Scotia, Canada in mid August that ran all through September. But that wasn’t all bad, after all I got to go backpacking for 5 days, went on a 3 day canoe trip and did all kinds of hikes across Nova Scotia, all while the film was shooting. And to top it off my awesome boss Paul got my flight delayed by a month after production was completed and I spent it in New Foundland. A month of adventure that will soon be included in another post. This year it was a bit easier to get off although there were many other things tempting me not to go. It takes some perseverance to take a month off from work and spend it in the backcountry.
Our first stop that day was Glacier Point. A classic view of the Yosemite Valley. I’ve seen hundreds of photos from here but nothing quite captures it like being there. Such unrestricted views and the drop off, definitely not for the faint of heart. Peering over the edge induces knots in your stomach. A straight drop, thousands of feet below, cars drive around like toys, the Merced river snakes across the valley floor.
After viewing the valley from such dizzying heights we did a short hike to the base of Vernal Falls, which also happened to be the start of the John Muir Trail. Keeping the excitment up I got the first view of the sign, at the bottom of which was my end goal “Mount Whitney Via John Muir Trail 211 miles”. I’m starting it tomorrow! Vernal falls wasn’t flowing very much due to it being late in the year and after not much snow last winter. It was peaceful though. Lupita took a nap while I snapped off some pictures.