Be Wild(ered)- On the John Muir Trail

“The enormity of the task ahead”- George Leigh Mallory regarding Everest

Photo by Benoit Boulat

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The above quote is not a reference to the John Muir Trail itself, but the task of writing about it. How can I begin sharing the richness of such an adventure? I could tell you that it was 222 miles long and about 3 feet wide and included approximately 46,000 feet of ascent and 38,000 feet of descent and I went through 2 complete bags of peanut m&ms and my pack weighed 35 lbs when loaded with 10 days of food. But, how can I reveal to you the true dimensions of 20 days in the Sierras in a mere blog post? It’s almost frustrating to try to tell you. If only you could have been there.

You could have been there the morning we set out. You could have been a diminutive drop of water- in the rain or in the mists from the leviathan waterfalls of our grand Yosemite. Or perhaps you could have been one of the partridges on the morning of the second day, that let us get as close as even curiosity rarely dares allow. Or may be the deer of our third day- that ran right through our breakfast. Fawn with your oatmeal?

You could have been a wave of Cathedral Lake, cooling off our rambling feet. Or the sunlight that made the shores of its water warm enough to call the swim delightful.

You could have been a pika, in the talus where we scrambled, calling out far more boldly than your miniature stature would suggest.

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You could have been the sky above our camp- reaching out across the Yosemite- from Tenaya Lake, to Half Dome and Clouds Rest, to the Cathedral Range and all the northern peaks.

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You could have been the gravel of the Tuolumne River – bemused – when we swept by in the water park of the wilderness, amused.

Or may be you could have been one of the handful of friendly JMTers we met, playing leap-frog with us along the trail. You could have been Courage- a solo hiking not so little old lady we nicknamed Wanda. You could have been a ranger, whom we took it upon ourselves to name too- were you Leopold of LeConte, or Clementine of Crabtree? Or Phillip of Rae Lakes, who was absent to give us the forecast? You could have been one of the many encounters, some curious, some enlightening, some curt, some joyous,  and more often than not quite brief – as people came in and out of our trail life.

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You could have been the sign that signaled our exit from Yosemite at Donahue Pass. D-Day. Where we got the first grand view of our immense Southern Sierras. You could have been the feeling of a journey home. You might have been Mammoth front and center, drawing us inexplicably and undeniably towards you. A flowing, filling sort of feeling.

You could have been Ansel Adams, immortalized in wood.

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Perhaps you would have been the glow of a sunset reflecting in a magical pool. Perhaps you were the one who cut into the rock and grounded the sky for us. Or perhaps you were the platypus shaped island in the meandering meadow stream.

You could have been the menacing  bulbous clouds, whom we suspiciously observed. Or you could have been the thunder that waited to catch us off our guard in the middle of the night. Or the rain that wet my promised to be waterproof, not so waterproof bivvy. You could have even been the damp and shattered sleepless night.

Perhaps you could have been the thought we sent to our loved ones, drifting over the Sierra Crest and into the rainshadow of the Owens Valley. Or the one that came back the other way.

You could have been our dearest and most beloved aster, his magnificence, his noble and illustrious lustrous radiance, the SUN! Whose arrival we so fervently celebrated.

You could have been a dusty footprint amongst thousands.

You could have been the bald eagle that flew past us at Garnett Lake. Leaving us in a flash of black and white awe. Or the Lone Pika calling us to Mammoth, calling us to find shelter before another storm.

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. You could have been florescent pink. In a sunset at Rosalie Lake.

You could have been the peace of a mountain lake. Or the austere rock slabs dipped to their knees. You could have been stillness – the sort that nothing can break save the ripples of skimming bats and the uncanny call of pikas on the far shore. Or maybe you were the unhurried clouds passing by in their aimless wanderings above.

Perhaps you were the gracious moon! Bathing all in your gentle light. In your fullness you made everything feel whole again.

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Perhaps you were the pumice gravel that paved the way to the fallen trees and dust of Reds Meadows.

Perhaps you were the Subaru Forester that drove up with my dearest Maman to pick us up in Mammoth. Or the glorious welcome she gave us.

You could have been the glow of the Owens Valley in the afternoon light. You could have been one of the dearest memories that resurface every time I visit this place.

You could have been the Mammoth Lakes and seen us amble around you and dip our feet on our days off.

You could have been the tranquil of the stream.

You could have been the ups and downs.

May be you were the shores of glistening lakes, the beaches that we used as private baths or picnic sites.

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You could have been a dense piece of chocolate cake! That I enjoyed so thoroughly atop Silver Pass.

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You could have been Tired, but not Weak or Exhausted.

You could have been the frozen waters of  cold mornings. Or the fluffed down of a sleeping bag and a jacket that kept my warmth mine.

You could have been the last rays of the sun we anticipated for evening light shows and then were so desperate to hang on too. You could have been the pens we wrote with in waning light. You could have been the nutcrackers, always reprimanding us for invading their homes from their lofty perches atop Whitebark Pines.

You could have been the grandest joys of the earth- sunlight and water.

Or perhaps you could have been lavender and blue, that strayed in the afterglow of sunset on our horizon. The blaze of day not yet relenting.

Perhaps you could have been the routines. Unzip. Add Layers. Roll up sleeping pad. Repack bear can. Set up stove.

Perhaps you were the green pools of Bear Creek where we did “laundry” and I had “icecream” for dessert. Luxury!

Perhaps I saw you in the reflections of glassy lakes.

You could have been the south fork of the San Joaquin, flowing at dusk with smoldering pinks and oranges.

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May be you were the lakes we could not stop at, because Elsewhere was where we had to get.

You could have been Enjoyment, Suffering, Challenge, Awe, Confusion. You could have been a mix of landscapes- in mind and in foreground- you could have been the life-encompassing trail.

You could have been a wary day of cloud watching. You could be the tree line we did not want to cross.

You could have been Magic, that poofed all the thunder clouds away in a matter of minutes.

You could have been Beautiful, all the way around us.

You could have been frost on my sleeping bag.

You could have been alpine lakes and tarns, colored like Caribbean shores. You could have been the sturdy stone hut atop Muir Pass.

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You could have been Sustenance, that we found in the scenery.

You might have been a delicate deer, or one of its fawns. If grace was tangible, it would have been you.

You could have been blissful delirium on a day of a sourceless energy. Joy at the southern sierras, the beauty, who knows? You could have been the double header, two passes in one day- Mather and Pinchot – certainly you could not have been “de la Tarte”!

You could have been Kolossal.

You could have been Pretty and Desolate, a lonely winded lake where we camped. You could have been Lord Williamson, rearing above us to ascertain his monstrosity.

You could have been a refreshing summer’s rain. Or the nagging leftovers of a tropical storm. You could have been a nervous hope- that the rain would clear up.

You could have been a swinging bridge.

You could have been the evening tea in front of a delightful lakescape at Rae Lakes. You could have been the infinite ridges and silhouettes for us to trace. You could have been sitting and gazing at a painting where the canvas is the whole sky.

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You could have been the giants surrounding Forester Pass, at whose feet we humbly camped. You could have been the peaks in the mist- who were – for lack of better words- mistyfying.

You could have been mountains! For miles, dotted with lakes on either side. You could have seen us from where we came. Or may be you could have waited from where we were going.

Or may be you were hidden, in what is left to explore.  May be you could have been in the nooks and crannies of the divine Sierras.

You could have been the trusty tent, where we waited out the rain.

You could have been the dampness.

But, you could not have been all roses and ponies.

You could have been the clouds that enshrouded our first glimpse of Mt. Whitney and his lofty and noble head.

You could have been the rays that melted the rain clouds. And prompted us to get to work- laundry, drying , and of course bathing (one must  bathe before presenting oneself before a majesty, no?).

You could have been the anticipation going up 13,200 ft. Forester Pass. For a view we’d built in our minds as truly divine. But, for the first time our imagination’s view was greater than reality’s.

You could have been the Bighorn Plateau- unique as I head dreamt it, with winded, yellowed grasses and ancient bark. Desolate and heavenly.

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You could have been amongst the Sierran high court- Lord Williamson the Terrible, or perhaps his jester Tyndall the Trickster. Or may be Mt. Russell, Whitney’s gallant confidant? Or further south Mt. Langley, content by himself, as the last of the line, though not the shortest. Or may be even his most gracious and dignified majesty the crown and celestial pinnacle of the Sierras, Mt. Whitney! And all other sorts of fine nobles peering at us through the mist.

You could have been the condensation of my worst night ever. That wet my bivvy and sleeping bag and chilled me to the core.

You could have been a midday arrival at Guitar Lake. You could have been the patience we had to exercise for the ‘morrow and our alpine start.

You could have been a magic lightshow. You could have been a complete rainbow, the cherry on the range of light cake. You could have been the alpen glow! A work of fire! Or the back of Whitney, with his spines illuminated like those of a great dragon.

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You could have been a whole world. Vast and with many inhabitants. Where all wordly possessions and mires disappear. You could have vanished here.

You could have been the “pas du Vaudois”, which started us slowly and gradually at 2:40 a.m. on the frozen and moonlit path to the summit of Toomangoyah. You could have been the stars! The meteors! You could have been the Lone Pine lights, so far beneath us in the Owens Valley.

Perhaps you were the blood red sun, bursting over the horizon, flooding the clouds with light just as we arrived.

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Photo by Benoit Boulat

You could have been elation. Or the summit hug, or the tears that I could not help. You could have been it all, and I could only have tried to take you all in. Overwhelming. You could have been 360 degrees of amazing. You could have been all the Sierras at our pedestrian horizons.

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You could have been the dawn on a dream come true.

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Photo by Benoit Boulat

You could have been a steep  and rapid 6,000 foot descent.

You could have been the rock ledge I jumped over, cutting the very end of the trail to run towards my dearest Maman and give her a huge hug.

You could have been luck and perseverance. You could have a been a step, one in a million. One at a time. Consolidated. I would have appreciated each and every one of you.

You could have been a big juicy burger and an extra plate of fries.

You could have been in my thoughts and plans every day for a year. You could have been the chance of seeing it all the way through.

You could have been overcome with emotion. You could have expressed it for me, and it would have been as grand and complex as the landscape.

You could have been the footsteps I followed or led.

You could have been light and perspective.

You could have had a share in this marvel. If only you had been there.

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“Come my friends ’tis not too late to hike the John Muir Trail
Start off and walking well in order climb the glorious Mountains
For my purpose holds,
To trek beyond the sunsets and the lakes
Of all the Eastern Slopes
It may be that the miles will wear us down
It may be we shall reach the winded passes
And see the great Mt. Whitney whom we knew
Though much is eaten, much awaits

And though we are not now that might which in old days

Cracked rock and timber;

That which we are we are
One equal rhythm of traveling lungs
Made weak by hills and blisters
But strong in will
To strive, to hike, to find, and not to yield” -Alfredo Lord of the Sierras

 

a not so well edited very amateur video if you want some more visuals!

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4 comments
  1. James said:

    This is so precious, Precious!
    How fortunate we are to have your memory translated into words!
    Imprinted in your steps the Trail became alive, lively in your words it will remain so!

    Cheers,

    James

  2. Linn said:

    Great write-up, I’m normal visitor of one’s blog, maintain up the nice operate, and It’s going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  3. Allen said:

    I love it. well done! Allen

  4. Beautiful. Very poetic. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

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