Day 1: In Which We Climb Out of Yosemite Valley Almost to Half Dome Trail

Daily: 5.3 miles
Trip: 5.3 miles
Location: On the climb prior to Half Dome trail

Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled, and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy-laden year … give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.
John Muir, 1901

75°F is a nice temperature for hiking. Maybe a little warm, but still nice. It’s comfy weather – loose muscles, easy strides, maybe a little bit of sweat. Conveniently, it’s now 75°! Unfortunately, it’s also 9:30pm and I’m sweating in my 40° sleeping bag. Back at 1pm it was 103° as we took our first steps on the John Muir Trail and started to climb out of Yosemite Valley. That just sucked.

Hey, I’m hiking the JMT! It’s been nine years since I thru-hiked the 2,174 mile Appalachian Trail and this feels really good. Since then I’ve gotten married, had a house built, been blessed with two healthy children and grown my business. I’ve got an amazing life – but it’s far from the simplicity of a long distance hike. The AT hike has been with me every day. When I think of that trail, I’m flooded with feelings of companionship, of determination, of beauty and simplicity. Memories of pain, stink, rain, cold and being dirty, hungry and lonely have faded with time. I appreciate everything I have more now because of the deprivation I willingly experienced during the hike. That’s a huge blessing.

My brother David and I started planning for this hike 2 or 3 years ago. He’d planned the AT trip with me as well and hiked over 600 miles of that trail before deciding he’d be happier at home. Perhaps a really good move as his son was born less than 9 month after I finished the AT. Now he was feeling the itch of a long trail as well. So we planned the hike for 2012. Then, when my daughter Sydney was born in November 2011 and he was still finishing his Masters degree, we moved the hike to 2013.

There was a ton of planning required to make this happen. Unlike many long distance hikers, I’m not just out of college and I’m not retired. Since we planned on hiking the 220 miles in 21 days, I had to create that gap as well as travel time in my work schedule. Even more importantly, I had to make sure my wife and kids wouldn’t change the locks while I was gone. Setting up babysitters to give Heather a break was huge since her high school classes ended just days before I left for the trail.

Our group expanded the winter prior to our hike. Instead of just David (trail name ‘Green One’) and myself (‘Squish’), G.O.’s girlfriend of 3 years, Erin, made plans to join us for the first week. She’s an experienced backpacker and someone whose company I enjoy, so that was great. Just after I sent in our JMT permit application to the Yosemite backcountry rangers office, our group grew again. Chris, one of my best friends since college and a regular backpacking buddy, decided to join us for the first week as well. He was too late to get on our permit, but he managed to land a permit from a different trailhead, so he’d be able to hike in on his own and join us during the second day of the trip.

So we all met at LAX and flew into Mammoth Lakes, CA. After a good dinner at Angel’s (Burger & plenty of onion rings & fries) and a night together at the Travelodge, we headed out. Yosemite Area Regional Transit (YARTS) is terrific and took us right into the park in less than 4 hours of twisty, turny mountain roads. Chris hopped off early and set about finding his trailhead with promises that he’d see us the next day. We were able to zip through our permit office, catch an additional shuttle bus to the Happy Isles trailhead, and start our hike.

Finishing the AT was an incredibly emotional experience. I imagined starting the JMT would inherit some of those feelings and I was right – it felt epic. The fact that we started hiking surrounded by literally hundreds of Yosemite tourists brought it back down a notch. We hiked among the crowd for the first mile or two before we reached Vernal Falls. By the time we passed Nevada Fall at the 2.5 mile mark, we left nearly all the day hikers behind and found ourselves in a fairly sparse backpacking crowd. I understand the crush, however – the falls were really cool and not a very difficult hike.

And it was Yosemite. Huge walls of rock, amazing pine trees and pounding waterfalls. We saw a young buck that let me come within about 15 feet. Our permit required us to pass Little Yosemite prior to camping, so we turned past that area and started to climb towards the Half Dome trail before looking for a camping site. We found a nice on midway up the climb and I’m looking forward to catching up with Chris during the day tomorrow!

Day 2: In Which We Meet Up with Chris and Camp Above Echo Creek Trail