Today is a vacation day for me. I have all day and night to enjoy this gorgeous place and lucky me, no one else is here. The other hikers will likely come over Glenn Pass in the last afternoon. And so I feel quite giddy….I skinnydip right in the lake, scout out for good views and resting places to absorb the beauty and eat a lot. My breakfast is chocolate and snickers and tea and then lots of cooked meals. I have so much food left, I am being quite diligent about finishing most of it before my resupply and having a light pack going over Glen Pass.
I thought that I would be bored or anxious or fearful without books to occupy my time when I stop hiking. I haven't missed books at all, I am often too tired or absorbed by looking around to even write into my journal. I also thought I would meditate every day and find that hiking itself, sitting quietly and taking in nature, resting with my eyes closed to listen to sounds around me, looking at clouds is meditation non-stop. John Dittli, one of the authors of "Walking the Sky" an amazing and soulfoul photo essay about hiking the John Muir Trail puts it so well by talking about the constant need to rebalance when we hike over uneven terrain, unlike the more even city streets. We have to trust our bodies and our bodies learn to adapt, be resilient and learn with each step. We balance over rocks and roots and logs, we go up and down, we carry packs, we are attuned to energy and water needs and how breath sustains us and keeps us going. The hiking itself is bi-pedal motion, regular breathing, no focus besides the next step - meditation in motion. Each day the main task is surrendering to the trail and simplifying life to survival tasks and decisions about pace, pauses and space. I notice how I am getting peaceful, my mind is quieter and more able to take in reality and make decisions and I am at home in my body. I feel more spaceous and expansive just like the nature around me. No small square rooms, roofs, lots of other people and sounds to make me square, small, stuck or boxed in. Interactions with others are very open, accepting and with lots of respect and space surrounding us. Often on city streets or in elevators we practice the art of non-contact in such close proximity. Here there is the space to truly meet the other person on their and our own terms, the ability to create the space we want, an immediate understanding of the kind of contact we want (quick, close, more distant, lingering) and the respect to give it or be given it.
As I have completed my third circle of sitting on various rocks to see the light and different views, clouds come in and I still notice that I go into anxious mood - is there a storm coming? And understand that I am capable of weathering the storm and that the worst that could happen would be getting wet. My tent is well staked out and I have warm clothes and food. As the clouds are starting to get pink a group of hikers sets up their tents near me, blaring loud aggressive music. I noticed many hikers listening to music to make them fly up and down the trail. But they don't blare it with speakers. I don't quite know how to deal with this group since it's a first to have this kind of intrusion on the trail. I wander off to explore the second Rae Lake and give them time to settle in and organize themselves. Another evening of amazing Alpenglow. I want to come back here and explore 60 Lakes Basin that has a herd of Bighorn Sheep. When I get back to the tent, the music is still blaring. I visit them, we exchange trail information and I ask them politely to stop the music or use headphones. They immediately say "yes". And fortunately the group is strong enough to manage the individual whose music it is. I overhear loud aggressive comments about "my campsite", "she can leave", "this is my music", "what's her problem" and wonder what's to come. The group settles him down and for a while he sings loud and obnoxiously at the top of his voice. Then quiet returns. For the rest of the evening there is an odd tension that lingers over the spot where the group camps.
Day 23 and it's time for Glenn Pass. I get up very early, enjoy the early morning light and am on the Pass in very little time. The trail is very well laid out, I pass more lakes and the distance is only 2 miles. On top there are many hikers, solo, small groups, old acquaintances. I hand out my remaining pro bars and chocolate as some are running out of food before the can get to Onion Valley and Independence and buy more food. Good for all of us. On my way down I keep trying to get information about water sources on the way to Kearsarge Pass. The shortest trail there has little water and no real camp sites. Charlotte Lake is a serious detour so I won't do that. I finally settle on going to the third trail junction that get's me the best tent site and water and furthest along the JMT before making the side trip (an additional 7 miles and up to almost 12000 feet) to meet Strider and Sharon. The hike down from Glenn Pass is very steep and beautiful. I can see Lake Charlotte and the Kearsarge Mountain Range. A group of hikers has paused and is inviting a hiker to join them in completing the JMT. He has lost his party which as many other do, decided to leave the trail exhausted and hike out over one of the passes connecting them with trail heads and public transport. To celebrate he produces a 2 litre bottle of whiskey he has been carrying the whole trail. I am invited to a sip and it tastes nice, reminding me of scotland. But carrying that heavy glass bottle all the way - well, I guess I carry too much food.
When I arrive at the trail junction to Bullfrog Lake and Kearsage Pass, I stop, ready to set up my tent. The sites are not good but they will do as they are close enough for me to get to the Pass in time tomorrow. Just then a hiker is flying past on the trail. It is my friend Jesse. He is trying to get over Forester Pass this day - an unimaginable feat for me. He stayed in Independence at the Mount Williamson Motel the night before (Strider's Motel and where I will stay after my hike), met Sharon and Strider at breakfast and has come up the trail with some more food. He is in no mood to dillydally and wants to finish the hike quickly. Many hikers get to the point where they just want to get the hike done and not set up camp anymore and eat the hikers food. They also feel strong and want to move. He kindly shows me a gorgeous campsite a bit further up the trail - a real stroke of luck. The campsite is very private, overlooking a lake and is even closer to tomorrow's rendevous. I wash, eat, and go to bed very early. When I get up several times, the weather is changing. Clouds are rolling in over the ridges, mist is swirling up from the lakes and in a few hours, I can't see anything. All is covered in dense mist and fog. I so hope that it will be nice tomorrow so Sharon has a good hike and I can hang out with her. I know that Strider will make it up to give me food no matter what happens. I rehearse my morning routine a few more times in my mind and wake up often, not trusting my alarm or waking up in time.