So here I am, at the start of my 220 mile, 20 day solo hike of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to the top of Mount Whitney - and then the extra portion of 8+ miles down to Whitney Portal. I have planned and strategized and talked about and dreamed about and worried about this trail since November 2013. Right away it was clear to me - this will be a solo hike and this will be what I absolutely must do this year. Turning 50 helps with urgency and trusting my gut, heart and soul. And so after birthday celebrations in Germany and DC, many farewell dinners, hugs, send-off parties and a community that is following me on my Satellite SPOT, I am here. Right before my first official step on the trail. I packed, I took a flight to San Francisco, I stayed in a youthhostel and had Ghiradelli hot chocolate for my breakfast, took bus, train and bus to Yosemite Valley and slept in a tented camp. A wonderful Amish group from Indiana joined me on the busride and we had such a good time practicing our German/Dutch/Swiss, sparkling with excitement and wonder as we got closer to Yosemite Valley and enjoying the first deers and birds we saw. My pack has become my companion, I know that by the end of the trail it will to some degree have become part of my body, I will feel unbalanced without it, needing to adjust my stride and center of gravity.
As many other hikers predicted, nothing goes to plan. And so it is. Awildfire causes road closure. I won't be able to get to the start of my hike and permit tomorrow. There is no ready solution since I depend on public transport which doesn't exist to go all the way around Yosemit Valley and go into Tioga Pass from the other side. So, after a restless night, I get up very early, get to the Ranger Station and am presented with what seems like a perfect solution. Start the hike today, go up to Tioga Pass Road and be at Tuolomne Meadows in the evening. The ranger ensures me that it is only 7 miles and that there are busses running until very late to take me the last few miles to the campground. Yeah - I am rearing to go and have my permit in hand. So, a quick cup of tea, repacking, throwing away my travel clothes, putting on my hiking clothes for the first time on this trip. Knowing they will become my second skin as I only have one of everything except for socks.
Then off I go to the trailhead. I am so excited, the pack feels doable, I feel organized, the weather is good, albeit smoky and families are all around enjoying the valley. I give away 10 snickers and still my pack is around 50 pounds. And so, here we go. A leisurly amble on flat ground to Snow Creek, where the switchback up to Tuolomne Meadows start. It is hot, steep and I take extra water. No hunger, just thirsty. I stop often and admire the veiws of this special place. Until my first adventure - a hugs rattlesnake crosses my path, warning me to pay attention. I stop, not knowing what to do. I don't know anything about snakes. The snake it curled up on the side of the trail, a small bit of brush before it drops down steeply. I can't walk around, there is only the trail and the cliffs. I keep checking it out and every time it raises it's head and eyes me. I try and protect myself with my pack but it's too heavy to make a dash for it. I threw pebbles in its vicinity which doesn't seem to even cause it to blink. I try against all odds to see if I perhaps speak parseltongue, reassuring the snake of my deepest respect and good intentions - the snake either ignores my entreaties, doesn't recognize my accent or I maybe do not speak its language after all. And so I wait about 30 minutes - I don't want to die or use my SOS button on the first half day on the trail. I also don't want to go back or stop forever. Finally, I hear voices and warn the hikers coming towards me of the snake. Together we deliberate. We come up with a strategy that works. The hiker throws a large rock onto a log near the snake. I direct him by throwing pebbles to where the snake is. The tremor in the log causes the snake to slither off. I am on high alert to make sure I can run should it come my way. It has disappeared. We laugh together in relief and continue on.
What a start. The switchbacks continue endlessly. As the ground levels off, I stop at a gorgeous creek, nibble, drink more water and continue on. At the next trail junction I meet a wonderful quartet of hikers and we exchange exasperation at the 12 not 7 mile steep trail and at the few water sources. They offer to wait for me at the top and give me a ride to the campground should the buses have stopped running. And they do. After many more miles through forest, along ridges and around mountainsides, I arrive at Olmsted Point. Soaring vistas, a sunset that lights a fire in the sky. I am completely dehydrated and drink almost a liter they offer me. The road had been in full few for hours but the trail didn't get near it. We are all exhausted. At the campground all I can do it set up my tent in the dark, crawl in and fall into a deep sleep. Whenever I will meet hikers in the future, the tale of snowy creek and that tough tough hike comes up and we all agree that we would never do this again and that it was by far the toughest day of the entire hike. As you can imagine, the next day after receiving my bear canister at the post office, I put about 5 pounds of food into the hiker boxes - I am learning my lessons the hard way and the only way there is - trial and error, sweat and being proud of it:)