John Muir Trail – Devil’s Postpile to Shadow Lake

6.19.16 (Sun) JMT
Cold this morning. Slept pretty good, up with the morning sun. Weather clear. Breakfast today and for the next several days consists of Muesli, premixed with protein powder, and a cup of instant black coffee. We mix each with water before consuming. I also add some raisins and nuts to the cereal mix. It hits the spot, and I must say keeps me regular if you know what I mean. I was concerned about how I would adjust to going to the bathroom in the woods, but amazingly, I never felt so good. I think it has something to do with the Muesli and squatting position that just makes everything work perfectly. Start hiking at 7:23 am and hike for about 11 miles today, and most of it is up, up, up, with over a 2000 ft gain in elevation from about 7500 ft to about 9500 ft, and then a steep descent back down to Shadow lake at about 8700 ft. It turns out, we add more distance to our hike by starting at Red’s Meadow. But we head off in the right direction and find the not so well marked junction where the PCT and JMT splits near Devil’s Postpile, where we could have camped and saved ourselves about a mile.

Grueling. Hardest hike I ever did. My foot is killing me in the first 200 steps, but thankfully, I’m distracted by the pain in my hips. Each step feels like my femur is jamming into my hip socket. Ow! But I soon forget about it because I’m sure my shoulder is a bloody pulp from my pack strap. Is this supposed to be fun? And each breath is labored. I mean, my heart is pounding, and I to stop every 50-100 steps just to take some extra deep breaths and give my heart a chance to slow down. Soon I use this system as a way to pace myself as we climb, which is slow, slower, and probably slowest hiker on the trail. But it gives me the intervals I want and need to take a mindful moment and look around me. The beauty surrounding me with every step, is in itself breathtaking. Views of mountains, lakes, pristine forests, wildflowers, and streams are our constant companions. We drink in the cool refreshing air, while savoring the warmth of the sun. Chris, ahead of me, plods on, often putting distance between us, but he never begrudges me the time I need.

Our goal is to get somewhere near Shadow Lake. We hike past Devils Postpile (7430 feet) but do not linger at this amazing geological site and national monument where the rocks are formed as giant vertical posts as if built by some ancient civilization. I’m so grateful it wasn’t blasted into oblivion for mining. We’re anxious to get on the trail, as we ‘only’ have until Saturday to get to our destination and catch the YART back to dear Ruby. Silly us. We do not take the detour to view Minaret Falls, but hike through Johnston Meadow and pass Johnston Lake (8120 feet) about 1.3 mile from the PCT/JMT split. We navigate our way through some water crossings in this neck of the woods, one of which requires me to balance myself across a couple of uneven logs over a raging stream. I hope Chris gets some comic relief as he watches my awkward mobility across these logs, almost frigid with fear of losing my balance, of course all of which increases my risk for doing exactly that. Whatever his judgments of me at these times, he pretty much keeps in check. I in turn watch him in awe as he gracefully and effortlessly dances his way across. He’s 69 years old! Amazing.

We have our first views of the Minarets, obviously named by their lofty, slender shape looking like the turrets of a mosque. This area used to be known as the Minaret Wilderness, but was later renamed Ansel Adams Wilderness. We continue on and up, taking a short break about every hour, and drinking plenty of water. I’m glad I’m wearing my $2.50 button down cotton shirt purchased at the thrift store and thrown in my pack at the last minute. As my shirt dampens with my sweat, the breeze gives me a welcome cooling relief. The bra was ditched almost immediately, and got buried at the bottom of my pack never to be seen again. Freedom, can we say it again ladies….freedom!!! From here, we have 7.4 miles to go to reach our goal of Shadow Lake. To get there, we plod up and up past some small mountain lakes and take a short break on the shore of the small, shallow lake called Gladys at 9,580ft. We see it’s a popular camping spot, though no one is here but us as we enjoy our break. We trudge on and have a small respite from climbing as we make our way to the beautiful Rosalie Lake on our left at 9,350 ft. where we enjoy a much longer break. We debate if we should stop now or keep going. A through hiker comes by and we ask her about campsites ahead and how far to Shadow Lake. She assures us it is not far, just a little more climbing, and then the downhill to Shadow, and shortly beyond there is a great camping spot at the junction to Ediza Lake. Because Chris said he wanted to get close to Shadow Lake, I feel compelled for us to continue, and so we do.

The break was refreshing, though I’m still totally exhausted. We start a very steep 700 ft. descent down beautifully maintained switchbacks with soft earth under our tired feet, and friendly to our knees. Down, down, down to Shadow Lake. The views of the lake, and granite cliffs are spectacular, and Chris is exuberant as he is flooded with childhood memories of this place on earth. He shows me exactly where he took his first dip into a mountain lake at the age of 11, remembering vividly the feeling of being hit by a sledgehammer as he plunged into the icy cold water, jumping out as fast as he went in. I can visualize him as a little boy doing just that as he shares this precious memory. He hasn’t changed much. He shows me the cliff where he and his brother got stuck and had to be rescued. He remembers with fondness, the YMCA leaders, Bob and Dave, that exposed him to this backcountry and for whom he is forever grateful for giving him such love for the High Sierras. He remembers seeing a hiker way back then with a real backpack and his determination to someday have the right gear. And now here he is sharing this paradise with me.

We continue our hike down, which took us about 45 minutes and meet a family sitting on a huge rock overlooking Shadow Lake (8,737 feet). There’s a 12 yr. old boy, his mom and dad, and his grandfather, wearing a pink bandana under his hat to keep the sun off of his neck. They had come the other way, which means this old man, looking kind of out of shape, has summited the highly anticipated Donahue Pass. They give us an update on the trail conditions, and I ask her about exposure and she says, oh yes, lots of exposure, and then I clarify my question and ask, “so if I start slipping, am I going to keep going and fall off a cliff?” She assures me this is not the case, and I feel much better, though she quickly adds there are some scary spots but that I’d be fine. How does she know I’ll be fine. What kind of spots? How scary? I don’t ask or want her to elaborate, and instead just allow myself to feel the peace with knowing that I wasn’t going to die sliding off a cliff at Donahue. We continue on, I feeling sorry for the family, especially the old man, as they were determined to hike up those beautiful switchbacks that we had just descended. The lady in this group has a very good map of the JMT from National Geographic, and tells us that we have about 0.7 mile to go before we reach our destination. We climb up, and by this time of day, feels like the hardest mile yet. We reach a huge tree blocking the trail. Chris goes over, I’m too exhausted, so I crawl under. My pack barely fits and gets scraped and pummeled as I make my way through. Should have climbed over and I notice lots of judgment thoughts about my poor judgment and clumsy efforts to overcome this barrier, but manage to get through and try to shrug off my self contempt. We finally make it to our camping spot at the junction to Ediza Lake and it could not have been more beautiful. The mosquitos think so too, and it becomes a mad race to beat back these little buggers and not let them into our tent. So thankful for Deet and mosquito netting. We are close to a waterfall, and have gorgeous views of Shadow Lake to our east and Banner and Ritter peaks to the west. Chris, my hero, and like the ever ready bunny rabbit, keeps going. He sets up the tent, fills and filters the water, sets up the stove and boils the water so we can rehydrate and cook our dehydrated meal. I can barely move, and he tells me to relax, but it’s with much guilt and shame, so I too try to keep going and be as helpful as possible. Our skies are perfectly clear and the mountains and waterfalls to our east are lit up by the setting sun, and the evening air quickly cools, causing us to dawn our jackets and fleece.

We go to bed early, but not before Chris secures the bear canister and the garbage we’re packing out away from our campsite. The chores seem to never end and I’m so thankful for Chris. Unlike the first night of restful sleep, I find I’m too exhausted and have a fitful sleep. But during the night, I’m rewarded with a gorgeous sky and a bright full moon, and find myself gulping in the cool night air. We wake again to another perfect weather day, and watch Banner and Ritter light up with the morning sun.


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