John Muir Trail Take Two: Part Five

A pee break becomes complicated when sleeping outdoors.  Camping out far away from the minimal comforts of a campground makes it even more complex.  Too much fluid made nature come calling more than once the evening prior.  Sleeping under the tarp tent in our ‘poopy camp’ with all the piles and TP under each rock in the area made for late night adventures while looking for bladder relief.


The first time I decided after a fitful few hours of sleep to finally get up and relieve myself in hopes of restful sleep when back in the down bag.  Instead, I was left with a soaked down jacket hood.  I only realized it after getting out the the sleeping bag, getting the headlamp on so as not to step on any piles of human feces encountered, getting the shoes on and finally slipping out from under the tarp shelter.


I had noticed our makeshift roof seemed to be sagging but couldn’t figure out why.  Until I stood up and slid my hood off, that is.  Wet, soggy down greeted my fingers and I realized the sag was from the weight of water.  No rain, but air moisture so thick it lined the inside of the tarp.  The weight of water pulling it down but still, it kept us dry.  Key was not to touch it.  Which I did not know when doing all the steps to get me out from under it.  I was literally rubbing the tarp dry with my head.


The camp towel used at the end of each day drying my freezing cold skin after rinsing off in glacial creeks and lakes sat on my pack to the right of my sleeping bag.  It, too, was still wet from drying me only hours earlier.  I dried the hood as much as I could and wondered how I was going to slide back into my cocoon without touching the dripping ceiling.


Then I thought of my shorts and underwear I’d washed at the end of the day.  Naively I thought they would dry.  They were filthy just like me and after 5 days, I needed to at least feel like I cleaned them, even if they still contained more dust than fabric at this point.  Oh how cold these were going to be at 430am when we rose and broke camp.  Nothing like frigid clothing to get you going in the morning.


A few hours later much to my chagrin I had to pee again.  The tent was sagging even more.  I made like a lizard and slid my way out.  Proud of my acrobatics I thought that wasn’t too bad.  Until I felt my back and realized I had slid my way out by sliding right against the moisture of the tarp.  Another scrubbing with the wet camp towel and the sheer relief of peeing brought me back to another failed attempt at not touching the tarp.


At this point I woke up Peter just to make sure he knew the moisture situation, to which he dozily replied ‘just tighten the slip knots I made on each support for the tarp’.  Oh.  I guess I should have known that somehow…the things they don’t teach you in sport or school.


Had we slept out it would have been a disaster.  It’s counterintuitive to think there could be so much moisture in the dry high altitude of the Sierra.  And those shorts and undies?  Oh my that was something else to put them on under the light of twinkling stars shortly after 430am.  Lesson learned: just deal with the dirt, it’s better than the still dirty wet cold of the recently washed.


Our longest day yet brought us 23 miles from the poopy camp to a glorious desert camp about 4 miles from Mather Pass.  It took us over 9 hours to span the distance.  Just us and the abundance of deer we saw all morning long on the trail.  They were all beautiful and not afraid of us in the least.  The Sierra is now heavily traveled and I wonder how long it took these wild animals to tame to the sight of humans.  I suppose they know they’re safe with us in this part of the back country, so why spook and run?


We climbed a staircase that rivals all motivational speaker’s symbolic ones:  The Golden Staircase (GS).  I contemplated many things while ascending this, the last section of the JMT to be completed.  The grueling climb is even etched into the rock face in places.




From below just as we started the ascent Peter pointed out a miniature forest clinging to existence up on the right.  Everything surrounding it save for the rock wall at it’s back had long slid but there stood a little cluster of conifers and brush.


Climbing higher I noticed a cave up high on the left and thought ‘I’d like to go into that cave I’m so tired…’.  Then after the trail gained more elevation sweeping around myriad switchbacks we were smack below that cave.  Which was precisely when I looked over at the cluster forest far away and below us now, and thought ‘I’m so tired I wish I was in that forest taking a nap…’.


Yes, we always want something other than which we have.  Or at least we think we want.  The energy and focus it took to keep putting one foot in front of the other, up the GS and reaching Pallisade Lakes certainly solved any problems of the motivational kind.  If you make it up something like this, carrying a load, you’ll be just fine.


I remembered back to fourteen years ago on JMT Take One at the bottom of the GS.  It was far too late in the day to begin the ascent.  We met a group hiking down after we’d enjoyed an extended lunch break complete with a cold water swim and way too much mac and cheese.


A woman in this group asked where we were heading.


‘Pallisade Lakes’, we said.


Her response?  ‘I don’t think so’.


To this day we quote that lady.  And yes, we made it up to the lakes just fine.  Yes, it was  almost dark when we arrived, and the climb was brutal, but we made it where we said we would.




This time around it wasn’t any easier.  Instead of camping at the lakes we kept going after a water filtering break at the top of the GS.  Past the lakes and up to Mather Pass.  The climb was torture with so many unnecessary switchbacks.  Why not just make it steeper and shorter?


Up and over the pass with another descent and it felt like we were walking on the moon.  Well above the treeline with dark clouds moving in and out, making for intense lighting that had me stopping over and over to take another photo of the stark vivid beauty that surrounded us.



What a place.  What a space.  What a camp that left us feeling good about where we were and who we were in this world.

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