John Muir Trail Daily Log: Day 11-15

It’s been nearly a month since we completed the John Muir Trail… I have no idea where the time has gone! This is the final installment of our written and video log from the trail! We still have two more gear guides, food and extras, coming out later this week and next week!

35mm pano of the last mile of trail leading to the summit of Mount Whitney

35mm pano of the last mile of trail leading to the summit of Mount Whitney

Journal Entry: Day Fifteen

We didn’t even make it to our 2:30 am alarm because we started to hear people and see headlamps hiking past our tent at 2 am. Unable to sleep anymore we decided to get up and start packing. Neither one of us slept well. We were dirty, cold and anxious to summit Mount Whitney. We weren’t nervous, just excited. With packing done we said goodbye to our camp mates who were stirring and started up the looming switchbacks at 2:48 am. It was dark but the moon soon rose and lit up the entire valley below us, otherwise, our headlamps were lighting our more immediate path. On our way up to trail crest we were stopped dead in our tracks after hearing a loud crashing noise. Which I’ll admit was a little scary in the dark, but turns out it was a rock slide on the other side of the valley. It was unlike anything I’ve ever heard! In an hour we’d made it up to trail crest. I was pushing really hard and quickly moving fast up the switchbacks. On a few occasions Owen asked that I slow down because we’d left with plenty of time to make it to the summit before sunrise. My competitive nature had me on autopilot, and I just didn’t like that there were people in front of us on the trail. There isn’t much that can slow me down when the adrenaline gets going, but I did my best to pump the breaks and enjoy the climb. We were relieved that we didn’t try to camp up at Trail Crest because we didn’t see much by way of a place to set up a tent on the steep hillside. At the junction we ditched my pack, most of Owen’s gear. He decided to bring a pack with 2 liters of water and a snack for each of us. I was carrying my camera and two extra rolls of film in my fanny pack. We were too far away when we realized that we probably should have grabbed our microspikes and an extra layer of clothes for once we cooled down. With just 1.9 miles to the summit we felt like we were flying with the lack of gear on our backs. We ended up passing four people on the way to the summit, which made my heart sing, I’m the worst. Over the last two miles we only had to climb 1000 ft which at this rate felt like child's play to us. We cruised and crossed an extremely icy but short lived snow patch. Shortly after the snow we saw the surveyors hut rise in the first light of the morning!

We made it to the summit at 4:58 am and were the 4th and 5th person on the summit. We finally reached the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail! It was joyful, beautiful and painfully cold. I quickly realized that I should’ve just taken the time to turn back for our that extra layer of clothes. We waited an hour until sunrise trying to stay warm and keep our hands functional so we could take pictures. We both thought that it was the coldest we’d been in as long as we could remember. The sun finally started to rise painting the Eastern Sierras with a light that was made out of cotton candy. We chatted with two other guys who were also finishing up the JMT. We took turns taking pictures of each other before our hands gave up all together due to the cold. After letting the sun warm us up ever so slightly we decided to head down towards trail crest to retrieve our gear and some more clothes.

Film pano from the Summit of Mount Whitney looking north

Film pano from the Summit of Mount Whitney looking north

Even then the light was otherworldly as we got a view of the valley we’d stayed in last light. We walked back as fast as we could in an effort to warm up with little to no luck. Periodically there would be a break in the rocks where we stood arms outstretched trying to soak up every once of sun. Then we’d run to the next. When we got back to trail crest we fumbled around with numb hands trying to get all of our gear back into our packs. All packed up we headed over Trail Crest to start the 99 switchbacks towards Whitney Portal where Roxanne waited for us.

It wasn’t until we were nearly done with the 99 switchbacks, in direct sunlight the entire time, did we feel like we were starting to warm up. After being nearly alone for the last 15 days it was strange to see a constant stream of people working their way up the switchbacks towards Mount Whitney. We were asked a constant stream of questions: “Are we there yet? How many more switchbacks? How is the summit?” I’ve honestly never understood why people ask things like while hiking. It isn’t about getting it over with or even the final destination. It’s about every last step of the journey. It’s about the long stretches in between. It’s about the feelings that come up, the emotions you feel, and the things you learn along the way. All of those things are just as beautiful and important as the final destination. We then came across a man who was taking a break on his ascent and asked me if we were finishing the JMT and if so how had it been. I surprise us both as tears started to roll down my face and quietly said: “I think it will be a long time until I can find words for how this experience has been.” His wife smiled and said that she thought that was the perfect answer. The rest of the 99 switchbacks were challenging as our knees started to protest the steep downhill slog. At Trail Camp we stopped to change into shorts and short sleeve shirts knowing that it was only going to get warmer as we descended towards the portal. We also had our first bite to eat since waking up (nearly 6 hours ago). Our descent was slow and controlled. Owen’s knees hurt and the tendon on the back of my knee was only getting worse. At one point it was so bad it felt like with each step I was ripping something. It was so painful that there were a few steps that I felt on the verge of throwing up. I got progressively more frustrated and needed to stop trying to find a way to stretch it. After a few minutes we were back on the trail and I had gotten it to a manageable amount of discomfort and we continued downhill.

At exactly noon we made it to the Whitney Portal parking lot and not a moment too soon because the skies opened up and dumped on us! We found a table under a ripped umbrella and took a seat outside the Whitney Portal Cafe. I went inside and ordered two bacon cheese burgers with fries, and asked if they would mind giving me an extra pickle since that was something I’d been craving for nearly 15 days! When the burgers arrived they had given me not one but four pickles to enjoy! Owen and I sat in silence as our burgers and every last fry disappeared off our plates. Despite the massive size of the meal Owen and I both stood up and noticed that neither one of us was full! After finding our sweet home on wheels in the overflow lot we loaded our wet gear. We found that our rear passenger tire had a slow leak leaving it at 20 psi after sitting still for the last 16 days. Before we left we filled the tire then rolled down into Lone Pine to look for showers. At the hostel we payed $7 a piece for our showers and borrowed towels. Before we headed into the showers Owen looked at me and told me how beautiful I looked. I laughed and said “your kidding me right?!” He hugged me and told me that he’s never loved me more than he did right now because he loves me more and more with every passing day and how proud he was of me. For the millionth time today I found myself choked up. We showered in side by side stalls passing our supplies bottles of soaps back and forth. I washed my hair twice and was impressed/horrified by the color of the water that was rolling off my body. I don’t know how much I weighed before the trail but I’m positive that I’ve lost some weight. I’m about as trim as I’ve ever been. If I had to guess I would say that I’ve lost 5-8 lbs.

After our showers we walked down to the general store to purchase dinner supplies and then went up to Tuttle Creek Campground where we spent our last night before heading out to Yosemite before the trail. We settled into the same camp site, opened a Pacifico and called our families. They all knew that we’d already finished because they’d been tracking us using out Garmin InReach. Some admitted to checking our progress as many at 15 times a day. Hearing that made us feel incredibly loved. After our phone calls we used the rest of the day to air out our gear which was stinking up the truck and make a pile of laundry that we planned to take care of the next morning while we enjoyed breakfast at our favorite place in Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills Cafe. For dinner we made simple bean and cheese quesadillas and had a Caesar salad. We managed to eat or drink every last thing we’ve carved over the last few weeks all in one day! For desert we had my one remaining trail desert of Reese’s Pieces.

Digital pano from the Summit of Mount Whitney looking north

Digital pano from the Summit of Mount Whitney looking north

Date: 07/24/19

End Elevation: 8352 ft (Whitney Portal) 5433 ft (Tuttle Creek)

Total Distance: 14.7 Miles 

Time on Trail: 10 hrs 24 mins 

High: 14,505 ft

Low: 8352 ft

Ascent: 2867 ft

Descent: 6371 ft

Video Log: Day 11 - 15

Thank you guys so much for following along with our journey! It’s been an honor to bring back a small glimpse of what it was like to hike this trail. We hope that you’ve enjoyed it!

<3 MAK & Owen