JMT – Day 1 – Happy Isles to LYV
August 3, 2014
Here we are at Happy Isles. The trailhead sign marks our destination 211 miles away. It’s early in the morning and I don’t expect many people on the trail at this wee hour but I am wrong. Day hikers on their way to Half Dome start just as early as us. I enjoy seeing the expression on their faces when they see our backpacks. At approximately 30 lb total weight they are not super heavy but compared to a day pack they seem like monsters. The trail runner that passed us carrying a fanny pack with two small water bottles and a space big enough to fit a snack bar must have thought we are downright crazy.
I also enjoy seeing the expression on peoples faces when we tell them we are hiking all the way to Mt. Whitney. Some of them have heard about the John Muir Trail and they cheer us on but surprisingly we also get answers like: “Really? You can do that?” It makes me feel proud even though in reality we have not accomplished anything yet. All the mileage is still ahead of us to be walked, all the storms await us to be weathered. The gray sky above our heads suggested we won’t have to wait for the rain long.
I am surprised by the weather. It is summer in California. Time for shorts and tank tops, both of which I brought, not a time to think of rain gear which I brought also; however it is packed at the very bottom of my pack, underneath all the summer layers and my food and my sleeping bag, items I thought I would need more ready access to. The gloomy sky, which reminds me quite a lot of hiking in our home state Washington, grants my rain gear placement at a more important spot.
There are two ways to get to Little Yosemite valley where we are spending the night. One follows the JMT, the other detours to lead hikers around two stunning waterfalls. Our choice is to take the latter and get a close up view of the falls. They are beautiful despite the lower then usual flow caused by another year of drought in the area. We are reconnected with the JMT atop of Nevada Fall and from there it is only about a mile to the camp.
When I applied for the JMT permit , I also asked for a permit to climb the Yosemite fabled Half Dome. I’m not sure what possessed me to do so, I have never been particularly fond of places where I have to hold on to a steel cable for dear life. So now, instead of chilling in the camp like others do, we are on “adventure”. Dave is excited and walks fast, while I am plowing behind him terrified and promising myself not to do something like this ever again.
Next thing I know I am pulling myself up the cable route… and I’m actually enjoying the experience. The rock has a good grip and the grade, even though steep is less vertical than it appeared on the photos I saw on the internet. On the summit I even pose for the classical photo on the overhanging ledge known as The Visor. The summit is a wide, flatter area for climbers to relax and enjoy the views from which are today mostly obscured by both the smoke and clouds. The possibility of rain is still real and for that reason we don’t linger long. First rain drops fall just when we reach the hiking trail. Tell me about good timing. Luckily the drizzle doesn’t tun into a downpour and everybody who is still at the summit can descent safely.
Miles today: 4.4 (Plus a side trip to Half Dome)
Cumulative miles hiked: 4.4 Miles left: 206.60
Tomorrow we will venture deeper into Yosemite and I will experience a brush with altitude.