Monday, October 11, 2010

Remembering Ray McMahon: "One of the Good Guys"

This past week I had the priviledge of officiating the funeral of my good friend, Ray McMahon, in Minco Oklahoma. When I moved to Minco in 1993 to accept a call to pastor Minco First Reformed Presbyterian Church I became fast friends with Minco resisident and church member, Ray McMahon. I think a lot of our immediate connection was our common "big city" upbringing. Ray was from New York City and I was from Los Angeles. We probably had some weird subconscious fixation about what blew us both on to the Oklahoma prairie. We were both outsiders who came to Minco in search of the good life. But, in the forefront of my mind was that I simply liked hanging out with Ray, because there was zero pretense with him. There was no, "perception becomes reality" with Ray. No hidden adgenda. Nothing phoney. You never had to wonder what Ray believed, or what motivated him. He was a genuine guy who could be trusted through and through.

Ray wasn't the theorist or the philosopher, even though he had a mind fit for any kind of academic discipline. I think church bored the heck out of him because of it's inability to tap in to what he really was all about. Ray was 100% interested in practical results and real world living. Not that church isn't real, but that a church service is very spiritual and theoretical by nature. We go to worship the unseen God and talk about how we are "supposed to live" in our church worship services. The sermons and teachings, while intended to elicit a practical effect, tend to be theoretical and academic by nature. Frankly, Ray slept through most of my sermons, but I didn't care, because I knew Ray's heart. In line with his practical life focus, he helped start the Minco First Responders and when it came to defending those who were not able to defend themselves, he was tougher than his fighting dog, Sampson. When the biggest crisis of his and his family's life struck he was at his best. He fiercely defended his nieces and nephew when they most needed it. He stepped up to the plate of responsibility and looked opposition square in the face. With unflinching principle he swatted out of the ball park the toughest pitches of evil that were hurled at him. During that time he was willing to put his life goal of becoming a CPA on hold for the sake of caring for his extended family and it lasted until his death this past week at the age of 61.

I will always admire Ray and hold him up in my life as a superior example of what it means to stand in the gap for the sake of what is right, good, and true. He will, for the rest of my life, be my life example of Philippians 2:3, where the Apostle Paul said, "..consider other's interests more important than your own...."

Pam and I were having lunch with Ray's wife Zelma a couple of days after the funeral and during our time together Zelma said of Ray, "He was one of the good guys." I like that statement and I will take it as the motto for Ray's legacy. Let it be known that, "he was one of the good guys."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The John Muir Trail: A Hike To Remember The Poor

Everyone has a bucket list. We all want to do a few things before we leave this amazing world and one of the items on my list has been to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT). But, even though it was justification enough to do it for personal reasons, I wanted to combine my dream hike with a cause to serve God. When I was a pastor I often would encourage people to take their personal interests and use them for the good of God’s Kingdom, so that’s what I did in this case. Some former students from my Northwest Community Christian School days, Frank and Cindy May, helped create the organization, “Remember The Poor” for relief aid to poverty stricken Ugandans. I have been so impressed with this organization that I felt very good about encouraging others to join me in pledging money per mile of my hike to raise money for this worthy organization. Facebook has become a great networking resource for me, so I took a stab at broadcasting to all my friends an invitation to join me in raising money on my hike. I had no idea what kind of response I would get and I was startled to receive over 20 pledges, amounting to a total of over $4000.00 if I completed the entire 211 mile trail. I wrote the names of all the people who pledged in a small booklet that I took with me. At times I prayed for them and at times simply thought of them as I hiked. I felt privileged and honored to symbolically carry each of them with me.

One of the challenges for me in doing this hike was finding the right people to do it with me. It’s a long hike and portions of the trail are very remote. It’s best to be with someone experienced, or in a group. Last year I met a couple of very experienced long distance hikers and one of them said she was going to get a group together to do the John Muir Trail this year. She invited me to join them and I accepted. But, as it so often happens with these events, people drop out, loose interest, or run in to conflicts in life that keep them from participating. It turned out that Hippie Long Stockings (Kellie’s trail name, which was probably given to her because she looks so much like Pippie Long Stockings) and me were the only two willing and able to go when it came time to actually hit the trail. Of course, I only did the hike with Pam’s permission and we each had our own tents! Hippie is a great friend and sister hiker.

The trail begins in Yosemite Valley and ends on top of Mt. Whitney, 211 miles south of Yosemite. We met in Lone Pine, which is the town at the base of the terminus of the John Muir Trail, so that we could place one of our cars at the end of the trail and then drive up to the starting point with the other car. When Hippie arrived around noon, on September 11th, she was not feeling well. She complained of severe lower abdominal pain, which was so bad that we only drove about 20 miles before she decided that she had to get a motel room for the night. The next day she was better, but not 100%.

Day 1: Yosemite Valley to the Outskirts of Little Yosemite Valley

We left at 4AM from Independance, where we stayed the night at the Court House Motel, and arrived at the Yosemite Valley trail head at about 10AM, Monday morning, September 11th. Hippie was still experiencing periodic pain and as we hiked up the trail, out of Yosemite Valley, she had to stop several times to let the discomfort pass. In spit of her ailment, it was exciting for both of us to begin the hike; a hike that would cover over 211 John Muir Trail miles and 250 total miles in just 12 days.

We were taking on an ambitious goal, but one we both felt confident we could achieve. For her, even though she had done this hike previously, it was going to be the fastest she had ever done it before. For me, it was my first extended long trail, coupled with an aggressive schedule. I had hiked over 20 miles in three consecutive days before, but never 12 days in a row in the High Sierra’s rugged terrain. By the end of the hike we calculated that our daily average was 21 miles over 12 days. From the beginning the thought never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t be able to achieve this goal. Perhaps it was blind faith, shear determination, or craziness. I suppose it was a little bit of each combined with a little experience. I have to say that having Hippie Long Stockings with me gave me a lot of confidence. Even though she had never hiked as fast as we intended in these mountains, she had hiked the whole Pacific Crest Trail, The Appalachian Trail, and the John Muir Trail 3 times before! She was like a machine.

We hiked about 8 miles that first day. Our camp site was designated by the forest service permit office and it took us off the John Muir Trail by a few miles, since the usual JMT camp sites were already reserved. But, it was good for us to only do a moderate day of hiking. We both needed to acclimate to the trail and Hippie’s stomach ailment was still troubling her. The weather that day was a sunny 70+ degrees and the night time temperature dipped to just above freezing. For the most part this was the weather pattern for the entire 12 days ahead of us. The conditions were ideal. Since we were taken off the trail by several miles we thought that we would not count this first day as a "mileage" day. That's why I say we did the whole JMT in 12 days. We enjoyed a nice evening camped upon a bluff next to a cold water spring, eating our Ramen with an overlook of the West Yosemite mountains.

Day 2: Little Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows

We rose early and were on the trail by 6:30AM, which as it turned out, was one of our latest starts on the trip. Our custom would be to rise at 3AM and start hiking by head lamp between 4 and 5AM.

This was going to be a big mileage day for us. To stay on our schedule we had to make it to Tuolumne Meadows, some 25 miles away with a 6000’ elevation gain. We started fast and kept that pace for much of the day. We passed the morning crowds heading up to Half Dome after about 6 miles. From that time on we saw very few people, but from that time on the views became truly spectacular, as well. One of the features of the geology of the Yosemite mountains, as distinct from the southern section of the John Muir Trail, is that the granite mountains are more round and solid. The solid granite caused the sun to glimmer off the mountain ramparts and gave the entire mountain range a glowing sheen. No wonder John Muir called these mountains, “The Range of Light.”

As we made our way up steep sections of the trail we came in to valleys, passes and lakes all along the way that made the entire uphill grind worthwhile.

We met a couple of men in a group that told us if we got to Tuolumne Meadows by 6PM we could get a hot meal at the road side Grill at the Tuolumne Meadows Camp Ground. We were miles away at that time, but when we were given that message we found a new gear in our gate and quick stepped our way to the burgers and fries awaiting us. So we thought! Finally, after 25 miles on the trail that day, we fell in to the Tuolumne Meadows Camp Ground at 5:30PM feeling more dead than alive. Unfortunate for us, we were a half hour late for our burgers and fries! The Grill actually closed at 5PM. We were so disappointed, but found a consolation in finding the store still open, which closed at 6PM. We didn’t dwell on our misfortune too long, since we only had a short time to get in to the store to purchase some cold drinks and a few snacks. It was a long day of twists, turns, beauty, and strain. But, we were on schedule and Hippie was finally feeling a better!

Day 3: Tuolumne Meadows to “Just In Time” Camp

Another long mileage day from Tuolumne Meadows to one of the most picturesque camp sites I have ever stayed at, which came to us right at the point of exhaustion; hence the title, "Just In Time Camp". The day started well after the coldest night we would experience the entire trip, which was well below freezing. The meadowy-grassy areas are always colder. We had an easy 10 miles of level hiking to start the day off; hiking up Lyle Canyon to Donahue Pass. At 10 miles the trail ascended sharply up for a few miles to crest out at the pass. At 11050’ Donahue Pass is the second of the 9 great passes the JMT hiker has to cross to get to Mt. Whitney. From the vantage point of this great pass we could see our first glaciers in the nearby mountains and our first view of the southern Sierra peaks on the horizon.

We crossed the pass and followed the trail leading over to the Ritter Range and Thousand Island Lake at the foot of Banner Peak. At about this point we met up with a long distance hiker who was doing the entire Pacific Crest Trail. His trail name was “Beer and Grills”. I suppose he liked to hang out at the hiker pubs and grills every chance he had and derived his name that way. In fact, he told us he was heading for Mammoth Lakes Resort to hit some of the pubs to drink beer for a couple of days before getting back on the trail. At 58 he was a fast hiker and after staying with us for a few miles of fellowship and conversation while hiking he took off down the trail, leaving us in his dust.

At Thousand Island Lake we came to a fork in the trail. Our destination was Reds Meadow for resupply and we could take the strict route of the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail; both leading to the same destination but with slightly different views and terrain. We chose to follow the Pacific Crest Trail, which put us high on a ridge overlooking the entire Ritter Range down to Reds Meadow. It was a grand view, Indeed, as we hiked along that trail. No words can describe the things we saw. No pictures can capture the atmosphere of the landscape. We were high on the over look ridge when finally, after 26 miles on foot that day, we about dropped dead at the most beautiful drop-dead spot a person could find to camp. We were too tired to put up our tents that night, so we broke out our sleeping bags and camped under the stars with the Ritter Range before us. I tried to call Pam on my cell phone almost every night we camped to keep her posted. Most of the time I could not reach her, but this night I did I was able to get through. It was then that I felt so powerless to communicate to her the grandeur of the view before us. All my attempts were so anemic. But, I was so happy to talk with her even if for a brief time. We slept well that night under the protection of the heavens and the consoling beauty of the Ritter Mountains.

Day 4: “Just In Time” Camp to Tully Hole

Another long day – our longest of the entire hike. We rose early and headed down in to the valley where Red’s Meadow was located, some 10 miles away. We snapped off a number of pictures of the Ritter Range along the way. I think this area may have had the most spectacular mountain views of the hike, but it’s hard to make that kind of conclusion when it is all so good. When we got to Reds Meadow we planned on resupplying out of the hiker boxes, which is where previous hikers put food they no longer want to carry. We didn't mail ahead resupply packages because we knew we would find a lot food that hikers left behind, since it was the end of the hiking season. We also got a hot meal in the little restaurant at the Meadow. The food was good and plentiful. Our third task at Reds was to get a hot shower in the natural hot springs showers that were located nearby. By the time we were back on the trail by noon, our bellies were full, our food stores replenished, and our bodies were clean. Next destination? Vermillion Valley Resort. Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) was another JMT stop off point for hikers. JMT hikers going to VVR have to take a 1.5 mile side trail off the JMT to a boat dock on Edison Lake. The ferry comes at 9:45AM and 4:45PM every day to pick up and drop off hikers to and from VVR across the lake. The boat ride is 9 dollars each way and probably about 5 miles long. We were determined to get to the dock to catch the 9:45AM ferry so that we could resupply, eat, and then return on the afternoon ferry. We had 30 miles to cover from noon that day to 9:45AM the following morning. We had already come 10 miles this day and we wanted to get another 10 before bed time. We hit the trail hard at noon, but it seemed like the afternoon wore on and on. It wasn’t until 8PM that we drug ourselves in to Tully Hole, which required about an hour of night hiking with head lamps. Another tiring 20 mile day was over.

Day 5: Tully Hole to Bear Creek Ridge

In order to make sure we could catch the morning ferry to VVR we thought we should rise at 1AM and hike over Silver Pass in the dark. The pass was about 4 miles from our camp site and the ferry dock on the lake was another 7 miles down hill from the top of the pass. We left so early that we crossed Silver Pass, the third of the great passes, before dawn. In fact, we didn’t see daylight until we were about half way down! We got to the ferry by 8AM and rested upon the granite rocks above the dock to await our ferry ride to civilization. Once we got to the resort, which was very rustic, we headed right for the restaurant. They had a John Muir Trail Breakfast on the menu and I availed myself of the food fest of steak, plate sized pancakes, bacon, sausage, and eggs. I didn’t waste a bit of that food. The cook later told me that they try to give the hikers a good meal with lots of fat, carbohydrates and protein. I think they were successful.

After the meal we resupplied our food from the hiker barrels with 4 days of food. It would take us that many day to cross Kearsarge Pass and get to the town of Independence where we had our resupply food container waiting for us at the Court House Hotel. After we took care of our duties I layed down on a table and took a nap. We had a few hours to kill before we had to catch the ferry back across the lake to get back on the trail. That was the only time we saw a bear the entire trip. He was a big brown bear that we saw wandering through the restort roads looking for a free meal. As we were waiting, laying around and basking in the warmth of the afternoon, a young woman came in to the resort. She was a 25 year old woman by the name of Michelle. She was hiking the entire JMT all by herself and she was just behind us on the trail. She too was getting in some high mileage days, but she was carrying more gear and more food than we were. In fact, she was carrying all of her food for the entire trip. She worked at a backpackers outfitting store in San Diego and she was equipped with the latest and greatest equipment money could buy. The problem she was experiencing, however, was loneliness and injuries. We were all very tired, sore and beat up, but Michelle was starting to experience some serious stress to her body. She had a shoulder problem and she was slightly limping from an injury to her lower leg. We invited her to join us and she instantly took us up on the offer. At least her loneliness would be alleviated. We all got back on the trail by 5:30PM and started a long switch back climb up Bear Creek Ridge. We thought we might get in about 5 or 6 miles before camping. It was during that series of switch backs that I took a quick break to urinate and when I did I was shocked to see that my urine was red. I was urinating blood. I waited for the girls to catch up to me and I informed them of my problem. We took it very slow and easy from that point to the nearest place we could find to camp. We got about 4 miles from the boat dock when we found a suitable camp site. We made a fire and ate dinner. I urinated blood all night long and it was a little scary, I must admit. I called out to Hippie from my tent that night that if I was urinating blood in the morning I was going to head back to VVR and hitch hike out.

Day 6: Bear Creek Ridge to Muir Trail Ranch

When we got up in the morning we were all wondering what the result would be when I had to pee. I went off in to the woods to urinate and it was clear! We were all relieved. I have never heard three people cheering so happily over clear urine! We hit the trail and joined up with another JMT hiker by the name of Mercury. The four of us headed for Seldon Pass with joy in our steps and passing the time by playing the name game along the way. We reached Seldon Pass at about noon and met an older couple there. As we were casually talking, I brought up my story of urinating blood the previous day. She asked me about my symptoms and said, “I think you have a bladder infection.” It made perfect sense as she described the symptoms. She had a course of antibiotics with her for just that infection. She graciously gave me her meds and told me to faithfully take them and that I would likely feel better in a few days. Every now and then hikers encounter trail angels.

On this day I met mine! But, while I was finding relief from my problem, Michelle's problem was getting worse. We decided I would carry her much heavier pack to give her relief from her pain. She was in tears over this painful ordeal. She was miles from nowhere, alone, injured, and no way she could keep up with our pace. The down hill portion of the hike is where the injuries occur, so it was a good time to take her pack, since we had a very long down hill to get to the John Muir Trail Ranch that night. We hiked down the trail and it took us till near dark to get to our camp site at the John Muir Trail Ranch. This was the last contact with any civilized development along the JMT. The JMT Trail Ranch is a place where hunters and fishermen come to be taken out in to the wilderness by horseback. They also stay at the rustic ranch as a sort of bunk house. At dinner time you could hear the cook ring the dinner bell from our distant hikers camp, summoning the Ranch guests to “come and get it”. This place also happens to be the location of Blaney Meadows Hot Springs. We were camped next to the San Juaquin River and you can cross the river from our camp site to access open pit hot springs located in Blaney Meadows.

Day 7: Muir Trail Ranch to Evolution Lake

We were too tired to go for a hot soak that night, but we got up in the morning and crossed the river to get our hot bath. It was so nice, but we were sharing it with four older guys drinking bloody beers early in the morning. We had a nice conversation with them, but we didn’t know they were stark naked until they stood up in the tub at one point. We were clothed in bathing suits and at that point felt outnumbered! We soon left them, but not until we were fully satisfied with clean bodies and warm muscles to begin the day’s hike.

We got on the trail by 11AM, which was a very late start for us! But, it took time to get our hot spring fix that morning and also help Michelle find her way out of the wilderness. She decided to leave by hiking out to Florence Lake, 5 or so miles away, and then hitch-hike out. We took what food from her that we could use and said our goodbyes. Hippie promised to meet up with her after the hike, since they live in about the same area of Southern California. We wanted to cover a lot of ground that day, so we set out from our late start and didn’t stop but one time the rest of the day. Once we climbed up to Evolution Valley out of the San Juaquin Valley we arrived at the biggest creek crossing of the entire JMT. After crossing the creek we pulled out our cooking equipment and served ourselves up a much needed hot meal. Feeling replenished we set out for Evolution Basin, another 5 miles away with a lot of elevation gain. Hippie didn’t want to go that far because she wasn’t feeling up to it, but as we continued we simply could not find a sufficient camp site until we got up to the basin above tree line. We camped at Evolution Lake that night under a bright moon light. I remember this lake from the 1996 hike Pam and I did though this basin. We camped very near the spot where Hippie and I pitched our tents. We hiked 15 miles that day; a good distance for a late start.

Day 8: Evolution Lake to the “Turn Around Camp”

We rose very early at Evolution Lake and were on the trail by 5AM. We intended to get a lot of miles in this day to make up for the previous day. We thought we might be able to go over two passes this day: Muir Pass and Mather Pass. We got to Muir Pass at 11955’ by dawn, which was a good sign of things to come. And guess what, right behind us, as soon as we got to the top of the Pass, “Beer and Grills” caught up to us! That’s right, the guy had a lay over day at Mammoth Lakes and already caught up to us. We talked for a few minutes near Muir Hut and he took a picture of me at the door.

After our brief exchange off he went down the trail. Who knows how far he’ll get this day? Now, we had to descend in to LeConte Canyon from Muir Pass; a deep and rugged descent that can beat up the knees and back if your not careful. We got down to Little Pete Meadow at 10AM and cooked ourselves a hot meal to prepare us for the upcoming ascent to Mather Pass. Mather Pass has a reputation for being one of the most grueling ascents on the JMT. A portion of switch backs leading up to the pass are called, “The Golden Staircase”. I guess the name is supposed to scare the would-be hiker, but by the time I was done with them I asked Hippie, “hey when do we come to the Golden Stair Case?” She said, “There back there, you already did them!” But, the real problem is that after you finish the stair case there are another difficult 4 miles to climb to the top of the pass. As we continued our ascent we came to a point 2.5 miles before the pass where we just looked at each other and said, “enough is enough”. We had already come 25 miles this day so we felt justified camping before crossing the pass. We had to turn around and go back a hundred yards or so to find a water source. We slept well that night at “Turn Around Camp”, but looming before us on the morrow was a difficult conclusion to the Mather Pass ascent.

Day 9: Turn Around Camp to Heart Lake Camp

We got up very early again and were on the trail by 5AM. We were intent on tackling two passes on this day in order to set ourselves up for a short hike over Kearsarge Pass and the town of Independence on the following day. With a night’s rest the climb up to Mather was not too difficult. But, had we continued the previous evening we would have died making it over that pass. It was certainly one of the big pass climbs of the JMT. We headed down the pass on the other side and in to a scenic valley, with Pinchot Pass on the horizon.

Around noon we took a break a few miles below Pinchot Pass and it’s arduous climb. Hippie remembers this pass with words I cannot repeat here. From where we sat and cooked our meal it didn’t look so bad. A backwoods forest ranger came up to us while we were eating and we had a very pleasant conversation with him. Every so often you find a ranger cabin out in these mountains along the trail. His cabin was near-by where we took our break. He gave us a few tips, congratulated us on our ambitious pace, and was on his way. As we headed up the pass trail we found it to be a climb that felt as though it would never end. Part of the problem with this pass trail is that you cannot see the pass from the trail, so as you come up to what you think is the pass it is still further up. Finally, we made it, but we were very tired. Certainly, our fatigue had a lot to do with the fact that this was the second pass climb of the day. They are always a lot easier early in the day when you are fresh. We descended the very long descent down to Woods Creek. We were going from 12000’ to 8000’ in a matter of 7 miles. All I kept thinking about was, “I’m going all the way down in to this canyon only to go all the way back up to 12000’ again!” That is the JMT. It is 9 passes that grind you up and run you down over and over again. It’s psychologically wearisome. The pay off? Yes, there is a pay off. The views both from above and below are spectacular. You need to go up and down to see the country in all of it’s glory and variety.

We took a break at the bridge crossing over Woods Creek. As we did a group of Arkansas backpackers came by and stopped to talk with us about our equipment and philosophy. They were traditionalist backpackers and we are ultra light backpackers. We blew right by them earlier in the day, so they wanted to know our secret. We had a great time talking to people along the trail all the time about our light weight techniques. The secret? Wear sneakers and get your pack weight below 30lbs. That's it in a nut shell. Of course, backpacking outfitters want to sell you all the latest gear and expensive heavy boots. Most of what they want to sell you is not necessary and with a little common sense and practice you can get very light and still be safe and comfortable. We went about 5 miles more that day and arrived at Heart Lake in the coveted Rae Lakes Basin. It was the prettiest lake camp we had the entire trip. Fin Dome loomed over us high across the lake. Camping before these mountain peaks, land formations, lakes, and skies all seem to be so soothing to me as I lay down to sleep at night. Of course, 25 trail miles that day had a way of bringing rest to my eyes, as much as anything.

Day 10: Heart Lake to Onion Valley and Independence

This day was a short day of 13 miles, but we still had to climb two passes over those miles: Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass. We started out at 5AM again and made it to the top of the pass at dawn.

Glen Pass is considered the toughest of all the passes, but again, it was the second pass of the day that took the real toll on us. As we were climbing up to Kearage Pass the grind of the steps and steep trail just about did me in. The pass could not have come soon enough! As we descended we ran in to a very kind large man who asked us if we were going out for food resupply. We said yes and he offered to give us a ride to town. On the way down he and his wife told us their story of how they were avid Sierra hikers who decided they had to move to the Sierra mountains from Washington. The way he put it was, “we just had to find a way to live here.” Some years ago they sold their home in Washington and moved to the Owens Valley, at the foot of the Eastern Sierras. He now lives in Independence and works as a food service manager at a resort in death valley. On weekends he and his wife hike as much as they can.

They dropped us off at a local breakfast joint where we satisfied ourselves with good food before going over to the Courthouse Hotel, so named since it is across the street from the county court house. The hotel was keeping our food for us and sure enough they had it waiting for us. We told them that we would be back in 9 to 10 days to pick up our food. They didn’t believe us and said that if we did the JMT that fast to this point they would pay me $5. Well, here we were. We wanted to stay the night and asked if they had two rooms available. The owner was so impressed with our fast pace on the trail that she wanted to give us a $15 discount instead of the $5. But, since they did not have two rooms we declined. We put our thumbs out and hitched a ride to Lone Pine and stayed the night at the Dow Villa Hotel for the night.

Day 11: Onion Valley to “Snow Delay Camp”

With a good night’s sleep in a bed and good town food in our stomachs we returned to Onion Valley and the John Muir Trail. We hitched a ride in the morning out of Lone Pine and we were picked up by two guys who were hiking to Mt. Whitney from Onion Valley. The only difference between us is that our schedule was three days and there’s was 5 days. One of them had never hiked before and the other was very experienced, so they were just going to take it easy. We had to once again ascend Kearsarge Pass out of Onion Valley to resume our hike. The hike up to the Pass was amazingly easy! Remarkable what resting and fueling the body can do!

We got over the pass and headed toward the grand daddy of all the passes on the JMT, Forester Pass. Forester is 13200’, but not considered one of the most difficult pass ascents. The trail up and down the pass is very well graded and nicely designed.

Engineers even blasted out portions of the granite to get the trail constructed. But, we didn’t make it to the pass that day as intended. Again, we were cut short by circumstances. A snow storm came up the valley very quickly as we were ascending and as we were being pelted with light snow we decided to make an early camp so as not to have to pitch out tents in even worse weather. An hour later the storm passed over and the sun came out! Doesn’t that figure? It was only 4PM at that time. Our schedule was not foiled, however, since we could easily get to our next day’s destination by making it a 20 mile day, which we had become accustomed to doing anyway. Despite the brief snow encounter this afternoon, we dubed the camp, “Snow Delay Camp.”

Day 12: “Snow Delay Camp” to Guitar Lake

We rose early again and reached Forester Pass by dawn. We didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the JMT, but we had set a pattern of reaching many of the passes by dawn, including: Silver, Muir, Mather, Glen, and Forester, the last of the passes. After crossing over Forrester the country opened up in to a enormous valley with the Kern River cut down the middle. The peaks, platues and trees were different than much of what we had seen previously. Big Horn Plateau has been described by many as a “moonscape” and indeed it lived up to its reputation. For 15 miles we hiked up and over ridges, across plateaus, and through meadows, to get to Guitar Lake at the foot of Mt Whitney. To me, it was the prettiest and most serene portion of the entire JMT.

We made camp at Guitar Lake, the traditional location for people to camp who are going to summit Mt. Whitney the following day. The summit is a 5 mile hike from the lake. As we were coming up to Guitar lake the backwoods ranger in that area put out a box of plastic poop bags for hikers to take with them. From Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal it is not permited to pee or poop in the wilderness. I made sure I did my business before the lake, but I certainly wasn’t going to worry about a little pee.

Day 13: Guitar Lake to Mt. Whitney and the Portal

Finally, the day had arrived. We were going to summit Whitney and we were going to be at the top at sunrise! We got on the trail by 3:30AM in order to give us the time to get to the top in advance of the sunrise. We arrived 15 minutes early to join with a few other hearty souls already there awaiting, as though it were God himself who was going to show His face! Sunrise on Whitney at the conclusion of the JMT was certainly a fitting conclusion to a successful hike. One of the things I wanted to do on top of Whitney was open my book of the names of the people who joined me and make a brief video thanking them for their participation in helping me to raise money for “Remember the Poor”. Once that was done, Hippie told me she had to take care of something. She grabbed her forest service issued poop bag and disappeared behind some rocks about 20 yards away. She couldn’t take a poop for several days and all the sudden she has to do it on top of Mt. Whitney! We laughed about that several times on our way down that day. We had come 211 official John Muir Trail miles and 240 total miles. We still had 10 miles to go to get off the mountain and back to the car. Let me tell you, 10 miles down hill when the climax is over is a long, pounding, joint wrenching, merciless affair. But, on the way down I was often amused by watching the throngs of people ascending the trail from the more accessible Portal side of Mt Whitney. It was as though they were all on some sort of spiritual pilgrimage or fulfilling a right of passage, filing their way up the mountain. And, of course, for me this trip was pilgrimage and right of passage both!

When we got down from the mountain, elation and relief took the place of struggle. We were done! We caught a ride down to Lone Pine some 10 miles away and stayed the night at the Dow Villa Hotel to rest our weary bodies. The next day I headed home, 900 miles away, and Hippie went on to join two other friends to do one more week of hiking a different trail in the High Sierras.

So what is next on my bucket list? Honestly, I don’t have anything on the list right now. I feel very content with where I am and with what I’ve done to this point. I am sure that some adventure will come to light in the future. But, I want to ask you, what is on your bucket list? I would be very interested in hearing about the adventures some of you have waiting to be fulfilled in your future.