A Bad Nights Sleep
Last night was terrible! I knew my hammock wasn’t set at the right angle and I should have fixed it. I should have put in the extra effort even though I was tired because in the end, putting in that extra effort would have meant more sleep. With just a few extra minutes I could have had hours of counting sheep… but alas I was lazy. Note to self: Do not be lazy! This was just the beginning of my epically fucked up day. Ok, there is always a silver lining and we’ll talk about that too. To be fair, I could also say this was one of my best days given the views I had.
Luckily sleep and I eventually found each other, but with the bad angle, I was reserved to sleeping scrunched up at the very bottom end of my hammock. For those who are not hammock sleepers, as you can imagine, this position is not comfortable at all. After hours of tossing and turning, my body finally just gave up and realized that’s just the way it’s got to be tonight. A little sleep is better than none I suppose.
It’s Hard To Wake Up
Upon the dawning of the sun, my eyes cracked open a few times, yet my body said nope! Not yet! We are sleeping in! My eyes ached and it felt cold outside. Together they weren’t a good combo for braving the trail, but I can’t stay in here forever. I didn’t check the time, but I would guess I finally got out of bed around seven.
The usual routine commenced. I got dressed, packed up my tarp, packed up my quilt, packed up my clothes, and anything in my hammock storage loft. I brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, put on my sunscreen, and my chapstick. Lastly, I grabbed a few snacks, packed away my warm clothes, put on my shoes, and strapped on my bear can. Good to go!
Heading out was much easier than heading into this remote campsite. I knew exactly where I was going this time and made quick progress back to the trail. For the most part, it was happy days for me! I had a bit of uphill hiking, but it was followed by a very long and relaxing downhill. Looking at my GPS I could see that I was going to break off of the JMT right before the very long uphill. Bonus!
As I walked I met an older couple. They asked where I was headed and I told them I was going to take the Minarets Loop alternate off of the JMT. “You do know the conditions there don’t you?” the woman asked. “It’s covered in snow and very dangerous unless you have micro spikes and an ice axe. Plus a man died there recently.” “I heard,” I said. “It’s so sad that that happened. I would like to go see for myself though. Maybe the conditions have changed. If I can’t do it, then I’ll turn back.” With that, they wished me luck. Yes, I know I’m stubborn. I don’t like others telling me what I can’t do or what I should do. Plus, If I didn’t go see the conditions for myself, I would always question if it was really impossible.
The Minarets Loop
Shortly after I wish the couple well on their hike, I see the turnoff sign to take the Minarets Loop instead of the JMT. For a minute I think that maybe I should just heed their advice. I’d probably save time anyway. Nope! The stubbornness and curiosity in me win me over. I turn towards the alternate route. That settles that. I hope I can make it through and don’t get myself killed.
The trail is filled with day hikers. Most have dogs and they’re all heading to Ediza Lake. I heard it’s very pretty and one of John Muir’s favorite lakes. The hike is not an easy one, but it’s not an “I wish I was dead” hike either. It’s protected from the sun with lots of trees and the ground cover is lush. I love it! There are streams and waterfalls everywhere which also adds to it’s beauty.
In what seems like no time at all, I’m at Ediza Lake, the first of the four lakes I will see on the Minarets Loop. Unfortunately, the lake is exposed and the sun is beaming harshly on me. At this point, I started questioning my choice. Should I have come this way? Yes! We’re going to do this! I start playing the Sheera intro song in my head. I continue around the lake, stepping in a deep mushy pile of mud, and then up the side path that leads to Iceberg Lake. The name should have said it all, but I kept going. I then saw snow patches, but they were off to the side. Yes, another sign that I should have turned back. Not me though. I just kept going as all stubborn people do.
I meet two men just hiking back from Iceberg Lake. They tell me that I’m almost there. “It’s a steep stairway climb, but it’s totally worth it,” they say. I’m embarrassed at this point to let them in on my plan to complete the whole loop, so I keep that information to myself. They wish me luck and I proceed on. More and more snow lines the trail, but nothing I have to climb over. I can do this. I see The Minarets in the distance and they are beautiful. Almost there!
When I reach Iceberg Lake I’m in awe. It’s something you would think you could only see in Alaska. The water is crystal clear, a turquoise shade of blue, and the far banks are covered in snow and ice. The Minarets are the lake’s backdrop. It’s absolutely perfect! Well, except for that snow wall. Is that where the trail goes? It can’t be. I follow the trail around the lake. Even when it looks like there is nowhere else the trail could go, I keep going and hoping the trail suddenly turns in a different direction. I want to keep going so bad, but the trail leads under the snow. This isn’t just snow though. It’s a wall of snow that leads up to a massive amount of scree at the top of the mountain, and at the bottom is the lake with no buffer in between.
This would be suicide. I can’t do this. I may be stubborn. Crazy ideas flow out of me left and right. But I’m not suicidal. Not right now at least. I’m getting married this winter. My daughter and I are heading to Europe next summer. Work is going well and I have friends and family that love me. Nope, I’ve got too much good to look forward to. Instead, I reluctantly turn back.
A Change Of Plans
I text my friends and family that watch my Garmin tracker. “Change of plans,” I say. “I ran into a roadblock and am heading back to the JMT.” With that, I gather myself, spin on my heels, and head back the way I came. It’s disheartening to know I have to hike all the way back to the JMT junction, but as I said, there is a silver lining amid every dark cloud. First, I just saw the most amazing lake ever. I can’t imagine that any other lake will be able to outdo its beauty. I’m not even sure Whitney can outdo it, but only time will tell. The men were right. The hike was worth it. Second, heading back is all downhill. I skip back to the JMT junction at an amazing pace.
Funny enough, I see the two men again just past the junction. “You made it!” they say. “Did you make it to the lake?” “Yes!” I say. “It was beautiful!” I tell them my original intent of completing the full loop, but they said that others had told them the same advice; that the loop was dangerous and it was not advisable to attempt the hike. Some have completed it; one has died. It’s just not a gamble worth taking. With that, we wish each other well on our hikes and say goodbye.
I really want to make up a bit of time, so I plan to hike as far as I can before setting up camp. The trail is easy at first as I pass Shadow Lake. I even saw a deer with her baby! I know this won’t be easy though. I’ve looked at my GPS. I know what’s coming. The climb is steep. Switchback after switchback. I climb so slowly because my body is at its breaking point. There’s nowhere to stop on the switchbacks though. I have to continue on until I reach the top. Every other switchback I take a break. I’m glad nobody else is on the trail to see me struggle. It seems like it will never end, but I know it has to. I’m almost there!
Just as I’m about to drop dead, I reach the top. Rosalie Lake! This is where I’m going to camp. I want to get as far as I can before I set up my hammock. It’s so hard. I’d love to camp by the water, but I know that’s against the rules. I take a side path back to an area tucked away, but I see two tents there already. At this point, I’ll take anything. I head back up into the hills. I know I heard someone to the left, but maybe I will find a spot to the right. Bingo!
At this point, my legs can barely move. I set up my hammock and try to go through my routine as fast as possible. Get water, eat dinner, set up my tarp, get ready for bed, and now here I am. With what energy I have, I write in my journal. My body aches, my head aches. How many miles did I do? I know it was less than 9 JMT miles, but add on the roundtrip hike to Iceberg Lake and I would think I was pushing about 16 miles. I’ll figure this out one day when I have cell service. For now, I say good night. Tomorrow I’ll hike to Reds Meadow and I get to stay in a cabin and eat real food!
Just so you know, this day, or rather this night, got much, much worse. I’ll save that part for my next post.
*NOTE: Trail miles are based on JMT miles. Actual miles hiked are higher due to side trips hiking off-trail.