The anticipation is mounting. By this time tomorrow we will be well on our way. Yesterday Brian and I got up early and explored the park to the fullest. We walked 11 miles and saw all the highlights. Today we will probably spend preparing for tomorrow. We need to mail the clothes we’ve been wearing these last few days back home, we need to go to the wilderness office to pick up our permits and prove that we do in fact have bear canisters, and most importantly, we need to camel up on water to help reduce our chances of altitude sickness tomorrow.After a nice hot breakfast we scoped out the trailhead where we will start our hike tomorrow. There’s a solid one mile walk to get to the trail head so tomorrow’s hike will actually be more like nine miles by the time we are done. We started walking up Happy Isles to get a feel for the terrain. To my surprise, at least the beginning of the trail, was paved. Hopefully it’s not paved for too long. Pavement is a hiker’s nightmare as it wears down your feet twice as fast. But that was the least of my concern. I wanted to see the ascent. At first sight, you’d think, “oh this isn’t so bad.” But then we started walking it and I tried to imagine what it’ll be Iike tomorrow with a 33 pound pack on my back. It was sobering. We only walked up about one fifth of a mile before turning back. On our way down we passed two young fit men who appeared to have just gotten out of the military. They were in good spirits and moving fast. While I won’t be able to move as smoothly and as swiftly as them, I’m going to try to have the same attitude when I begin tomorrow.
We also walked out to the actual Happy Isles and sat on the rocks by the rushing River. This time of year, the rivers are bursting at the seams. While I was sitting there peacefully, a stellar jay flew down right next to me and I got a great picture. I’ve been waiting patiently these last two days to get a photo of these amazing birds so I felt like the jay landed there just for me. They look like blue jays except their blue is so much brighter and shinier. They also have a Mohawk which is pretty cool.
We decided to take the bus to Ahwanee Hotel. Rooms can cost up to $800 a night. Sun Bear had an interesting perspective of the Ahwanee. He said it’s filled with the stereotype you see on tv of wealthy people who treat service people like dirt. We were laughing about how people leave one star reviews of national parks for the dumbest reasons. My two favorites that Sun Bear shared with us are “there were too many pine needles everywhere” and “I paid full price for this park and they wouldn’t turn the waterfalls on.” I love those. As for the hotel, it was nice. I didn’t get the snooty vibe I was told to expect. We did a quick tour of it and used their facilities before heading out.ban interesting fact about the hotel is while it looks like it’s made of wood, there is actually no wood with the exception of the railing as you enter. The whole building is made of cement but was made to look just like wood. I wouldn’t have known the difference if our tour bus driver didn’t tell us.
At 11, we met Stephen and Rachel at the wildness office to secure our permit. It was really easy. There was a long line of people standing outside in the heat waiting for day passes for different trails. Since we had a reservation for our permits though, we were allowed to enter the building and go straight to the desk. The young woman who gave helped us was very happy to be alive and to walk us through all the rules. She told us to keep our bear canisters at least 50 feet from our tents and night and if a bear finds us, to “look big” (yeah right), make a lot of noise, group together and throw pine cones at it. We were told they’re generally less aggressive than squirrels so as long as they don’t steal our food, we should just enjoy the encounter. She also advised us not to leave our canisters near a cliff because the Bears have learned that if they throw the canisters off a cliff, the canisters will explode, making the food available to them. Smart.
She also told us to use the bathroom, we need to be 100 feet from the trail, from camps, and from water. We are required to bury everything 8 inches down carry our toilet paper out. I’m really not looking forward to this part of trail life.
Brian and I then repacked our packs and bright our things to the post office we need to ship. We packed one box with all the clothes we’ve been wearing the last few days and another box we sent to the end of the trail that holds the army duffle bags we need to get our packs safely through the airport.
Today is so much hotter than the last two days. They’re having a heat wave this week (lucky us) and today it’s about 97 degrees and sunny. The forecast for the next four days calls for hot temperatures and thunderstorms in the afternoon. I suspect we’ll have a difficult start to our trip. But I remember how my first day on the Camino was the worst day with regard to the weather but it completely changed my perspective for the rest of the trip because once I got through that, I knew I could get through any type of weather. I’m hoping the same will be true for the JMT. That said, we will be starting very early in the morning, taking a long siesta in the afternoon, and finishing in the evening. Stephen is a firefighter in Memphis so he is completely unphased by heat and humidity but Brian and I were struggling.
We walked to a different campaigner where we found a laundromat, threw our clothes in for one last wash and sought out some much needed ice cream and shade. We realized that the number of people in the park seemed less than half yesterday and wondered if the heat had anything to do with it. All the day visitors seemed to be gone and those staying in tents had the same idea we did. We jumped on the shuttle and drove it around the park for about an hour, enjoying the views from our air conditioned seats.
We met Stephen and Rachel for dinner outside. Stephen and I laughed as we shared stories about the Camino. It was also nice to all get together and plan our big morning. We all intend to be ready to leave by 5am. I’m about as ready as I can be. I’m prepared for tomorrow to be extremely difficult. In perfect fashion I started getting a headache tonight. I’ve had plenty of water and electrolytes today so it’s not that. I suspect it’s just nerves. We won’t be sleeping much tonight. It’s very hot in our tents.
You probably won’t hear from me for a few days. It’s possible I’ll have cell reception in two days time but I’m really not sure. If/when you hear from me again, I will be a very happy camper because I will have gotten through one of the hardest parts of this journey. See you on the other side!