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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Hike: John Muir In a Week

Got a few days off, a pair of healthy feet, and a pain threshold higher than Dean Karnazes? You can (possibly) blaze the length of America's Most Beautiful Trail

by: Michael Lanza


But then our mornings of frenzied energy bend into afternoons of withering heat. And calling the JMT dusty is like calling K2 breezy. As early as our second afternoon, inhaling swirls of chalky earth, I turn to Stumbles and say, "I hope this isn't starting to feel like a death march."

He pauses too long, then deadpans, "It has some aspects of that."

Every day, too, our feet ache a little more. Our blisters start to pulsate. On our fourth afternoon, we stop beside the South Fork San Joaquin River and peel off our shoes and socks for a therapeutic soak. I half expect our dirt-blackened, overheated soles to boil the water, cartoon-like. Instead, I get an elated jolt of frigid energy–it's never felt so damn good not to feel my feet. But then, reality: We commence The Ritual of the Tape, strategically covering hot spots. Todd and Mark tape over wounds that look like small stratovolcanoes. Heather's feet look the worst: She's wrapping all 10 toes.

By that evening, Stumbles and I are climbing the switchbacks along Evolution Creek's fantastically endless succession of roaring waterfalls, which almost make me forget that my legs feel like wood. The sound drowns out my creeping doubt; the water, tumbling downhill, somehow keeps tugging me up. The indifferent wilderness has seen countless struggles here, but it buoys me anyway. The scenery is morphine, and I'm a lab chimp constantly pushing the button for another dose. Then Stumbles looks at me with sunken eyes. "I'm pasted," he confesses. We wait an hour for Heather and Todd to catch up; when they do, at dusk, it's clear that Heather's struggling. Still, she insists we hike until 9 p.m., because we've fallen behind schedule.

So we limp–and Stumbles weaves–in the dark up to a smooth granite slab near Evolution Lake. We lay our bags out under a sky machine-gunned with stars. Utterly prone, our legs and feet resting, the world instantly becomes a better place, the many miles a deluded memory. Comforted by the almost-silence of a wilderness night, we cling to the loitering hope that we still might pull this off.

At some point, The Thing That We Want To Do morphs into This Thing That We Have To Do. It may have happened way back on that second afternoon, when Stumbles and I deliberated the precise meaning of "death march." Maybe it happened this morning, our fifth, when things nearly unraveled: Our mystical sunrise hike past Evolution, Sapphire, and Wanda Lakes turned into an endorphin-charged rush up and over 12,000-foot Muir Pass ("Big rebound for me!" cried Stumbles), but then it devolved into a pathetic two-hour power nap beside a creek in LeConte Canyon. (We were waiting for terminally blistered Heather, who dropped hours and miles behind after we left camp at first light.) Maybe it's when we finally bid farewell to her–after she limps up to us, promptly announces she's done, and decides to hobble out a side trail. Then again, it might just be because we've blitzed 135 miles in four and a half days, and we like resting in the LeConte shade, but resting costs us precious time. And we have to move. And moving is starting to suck. The prospect of another 86 miles in a little over two days seems, to say the least, daunting.




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Charlie
Aug 01, 2012

Actually, to "the buckaroo," ultralight is an efficient way of traveling in the wilderness, and I already tackled Denali, so I'm not leaving the lower 48 just for you!

DoctorDee
Feb 10, 2012

The thing is... some people think faster than others. I know that most times I watch over people's shoulders as they use a computer, it's like watching a fish swim through molasses. Some people walk faster than others. Some people rise earlier than others. Some people have more stamina than others.

Is it not natural that if one falls into all (or even most) of these categories one would naturally, and without rushing, do more miles in a day, and see as much and enjoy as much as other walkers.

You guys plod along at a pace that makes you happy. But don't be so judgemental. I prefer to enjoy the trail, and then go surfing, or ride a roller coaster, or any of the million other things that living life at an accelerated pace gives me time to do. It's not for you to tell me I can't be enjoying it as much as you. I'm not lecturing you on how bad the boredom must be, crawling along like that, with so much time to kill each day.

I was planning to two week the JMT, which seemed a reasonable pace to me, only 16 miles per day - but having read this I may try and 10 day it.

And, it's hilarious that the "Ultralight is a knuckle dragging mentality" guy is the one who posted his comment twice. Steady on there buddy, don't go clicking faster than you can think.

David
Dec 03, 2011

HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE!!! I have one question for the fast-hike haters. Who the hell are you to tell me I'm going too fast to enjoy it? Oh, you're only doing 10 miles a day? Well, slow down and do 5 miles a day and enjoy it even more. Better yet, do 2.5 miles a day and enjoy it even more. Trail enjoyment is not determined by you. I determine how much enjoyment I get. I like to HIKE. I camp because I have to. A trail is not more or less enjoyable because I did this many or this few miles. I'm so sick of hikers who insist on telling me that I need to slow down in order to enjoy it (read: according to their view of what is right vs wrong). Oh, you think I hike too fast? Who are you? I've never heard of you? Are you supposed to be a big deal? I'll tell you the same thing I tell the government. Stay the hell out of my life and mind your own god damn business! If you don't like that, just try and stop me from hiking my own hike!!!!!!!

Joe Gaffney
Jun 15, 2011

If you hike that many miles in a day, you don't have time to enjoy the scenery. You spend all your time looking at the trail. I'll take 10-mile days anytime and enjoy being in the outdoors.

Christian
Jun 14, 2011

For all those that are in a hurry. The speed record for the Eiger's North Face is now 2:28h
( not days) Try it.. the Swiss rescue team is watching you!!

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