Woods are Different

“Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views & leave you muddled & without bearings. They make you feel small & confused & vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie & you know you are in a big space. Stand in the woods and you only sense it. They are vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.”

Bill Bryson

Mile… Mile and a Half

Last week, I watched Mile… Mile and a Half on Netflix.  It’s a documentary about a group of artists who thru hiked the JMT in 2011.  If you’re wondering what we’re going to see on the JMT, this is a great film to watch for ninety minutes.

MILE… MILE & A HALF (trailer 1) from The Muir Project on Vimeo.

 

Overall, I thought Mile… Mile & a Half was an okay representation of what life is like on a trail.  As someone who backpacks, I noticed what I thought of as “backpacking” in the periphery of shots – water filtering, tent setup, dinner.  But I also saw a lot of things that I know I absolutely wouldn’t do on the trail – like have a 70 (!!!!) pound pack after a resupply, or pay for a mule to bring a resupply over a mountain pass.  The Mile… Mile and a Half crew did the trail over 25 days, so we’ll shave about 5 days off of their time.  They also regularly stopped to take photos, video, or record sound, which involves a lot of professional equipment.  They also did the trail in July after a year of 200% snowfall, so I assume we’ll see a lot less snow.  Overall though, I think this is a great way to get inspired!  It just goes to show you – 220 miles is really just a lot of putting one foot in front of the other.

Cookset Review: GSI Bugaboo Backpacker + nFORM Kitchen

Andrew and I have used these two things GSI products together for the past year.  I figured this is a good opportunity to review it.  These are actually two different sets (the Bugaboo Backpacker and the nFORM kitchen), but I’ll review them together because that’s how we use them.  There’s a reason it’s called a bugaboo.

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The Bugaboo Backpacker set (find it at REI here) is about $70 and is a really versatile cookset.  It comes with a 2L pot, a lid with a strainer, a fry pan, a removable handle, two insulated “cups” (more on this in a minute) with lids that nest within two “bowls”, and a kitchen sink.
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The nFORM Crossover Kitchen is a little under $40 (you can find it at REI here) includes a small cutting board, a folding spatula, folding large spoon/ladle thing, folding tongs, a scraper, an absorbent towel, a “spice rocket”, a nylon storage bag, a mini oil holder and a larger squeeze bottle.  I replaced the larger squeeze bottle with an even bigger one (1 oz vs 2 oz I believe).  Our sporks (one titanium, one plastic) also fit in the bag.

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After taking these pictures, I weighed the entire kit.  Including spices and approximately 1 fl oz of oil, the kit weighs 2 lbs, 12 oz.

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Things That Scare Me

The John Muir Trail has a lot of stuff on it that is intimidating, difficult, or is just overall scary.

1. Bears

You have to carry a bear canister in the High Sierras for good reason – there are lots of active bears in the area.  Though Yellowstone, which actually has grizzlies, doesn’t require a bear canister, you never know what you’re going to run into in the Sierras.  The odds of actually seeing a bear, though, are really slim if you practice good food storage.  In addition, I know how to handle a bear if approached – yell at the bear in a monotone voice/bang pots and pans while slowly backing away from the bear.  Face the bear while you do this.  If attacked by a brown bear, fight back.

2. Being Slow

Though Andrew and I usually cover ground pretty quickly (2 or 3 miles per hour during our trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is pretty darn fast for hiking), the actual walking portion of the day will take up a lot more of our time on the JMT.  If you say you can hike 2 miles an hour in easy sections and as slowly as a mile per hour in difficult sections, you’re looking at about 6-8 hours of hiking a day to get in the 10-11 miles we’ll need to get in daily.  That’s a lot of time on your feet.  I hope to combat this through lots of practice and 10-12 mile hikes before hitting the trail.

3. Heights

Oh boy.  I don’t like heights.  See that image at the top?  That’s the only way to access Half Dome.  Half Dome is the giant dome shaped hunk of granite in the middle of the picture below.

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Though the views are supposed to be amazing, I’m worried that I’d wind up stuck on the cables going up or down, or wouldn’t be able to enjoy the view from the top.  This is a side trip we may or may not take, but there’s plenty of mountain passes on the trail that are close to that nerve wracking.

4. Bad Weather

Bad weather is the worst.  There’s nothing I hate more than being somewhere beautiful and I can’t see it because it’s wet and all I can think about is being dry, it’s hot and all I can think about is cooling off, or it’s freezing and all I can think about is warming up.  In the Sierras, it also has the added bonus of being really dangerous to get stuck in weather above the treeline.  Yay?

5. Not Getting a Permit

The only thing worse than the four things above?  Not being able to go at all.  If for some reason we aren’t able to get a permit, we’ll do the 90+ mile Wonderland Trail, but it wouldn’t be the same.  If there’s wildfires or too many people apply for permits, we may have to cancel our trip.  And let’s face it – this is going to be the trip of a lifetime.  I’d hate to miss out, and even postponing a year feels like a cop out.

Why the John Muir Trail?

The John Muir Trail is a 210(+) mile hiking trail in California from Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mount Whitney.  Much of the John Muir trail (about 160 miles) follows the path of the much much longer Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada.  The JMT runs along the backbone of the High Sierras, and was named to honor naturalist John Muir.  Along the trail, hikers can expect to gain over 42 (or 44 or 46, depending upon your source) thousand feet of elevation gain.  To put that in perspective, that’s about 1 1/2 times the height of Mount Everest.

The hiking season for the JMT varies from year to year depending upon snowfall, but most years it runs from early July through September.  Most hikers tackle the hike from north to south (with the exception of PCT through hikers, who almost always go south to north).  My husband, Andrew, and I plan to go north to south.  We live in Madison, Wisconsin – elevation 846 feet.  Mount Whitney, at the southern terminus is the highest point in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet.  If we started off at Mount Whitney, I guarantee my butt would be on the ground every 8 steps and I’d probably have to turn around.  To prevent altitude sickness, most people recommend sleeping above 8,000 feet several nights before attempting to summit.  It just so happens that much of the trail is above this altitude.

Andrew was an Eagle Scout, and I, obviously, was not.  I didn’t even start backpacking until 2013 after a particularly rough winter.  But, I feel in love with it.  I love being able to get away from my desk job and go where my own two feet can push me.  And I love being able to see things that you can’t see otherwise.  The JMT seems like the best trail that we can do that (1) is a true thru hiking experience, (2) has amazing views, and (3) we don’t have to quit our jobs to do.  There’s a lot of work to do before we get to the trail, and I can’t wait to share it with you.