John Muir Trail part I
So now we are on the trail, heading up from the car-park/trailhead. We have just a few hours of light, and about 6 hard mostly uphill miles that we MUST cover before we camp for the night. My pack felt better than ever, now that I've dropped almost 10 pounds from what I have carried these many years. Sure, some of the 'comfort' items didn't make this trip, but we expect to be walking most of each day, so it's not too big of a deal anymore. Besides...my theory was we will be SO tired every night that we will make camp, eat dinner, and go to sleep being totally whipped. That theory was a pretty good one it turns out.
We headed up towards Kearsarge pass, and immediately we could feel the altitude working against us. But we continued the climb, and this time I brought my polar wristwatch-computer/heartrate monitor and chest-strap. For once I wanted to know how hard I was ACTUALLY working. Turns out my cardio system wasn't working all that hard...as we climbed and climbed (I was pushing the pace, knowing how far we had to go before setting camp and hoping to be there before dark) my heartrate was hovering around 140 to at most 145. On my bike that would mean I'm not working at all...I could be sitting back behind a bunch sucking their wind and chatting comfortably. However I was NOT able to chat comfortably. I was working HARD. I would have thought it would have been the opposite...that due to the altitude my heartrate would be way HIGHER than expected, not lower. All I know is that when I was at or above 140 beats per minute it was all I could bear, there was no higher gear for me to switch to.
We kept on moving, and I have to say that this part of the trip was definitely NOT very enjoyable. Within the hour I could feel a tiny headache creeping in, and knew it wasn't going to be any better before we cleared the pass. Oh, and the weather forecast called for scattered evening showers and thunderstorms tonight. And it was right. We hadn't been on the trail too very long when it started to rain (not a downpour thankfully). So we stopped and poncho'd up using our new "Gen 1" Tyvek ponchos. I hadn't really thought it thru when I made them, as I basically copied the heavy 'super poncho's that we both have. But it turns out they were still big enough to go over both us AND our packs, and would work just fine as long as the rain was coming down and not 'sideways' with the wind. Which thankfully it was (down, not sideways).
We pass thru the lower altitude trees and finally move into the last of the trees, the bristlecone Pines, which I must admit are my favorites. I had never heard of them until many years back when both of my brothers and I were in the area for some mountain biking up at Mammoth (in the summer you can bike on the mountain, and it's AWESOME!). Our first day we detoured up onto White Mountain (to do a little bit of altitude acclimation)...which is one of the California 14'ers (over 14,000 feet tall)...there is a bristlecone pine forest there around 11,500 to 12,000 feet that contains what was until this year thought to be the oldest living "non clonal" thing on the planet: the Methuselah tree (they don't tell you which one it is as some yahoo will try to burn it down or kill it). They've taken tiny core samples and have dated it at 4845 years old (and just this year they've found an even older tree in that same area that is known to be over 5000 years old). Think back to what the world was like when these trees were young saplings. It's hard to fathom that they can still possibly be alive!
Anyway, I digress. We pushed and groaned our way up the switchbacks thru the bristlecones, and soon we were passed even those, and are getting close to the final push to the pass....a long stretch across a HUGE scree field. It's so barren it is beautiful.