I got up well before 7am, after a fitful night’s sleep. There was no particular reason that I slept badly, as the night before had been uneventful. Aside from someone flashing an overly bright flashlight, nothing noteworthy happened (there were no bears noisily raiding campsites, thankfully) and I never felt nervous or scared during the night.
As I was sitting in my tent and thinking about the day ahead of me, I couldn’t say that I wasn’t feeling a bit nervous about starting my first full day on the trail, though. While I had plenty of backpacking experience, this was my first backpacking trip alone and on top of that, I hadn’t been able to hike much in the months leading up to the trip. Just as the prime hiking season was beginning in late spring/early summer, a couple of solo female hikers were murdered on hiking trails in the Seoul area. It was very shocking and frightening that those random crimes happened on trails that I hiked all the time and thought were safe, and because of those incidents, I didn’t go hiking nearly as much as I had planned (and never solo , as it didn’t feel safe) before beginning the JMT.
Despite the unnerving events that occurred, I didn’t feel particularly worried about backpacking alone on the JMT (too far from cities). I certainly had some concerns about how painful the next few days might be though (I hadn’t carried a heavy backpack in quite a while, after all), but I decided to put those thoughts aside and focus on packing up all of my things so that I could begin hiking. After getting everything into my backpack I put some bubble wrap under my shoulders just in case my backpack’s straps bothered me, and managed to get on the trail by 7am.
The trail was gradual at first, and I ran into many hikers who were headed to Half Dome. I chatted with one solo female Half Dome hiker for quite a while, and she had already had quite an eventful trip. She slept in her car the night before the hike, and at some point accidentally threw her car key away in a bear-proof dumpster. A park ranger had to dive in there and find it (apparently it wasn’t the first time he had to do that!), and luckily he was able to retrieve it. We eventually parted ways, as I wasn’t going to hike Half Dome (no permit).
After passing the Half Dome turnoff, the trail went through a forest filled with nearly-bare trees. There were no other hikers around except a group of four guys who I kept leapfrogging. They were planning to do a section hike of the JMT, and hoped to camp around Upper or Lower Cathedral Lake (which also was what I was aiming for). Some of them were struggling however, and after a while, they were so far behind that I never ran into them again.
The trail eventually opened up a bit, giving me expansive views of the mountains in the distance. As I was walking along, I saw a copy-cat “JMT rock monster” and decided it was the perfect place to sit down and eat a snack. I ate more of the chocolate and peanut butter fudge that I had purchased back in the valley, and hoped the store in Tuolumne carried it as it was one of the few things I felt like eating so far on the trail.
After my brief moment of relaxation, I began heading toward Sunrise Camp. Before long, I was surrounded by beautiful meadows with expansive views in every direction and no other hikers in sight. As I went along I made sure to stay on the widest part of the path, as I remembered the ranger back in Yosemite mentioning that hikers had caused a lot of damage in these sensitive high alpine meadows by veering off the main trail (especially in rainy/muddy conditions).
At around 1:30pm, I reached a sign that said Cathedral Lakes was 4.1 miles ahead. The scenery in this area truly was lovely, but the sunny weather and my heavy pack were starting to get to me a little so I decided to take a break. I filtered water and took off my shoes and socks, which were completely covered in dirt from the dusty trail. It felt really good to soak my feet in the cold stream, and it was a bit difficult to pull myself away from that shaded, cool spot and go back to the sunny and exposed trail.
Not long after I began hiking again, I ran into a ranger on patrol. Surprisingly, the ranger was the woman who issued my permit, and I was quite surprised that she vaguely remembered me considering the number of hikers and tourists she probably met that day. She checked my permit and asked me which part of my pack my bear canister was in so that she could check. After knocking on my backpack to see that I did, in fact, have a bear canister (it was quite easy to find since it took up the whole center of my pack) we parted ways. A short time later, I saw horseback riders on the trail for the first time (though I had been seeing horse droppings on the trail the whole trip), and it certainly seemed like an enjoyable way to experience Yosemite.
As I went further along, I caught my first glimpse of Cathedral Peak and knew I was getting close to the lakes. I was excited to see my first alpine lake of the trip, but when I noticed a tiny patch of shade on the side of the trail, I had to take another break. I was starting to get very tired from being in the hot sun with a heavy pack, and although the trail had been gradual, I had done quite a bit of climbing for one day.
I sat down for about twenty minutes, and then decided to get moving again. I hadn’t decided whether to camp at Upper or Lower Cathedral Lake, but as I reached a pathway leading down to Upper Cathedral Lake I immediately decided to go there as it was too beautiful to pass over.
Although it was only 4pm, I was quite surprised to see several other campers already settled into their campsites and I had trouble finding a suitable place to pitch my tent. After searching for a bit, I found a tiny, sandy patch that was just barely big enough to hold my tent. I couldn’t see any other campers from my campsite, and felt lucky to find a site that was private while also having a view of the lake. I rested for at least twenty minutes before willing myself to get up and set up my tent, do laundry, cook dinner, and do the rest of my camp chores.
As I was eating ramen for dinner, I saw an older couple coming down the trail towards the lake. We spoke for a bit, and I learned they were doing a flip-flop hike. They started in Mammoth Lakes, and were going north, then would go back to Mammoth Lakes and do the rest of the trail southbound. I told them that it might be hard to find a site as there were several other groups here already, and wished them good luck during the rest of their journey.
Around 7pm, I packed up my bear canister and put it far away from my tent. I was exhausted from my 3,500+ foot climb from Little Yosemite Valley, and although the sun hadn’t completely set yet, I decided to go to bed. It was a good day on the trail, but I was very tired and couldn’t wait to eat breakfast in Tuolumne in the morning and to experience the long, flat section beyond the store.
July 24, 2016