The day started early once again for me, and I was packed up and ready to go before the darkness cleared the sky.
Funny thing happened that morning, I forgot to pack my tent inside my backpack, and I just strapped it on above my sleeping pad.... which worked great. Something I repeated for the rest of the trip. Saved me space, and kept my weight closer to my hips.
So, I went up. 1500 feet over 2 miles of beautifully switch-backed trail. I was feeling tired, and slow, and was definitely plodding as I climbed, but every time I looked back down over my shoulder, the view kept getting better.
I found my pace (I was definitely the tortoise for this trip) and kept rolling up the switchbacks. I wish I would've counted them.
After about 45 minutes, I was above Upper Ottoway lake, as the path turned slightly northward and headed straight up to Red Peak Pass.
Leaving Upper Ottoway Lake behind, the switchbacks got tighter as I climbed, zig zagging my way up towards Red Peak Pass.
Only once on the climb did I force myself to stop due to over exertion, after 2 full days on the trail, I finally found my agonizingly slow pace which let my breathing and my heart rate keep up with my ascension.
It is always tough to keep your head up while hiking, especially uphill, staring at each step to be sure of footing as you go up. I also made a conscious effort to not try to guess how far I had left, as it always seemed to slow me down. Suddenly, I looked up as the ground flattened ever so subtly, to see how far I had to go... and dropped a huge F-Bomb.
I'd gotten to the razor's edge that was Red Peak Pass, and suddenly, the next valley was open before me.
I climbed up on a rock and took that picture, and decided to sit and have breakfast.
The view was incredible. As I sat, another fellow rolled up to where we were, and then the twosome of Aaron & Krystle.
The four of us chatted and enjoyed the amazing scenery.
As I stood up and strapped my pack back on, sitting at 11,200 feet, I was excited. It was already an amazing day (more to come, in part 2).
I awoke at about 4:30 AM and started packing up. I'd packed most of my gear the night before, and had it sitting, ready in the bear box.
I tossed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack, collapsed my tent as quietly as I could, and then stacked everything on top of my sleeping bag in my backpack.
My pad on the outside of my bag, I hoisted it onto my back, with my GoPro affixed to my shoulder strap, and started my 1.5 mile walk to the Happy Isles trailhead.
Once I got there, a short distance across the bridge, I snapped the required selfie in front of the trailhead sign, and began the push straight up towards Nevada Falls.
I struggled mightily finding my pace, as the trail climbed 2000 feet over 2.5 miles. It took me about an hour and a half of walking to manage those 2.5 miles, and I had to make a concerted effort to both not push myself too hard, and to pause to take pictures. The views were so beautiful, and it was so nice to be away from the chaos that was the valley floor the night before.
As I walked past Clark Point, the views became more spectacular as Liberty Cap began to loom closer and closer to me.
I took the JMT route up the hill, instead of the steeper Mist Trail (looking back, I should've taken the Mist Trail, the views were probably even more spectacular, including a better view of Nevada Falls).
As I rounded a bend, there was Liberty Cap, stretching up to the sky, with Nevada Falls trickling over the cliff's edge. I sat and ate breakfast at this spot, just enjoying the astonishing views.... and realizing I'd already climbed about 1500 feet, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Shortly after breakfast, another mile into my walk, I got to the Nevada Falls/Panorama Trail junction. I walked the extra 1/2 mile round trip, to the Nevada Falls footbridge, and looked out over the landscape and the valley which I'd just hiked out of. The view was nothing short of incredible, although, the smoke looming over the valley was disconcerting.
Looking at my maps, I decided against topping off my water, seeing 4-5 streams coming in the next 4 miles, knowing that lunch would be calling my name about that time.
Continuing my climb up and out of the valley, for another mile and a half which contained another 1,000 feet of elevation gain and had me breathing heavily and questioning my own humanity as the heat of a 96 degree day beat down on me (yes, even at 7,000 feet, it was HOT). I veered off the Panorama Trail, and headed almost due south, through a burn area, which I believe was from the Hoover fire, in 2001. There was some regrowth, but nothing tall enough to give me any shade.
Over the next 2.5 miles, the heat really started getting to me. With no shade, and with every stream I crossed being dry, I ran out of my 2L of water, and kept trudging on.
About 7 miles into my day, I came across a tiny stream which was trickling into a couple of large pools, sat down in the shade of a burnt tree, and drank 2 liters of water, and put another 2 in my hydration bladder and soldiered on, making the mental note to not pass any water if I needed it for the rest of my trip.
As I got back into the cover of the forest, my legs still felt strong, and I kept admiring just how enormous the trees were, and how much they seemed to sway with the wind. It was almost hypnotic.
After crossing two more small creeks, I walked until I came upon Illilouette Creek for the first time, and found myself a decent spot to set up camp for the night, about 12 miles in.
After a delicious dinner (Couscous with some packaged Chicken -- which I finished off for breakfast the next day) I was sound asleep as soon as it was dark outside. The night sky would have to wait for another night.
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-2-illilouette-creek-to-lower-ottoway-lake-10-miles
After spending my REI refund and my 20% off coupon on a new backpack (Osprey Aether 60) in the spring of 2014, I was itching for another trip.
The opportunity came as when I suddenly switched assignments at work, which allowed me to get away on Memorial Day weekend. I decided where I was leaving on Wednesday evening, and left bright and early Friday morning, stopped at the grocery store and made the 6 hour trip to Porcupine Mountains State Park in the U.P. of Michigan.
I planned a few different routes I could take, depending on how my legs felt, knowing my first day would be about 7 miles.... and I ended up with a prime camping spot, right on Lake Superior.
Just being out there that night reset my internal batteries and made me infinitely more confident in my backpacking abilities.
The second day, I did my first real river crossing (The Big Carp River, who's bridge was out) and I walked an extra mile trying to find a shallower and wider spot to cross.
The river came up to mid-thigh on me in spots and I took the crossing very slowly, but it drained me mentally to the point that I took off my pack on the far side and sat down to relax for about an hour.
Hiking up onto the ridge, I followed the Big Carp Trail and ended up camping overlooking a valley above the Big Carp.
I decided with promises of grill outs coming on Memorial Day, to cut my trip a day short, and on Sunday I hiked to Mirror Lake and then back out to my car.
It was just shy of Mirror Lake when I started feeling angry, frustrated and downright exhausted. It's amazing how quickly you can lose that drive when backpacking. I sat down, ate some jerky and some trail mix and finished the last 4 miles of my hike without incident.
Definitely taught me that you have to keep the engine fueled, and I learned the early warning signs of when my engine starts to sputter.
One last trip up onto the ridge, and a crossing of the Little Carp river and I was back to my car for the long drive back to Milwaukee.
In early 2013, two of my friends asked me if I wanted to go to Glacier National Park with them.
"It's beautiful," they said. "We can backpack," they promised.
I was in, immediately. I committed myself, I started biking more regularly, I started walking and hiking whenever I could, and I played as much Ultimate as my body could stand.
Turns out, at 34, it couldn't stand quite as much as at 24. I sprained an ankle in April, pulled my calf badly in June.
With our trip set for Mid-August, my spirits were still high... but my fitness level was not.
Our backpacking excursion ended up being shorter than we planned, we were only going to spend two nights in the backcountry, and we'd car camp our other 4 nights in Glacier. With day-hikes easy to find and readily available, I was still excited for the trip.
The first day, we hiked to Grinnell Glacier. About 8 miles round trip, with 2000 feet of elevation gain. I'm pretty sure we finished it in about 5 hours.
Day two was Avalanche Lake. A much shorter hike, and a bit of elevation, but not nearly as strenuous as the day before.
I felt great that day. I could've sat at the lake for hours, it was so calm and relaxing and the swim I took really invigorated me.
The next morning, however, my feet betrayed me, and I skipped that days hike (13ish miles round trip to Iceberg Lake).
Then, on Thursday, we were scheduled to begin our hike into the backcountry.
We got up fairly early, packed up all our gear, went to the trailhead and started hiking.
About 2 or 3 miles in, I needed a break, took off my pack and went to fill up my water bottle, and sat down for a few minutes by a stream. When I went to stand up, my left hip flexor gave out on me. With 2000 feet of elevation gain that day, and another 2000 the following day (both up and down), I had to bail on the hike.
I ended up camping at a "rustic" campground in the park (no readily available water) for those two nights, while my friends went on their journey (which I insisted they did).
All that said, it was an amazing trip, one of the best of my life, and it planted the seed for me to become a backpacker.
I learned some very important lessons that trip:
1) Don't try to keep up with people who are in much better shape than you. Hike your own pace. Your feet and body will thank you for it.
2) Take more pictures. They last forever, and help convey the awe of your experience to others.
3) Don't ever, ever, ever buy a backpack because it's on sale. Go get fitted for one, test it out, test it out some more, and if anything doesn't fit or feel right, try another.
Kid A is an avid hiker, backpacker and outdoors enthusiast located in Milwaukee