Joe's Ultralight Trip Reports

High Sierras along the JMT, 9/98

Part 1: Inspiration Most Divine

The cubicle walls were closing in. The pointy-haired boss was ruining my life yet again. I needed to walk in the fresh air, to feel the forgotten sun on my face, to be able to focus my eyes on something further away than the office coffee machine. I bolted for the Post Office to check my mail, a mere kilometer away by foot, but millions of mental miles from the Corporate Hell that was my career.

A good load of mail this time, and not too many bills. Always a happy sign. Started sorting it out and ran across the latest issue of Backpacker magazine. Hey, more escapism! My eyes hungrily devoured the pages as I reluctantly began the return trip to my Corporate Detention Chamber. I was almost back when I ran across an article about the "High Sierra Route". WOW! The more I read, the more intrigued I became. I decided to take a long lunch and ponder the possibilities.

The High Sierra Route isn't a trail. There are no fixed paths, no signs, no campgrounds. It's simply a broadly suggested series of valleys, passes and peaks to follow, often far above treeline. With the exception of a few short stretches where it joins the John Muir / Pacific Crest Trails, all the travel is true backcountry. Total solitude is nearly guaranteed. At that moment, sitting on the sidewalk outside the office, nothing sounded more glorious. Just me, my pack, and my orienteering/backcountry skills to keep me company. And to keep me from becoming marmot food. ;-)

I immediately began scheming. Maps were ordered, dates were set, managers were warned. My solo adventure was in the bag. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that having someone to share the backcountry with would actually be kind of nice. I'm used to solo travel and while the solitude is wonderful, I've noticed that often when I encounter a group of backpackers, I feel this "moth to the flame" instinct to join in, share stories, whine about the weather or trail conditions, or speak glowingly of the previous night's sunset. A social hunger as real as dingos falling on a fresh kill. Guess I'm a social animal at heart after all. :-)

I decided to ask my friend Jason if he'd be interested in joining me. After describing the whole route and concept to him, he didn't immediately hang up. This was a good sign. :-) Jason is also an ultralight backpacker, and unlike me has actually read Ray Jardine's book. Oddly I'm the one who carries the umbrella though. :-) Jason is more of a fastpacker whereas I'm a "start early, go slow, hike late" kind of guy. Both of us are flexible though, so no worries. We'd find a happy medium.

The trip was turning out to be even better now. With two of us we could bring two cars, park one at the southern trailhead and the other at our exit to the north. A nice 8-day point-to-point adventure, starting at Pine Creek and ending at Mammoth Lakes, tramping over countless thousands of vertical feet gain/loss along the way.

I chose mid-September for our wanderings. Being an El Nino year, the snow in the High Sierras was long in melting and the mosquitos would likely last late into summer. September seemed safe. Minimum snow in the passes, dead mosquitos, and if we started on Labor Day Weekend, most of the crowds would be gone after the vacation season ended the following Tuesday. I called to secure the permit, and days later the ticket to paradise was in my hand. As I muddled through life at the office, I kept staring at the topo map I'd pinned to the wall, prospective routes carefully pencilled in. The adventure was about to begin....

Part 2: Noah Redux (or, "Why Is Everyone Hiking Out on a Saturday?")

Coming Soon!

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