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Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50
Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50

Two old gals on the John Muir Trail

By: Susan Turner (aka Hammock Hanger)

Sue Turner and Friend Hiking the John Muir Trail

My friend and I had both attempted a thru-hike of the JMT before. Unfortunately due to injuries and job issues neither of us had completed that goal. Mid-August we headed out as partners determined to make it to the summit of Mt. Whitney.

We were in great spirits as we began the hike UP out of Yosemite southbound. Climbing up out of the valley is some of the biggest elevation gains we would be presented with. Per our permit we could go no further then the Little Yosemite Campground. Which was just fine for us on day one with full packs. My partner had a collision with a large rock that jumped out in front of her. It left her with a scraped up knee and one heck of a black eye, but she was still smiling.

The next day was another strenuous day as we continued the ascent up out of the valley on a very warm, late summer day. I was dealing with the altitude as we got over 10,000 feet. Some fatigue and a little coughing. My biggest concern was an ill fitting pack and the bear canister within. God was looking out for me and allowed me to actually get a cell signal. Got an emergency call out to my hubby. Told him I needed him to order me a ULA pack and have it overnight expressed to Tuolumne Meadows PO. I was not able to get a signal again and could only keep my fingers crossed. We ended our day at the High Sierra Camp, where we treated ourselves to dinner. We even signed up for breakfast. Decadent for sure, but we were worth it. Besides as paying customers we got water where there was none available.


Day three was a relatively easy day as most of it was headed down towards the lakes and meadows. Day four was spent on a bus going back down to Yosemite Valley to retrieve my ULA pack that had been mis-delivered. All I can say is the trip was well worth it! The fit and comfort of the Catalyst was a trip saver. If you are planning on carrying your house on your back for 3 weeks, it had better be comfortable!

The next few days would bring us up to 11,000+ feet over Donahue & Silver Passes and by various beautiful glacier lakes. Each day we were getting stronger and more trail hardened. We stopped in at Red's Meadow for some great food, a shower, laundry and our much needed food drop. We camped over at the Postpile Campground, were we had our coldest night of 27 degrees. Burr! Spent an hour hanging out in the ladies room.

Just a few days later we found ourselves hiking into Vermillion Valley Ranch for a much desired zero day. Usually there is a sweet ferry ride to VVR but with the lake being drained due to the drought we had to hike it. Only made the food and rest much more appreciated.


There was a day spent hiking just to get us back on the JMT. Then up and over Selden Pass, down by a number of lakes and the cut-off to the Muir Trail Ranch. We really did not need another nero day but it was my 56th BIRTHDAY!!! So we got our food drops, as well as a cabin. There were natural hot springs at the ranch and we took not one, not two but three soaks! For dinner the chefs cooked prime rib, now that was a treat! (Even if we suffered from it later.) There was even a cake, complete with a candle and singing. It was a great birthday.

The draw back from our relaxing day was hiking out of the ranch with packs laden down with 10 days worth of food. Naturally the hike out was all up towards Muir Pass at 11,991". We took it slow and easy as we ate down the weight. It was a beautiful area and we just enjoyed it. Up at Muir Pass I took off my sunglasses to take a group photo for some fellow hikers. Guess what I left behind. I think the hike down from the pass through LeConte Canyon was one of my favorite days. We were going down, and with my new knees that is no longer painful, and the terrain was just beautiful.

As much as the day before was a favorite, the next day turned out to be a tough one. The Golden Staircase, is a lot of elevation in a short amount of time, and it was hot. The day ended with wicked thunder and lightening storm up at 10, 800". Luckily I got my fly up quickly and stayed pretty dry. My partner seemed to get pretty wet and spent the night cold.


The morning brought us up and over Mather Pass. The passes just kept coming, Pinchot and Glen, each getting higher and higher. We came in contact with a work crew building trail just before we reached the summit of Glen. Breaking rock is back-breaking work. While I am not always pleased with some of the larger boulders they use for steps, I am always appreciative of the hours of labor they put in. Also, the trail returned my sunglasses. Well, not mine but a better pair.

The next morning as we worked our way up Forester Pass at 13,118" we realized we were getting close to the end. Forester would be our last and highest pass before Mt. Whitney. As we congratulated each other at the top of the Pass, we both agreed we were tired and ready to complete the adventure. Then we kicked it in and hiked another 5 miles.

We hiked towards Guitar Lake, where we would camp and position ourselves for an early morning summit of Mt. Whitney. On our way we picked up our WAG bags as we entered a "non-fecal area". Yeppers!! Camping at Guitar Lake was wicked. The wind was whipping and never did stop. My tarp made so much noise at midnight I tore it down and just curled up by a boulder the size of small bus and tried to get a few hours of sleep.


Five a.m. I was up and trying to pack in the dark and wind. I did a poor job and could tell from the way my pack rode on my back. Watching my partner pack in the wind could have been funny but I was too cold to laugh. By 6 a.m. we were making our final climb of the trip. We zigged and zagged, finally making the summit of Mt. Whitney at 14,508". The summit is the highest point in the continuous United States. We still had 10 miles to get down to Whitney Portal. It seemed to be the longest descent in the world. At one point we finally gave in and decided to camp. However, it was just a few more miles... We pushed on completing a 17 mile day! Not bad for a couple of old broads. Giant hamburgers were our reward. We caught a shuttle with a few other hikers into Lone Pine, CA. It was nice to have a hot shower and soft bed to complete the day and the end of our hike.

Unfortunately we missed the bus out of town and had to hang out in Lone Pine over the weekend. That allowed us the time to have a relaxing dinner at Seasons Restaurant, where we were able to celebrate my partners 62nd birthday. One great hike and two birthday girls.

Sue Turner/Hammock Hanger

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