I woke up ready to hike fast, and encouraged myself to slow down. It was a perfect morning over Sunrise Lakes, and my last morning on trail. The process was so dialed by this point that my bag was packed before I even knew it, practically. I wished it had taken longer, wish I could've dragged it out. But time moves on. The smoke and the morning light maintained the surreal energy from the day before. And somehow, I found myself ready to walk into the Valley and end my hike.
The JMT's southern terminus, where I'd started, is the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point on the Sierra Crest and in the lower 48, a tower of a mountain with an iconic silhouette. The JMT's northern terminus is a bridge into a parking lot. So, I'd decided to spruce things up. Half Dome was a viable option, but then I would've had to deal with permits, and worse-- much worse-- crowds. And so I was ecstatic when I noticed that Cloud's Rest was essentially on my way to the valley floor-- it's an outcrop of granite, a thin fin, a little further away from the valley, and over a thousand feet higher than Half Dome. It provides a 360 degree view of Yosemite, granite for as far as the eye can see in any direction, and best of all, it's far enough away from the valley that by the time I got to it, all but the most intrepid day hikers would be a long way off. I wanted a moment to myself to end this hike, several miles to the end be damned. I formalized the plan and set off at a quick clip. The trail winds along a ridge with stunning morning views, then dips down to a little creek. From this point, it's only up to Cloud's Rest.
South: The spire on the right is Clark Peak, 6 miles away as the crow flies, with Bunnell Point far below it, the exposed granite. The valley contains the main branch of the Merced River.
I had been playing leapfrog with a group of ultrarunners on a day-trip from Tuolumne, each of us amazed at the others. I assure you, it is much, much easier to walk up a steep incline than it is to run it. And in yet another unlikely circumstance, I knew some of them from Cal Poly's running club. Thank god I had dropped out, or else that could've been me. But I digress. There just isn't much left to tell: I was at Cloud's Rest rather quickly after some of the most determined hiking I had put in on the whole trail. And it was worth every drop of sweat.
Half Dome straight ahead, the Valley below it. Tenaya Creek flows in under Mt. Watkins, the unbelievably massive granite wall image right. The Valley floor is nearly 6000' down.
Cloud's Rest was the terminus I needed to find, the achievement at the end of the trail to wrap it all up-- the rest of the way down was icing on the cake. Having something tangible to sit with, to celebrate, an overwhelming spectacle, was the closure that an experience like this needs, at least for me. I need the space, the time, the finish line.
Pictures truly cannot do the magnitude of the view justice, I think I spent that half hour spinning around whispering "wow" to myself, unable to really take in what I was seeing. For anyone in Yosemite for any reason, I cannot recommend Cloud's Rest highly enough. And if you're a JMTer NOBO, I would strongly advise adding it to your hike!
It was around this time that I began to think about food that wasn't the same items I had been carrying on my back the entire time. I'd heard amazing things about a pizza place on the valley floor, and, surprisingly, pizza had been in short supply in my pre-dehydrated meals. I genuinely ran down the switchbacks, taking the corners on my poles. While there's something to be said for taking the Mist Trail down, there's also something to be said for choosing a trail that allows you to absolutely fly.
While I have nearly no pictures of them, I do remember Little Yosemite Valley being very pretty, with the great flat expanse south of it being notably tempting terrain. The Merced is a gorgeous river at this elevation, wide and moving quickly, shaded with trees and boulder-clad. Nevada and Vernal Falls are also incredible additions to the otherwise soft and smooth trail, and even when the trail dips into forested regions, it only takes a single glimpse of a massive granite face to remind you where you are.
At around 2:45 pm, in some kind of pizza-induced fugue state, I came around a roundabout at lightning speed, and there were no more. I saw paved roads, and buildings, and a sign that said at the very, very bottom: "Mt. Whitney via JMT - 211 miles". And that was that-- that was the end. I walked to the car, and re-entered society.
Psych. I went home, started a blog, and planned my next trip.
There wasn't a lesson learned, or a big realization, or some fundamental way that my life was changed. I exited the backcountry the same way I always do-- more in tune with myself, with the land, with my thoughts and feelings, with my body. More aware of the world around me and of my space within it. My capacity to experience and to alter my my experience. For me, these trips are an important part of my mental health and overall well-being. In a perfect world, that mindfulness wouldn't fade, I would find some way to maintain it-- but the pressures and trappings of Real Life are in opposition to all of that-- so for me, it takes a refresher.
But that's part of why this blog exists-- this stuff matters to me, and if it matters to anyone who doesn't feel as confident in their ability to seek that out, I hope detailing my passage through these spaces can support others in their efforts to do the same, or that tagging along for the ride can provide some secondhand enjoyment.
Stats for the day:
+2400' / -7850'