BHS 100K

Here is some video and pictures from the 2013 Bishop Ultramarathon. I completed the 100K in 14 hours 22 minutes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

JMT Day 1 - Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows

 Saturday, June 30th
                I slept well the first night.  Tuolumne Meadows is in the northern section of the park at 8,600 feet elevation in the High Sierra county.  It generally takes most people a few days to a week to get acclimated to the altitude, but so far it appears that I am not experiencing any headaches or sleep issues.  The JMT actually starts down in the Yosemite Valley, the major hub of the park where you find Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome and thousands of tourist especially on a summer weekend. The JMT official starts from the Happy Isle Nature Center in the Yosemite Valley, which is 21 miles away, but because of quotas placed on the number of wilderness permits issued each day, I was not able to secure a permit from there.  Our permit, which we pick up today, actually has our hike starting from Tuolumne Meadows. 
However, I want to hike the entire trail so I came up with this work around.  I could cover  the first 21 miles in a single day since a wilderness permit is not required to day hike, only to overnight camp.  Plus I would be much lighter, as I could leave my backpack up in Tuolumne Meadows . Also there is a park bus that I could use to get down to the valley from the high country.  One small problem is that the bus only travels once a day, leaving the Tuolumne General Store at 10:20am and arriving in the Valley around noon.  Still it doesn’t start getting dark until around 8:00PM in the summer and that gives me 8 hours to hike/run 21 miles and all I would be carrying is some food for the day, mostly trail bars, my water filtration bottle and a camera.  Even hiking through the mountains I should be able to maintain 2 to 3 miles an hour without a heavy pack so the plan has been set. 
The bus pulls up right on time; I board it and promptly fall asleep in my seat while overhearing a couple of people talking about their experiences on the PCT.  The PCT stands for the Pacific Crest Trail which runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, takes several months to hike and uses the JMT as it passes though the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I would later learn that a majority of PCT hikers look down at JMT hikers as wet behind the ears amateur hikers - whatever.   The bus arrives in the valley swarming with tourist at noon and once there I hop on a second bus to make my way over to Happy Isle.  The service is good though and I arrive at the starting point of the JMT at 12:45am with the brilliant mountain sunlight poring through the pines urging me on. 
Mt. Whitney or Bust
The mileage sign at the start of the trail indicates 211 miles to Mt. Whitney, the terminus of the JMT.  This makes sense, since the after finishing the trail at the top of the mountain, one still needs to hike down another 7 miles making the total hike 218 miles as expected.  What I didn’t expect to see was that it was 27 miles to Tuolumne Meadows!  The sign must be wrong I hoped, or else … somehow I miscalculated the distance and it’s 6 miles longer than I thought.  That would add 6 miles to my day hike/run and I would definitely be pushing dark by the time I got finished.  Shoot, I wasn’t counting on that at all and although right now standing there in my shorts and nylon running shirt felt pretty good, I would be  freezing up there at 9,000 feet after the sun went down.  What to do? Chicken out and return via the bus?  That would mean missing the first part of the JMT.  Not the end of the world but I had my heart set on hiking the whole shebang.   Or forge onwards and risk a miserable night in the mountains.  Thinking, that the sign may well be wrong, I have someone snap my picture  at this official start and text Amy and the rest of my family and friends “JMT ahead – let the adventure begin!”  
Nevada Falls

Up the mountain I go, running what I can but fast hiking most of it as the trail is steep.  There are lots of day hikers here to weave my way around, but I also encounter some overnighters with large packs coming in and heading out.  The first few miles are paved before it gives way to dirt.  Water drips down on us from a cliff of green ferns providing a welcome cooling mist on this warm day.  About four miles up the hill, the trail divides and I am not sure to go left or right.  To the left, it’s 0.2 miles to Nevada Falls and I ask some people coming down if the trail dead ends at the falls.  One guy says yes it does, so I decide to go right which makes sense because the trail keeps going up the mountain which is where I need to go.  Eventually I need to cross Cathedral Pass, elevation 10,000 feet, before I come down the other side to Tuolumne Meadows. 
Another mile or so of very steep climbing and I come to another trail divide.  This time there is nobody around so I take off my day pack and look at my map.  Oh, no I say to myself as I realize I should have went left at the falls as the trail does cross there.  In my haste to make good time I have just added at least 2 miles and over half an hour to my already extended trip as I would be forced to double back now.  I should have looked at my map back there to confirm the direction.  "My bad" as they say and I feel a mild panic build in me as it seems that my 21 mile “fun run” has now turn into a 29 mile do or die hard core effort.  I better just keep moving now and I race down the hill.  I fly back down in just 10 minutes and at the falls I see another sign says that I am now 22 miles away from Tuolumne Meadows.  Doing some quick calculations I see that it is still possible to get back before 9:00PM, as long as I don’t make any more wrong turns. 
Park enthusiast enjoying the midday sun at Nevada Falls

After, Nevada Falls there aren’t as many hikers on the trail.  About half a mile of more climbing, and the trail nicely levels out and becomes runnable.  In places I start to catch glimpses of Cathedral Peak which marks the high point of my hike for the day which is encouraging.    I come along another runner and together we stop at another confusing trail divide and together we decide to go left which fortunately proves right.  His name is Chance and he is trying to make it back to his High Sierra Camp in time for dinner.  He’s been running since dawn and also went down to the valley today.  We spilt ways at his trail junction and I keep climbing definitely feeling the elevation now as I gasp for air.  It’s going to take some time to get acclimated to the altitude but my Garmin GPS watch indicates I am still putting out a 30 minute mile so my progress is good.
Cathedral Peak in the distance
Top of Cathedral Pass

 At 9,500 feet, I hit the first open level meadow and I sense that Cathedral pass is not far now.  It is a hot day, but I've got plenty of water at the frequent stream crossing I encounter along the trail.  A couple of hikers stop me and ask me to take their picture.  I do, quickly moving on and finally I’ve got Cathedral Peak on my right and Cathedral Lake on my left. The hardest part of my day is now behind me as I hit the top of the pass.  The Lake brings back some good memories as it is the location of my very first overnight backpacking trip into Yosemite about 8 years ago.  It was springtime, the lake was still half covered with ice, water was running down the trail from melting snow, and it was a glorious hike that infected me with a bug for this wilderness ever since.  It’s 6:00PM now and the sun is losing some of its warmth but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get too cold. Plus the feeling of my lungs bursting with that crisp fresh air would overcome any chill that might come on.  It’s probably 10 more miles from here and all downhill – maybe I can make 10 miles in 2 hours before sunset.
Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Lake

Down the north side of Cathedral Pass remembering the terrain I hiked so many years ago I start hitting 10 to 12 minute miles.  Everything flows well and I get to the bottom at 7:30PM where I realize my initial miscalculation in the mileage for the day.  The bottom of the pass is not the end of the hike.  I still need to traverse another 4 miles to get to the campgrounds.  However, I am in safe territory now, off of the pass and in relatively level terrain.  An hour later as twilight starts to fall I spot the campground sign next to our creek.  I jump in the water with only my shoes and shorts on bracing for the sting of the cold water, but it actually feels real good as I take my first wilderness swim/rinse of the trip.  Back at camp my friend An is waiting for me with a welcome cold beer and some hot sausages.  It turned to be a good first day.

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