July 25, 2018
by Nick whitbread
Yosemite National Park or Yo-Smite as my cousin called it has been on my to do list for many, many years. I love the mountains and I love trees. Yosemite has lots of large versions of both. Recently I had the chance to make the trip there and it did not disappoint. This is the story of that trip.
(Yosemite National Park is located in California in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.)
I was driving south from Lake Tahoe extremely excited to get to Yosemite. I have worked in the outdoor industry for over a decade and some of the most iconic outdoor imagery and the most influential sports in the outdoor industry were photographed or birthed within Yosemite National Park. I felt like I was finally coming home.
Yosemite National Park was created in 1890, there were several passionate people involved in bringing awareness to the need to protect the area that is the park today. The most revered of those is probably John Muir who was a naturalist who lived and travelled the area extensively. Writing about his experiences in Yosemite.
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” -John Muir in a letter to his wife in July 1888
On a trip to Lake Tahoe two years ago I bought a Meridian Line T-shirt with a unique artwork on the front which was a picture of John Muir. At that point I had heard of him but didn’t really know much about him other than his name. I figured I was wearing a T-shirt with his picture on it, I should know a little about him. I began to research and learned the role he played in romanticizing Yosemite and bringing it to the attention of congress in an effort to protect it. John Muir has a trail that bears his name from the portal of Mount Whitney to the Yosemite Valley (220 Miles).
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike” -John Muir
I not only wanted to experience Yosemite but also walk in the footsteps of John Muir on the trail that bears his name. I arrived to the Tioga Pass (a high mountain road only open in the summer due to high snowfall) late and decided to stay just outside the park and head in early.
When I woke in the morning I rushed through my morning routine in order to get into the park. I was keen to get into the trails but also secure a campsite for the night. When I arrived at the gate to the park is was a very cute transaction. The park staff wear the uniform that you see Yogi Bear wear in the cartoons. I paid the $35 for seven days of fun and off I went. First stop Tollume Meadows Campground. I secured a first come first served campsite and within half an hour I had my maps and I was running towards the trailhead. I headed straight for a loop that takes you on a section of the John Muir Trail.
Part of the John Muir Trail (JMT) makes up part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) a trail that runs 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Each year hundreds of through hikers set out on the 5 month journey. Whilst running in Lake Take I met a couple of PCT through hikers and was enthralled listening to what the journey had been like for them so far. stories of amazing landscapes, animal encounters, friendship and solitude. I am putting the PCT on my to do list.
Back to the story. As I was running south on the JMT I was coming face to face with my fair share of hikers. It was easy to pick out the ones who were through hiking the PCT. They carried only the necessities, usually looked pretty haggard and seemed full of emotion, be it interpreted as excitement or dejection. They just had a “look” that let you know they were on an epic journey. I really enjoyed greeting them as I ran by. Some were excited as they were most likely heading to a re-supply at the Tulloume Meadows Post Office. Some just looked like they were ready to quit. I gave them a big smile and a hello regardless of their demeanor. I was running through beautiful meadows of flowers on the edge of flowing water. The sun was out and I couldn’t be happier.
It was very surreal to run somewhere where the scenery was so familiar to your eyes but you’d never been there before. I kept stopping and just taking it in or taking a picture. It was really a special experience for me. Soon I parted from the JMT to begin my loop. As I encountered hikers with heavy packs they were always impressed that I was running up there. Thankfully I had been living at 6000ft for a few weeks so the jump to 8-10 wasn’t as shocking for my body as it usually might have been.
When I reached the highest point of my run (or so I thought) i was viewing an amazing alpine lake with a beautiful granite amphitheater surrounding it. As I looked in the direction i was traveling a mountain storm was heading towards me. I sat down and watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. I had decided to bring a buff and gloves instead of a rain jacket. I was also carrying hiking poles, aka lightning rods. As I sat down to eat something I ran through storm scenarios in my head. Where I would head for shelter? would I leave my poles behind if the lightning got close? how cold would I get if I got wet? As the rain arrived I decided to get moving towards some more cover. The further I ran the more the storm seamed to lessen. I was right in the middle of the storm.
I kept on running and eventually arrived at the highest point of my run The High Sierra Camp. A tent village in the middle of the mountains that I had no idea was there. Just as i arrived the sky opened and it began to pour. I headed inside of one of the tent/brick structures marked the store. Inside was a few sundries and some tables and chairs. It looked like it doubled as the mess hall. I asked the young woman behind the counter inside if she would tell me what this place was. She obliged. Each year there is a lottery to stay at this camp or several others within the park. The staff arrive in the spring and leave in the fall (the following day I did a run and came across two horse trains packing supplies up to another high camp). The whole thing seemed pretty cool to me and it was also allowing me to stay dry. It wasn’t long before the storm passed and I headed back out.
Time in the mountains for me seems to slow right down. When I am sitting up high admiring the view and what I had to do to get there it’s very calming and fulfilling. It’s a hard place to leave. I decided to run a littler further down into a valley away from the trailhead to visit a small yet beautiful lake. On the way out my stomach and legs were telling me it’s defiantly time to head back. So I began descending (the best part) back down to the meadows where I had begun. It was fairly mellow descending but the man made steps kept me on my toes. Losing concentration and taking a high speed fall at the end of a run was not on my to do list for the day. When I reached the trailhead and then my campsite I was tired, hungry and happy, I also felt very full. This was day one. I had four more days of running that followed, each with their own beauty and challenges. Ultimately smoke from a fire just outside the park took away the views on day 4. It didn’t dampen my enthusiasm to explore and I just focussed on the beauty right in front on me.
Yosemite is a special place. The wilderness there is like none I have experienced before. I want to go back and do some backcountry camping and running. The trip was everything that I thought and more. I ran and swam and played. I will without doubt return, but for now
“The mountains are calling and I must go” -John Muir
Have a great run today
Ps. The John Muir artwork is from Jeremy Collins Meridian Line