A Much Needed Vacation Starts in Less than 12 Hours

I do not think I’ve ever needed a vacation more in my life.

I needed a vacation last summer, in the summer after my first year of law school (read: why is the first year of law school so bad?). I had one planned with my long-term partner August, and under better circumstances there’d be posts here about our car camping and hiking trip to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park.

But then my brother got sick. Well. Sicker. He was born with duchenne muscular dystrophy and had always done very well for his age group as a bit ahead of the curve in his deteriorating health. And then in late July, it was like he stumbled off of the cliff, healthwise. He spent a month in and out of the ICU as we tried to figure out if this was the new normal for his disease.  My family and I spent a lot of afternoons napping curled up in curious positions in uncomfortable hospital room chairs. Up until literally the day before my planned flight to Montana we thought his health might just be the “new normal,” a state anyone who has encountered a degenerative disease knows about. Until it wasn’t.  I canceled my trip (no regrets, and I have plans to go to Montana in August this year).

We moved him to hospice care and said good bye to him a couple days later on August 18, 2016.

Two logistical travel notes, because this is a travel blog:

Jetblue, my preferred airline for the many flights between DC and Boston that I do as someone living in both cities, was fantastic the entire month of this family crisis. They were so understanding and helpful every time I called them. We had a canceled flight of my father’s that they let my sister and I use the credit for to get up there, they were great at moving the various pre-scheduled flights around, they helped me get out of DCA as fast as possible when I needed to, and not once did they charge us a change fee. They were awesome and it was such a relief to encounter that in the flurry of logistics and grief and they have my customer loyalty pretty much forever.

Delta (the carrier for our flights to Montana) was less awesome. I couldn’t get out of the $200 per ticket cancelation/”change” fee, there were three hour hold times, and I had almost $400 in “delta credit” that I had to use or lose before June 1st… but I couldn’t use to pay for my sister’s flight up for my brother’s funeral. It was not unexpected, but especially in contrast to how awesome Jetblue was, it was still frustrating.

Which brings us to Colombia.
To give me a distraction from grief in the couple of weeks afterward, I started planning a bit. I was looking for a new vacation outlet for my spring break (in February). I literally put in random cities in South America into kayak.com until one came up that was 1.) Warm 2.) Affordable.
Turns out Delta flies to Colombia, so I could use the credit before June. Turns out Colombia is warm. And affordable. Problem solved.

Or mostly. My partner at the time was not thrilled with the idea. Zika concerns,* mostly. We bickered a bit about it a bit. Then, for unrelated reasons and only a couple weeks after my brother’s funeral (yes, I am going to be angry about that for a long time), he broke up with me.

I bought my flight to Colombia the next day. Booking international travel is not the worst way to deal with a bad breakup. But yes. Even though I am doing much better (actually, all things considered, I’m doing pretty awesome), I definitely need this vacation.

So here we are. I leave for Colombia tomorrow morning via Atlanta – on a crazy early flight out of DCA. The only firm plan I have is the Lost City Trek. Everything else is kind of up in the air, but I have 12 days to figure it out. There will be beaches. And a lot of reading.

Everything I am bringing to Colombia for almost two weeks

Everything I am bringing to Colombia for almost two weeks

I am sharing this photo of everything I’m bringing mostly because I am super impressed with myself: Everything I need for 12 days fits into this 30L day pack, which I’ll carry on.

In there (plus on my body), I’ll have: (2) pairs of zip off hiking pants, a pair of shorts, (2) dresses, (3) shirts appropriate for hiking or socializing, (1) set of linen long sleeved camp clothes treated with permethrin, pajamas, (2) bathing suits, chacos, hiking boots, (3) sets of hiking socks and liners, underwear & bras, a headlamp, swimming goggles, my first aid kit, all necessary toiletries, a dry bag, a sleeping sack, a 40L foldable duffle, my bluetooth folding keyboard, a solar powered charger, my kindle, my phone (which will work more or less normally in Colombia), my journal, and a packable down jacket because it’s bloody cold on the East coast right now and it’ll double as my pillow for hammock sleeping.

* It’s not that I’m unconcerned about Zika, I’m just treating it similarly to how I would malaria, dengue, and all these other mosquito born viruses. Do what I can, accept the risk, and I have no intention of procreating for two years.

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On Buses and Language

17 August – Partially written on the bus to Merida

Oi, yesterday was exhausting. I got my airfare, my breakfast, my shuttle to the ADO bus station in Cancun, my bus ticket, and negotiated myself to my hostel (Donde es? Cerca o lejos?) and my 100 peso a night bed in Valladolid – all with my very limited Spanish and in the context of holy crap they speak Spanish much faster here than they do in Mexico City.


The buses don’t always have clear labels, or the labels are for towns beyond where I’m going, and they rattle off the bus destinations all of once and if you miss it because you’re struggling with the turnstile to get into the loo with your suitcase, well. You just have to assume you’re on the right bus because the bus driver took your ticket and he wouldn’t take your ticket if he wasn’t going there, right?

My first bus in Mexico, from Cancun to Valladolid, I spent the first two thirds of it stressed out, worried I had missed it, or was on the wrong bus, and what I would do if I was on the wrong bus. I was running through my mental trouble shooting when I stumbled through a basic conversation with the woman in the seat next to me, whose daughter (Sabrina, an adorable three year old who slept the whole time, at times half on me. But she was sleeping, not wailing, so I’ll take the being half on me in the name of a three year old that sleeps for three hours straight). Turns out this woman was also going to Valladolid. Horrah! A way to figure out which of the many stops my second class bus was taking to get off on. Because the bus driver was definitely not announcing any of them. You just had to kind of know.


There is something simultaneously stressful and freeing about navigating the local bus system when you have a limited grasp of the language. It’s pretty much out of your control at a certain point. If I had been on the wrong bus… well, that’s part of the adventure I suppose.

On language learning… I was asking the guy at the front desk of my hostel if he knew if Chichen Itza had luggage storage. Not in such a graceful way, of course. My Spanish isn’t that good, but I had just started asking and a guy who was staying there interrupted me and was like “What are you trying to ask?” Then proceeded to rattle off the question in Spanish for me. Which, was unwanted. And unfair. How in the ever loving hell am I supposed to learn Spanish if someone else does all the talking for me? I didn’t even get a chance to get through my whole question before he butted in. He didn’t ask if I needed help. I encounter that sort of shit a lot, especially from male travelers. Ask if I want your help, first. And then say it slow enough so I can bloody listen to what you’re saying.


The only reason why I was in Valladolid was so I could take one of the earlier buses out to Chichen Itza instead of coming in from Merida or Cancun and arriving the same time as all of the tour buses (around 11). Valladolid is just 45 minutes away, and because I could pick up a bus from Chichen straight to Merida I brought my bag and stored it at the luggage storage there (it does exist). My gamble paid off. I was there a little before 9am. The merchants hadn’t even finished setting up yet, and I had a good two hours to wander around the complex with just a handful of other people before the Cancun buses started to arrive. The morning light was good, it was cooler than it is later in the day, and I was leaving around the time the masses were arriving. It was, in retrospect, one of my favorite parts about my trip to Mexico.


When I was waiting for the bus to Merida, I met a dude from Mexico City going to Merida and we ended up wandering around Merida together (he was also on holiday). I think he was vaguely disappointed that I have a boyfriend (also surprised that I was as old as I am, something I’ve encountered a lot on this trip), but we spent a couple hours basically playing the language game – what does this sign say, what does that sign say, and in return I tweaked his English a bit (he verbally said Indeed a lot, which, while usually used correctly, made it sound like he was presenting his PhD dissertation.) and gave him words for things he didn’t know. His sense of direction was terrible. The direction of my hostel was “South of the bus station” and he like, goes to pull out a compass on his i-phone and before he had even loaded the app I was walking in the right direction. “How did you know this is South?” he asked. “The sun’s in that direction,” I point and explain you know, how the sun works. I don’t even remember where I learned that, but it was definitely before the age of smart phones and even the internet. It is a skill set that makes me feel quite old. Although much more useful when you don’t have 3G.

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High Sierra Trail: The Day of Endless Switchbacks

Day 6: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal
Mileage: 15.6 miles
Max elevation: 14,505 ft
Elevation at Guitar Lake: 11,460 ft
Elevation at Whitney Portal: 8,010 ft

My watch went off at 4am. We got off the trail at 6:30pm and were in Lone Pine by around 9pm. That might give you a taste of how long of a day this was, but it doesn’t go into the mind numbing quality of the endless fucking switchbacks involved, or the way a thirty odd pound pack feels at over 13,000 feet.

A side note on our packs: there was one woman we met on the trail who spoke in the way one does when English is not your first language, complete with the bluntness – “You’re packs are very big!” (This is also the same woman who scoffed at the hair comb I brought when she saw me using it later. You know what happens when I don’t comb my long hair daily? I have to cut it all off because the fine, tiny little knots created are impossible to untangle. I like my hair.)

Yes. My pack was a not full 70L and Sam’s was a more full (he heroically carried the bear canister) 75/80L because while a ~50L pack would have been ideal, I’m not sure if the three of us could have split all the food for three people between three 50Ls, and Molly’s 50L flat up could not hold a bear canister. They ranged between 30lbs and 40lbs, depending on whose pack and how much food we had eaten at that point.
Also, I’m about to be a broke law student and we all work in various public interest oriented sectors to varying degrees of poverty. This is the pack I had from a previous trip, so this is the pack I carried. And I carried it quite well, thank you, if slowly. If I had spent more than a week on the trail maybe it would have made sense to invest the money to cut the extra 20L but it did not.

Anyway. So, Mt. Whitney. It started with endless switchbacks in the dark. The terrain at this point above sea level is pretty much all the same – moonscape esque with lots of loose rock. We were treated to a sunrise, which slowed our progress a bit because we had to keep stopping and turning around to see it as a new color was added to the layer behind us.


The terrain makes it hard to see where you’re actually going – where the end point is – so every switchback after a certain point is a… maybe? maybe this is it? And then it isn’t, and you sigh, and trudge around the next switchback with the same level of optimism.

Until it was – our first landmark was the point where the trail cuts off to the summit in one direction and the trail we were on continues. There’s a bit of space for the backpackers to leave their pack at this point, which we did.


At the junction to the summit.

Side note: One dude told us the story of how he was chasing off marmots that were ripping into packs of people who were stupid enough not to consolidate their food back into their bear canister while their packs were abandoned. Don’t risk your gear. Bear canisters are possibly more for the marmots than the bears.

At least the switchbacks mostly stop at this point – it’s a pretty gradual occasional rock scramble that I overheard one hiker call “The Trail of Urine” due to there being pretty much nowhere to go pee but on the trail itself, and it was an obvious action people resorted to. It seemed relatively easy without our packs, shockingly. This is also where the day hikers start to appear. The ones at this hour are the smart ones – they’ve been at this since well before dawn. When we started to descend we saw some day hikers that were still trucking along and found ourselves wondering exactly where they thought they’d be once the sun set.


This photo (above) is the point where I was like, F.M.L. How am I not at the god damned summit yet?

Of course it’s like, just over there where the people are standing but man.


At the top of Mt. Whitney, with the Sierras behind us

At the top, I signed the log book (Comment: “I’m still questioning my life choices.”) and we saw our friends the Ultralight Brothers, who took some photos for us. Took some selfies, rested a bit… and then started our way back down.


I forgot to mention: there’s no water between Guitar Lake and Trail Camp, so all that way up those switchbacks we carried about 4L of water. And you need a lot of water to stave off headaches and altitude sickness. Throughout the trail, unless we knew there’d be water scarcity at points, I usually carried only 2 liters at any given point – water is a lot of weight.

We started to descend. And descend. And descend. Our trail notes said 100 switchbacks, but I’m pretty sure we were just on a fucking treadmill that endlessly produced switchbacks.

As we descended, we noticed the differences between that side of the mountain and the side we had been on. Day hikers leave a lot of garbage. Including used wag bags. What is the purpose of using the wag bag at all if you are going to leave it on the side of the trail, you wretch of a human being? May you suffer dreams of being stuck in the kitty litter type material of a used wag bag for the rest of your life.

The trail on that end of the mountain is just brutal. Like, I would take 6 days hauling my pack all that way over that mountain over doing it as a day hike. Day hikers are insane (I’m saying this as a marathon runner who also hiked Mt. Whitney and has jumped out of airplanes and off of bridges.  Day hiking Mt. Whitney is too much of an extreme sport for me). That evening, back at the Portal, there was a huge commotion and people hiking in with stretcher boards and an ambulance because someone hadn’t gotten enough electrolytes in on their 22 mile day hike, had gone into shock, and now had to be hiked out on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Electrolytes and salt are important, folks, although with a day hike like that I suppose it’d be really easy to miscalculate – you’re pushing your body really hard. I hope she was okay.

We filled up our water at Trail Camp – which is about where the Ultralight Brothers passed us again. Sam cracked a joke to them about them being like the ship in the Princess Bride – they seem so far off, they’ll never catch up, but then we turn around and they’re passing us. Inconceiveable.

Slog. Slog. Slog. Switchback. Switchback. Switchback. The first half of the way down is the same sort of boring terrain – it doesn’t get much better until well after Trail Camp. We were such babies about it, too. There was one point where we had a 30 foot incline and all of us were like: NOPE. I refuse to go up! This is a going down point! No up! God dammit. Grumble grumble switchback.

Needless to say, we were a bit grumpy and headchey and totally out of advil by the time we made it to the closest camp to the Portal. From this camp, only 3.5 miles to the Portal. This is also where we met up again with the Ultralight Brothers who blessed us with advil as the trail angels they were.

And down. And down. And down. There isn’t even a photo of us at Whitney Portal, we were so worn out and exhausted. The very first thing I did was call my Mom on Molly’s shakey cell phone reception to make sure she could get to bed that night and stop worrying about me getting eaten by bears.
The second thing I did was get ice for Sam’s knee.
And the third was order a damned burger with so many fries they couldn’t all fit on the plate.

And then Molly turned on her charm and got us all rides into Lone Pine by chatting up the other people around, also eating burgers after their hike. My first experience hitch hiking – squeezed into the backseat of a Volkswagon golf with one pretty awesome guy who was picking up his son who had been on the trail for awhile. That dude spent 15 minutes in a tiny car with three people who had not showered in at least a week. That deserves some kind of medal, it does.

So, we did it. Brady got a postcard from Lone Pine with Mt. Whitney on it that simply said “Your girlfriend is a mother fucking bad ass.”

There’s a high to that, but a numbness as well. It was hard to think straight, to process logistics. In the morning, we all had breakfast separately (you do need a break from each other, eventually). I ate at a greasy spoon diner place at the counter next to a bunch of middle aged tourists who asked me wide-eyed questions about my trip (my large pack gave me away) and said things like they wish they had done things like that at my age. Guys. I know I look 25, but I’m not. I’m glad I’m doing this now, too, but hope to hell I’m doing this in ten years, too. There are plenty of not-twenty somethings on the trail. Go forth and make it happen if this is something you want to do and are physically able (or capable of becoming physically able eventually) to do so.

Then we caught the shuttle to Lancaster and then the Metrolink into Union Station and then a metro to Koreatown where we ate a large meal of Kimchi Beef before heading to Santa Monica via an Uber. All of the crazy logistics surrounding the getting to and from the trail without a car worked smoothly, if made us a bit tired of being on buses and trains.

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High Sierra Trail: Up and Up and Up

Day 5: Junction Meadow to Guitar Lake
Mileage: 12.4 miles
Max elevation: 11,460 ft (Guitar Lake)
Elevation gain: 3,380 ft


I got so much better at reading a map on this trip out of simple necessity, but even before that, I remembered from my Girl Scout days that the more squished together your topographic lines are, the more effed you are in the steepness of your hike. After Junction Meadow, you gain over 3,000 feet in the first four miles. Then it mostly tapers off to a more steady incline. That being said, Crabtree Meadow (where the ranger station, a camp, and a pit toilet is, although it’s still over 2 miles from Guitar Lake where we were camping) felt like forever away.
There had been some debate before our trip whether or not we would camp at Junction or Wallace Creek (the first camp after the initial steep four mile gain). If we had an extra day in there to make the stretch from Upper Funston less long, Wallace Creek might make more sense as a camping site simply because Wallace Creek to Guitar Lake is a long enough slog.
Every day on a trip like this feels like a lifetime. At this point, we had long since taken to calling Sam “Samwise,” which suited the general feeling of This Walking Will Never End.

What else is there to say about going Up? The scenery was gorgeous – for most of it, we were still low enough to see the canyon we had hiked the previous day. When we finally reached Crabtree, we re-filled our water bottles and all tried to get our poo on because once you’re at Guitar Lake it’s carry in, carry out, a la wag bag. There is something distinctly unappealing about keeping your food in the same canister as your shit, which is the way it goes up there. Even if you have it triple bagged.

We were about half a mile up from Crabtree when I realized that I didn’t have my camera with me. My pretty little Sony that was just the right amount of weight and lens oomph for a trip like this, not to mention every photo I had taken so far. Was not on my neck. I dropped my pack and literally sprinted – I’m a runner back at sea level – back to Crabtree. It wasn’t near the tree where we had rested during our Poo Attempts, so I continued my run down into the camp where I found my camera, unharmed, by the river where we had filled up our water bottles.

And then walked pretty slowly, breathing heavily, back to where Molly and Sam were and took my inhaler for the first and only time of that trip. It turns out running at 10,640 feet is not the same as running at sea level. Turns out my body didn’t like that much, even for half a mile or so.

A little further down the way, we ran into the ranger coming back from Guitar Lake, who asked me the usual questions. The name our permit was under (mine), how many people were in our group (three, but Sam is coming up around the bend – there he is). When Sam arrived, the ranger asked, all seriousness, if he was disoriented (altitude sickness). Sam responds with a declaration that time does not exist for today or tomorrow.
Which does not exactly help the case that he was not disoriented. He’s usually like this, I swear, Mr. Ranger person.

We continued onto Guitar Lake, which is a windy, rocky camp that is yes, on the shore of a lake shaped like a Guitar, although you can’t see the shape from the shoreline. Our tents had to be staked with rocks and our stuff put in the tents quickly to keep them from blowing away, and as we made our last meal on the trail, we were treated with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen before our early bedtime.


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A Stomach and Foot in Mexico City

A break from our scheduled posts for Day 5 and 6 of the High Sierra Trail because I’m in Mexico guys, and have been for a few days now. I had hoped to write those trail posts on the trail and just type them up when I was off – but it turns out I was simply too exhausted on those days to write.

I’m rather fond of this city. I find myself wishing I had studied abroad here instead of Vietnam, or lived here instead of India – but who knows if I’d appreciate the charms of this place without those experiences.

Despite this, at the moment I am highly unmotivated to do anything. I’m not sick, but it’s the sort of run down that you feel where your body is warning you that it might get sick and that you should take care of yourself. And stop eating so much spicy salsa. And go to bed early.


For the Guac.

So my dinner is crackers and a vitamin water and I’m holed up in my room, taking a break from re-reading an old favorite fantasy novel to write to you all.

Our first day, we hired two charming gay foodie best friends.
Not really, and I’m totally making assumptions on the fact that these two gentlemen live together in a gorgeous house and have portraits of the two of them done on their sexuality. But they run a wonderful cooking class out of said gorgeous house and because it was just Molly and me in the class, it did kind of feel like we were hanging out with from friends over food and mezcal.

They were totally gracious with our atrociously late start time as well. Y’all know me, I’m usually 5 minutes early to everything. Let’s just say that there was an emergency pit stop that resulted in me taking swigs directly from the pepto bottle as we walked our way to our meeting place a good 20 plus minutes late.


We toured a local market, tried several different kinds of Mexican cheese, salsas, ice creams, coffees, etc. Then we went to their house and made several different kinds of salsas, enchilladas, and molotes poblanos. We finished up with talking over their favorite places to eat in the city, several of which we’ve gone ahead and tried. It was an excellent start to a trip – I was even able to explain to someone the difference between the green and the red salsas today.

That night, we walked twenty minutes in a thunderstorm to get hot chocolate and churros from El Moro, which is like Mexico City’s Cafe du Monde (in New Orleans) only with zero tourists.


One of the things I like about Mexico City actually, is the surprising lack of tourists and the catering to them. How have y’all not discovered this city with all its museums and good food? The result is that most don’t speak English – and will just patiently wait as you stumble your way through your broken Spanish instead of trying to engage you in English, which is the total opposite of my experience in Asia.

Our second day, we made our way to the Frida Khalo museum way on the other end of town. Cute little museum, half history, half art, half garden. An interesting temporary exhibit on her clothes. There’s also a tricky broken step on your way into the cafe, which my foot failed to conquer and was promptly sliced open when I fell with a thud. I had about eight workers hovering around me, only two of which were doing anything useful – translating and cleaning me up. They suggested calling a doctor and getting stitches. One brought out a wheelchair.

It’s this awkward and deep (but deep like, horizontally if my foot is flat on the ground) cut that is mostly like it half took a layer of my callus itself off – I’m not entirely sure how one would stitch a callus. I’ve been cleaning it and bandaging it and babying it (as much as one is able when you’re touristing). I’m just glad this happened after I walked 72.2 miles.


And that my camera, which was not focusing properly after the fall, was easily fixed. It’s a trusty little camera that has given me some good shots.

This adventure also resulted in a lot of free post cards from the museum, and me not trusting my foot to make it all the way up to the top of the Temple of the Sun when we went to Teotihucan today. Which I’m totally okay with.

Those stairs would have probably conquered me even with two good feet.


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High Sierra Trail: Roughing it in the Hot Springs

Day Three and Four (August 6 & August 7)
Day 3 – Big Arroyo to Upper Funston Meadow via Moraine Lake
Mileage: 12.8
Peak Elevation Gain: 705 ft
Camp Elevation: 6,730 ft

Day 4 – Upper Funston to Junction Meadow via Kern Hot Springs
Mileage: 9.7
Peak Elevation Gain: 1,350 ft
Camp Elevation: 8,080 ft

Our third day was spent walking.
I know, I know. But the third day was kind of like the second book in The Lord of the Rings: you know it happened, you got somewhere, but all you really remember is the walking. The endless walking.
We went up a bit from Arroyo, traversing the ridge of the canyon on our way to Moraine Lake, where we rested for thirty minutes and a lame horse picked at things on the beach’s shore.


The water we meant to get after Moraine Lake in Sky Meadow Parlor was either dried up or we missed it so we were just about out of water at one point, with still miles to go. There was a river that we could hear, but for the most part was too steep to get down towards. Until I decided to gamble and make the steep descent down loose rock to Funston Creek to fill our nalgenes. It was one of my dumber moves of the trip, something I knew even as I was scrambling down to the river. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get back up, and in fact it took me long enough that Sam came to check up on me.

Immediately after this, we had endless switchbacks back down into the canyon – something that did a number on one of Sam’s knees. Upper Funston was to the right about five minutes up the trail after it Ts at the end of the switchbacks – there’s no sign to tell you this, you just have to figure it out. Ideally by you know, looking at the map, but we did meet a few people that missed this. It’s not the best campsite – too close to still, swampy water (read: mosquitoes) with poor running water options for drinking, and a pit toilet you’re supposed to use but would probably give you tetanus if you tried. But there’s a bear box, so there’s that.

Our friends the Ultralight Brothers (our nickname for them, they were super speedy and it didn’t matter how early we got up, they’d pass us a couple of hours later) were also camped there, but the five of us were it. They had a campfire that night – something we enjoyed when available to us but never bothered to light ourselves.

In the morning (Day 4) we rolled out without breakfast to hike the just over 2 miles to the Kern Hot Springs. It’s a cement tub between the natural hot spring that feeds into the river and the river itself, with a crude pipe and plugs so you can fill it up with 115F water and scrub yourself down with a beautiful backdrop. With water that feels amazing to tired muscles and sore feet. (Surprise: turns out my legs were dirty, not tan.)

We spent almost two hours there, eating breakfast, feeling moderately clean, and chatting with the Pennsylvania Couple and the Ultralight Brothers when they caught up with us. Day 4 was our “easy day” of relatively mild elevation gain and under 10 miles of walking, so we took our sweet time. The Ultralight Brothers caught sight of another rattle snake that I got a photo of – yes, I paused to take a photo of the agent of our worst case scenario.


Shortly after the snake, we found a swimming hole along the river and I got slightly more clean, bucket shower style combined with a quick swim in the chilly river.

As I said, we took our time.

Along the way, we met one of those Old Guys Who Talk Too Much who joked to Sam – “I’ve got to ask. You’ve got an ugly mug and probably the personality to match. What are you doing here with two girls?”
I think he was joking.

Eventually, we made it to Junction Meadow, which was probably my favorite campsite. It was almost manicured it was so pretty and flat. The water source was solid, the bear box right in our campsites (we were the first ones there) and the bugs were non existent. Of course, being at the bottom of the canyon, when we woke up the morning of Day 5 we had every intention of getting up at 5:30 when my alarm went off. But it was so damned cold without the sun in the canyon that we spent about thirty minutes lying in our respective sleeping bags being like: Nope. Just. Nope.

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High Sierra Trail: The Prettiest Poo

Day Two: Bearpaw Meadow to Big Arroyo Junction
Mileage: 11.1
Peak elevation: 10,700 (Kaweah Gap)
Peak elevation gain: 2,880
Camp elevation: 9,560

In retrospect, this was one of the hardest days and one of my favorites. Don’t let the mileage fool you – Jeez this was a hard hike, especially with a pack. It’s a pretty steady, relatively easy elevation gain to Big Hamilton Lake, which is a lovely mountain lake at 8,235 feet. We – and the other hikers that passed through – took our clothes off and swam in the cool waters surrounded with Kaweah Gap well above us then snacked as our underwear dried before putting our already dirty clothes back on.


There’s a pit toilet there as well. A simple fence on two sides blocking the view from the trail, but with a 360 view of the mountains around you. An absolutely gorgeous place to take care of your uh, morning business. I don’t think I’ve ever had a prettier poo. Although whomever left their salami in that pit toilet is pretty much the worst. Can you imagine the mess animals will create when they try to go after that salami? Would it have killed you to carry it out, anonymous evil, lazy hiker?


I think this is from day two - but anyway, that is Sam on the trail.

After Hamilton Lake, there is nowhere to go but up. Pretty much straight up. You go from 8,235 feet to 10,700 feet in under 5 miles and the trail is pretty open to the heat of the day. Add to that it’s the first experience above 9,000 feet and you’re facing your first serious brush with high altitude trekking. It was brutal. I took diamox to help with the altitude but I still had what felt like a sinus headache starting halfway up those nearly 5 miles to Kaweah Gap. Molly’s headache was worse and the closer we got to Precipice Lake, the landmark right before the Gap, the more she struggled.

Precipice Lake feels like a trick to the eyes when you see it – It’s hard to tell where the lake ends and where the rockwall begins. It may look familiar to some of you who know Ansel Adam’s work.

The last bit from Precipice Lake over Kaweah Gap was a slog through the altitude gain. Molly may have proclaimed she was dying while we recovered at the Gap with snickers bars. The last nearly 3 miles to camp was downhill or relatively flat – but the sort of last-three-miles that last bloody forever. We got to camp (finally) around dusk and ended up cooking dinner by headlamp, which is always less than ideal.

Big Arroyo Junction has a nice river for a water source, a bearbox, and was less full than Bearpaw – I think only two other groups were there. No pit toilet, just you and your trowel and whatever creative positioning you do to get comfortable pooping in the woods.

Also, as mentioned in a previous entry – nothing like backpacking to make you comfortable talking about bodily functions with complete strangers. I’ve been back in civilization two days now and I’ve already had to actively remind myself not to burp in front of people. But I’m also a real classy lady like that.


Day two was when we started seeing marmots - pesky little buggers that are possibly more of the reason for the bear canister and bear boxes than the bears. Here, one nibbles on mule dung while somehow managing to look cute.

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