Sunday, September 04, 2016

High Sierra Trail – Getting there

[Maryanne]2016 also brought along with it my 50th Birthday. I wanted to do something memorable, and for some crazy reason decided it would be hiking the JMT (John Muir Trail). After months of planning, it eventually came time to apply for our permits for the JMT. It turned out all our attempts to get a permit for the trail failed – so we came up with plan B – a shorter hike (the High Sierra Trail), that ended at the same point on the JMT – atop Mount Whitney. Mt Whitney is 14,505 feet / 4,421m / 2.7 miles high (over 3 times taller than Ben Nevis in Scotland), its the kind of place where the air is so thin, that breathing is a noticeable effort (but not so bad that you need oxygen, you just have to take it easy).

Planning for this trip (both in its original and eventual form) involved checking over our camping gear (and updating it). Testing out food suitable for the trail, stoves, and so much more. We did practice hikes locally, and at altitude, often while deliberately carrying loaded packs. We’d be as ready as we could manage in the short windows of time we have to do so.

Getting to the High Sierra Trail (HST) from Oakland without a car is not so straight forward, we needed 2 days of travel and two nights of hotels (a small luxury given the tent that would be home after that). We took the train from Jack London Square to Hanford, where we caught an Amtrak bus to Visalia. We arrived in Visalia too late to catch any of the park buses, so we spent the night in another hotel. Looking forward to a good meal, we found an Indian restaurant which had great reviews, but once we had ordered discovered that the chef had gone home, the owner was cooking, and he could not make some of the sides we’d requested; given that, the meal was expectedly mediocre.

Sharing the journey from Hanford to Visalia, and as it happens also the same hotel, were other hikers clearly also headed for the HST, but they must have taken an earlier bus in the morning to the park, as we were the only ones with packs as we boarded the bus to the Sequoia National Park. Once on the bus, we quickly realized the significance of arriving on Labor Day weekend; it took almost 2 hours just to get through the line to enter the park. This was the park’s busiest weekend in the year, oh boy!

Once in the park, we still had some distance to go, and we were eventually dropped off at Lodgepole visitor center, where we were able to pick up our permit, and then await another bus (another LONG line) to our hotel. From the hotel check-in, we were directed to yet another building which we discovered was up hill, so we got our first taste of climbing with our packs; it felt miserable; it did not seem fun. We decided to dump our packs in the room and take a short hike with simply day packs through the forest, while contemplating the week ahead of us.

We took a short hike once we finally arrived in the park

Feeling relaxed (for now)

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