It was the day after the wedding. After a lazy breakfast, many laughs and fond memories of the night before, and a lot of goodbyes, it was just us and family left in June Lake. There was nothing left to do but clean up from the wedding and get our bags packed for the John Muir Trail. The following day would be a big one.
One benefit about hitting the trail immediately after our wedding was that it forced us to do a lot of the planning and packing about a week before. This made our last-minute preparation pretty simple – all we had to do was go to the grocery store for a few more items: SmartWater bottles, Laughing Cow cheese, bagels, etc. With that trip to the store done, we organized our clothes, stuffed the bear can full of food, and repacked our backpacks for the last time.
With everything packed, we were both a little surprised at the weight of our backpacks. In our earlier trial run we estimated that we’d each be carrying about 25lbs. We didn’t have access to a scale at the hotel, but I think we both ended up in the 30lb range. Oh well, can’t do much about it now!
We enjoyed the rest of the day with our family, had a nice dinner up at Lee Vining’s famous Whoa Nellie Deli, and hit the hay for one last night of comfort before 10 days of dirt.
Hitting the Trail
The alarm went off early the next morning. We had just enough time to move some stuff around in our packs, grab some coffee and a bite to eat, and say goodbye to my parents before hitting the road for the Shepherd Pass trailhead in Independence, about two hours south of June Lake.
After a stop at Schat’s Bakery in Bishop we arrived at our launch point, a dusty parking lot hidden in the sage just above the town of Independence. The Sierra loomed to our west. Looking up at the peaks far up in the drainage, it was hard to imagine that we’d be climbing all the way up and over them today.
Some quick goodbyes and a few photos and we were off on the trail. It was about 10:30am and we had about 16 miles and 8,000ft of elevation to climb today. Time to get moving!
It became apparent right away that the weather would be warmer than we had original planned. We had counted on cool fall temperatures but started the hike out in the low 80s. Only about 15 minutes into hiking and I had to stop for a change of clothes.
Feeling good, we put the pedal to the metal and continued our slow climb up to the pass. The trail was well maintained, but didn’t seem to be as popular as some of the other entry points into the Sierra. We saw a couple of hikers in the parking lot, but it was a couple of hours before we saw anyone else along the way.
A couple hours of hiking brought us to our first break at a small pass after the first large climb. We found some shade, unshouldered our packs, and unwrapped a Pro Bar while we sad and gazed up at what we still had to cover today.
From our break spot we traversed over into a new valley and then started climbing again up towards the first named landmark on the trail: Anvil Camp. From a distance this climb looked easy, but up close the switchbacks just seemed to keep coming indefinitely.
Finally at the top of the climb, we walked into the deserted Anvil Camp for another break and a refill on our water bottles. Trail mix and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies were perfect for helping use refuel for the final push of the day while we filtered water in the creek.
With full bottles and recharged bodies, we hit the trail again for the final push of the day. Only 2 more miles and 2,000ft of climbing would bring us up to Shepherd Pass. Up above Anvil Camp, the scenery finally started to turn into the Sierra environment that we were expecting. Trees thinned and turned to shrubs, the dirt thinned, and granite boulders took over as the primary ground cover.
The sun dipped below the peaks above us just as we reached the headwall that would bring us to the pass. It wasn’t even the end of day 1 and we were both feeling worked. Just a few more switchbacks and the hard work for the day would be done!
A few more minutes of pain and we found ourselves at the top of the pass. We made one last farewell node to the east side, turned towards the JMT, and took another step towards the next 9 days.
The day was almost over now that the hardest work was done. All we had left was a short cross country push to the west to an unnamed lake where we’d set up camp for the night.
We covered that last stretch quickly and got to work right away setting up camp. We were a little distracted by our panoramic views of far off peaks as the sun went down and painted the distant peaks in beautiful alpenglow.
With water filtered and the tent set up, we prepared dinner. The Outdoor Herbivore meal was even better after a long day of hiking than during out test run of the same meat at home.
After a quick cleanup and one last look at the sunset, we zipped up the tent and got in our sleeping bags. We were both feeling pretty beat after today and there were 9 more just like it (or harder) to look forward to. This was going to be a tough honeymoon. Before I turned out the light for the evening, I took a few minutes to make a quick journal entry:
Day 1, Top of Shepherd Pass
First day on the trail today! We came up over Shepherd Pass from Independence and man, was it work. We climbed for 6 hours straight before making it to the pass and we found camp right on the other side at an unnamed lake just to the west of the trail.
Our wedding on Saturday was amazing and I spent the day bouncing back and forth between remembering little tidbits from the day and feeling pangs of sadness that it was all over.
I’m so happy to have the trail to look forward to and focus on for the next 9 days. What an opportunity it is to be able to be out here with my wife!
The first day today really kicked our butts and we have 9 more like it to go. Today was only about 60% of our normal average mileage but 150% of the elevation change so I’m hoping that is a big factor in just how exhausted we’re both feeling.
We watched the sun go down tonight while we set up camp. I filtered water while Alyssa cooked dinner. Not much else to do after that besides go to bed. We’re hoping for an early start tomorrow and hopefully a nice cup of coffee on Forrester Pass if it’s not too windy.