The End of the Trail

Photo courtesy of Kate Leaf

“I’m up, I’m up,” I grumbled, blearily peering at my watch through the darkness. 4 a.m. flashed back at me in neon letters. “Seriously, stop poking me, I’m getting up.” Dreading the cold, I slowly poked my head out of the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag and saw Leah’s face smiling back at me.

“Oh, Jeremiah,” she said, in typical Leah fashion, “It’s summit day!”

It was the final day of our trek south through the Sierra Nevada along the John Muir Trail. After today, the trail would run out. But first, we had to face our final 3,000 foot climb up the backside of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

Groggily, I stepped out of our tent and rubbed my eyes as thousands of stars stared back at me through the inky darkness. The moon that had brightened the sky earlier had since set and now tiny pinpricks of light stretched across the sky, illuminating Whitney’s mass and reflecting off of Guitar Lake.

We quickly wolfed down our last store of oatmeal and rubbed our hands together to keep warm. It wasn’t a morning for dilly-dallying. As the biting wind brought tears to our eyes and turned our cheeks red with cold, we were on the trail as fast as possible. Unwilling to relinquish the warmth of my puffy jacket, I started off our hike with every single layer I had brought wrapped tightly around me.

We walked slowly, constantly wiping our dripping noses and streaming eyes. Although the twinkling stars were spectacular (and it was also one of the very rare times Leah and I had seen them, given our 7:30 p.m. bedtime), all I could think about was when the sun would rise and finally banish the cold.

Up and up and up we went, the trail switch-backing around tight corners and through dynamite-blasted holes in giant boulders. As the sky lightened, the knife-edge ridges of Guitar Lake’s basin reflected pink and gold in the lakes below. With about two miles to go, we left our packs at the trail junction, which we would rejoin later that day to return to civilization. What a treat—without our hefty packs on, walking felt like a piece of cake.

“Wow!” Leah cried about a mile later, as I hurried up behind her. To our right the wall of rock we had been walking alongside completely vanished. Together, we stared down at Owens Valley, which lay 10,000 ft below. Our final destination—Lone Pine, CA—lay below, full of novelties like showers, cell service and most importantly, food. At this point on the trip, as our bear canisters got ever lighter with their lack of provisions, all I thought about was food.

After another half hour of climbing, Leah and I reached the summit and the last few feet of John Muir’s namesake trail. We snapped the obligatory summit photos, signed the enormous registrar and tried to soak in the incredible views that being at the top of a country allow. However, it didn’t take long before the biting wind made Leah and I decide that celebration could wait until that afternoon, when we could finally feel our fingers again. But that didn’t stop us from thinking—we did it.

Thanks Ritt Family!

Kate Leaf

Guest Writer


Blizzards and Bears in the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Or Women in Wild Wyoming

At the end of school, Meredith Bird, Lucy Gamble, Haley Leslie-Bole and I
 drove up to Jackson, Wyoming to start our backpacking adventure in the Teton-
Bridger Wilderness. Our initial destination was Bridger Lake, the most remote lake 
in the continental U.S. Heading out in late May was a bit early for the area, but we decided to set out and hike in as far as we could.

After packing our bear cans with 12 days of food, and lots of warm clothes we
headed north following Lava Creek. As we bushwhacked through dead fall brush and
 climbed steep slopes, we sang many songs and laughed a lot. After a couple days we
reached the Lava Creek Trail. This trail led us through pristine alpine meadows and
 dense forests. Along the way we stopped many times to appreciate the humbling 
views of the Grand Teton. We crossed paths with moose, elk and tons of birds. After
 five days of sunshine, the weather changed and snowflakes began tofall. Although
we were prepared for cold and snowy weather, a local weather report forecasted a 
storm of 15 inches of snow. With this news, we made the difficult decision to hike
out early. Days later we found out that this storm dumped nearly three feet in this
 the area.

One of the most exciting moments of the trip was stumbling upon a mother
 grizzly bear with two cubs less than 100 yds away. With hearts beating quickly
 and bear spray ready, we clapped our hands and sang “Wagon Wheel” at the top of
 our lungs. Fortunately, the mother bear quickly ran away with her cubs following 
close behind.

We are incredibly grateful to the Kellogg family who made it possible for
 us to spend a week in this beautiful land. Although our trip was cut short, our 
memories of following fresh bear tracks and falling asleep before dark will stay with
 us forever.

Fiona Haslett

Guest Writer

A Sunset Plucked From a 40-Day Stroll on the John Muir Trail


“…so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it… Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light.” – John Muir


Though we had read these words and were coming to know intimately the Sierra Nevada along the John Muir Trail, it took us twelve days to truly learn what Muir meant by “the Range of Light.” One quiet mountain evening, after enjoying a supper of calzones and indulging on chocolate chips, cups of tea, and a game of gin rummy, our cards fell by the wayside, forgotten amid the beauty of the lake basin before us. Enchanted, we each fell to our typical practices, Dan sinking into a rock to watch the drifting clouds, and Lee strolling along the lakeshore, admiring wildflowers and the spotted sandpipers that patrolled the water’s edge.

We met again minutes later before one of the most spectacular displays of light and beauty we had yet encountered – mountains bathed in pink and orange, casting purple shadows eastward, the light soothing the craggy peaks. The mountains leaned back in majestic repose, softly calling us to walk with them. Clouds floated bright above, a sailing fleet in a rosy sky.

We sat until the light faded and the moon rose and the stars winked in the opening night. We sat with eyes opened, arrived and at home in this wild, indifferent beauty.

Lee Farese and Dan Lewi

Guest Writers


Alpine Climbing in British Columbia

In mid-August, John Collis, David Fay, Leland Krych and I embarked on an epic journey to British Columbia in search of an alpine climbing experience on high-quality granite in a breathtaking environment.

Our destination, Bugaboo Provincial Park, provided all that and more. Attracting climbers from all over the globe, the Park is situated in the Purcell Mountains and consists of huge, monolithic granite spires that erupt from the surrounding glaciers. The area is adventurous and rife with all sorts of alpine challenges such as crevasses, bergschrunds, rock falls, and inclement weather. However, upon arriving to the Bugs, we were blessed with a week-long forecast of bluebird skies, so we quickly got to climbing.

After ticking off a number of the classic routes (including an ultra-light, fast and free ascent of the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire), we narrowed our focus on the infamous Beckey-Chouinard Route on the South Howser Tower. The climb is an all-day event, requiring a long and treacherous glacial approach followed by 2,000 ft of 5.10 climbing. An updated weather forecast informed us we only had two more days of good weather, so we made a run for it.

We quickly left base camp and trekked the two miles across the Vowell Glacier to reach a cramped bivy underneath a large boulder where we would“sleep”for the night. The next morning we awoke at 3:30 a.m., brewed a quick pot of coffee and departed for the climb, navigating around crevasses in the dark to get an early start on the climb. After some initial difficulties on the approach, we reached the base of climb and I immediately called “Dibs!” on leading the first technical pitch, a beautiful hand-sized crack through a bulging roof.

Chris Dickson

Guest Writer


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