7.4 miles / Ascent +3,418 feet / Descent -1,160 feet
Thank god there were bathrooms here.
Amazing how welcoming a campsite is when seen for the first time in the light of day. Most of us were tired after the previous night's bumbling of getting lost, almost pitching camp in the middle of the trail and then struggling with erecting our tents (some for the first time) in the dark at 10pm. Yet North Pines campsite seen through the morning's rays weakly filtered through 70' pines felt like a whole new location. And there were almost real bathrooms. Some of us spent a bit more time in them than others (Curry Village Pizza - extra cheese is a no-no - ask Tyler).
Amazing how symmetrical our tents looked given that we were exhausted when setting them up.
On my way to getting water I saw a mother and her daughter stopped in the middle of the trail staring down it. It occurred to me they spotted some wildlife. I called over to our camp but only Gus was available. We ran over to see and caught this:
Our first hour of our first day and we get a bear sighting and we weren't mauled - a great way to start the trip. Jason was probably upset that he didn't get to use his bear spray since he spent so much time researching and subsequently talking about it.
After packing up we started the hike out to the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village to pick up our permit. Probably our shortest hike, but it took a while. Gloves were lost, layers had to be taken off for the first time. And we were just getting our bearings with our packs. During one of the layer dump stops we enjoyed sharing the route with some more wildlife.
None of us were really ready for this hike...but we were for the views. The perspective from the valley is that of being at the bottom of a bowl - a bowl with very attractive sides. Our goal for the day was to climb up to the southern rim of this "bowl". It was an ascent of ~3,000' and it would give us amazing views from a very different perspective - one that no JMT'ers using the typical Happy Isles start would ever have. We would pay for it dearly in terms of effort and wear and tear on our bodies and morale.
At the Wilderness Center we got our Ranger lecture about "leave-no-trace" etiquette, going to the bathroom (pack out your used TP), how to protect your food from bears and other critters (bear cans) and how to deal with bears (take a picture, then make noise to scare them away). Katherine and Lindsay picked up bear cans there as they were mandatory.
We grabbed food and some last minute supplies (butane canisters especially) from the camping store and then took the free shuttle bus to Yosemite Lodge. Since our starting trailhead was further west than the traditional Happy Isles start we had to figure out a way to get to it, which wasn't easy. There are no taxis in the park so it was either hitchhike or....take the valley tour tram and jump off half way through.
The valley tour on an open-air team turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. We had wonderful unobstructed views, learned a ton (most which I forgot) and it dropped us off across the street from the trail head.
The first part of the climb was very exposed and hot. The early lack of tree cover was great for the views, but it was draining. I pushed it way too hard, and was sweating out all the water that I had "camel'd" in my stomach earlier. The climb was steep even despite having a number of switchbacks. Half way through we were blessed with tree cover but it was too late for me. I started to bonk. I had eaten and drank plenty of water, but I felt dizzy, nauseous and asked the group for a 5 minute break to recoup. Katherine gave me some organic home-made almond/coconut/chocolate clusters that seemed to help. At this point we were at ~ 5,800' (Denver is at 5,100') and only on our second day. It's recommended that you take @ 2 days to get used to altitude when coming from sea level. Due to our tight schedule we ignored that. We were skirting the line of acceptable altitude acclimatization and despite having taken Diamox, I was suffering.
I scaled back my energy output and focused on keeping myself from being a liability to the group. It was my greatest concern to be put out of action as the trip leader as so much of the logistics depended on my accumulated knowledge. The group could probably manage if I had to drop out, but I didn't want to burden them with trying to piece together routes/additional permit pickups, campsites etc.
Also I didn't want to leave the trail.
There was a lot of excitement as the subsequent points revealed themselves to be especially photogenic. Everyone was like a kid in a candy store, jumping from one ledge to another snapping pics.
Tyler, Jason and Lindsay were straining off the sides of leaning rocks in a way that made my head spin. Actually my head did spin as I get vertigo, so I couldn't walk near the edge or I would get dizzy. Even worse, when I see people close to the edge of cliffs I feel dizzy - kind of for them, but mostly myself! It's got some quasi technical name but nonetheless I hate watching people jump around on rocks by cliffs. I took these pics quickly and swore at them and walked away.
At some point, this all gets exhausting. Seriously. You don't get a break from the mind-blowing aesthetic and you constantly feel compelled to record it. The worst part is that you'll never be able to capture the ambiance in a photo, on a web page, or even a video.
We got to Brideveil Creek late in the day and most of the better campsites were taken. We were all wiped out and went about setting up our tents with the bleary focus of a boxer after their 6th round. Jason, Tyler and I went down to the creek to get water and wash our underwear and nether regions. I realized that I packed too much food in a packet for rehydration. Wouldn't be a big deal but "leave-no-trace" stipulates that you pack out uneaten food. That can be heavy considering it's got extra water weight being re-hydrated. None of us wanted to carry this crap out so every night became an eating contest. And not one you wanted to win....I went to bed nauseous from over-eating.
We were surrounded by other groups of campers, but the setting was still serene. None of us felt serene that first night. All of our anxiety, the altitude, the beating of the trail, sleeping in a tent for a second night. It was foreign, intense, and exciting.....
Sorry about no pictures of our first night's campsite. We had been on the move for literally two days straight. It had bled us dry.
Tomorrow wasn't going to help....
...thanks, John Muir