Mile…Mile & A Half
A Journey Along The John Muir Trail
The Muir Project
We were hiking the JMT southbound from Yosemite to the summit of Mt. Whitney, and the day before we had hiked along the lovely, verdant, and level Lyell Creek Canyon. The few straggling Pacific Crest Trail hikers we passed, who were traveling northbound on the trail, were a pretty hardened crew having already gone over the high passes, through the creeks that had become rushing rivers, and the miles and miles of the Mojave Desert. Their reactions to our questions about going over the pass varied from a shell-shocked it’s “pretty hairy” to a nonchalant shrug accompanied by “It’s not that bad. Stick together; you’ll be fine.” At the very least, we knew we had a thousand feet of snow to climb through to get over the pass.
For younger and heartier adventurers that concept might not be so daunting, but even though we’re all avid backpackers, our jobs in civilization involve sitting in dark little rooms staring at monitors. While we were sipping our beers in Tony’s Dart Away and planning our trip in January of 2011, climbing up vertically through snow wasn’t a part of it. There were even questions as to whether we could do the trail in the weeks leading up to our departure. Fortunately, we decided to at least give it a try, agreeing that if it felt too dangerous we could always jump off the trail and try another year.
For younger and heartier adventurers that concept might not be so daunting, but even though we’re all avid backpackers, our jobs in civilization involve sitting in dark little rooms staring at monitors. While we were sipping our beers in Tony’s Dart Away and planning our trip in January of 2011, climbing up vertically through snow wasn’t a part of it.
Almost immediately after the bridge, the snow appeared and the trail disappeared. We followed some footsteps through the tree cover and around a ridge, and once we walked out of the trees, were confronted with a jaw dropping sight. Ahead of us was a giant bowl, with a frozen lake poised at the bottom. On the back side of the lake was a thousand-foot wall of snow with what looked like ant trails switchbacked across its face.
Again the packs came off, and almost stalling the inevitable, we grabbed a few more shots. It was still early on in the trip, and we were just figuring out the balance of shooting and hiking. Ric, to his credit, stayed behind to shoot the rest of us crossing the wall and capturing the scope of the climb.
While along a trail with such epic beauty, it can be pretty difficult to pass up shooting some of the scenery you walk through, but when you’re averaging ten miles a day, and sometimes braving harrowing moments, you can’t get it all… even when each of you has a camera. While in post-production on the film, we certainly wished that we had captured a few of the more perilous moments, and listening to the “oohs” and “ahhs” from at our screenings when the time-lapses of the starry night skies appear on the big screen, makes us wish we had shot more of them. But our efforts were also divided to focus also on not falling and injuring ourselves or our equipment; and after a long day of hiking, spending hours alone in the cold, dark mountain night while others slept warmly wasn’t always appealing. So the fact that we had the footage to make a compelling story, while we had this beautiful adventure, makes us pretty proud.
Over the next three weeks we climbed over higher passes in even worse snow conditions. We got better and better at the process of shooting while hiking, and were able to capture enough to make a feature length documentary of our adventure. But the best part of the story is that this is only PART of the story. What made our adventure – or our film for that matter – something meaningful, is that the sum truly is greater than it’s parts. It wasn’t just one day of adventure in the snow, nor was it one viewpoint of the trail. It was the collection of stories, the different styles of making art in the wild, and the individuals sharing them that made it all worthwhile.
All photos copyright The Muir Project