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Day 5: My most terrifying JMT day

In the dark, I walked back to the JMT from Muir Trail Ranch knowing today would be the day I’d cross Evolution Creek and over the giant Muir Pass. I was a little intimidated, especially if the weather would turn. It ended up being the scariest day of the trip.

The bridge over Kern River in beautiful dawn light.
The bridge over Kern River in beautiful dawn light.

The Evolution Ford–contrary to as experinced by PCT hikers (with water up to my waist)–ended up being ankle deep. An older couple got to the ford before me and looked at it baffled and I hope they encouraged them with my casual crossing—I was so relieved that it was not as gnarl as before.

By 11:30 am, I was already hearing thunder and knew I’d be going above treeline soon. I thought about bunkering down, but kept seeing people I had passed on the way towards Evolution Lakes. I finally decided to push on.

There were dark clouds all around me, but a light blue patch right above which seemed to move as I moved. A guardian angel or something. Finally, I got to the point where it was 4-5 miles to treeline and everyone else was hunkering down. I could see the pass so close, though. Should I go?

I practically ran the last mile, staring at the Muir Hut atop with desire. I had heard from another hiker that it was grounded and fantasized making it to safety. Several hundred feet from the hut, I heard a clap (albeit, far off), and pushed, pushed, pushed. I made it to the hut and celebrated with a warm tea and chat with an Italian (Dave? Is that an Italian name?).

The descent was also scary as the clouds and thunder hadn’t really stopped and I was struck by how steep and intimidating and long Muir Pass is, even when it isn’t covered in snow as it is in June (when most PCT hikers go through). The trail, which is probably under snow for most of the year, is not as well maintained as other areas. I got some amazing photos, but was pretty happy to be below treeline.

Towards the end of my day, I spotted this Goldsworthy-esque piece of natural art. It made me laugh, even if it isn’t really Leave No Trace.
Towards the end of my day, I spotted this Goldsworthy-esque piece of natural art. It made me laugh, even if it isn’t really Leave No Trace.

I spent the last hour of the day hiking with Seiji. As always, talking with people calms one’s nerves after a big and exposed day.

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.