On August 18, 2016, I began what I hoped would be a 21-day thru-hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT) totaling some 245 miles without resupply, or at the least, I would do the final 43-mile section of my 40-some-year quest to finish the JMT.
I started at Horseshoe Meadow (10,000 ft elevation) with a heavy pack, but the altitude didn’t affect me too much and I was moving well. On the 4th day, I summited Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft elevation; highest peak in the lower 48 states) from the west side. I’d done it before from the east side, so this was a new route for me. It felt good to make the summit with surprisingly little effort.
The 5th day seemed long and hard, although I rested for a couple of hours at midday waiting in a valley bottom for an thunder storm to pass by. I hiked into the late evening, and when I slid into my sleeping bag, I noticed a sore spot on the front of my right shin. Little did I know, it was the start of shin splints, which I’d never experienced.
On day 6, my shin hurt with every step as I hobbled over the highest pass on the JMT. At 13,153 feet, Forrester Pass is high and steep, and although I was moving, I needed to stop at every stream crossing to soak and numb my shin in the near-freezing water. On the way down the other side (going down was more painful), some friendly hikers gave me two 800-mg ibuprofen tablets. Half of one, plus more freezing water and leaning heavily on my trekking poles, helped me finish the 10-mile day, but I was beat and discouraged from the pain.
I decided to make day 7 a short, easy day to let my leg rest, but by lunchtime, I decided that I needed to get out and sent Liz a satellite message to please come and pick me up. With the aid of cold water, trekking poles, and drugs, I could move, so I decided that I needed to move while I could. I spent the rest of the day hobbling over several more miles.
The next day, the 8th and last day, I hiked over Kearsarge Pass, a relatively easy pass at only 11,709 feet elevation, and down to the Onion Valley Trailhead (9,185 ft). Liz arrived shortly before I arrived at the trailhead, and it was quite a sight to come around a corner on the trail and see her coming up with an empty backpack to help me carry the load the rest of the way down.
So although I hiked some 70 miles, I left 12 miles — only 12 of 211 — of the JMT undone. I came so close to finishing the quest that I started in 1973. Maybe it is good to leave a quest incomplete: now I have something to look forward to next year.
After thoughts: Five days post hike: the shin is still unhappy but I can walk more-or-less normally. After about two weeks, my shin was more-or-less back to normal. Five months later, I’ve done a lot of hard hiking, but I not had any problem with the shin.