We first met Steve ten years back on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He's a highly adventurous dude who split the last decade volunteering with the Peace Corps in rural Kyrgyzstan (where he met his wife Meghan), followed by a few years as a bicycle tour guide with Backroads. Meghan & Steve have also been supporting Latigo since day one - which we're forever grateful.
These lovely folks just tied the knot and spent their honeymoon along the John Muir Trail. Here's Steve with the full recap:
Words by Steve Root
On Sunday, July 22nd the Ferguson fire near Yosemite National Park was 32,484 acres, growing rapidly, and evacuations of local communities had begun. My wife and I sat at home in Los Angeles, furiously researching wind patterns, haze forecasts, and air quality indexes in an attempt to predict what our John Muir Trail honeymoon hike, which was to begin in Tuolumne Meadows three days later, would be like.
Yikes, right? A last-minute purchase of disposable N95 respirator masks ended up taking the top spot on our “most valuable gear” list; a list often discussed out on the trail. If we had known that we’d be wearing those masks for the first 8 days of our hike, we probably would have cancelled. But as the saying goes “hindsight is 20/20,” and we were feeling optimistic, still riding the high of our recent marriage.
We were able to get our walk-up permits much more easily than anticipated – because many folks were cancelling their hikes due to the smoke. The ranger who issued our permit told us that the smoke would dissipate as soon as we cleared Donoghue Pass, so we set off with confidence. Little did we know that the Lions Fire near Mammoth Lakes (at that point 100% contained) was about to re-spark and grow out of control.
We started each morning with renewed hope that the smoke would clear that day. Alas, as we hiked away from the Ferguson Fire smoke, we were hiking into the Lions Fire smoke. Shifting winds only shifted which fire’s smoke was enveloping the trail. It was a humbling lesson in the power of mother nature, forcing us off of the trail for three nights in Mammoth Lakes.
"When we awoke after that third night to the smokiest conditions we had yet seen, we seriously considered calling it quits. This was supposed to be fun."
Our vision of going deep into the Sierra Nevada and experiencing the immense beauty of the John Muir Trail had not been happening. But by this point, we had become more adept at reading the forecasts. Flames were not threatening the actual trail, and a window of advantageous weather was opening, with winds coming from the south to clear the smoke out of the direction we were heading. After long deliberation over several cups of (what we wish was Latigo) coffee, we decided to get back onto the trail.
We summited Mount Whitney about two weeks later with minimal smoke impact. I remember waking up one morning after those southerly winds had cleared all of the smoke overnight – the mountains appeared to be in 4k High Definition compared to the previous week. We were thrilled that we decided to continue. We spent lunch breaks swimming in cool, crisp alpine lakes. We camped under the stars in complete solitude, with the Milky Way shining brighter than we’d ever seen. We took in 360-degree views after climbing epic mountain passes.
"We ate a lot of tuna packets."
And what did we learn? Well, firstly, that we were lucky to get out of Yosemite at all. Only a few days after we departed the park service closed Tuolumne Meadows because of the smoke. But we also learned that spending 21 wilderness days and 220 miles with your new marriage partner is a beautiful experience. We learned to appreciate every day of clean air – days which are increasingly rare in the western US. We learned that nature doesn’t care to make things simple for us humans, and that if our collective apathy toward preserving the environment continues, there will be a lot more cancelled hikes in the future.
Get outside, grow outside. We certainly did.
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