September 17, 2014 was day 21 of 22 on the John Muir Trail. My friend Brad and I had spent the previous three weeks hiking through some of the country’s most epic mountain scenery in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Alpine lakes, jagged peaks, roaring waterfalls, starry skies and near perfect weather. Our trip had gone so smoothly it was almost absurd. Over the course of the trip, we gained 46,000 feet of elevation and hiked over 200 miles, and we also grew closer as friends and learned a great deal about ourselves.
And now…it was almost over, and that was a tough pill to swallow. The next morning, we would be watching the sunrise from the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, and then a few hours later we would be back at my car. Pizza, ice cold beers, a shower, and a comfy bed were at our fingertips, but mentally, I couldn’t have been further away. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the modern conveniences of daily life and to be reconnected to society. I felt like I could’ve stayed out there forever.
We strolled into our last night’s camp in the mid-afternoon. We found a perfect little spot at the base of Mt. Whitney right next to the small unnamed lake in Sequoia National Park. The sun was glowing, the water was glistening, and we had nothin’ to do but to sit back and be overwhelmed by the beautiful adventure we had together on the John Muir Trail. After setting up camp, we spread out on the warm, smooth granite and reminisced about our hike and other memories from our 10 years of friendship.
As the sun started to go down, we layered-on warm clothes and then headed up the rocky hillside to watch the sunset. The peaks on the horizon perfectly framed the the sun as it descended over Guitar Lake below and the Kaweah peaks in the distance. There above the treeline, the air was completely silent, and the Sierras magically transformed from gray to bright colors of neon.
As I sat there watching the sun go down, thoughts about the future swirled through my head. A few months prior, I quit my job in Washington DC with plans to hike the John Muir Trail and start an outdoor travel blog. Now that I had crossed the JMT off my list, I had to figure out what was next. But there at the spot, the answer seemed so obvious. I knew that the outdoors needed to be part of my daily life, not just an after thought. So then and there, I made the commitment to myself that no matter what it took, I was going to make my new path work.
As dusk set in, we headed back down to our amazing little spot. We crushed the last backpacker meal of the trip and washed it down with some hot apple cider. It was one of the most satisfying backcountry meals. We then retired to our tent for the very last time, feeling giddy and determined for our moonlit summit push and all that was to come upon my return home.
Now nearly nine months later, I think about that spot and am so grateful for how it helped change the course of my life, just like that.
Author: Kristen Bor is a Mountain Hardwear Ambassador and author of outdoor travel blog Bearfoot Theory. She lives in Salt Lake City where she loves to hike, explore the nearby mountains, and work on her photography. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.