My Trail Story featuring Beta

During his John Muir Trail thru-hike, Beta (a.k.a. Zach Terpstra), woke up in the middle of the night by the loudest noise he had ever heard in his life.

Photo provided by Zach Terpstra

The Rude Awakening

By: Zach Terpstra

Trail Name: Beta

The Michigan Shore to Shore Trail (2016)
The John Muir Trail (2018)
Currently planning a Calendar Year Triple Crown for 2020!

Age: 22 years old


What is one thing treasured amongst all backpackers who log hard, difficult mileage during the day?  The answer is definitely: sleeping. While at first, sleep comes in light and small episodes during a lengthy hike, by the end the slumber is deep and restful.  It would take an unimaginable noise in order to wake a tired hiker in the middle of the night. But that’s exactly what happened.

Pushing around 20 miles a day

To demonstrate just how tired my group of friends and I were, I’ll give you a little background.  While on the John Muir Trail, we were pushing for miles as we decided we’d allotted ourselves too much time to actually do this trail, plenty more than we actually needed.  For that reason, we were consistently pushing around 20 miles a day, despite the fact that for some of us, this was their first multi-week trip. However, we had perfect hiking weather to log miles until day eight on the trail.

For those that are unfamiliar with the Sierra Nevada Range, rain typically falls in the afternoons for a very brief time during the summer months.  Maybe a scattered shower here or there lasting no more than thirty minutes at a time. However, on day eight we experienced such a torrential downpour, in addition to the temperatures dropping to near hypothermic levels, that we as a group decided to set up shelter in the middle of the day and then grind out some miles the next morning. 

Forester Pass

Morning comes around and we do just that.  Before noon, we are over the next pass and soon we are climbing toward the next.  A man came sprinting down the mountain warning us of the horrific weather (lightning, large hail, the usual…) going over Forester Pass.  At the next open view, sure enough, we see dark, formidable clouds standing in our path.

We took shelter again, but the prophesied storm never arrived!  After waiting around for about an hour, we made our way toward the base of Forester, and found ourselves in an unimaginable scene as the storm trailed behind some interesting clouds that stuck around well into the dusk.  It created somewhat of an eerie lighting that was an incredible purple (which of course we took advantage of for a photo or two).

Beta enjoying the view along the John Muir Trail
Photo provided by Zach Terpstra

So taking into account the last 24 hours we had, the crew and I were pretty darn tired.  We ate and set up our tents for the night, and I’m fairly certain three out of four of us were snoring before the sun had even fully set.  Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse nor a marmot…

Then all of a sudden, I was whipped awake by one of the loudest noises I had ever heard.  I was sharing a shelter with a friend, and he instantly sat up at the same time as I did. The immediate thought was an avalanche… but it was July in a pretty low snow year?  Then it dawned on me. The only other thing aside from snow that falls down mountainside regularly?  ROCKS.  I was hearing a rockslide.

We hastily left our tent and tried to figure out where the noise was coming from and find the nearest large boulder to hide behind.  The noise went on for what seemed like ages until it eventually subsided. Let’s just say, it took us a while to fall asleep after that wonderful experience.

Once dawn cracked, we were beginning to gather our gear when we witnessed the culprit.  On the other side of the valley, we watched as rocks (the size of cars) fell down the steep face of the mountain.  It was the most beautifully destructive thing I had ever seen. At that moment, I decided I would never again spend the night just below a pass where the terrain was pretty steep. I’d rather hike into the night than have to be woken by that deafening roar again!

Related Trail Guide

A lake along the JMT

The John Muir Trail runs for over 210 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range of California. It starts in Yosemite Valley and travels to the summit of Mt. Whitney. The JMT is one of the most popular hiking trails in the country and is an incredible adventure for thru-hikers, section-hikers, and day-hikers. It passes through beautiful and scenic protected areas including Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and two national forests. By all means check out our interactive JMT map today!