John Muir Trail Journal, Part 2: Electric Skies Over The High Sierras

In this 83 mile section, I tackle Silver, Selden and Muir Passes, have a rest day at Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) and dodge some crazy weather.

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Day 4: Beyond Red’s Meadow to North Fork Mono Creek, 24 miles

When I wake in the morning, it’s eerily quiet and the sun is already up.  I’d actually managed to sleep in, so I figured I was in no rush to get out now.  After making some coffee and choking down a Pop Tart, I start to break camp.  The girl who had camped near me is already gone, and one of the guys that I had leapfrogged until the Agnew Meadows trail junction the previous day is passing me and charging up the hillside.

I’m still hungry once I start walking and eat a couple more Clif bars while panting up the mountain; it’s an awkward and uneasy task to eat while going uphill, it turns out.  It’s quite a climb through the woods, and I’m surprised when I catch up to my former camp mate.

I fail to filter the water that I need when I cross a stream just four miles into my day, and continue climbing for several more miles.  I’ve drained two liters of water by the time I reach a high ridge, and there’s no creek or pond in sight.  It’s sweltering hot now, and I check my trail app to see what’s ahead:  two more miles until a creek.  Well shit.

 

On reaching the creek, I’m as dry as the Mojave and equally as hungry again.  The now solo hiker guy that passed my camp earlier is there, and he introduces himself as Jason.  He tells me his buddy had to drop out at Agnew Meadow due to foot pain, so he’s finishing alone.  A couple more hikers arrive as I’m chugging the cool creek water I’ve just filtered, and Jason takes off once again.  One of them makes a cheese and salami tortilla wrap, and shoves it into my face.

“Want one?  It’s good, I promise,” he says, but it looks sweaty and the smell of oily meat makes me gag internally.  I politely decline and wolf down some fruit snacks and another protein bar.

By the time I reach the Virginia Lake outflow, it’s early afternoon and my hiker hunger is reminding me it’s time to eat yet again.  I catch a glimpse of Jason just ahead, moving up the hillside and disappearing around the corner.  Even though I wish to keep on going, I stop to eat lunch.  The mosquitoes have the same idea it seems and they quickly swarm me.  I reminisce about crossing the outflow the year prior when I was on the PCT, and how the recent snow melt had covered the stepping-stones at the crossing with a couple of feet of water.  I had stripped down to my underwear to make the ford, and it was icy and miserable on my lady bits.  It’s crazy what a few months difference can make.  I think that I prefer this time of the year instead.

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Virginia Lake Outflow

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Virginia Lake
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Descending into Tully Hole
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Bridge across Fish Creek

The day continues to be a difficult one, with a long descent into Tully Hole, along Fish Creek and then back up again.  I start to ascend towards Silver Pass early in the evening, and I’m unsure if I want to go over it or not.  I’m feeling pretty tired now from all the climbing and I’m ready to eat a big dinner.  However, I’ll be closer to the ferry landing on Lake Edison for Vermilion Valley Resort if I push it later into the day.

Once I reach Chief Lake, I really start hauling to get over the pass.  I encounter a small snow field near the high point, but it’s a piece of cake to cross.  On the other side, it’s nothing but downhill, crossing through a barren landscape and then entering a high alpine meadow.  My knees are giving me hell and my feet ache, but I keep going in hopes of being within an arm’s reach of that ferry.

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On the climb to Silver Pass

 

The trail follows the rushing Silver Pass Creek down a series of long, rocky switchbacks and then empties into the North Fork of Mono Creek.  I ford the creek as the sun disappears behind the mountains, and quickly try to find a campsite.  I’m starving from an empty gut and I’m certain the entire mosquito population of the Sierras is now occupying this very area.  I find a small spot between the trail and Mono Creek, and race to put my tent up and cook dinner.  As I’m settling in for the night, I can hear the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Day 5: Day Off at VVR, 2 miles

I don’t have far to go in the morning, just a couple of miles along the Mono Creek side trail that will take me to the VVR ferry landing on Lake Edison.  I’m not necessarily ready for a day off, but I need to get my resupply box I’ve sent there, and then there’s always the promise of a burger and beer to make me happy.

The Mono Creek trail is easy enough, fairly level and fully shaded until it reaches the shores of the lake.  When I arrive, there’s a small group of people already lined up and ready to go.  The ferry is right on time according to the sign: 9:45 morning sailing.  It’s a lovely ride in across the lake, and we’re lucky enough to see a couple of Osprey and their nest in a tree along the shore.

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Ferry landing on Lake Edison
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On the way to VVR

On the front porch of the resort, an employee named Jordan gives us the run down on the resort and the free camping.  “First beer is on us, but the truck just arrived so if you help me unload it, I’ll comp you a second one as well.”  She says, and we all climb over one another to help out.  After claiming my beers and grabbing my parcel, I make camp within the trees of the free camping area and go about getting my resupply in order.  I also purchase a shower, and have a good scrub down.  I feel like a million bucks now after pampering myself with soap and hot water.

When the afternoon ferry arrives, the weather has taken a turn and it’s now pouring rain.  I sit for a while inside my tent drinking my beer, but then decide to take refuge inside the restaurant.  It’s packed in there, with cowboys from the pack station watching football on TV and hikers stuffing themselves with food.  I order a burger and fries with another beer, and then finish it off with a piece of apple pie for good measure.

When I crawl into bed, it’s thundering and the sky is flashing with lightning above the lake.  I still manage to get comfortable rather quickly, with the raindrops lulling me into sleep.

 

Day 6:  VVR to Senger Creek, 18 miles

I spent the morning loitering around the resort, waiting patiently for the first ferry to head back across the lake.  I want to get over Selden Pass today, and I want to do it before another thunderstorm dominated the sky.  I cashed out my tab that I had run up, a shocking $70, and then lined my pack up with all the other hikers’ stuff in front of the store.

Once the ferryman arrived, we all shuffled down to the beach and loaded ourselves and our now too heavy packs onto the boat.  My rest was good, but I was ready to hit the trail again.  When I get to the shore, I immediately take off, hoping to make good time and put some miles behind me.  I knew I had a brutal climb just ahead, and I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.

Back on the JMT, the trail crossed a bridge and began the strenuous climb up through the woods on switchbacks.  I encountered several hikers coming in the opposite direction, and one calls me “an animal” due to my pace.  I also see several PCT hikers, returning to hike the sections they skipped early in the summer because of the heavy snow pack from this year.

On the other side and heading downhill, I enter a delightful aspen meadow, where the leaves of the aspen trees are fluttering in the breeze.  There’s also an abundance of old, twisted California Junipers lining the trail and making the scenery so splendid.

 

I stop along the banks of the turbulent Bear Creek to filter some water and eat some of my surplus food that’s overflowing out of my bear canister, as well as dry out my tent from the previous night’s storm.  Further on, I ford a more gentle section of the creek and am promptly attacked by hoards of mosquitoes.

Late in the afternoon, the sky is looking more gloomy by the minute.  I try to hurry in my climb up and over Selden Pass, which is supposed to be the “easy” Sierra Pass.  The climb still puts me out of breath, and I scoff at such a claim.  When I reach the top, the sky is black and the rumblings of thunder are heard nearby.

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A storm brews near Silver Pass and over Sallie Keyes Lake

 

I scurry down the other side of the pass, with fear pushing me along as fast as I can go.  I dip down below treeline just as a vein of lightning cracks across the sky, and I grumble some curse words under my breath.  I pass along the shores of Sallie Keyes Lake, and consider stopping for the night here.  But it’s early in the evening yet, and the camping area here is wide open and grim.  I cross the outlet for the lake just as more lightning strikes across the lake, and I hustle back into the woods.

I continue on a downhill journey for some time, and it begins to lightly rain.  I can’t be bothered to stop and put on my rain gear, so I keep going wearing just my shorts and hiking shirt.  Near Senger Creek, I see several tents on a hillside along the trail, so I decide to stay here and escape the storm.  I find a clearing closer to the creek, but halfway through setting up my tent I see a no camping sign posted to a tree.  I go across the trail and set up by everyone else, on a sloped no-so-great pitch.

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The storm lets up for a moment, and a neighboring pair of hikers emerge from their tent and join me beside the creek for dinner.  They’re PCT thru-hikers, back in the Sierras on a flip-flop hike after the snow and then eventual wildfires messed with their journey.  I crack open a beer I had packed in from VVR and they look at it with wanton lust, but I’m prepared to defend it to the death after hauling it up the switchbacks from hell and over Selden Pass.

The storm returns just as I’m finished eating dinner, and I dash back to my tent just before it starts hailing.

Day 7: Senger Creek to Evolution Lake, 19 miles

Thunder rumbles through the night, waking me periodically.  I’m not well rested when I get up, and this marks the beginning of my struggle for the day.

I start the day off descending through more wonderful aspen forest, and then passing the trail junction for Muir Trail Ranch.  More JMT hikers are coming from the ranch, but I’m feeling a bit grumpy and unsociable.  By late morning, I enter Sequoia National Park, and it doesn’t disappoint:  I hike among glacier carved peaks and giant trees, all while skirting the banks of the South Fork San Joaquin River.  I stop for a moment at a campsite to have a breather; an emotional place that I had stayed in a year before on my thru-hike and where I had been in agony from trench foot as well as plantar fasciitis.  Good times.

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After climbing up a dusty, exposed section along the river, I ford a creek and hike through Evolution Meadow.  The pine forest provides relief from the afternoon heat and the trail levels out until I come to the quaint McClure Meadow patrol cabin.  I see some fresh bear tracks in the muddy trail at one point, and I quickly put any ambitions of camping here to rest.  I’m in no mood to chase off bears in the middle of the night.

The trail begins to climb towards Muir Pass, and I’m completely done in for the day.  I push it as far as I can, settling on a campsite next to a couple of other campers and beside the majestic Evolution Lake.  While I’m cooking dinner, one of the other campers stops by and warns me that there are a couple of bears wandering the area.  I actually start to feel sorry for the bears if they decide to mess with my stuff, I’m that exhausted and irritable.

Goodnight, grumpy-bear.

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Campsite along Evolution Lake

 

 

Day 8: Evolution Lake to La Conte Canyon, 22 miles

I finally get the rest that I need despite the chilly night, making up for lost time the night before and sleeping a solid 10 hours.  I pack it up early and head out, ready to get up and over Muir Pass in good time.  The marmots are already out trying to catch the first rays of sunshine and they scurry away from their rock perches as I hike past.  I see more hikers breaking camp along the frozen shores of Wanda Lake, and stop to talk to a few and eat a protein bar for breakfast.  Apparently, it was an unbearably cold night at this elevation.

I fight for breath on my way up, with the sun glaring into face.  I reach the Muir Hut fairly early and stop to have second breakfast and rest my feet.  The windchill is numbing and drives me away quickly, before I even have a chance to check out the inside of the hut.

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Early morning reflections on Wanda Lake near Muir Pass

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Hike like a girl
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The Muir Hut

The descent is somewhat sketchy just on the other side; it’s still covered under a precarious sloping snow field and I’m forced to scramble down off trail and on loose scree.  It takes some time and well placed footsteps, but I get there eventually and I start my long traverse down into La Conte Canyon.

The switchbacks are riddled with ankle-rolling stones on top of dust, making the descent a pretty difficult and dangerous one.  After several long miles going downhill and just as I’m nearing the end of it, I roll my ankle and topple to the ground into a bloody pile of dirt, gear and hiker.  I’ve reopened my knee wound, the very one that’s been having a hard time healing since I last hurt it before Tuolumne Meadows.

I yell an F-bomb as I lay there in a cloud of dust, and it echoes off the canyon walls.  Blood is gushing down my leg and staining my sock, and a little piece of fleshy gore hangs from the wound.  I pour some water over it from my water bottle and rush down the trail to a nearby campsite near the Middle Fork Kings River.  There, I give my leg a good wash and apply some antiseptic cream to my knee.  I have no bandages left, so I make my own with the non-stick side of some duct tape and then secure it with medical tape.  It hurts, but not as badly as my self-confidence.

 

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Big Pete Meadow

I keep walking, even though I feel broken.  A herd of deer in Big Pete Meadow brings some peace to my mind, and my mood improves as the day goes on.

I meander through pine forest for much of the day, before it gives way to a burn area.  Storm clouds are looming once again and I decide make camp at the end of the canyon instead of heading over Mather Pass.  I find a small campsite along Palisade Creek just before the trail begins to climb, and a couple of northbound hikers join me.  Over dinner, I wonder if I can manage doing both Mather and Pinchot Passes in single day.  I need a boost to my confidence and think I should go for it, but before I can decide I’m brutally attacked by mosquitoes and have to retreat to my tent for the remainder of the evening.

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No pain, no gain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Jason Montano

    rad to hear about the trail from your perspective – and piece together the timing in relation to storms – back side of Muir Pass was a mess eh – couldn’t imagine folks doing it in April! –

    Like

  2. Jason Montano

    Thanks! – Just read your 3rd entry. Really cool – literally and (the other one) . Your blog is rad – keep it all up, but I really don’t have to say that I suspect. Cant wait to hear of your next adventures.

    Cheers right back 🙂

    Like

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