Throughout my hiking career, there are always days that just does not go your way.
It didn’t go my way when my hiking partner abandoned me on the Tour du Mont Blanc when we had missed the correct trail. I was never more miserable on our aborted attempt up to Long Peak where I didn’t get enough sleep, probably felt altitude sickness, and was shivering uncontrollably in the little rocky hut at the keyhole. Getting sick also brought our first attempt at Ausangate to an end. The thought of “what did I get Meg and I into,” crossed my mind several times when we flew 2 days down to Torres del Paine only to walk through a consistent downpour where visibility was a minimum to begin our trek. That kind of weather would return to greet us on our first time through the Huemul Circuit, but added to the sopping rain was one of the steepest and most dangerous downhills on slippy dirt I’ve every hiked down. Staying in Patagonia, “Oh No” and several other words of anger were spoken when we accidentally snapped a pole in our tent on the O-circuit, but at least it was near the end of our hike and it worked out. The other time our tent pole was snapped in the Lofoten Islands by crazy winds brought our hike to an end. The panic that threatens to wash over me when we realize we were lost in a snow covered terrain during a way too early season hike of the Walker’s Haute Route is not pleasant. Neither was slogging a full day through soft snow, post holing with every step, also on the Walker’s Haute Route. Nor was trying to skip going up a snow field by going further ahead to the next lodging only to be dumped on my a thunderstorm … yes on the Walker’s Haute Route. That hike had quite the experience now that I think of it, it’s a wonder Meg stuck around after that.
When I started writing this, I did not anticipate a trip down memory lane of the most terrible days we’ve had on the trail. However, these are only a portion of the overall hiking experience. An reflection Arnold and Becky had about backpacking in the earlier part of my trip was that it consisted of 60% suffering and 40% benefits. That specific ratio can be argued, but tolerating the suck is a necessary part of achieving the awesomeness in hiking or really anything worth doing.
All those terrible, no good days that one can experience during a hiking career can emphasize all the negatives and can push us emotionally past that point of quitting. But it is hard to make sounds judgements after those kind of days while in the state of low moral. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you are ever thinking of quitting something after a bad day, don’t make that decision until you’ve had a goodnight sleep and a fresh mind. If you still feel the same way in that refreshed state, then you truly know that is the right choice.
While the John Muir Trail (JMT) during the peak season is relatively tame in comparison to some of my other experiences, there are times when the trail will test your tolerance. The section between Red’s Meadow Resort and Muir Trail Ranch was the section that tested my tolerance the most.
This is part 4 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
We pick up my JMT adventures on day 8, a zero day in Mammoth Lakes, CA. A zero day is a day where no miles will be hiked on the trail. For me it is a day to take a break in civilization after a week in the back country and to allow me to take care of some errands in town. My adventure so far consisted of a four day backpacking trip with my California friends within Yosemite up Illilouette Creek and exiting the the Myst Trail to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (see part 2) followed by my official JMT permit start from Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow Resort (see part 3).
I had arrived at Red’s a day early allowing me spend a true Zero down in Mammoth Lakes. In my original plans, I saw the next section as a continuous 9 day section from Red’s to Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley Trailhead since I was not sending resupplies to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) or Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). The following was my pre-trip rough sketch of the 9 days using the JMT Yahoo! group excel worksheet (login required).
After the hike, it was clear that this section was two, if not three, distinct sections and it wasn’t because of MTR being a major resupply point. Specifically, there was a clear distinction at the border of Kings Canyon National Park. As I’ll get to as this series goes on, these distinctions was a combination of the terrain and the regulations and infrastructure differences between National Parks and National Wildernesses.
Unlike my days on the trail, my zero day in Mammoth required much more effort and planning, so this portion will cover how I went about my day. I’d recommend skipping ahead if you aren’t interested in all that went into a resupply day.
It started with a stop at my hotel for the night, the Cinnamon Bear Inn (hotels.com) after I departed the guys at Leah’s place. We had arrived in Mammoth early around 8ish, so I went to see if I could check in early. It was a no go, but I was able to drop off my bag. I had chosen the Bed & Breakfast for it’s well regarded breakfast and to save money since Mammoth Lakes is a busy place during the summer.
During my zero in Mammoth Lakes, I was able to utilize the free community circulator route get around town.
I spent the rest of the morning addressing the reason I lugged 2-3 extra pounds on the JMT (my laptop), which was proofing my paper and providing feedback on my co-authored paper. At least I was able to get the process of charging every electronic device started.
I had few other trip logistics to figure out that day. The first was a packing list for Meg that would cover the end portion of the JMT, specifically we’d shift from my current single person setup to a shared two person setup (discussion to come in part 6). Additionally, the two person setup will need to be optimized for colder climates at a higher altitude for our Peruvian trip (separate trip report to come in the future) we’d head to after warming up on the JMT.
Second was to figure out the best way to set up shuttling for Onion Valley and Whitney Portal. I contacted Lone Pine Kurt (Call 760-876-4811 or email LonePineKurt@aol.com) to set up a shuttle from Whitney Portal to Onion Valley, which meant we’d leave our rental car at Whitney Portal to give us the flexibility and self reliance of finishing when we wanted. I wasn’t sure of how Meg would acclimate even though she is much better at it than me, so the cost of flexibility. Lone Pine Kurt was super flexible and responsive allowing us to confirm the plans the day before. It also helped that his service was the cheapest and didn’t charge for extra people. This still wasn’t cheap at USD$90, but again I went for certainty and self reliance over trying to hitch out. This was because we would have to hit a specific exit date at that point of my hike.
Lastly since I’m the planner of our trips, I had to send an itinerary for Meg to follow included her flight to Las Vegas, rental car pickup, and meeting me at Onion Valley trailhead (see part 1: travel & transportation for details) with minimal to zero communication from me.
While I was getting all my work out of the way, Chris, Diana, and Cindy had checked into a room at the Motel 6 and were going through their resupplies. They discovered that they had plenty of leftovers and told me to come scrounge through it before I went shopping. After our lunch together, they handed me a compactor bag full of leftover food that I gratefully took. My next hour was to figure out my actual meal plans and see what I could put together. It was a fun puzzle and definitely made for interesting meals.
My meal habits has been 2 main meals a day thus far. Going forward, I planned on large breakfast consisting of a “dinner” like meal such as a Mountain House. This would allow me to take advantage of the typically nice mornings and cover a good chunk of miles. I would then have my second meal sometime in the mid-afternoon when I typically had encountered a storm the last few days. That would provide me with energy to continue for a few more miles before sundown. I would have 3 high energy snacks for each day as a combination of trail mix, Snickers, and bars of different varieties for small meals or when my stomach growled. For quick sugar rushes when I felt tired, I got some energy gummies from Chris to go with the orange slices and sour worms I still had from my first 2 legs. Lastly, the guys had plenty of instant coffee and Gatorade powder to provide some flavoring and energy to my water.
I didn’t have a resupplies between Mammoth Lakes to Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass and it would be 9 days until Meg would meet me there. I ended up packing 10 “dinner” meals, which was one a day with 1-2 extra. The 10 meals were 5 I rescued from my friends, 3 mash potatoes I got from Vons, and 2 dehydrated dinners from Mammoth Mountaineering Supply (Yelp). One tip from Leah regarding the outfitter was that you can get 10 percent off if you mention hiking the PCT, but not JMT. They don’t have to know what you were hiking though. To add more calories, nutrients, and fiber to each meal, I bought the cheapest beef jerky and a bag of arugula to spread amongst the meals. The beef jerky rehydrated decently well.
So my menu for my main meals covering the next 9 days included:
- mexican rice and beans from Cindy with beef jerky added
- refried beans from Cindy combined with beef stew from Chris
- Mountain House turkey dinner casserole from Chris with beef jerky added
- Pad Thai from Diana
- Jamaican Rice from Diana
- Backcountry Pantry Cincinnati Chili
- Backcountry Pantry Lasagna
- 3x Mashed Potatoes with milk powder and beef jerky added
I decided to try cold soak oatmeal for my afternoon meal. This idea came about partially from some of the YouTube ultralight thru hikers and partially from the Backpacker Pantry breakfasts (Amazon affiliate link) Arnold and Becky had, which was actually pretty good when I tried it. So for each meal, I combine about 2.5 packets of oatmeal with some powdered milk and some trail mix I rescued. This experiment would end up being a failure for me, but more on that later. I thought it was a great plan at the time since it would require no actual cooking time since I would just add water and would allow me to save fuel during the 9 day section.
To fit all my meals into my bear can, I bought quart sized ziplocks to repackage all my dinner meals and oatmeal. I kept 1 pouch from a dehydrated meal to cook everything in. I don’t like the plastic ziplock taste.
Other things I picked up in town included a new spoon to replace the one I lost, a pair of sunglasses, a few more gallon ziplocks to better waterproof my stuff for storms, just in case. Lastly, I bought a small backup fuel canister (I had been using a new one starting from Tuolumne Meadows).
The last chore on my list was laundry, which I did while showering and finished in my sink. The fan and heated light in the bathroom did wonders to dry everything overnight.
In between my chores was a good amount of Meg time on the phone. I never did meet up with my friends for dinner as we all had a huge lunch. I ate my leftover pizza and 4-6 large navel oranges (among my favorite fruit that I couldn’t resist at Vons) for dinner. Fruit was definitely not possible on the trail.
It was past midnight by the time all my chores were done. Leah would be driving the other guys back to Red’s at 6am before the road closes. I decided sleep in until 9 instead, stuff myself silly at breakfast, and take the shuttle up to take full advantage of my hotel.
As planned I woke at 9, the well regarded breakfast was indeed good. I knew I won’t get back to the trail until later in the day, so my end goal was just as far as I can go. The extended goal was Lake Virginia, but I realistic aimed for Purple Lake where the gang was planning to camp.
After packing up and checking out, the series of shuttles back to Reds began. The free town trolley and biker shuttle to the Mammoth Inn and adventure center was decently smooth and met my expectations in terms of duration.
At the Mammoth Inn and Adventure center, there was a large crowd both enjoying the activities around and looking to shuttle up to Devils Postpile National Monument and Red’s to a lesser extent. To actually catch the shuttle, you had to stand in line to buy a ticket and then stand in line to board the bus. A ticket here was USD$8 and it was a daily pass.
Unknown to many in the ticket line outside, you can buy he bus ticket inside the store as well. In the line to board the bus, it was easier for them to squeeze you onto the last spots of a bus if you are willing to stand on the bus or traveling by yourself. Most of the daily tourists will get off at the Devils Postpile stop.
- Red’s Meadow Resort to Duck Lake drainage (C.05.02)
- distance: 11.3 miles
- elevation change: 3097 ft ascent & 593 ft descent
- time: 7:15 hours with breaks (4:50 hours moving time)
It wasn’t until after noon that I returned to Red’s and started my hike.
The first section out of Red’s is at a slight uphill through a section of burn with the afternoon sun beating on me.
After 45 minutes the trail entered the forest and started to climb more aggressively at a 7% grade for the next 1.7 miles
until Crater creek and a nice campsite situated under the Red Cones (Wenk book campsite: C.04.23). This is a nice alternative to camping at Red’s and was the last area I had cell reception for a long while. I could hear the afternoon thunder starting off to my east as I was filling up on water here.
I covered the next 3 or so miles over the next hour as the trail undulated among the red cone peaks and through slightly marshy areas.
By the time I reached Deer Creek around 3:30pm, it was thundering heavily overhead with some sprinkles. There was a campsite here (Wenk: C.05.01), so I set up my Tyvek groundsheet as a tarp held up by my hiking poles in the middle and rocks at the ends to hold it down. It wasn’t the most stable, but it worked to keep any rain off of me. It was the lightning that was more worrying for me with time between lightning and thunder less than 5 seconds. During the time I hid under my tarp, I ended up cooking dinner since I had time to boil water. I ended up going with a larger “dinner” meal that was a combination of refried beans from Cindy and beef stew from Chris.
The lightning and thunder started to abate around 5pm so I decided to push on for more miles. I did however make the mistake of not filling up on water before I started up toward Duck Pass. The trail wasn’t all that steep at just above 5% grade and it wasn’t really a pass since the trail just curved around the side of ridge,
but it was an unexpectedly tough section for me especially near the end of the climb. Specifically, all the creeks shown on my gps were dry and I was dehydrated from dinner. I’ve come to learn that I drink quite a lot of water on the trail and I dehydrate faster, so this was a good lesson for me to load up on water with any kind of climb ahead of me. The weather gods also taunted me as it started to rain again when I neared the top of my climb.
However, I gladly took the conditions I hiked in to that of a few hours earlier. I ran into a few NOBO hikers that talked about the crazy hail that came down upon them while I cowered under my tarp a couple hours earlier. I saw the left over hail on the ground as I made my was around the pass.
I was beat and was ready for camp when I reached Duck Creek draining Duck Lake. I found Carl, a local resident of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and an veteran of many JMT hikes, camped by himself around Duck Creek (Wenk: C.05.02). He welcomed me to join him and was great company. Among the useful information he described included the trail ahead and of the JMT in general.
By the time I crawled into my tent to turn in for the night, it was still drizzling. It was a tougher day than I expected coming out of Red’s fighting the sun early on and thunder and rain later on. While I avoided the hail, dehydration made the end of my hike for the day pretty miserable, especially since the views were lacking through majority of the section. I crashed pretty hard and fast that night and hoped that everything will be dry the following day.
- Duck Lake drainage (C.05.02) to Mono Creek (C.06.09)
- distance: 16.8 miles
- elevation change: 3066 ft ascent & 5036 ft descent
- time: 11:30 hours with breaks (9:00 hours moving time)
For once I didn’t have condensation in my tent! I think it might have been a combination of having the rain fly on and a constant breeze through the night. This made packing up a lot easier and hopefully would help me make up the ground I lost with my late start the previous day. Though it was 8am by the time I started once again. For breakfast, I had the pad thai dehydrate meal that I received from Diana, though I don’t know which brand it was. Cindy and Diana had said they planned to camp at Purple Lake, so they would be a bit ahead of me at this point.
I didn’t know my exact end location, but I aimed to go over Silver Pass.
My day started by crossing Duck Creek, where there was another set of camping spots (Wenk: C.05.04). Afterwards, the trail heads up a 13.7% incline over the next 0.5 miles
before flattening out around the side of the mountain
and down toward Purple Lake. After about 2.5 miles over 1.5 hour of hiking, I was at the picturesque Purple Lake. This area was apparently a popular camping spot (Wenk: C.05.05) with plenty of hikers packing up their tents and some doing some morning fishing.
While I was filling up on water at the outlet of Purple Lake, I met up with Diana, Cindy, & Chris again. I spent a half hour catching up with them and witnessed Diana’s alter ego, Diana Dino.
The popularity of the Purple Lake campsites forced them down the stream draining Purple Lake for about a half mile to find a campsite the previous night. Before we started hiking at our own paces, Diana also gave me some ibuprofen since I had developed a headache. The cause of the headache I attributed to my dehydration from the previous day rather than altitude. I was grateful for the drugs and it even lasted me all the way through Peru, where it definitely helped with the attitude there. With the help of the drugs and instant coffee, I found my trail legs from that point on. It was the last I saw the girls in a while. Chris had gone ahead of me as we left Purple Lake.
The trail continued to gain elevation through some switchbacks and forest at a 9.5% incline over the next 1.3 miles to the next pass toward Lake Virginia. The terrain becomes more barren and granite like around the pass. The view from the pass included a crystal blue pond without a name.
Shortly after the pass, the relatively large Lake Virginia reviled itself nestled amongst the peaks.
The trail continued along the eastern edge of the lake
before crossing another relatively flat pass. After the pass, I arrived at a green valley covered with pine trees and with a few unnamed peaks. This was Tully Hole and it was a great view,
though the many switchbacks down to the valley floor dampened my excitement as I knew I’d have to regain all of it back going up to Silver Pass. It was a -12.1% descent over 1.4 miles.
Once the trail hits the floor of the valley there was a trail junction for McGee Pass branching to the left.
The JMT follows Fish Creek downstream at a -6% descent with several cool cascades. At the bottom of the descent, the JMT crosses Fish Creek over a bridge and before starting up the long climb to Silver Pass. It was about 1pm while I hiked along Fish Creek, but I wasn’t hungry yet. I did start my first test of my cold soak strategies. I added water to my ziplock of my oatmeal concoction. The plan was for it to be ready by the time I reached the pass.
After the bridge, there was a junction toward the Tully Hole Cascade Junction to the right. Looking at the caltopo afterwards, this seems to be a side trail that loops back onto the JMT. On the OSM, another trail splits from the loop continuing down Fish Creek back down the valley that I hiked above the previous day.
The initial climb consisted of switchbacks among the trees at a 8.9% incline and not very eventful or interesting. The views start when I reached a meadow on the first bench after a mile and 40 minutes from the bridge. My stomach finally started to growl a little, but I wanted to push toward the Silver Pass with the good weather before having my lunch. So it was Snickers that powered my climb from there.
The climb up to the next bench was in and out of the trees with some cool granite views at a 10% incline.
At the next bench, was Squaw Lake where, I filled up my water here and ate more candy before continuing onward.
The larger Warrior Lake that drains into Squaw Lake, comes into the view as I continued further uphills.
After 2 hours from the bridge, I reached a large group chilling at the junction of the JMT and the trail from the Lake of the Lonely Indian. They had came up from that direction and planned on hiking the rest of the JMT southbound. This was another example of alternative starts SOBO for those that don’t get Yosemite start. Again, it seems like the well known means of the JMT permitting that all veterans or locals know about.
While some of the group were chilling under the trees here at the junction, others were sunbathing. One of the latter wasn’t shy about providing contrast to my picture here at the pass. He touted that he had a nicer ass than Brad Pitt. I’ll let you guys determine that for yourselves.
If you were looking to head to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR), this side trail also provides an alternate by heading over Goodale Pass and Graveyard Meadows rather than Silver Pass and having to take the ferry or Mono Creek Trail to cross Lake Thomas A Edison. To take the alternate, head down the trail toward the Lake of the Lone Indian here and turn left at the next junction before Lake of the Lone Indian and after Papoose lake toward Goodale Pass.
I started my final push toward Silver pass after chatting with the group. The JMT curves around Chef Lake
before heading upwards without any shade. It wasn’t an overall hard climb, but the sun did drain me a bit. Along the way, I passed a small snow patch that covered the trail, but it was easy to sidestep it.
After 1:15 hours and a miles from the junction over an 11% incline, I reached Silver Pass sitting at 10730 ft according to Caltopo.
The best views from the pass is best walking a few paces off the trail to the boulders around. The view to the north and from where I came up was my favorite of the section. It composed of Chef Lake, Lake of the Lone Indian, Papoose Lake, and Warrior Lake nestled among several unnamed peaks. The view to the horizon was a little diminished, perhaps due to the Ferguson fire.
I caught up with Chris here at the pass and we enjoyed hanging for a bit before continuing on.
I also tried my cold soak oatmeal, which wasn’t as I imagined. I wasn’t sure why exactly on this first attempt, but something just didn’t taste right and I couldn’t stomach it. I chalked it up to too long of a soak, being lukewarm, and too watery.
On the other side of the pass with a cool unnamed pond among a dry landscape.
After a short 0.85 mile descent at -8.3% grade, the trail flattens out continuing on a bench passing by the sapphire blue Silver Lake. From the distance, we could see a really cool camping spot on a elevated hill among slanted wind blown trees.
As we continued, Chris kept looking back at it. Just as the trail started to slant down, Chris turns to me and says, “I’ve gotta go jump in that lake.” I could understand Chris’s sentiment as it was a hot afternoon and Silver Lake was like an oasis in an otherwise arid terrain. However, there was plenty of sunlight left at 5pm and I was on a roll. So we parted always again, hoping to see each other on the trail.
I continued downhills as the JMT descends at a steady -7.3% grade off the bench before paralleling Silver Pass Creek into a wooded area. The 2.13 miles stretch wasn’t too interesting other than the first time I unexpectedly saw a herd of domesticated animals on the far side of the marsh. I didn’t pay much attention to whether they were pack horses or cows, but I was surprised seeing animals grazing on the trail.
After the wooded section, the trail emerges onto more granite section with views of the Silver Pass Creek cascading down a smooth granite wall.
The golden hour sun also brought out the granite peaks to the east up toward Mott Lake.
From this viewpoint down toward Lake Thomas A Edison and around Vermilion Cliffs,
the trail starts a more rapid descent at -18.5% grade over several switchbacks crossing Silver Pass Creek cascading down the side of the granite wall.
The steepest portion ends after about a half mile at the junction of Mott Lake branching off to the left. There are a few camping spots here (Wenk: C.06.04), however the mosquitoes were making their presence strongly felt at this point. So I continued downhill following North Fork Mono Creek, which Silver Pass Creek joined. The rest of my day consisted of a steady -9.6% decline.
There were some campsites and nice views of North Fork Mono Creek flowing over the granite terrain around Pocket Meadows, which is always impressive to me. However, the mosquitoes again kept me from lingering.
The light was fading fast by the time I reached the junction with Mono Pass branching to the left.
I thought about camping on some granite slabs with a view toward Lake Thomas A Edison, but there wasn’t great access to water as the trail was now a bit away from the North Fork Mono Creek
so I made the push for my long stretch goal of the day, the campsite near the junction of Mono Creek and North Fork Mono Creek (Wenk: C.06.09). This was a large camping area with several fire rings. There was only one other guy camped here, but it was as if I was along since he was at the far back end of the campsite.
I also felt the mosquitoes’ presences was a little lighter at the camp since it was on a small bluff over Mono Creek. Shortly after I set up camp, it was hiker midnight already so I decided against eating another meal and I fell asleep quickly to the sounds of the rushing Mono Creek as I was exhausted. The downhill at the end of the day was very draining and tough on my knees.
I had to option of heading to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) on this day. I was camped a short distance away from the ferry pickup for VVR. Since it was late by the time I reached camp the previous night, I missed the 4:45 pm ferry but I was plenty early for the 9:45 am one (VVR).
VVR is one of the few mail in resupply options for the JMT, however it also has a reputation of an oasis of civilization in the wilderness. This is especially the case for NOBO JMT and PCT hikers as it is the first place with amenities like showers and hot prepared food in a long stretch. Yes, Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is only 1-2 days south of VVR, but MTR isn’t very welcoming to thru-hikers and doesn’t provide any provisions beyond a place to ship in your resupply unless you are staying with them. In the meantime, VVR has a store, restaurant, booze, hot showers, laundry service, campground, rooms, and a welcoming atmosphere. It is said that spending money there is too easy as they’ll just keep a tab for you. Should you be short on money, there is always the option of working for your dinner by doing dishes for them. What is also said about VVR is that it is party central, which may be due to it being a good place where you catch up with members of your tramily and the availability of booze.
On my hike, I opted to skip VVR since I was only 2 days since my zero in Mammoth Lakes and did not want to spend the extra time and money (2018 cost: USD$13 one way, USD$23 round trip) boating into and out of VVR. The time was more of a factor since I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be rushed to meet up with Meg.
However, at the time I didn’t know all the options out of VVR. More so, I didn’t know of the how boring and terrible the hike over Bear Ridge was, more on that below. If I was to redo my hike, I would head into VVR, grabbed a nice lunch, and raided the hiker box before rejoining the JMT via the Bear Creek Trail. The Bear Creek Trail is one of 2 options to rejoin the JMT south of VVR, the other being the Bear Ridge Trail. The recommended option for SOBOer is the Bear Creek Trail (VVR).
To differentiate the 2 trailheads, Bear Ridge Trail starts on the Vermilion Valley Dam while the Bear Creek Trail starts below the dam. The Bear Creek trail essentially skips a major part of the climb over Bear Ridge and follows Bear Creek until the JMT starts to follow Bear Creek. While Bob reported the Bear Creek Trail can be a bit muddy at parts, Bear Creek was one of my highlights of this section on the JMT so I wouldn’t have mind spending more time following the creek rather than going over the boring and mosquito and fly swarming Bear Ridge. The Bear Ridge Trail climbs Bear Ridge via a sandy, dry, and steep trail according to the VVR page and meets the JMT near the top of Bear Ridge said to be unpleasant for SOBOers.
VVR offers a USD$10 shuttle to either trailheads should you be hungover and wanting to save a couple miles.
- Mono Creek (C.06.09) to Upper Sallie Keys Lake (C.07.02)
- distance: 16.0 miles
- elevation change: 4173 ft ascent & 1993 ft descent
- time: 10:05 hours with breaks (7:30 hours moving time)
With the decision to skip VVR, my goal for the day was to hike over Selden Pass and to camp at the Upper Sallie Key Lake. Marie Lake just before Selden Pass was also an acceptable spot depending on my progress. With about 4000 feet of elevation gain it will be another long day. So I spent the morning packing up my camp spot overlooking the rushing Mono Creek while heating up water for a hearty Cincinnati Chili from Backpacker Pantry (Amazon affiliate link) for breakfast. It was an 8:15am start as condensation formed on my stuff again. It’s a nice benefit to sleep in the open with just my mesh tent, but condensation sucks. I would have thought the open air would allow less to form.
I knew I had to ford North Fork Mono Creek directly out of camp, so I kept my Chacos on for the first part. While at the creek, I loaded up on water since Carl had told me that the entire switchback section up Bear Ridge is typically dry at this point in the season. There maybe a stream at one point, but it is unreliable.
I switched into my clown shoes (Altra Lone Peak 3.5 – Amazon affiliate link) after the crossing. I pass the VVR ferry junction and a wooden bridge over the rushing Mono Creek over the next half mile before I was working up the switchbacks of Bear Ridge.
There wasn’t much views, but at least it was still cool as I worked up roughly 3 miles of switchbacks with about a 11% incline over the 2 hours. The stream about 2 miles into the climb was running this time around, so I refilled my water.
I was hoping for some good views at the top of the ridge, but all that was there were trees and the junction for the Bear Ridge Trail connected to VVR.
From here the trail started to descend at about -9.3% grade over 1.7 miles, which also made my moral decline knowing I’d have to regain all of this back up to Selden Pass, which I could see in the distance. To make matters worse, the downhill consisted of several marshy patches.
This was also the point where the swarms of flies and mosquitoes really started to make their presence known. Even with 95% deet lathered on, I was speed walking to down the hill to get away from all the flies and mosquitoes to no avail.
At some point, fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. And that’s the point where the JMT hiker’s goal becomes making all the flies and mosquitoes suffer. If you fly into my airspace, prepared to have a hand to come at you with ninja speeds. Mosquitoes were easy kills since they try to land on you, while the flies were like X-Wings coming for strafing runs. You had to be patient and get them while they hovered or tried to land. My complete transition to the dark side took place once the trail bottomed out but before the JMT started next to Bear Creek.
There was a creek that I stop at to refill water and to start my cold soaking experiment again since I was hungry. Unfortunately, that experiment was again a complete disaster. I realized that there was a curry flavor in the oatmeal that made me want to puke when I tried to eat it. The lukewarm nature of it made it all the worse. I was so angry, I dug a cat hole off trail and buried it like the poop it tried so hard to mimic.
I was just very irrationally and uncontrollably angry at this point. The reason might have been partially from being hangry, partially from having spent 3 hours going over Bear Ridge with no reward of any good views, partially from having to start climbing up once again, and of course partially from having to fight the flies and mosquitoes.
So the only thing I could do was to follow the advice of the TV commercials (youtube) by devouring a couple of snickers and continued on the trail… and leaving a wake of dead mosquito and fly carcasses. I soon passed the junction with the Bear Creek Trail branching off to the right
and soon after the JMT started to follow the creek upstream.
Between the green pools of water
and the rushing cascades over flat granite slabs, Bear Creek put me into a nice tranquil state. Though I was forever a murder of flies and mosquitoes, even to this day. I am forever on the dark side and there is no good in me (against mosquitoes and flies).
From the junction with Bear Creek Trail, it was a nice walk with a very slight elevation gain along Bear Creek. There were several camp sites (Wenk: C.06.19-22) along the way with some muddy sections. During this time, it is key to note that a large NOBO Korean group passed me. I did not know it at the time, but their existence on the trail would bring me great happiness later on. At about 2 miles since joining Bear Creek, there was a junction to Lake Italy branching off to the left. That was followed shortly by the ford of Hilgard Creek and it’s 2 branches flowing into Bear Creek. The creek was pretty swift, but was only shin deep. With my Chacos, it was an easy crossing.
After the crossings, I was about to switch back into my trailrunners when a couple NOBOers told me of another crossing ahead of me. So I would continue the rest of my day in my Chacos. The JMT continued up the Bear Creek drainage but briefly left the banks of the creek.
About 1.3 miles from the last junction, the JMT comes upon Bear Lake Junction which actually continues straight, which can be made confusing by the sign here.
This is the point where the JMT crosses Bear Creek branching off to the right. The Bear Creek crossing is one of the 2 most hazardous crossings for JMTs and is know to sweep hikers downstream early in the season or on a high snow year (as described here during the 2017 early season – Vimeo). However it wasn’t bad at all for my crossing as you can walk on the row of rocks just under the surface of the water. A good tip for fords is to unbuckle your hip belt when crossing creeks, that way you can get out of your backpack should you swim and your pack gets caught underwater.
The JMT headed away from Bear Creek after the crossing by begin to climb toward Marie Lake. Overall, the climb to Marie Lake wasn’t too steep at about 7.1% grade over 2.5 miles, but it was a tough climb nonetheless. It was the hottest part of the day around 2:30pm when I started my climb and I was powered by candy and cliff bars at this point. The trail continued upwards uninteresting across some rocky terrain within the forest without views. There was a couple easy crossings over the West Fork of Bear Creek and a unmemorable junction with a trail branching off to the left toward 3 Island Lake before I reached a Rosemarie Meadow
with West Fork Bear Creek running through it and a trail junction with a side trail to Rose Lake branching off to the right crossing the creek. There are some nice camping areas here as well (Wenk: C.06.26).
The JMT continues to climb under the hot sun, which was shining through the sparser trees. However, this meant I finally get a view of the Bear Creek Drainage I’ve been walking up for most of the afternoon.
Further up, the view opens up more with a cool amphitheater looking ridge next to Mount Hooper.
It was around 4:15pm when I finally reached the banks of Marie Lake.
I was famished and had already decided to eat one of my extra dinners here, which was a rescued Mountain House Turkey Dinner Casserole (Amazon affiliate link) from Chris with added arugula and rehydrated beef jerky. While I got the water boiling, I just had to jump into that lake. It was cold. I didn’t stay in for long, but I did wash my main hiking shirt by just soaking it and rubbing it against the rock.
It was about 5:15pm when I finished my dinner and packed up to continue over Selden Pass. It was about a half mile climb at about a 9.6% grade to zigzag up the switchbacks to Selden Pass, which sits at 10912 ft according to Caltopo. The golden hour sun and Lake Marie provided on of the highlights of the section.
On the other side of the pass, sits Heart Lake. While not a Wenk campsite, there seem to be a flat area here at Selden Pass to set up camp. However, there is no water access and a half mile to the stream below.
The initial descent off Selden Pass was about -9.4% grade over a half mile flattening out once the trail reached Sallie Key Creek draining into Heart lake. At the end of Heart Lake is suppository a possible camping spot (Wenk: C.07.01), though it didn’t seem like enough room.
My homestretch came in the form of another 0.6 mile descent at about a -9.4% grade down to Sallie Key Lakes.
On the bluff overlooking Upper Sallie Key Lake, I set up camp slightly before Wenk’s noted campsite (C.07.02). There were a couple of other hikers set up here already, Jack and another SOBOer, who’s name I don’t remember.
While it was a relaxing evening hanging out with the guys with the full moon coming up and pink hues covering the sky, we were still attacked by mosquitoes the entire time. A nice pro-tip I picked up here was to wear my hard shell, since that was the only thing mosquitoes can’t bite through.
As the sun went down, a bit of smog started to accumulate in the valley below hiding the mountains across the way.
It didn’t matter too much though with hiker midnight arriving once again, it was bedtime after another long day.
- Upper Sallie Keys Lake (C.07.02) to Muir Trail Ranch
- distance: 5.5 miles
- elevation change: 166 ft ascent & 2619 ft descent
- time: 2:35 hours with breaks (2:11 hours moving time)
While the campsite above Upper Sallie Key Lake was a wonderful spot, I did not have a restful night sleep. Perhaps it was due to the full moon beaming above, so I’ll have to add my rain cover on just to block out the bright moon from now on. I ended up waking very early, though I got out later than usual at about 8:30 am. This was main attributed to eating my breakfast slowing while overlooking the amazing view of Upper Sallie Key Lake.
For breakfast, I had a Jamaican rice and beans meal that I got from Cindy mixed with more arugula and beef jerky.
My goal for the day was to head as far as I can into Evolution Valley in Kings Canyon National Park, specifically aiming for the end point of McClure Meadows. However, before I cross into Kings Canyon National Park, Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is just 0.4 miles off the JMT.
MTR is one of the more popular mail in resupply points in this section of the JMT. This is because options becomes very limited without going off the trail from there all the way to Whitney Portal at the end. I don’t have any mailed in resupply there, but I hoped to be able to raid the hiker box there. Again the hiker box is where other hikers will dump their unneeded food. I needed to do this because my cold soak oatmeal plan was a complete bust, so I’ll need to switch out several meals.
For me, MTR also marks the end of my least favorite section on the JMT and crossing into Kings Canyon National Park is a clear division of the different sections. So, for this section of the trip report, I’ll be ending it half way through day 12 at MTR.
From my campsite, the JMT continues on the strip of land between the Sallie Key lakes and on the western shores of the lower lake. There I found a few more campsites among the trees (Wenk: C.07.03-04).
And that’s the last good thing I have to say about this section of the trail to MTR. The downhill to MTR starts with a gradual decline through the unimpressive woods and cutting across marshes. The worst part that horse poop started to appear on the trail at an alarmingly high rate leading to an even higher count of Mosquitoes and flies. The poop piles proceeded to appear at an even higher rate the closer I got to MTR, so it’s not hard to figure out where they are coming from.
The views of Ward Mountains and the South Fork San Joaquin drainage come into view as the real downhills really started after crossing Singer Creek, about 2.6 miles from my camp spot.
From there is was about a -12.5% grade dusty decline over 2 miles switch-backing to the MTR/Florence lake junction without much cover. Along the way, the source of the poop piles made their appearance as a large tour group on horses lead by the MTR guides pass me going up hill.
The rest of the way down to MTR was even steeper at a -15.6% grade decline over the next mile. It was made way more difficult as I have to avoid the fresh landmines that covered the trail. I had to bushwhack at certain points just to avoid the poop covered trail. On my way into MTR, there are a couple more junctions. The first points to the trail southbound to continue on the JMT while the second point to the Blayney Hot Springs.
I did not head to the hot springs as it is said to be a muddy and popular one. Furthermore, I was plenty hot from the switchbacks down. Regardless, I was glad to be at MTR.
An interesting thing about the JMT was that it’s not often that you end up seeing other going your directions. Places like MTR give you a chance to see that friend who’s been a half hour in front of you for the last few days. So it provides a nice social place even though MTR isn’t the most apt for that.
MTR is known to be pretty strict about their hours, 8am to 5pm. I have heard other hikers complain about the staff there around opening and closing times. If you arrive after 5pm, better head over to the nearby campgrounds as you will not get your resupply until morning.
Next to their storage building of resupply buckets is shelter with a row of buckets that serve as the hiker box. The donated and left behind food are separate by buckets. I have heard stories of hikers finding nothing within these buckets and complaints of staff telling other they cannot have access to them, but that wasn’t my experience. From talking to multiple hikers, part of those complains may have to do with the time of day. In line with their strict opening and closing hours, it maybe that some hikers were pushed out because they wanted to close. Perhaps the pickings are more meager in the mornings since it is before others that received buckets have gone through their resupply.
My experience getting there around 11am and leaving around 12:20pm was that there were plenty of food available in the hiker box. The purpose of my visit to MTR was to replace my failed oatmeal experiments with another 4 meals.
In the hiker box, I found plenty of instant noodles, dehydrated veggies, trail mix, and oatmeal. While I wasn’t going anywhere near oatmeal, the rest would be the bases of my meals. The best thing I found were thanks to that large Korean NOBO group I saw the day earlier next to Bear Creek. I found plenty of dehydrated shrimp, dehydrated anchovies, prefried fried rice, and dehydrated kimchi (Amazon affiliate links). While other thought those to be peculiar, I was intrigued.
With the ingredients I came away with the following:
- instant noodles with kimchi, veggies, shrimp, and anchovies added
- prefried fried rice with kimchi, veggies, shrimp, and anchovies added
- 3 bean chili with veggies added
- dehydrated eggs with veggies added
- dehydrated and vacuumed sealed salmon and berry mix to add to meals
- dehydrated and vacuumed sealed beef and berry mix to add to meals
- trail mix
- beef jerky
- swapped out a few bars
- instant coffee packets
- bonus: Backpacker’s Pantry Dark Chocolate Cheesecake (Amazon affiliate link)
After I finished putting together my meals, I ate lunch out of the hiker box that included some mystery meat, which turn out to be tuna, in tortilla wrap.
There is a store at MTR, but it doesn’t sell any food. It only have a small assortment of gear. However, they do sell 15 minutes of internet service for USD$10.
Services for backpackers are pretty limited, however you may be in for a different experience if you are able to get a room.
The area between Red’s Meadow resort and Muir Trail Ranch is the third uniquely distinguishable section on the JMT. While there is plenty of amazing views still throughout this section, the aspect that stuck out to me the most were the annoyances.
The center of my annoyances were the piles of horse shit, flies, and mosquitoes. Nowhere else on the JMT did I see so much of it on the trail. This was one the reason hikers fight an endless battle with flies and mosquitoes that was way fiercer than any other section. It’s sections like this that turns well intentioned hikers that wants to use nature friendly bug repellent to the DEET side. Lathering on that 95% DEET was a joy we all looked forward to.
In a world where we practice leave no trace and dig cat holes for our own poop, how is it that stock animals aren’t held to the same standard? It’s not that hard either. I spent the first few years of my life in the 1980s in largely agricultural driven People’s Republic of China where horses were still a common transportation method and poop on the streets were not a problem. They have a poop bag to collect their shit and prevent it from going everywhere. However in an area we’d want to conserve, that high level of technology doesn’t exist. I understand MTR have to run a business, but they should be held to the same standards regarding stock as hikers. Part of the relief that would come with entering the Kings Canyon National Park was due to the fact that we didn’t have to deal with the poop anymore with higher National Park restrictions on stock animals.
An unique aspect of this section of the JMT are the three resupply and gathering points in Red’s Meadow, Vermilion Valley Resort, and Muir Trail Ranch. While I didn’t mail in any resupplies to any of these locations, I did resupply using a couple bus ride away from Red’s and did utilize the hiker box at MTR when I checked it out. I did not visit VVR, but I would have gone there with my knowledge now. Specifically knowing that I could have taken the Bear Creek option saving me the viewless Bear Ridge. The additional social aspect and real food would have been an treat as well. My original decision was based on the impression that I’d have to ferry in and out.
Lastly, this section was my least favorite on the JMT. Viewlessness and uninteresting can be used to describe the many forest climbs and descents on the trail. This was the section that I started to listen to my podcast and finishing an audiobook before trying to conserve going forward.
The total distance that I covered between Red’s and MTR was 49.5 miles with 10502 ft ascent and 10240 ft descent. At the end of this section, my trip total was 125.5 miles with 22524 feet gain and 25809 feet loss in elevation.
views: 3. Despite focus of the 60% of suck that I had to learn to tolerate, the 40% of awesomeness was enjoyable. However, the awesomeness were just fewer in between, making this section one that I would not travel for the sole purpose of visiting. It is worth exploring if you happen to be in the area or just walking through the PCT or JMT.
My favorite on this section was going over Silver Pass and the lakes that surrounded it.
Otherwise, cascades on Bear Creek flipped my day around after the boring climb up Bear Ridge only to descend into the valley of mosquito and flies.
My campsite overlooking Sallie Key Lake one of the 5 star campsites on my hike
and the equally beautiful 5 star campsite on the other side of Selden Pass was at Marie Lake.
Other views worth mentioning was views of valleys such as Fish Creek Valley from Duck Pass, Tully Hole, and granite formations of the Mott Lake drainage.
difficulty: 3. On the three full days of hiking, I was over 3000 ft of elevation gain on each day with elevation losses to match. The longest elevation loss was on day 10 with greater than 5000 ft loss, however it was the downhill to MTR on day 12 that was the worst of all with horse poop everywhere and no where to hide from the sun. There was no specific uphills that was more difficult than others, they just seemed more monotonous without any good views.
I also started to ramp up my mileage on this section as well since I was finding my legs. After covering 11 miles out of Red’s, I followed with two 16 plus miles days. While I pushed my pace during this section, it doesn’t mean that it is the pace you should take it and I don’t consider that in the overall more difficulty.
The main aspect of the difficulty comes as discussed earlier, that is the constant battle with mosquitoes and flies on this section more than any other. The trails were also the worst in this section of the JMT with plenty of marshes and mud to make the going more difficult.
In line with the earlier days on trail I encountered a thunderstorm on day 9, but was lucky to miss the hail just a half mile up the trail. I was fortunate to avoid the rain on the other days, though there was a little smog from the nearby fires. It wasn’t enough to affect the hike.
technical: 1. Again, the JMT is well marked and traveled. Navigation wise, it helps to know the main passes of Silver and Selden as most markers show this main points of interests. I’d recommend have a trail map on your phone at least or Guthooks. There are several alternative during this section of the JMT, such as different navigation to VVR. Including these alternatives, you’ll need some map reading skills giving the technical score a boost to 2. In term of technical skills, there are a few creek forges around Bear Creek including the major forge of the Bear Creek itself. It is one of the two large forges on the JMT with some danger in high snow year or early in the season. So good judgement is needed in those situations. However, in a typical year and later in the season, no additional technical skills are needed beyond general backpacking and wilderness skills and knowledge unless it is a late snow year or you are attempting this early.