[to Sallie Keyes Lakes, ~6.5 miles hiked]
Resupply day! We were excited to get to our resupply at Muir Trail Ranch. We knew they opened at 8 a.m., and that after we left there we would have a day full of climbing, so we got up extra early to get there right when they opened. We packed up quickly, secretly watching a cute pair of people camped near us doing partner stretches before they hiked off in the near-dark of the early morning. And then we were out of camp ourselves. It was a mile or a mile and a half of down hill hiking to MTR, and we were on it.
We got there just after 8 a.m. Each resupply spot on the JMT has its own quirks. We had read and been told that for the $75 you pay MTR for the resupply, all you get is your bucket, a place to dump your trash, access to the hiker buckets where other people drop off stuff they decided they don’t need, and a place to recharge electronics. There is no food for sale, no drinks available, no bathroom facilities, nothing. People also often say that the MTR workers are rude to backpackers, but we didn’t experience that at all. We simply got exactly what we expected, and everyone was very friendly while helping us with those things.
Toby retrieved our buckets while I plugged in our electronics and hit the hiker buckets. Since about one week in on the trail, I had been dealing with some horrendously painful chafing. I had noticed dry skin by our Mt. Williamson resupply, which is why we bought some extra neosporin, but the situation had gotten much worse since then. There was some on my feet that only hurt when they got wet, some under my bra straps that was uncomfortable but manageable, and then a strip at the top of my ass that was completely rubbed raw and hurt like hell most of the time. For the last week, I had been cinching my pack as high up on my waist as I could manage but it didn’t totally clear the problem area and wasn’t a comfortable way to hike. So I was digging through the buckets hoping to find some extra body glide or something that would help alleviate the issue. After lots of digging (those things were packed, and with the weirdest stuff — there were so many discarded deodorants because really what is that going to do out here, but also like loofas and makeup remover and other things that it would never have occurred to me to pack), I came up with one small, glorious tub of vaseline. It wasn’t sealed and I had a moment of wondering if it was gross to take someone’s used vaseline, but I opened it up and the smooth surface told me that it hadn’t been touched. Good enough for me.
I met Toby by our buckets. Our first priority was the treats we had packed ourselves. With MTR offering nothing by way of food, we had realized while planning this that we would be going two weeks without a meal of real food. So we sent ourselves little plastic cups of peaches in syrup and OMG THEY WERE AMAZING. I find those things kind of disgusting in the real world, but they were just close enough to real fruit that I was elated. I also packed a huge ziplock bag of chex mix and pulled that out to munch on while I packed up my food. [I had totally forgotten about the peaches, so they were a truly incredible surprise, and almost made up for the fact that I couldn’t get apple juice at MTR. I could’ve eaten six more little cups of those peaches. –Toby]
We got all our stuff sorted, dumped our trash, left a few extra things in the hiker buckets, and started to get ready to go. Vaseline time! I should note that MTR is a backcountry “resort” and there are lots of people who pay for rooms and cabins who are just there for a few days of day hiking and hot spring soaking. They were so clean we could smell them, and several people had freshly purchased, color coordinated outfits. So there I was with my tub of vaseline in one hand, and my other down my pants rubbing the vaseline on my butt, when a bunch of day hikers walked by and I absentmindedly waved with the vaseline-tub hand and chirped “Good morning!” as they passed by. Mid-wave, I stopped and thought about what I must look like to these freshly showered, clean smelling people who have not had all notions of decency and modesty eroded (not that I had much to begin with) by over two weeks of peeing in the woods and wearing the same smelly clothes day after day. In that moment, I hit peak backpacker. I was okay with that. And that vaseline, btw, worked like a charm. As long as I put some on in the morning, I was able to wear my pack with very little pain. Thank you to whomever left that vaseline in the hiker bucket! You saved my ass on this trip, literally.
Fortified by sugar soaked peaches, we strapped on our packs, walked through the gate, and immediately started climbing. Getting out of MTR involved a lot of turns. We had asked for directions on the way out, since these trails weren’t on our maps [our paper map didn’t include all of these tiny trails just outside of MTR, and our GPS app had stopped GPS-ing us sometime after Muir Pass… –Toby], and the employee said it was clearly marked. That was less than accurate. At one junction we took a left and walked about half a mile when we hit a gate with a sign on the other side that said private property. For some reason, though, I was so convinced that we were going the right way that I started to go through it. I thought we might have to go back through another part of MTR to get to the JMT. Toby insisted that we turn around, though, and he was right. For once my awesome sense of direction failed me (it happens rarely, but when it does this is how it goes. I’m convinced that I know exactly where we are and it takes me a minute to readjust). But we found our way back to the right trail and started climbing what was hands down the worst stretch of this entire trip. The trail, being a little side trail and not the JMT, was poorly graded, going basically straight up the mountain instead of switching back and forth to make the climb less steep. It was totally torn up and covered in fresh horse poo due to the groups of trail riders who had left before us. One of those horses seemed to be having digestive issues. There were mosquitos. It was so goddamn hot already at just after 9 a.m. We were miserable.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we saw a sign for the JMT. We threw off our packs and flopped down on a log next to another thru-hiker and guzzled some water. We looked at the map. We had climbed 0.7 miles. Basically no distance at all. The worst. And we knew there was lots more climbing ahead of us. Up we went again. We had been warned that this section was totally exposed – just low-lying manzanitas along the trail and no tall trees for shade, so we tried to mentally prepare ourselves. But that really wasn’t possible. Up we went, baking in the sun on the world’s longest switchbacks. Usually the switchbacks provide a tiny break. Even if we don’t actually stop at the turn, which we’d been doing less frequently as we got stronger, it’s still an accomplishment to mentally check off as we finish one stretch and turn to the next. So these switchbacks, which were at least a quarter of a mile long I think but felt much longer, were kicking our asses on both a mental and physical level. I, for once, found a pretty effective way to deal with this. My misery had driven me to remember that early in the trail I kept telling myself “I can do this” when I was feeling nervous about my ability to do this. But then my brain shouted back, “I AM doing this!” and I felt much stronger. So on this climb I started a rhythmic mantra of sorts timed to my steps: “I can do this. I am doing this.” And it helped so freaking much. I was able to trudge along for quite a while without stopping, just on autopilot telling myself that I was going to get my ass up this mountain. And then, it happened. Toby asked me for a break. Let me repeat that. Toby, not me, asked for a break. I felt like I’d just won the trail. That never ever happened. [I was definitely starting to bonk here. My stomach had rumbled quite audibly a few times already. –Toby]
There was really no place to sit, but we both found separate, tiny patches of shade with uncomfortable sitting rocks and settled in for a nuun and probar (I got so sick of probars on this trip that I can barely type that word without gagging) while other hikers trudged past us, looking just as miserable as we were. [I think they were also jealous of my Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies, one of my special resupply bucket treats, which I was eating here instead of a probar. –Toby] But then the flies descended and we were getting swarmed, so we packed up earlier than we wanted to and got back to it.
A few giant switchbacks later, we hit the top, and a pretty little stream surrounded by wildflowers and a cloud of black flies. [We high-fived when we got to this crossing of Selden Creek, since it definitively marked the end of the terrible long switchbacks. –Toby] [Snailed It! –Cyn] We sat and filtered water and then got out of there. We had just two gentle miles to Sallie Keyes Lakes, where we planned to camp. I think a combination of heat and fatigue made these two miles worse than the giant switchbacks. Toby had gotten a kind of second wind, but I was seriously dragging. [I was feeling better, but was also just trying to outpace the flies, which had followed us continually since leaving MTR. I felt like PigPen from the Peanuts cartoons. Somewhere around here, we passed a couple of southbounders and I was relieved to see clusters of flies following them as well. At least we weren’t the only gross ones out here. –Toby] [I remember wondering this day if we each had our own personal crowd of flies that followed us the whole day, or if it was a rotating cast. –Cyn] But eventually, we made it up to the first of two lakes, just below Selden Pass. The trail took us directly along the bank of the first, over a stream that connected the two, and then up a bit along the second. We had planned to camp at a site marked on our map, but when we got there, it was high up on a granite slab, far from the water and totally exposed. So we backtracked to the stream and then wandered off along the trail a bit until we found a beautiful, secluded site tucked in between the two lakes.
It was only 2 p.m. and we were thrilled to have a long afternoon to rest and recover from a hard day, and a series of long days before that. We were planning on doing laundry and eating everything we could, but first priority was enjoying this gorgeous lake. We stripped off our clothes and waded in. It was less frigid than the lakes we’d been in so far and I was thrilled to be able to do some actual swimming, especially since it had been days and days since we’d had time to really enjoy a lake. Once we were too chilly to stay in, we climbed up on a boulder jutting out into the lake and sat for a long time, drying off in the sun and talking about how incredibly lucky we were to be here, in this place that so few people ever see, having a truly amazing time together, flies and horse poo and all.