JMT Day 17: Trail Legs

[to ~1 mile north of Bear Creek Trail junction, ~9 miles hiked]

My restless legs kept me up a lot of the night, so we slept in (read: we slept until 6.30am) and started hiking a bit later than usual. As I recall, it was nice and cool this morning, and we had beautiful views of the Sallie Keyes Lakes as we climbed toward Selden Pass. The climb took us across several streams, whose loveliness went hand-in-hand with mosquitos, of course. But we were in good moods, and both of us had a relatively easy time with this pass. [And it was beautiful! The path sort of wound around through meadows and rocky areas so that we could never quite tell where the pass was but always felt like we were in a special, secret place all by ourselves. I loved this pass. –Cyn] To our surprise, we found ourselves alone at the top. By now we were used to a regular schedule by which we encountered southbound hikers: perhaps just one or two coming down the pass as we neared the top each morning, then several folks hanging out at the top, then more coming up the north side as we descended. In the middle of the day we usually saw very few other hikers, but around 2 or 3pm we’d pass several. I think this must be because hikers in both directions are trying to arrange their daily schedules to go over passes in the mornings, when it’s cooler out and thunderstorms are less likely.

Looking back on one of the Sallie Keyes Lakes.
Looking back on one of the Sallie Keyes Lakes.

Heart Lake. A different Heart Lake than the one we saw on the east side of Kearsarge Pass.
Another lake called Heart Lake, this one below Selden Pass.
Beautiful trail on the way to Selden.
Beautiful trail on the climb to Selden. [Special, secret place. –Cyn]

Looking back, midway to the top. Heart Lake in the distance. Magic.
Looking back, midway to the top. Wildflowers. Magic.
Marveling at our unusual solitude up top, we found some nice sitting rocks in the shade, made electrolyte drinks [Cold coffee for me. –Cyn], and dug into our pass treats. Soon some SOBOs made their way up, breathing hard, and although one of them took a quick photo, the others didn’t even break their stride — just continued hiking on down the other side of the pass. This boggled my mind, since Cyn and I always treated passes as an incredible reward for climbing: sit down, have a tasty snack, allow yourself to be enthralled by the sweeping views up here, etc. And even though Selden had not seemed as difficult as other passes, the views were equally spectacular.

Looking back south from the top.
Looking south from the top, Heart Lake in the distance.

All alone top of Selden Pass (elevation: 10,898 feet)!
All alone on top of Selden Pass (elevation: 10,898 feet)!
Exquisite views of Marie Lake, looking north from the pass.
Exquisite views of Marie Lake, looking north from the pass. (Cyn! Thank you for taking this amazing photo! I’m ready to go back there now.) [You are welcome. And, same. –Cyn]
Coming down the north side really did feel like a snap, and I began to think of Selden as a junior pass compared to the challenging southern ones we’d gone over before this. Though also, we were just a whole lot stronger by this point in the trip. Near Marie Lake, we met a southbound solo hiker from Germany who asked if he could get food at MTR. When we dashed his hopes, he said sadly, “Ah, just beverages, then.” Haha — no again, friend. While we chatted with him, we spotted some small creatures that looked a bit like prairie dogs. They popped out of holes in the ground, scurried around, and made charming little “eeeeeee!” noises. Cyn and I flipped out over their cuteness; I was so distracted by them that I could barely pay attention to our conversation with the other hiker. (From here until almost the end of the trail, we would see hundreds of these little guys, whom we later learned are actually golden-mantled ground squirrels. The guy we were talking to had been hiking amongst them for many days already and must have wondered why we were so enthralled! Though really, I never got over how adorable they were, especially the tiny babies.) A little further on, we saw half-buried toilet paper literally three inches from the trail. In no universe is this okay. We couldn’t bring ourselves to pack this one out, it was just too gross to deal with.

Golden-mantled ground squirrels! They were kind of like real life whack-a-moles, popping up and down out of their little tunnels.
Golden-mantled ground squirrels! They were kind of like real life whack-a-moles, popping up and down out of their little tunnels. [Squee!!! –Cyn]

Marie Lake. Love.
Hiking alongside Marie Lake. Love.
Mosquitos were the topic of the morning. All the southbounders wanted to know how bad they were where we’d come from, and we wanted their bug reports in turn. According to one pair, a ranger had claimed the mosquitos were dying off at the lowest elevations, but another pair urged us to avoid the low parts of the Bear Creek area at all costs. Having exchanged this important information, we made good time heading downhill on nice trail tread, with just a few rocky sections to navigate. After lunch we approached the other major water crossing on the JMT. It was pretty wide, but the water was so low and calm that I almost wasn’t sure this was the big Bear Creek ford. We waded across without even taking our shoes off — let’s hear it for quick-drying trail runners!

I think this is near the junction for Rose Lake. If I recall correctly, there was a sign here stating that Rosemarie Meadow was undergoing something called "seasonal rotation." I'm not sure what that means. But it was very pretty there.
I think this is near the junction for Rose Lake. If I recall correctly, there was a sign here stating that Rosemarie Meadow was undergoing something called “seasonal rotation.” I’m not sure what that means. But it was very pretty there.
Later, we ran into a pair of hikers who recognized Cyn’s turquoise bandana from the Ladies of the JMT group, and they raved about how great Red’s Meadow is: so friendly! great showers! burgers and milkshakes! This was exciting to hear, even if we were still several days from Red’s. [It should be noted that we all danced around ridiculously while having this conversation because the flies were so bad they swarmed us if we stopped moving. –Cyn] I think it was around this time in the trip when we started seeing a broader range of hikers on the trail — it was nice to see many more women, more older folks, more types of bodies in general. Cyn suggested that the snow levels may have played a role in these demographic shifts: we’d started in early July, so the southbounders we met early in our trip must have started their hikes in mid-June, when there’s usually still a lot of snow on the trail. Folks starting that early might be more experienced or more willing to take some risks with snow hiking, so maybe it made some sense that many (though definitely not all!) of them were younger guys? A few days ago, Go For It had told us he met a group of like seven northbound women who called themselves “The Grandmas” — I was super sad that we never ran into them! [I would like to note that we were cruising through this part of the trail. For two or three miles I felt like I could walk forever, like my legs were walking machines. I loved this feeling. This was such a good day. –Cyn]

Our map noted a five-mile stretch without water sources, so we filled up our bottles at what was supposedly the last stream, and Cyn filled a water bladder with an extra liter or so, anticipating dry camping tonight (thank you for always carrying the extra water, Cyn!) [You’re welcome! –Cyn]. Of course, then we crossed several more small streams — not always the best looking water (we took to calling these shallow, murky sources “emergency water”), but a couple of decent ones that made us regret carrying it all with us. As we continued uphill, we tried to decide on a plan. Now that we were climbing the south side of Bear Ridge, we expected limited camping opportunities until Mono Creek, some five miles ahead. But we also both felt strong today, even loaded up with so much water, so we seriously considered pushing all the way to Mono, which would put us at ~15 miles for the day. I think we were almost sold on that plan until the climb suddenly got steeper and a lot hotter. At a large established campsite just off the trail, we pulled over to rest in the shade, and ultimately decided to camp there for the night. It was a little buggy, but had great views, and we thought it might be our last opportunity for a decent flat site.

Awesome trees on our climb up to Bear Ridge.
Awesome trees on our climb up to Bear Ridge.

Incredible view from our campsite. And some rare clouds this afternoon!
View from our campsite. A pretty amazing place to sleep. And some rare clouds!
Despite doing “laundry” and going lake-swimming the previous afternoon, I felt really stinky and gross all day. In the morning, I’d put on the brand new socks that I picked up at MTR — they’d smelled vaguely of chocolate from being packed in my resupply bucket for a few weeks, but by this evening they were just as dirty and smelly as all of my other clothes. I really wanted to wash up, but needed to conserve our water at this dry campsite. I spent several minutes blowing my nose in my bandana, trying to clean up all the snot and boogers, while Cyn kept informing me, “No, there’s still more.” Backpacker life!

We were all bundled up and reading in our sleeping bags when I heard some hikers coming down the ridge, saying with audible relief, “There’s room there! We’re good!” Sounded like we’d have some company in camp. It was already 8pm and almost dark out, and I was struck again by the differences in people’s hiking styles — Cyn and I both dislike hiking after 4 or 5pm, and would rather be in camp earlier to relax after a long day. Now that we really had our trail legs (and had completed many of the hard passes), we were often finishing our daily miles by 2pm or so, which felt great [So much time to lie around in the tent and read. I loved it. –Cyn]. Our campsite companions chatted with each other in their tent for a while, which kept me up, but soon everyone settled down. That night I dreamt that Gillian Anderson was a trail angel (a term for folks who generously provide support to hikers: water, snacks, and fruit are common, but some people even provide a shower or a place to stay for a night). In my dream, she gave me a room to sleep in with a clean comfy bed, and lots of ice water. She also gave me a hug. It says a lot about my state of mind at this point in the hike that my dream self was more excited about the bed and ice water than the hug!

–Toby


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