Six Passes plus Kearsarge
I had pleasant dreams and slept in until shortly after 6 am. It was a sunny day, though a bit chilly to start. At Deer Creek, I got water and chatted with Charlie, a JMT hiker. I can tell the JMT folk from the PCT hikers; they look cleaner, smell fresh, or have heavier packs.
There wasn’t much to see for several miles, then the view opened up to the right. The trail dropped down to Purple Lake and rose back up to Lake Virginia. I ate lentil & avocado tacos on the lakeshore. Following lunch, I took my shoes and socks off to wade through the calm, knee deep lake inlet. The second portion of the inlet was rock hoppable.
In the afternoon, I descended to a valley where the trail meandered alongside Fish Creek. Then began a nearly 1800 ft. ascent to the top of Silver Pass. When I was close to the Squaw Lake inlet, I encountered a mom & son thru-hiking duo that I met on my descent into Sierra City. We swapped trail info for 5-10 minutes.
At the top of the pass, there was a patch of snow with a good boot track. Soon I saw Silver Lake in the distance, living up to its color in the early evening light. There was a deer with a collar around its neck. I camped 2.2 miles from the pass, near the base of a tree.
To start the day, I continued the descent from Silver Pass. My favorite feature was a cascade that poured over huge slabs of rock. At the bottom, a side trail lead to Vermilion Valley Resort, a resupply/ meal opportunity for hikers. PBS headed there when I went into Mammoth Lakes.
The 2,200 ft. ascent of Bear Ridge was steep, but I didn’t mind it. On the descent, I saw a black lizard with blue spots, like from the desert! Then the trail paralleled Bear Creek, a rather roaring stream. One deep pool looked tempting, though I got to chill my feet when I forded the creek an hour later. It was knee deep with a mild current. I ate lunch on the bank as my feet dried.
On the gradual ascent to Selden Pass, I encountered Pepper & Kevin for the fourth time. We have run into one another more than anyone else on trail. Then I saw a pine marten scamper along and peek at me from behind a rock. Awhile later, looking back from the pass, I got a great view of Marie Lake with its many rocky peninsulas.
There were ominous dark clouds all around, yet no rain fell until I reached the top of Selden Pass and began to descend. At first it was a light drizzle, however by Sallie Keyes Lakes the downpour had increased. I’d done 19 miles, felt tired, and wanted to escape a drenching so I set up my tent in a spot partly sheltered by a large tree.
When it quit raining, I went to the inlet to filter water. PBS walked up; we were excited to see one another! She camped in a spot nearby and we made plans to hike out at 6 am the next morning.
It was one of my favorite days on trail in recent weeks… so nice to have company! PBS and I hiked together most of the morning. She is a true SoBo as she started in late May from the Canadian border. PBS did the AT in 2021 and, like me, wants to do the CDT in 2025. We chatted about adventures we have taken and want to take, plus reminiscences from the AT.
About 10:30 am, we reached the S. Fork San Joaquin River where the bridge was out. We were nervous about the ford, but NoBo’s we met made it sound easy. Then there was a crossing sign 0.1 mi. before the demo’d bridge. A nervous JMT gal joined us. It was only slightly over my knees at the deepest spot and the current was moderately strong. I felt safe the entire time.
Next the trail took us steeply up alongside Evolution Creek. Impressive falls roared in a couple spots and in others water washed over huge slabs of rocks. We ate lunch prior to the creek crossing with two guys, John & Terry. John was also a true SoBo and knew PBS. The crossing was mid-shin depth with a moderate current.
The afternoon was a gradual ascent, with one steep spot, towards Muir Pass. In a series of meadows, Evolution Creek became a tranquil flow. Though grey clouds obscured the sun, no rain fell. As we rose above 10,700 feet, the trail entered a scenic valley. We camped at the north end of Evolution Lake and ate dinner sitting on a rock slab beside our tents.
Muir Pass really was beautiful. We passed by multiple lakes and saw three sleek bucks with large antlers. The top of the pass had a neat rock-built hut, dedicated to John Muir. On the south side it was slow going over patches of sun cupped snow interspersed with rocky ground and snow melt water. PBS put on micro spikes several times while I had the big cleats on my new-ish shoes.
On the ascent, I lamented over not seeing pikas in the Sierra. Then we rounded a corner and one squeaked at us, yay! I’ll admit, I was getting demoralized by the Sierras until I met PBS; she said the same. It’s the trickier terrain and all the high passes, much better with company. Plus it’s great to share meals and weather woes.
We ate lunch in the shade of a tree and dried our tents (overnight condensation) on rock slabs. In the valley, the trail paralleled the Middle Fork Kings River, which became a gushing torrent downstream. There was a lot of deadfall, most I went around on well established routes. It was a slog, but eventually I began ascending towards Mather Pass. Palisade Creek had one spectacular fall.
Soon I was on the golden staircase. Pikas squeaked at me and a brief, light rain fell, however I dried quickly. As it got dark, I found a great spot on a rock ledge with sand enough to stake two tents. PBS showed up after dark and I called out to her. We ate dinner. My headlamp died (I’d charge it later) so I borrowed her headlamp to fetch water.
Both PBS & I slept better last night than the night before. In my case, I wrapped my fleece layer around my down bootied feet so they had no chance to get cold. Rest was important as we had a double pass day ahead.
From our camp, it was four miles to Mather Pass, at 12,094 ft. The trail wound gradually along the edge of the Palisade Lakes before turning into rocky switchbacks. The three small snow fields were hard and slick so I bypassed them with rock scrambles. In contrast to comments about a spooky descent, I found it well-graded. The valley beyond was beautiful.
In between the two passes, the trail only dropped 2,000 ft. The terrain was stunted trees, rocks, and crystal clear streams. A hard-packed trail made for easy walking. About a mile up the next pass, we ate lunch. I helped PBS evaluate her food; she hoped to hike Whitney and then out Cottonwood Pass to resupply in Lone Pine.
Even though Pinchot Pass, at 12,127 ft., was the highest pass besides Forester, it felt easier than the last couple. On the ascent, I passed the stunning blue waters of Lake Marjorie. From the top, there was a nice view into King’s Canyon National Park. The first half of the descent went quickly while the last four miles seemed to go on forever. We camped near a suspension bridge over Woods Creek.
Less than a mile out of camp, the trail was wiped out by avalanche debris. A thru-hiker named Flow, whom I met yesterday, told me to watch for a cairn, then go to the right. Once off trail, there were small, infrequent cairns and when I saw none, I kept us on rock or shale where possible. We crossed one small stream that required a jump on my part so I gave PBS a hand. Afterwards, we cut back to the trail.
Then PBS and I parted ways, though I hope to see her at the base of Whitney or at KMS. I quickened my pace, eager to reach town and get a meal. Glen, 11,957 ft, was a pretty pass, with the scenic Rae Lakes and a cluster of unnamed lakes directly below the final climb. It was steep at the end with one semi-sketchy snow field.
Two miles after Glen, I took the Kearsarge Pass trail. This 7.5 mile trail took me over the pass and down to the Onion Valley TH. I asked the first person I saw and got a ride to the small town of Independence. He dropped me at the post office where Hobble-it was waiting! We hugged and immediately set to chatting. She also surprised me with GF mint oreos!
Independence lodging was expensive, yet I wanted to charge devices and shower. So Hobble-it and I rode the bus to Bishop, which took about an hour. The hostel was full, but the owner let us sleep in the living room for a reduced fee. (Hobble-it said it was quieter than the dorms, where she slept the previous night.) We went to a Mexican restaurant where I got a big plate of nachos. She got vegan tacos at a different place and kept me company. At the hostel, we chatted with two gals from Michigan.
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