John Muir: The Pass

When a day starts out, right off the bat, with a poop you know it’s going to be a weird one. Two seconds out of camp Cameron and I both sprinted up a hill to relieve ourselves. Not the most efficient start. Then, right after getting back on trail we lost the trail under snow and water. A huge lake outlet that wasn’t even listed on Guthook crossed the trail, demanding that we remove our shoes. We didn’t want to (the air, and no doubt the water, was freezing cold) so instead we spent a good twenty minutes looking for a way across. Finally we got too frustrated and took our shoes off, heading for the trail on the other side. The water was like liquid ice, instantly causing my feet and legs to ache. We all yelled in pain as we crossed but on the other side, as my feet prickled with pins they felt refreshed. Shoes back on we pushed forward, past smaller lakes until we reached the the huge Helen Lake, which was still sheeted in ice. A trail of steps continued in the snow around the lake and then went straight up a steep incline. We followed them, kicking our own steps when necessary in the quickly warming snow, the sun hot on our backs.

When we came in sight of the pass we also saw the incredibly cool Muir Hut, which sits perched on top. Once there we checked out the inside and paused for a picture, but continued our Northern movement without stopping for a break. Wispy clouds were forming, snow was melting, and we still had a long way to go before we were off the ice and back amongst the trees. The way down was long and tricky. Many of the snow footsteps were old and from a time when there was a lot more snow on the ground. Choosing between the snow and heading back to the trail can often be hard. We came across more than a couple situations where the old footsteps led across extremely sketchy snow bridges. We made our way down slowly, trying to find the best places to cross swollen creeks, leaping from rock to rock. As we neared the end of the snow it got softer and softer until we were post holing. But luckily we had timed things correctly and we were off the snow shortly.

Finally we took a break, watching the clouds continue to condense above us. Using the last of the sunlight to dry our soaking wet shoes and socks we watched people tromp on by, heading upwards into the growing storm and the softening snow. Once we were done eating we headed down in earnest, the darkening clouds on our heels. We had planned a long day that day, 26.6 miles to Selden Creek. The miles were necessary to set us up to get into Vermilion Valley Resort the next day before they stopped running their ferries, the only way across the lake. To get to Selden Creek we would descend from the Evoluntion Lakes, cross Evolution Creek and descend to Evolution Valley. Evolution Creek was rumored to be the hardest creek crossing on the PCT. With all the snowmelt, and now the rain we decided to take the alternate high water crossing, which reroutes you through a meadow so you can hit the creek at a mellower spot. We crossed and continued on, getting sprinkled on here and there. Once we reached the valley the terrain was fairly flat, until we reached the trail that leads to the Muir Trail Ranch. Then the trail begins to climb again, up to Selden Creek.

As luck would have it we met a group of US Forest Service Rangers right at the trail junction and they wanted to check our permits. We got them out, checking over our shoulders for the dark clouds, and as soon as we had our packs back on and began moving again thunder boomed and rain began to pelt us. We stopped and donned our rain jackets, weighing our options. We really had to make it to camp or else we wouldn’t make it to VVR the next day, which is where we were planning on resupplying. If we didn’t make it there we were going to be surviving off of a Jiff peanut butter cup and some protein powder. One of the rangers had warned us that the climb up was rather exposed. When there is lightening involved this can be a bit of a problem. Hesitantly we continued climbing, planning on stopping if we felt uncomfortable. By the time we reached the exposed part of the climb the thunder had stopped and the rain was lessening. We were all soaked by the time we rolled into camp. Quickly we set up our tents and huddled under a dryish tree to try and make dinner. At least the stove was warm. It was a rushed dinner but I will say this, Backpacker Pantry makes a mean Creme Brûlée desert.

When Kyle got up in the middle of the night to pee he came back reporting clear skies.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

7 thoughts on “John Muir: The Pass

  1. Such awesome pictures and such a wonderful recounting. This is incredible! North of Tahoe is good now and you will love the Burney Basin when you get here.

  2. Thanks much for sharing your adventure. I especially like the spectacular photos. Keep on Trekking!

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