PCT SOBO MILE 1769-1806
October 10th-11th, 2017
Pocket Meadow to Evolution Lake
Elevation Change: +7,669 ft / -5,451 ft
DAY 88: Pocket Meadow to Senger Creek
20 miles; +4,288 ft / -3,451 ft
Last night I slept a little away from the group, or, rather, our group all pitched our tents spaced out. We’d gotten into camp a little late and we were all tired, but we did sit outside to eat dinner together. Over where my tent was pitched, I could only hear the sounds of the nearby creek, singing me to sleep. I slept so well that I did not even hear everyone else getting up in the morning and so I slept in until 6:54am! By the time I was up and drinking my coffee, most of the others were on the trail, Tall Joe in the lead and Lost Time and Laces shortly after him. I ended up leaving camp with Mr. Clean about 30 minutes after them. The whole day, thus, felt a little rushed, as I wanted to at least catch them for lunch. I’d thought about the section I was about to hike, there was a lot to look forward to and also a big climb that daunted me, Bear Ridge. There was also Bear Creek, which was one of the most difficult fords we had last year, so it gave me a little anxiety today to think about crossing it alone. I started the morning off enjoying the Aspen trees that are in peak season right now. The whole trail follows along a drainage that has towering boulders rising up high, at the foot of which there are groves and groves of Aspen trees. I reflected on the few other times I’ve hiked this section and never have I been here so late in the season, it was just stunning!
Soon I reached the junction where you can take a side trail to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) if you needed to resupply there. It is just on the other side of Lake Edison, which is a human made body of water that in previous years has been so dry I could see the dead trees at the bottom. Last year, we were able to take the little boat across, and I presume this year would be the same. We were not planning to go to VVR though. For one, it was so late in the season that any resupply package you were to mail yourself and pick up there would cost you $65! No thanks! Other than that, it’s a great little place and if you are hiking the PCT or JMT for the first time, I would definitely include it on your itinerary.
I passed the junction this morning and crossed the bridge over the robust creek, knowing what was next…the formidable Bear Ridge. Ugh. That’s all I can say, ughh. It’s not really that bad, it’s just a long, long climb of about 2,000 ft and there is no reward like a view or anything when you get to the top, just the forest. I hear this kind of thing is the norm on the Apalachian Trail, and realize that I am quite spoiled out here in the West. I metally prepared myself for the climb, for the what turned out to be 65 long switchbacks (yes, I counted them this time). I was pleasantly surprised though, at the beginning of the climb there were so many stunning golden Aspens, I stopped to take several photos and admire their fleeting beauty, and listen to the tinkling, shimmering sounds they make when the wind tossles them. It is one of the greatest, most peaceful sounds, and time just seems to stand still when you take a moment to listen . Ahhhhh, a deep sigh. I really am so lucky to be here, I think. I know. I am.
I took a break about half way up the climb, and sat on a rock, looking out to the valley below, listening to the water far off now in the distance, and allowing some light sunshine to warm my body as I sat in a short but potent meditation. It felt really good to do that, like I’d hit the re-set switch, and after that everything seemed to click into place more readily, and I completed the remainder of the climb easily. By the time I had reached the lower ends of Bear Creek, I was getting quite hungry. I had thought the group would probably stop at the Bear Creek ford for lunch, so I had hoped to make it there, but I could tell at this point I was not going to make it. Fortunately, Mr. Clean must have had the same idea, because soon, I found him sitting happily on a large slab of granite in the sun, right next to the creek, getting his food stuff out for lunch. I was relieved to see him there and happy to join him for the break.
I love Bear Creek, it’s one of the prettiest creeks I’ve seen in the Sierra. It flows for miles, and the trail follows right along side of it, sometimes very close and sometimes it diverts off into the forest, then comes back. There are several large waterfalls either over boulders or cascading across a big slab, a thin layer of water gliding over the smooth rock, and so very crystal clear. The water looks so pure and it just gives you a feeling of serenity and deep happiness to be in it’s presence.
So, I situated myself down on that rock, next to Mr. Clean, and took off my shoes. The water looked so inviting, I had to put my feet in, and when I did, I flashed back to the creek crossing from last year. This creek is COLD! That was the coldest one I ever did, and even now, the water hurt my feet and made them throb within about 20 seconds, and I had to take them out. Good for the swelling though! I sat eating lunch with Mr. Clean, we enjoyed the sun, the turquoise color of the water and I was amused by his crazy high protein food combinations. He became known amongst our group for this: eating a tortilla wrapped around a tuna packet, with salami, cheese and peanut butter. A gut bomb for sure, but it worked for him. I had packed smoked salmon this week, so I was really happy to have my mini tortillas with some mustard, cheese and smoked salmon, wrapped in half like a taco. Seriously, so damn good!
After lunch, we had to hike about 2 more miles to where the trail crosses Bear Creek, and after that would be the climb up to Selden Pass, so the day was far from over. We had our work cut out for us. I was happy for Mr. Clean’s company, and we stuck together for the most part. The salmon gave me lots of energy, and I was grateful for that so I could push myself. When we eventually made it to Bear Creek, I was surprised to be able to see the rocks on the bottom! In fact, it was a rock hop, not a ford at all. I had to be creative about how to get across, but I did it without getting my feet wet. What a difference!
The climb up towards Selden Pass holds a lot of Nostalgia for me, as I can’t help but remember my first JMT hike there in 2013. Climbing Passes was new to me, and each Pass was better and better. The approach climb rises slowly up through some beautiful meadows, weaving through boulders and thicker forests at times, giving way to big views as you climb higher. Eventually you reach Marie Lake, which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on the JMT, so I was excited to be getting there as the afternoon light was hitting the giant walls surrounding the water in that magical way. I remembered that Hurl Goat had told me this was one of his very favorite places on the JMT as well, and since he was now hiking the Sierra High Route, he would miss it, so I made sure to take some photos for him.
The grasses were all a soft gold and the light was glistening off the clear blue waters, little white wispy flower clusters got tossed by the wind. With the pass looming up above, this all painted the perfect mountain scene like walking through a post card. It was windy as I came around the bend of the lake, as the trail follows right along the shores. I stopped to layer up, I was getting quite chilled. Mr. Clean soon turned up behind me as I was taking a video and we climbed the rest of the way up together, stopping often to snap more photos of the lake as we rose above higher and higher. Selden Pass sits at 10,910 ft and is a notch amongst big chunks of rock, with views to the North of the Sallie Keys Lakes and to the South of Marie Lake if you climb up on the boulders, which I did.
Right when we got up there, the sun had just dipped below the horizon, and since the wind was blowing pretty good, and I was sweating, I was not in the lingering mood. There were two other Southbounders huddled beneath a rock overhang, smoking weed. They said hello and offered us some, which I politely declined, and which Mr. Clean politely accepted. I wondered, then, how the rest of his hike was going to go because the two hikers just kept repeating “oh my god, I am so high right now”….like Towlie on South Park! It was pretty funny, but I just couldn’t stay up there with them all, so after a couple photos at the top, I waved farewell and started moving swiftly down the narrow Cedar lined trail.
On my way down, I kept looking all around me, remembering last year how it was all covered in snow, and again, trying desperately to imagine what it looked like, and where we climbed up, what was our route to the top? Seeing all the rocks, there seems to be so many possibilities for catastrophe if you were to post-hole in a bad way, but we had made it to the top successfully and unscathed. I love this section of trail too, the way down from Selden Pass, as it meanders along a beautiful narrow creek that is lined with a dark rock, almost like a black lava. The grasses that grow here are always long, thin blades that blow in the breeze and this time, they were that golden yellow like so many of the plants are this year, loosing all their chlorophyll. The water trickles, following a curving path and the trail crosses it several times, on little tufts of grass and rock. Soon, the trail follows the margins of Heart Lake, and on the Western side of that Lake the rock has beautiful colors of green tones mixed with black while the lake itself has some sort of clay bottom, and if seen in the right light, the lake actually reflects red and green, along with the already cobalt color of the water reflecting the high altitude sky. Today, it was cloudy and gray however, so the colors were more muted, but nonetheless beautiful all the same.
Passing by Heart Lake I felt rushed again, now because the sun was sinking fast, I was cold, sweaty, getting hungry and we still had about 4 more miles to Senger Creek, where we planned to camp. I made my way through the bench of Sallie Keys Lakes, admiring the beautiful lodgepoles that line the lake right next to the trail, and I zipped right along, appreciating first the flat section and then the easy downhill to Senger Creek.
When we got there it was just about dark and I needed to pull out my headlamp. Mr. Clean had caught up with me, and we had thought the others would be there, but it turned out they pushed further on down the trail. I was done for the day and despite signs on some of the trees that declared “no camping” we did our best to find some sites nearby that were low impact. We pitched our tents in the dark, and I immediately changed into dry clothes to get warm and made hot Chamomile tea. It was now 45 degrees and still breezy, not all that bad, but I also had not eaten since our lunch break and so my body temp was low. I made a hot meal of re-hydrated veggies with instant potatoes and added curry powder and coconut oil, and ate that in the comfort of my tent and the comfort of my sleeping bag too! By the time I got into a horizontal position I realized how very wonderful it felt to lie down, and how very sore so many parts of my body were. Ahhhh, exhausted, I reflected on the day, looked over the photos I took, and felt very, very happy as I drifted off to sleep knowing that tomorrow I would be falling asleep in my favorite place on the planet, Evolution Valley.
DAY 89: Senger Creek to Evolution Valley
17.7 miles; +3,381 ft / – 2,000 ft
Journal Excerpt: It’s 8:39pm, I just got into my tent after spending the last hour or so sitting on a giant granite slab, staring at the big night sky after having my dinner with our group. It’s about 25 degrees out and I’ve been tucked into my amazing sleeping bag for the past couple hours. I stared into the Unbounded Space of the sky above Evolution basin tonight for the longest I ever have, simultaneously absorbing and expanding my body, my world. All I can say is I am extremely lucky to be here, to just be out here doing this, again!
It may be cold at night and in the mornings, but during the day it is 60 degrees and I find myself enjoying the sun in shorts and a t-shirt. This morning it was 25 degrees when I woke up, but felt colder due to the moisture from the nearby creek. By the time I got moving, within about 30 minutes, I felt much warmer and as I descended a couple thousand feed right away, the temperatures warmed up considerably. I remembered the long drop on switchbacks with loose gravel and exposed trail to the West, leading down to the Muir Trail Ranch junction. Didn’t need to go there this time either, and the are closed anyhow. This morning on that walk down, there were so many absolutely picture perfect Aspen trees, I stopped so many times to take photos, I simply could not resist! They were glowing at the height of their turning season. How crazy it is that this tree shows such achingly beautiful color just before the leaves die off for the Winter. I am so lucky to be here during the peak of their season, such a short, prescious window in time. The sun shines through the quaking leaves with a glimmer, drawing me in a dance along the dusty path.
I saw something on the ground and picked it up, it was a horse shoe, now that’s good luck! It was perfect with just enough wear and tear, tinged with rust, and dusty. I decided to keep it, it felt right, and I am going to give it to my Mom. After the descent, came the winding path that follows the South fork of the San Joaquin River, one of my favorite places! I stopped at the bridge where you enter Kings Canyon National Park, at the junction of Paiute Creek, and stripped off my warmer layers, now down to shorts and t-shirt, it was 10:30am. I followed along the river admiring the clear water and the greenish tint it had from the rock beneath the surface. Aspens lined the sides of the river and the sun hit them just right that time of day in that canyon.
Mr. Clean was just up aead and soon we were hiking together, taking our time, taking all the beauty in and snapping all sorts of photos, which would become our memories. After the second crossing of the river, before the climb to Evolution basin, we took a short break and ate snacks. I remember last year, coming down from the basin, that big drop, when we got to this intersection we plopped down our heavy loads and took naps in the sun. Great memories! Great times. Now, it’s time to make new ones. I played “tour guide” for Mr. Clean as we climbed up the 2,600 feet to Evolution Creek, showing him a couple side trails to waterfalls along Evolution creek as the trail parallels it all the way up. He loves waterfalls, and these were impressively still full and raging. Such a powerful energy they are.
When we made it to Evolution Creek I was happy to finally get to ford something! Yay, I am actually going to wear the sandals I have been carrying for this exact purpose. We checked out a few different spots and I ended up crossing right where the trail crosses, as it was really not that deep. I went straight across and it was up to my shins at the deepest part, what a difference from last year when it was up to my hips!
…and last year
On the other side, we stopped for a lunch break, sitting in the sun, shoes off and enjoying the serene water flowing quietly yet powerfully down stream. Down to where? Where does all this water go? This is now my 4th time hiking through this section and Evolution Valley remains my absolute favorite place on the planet. I was really looking forward to being up there and I had specifically planned to camp there for the night. The rest of our group agreed to do the same, so I also knew that all our friends would be there, too. Mr. Clean and I took the afternoon slowly, enjoying passing through McClure Meadow and taking on yet another steep climb that finally pops you up to the Evolution Lake basin.
In that latter part of the day, I walked so quietly. I even stopped using my trekking poles so I would make less noise. I stepped gingerly, as if tip-toeing, for a few miles. I felt as if I were walking into a cathedral, and with reverence, I entered that sacred space, feeling so at peace, a traveller into another dimension of time and space.
When you get up to the Lake, you are surrounded by walls of granite that are literally 3,000 ft taller than lake level. The lake itself sits at over 11,000ft and the tops of these peaks are 14,000ft and many are named after famous evolutionary biologists such as Darwin, Huxley and the like. I was feeling this reverence and also proud of myself for getting myself back here for the 4th time, as each and every time I was there I vowed to come back. And here I am, I am back again. And I promise, I will visit again and again.