Day: Wednesday, July 6th 2016
Miles: 851 – 873
Evolution Creek Tent Site – Bear Ridge Camp
The rumor mill on the Pacific Crest Trail is sometimes as busy with hearsay and conjecture as any teenage gossip-pot. There’s tales of trail magic ahead, those legendary hiker-boxes at a particular location. The guy who doesn’t charge you to use the bus at Reds Meadow. The hot springs that nobody knows about. Some of it is all about timing. Some of it is all about luck. Some of it is just plain false. And then most of it is to some degree true, but with highly variable results for each thru-hiker.
Today is a case in point. I awoke early from the camp site by Evolution Creek, and left just as the JMT crew were rising. I hoped to get down to the San Joachin River valley early, and make the 10 mile hike through to Muir Trail Ranch mid-morning. This whole plan was based around the premise that the Muir Trail Ranch hiker-boxes were effectively the land of milk and honey on the PCT. A place to find riches in the form of JMT hiker-food, that usually is over-planned, under-utilized and ultimately left behind at MTR due to overstuffed packs around midmorning as the hikers hit the trail. PCT hikers typically do not resupply at Muir Trail Ranch as their restricted transportation connection to the outside world means that all resupply must be mailed in a bucket, before being transported in to MTR by horse-train, for a very hefty price. However we’ll happily enjoy the spoils, provided you’re allowed by MTR staff (not guaranteed) and provided they’re actually is food in there. By now I am on day 8 of a 9 day stint between resupplies. I have plenty of food to get to my destination at Vermillion Valley tomorrow, but the lack of variety up to now is grinding me down, and who knows what spoils I might come to. There is also some hot springs by MTR that were surely worth a look!
The morning progress was good, it was downhill after all and followed a beautiful valley and dramatic fall for evolution creek before it joined the San Joachin River. I admired rapid and after rapid from the trail as well as beautiful named peaks above the nearly vertical valley walls.
As I neared Muir Trail Ranch, I used a side trail to drop deeper below the PCT, a hesitant moment for me, as I realized the haul out of MTR included a lot more elevation fall and gain than simply staying on the PCT. I ventured that it was worth the gamble. As I arrived to the trail ranch, the view was a pretty confused one, a few scattered outhouses. A horse corral. A base-house with some sheds.
The sign seemed to imply I could walk in, so I passed by some hikers restocking and took a look at the hiker boxes in an area to the side. It was a very well-managed setup with individual boxes for different food and drink types, sundries, paper/wipes, batteries, powders, gear etc. The findings were a little thin on the ground initially: some Starbucks Via, some hot chocolate sachets, a gigantic heavy glass jar of Nutella and then Ooohhh! There in front of me: About 10 packets of Idahoan brand, instant potatoes, all of different flavors! I must testify that I’m fond of Idahoan potatoes. They are ridiculously easy to prepare and can be paired with other flavors or additives easily. They are light and have plenty calories for my evening needs, especially with some pepperoni or added Cheetos. My problem is that I purchased 30 packets in bulk from Costco before starting the trail. All are original ‘buttery’ flavor, and the mundaneness of them makes me shiver every time I see the packet. However I now could swap out 6 originals for such exotic flavors as ‘applewood smoked bacon’, ‘loaded baked’, ‘4 cheese’ and ‘roasted garlic’. Such simple joy. I grabbed the stash, eager not to let anyone realize what gold I had found. Before slowly and orderly repacking my bag (whilst stuffing another 3 Mounds chocolate bars a guy just popped in another box), and calmly yet confidently leaving MTR. Immediately. As I latched the gate I realized I had hit the big time (in PCT thru-hiker terms). Life, for an instant, just like the potatoes, was buttery.
I decided to ride the wave of good fortune and find the hot springs that were signposted down the valley a small distance. Unfortunately however that’s where my luck ran out fair and square. The hot springs were a considerable bush-whack to find, across the other side of the San Joachin River (accessible by a log jam upstream), I was surprised by just how difficult the springs were to find. The US forest service has a habit of sign posting a physical or cultural oddity in an area, only to abruptly stop signposting half-ways to the destination. In this case I’m not sure why they bothered with even the first sign, as the hot springs were actually a muddy hole in the ground, with murky blue water populated by a considerable (and happy) bunch of mosquitos and water-skimmers. In fact I only found the springs as I bumped into Neil-Bob half-way to the springs, but both of us were completely lost at the time, myself on the way there and him on the way back. In the end he straight-lined across the river in what he said was the sketchiest thing he has ever done on the PCT, read-that as a torso height cold river crossing!
After examining the springs, and then the “better springs” further on, I decided it was time to get out of this rediculous place and try to get back to the trail. By the time I bushwhacked back to Muir Trail Ranch I was hot, tired and frustrated, wondering if a sack of instant mashed potatoes had been really worth the 3hrs effort as I analyzed a very considerable climb ahead to Selden Pass. The climb itself, although arduous, was enjoyable. I caught up to Flint (who avoided the MTR Vegas-like bright lights) , a few miles after rejoining the Pacific Crest Trail. We were on a long exposed section of trail, the sun beating down on us, but with some curse-words and general grumbling about how hot it was and how we both just wanted to be done with it, we got into some kind of rhythm that seemed to work for each other. Morale improved and we made good time.
The trail topped out by a beautiful river for replenishing dry water bottles, before a pleasant stretch of meadows and slow climbing between two beautiful lakes.
Selden Pass at 10,913 is pretty high in elevation, but from the intimate approach (narrow walls and only local views) to the south, it was more similar in style to Glen Pass with tight switchbacks only at the very top. Once we topped out we found Neil-Bob stretched out and opted to sit at the very top of the pass to cook an early dinner and gaze at a magnificent expansive view to the north.
The sun was dropping in the sky and the view to the north showed a change ahead: more and more polished granite walls and sections of forest that seemed to grow straight out of rock, with not much soil to be seen. We’re surely closing in on Yosemite with views like these. The hike down from the pass was quite remarkable, with still-lakes projecting incredible reflections, before we settled down into a steep side valley, racing the sun and attempting to beat the mosquitos with a quick pace.
At this point it was Neil-Bob, myself and Flint aiming for Bear Ridge for the night, which would entail another big river crossing over Bear Creek, a fast and deep if narrow channel. A little before that however we found an incredible little sight, in the form of two pack-goats adjoining a campsite. Finished with their work for the day, the goats were happily munching their rations.
We eventually hit the Bear Creek crossing around sundown, opting to go for the dunk quickly, given it was in proximity to a huge meadow. Sure enough, it seemed the mosquitos lay in wait for us to make it half-way across, before attacking in hoards. We literally ran out of the area, barely able to tie our shoelaces in time! I’m not sure I’ve dealt with quite such an aggressive bunch of ‘skeeters yet! As we finally went beyond Bear Creek, and matched up to our mileage targets for the day, we found a perfect tent spot just before the Bear Ridge trail cutoff for Vermillion Valley Resort. I planned to hike 6 miles from this point to the VVR ferry on lake Edison tomorrow, whilst Flint and Neil-Bob would aim for the final haul to Mammoth Mountain, just a day and a half beyond. A beautiful moon rose in the sky as the guys made their cowboy camp and I pitched my tent – Flint asking if I was afraid to cowboy camp. I just like my tent was my only answer! It is cosy in there, and as easy to pitch as a cowboy set-up!
Bear Creek as the light dims in the west:
A beautiful view from our camp: