8/28/09; Distance Traveled = 16.5 miles
I wake at first light after a second night of restful sleep. I am liking the Neo-Rest pad. By the time I have packed and am ready to leave there is movement in the camp below. I swing by on my way out and wish the guys a good hike today.
The trail climbs a few hundred feet then makes its way to Lake Virginia. What a beautiful lake! The trail winds around the lake through a meadow area at its northeast shore. I cross the meadow just as the sun brushes the lake’s western shore. In early season I imagine this area quite boggy and quite buggy, but now, at the end of August it is dry. And the lake, well as I said, is beautiful. I make a mental note: should camp here sometime.
From Lake Virginia the trail descends steeply down interminable switchbacks to Tully Hole, which from up high looks a large verdant meadow surrounding a meandering Fish Creek. Reaching Tully Hole, the trail passes to the right of a large camping area filled with several tents. There are two, maybe three families camped here; lots of young, elementary age, kids. A few hundred feet beyond the campsite I stop briefly to talk with some guys who camped last night at Lake Virginia. In the few minutes it takes to learn they had not seen Art I swat a half dozen mosquitoes, the only appreciable number I’ve encountered.
The trail continues its descent, moderately, along the west bank of the now cascading Fish Creek. On a hot day, a long lunch break and swim in one of its many deep pools would be just the thing. The trail soon crosses Fish Creek on a bridge, continues downstream a short distance, and then turns a sharp left at the Cascade Valley Trail junction. If the trail hasn’t been rerouted I was at this very spot many years ago, the Cascade Valley Trail sign etched firmly in memory. Alas, in the intervening 3½ decades they’ve replaced the sign; at least once, probably more.
I pause for a break just beyond this junction. Two guys coming from the direction of Silver Pass traipse by singing “Here Comes the Sun.” I’m not the only one who sings while hiking. When I am hiking alone I often sing to pass the time and moderate my pace; if I can sing aloud without gasping for breath I know I am not hiking too fast a pace.
The sky clouds over and the winds picks up on the climb to Silver Pass. At first the cool is a good counter to my energy expenditure, but upon reaching Squaw Lake I need to push hard just to stay warm. The wind is whipping and I wonder if it might rain. The terrain is austere and beautiful. Near the Goodale Pass Trail junction I pass a guy, Mark, bundled in his shell gear. “Aren’t you cold?” he asks. “Only if I stop” is my reply. I do stop, at the high saddle, and take a picture of the Ritter Range far away, but continue moving in my fight against cold.
The trail drops slightly to the signed Silver Pass, and then drops a bit further to pass through a 2 mile long basin containing the large Silver Pass Lake. The trail has been rerouted. 36 years ago it traversed right along the lakeshore. On that hike we stopped at the lake for lunch and swam to its island. I also remember, a short while later, clouds blowing in and rain. I’d think, on this trip, if the sun were shining, I’d reprise the swim, but no. Beyond the lake, as the trail begins its descent toward Mono Creek, I pass three hikers in the same hurry as me; moving along to keep warm.
But as quickly as the sun vanished on the ascent, it reappears and is full-on by the time I am halfway down to Pocket Meadow. My body screams “break!” so at a point where the trail crosses granite slabs I leave it and hike southwest a few hundred feet over to Silver Pass Creek. I take a luxurious extended break: swim, sunbathe, lunch, and nap. A biting ant cuts the nap short. Good thing too, for if I’d napped much longer I’d be sun burned. I also have another 6 miles to the ferry landing. It picks up at 4:45pm. Does anyone know the time?
Just as I hit the trail here comes Dale. “Hey, I didn’t expect to see you again. So much for taking it easy.” I tease. Turns out he camped at Purple Lake too, but on the north side before the trail crosses the outlet. Dale explains that it’s not like he is trying to hurry, but he can’t see stopping for the day in the early afternoon. So he keeps on hiking. He is going to VVR today so we hike the afternoon together. We take a long break at the Lake Edison/Mono Creek Trail junction, where there is also “new” trail sign. We’ve two hours to reach the ferry landing, 1½ miles away, and choose to stay in the forest shade awhile rather than the sun exposed beach. While resting Mark arrives. “I thought for sure you were going to die of hypothermia on Silver Pass” he says to me. I introduce him to Dale.
When we arrive at the ferry landing, marked by a large American Flag, Art is there. I finally catch him! He tells me about the beer left on a table at the Reds Meadow Campground, and the note he’d left for me so I would find it. Dale had seen the note, but in my late afternoon weariness I had not. Art, after picking up his resupply, left the beer, and took the shuttle into Mammoth Lakes. The next day he re-entered at Duck Lake which is how he got ahead of me and to Lake Virginia. The dots are connected. I Introduce he, Dale and Mark.
After an hour or so the ferry arrives. By now there are a dozen people waiting. Andrew and Lauren are no show; I hope they’re okay. Before boarding we help the VVR folk relocate the dock. The Lake Edison water level is dropping so it needs to move to deeper water, something that plays out every few days all summer long. Art knows the ropes and as we leave the landing he asks Jim, the proprietor, if there are any motel rooms available. Jim replies “not any more, you’ve got the last one.”
The ferry ride is short; we unload and walk a short distance to the store. There Jim gives us “the speech” free backpacker tent, where we can camp, the cost for the remaining private tent, cost of showers, laundry, internet, and phone, all $7, dinner time 6:00pm, breakfast time 7:00am, when the generator shuts off 10:00pm, and most importantly how to set up your tab on a credit card. Art and I each grab a beer. Art gets the room key and calls me over. If there are two beds I agree to split. Turns out there are three beds, two twins and one double. We toast to finally having that beer together. I get in the shower as he goes to offer the double bed to Ross and Marti, a retired couple he met at the ferry landing.
The shower iss great. There is soap and shampoo and a full size bath towel. I exit the bathroom to a full house, and meet Ross and Marti Coleman. Ross and Marti thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, using the trail names Martini and Rossi. You can read about their AT hike on their Trail Journal.
After all have showered, and doctored sore spots, we make our way to the store, grab more beers, walk through the restaurant and join Chris and Kelli at a large table at the back of the patio. Elsewhere on the patio Dale and Mark are sitting at a table, and adjacent to us stand Blake and another Mark.
The waitress, an elderly lady, slowly makes the rounds. I order the steak sandwich. It is much better than the Backpacker’s Pantry Chicken Saigon Noodle I left in the backpacker’s food barrel.
Dinner conversation starts with each sharing “how” we do things. Chris and Kelli are on a 2 days hiking, 2 days motel program and are anxious to know where, after VVR, they can a find the closest bed. Art and I both suggest South Lake, and after that Independence. Clearly there is no “Copy Exactly!” among the backpacking community. We each hike for different reasons, and each hike in our own way. We then talk about family and friends, and what they think about our passion, backpacking for 2-3 weeks, or more. Most interesting are the stories from Ross and Marti. Life does not stop for those we leave behind, a point it is difficult to understand until you have been on the trail several months and learn that between phone calls a loved one was hospitalized.
Art offers Chris and Kelli the use of the motel room shower, which they gratefully accept. When they return, Marti notes that it is past “hiker’s midnight” e.g. dark, so we say goodnight to folk and go to the room. I do laundry in the kitchenette sink and hang it on a make shift clothes line. I am last to bed. I lie quietly awake for a long time, replaying the highlights of the last 5 days; all of them times shared with the people I have met along the way. I last remember hearing the hum of the generator and two of my roommates snoring.