8/30/09; Distance Traveled = 21.7 miles
Today is a big day. First, I pass the halfway mark and am now fully confident, barring an injury, I will complete the hike. I never doubted my ability to thru-hike the JMT, but wasn’t certain I could do it in 13 days. From today’s vantage it appears no problem to do so. Second, I pick up my resupply at MTR. I’m not expecting any surprises or goodies, I didn’t pack any, though will should I do this again, just that it be there is enough. And third, a strong hiking day puts me tonight in Evolution Basin, IMHO the most sublime place on the planet.
I am up before the morning breaks, and on the trail at first light. Mt Senger, perhaps embarrassed by last night’s expo, stands a quiet silhouette against dawn’s muted light. The climb to Seldon Pass is rest compared to yesterday’s Bear Ridge and the “Blake 10k”. And a look back reveals Marie Lake still beautiful, even in shadow. Ahead, Dale?! Grinning, like an old friend, he waits on the switchback above.
I am glad to see him too; he’s been good company. We recount our yesterdays and plans for today. His was “relaxed,” sleeping in, a long breakfast, and 10:00am start from VVR. He, like Blake, skipped the ferry and hiked out via the Bear Ridge Trail, then hiking until dinner arrived at Marie Lake around sunset. Perhaps his was among voices I heard? He will again likely hike until dinner, but plans a long stop at the Blaney Meadows Hot Springs.
We hike together for about an hour, over Seldon Pass and then stopping at Heart Lake; he for breakfast, me just a quick snack. I don’t expect to see him again, until perhaps tomorrow morning, unless I get really tied up with my resupply at MTR.
The trail over Seldon Pass, especially in the cool of morning is, quite pleasant. The hiking is easy, and the narrow canyon means no direct sunlight until midmorning. Heart Lake is small and has a rocky shoreline dotted with Whitebark Pines. Below are the lovely Sallie Keys Lakes. The trail skirts beautiful Lodgepole Pine forest between the two lakes and around the lower’s west shore. I imagine this area a wildlife menagerie, and make note of the excellent camping especially if interested in night time visitors.
The trail then traverses meadows. Crossing Senger Creek they are still wet and green and flowered despite the warming sun. Leaping a braid of the creek I stumble, my hiking staff sinks and as I pull, the lower section breaks loose of the joint and stays behind; gear failure, the second of this trip. Beyond the meadows the trail descends steeply, the South Fork San Joaquin River 2200’ below. I am the lone hiker along this stretch until the Florence Lake cutoff where I meet three guys hiking up from MTR. And there, leaving the John Muir Trail, start the down the last mile of the first half of my thru-hike.
I arrive at MTR at 9:30. I enter a gate and meet a couple from Tucson, agonizing over a mountain of food piled on and spread to every corner of a picnic table. They shipped way too much stuff, “what should we leave and what should we take?” They kindly point out the water, where like a kid you drink from a garden hose, and when satiated I fill my platy; and then to the shed with 100’s of resupply buckets. There are 2 groups ahead of me. I help the woman “bucket lady” retrieve my and the other groups’ buckets. She says they’ll probably handle a record 1000 this year; at $50 a piece, this is a nice side business for them.
The other groups have staked claim to the remaining tables so I retreat to a spot by the gate. My bucket is much like I packed it. I need all of 10 minutes to fill the bear can, refill my sunblock and hand gel dropper bottles, and pack map sheets 1-6. MTR’s service includes, if you wish, shipping your bucket home, but what do I need with another 5 gallon paint bucket and 1 oz of Ultrathon?
I need to buy some denatured alcohol, but the “bucket lady” is busy taking pictures of the Tucson couple before they resume their hike. While waiting I peruse the hiker buckets. Here, this late in the season, is everything a JMT thru-hiker needs; there is probably enough food to resupply a dozen for a week. Nearby, the other groups sort their mountains of food. It really didn’t seem that complicated to me, but based on this small sample, most people over pack. Not only does it take time to pick through it all, but do you really want to fight over whether to leave the M&Ms or Chile Mac? In any event, the result is a bounty for thru-hiking scrounges.
The “bucket lady” sells me alcohol and I’m ready to go. I exit via the south cutoff, skipping 1¾ miles of official Muir Trail. On the cutoff route I pass the Tucson couple and a packer, and think about karma. I wouldn’t say MTR has bad karma; it is more like, well, no karma. MTR runs the hiker resupply as a side business, and for hikers they offer nothing more. They get all their money upfront and have nothing to gain by doting over you. VVR on the other hand has plenty to sell: beds, showers, telephone, laundry, restaurant meals, beer, and more. The more Jim makes over hikers, the more money he gets. Is this good karma? I think not, just good business. It is different business than MTR, but business just the same. VVR is more fun, MTR is a more convenient resupply. Use whichever suits you best. Both worked for me.
The JMT continues nearly level through sparse forest alongside, but a hundred feet or so from the San Joaquin River, crossing in 3 miles the intersecting Piute Creek and entering Kings Canyon National Park. I cross the bridge, work myself a couple hundred feet downriver, and stop for lunch at the water’s edge spending most of the time attending the nagging hot spots on the balls of my feet and a blister on the very tip of my left little toe; the blister quite painful. Returning to the bridge I meet the Tucson couple one last time, and stop briefly to I chat with two guys, brothers, one almost a neighbor of mine from Chandler, Arizona.
From the bridge the trail climbs imperceptibly upriver and through Aspen Meadow. This section recalls memories of my 2004 North Lake to South Lake hike and my resolution to take an extended vacation and hike every year. Of the Aspens, I still find it curious that the bottom 3 feet of growth is perpendicular to the slope, whereas above this the trunk rises vertically. Every tree has this twist.
South of Aspen Meadow the trail crosses the South Fork San Joaquin on another steel bridge. Right of the crossing is a forested camping area where I camped with my Boy Scout Troop years ago; then it was just open enough to toss a Frisbee. The trail veers left here and soon reaches the gate at Franklin Meadow. The packer is there, gate open. He says “Hey, I thought you were long gone.” He tells me they will be grazing Evolution Meadow. I thank him and decide to camp above there.
I soon arrive at the Goddard Canyon Trail junction. Straight ahead leads ultimately to the Davis Lakes and a cross country route to Wanda Lake. Do not scrub your fry pans in the lake! Read the old NL2SL trip report to find out why. The JMT veers left, bridge crosses the South Fork one last time, and begins the climb to Evolution Valley; each switchback drawing closer to Evolution Creek and its energetic cascades. The climb is easier and shorter than I remember. Perhaps it is pack weight; last time through I was sporting at least 50 lbs, today fully resupplied I carry less than 30, or perhaps one week of hiking has me acclimated and strong, or both.
I wade the knee deep crossing and enter Evolution Valley, temple of the Living God. I pass through the Outer Court, Evolution Meadow, climb the step and reaching, detour into McClure Meadow. I stand now in the Inner Court, solemn and reverent, eyes turned to Mt Mendel and The Hermit, sentinels framing Evolution Basin, the Holy of Holies. Solomon’s temple was built by the hand of man, this temple by the very hand of God Himself.
Blessed, I continue, in quiet meditation. Soon, near the ranger station I meet a woman solo hiking the JMT. She has been on the trail for 3 weeks, much longer than she expected to get this far. Now, having mastered it, she is running out of time. “I’ll make it only to Kearsarge.” Her flight home leaves Los Angeles in 7 days. “Can you reschedule?” I ask. She considers the question saying her next real obligation is not for two weeks. I sense she is here to escape home for awhile, to leave behind an old self, for renewal and to find who she wants to be. My heart aches with her indecision; she has worked so hard, gained so much. She motions me to pass, “I walk slowly.” I continue ahead, in possibly selfish prayer, that she will decide to finish. I have no right to ask this, and back it off slightly, that God’s hand be upon her as she decides.
I stop at Colby Meadow for rest and snack, and my own decision: Do I hike today to Evolution Lake? While I rest the woman passes by and I ask her decision; “don’t know.” I encourage her to do it, if she really has two weeks, then finish; exit at Kearsarge, book a new flight, resupply, and then finish. “You can do it.” I don’t know her, and can at times be overbearing; I sincerely pray this not one of them, that I’ve truly encouraged and not pressed. I may never know and hope she finishes; as for Evolution Lake? My answer is yes.
The late afternoon push is difficult; curious because my legs aren’t that tired, and I’m not hiking so fast that I gasp for air. Rather, I just feel out of gas. I need more, and more frequent trail snacks to not bonk at the 20 mile mark. Nonetheless I arrive in good spirits and find a small, hidden gem of spot to camp. Evolution Lake is a Holy Place, pulchritudinous, encircled by majestic peaks, abiding beneath a cobalt sky.