Vermillion Valley Resort to Kennedy Meadows North
Mile 878.8 – Mile 1016.9
“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments” – The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer
The quote above comes from a poem I read to Katrina when I asked her to marry me. Emotions running high, heart racing, I could scarcely finish the recital that fateful night but the words have remained lodged in my memory and resurface on occasion. Poor woman had no idea what lay in store for her and with regard to the trail after VVR, neither did I. When I set off for another 8 day stint, destination Kennedy Meadows North, I did not comprehend the remoteness, the isolation, and the challenge of the week ahead.
Sisyphus getting coffee
Around 9am Sunday morning, Ray, VVR’s boat captain extraordinaire, shuttled both Hershey and I back across Lake Edison to the trailhead at Mono Creek. Hershey, a 24 year old on his way up to Bend, OR for a new job, was on a solo mission to meet up with his friend Nightingale in Mammoth the next night. As the last leg of his section hike, Hershey meant to tackle Silver Pass that afternoon regardless of any soft snow. As for me, I was less than gung-ho for that particular brand of misery and since, oddly enough, the eastern end of the lake somehow had cellular service, I dawdled away the morning posting the last blog entry and calling people.
I only had to make ~6 miles that afternoon to get in position for Silver Pass the next morning. After Hershey took off, I saw no one all day and walked until the snow covered trail became drudgery. I made camp amid stunning scenery and enjoyed the solitude that evening.
The PCT and JMT share ~170 miles
I had hoped Silver Pass, at 10,779 feet, would be less snowbound than some of higher passes behind me but alas not. Fortunately I started early enough to avoid most of the spectacular post-holing that marked Hershey’s passage the day before. Some of the deeper ones looked positively life ending or at least future life limiting. Eventually I made it down below the snow line and the trail reappeared making progress much easier. Visions of cold beer and fresh food propelled me toward Reds Meadow Resort, a rustic horse camp to the west of Mammoth Mountain ski area.
It was around 4:30pm, when, after seeing nary a soul for 30+ hours, another hiker materialized ahead at a creek crossing. She was hiking the John Muir Trail headed southbound so after a quick quiz about the snow conditions on Silver Pass, she set off and I was back to my lonesome.
Ho hum lunchtime view
As much as I try to rein in my expectations of places, I failed to consider that Reds Meadow Resort might not yet be open for the season. Salivation became chagrin as I arrived at the eerily deserted camp. Boarded up cabins and disused facilities greeted my arrival and I had the whole place to myself. To be honest, staying there that night was Stephen King creepy but I escaped unharmed.
Something I’d hope to see
The next day promised a visit through Devil’s Postpile National Monument. I had visited it virtually countless times with my buddy Brad on the fancy treadmills at the Pro Club. You would expect one of America’s premier scenic trails running through a national monument would be routed to offer a view of said monument. You would be wrong. When I discovered the flaw in my expectations, I lacked the drive to backtrack. I soon forgot my disappointment however when I came upon the beautiful Minaret Falls. It’s generous cascades of water made for a tricky, wet, and all together frigid crossing. As I was attempting to dry and warm myself in a small patch of morning sun, lo and behold, three PCT hikers cruised on by seemingly careless of their cold wet shoes. I took it as a good sign that others were northbound from Mammoth, a popular hiker town that I skipped since I was already well supplied.
Minaret Falls in morning
My objective for the day was to get in position for Donahue Pass, the last pass over 11,000 feet. At only 10,226 feet, I had hoped Island Pass, 5 miles beforehand would be manageable. Nope. Soft snow stopped me just after Thousand Island Lake well short of Island Pass but the setting for my camp that night stands out as one of the most spectacular yet.
Thousand Island Lake though I only counted 17
I resigned myself to what I hoped would be my last oh dark thirty wake up. The next morning I began climbing around 4am and the snow mostly cooperated, being firm enough to walk upon rather than within. After struggling a bit to find the trail, plain determination eventually saw me up and over both Island and Donahue making it my unlooked for two pass day.
Looking down into lovely Lyell Canyon
The top of Donahue marks entry into Yosemite National Park. Looking down I could see the beautiful, glacially carved Lyell Canyon stretching its way some 10 miles north to Tuolumne Meadows. Though mud bound and still very soggy, the trail down through those meadows flew by with one idyllic scene after another.
Meadow view looking north
Must be getting close to the visitor center
As a kid I remember always watching for the gleam and flash of parked cars through the trees at the end of a hike because it meant the trip was complete. Arriving in Tuolumne Meadows, I felt the same excitement glimpsing shiny signs of civilization though, truth be told, this time may have been the promise of beer. I headed straight to the general store to find it abuzz with activity but unfortunately of the laying in new stock, ‘we open in two days’ variety. Mistaken expectations let me down again. Starved for social interaction I hung out at the store regardless swapping trail stories with a delivery guy and chatting up the driver of a beautiful new Sprinter van.
Crossing at Lembert Dome
Already having had a long day, I ventured across Highway 120, the first paved road in ~240 miles of PCT(!) and wandered just far enough to stealth camp away from the early season tourists. Next up was Benson Pass, the last pass above 10,000 feet but first I was treated to a spectacular morning walking past Tuolumne Falls and through Glen Aulin. The high backcountry of Yosemite holds every bit of the magic associated with the more frequented sights down in the valley.
Tuolumne Falls flowing well
In another rude reminder that map truth and physical reality often diverge, I was treated to my first of many Yosemite creek crossings that required fording. Walking in wet shoes became the norm. I did my best to dry and change socks often enough to prevent trench foot but the whole process took time. The upshot was just because Benson Pass appeared reachable according to mileage, the many water crossings in between made it unlikely and I camped short.
View from Benson Pass
The next morning as I was slogging down the north side of Benson Pass alone, wondering just when exactly I would again enjoy an easy trail day, behind me appeared Sunshine! I met him and his hiking buddy, Wifey, way back on the climb up Pinchot Pass. Sunshine, a graduate student from Sweden (and 24 years old just like everyone else), reminds me so much of my youngest son Keegan that my mood immediately shifted to happiness. Tall, lanky, with long hair, a quick smile and bright spirit, Sunshine even displays what I had thought was Keegan’s patented ‘lope speed’. Long legs and easy manner belie just how fast that kid can move down the trail. Even such brief encounters helped keep my spirits up after so much solitude.
Sunshine on the trail, literally and figuratively
After descending Benson, more deep, wide fords awaited at Piute Creek. Slow moving water made the experience more uncomfortable than dangerous though let’s just say that I’m glad I have already had all my children.
Wilmer Lake reflection
The PCT in this part of Yosemite goes from ridge to canyon back to ridge making for arduous days. Going over Seavey Pass the next day before descending down along the infamous Rancheria Creek proved difficult. Then it was back up and over another steep ridge only to descend once again to ford the creek in Stubblefied Canyon. I recall seeing video of groups crossing here last year, all but swimming in neck deep water, so getting across at mid-thigh felt fortuitous.
On the second to last day, just as I began to believe progress would become easier, I encountered the cleverly named Wide Creek. In retrospect I should have just done the waist deep, slow moving ford at the trail crossing. Instead I headed upstream hoping to find something better. I eventually found a wet foot rock hop that got me 80% of the way across but was left with a waist deep crossing of swifter water than at the trail. Note to self: A pocket full of Jolly Ranchers is much nicer before submersion.
Trail through a waterfall
After drying a bit in the sun and changing what clothes I could, I headed up toward Dorothy Lake Pass. Mosquitoes had started to make their appearance and I much preferred the slow, stupid 9000 foot variety to the sub 8000 foot fast moving swarms. Unfortunately I was still relatively low and walking through more sodden meadows. Just as the fierce little buggers were starting to attack in earnest, Momma stepped in and dialed up the wind machine effectively canceling all flight ops for the day.
At 3:19pm on Saturday June 9th, I arrived at the 1000 mile mark. I say if you are going to have an arbitrary celebration at a nondescript location in the woods, at least make it sound important. I imagined Dave, my brother, trail conscious and most stalwart supporter, cracking a cold IPA back home to mark the occasion. As for me, I had the ahi jerky and found it superb.
The geology of the trail changed markedly the last day into Sonora Pass becoming volcanic shale versus obdurate granite. I happened upon Nightingale on the way up one of the snowbound ridges and the poor guy told me he had lost his sunglasses. My heart went out to him as we had significant traverses of steep snow ahead and the glare would be blinding. Apparently the invincibility of youth carried the day and I lucked into a ride down to Kennedy Meadows from Momma Nightingale who was meeting him at the pass.
Beyond the demands of the trail itself, I felt very disconnected and unplugged from all that I hold dear back home. There were certainly other people out there but I’d guess maybe I had a total of two hours of social interaction for the week. Coming on the heels of my last jaunt, I look forward to having the long, remote stretches behind me now. My hiker battery, aka belly fat, has also been depleted so large quantities of fresh food will nourish me too.
I did in fact emerge from my granite cloister still on speaking terms with myself so I suppose that means the company was at least decent.