“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” ― Isabelle Eberhardt
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I opened my eyes and woke from a deep sleep as I felt the chill of water droplets pattering my face. For all the beauty I find in a campsite with close proximity to water, the early morning condensation in my tent almost puts me off of the idea everytime. I realized I had tucked myself into the corner of my hiking house, causing the silnylon wall to stretch in disturbance and allow gravity to bring the water down on my head. Luckily, we had planned on an early start, so I decided to get up and head outside to grab our bear canisters. This was the warmest morning of the trip, and for the first time, the early morning skies were free from the accompaniment of clouds.
I pulled out my oats and coffee, then sat down on my bear canister to eat and drink while Julia and the rest of the hikers in the area lay sleeping. The silence and solitude of a mountain sunrise brings a lot of clarity to the mind. 93 million miles away, I watch the sun rise to signify another day. I became obsessed with watching the sun rise while walking the Camino in 2012. Strangely enough, it was something I hadn’t really done before then. In my opinion, there is no better moment in the course of a day, and I do my best to watch as many as I can. As I chewed through my cold instant oatmeal, I couldn’t help but feel grateful. The moment is forthcoming when I’ll have likely seen more sunrises than I’ll see in the future, and it will hit me that I’ve lived more days than I have left. To feel like you’re making the most of each day and living your life to the fullest is truly a moment of pure happiness. My mind was stuck on the words of Sam Harris and a reminder that “It is always now”.
“But the past is a memory. It’s a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated. It is another thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment… And we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth. Repudiating it, fleeing it, overlooking it. And the horror is that we succeed. We manage to never really connect with the present moment and find fulfillment there because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future. And the future never arrives.” ― Sam Harris
Julia and I got an early start on the hiking for the day, leaving the campsite to cross over Deer Creek and head through a lodgepole forest due south. This isn’t the most beautiful stretch on the John Muir Trail by a long shot, but we were treated to some pleasant mountain views before arriving at our first planned break spot, Duck Creek.
After filling up on water and giving our alternate clothes a rinse in the creek, we continued climbing uphill towards Purple Lake. When we arrived at the lake, we met a guy from Wisconsin who had been walking northbound for the last two weeks. Much like many of the hikers we had spoken to before, the first thing out of his mouth was a reference to the crazy weather. There really is no predicting what will happen in the High Sierra, but after a year of drought in California, he was surprised to start his trip with 5 days of rain. Luckily, we only had to endure one full day of precipitation, and at the moment we conversed, the weather forecast was looking just about perfect.
The JMT climbs a series of switchbacks from Purple Lake, and the landscape was suddenly composed of much more granite. After passing through small patches of wildflowers and being surrounded by walls of granite and talus on either side of the trail, we reached the summit of the climb and passed over the saddle downhill. Julia and I did quite a bit of research leading up to our thru-hike, and put together a list of the most talked about places on the trail. As we continued on our downhill walk, we feasted our eyes one of the places that we knew we couldn’t wait to see, Lake Virginia.
The trail climbed up and out from Lake Virginia, before reaching another saddle and sending us downward on a long and hot ladder of switchbacks as we made our way towards Tully Hole. The mountain views on this downhill section were spectacular, and made me wish the JMT stayed more to the high ground.
It was incredible to see the landscape change from grey to green as we continued towards Tully Hull and Fish Creek. There were a lot of campers and hikers enjoying the water and shade here, so we decided to stop and join them. We continued on to cross the bridge at Fish Creek and a few subsequent creek crossings before starting back uphill to make our way towards Silver Pass.
The tree cover and vegetation is unusually thick and green on this section of the hike in comparison to the land before and after. It wasn’t long though, before our journey on the steep trail upwards left all of that beauty behind for a more familiar landscape. We continued venturing upwards into a heavenly atmosphere of granite slabs, alpine lakes, and soaring cloud coverage. We stopped to take pictures and enjoy the leveling out of the trail when we reached Squaw Lake.
The trail begins to climb again after leaving Squaw Lake and after a few hundred uphill steps, we were standing at the top of Silver Pass. The mountain views from Silver Pass were absolutely stunning. Even though it was getting cold and windy, we stayed at the pass for a while to let it all soak in.
We only had a short stretch of downhill after leaving the pass to reach our campsite for the night, Silver Pass Lake. This isn’t a very popular campsite due to the elevation and lack of ideal areas to pitch a tent. It was really nice to only have one other tent at the lake with us.
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“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” ― John Muir
23 thoughts on “John Muir Trail Day 4: Deer Creek to Silver Pass Lake”
Spectacular photos as usual! JMT is getting higher on my list!
Thanks, glad to hear these posts are pushing you towards hitting the JMT 🙂
Great write up and photos. I dig purple Lake. Now I live not too far from the jmt. It’s on my agenda in the future along with the hst
You’ll definitely have to plan a hike of the JMT in the future!
Great! Your Picture looks amazing.
I still prefer sunsets to sunrises, but I’m not a morning person. But I try to make time for either one as much as possible.
Sunsets are a close second 🙂 You can’t really go wrong with either one. Greeting the day or kissing it goodbye, being outside to watch it happen is the real magic.
I stole that Sam Harris quote from you. Awesome. And I’ve always wondered how much room the bear canister takes up. Looks very large, but I guess with two people you can split the gear up.
I used the BV 500 which you can see in the photo, Julia used the Garcia bear canister. After Muir Trail Ranch there are no resupplies, so that is why we needed the big ones for each of us. For weekend trips, we just take one.
Love the site Drew! I’d love to do some trekking on my next backpacking trip. I’m really interested in going to South America next so I’m going to go stalk your posts now 🙂
Awesome! After doing a lot of standard city travelling, it got old for me pretty quick. I love trekking, it’s just takes travel to a whole new level. I’ll still spend time in cities every now and again, but they just cant compare. I’ve hiked in Peru, and am hoping to visit Bolivia soon. I spend a lot of time in Argentina back in 2008, but didn’t get much trekking in then. Have fun on your trip!
Great pictures. There are about 4-5 really nice camp sites in a tree cluster above the lake. They do not have full view of the lake, some have partial, some none so they might not be as desirable on a nice day but they offer some protection during rain.
We saw that patch of land as we made our way down. It was funny to walk over thinking it was barren only to find a tent nestled close to a tree! They were our only company in the area.
o god, this nature is incredible!
The JMT is an absolutely gorgeous trail. I was blown away each and every day.
Thinking about getting the double rainbow as well for JMT, noticed you had condensation. If you were to redo the JMT, would you use the DR again?
Ryan, that’s a tough question. I loved the DR, but yes, it was a condensation monster. We developed a system that allowed us to wipe it clean each morning and have it aired out and dry by nightfall. For the size, pitch versatility, and weight, I would use this again if I was travelling with 2 people. If I were doing this solo, I would go with the Moment Double Wall or the Notch.
Thanks, will keep in mind the microfiber towel.
Excellent JMT review and pictures!
“To feel like you’re making the most of each day and living your life tot he fullest is truly a moment of pure happiness”‘ This is classic
It adeptly expresses my thoughts on this travels. And talking of sun — I’m equally drawn to both sunrises and sunsets. I could sit for hours enjoying the sunset.. There’s something about the experience that leaves me feeling contented.
Great post Drew!
It has been nearly 12 years since I got yo see these views in person. I actually met my husband in an airport on the way back from California. He was a local and I was from a small town in PA. He actually came out to me and never went back. We got married in the first year and I had a baby boy on the way shortly after. My adventuring was put on hold for my family but it is so refreshing to see a young man living his dreams. Being an adventurer never leaves you even when you stop exploring.