“Somebody ought to tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit every minute of every day. Do it, I say, whatever you want to do, do it now.” — Michael Landon
Day number six on the John Muir Trail began with another splendid sunrise. The warmth of a new day was energizing my tired limbs as I made my way down to Marie Lake to filter water under a cloudless sky. Looking out at the little islands in the lake and huge slabs of granite surrounding its banks, I remembered that this was the point on the trail that signified we had walked 100 miles. It was all going by so quickly. Every great story seems to feel this way, where the climax and ending come too soon, and it’s only looking back that you can truly appreciate how special the journey was.
The first mile of hiking on this day took us from Marie Lake at 10,550ft to the summit of Seldon Pass at 10,900ft. Seldon Pass isn’t the most picturesque or difficult of passes, but it’s bookended by some really beautiful lakes which more than make up for it. The other nice thing is that after the pass, the JMT heads 7 miles downhill to the final “on-trail” resupply at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). The first lake we stopped by on our downhill was Heart Lake. The perfection of the early morning sky left the lake’s surface glassy and serene, illuminated with the perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains.
We continued walking downhill after enjoying Heart Lake, and not long after, were on a section of trail that skirts the banks of Sallie Keyes Lake. We got a pretty early start on this day to ensure an early arrival to MTR. The tents nestled around Sallie Keyes were still zipped shut, full of sleeping hikers. Those that were awake, had just started making their first moves towards daylight.
After Sallie Keyes Lake, the JMT cuts through a beautiful meadow. It was here that we stumbled upon a beautiful deer prancing elegantly ahead, leading us into the forthcoming lodgepole forest. The next stretch of trail covered a series of switchbacks before we hit the final sign for Muir Trail Ranch. Part of me was excited to arrive and pick up another resupply, the other part of me was dreading the added weight I’d have to carry on the monster climbs in the days ahead.
We walked through the gates of MTR and passed the horse stables before finding our way to the building that stores the resupply buckets and packages. After getting our buckets, we sat under the portable canopies to fill up our bear canisters and had a great time conversing with the other thru-hikers. It was still early in the day, but the heat was already starting bake the earth and all who walked upon it. We took advantage of the potable water on offer, and made sure to hydrate with a few liters before setting off for the second leg of hiking for the day. It was such a luxury to drink multiple liters of fresh water without the hassle of filtering.
The first steps after leaving MTR were pretty brutal. The added pack weight, rocky trail, and oppressive heat hit me like a bat. It wasn’t until we reached the steel footbridge at Piute Creek that I started to feel my hiking legs return beneath me.
We continued upward, following the South Fork of the San Joaquin River on what turned out to be a gorgeous stretch of hiking. The water ripped and roared, with it’s power only changing in the way I perceived it as the trail moved close and then away again. It wasn’t long before we reached another foot bridge, this time crossing the San Joaquin River.
After crossing the bridge, we hit a very brief leveled section of trail before a lung searing climb up a series of switchbacks towards Evolution Valley. This was the sort of uphill hiking I live for, the kind I usually eat for breakfast. I’m not sure if it was the heavy pack, the heat, or the number of miles I had logged in the previous days, but my legs were feeling like jelly. All of the tired feelings left my body though as we reached a point high enough to look back over the canyon we had just left. Not much further on the trail, we were introduced to the undulating power of Evolution Creek and the cascades that dance downhill.
We had finished the lion’s share of the climbing for the day and were entering Evolution Meadow, with the Evolution Creek wade just ahead. This was the first crossing on the JMT that didn’t offer the option of rock hopping across. Just like I did while playing the Oregon Trail as a kid, it was time to ford the river. Luckily, the water was flowing low and slow due to the drought conditions in the region. We spoke to a guy from nearby Truckee who told us a harrowing account of his crossing during a year of raging waters. For this day, we only needed to take our shoes off and walk across. At it’s highest point, the water only made it up to my calves.
I sat down on a log to dry my feet off and put my shoes back on, but had to quickly get back up as a swarm of mosquitoes descended upon me for an iron rich meal. After a few quick sprays of repellent, I put my shoes back on, and we made our way into Evolution Meadow.
There were a ton of great camp sites in the meadow right along the trail and creek. The only problem is that they were really crowded. Julia and I pressed on, even though our feet were barking alongside our empty stomachs. Our patience paid off, as we found an incredible spot free from any other hikers. We pitched the tent and quickly got inside as the mozzies were out in full force. Luckily, the temperature dropped alongside the sun, taking the bloodsuckers with it. We found a nice flat rock to fix up our dinner on, and ate with the sounds of a flowing creek and singing birds. Just as I was getting ready to take my first bite, three deer came waltzing right through our campsite, on their own quest for nutrition it seemed. What a perfect way to end the day.
Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark