This is a continuing series about a mother-and-daughter thru-hike on the John Muir Trail (north to south) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains from July 19 to August 13, 2015. Previous installments and additional photos are online at www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/john-muir-trail.
Day 12: Thursday, July 30
Bear Creek to Sallie Keyes Lakes
We were up and packing at 4:30 a.m. to get an earlier-than -usual start. The cloud build-up the previous afternoon was a warning to us that we were probably going to get wet again after a week of dry weather. The sky was clear as day broke but by 10 a.m., dark clouds were looming.
Selden Pass (elevation 10,900 feet) was on the day’s itinerary. We wanted to be up and over it before the thunder and lightning returned.
It is a gentle grade from Bear Creek to Marie Lake, which is 500 feet below Selden Pass. The route is picturesque with the trail crossing Bear Creek several times while it peacefully meanders through meadows surrounded by white granite spires that are glimpsed through the stunted lodgepole pines.
No longer considering the time of day an important asset, we stopped at the beautiful Marie Lake to eat well before what is considered a traditional lunchtime in the developed world. Sure, we were hungry — in fact, that was becoming a constant state due to nearly two weeks of day-long, strenuous activity — but we would have regretted passing by this scenic lake without stopping to enjoy it.
Marie Lake is dotted with granite islands. It is situated on a high bench that offers expansive views of the surrounding mountains.
The clouds were blackening and warning us to keep moving as there was a pass to surmount. But we lingered as long as we could before hoisting the packs and starting the ascent toward Selden Pass.
As passes ago, this one was enjoyable. The gradual climb with sublime scenery was pleasant.
Heading down the south side of the pass, we had less than two miles to travel to the day’s campsite at one of the two Sallie Keyes Lakes. Coming off the pass, we walked by a small body of water called Heart Lake, then descended a bit more to the north end of Sallie Keyes Lakes.
Down at lakeside, the trail parallels the larger of the lakes then traverses the isthmus between both lakes. There are several campsites along the trail here, but since we arrived at our destination in the early afternoon and had some energy left due to a low-mileage day, we decided to explore the area and find a more secluded site that wouldn’t have neighbors as the end of the hiking day approached.
We headed west off the trail and found a site near a small peninsula on the main lake’s south end. It started sprinkling as we unpacked.
By the time the tent was set up, it was raining. We tossed our packs inside and jumped in after them just as the hail began.
We had the luxury of an afternoon nap, nestling into our sleeping bags and falling asleep to the pitter-patter of hail pelting the tent, nature’s music.
The precipitation relented in a couple hours but the clouds remained. We crawled out of the tent and set about our nightly camp chores in the blustery weather.
Our end-of-the-day routine always included a swim, or at least a good dunking, in whatever waterway was available. The weather was unstable though, so it was a cold, quick rinse to get the trail dirt off.
We ate dinner, played cards, then battened down the hatches for a wet, windy night. The previous week of clear skies perhaps made us complacent as we had set our tent up directly in the path of the wind funneling down from Selden Pass without considering that this could be a possibility. The wind was like sleeping with a freight train as it buffeted the tent throughout the night.
We wanted another early start in the morning because we were anticipating our resupply of food that was just five miles away at Muir Trail Ranch. When we awoke in the predawn hours, it was still too dark to get the daily weather report, which consisted of looking out the tent flap at the sky, but just then we heard the familiar sound of sprinkles beginning again.
Our sleep-fogged brains couldn’t summon the resolve to get us out of the tent and packing our gear in the rain. So we rolled over and went back to sleep, the most reasonable way to wait out a storm.
JMT PLACE NAMES
Selden Pass— Named for Selden Stuart Hooper, an assistant with the USGS from 1891-1898.
Marie Lake— Named for Selden Hooper’s sister, Mary Hooper Perry, also with the USGS. (There is also a Mount Hooper, Hooper Lake, and Hooper Creek, named for Selden and Mary’s father, Major William Burchell Hooper.)
Sallie Keyes Lakes— Named for the daughter of John and Maud Shipp, the owners of Blayney Meadows (present-day Muir Trail Ranch) from the 1890s to 1940. Sallie Keyes Shipp was named after a childhood friend of her mother’s.
—Place Names of the Sierra Nevada: From Abbot to Zumwalt, by Peter Browning, Wilderness Press, Second Edition, 1991