Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 59: San Joaquin River to Bear Ridge

We woke early, eager to get on the trail in the hope of getting close to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), our next resupply location. This section of trail, like so many others below treeline, was affected by the huge windstorm last November. We passed massive piles of jumbled trees and branches, already cleared from the trail by early season trail crews. The fresh cut wood left a piney lumberyard-like scent in the air.

From the San Joaquin canyon (7,890 ft), we climbed, switchbacking up the ridge through Ponderosa pine and wester juniper forest, through an exposed manzanita covered hillside, and back into forest again. We found a shaded spot by Senger Creek to cook a hot lunch, then continued up the trail to Sally Keyes Lakes.

Sally Keyes Lakes are a pair of beautiful blue lakes surrounded by grassy meadows, with a thin strip of forested land for camping in between them. There would be no camping at the lakes for us today however, because the lure of VVR was too strong. We continued climbing above the trees to the aptly named Heart Lake, and then up to the top of Selden Pass (10,900 ft).

Swarms of mosquitoes quickly drove us down from the top of the pass. We descended past beautiful Marie Lake, set in granite with grassy patches near its shores and scattered foxtail pines. Then we continued down past swampy Rosemarie Meadow. Crossing a creek below the meadow, we stopped for a quick break. There Desert Fox, having heard we were short on snacks, kindly shared a handful of bars, nuts, and two tasty looking cinnamon rolls.

The last time I waded across Bear Creek (9,530 ft) was when Sierra and I hiked the John Muir trail in 2010.  Then the water crept up past my waist, running swiftly. But the mild winter had tamed the great Bear Creek, and its water merely splashed our knees this time.

The trail continued to parallel the creek, and we saw the tents of several of the hikers we had seen near the pass. But we weren't yet ready to stop for the night. We wanted to be closer to VVR so that we could catch the ferry there the next morning.

So we began the climb to Bear Ridge (9,980 ft), reassuring ourselves that we were climbing the "easy" side, that we had less elevation to gain, that we would reach the top quickly. But it soon grew dark, and we found ourselves balancing on slippery stones to cross streams and navigating over and around fallen logs, all by headlamp. It was almost 11 by the time we reached the top. We climbed into our sleeping bags, exhausted.

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