The sunlight woke us up early. Usually we cover our eyes and go back to sleep for a bit more, but since the mosquitos hadn’t swarmed our tent yet we made ourselves get up and get going while we still had the mosquitoless opportunity.
We continued our long, 17 mile descent from Muir Pass through beautiful Evolution Valley.
We came to our first real water ford at Evolution Creek. We got wet nearly up to our hips. The current was not very strong due to the low snow year. There is an alternate path across a meadow for when the creek is impossible to ford, but that’s not the case this year. But the water sure was cold! Direct snowmelt caused our feet to ache in immense pain after only seconds in the water, and it took a good hour of drying and walking before our feet felt normal again. Brrr!
We followed the creek down some miles until a side trail loop to Muir Ranch and some hot springs. Some friends had mentioned this side trail and we decided we would go check it out.
Down the trail to the Muir Ranch we stepped aside to let a couple of men on horses leading a train of 8 or 10 miles go by, all of the beasts carrying buckets and bins full of something. We asked what they were up to and they said they were going to help setup a backcountry park ranger at his cabin. We had passed a handful of ranger station cabins in the Sierra Nevadas and all have been empty so far. Guess one is moving in for awhile!
We dropped down to the Muir Ranch and it had a sign saying it was closed for the season, even though online it said it was supposed to open more than a week earlier. Bushtit poked around and found nothing worth noting. We had heard that the ranch kept a huge hiker box full of supplies people leave and take as needed, but there was not one to be found.
We were really hoping to find some food in the hiker box as we have been rationing our food supplies pretty tightly. We didn’t take into consideration just how much more food we would need at this high elevation, and with climbing huge passes and mountains every day. What we brought in with us just was not sufficient for how many calories we have been burning. We haven’t been starving, but meals and snacks have been meager for what we really should be eating to fuel ourselves.
We found out from others who had ventured to the hot springs that they had turned out to be lukewarm mud pits. The drought took them away!
With no extra food to be found we hiked and sweated up a severely steep mule trail back up to the PCT. Hungry, hot, and sorely dissapointed: I had broken.
A bout of trail depression washed over me. I didn’t want to be on the trail anymore. I had nothing to look forward to but the next town because there would be food. We hiked all of the best passes already, the Sierras are supposed to be the crown jewel of the trail, so why go on? I wanted out, but even so it meant I had to break a bone to get some rescue squad to come save me or hike another 60 miles to get to somewhere I can get out of the mountains.
My depression quickly turned into anger and I yelled to Bushtit, telling her that I was done and hated the trail. I told her I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. We marched on for some miles before I apologized for getting upset, telling her I should vent to the trees instead of her (I was kicking pine cones pretty hard in my rage). She was only upset that I was upset, and supported me either way if I wanted to stay on the trail or not.
Soon we were laughing again and all that anger and depression washed away. I didn’t want to leave the trail. It has been very difficult here in the mountains, but also very rewarding. Hunger is a logistical problem, and one that we won’t allow to happen again. The mountains have been beyond spectacular, and I don’t want to leave them until I have seen them all.
We still had an 11,000ft pass to climb. Lunch for me was a packet of instant potatoes (440 calories). That was all the fuel I could spare to make the climb.
It was a pretty set of switchbacks showing us a side of the Sierras we hadn’t seen yet. The mountains were completely covered in green trees, something similar to what I remember the Oregon Coast range looks like.
We met some friends part way up the trail at a creek. We shared our frustrations and plans for going forward. Talk came up of the brewery in the upcoming town of Mammoth Lakes, and we all just got ourselves super excited over some good food and good beer. A few days away. Only a few days away….
And so we moved on to scale the peak. I tried to hold out and not eat anything else until we had our dinner meal, but part way up the last section of the mountain I caved. Hiking uphill on an empty, growling stomach had slowed me down way too much. I had to grab a PoweBar from my pack (240 calories) just to be able to finish the climb.
We got to where there was less than 1000ft elevation to go, and mosquitos happened. It was a marsh near the peak, and the things literally formed a cloud around you within 15 seconds of stopping. No joke. There were everywhere.
So we hustled up the remainder of the pass like we never had before. Nothing to light a fire under your ass like a million hungry mosquitos chasing after you. One flew into my eyeball as I was speed hiking and got stuck. I had to blink several times before I managed to shake it out. Another went straight up my nose. Gah!
It really was a beautiful ascent, but we moved so fast without stopping that we barely got to take it in. Stopping for 5 seconds to snap a quick picture was a huge risk. We had no time to stop and catch our breath.
But when we made it to the top of Selden Pass it was still amazing enough to make all the craziness we had just gone through worth it. The views were amazing.
But still the mosquitos followed us, and there were lakes down below on the other side of the pass. We took in the view for as long as we could and hustled downhill.
We stopped real quick to eat some tuna tortillas for dinner and then kept on moving. The swarm stayed just as persistent the few miles we made downhill.
Dozens of the things clung to the mesh of our tent. In the mere moments it took us to get inside our tent, somehow we let in six of the bastards and we had to squash them all.
This side of the mountains was a consistent marsh of snowmelt. It didn’t seem to end no matter how far we could have ran. We fell asleep with the stars shining brightly in the sky, and many many creepy mosquitos watching us from inches away.
A side note about trail depression. Not only did I get broken by the Sierras, but I later came to find that nearly every person I knew on the trail had similar breakdowns in these amazing and tough mountains. A couple people did leave the trail, but most continue on still. It is a long commitment, this hike, and in many ways these mountains have been the most challenging experience so far. Though my meltdown was temporary, it hit hard. Talking with others who had similar experiences and conversations made it easier to cope. I no longer feel the need to leave the trail, but it does hit every so often. It’s good to know I’m not the only one, and as you’ll read in the next post even Bushtit had her breakdown moment in the Sierras. The wilderness is tough. We’ve never been this isolated before, and the very hard hiking doesn’t make it any easier.