JMT Day 10: Walking into Mordor…

Passing Marie Lake below Seldon Pass
Smoky Marie Lake below Seldon Pass

After enjoying the amenities of civilisation (a shower, beer, real food…) at Vermillion Valley Resort for a night we take the first shuttle boat back through a half-dry Edison lake.

There is still some smoke from the nearby fire hovering over the lake, but it seems to be less in the direction we will be heading today.

Today the little boat has a new landing site, the water level is already too low to reach the place where we were picked up yesterday.

Leaving Vermillion Valley Resort through a deserted Edison Lake
Leaving Vermillion Valley Resort through a deserted Edison Lake

So we have to walk even further than we did yesterday to reach the point where the ferry is supposed to be landing in a year with normal water level.

From yesterday we know that there is cell phone service here, so we make some calls home and send some texts before leaving. We know that there is not much coverage on the southern JMT but as it turns out later this was our last chance to communicate with the outside world for a long, long time…

From the „official“ landing site it is another mile and a half until we reach the JMT junction and the bridge over Mono Creek.

Entering (again) John Muir Wilderness
Entering (again) John Muir Wilderness
Bridge over Mono Creek
Bridge over Mono Creek

Here one of the worst climbs of the John Muir Trail starts: a seemingly endless number of switchbacks going up Bear Ridge awaits the hiker. As we’re still fresh I decide to push up as fast as possible and not to make a break until my altimeter shows the 9000 ft mark, that should be more than halfway up the ridge.

But I have to admit that I’m cheating as I start the ascent with only 700 ml of water in my Nalgene, while Kevin filled up his bottles at VVR.

One of the countless switchbacks up Bear Ridge
One of the countless switchbacks up Bear Ridge
Top of Bear Ridge
Top of Bear Ridge

Reaching the top of the hill (around 10000 ft) I understand why so many hikers take the alternative trail from VVR following Bear Creek: it avoids a killer climb which is not even rewarding the hiker with a view on top.

Descending to Bear Creek
Descending to Bear Creek

Of course I’ve depleted my water supply even before I reach the top, so I continue until I reach the first stream that would allow me to filter some water. And that’s waaayyy down!

Taking a break there I wait for Kevin to catch up and chat with some other hikers passing by. Kevin continues to Bear Creek where I will find him later sticking his feet into the cool water – that’s what he always does.

Rock formation along the trail
Rock formation along the trail
Soaking our feet in Bear Creek
Soaking our feet in Bear Creek

After an extended break we’re following Bear Creek upstream, our goal is to reach Marie Lake and camp there.

There are a lot of stream crossings, but due to the low water level none of them poses a problem to us. In this section it happens for the first (and only!) time that we lose the trail for a short time, suddenly we’re not sure where to go.

Stream crossing
Stream crossing

But as we know that we can’t be wrong as long as we follow the stream we go bushwhacking and after a few hundred meters we reach the trail again. Other hikers seem to have the same route finding problems here.

Stream crossing
Stream crossing

In this short section of the trail we notice a lot of groups of women hiking the trail and even quite a number of female solo hikers.

Smoke restricts the views
Smoke restricts the views

In the afternoon the wind is blowing again a lot of smoke up the valley, so thick that we can actually smell it. After a while we were happy to get a day with nice and stable weather, and then the smoke is blocking the sun…

A sign trying to be helpful
A sign trying to be helpful

At one point the wind seems to come from the opposite direction and I’m a bit worried that the smoke we are seeing might be from another fire – and we’re walking straight into it. Other worried hikers ask if we have any information about the fire, we can only tell them what we have read at the information board at VVR.

Meadow
Meadow
Ascending Selden Pass
Ascending towards Selden Pass

When we reach Marie Lakes the smoke gets so dense that we decide not to camp here. We will cross Selden Pass and hope that the smoke will be less on the other side. It’s a pity, the lake is a really nice place.

Marie Lake, Selden Pass in the background
Marie Lake, Selden Pass in the background
On top of Selden Pass (3316m / 10880 ft)
On top of Selden Pass (3316m / 10880 ft)

When topping Selden Pass our hopes fade, there is smoke on both sides of the pass. At this points it hits me: This is like walking into Mordor…

Smoky mountains
Smoky mountains

We descend to Heart Lake where we set up our camp at Heart Lake. There are a few fine spots for campsites, but we only find after setting up our tents in some small sites. We should have spend more time looking…

The camp is at around 10500 ft (3200 m), it is our highest camp so far.

Heart Lake
Heart Lake

Hoping that the smoke will disappear overnight I go to bed early, once more I skip cooking a proper dinner. I’m not really hungry, but wondering how much weight I’ll be losing during this hike.

Distance hiked on JMT: 13.9 mi / 22.4 km
Distance hiked off JMT: 2.3 mi / 3.7 km
Elevation gained: 4300 feet / 1300 m
Time spent hiking (including breaks): 9:00 h

Maps of Day 10 (red = JMT, blue = other trails)

Edison Lake - Bear Ridge - Bear Creek - Selden Pass - Heart Lake (part 1)
Edison Lake – Bear Ridge – Bear Creek – Selden Pass – Heart Lake (part 1)
Edison Lake - Bear Ridge - Bear Creek - Selden Pass - Heart Lake (part 2)
Edison Lake – Bear Ridge – Bear Creek – Selden Pass – Heart Lake (part 2)
Edison Lake - Bear Ridge - Bear Creek - Selden Pass - Heart Lake (part 3)
Edison Lake – Bear Ridge – Bear Creek – Selden Pass – Heart Lake (part 3)
<<< Day 9: Timeout at VVR <<< Day 10 >>> Day 11: Sleeping while Walking >>>


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