Mileage 7.5 (138.2)
I am the last person to leave Marie Lake in the morning. Somehow I overslept. As I’m breaking camp Jeremy and Karley walk off and I learn they’re staying near Muir Trail Ranch in the evening, just as I am. Before we get there we have another mountain pass to get over, but its the easiest one of all. Seldon Pass is just above Marie Lake and requires a climb of merely 300 feet. Some days I’ve climbed more than that before I could even rub the sleep from my eyes. A large group from the Bay Area have been hiking around me since Silver Pass, and I reach them right near the crest of Seldon. One of the men, James, offers to snap my picture.
For the first time, I can see the layout of Marie Lake. I turn around and say goodbye to the area, walk over the pass, and head off toward Sallie Keys Lake and Muir Trail Ranch. Most of the morning is spent by myself in a constant descent. I lose over 3,000 feet in just under 7 miles. A main tenet of the JMT: what goes up, must come down. Jeremy and Karley are eating a mid morning snack when I pass them and I tell them I’ll see them at the Ranch.
Muir Trail Ranch is the last major resupply point for JMT hikers going southbound. In a way, it acts as a funnel and a shotgun: all the hikers in the area slowly gather, most stay the night (either at the Ranch itself, or the nearby campground), and then boom everyone takes off into the last 7 to 10 day section in a race to Mt. Whitney. For many of us it is the last form of civilization we will see for a week and a half. Even the ranch itself is a day’s journey from town.
The clouds that formed yesterday and brought rain and storms are back again, and when I walk into Muir Trail Ranch rain is imminent. Luckily, its only 11 a.m., and I have time to pitch my tent while the world is still dry. I gather my resupply box and begin picking through my food. I jettison an entire gallon ziplock bag of oatmeal: too much weight. I meet a couple, Phil and Carol, who I assume are retired. They are also solo hikers who kept crossing paths on the trail and decided to stick together. It’s becoming a trend; its the cool thing to do. Start solo, join up with a group. I give away some packets of olive oil I don’t need and close the lid on my bear canister. 9 days of food all shoved into one clear-blue bucket.
The clouds have filled up as well, and around noon it begins to rain.
Hikers huddle together under a shelter and look out over the area. Brian is here after arriving yesterday. What’s going on? Why all the rain? I overhear a man saying he’s done long hikes in the Sierras every summer for the last 17 years, and never had one as wet as this. Every guidebook I read all said: rain and storms rare in the Sierras! Any weather that does roll in should be out in 30 minutes!
Thinking about these things is dangerous for the mind because soon I get angry. And then angrier. Then I start up with the self-pity. How could the weather do this to me! It’s not fair! Aaron and Monique arrive and we talk for a while. Nobody is happy. We leave the ranch and walk to the campground maybe half a mile away. Gentle pattering noises come from the hood of my rain jacket. I help Aaron and Monique set up and walk to my site. I pitched my tent in a small depression and water gathered underneath, so I quickly move to slightly sloped ground and dig a little trench uphill.
Soon, the campsite is packed. Jeremy and Karley have set up their tents and lay inside them, waiting for the rain to pass. I walk to the San Joaquin River, which abuts the campground. I stand there for a long time, maybe an hour and a half or two hours. I think about many things. I have, in my mind, a picture of what I imagine Alaska looks like and what I see at the river coincides perfectly with that vision. A wide river, loud as can be, with colorful rounded stones making up its bottom and banks. Clouds low and grey and draped over mountains so high I can’t see their tops. Mist hovering in their folds, not sure if it wants to go up or down. The sky is moving in every direction.
This isn’t so bad, I tell myself. Just a little water. It’s cold, but at least my sleeping bag is dry. I’m about to launch into one of the most remote and wild places in the Unites States. The southern half of the JMT, I’ve heard, is unlike anything I’ve seen so far. I count myself lucky that I get to walk through it. How many people get that chance?!
Soon the rain stops and I eat dinner. People emerge from their tents and mill about. The rain lasted for over six hours without letting up. I breath in air that feels autumnal.
I feel as if I’m standing on a diving board high above a great and deep pool and I can feel my legs tensing and soon I’m rocking rocking up and down but never leaving the surface and the tension is growing and I look out and I can survey everything, this bizarre jigsaw of time and space, and just when the spring in the board feels overwhelming like its going to give then, and only then, do I close my eyes and…