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  • Kathy Schrenk

JMT Day 3, and Mono Creek Trail

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Just like every other morning on this trip, we woke to find our bear canisters had gotten through the night unmolested. Ever since we started camping in Yosemite nearly 20 years ago, we’ve heard dire warnings about bears. They will tear your car in half for a gum wrapper, they will steal a graham cracker right out of your toddler’s hand, etc, etc.

Our very first trip to Yosemite, we saw a pickup that had been broken into by a bear in a Tuolumne Meadows parking lot. In the intervening years of vacationing in Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra (mostly Mammoth and Truckee) I have had zero bear sightings in developed areas and one in the backcountry (Hetch Hetchy). It seems the extreme anti-bear-encounter measures are working, as bear encounters have plummeted in the last 20 years. So that’s good news. We still wish we had seen a bear from afar on this trip. Instead, we carried five extra pounds and a LOT of extra bulk in our packs thanks to the bear canisters.

Day Three was perhaps the easiest of our 12-mile days, despite hiking over Silver Pass, which is at an elevation of 10,900 feet. On our way out of our Tully Hole campsite, a passing hiker called it a “chill pass,” and she was right. It was a long, steady climb, and while I had to pause occasionally to catch my breath, I never felt like I was really suffering. I did, at one point, look up to see a person high up on a ridge, and I thought, “no. we’re not really going up there.” Turns out we were, but the route up was amazing.

There were several lakes on the way up, including Squaw Lake, which was so gorgeous I daydreamed about planning a future trip in order to camp there. It was made by a natural dam, a wall of rock we gazed at as we hiked up. When we topped the wall we found that the lake was surrounded by more walls of rock. Then we turned around. The view was jaw-dropping. And it would get broader as we ascended.

Squaw Lake

We left the idyllic lake and made our way the pass, past more small lakes that would also be lovely for camping. We were nearly to the pass when we had to walk for about 20 steps on snow—the first and only time walking on snow this trip. It was a fun novelty, but I’m glad there wasn’t more snow. It would have gotten old fast.

The atmosphere at the pass was festive, with lots of folks stopping to take photos and chat a bit. We talked to some hikers who were taking it slow on the way to closed Yosemite, and another couple who were doing the entire JMT for the second year in a row. “My friends said, ‘you’re doing that hike again?’” I replied, “Well, it’s the hike.”

Arthur and I atop Silver Pass looking north.

After a nice rest at Silver Pass we shouldered our packs again and walked toward Silver Pass Lake. This was the start of a long valley that was made surreal by a passing storm. We were mostly spared from rain but we did get our rain gear out and heard a lot of thunder. Clouds were dark for a while as we hiked through an amazing landscape that slowly became more verdant as we hiked down from the pass. It was another unique environment, and somehow I hadn't expected so much variety: there were so many different kinds of views and settings. On the map it all looks flat and uniform, but as we hiked up and down, it felt like we must have covered much more than 12 miles each day. It felt like traversing worlds, going from a rocky pass to a wide verdant valley with calm streams and then a narrow canyon with a rushing river. Each day it seemed we would recall a campsite or water stop and say to each other, “was that just this morning? It seems like a long time ago.” Time slowed, but in the best possible way. There was so much to process.

Over the course of about five miles we went down, down slowly until we encountered something else I wasn’t quite expecting: a ranger checking permits! I was happy to present our paper work to the very friendly 19-year-old Alyssa from North Carolina. She told us she was an intern here for the summer and Arthur was inspired with another idea for future employment.

From there we started going very steeply down. For many stretches it was such a steep downhill it was effectively stairs. Then we came to what the map called a “slippery ford.” I had decided before the trip to skip my water shoes and wear lighter-weight flip flops in camp. For fording streams, I would just wear my boots, figuring I'd be less likely to lose my balance and get soaked or injured if I was wearing my sturdy boots in the water. I had extra socks, and the boots would dry, right?

They… sort of did. But not enough. Two weeks later I still have itchy rashes on my ankles. Layers of skin are still peeling off my feet. In the future I will bring three pairs of socks, plus safety pins so I can hang the socks off the back of my pack to air dry.

Despite sock issues, the rest of the hike was relatively flat and lovely. Soon after the ford we reached the end of our time on the John Muir Trail and headed east on Mono Creek Trail. This was such a lovely valley, we couldn’t help but compare it to Yosemite. There were soaring cliffs and an amazing array of flowers and huge evergreens and a rushing river—yeah, it’s technically a creek, but it was really impressive.

We got about two miles into the Mono Creek valley and the trail remained spectacular. We just kept looking around and commenting about how gorgeous it was and how we had it almost totally to ourselves.

Finally, a few minutes after deciding we would stop when we found a decent campsite, we arrived here:

I had never camped on granite before, but I actually got the best sleep of the three nights on this slab next to Mono Creek. The calming noise of the rushing water surely helped. The quality rest was welcome, as our fourth and final day would be by far the toughest.

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