When Sunkist told Bluejay and me about her plan to include a stop at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) to resupply, I was skeptical. She told us there would be so much food left behind by other hikers that we could find all the food we needed to get us to Independence. That would be five days of food.
Five days of free food? That seemed impossible. Still, with Sunkist's assurances, we agreed to go along with the plan.
|Date||Sunday, September 15, 2019|
|Weather|| Clear sky with a high temperature in the upper 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Long and sometimes rocky ascent to nearly 11,000 feet, then a long descent|
Today was the day we would put that plan to a test. It was going to have to work because we had no backup plan.
Our campsite on Bear Creek was 12 miles from a side trail leading to MTR. From there, Bluejay and I were planning to take a short detour to the ranch and hope we'd find there plenty of food left behind by JMT hikers.
The temperature was chilly this morning but didn't seem to be below freezing. After I had been walking a short distance and the trail began to climb, I saw frost on grass and shrubs.
In less than 1.5 miles, the trail crossed Bear Creek. When the snow begins to melt in early summer, this creek is considered one of the most dangerous to cross. Now I was trying to find rocks to hop across without getting my feet wet.
Not seeing an obvious way to cross, I decided to take off my socks to keep them dry. While doing this, I saw another hiker arrive and walk across on rocks.
I laughed and shook my head for not seeing that rock-hop path, then followed his route. My feet remained dry.
The trail crossed the creek a couple more times, and each time I had no problem finding my way across without getting my feet wet. The trail continued upstream toward the headwaters of the creek.
Before long, the trail climbed to above 10,000 feet. It was now following a fork of the creek.
Mountains like Mt. Hooper were in full view because the trail was now nearing the treeline.
Mt. Hooper was named to honor Major William Burchell Hooper, the owner of a fashionable hotel in San Francisco. Nearly three years after his death, his hotel was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake and had to be torn down.
I reached the top of the climb at 11 a.m. This spot was called Selden Pass and stood at 10,913 feet in elevation.
While I was there, I met a hiker named Max or Mad Max. He was hiking the PCT with his son, Waldo. Max told me they had skipped around snow-covered sections, much as I had done, but he was now unsure if they would have time to finish the trail this year.
Looking ahead from Selden Pass, we could see Heart Lake.
A good view of Marie Lake was in the other direction, which was where the trail had just passed.
Behind the lake were Recess Peak and other mountains I had seen yesterday while heading to our campsite on Bear Creek.
From the pass, the trail began a long descent. It first dropped 350 feet to Heart Lake. I stopped near there to talk briefly with Hoosier, a hiker from Fort Wayne, Indiana. That was about 60 miles from where I grew up. He told me he thru-hiked the AT in 2016, the year before I did.
Less than a mile farther down the trail were two lakes with the same name, Sallie Keyes. I stopped there for lunch.
The trail continued its descent by dropping below 10,000 feet. It crossed Senger Creek, then went down the slope of a mountain ridge. This section was fully exposed to the sun, which made the afternoon warmer than usual.
When I saw some hikers heading north, I asked them if they had stopped at MTR. They had and told me it was busy with many hikers.
This news worried me because I feared it would be difficult to put together a full resupply. The hikers said MTR still had plenty of food so long as I liked peanut butter and oatmeal.
That didn't sound ideal, but I decided I could handle five days of oatmeal and peanut butter if I had to.
Farther down the ridge, several switchbacks helped to make the descent less steep. As I did yesterday, I began feeling drained of energy. The warm sun probably contributed to that.
My sluggish feeling heightened my concern about the food available at MTR. I knew I needed more calories if I didn't want to feel this worn out every day.
When I reached the side trail that dropped down to MTR, I noticed a sign posted to warn about a fire. Fortunately, the sign's wording implied this wasn't a big fire and didn't pose a problem for hikers.
I learned later the Senger Fire was very small and had started nearly two months ago. It was now not a threat.
I arrived at MTR shortly before 3 p.m. There were a few hikers there, but I wouldn't call it busy. Bluejay had arrived much earlier and had just stayed to wait for me.
She had been able to get all of the food she needed and then set aside some things for me that she thought I'd want. The selection of food turned out to be much better than I expected. Then it got even better when a JMT hiker walked up with his bucket and left food he didn't want, including some good snack bars and expensive freeze-dried meals.
Many hikers ship their food here in five-gallon plastic buckets. The buckets are picked up by the ranch's operators and brought here in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The food becomes available for the taking when hikers decide they shipped ahead too much and don't want to carry it. The food then gets left in buckets for hikers like Bluejay and me. We were benefitting from the poor planning of others.
Although I also didn't want to carry extra weight, I grabbed as much food as I thought I could eat. I now had many more calories than before and knew this would help me feel stronger on my way to Independence.
Besides gathering five days of free food, I drank a lot of water. The day had been so warm I had become dehydrated.
Bluejay left to go to the campsite we agreed upon, but I stayed longer to give my batteries more time to recharge. I left at 5 p.m.
Our campsite was only about one mile up the side trail from MTR and near its junction with the PCT. Besides Bluejay and me, a newly-married couple camped nearby. They were from England and were hiking the JMT on their honeymoon.
Now that we've been hiking a few days in the High Sierra, Bluejay and I have a better idea of our pace. It's now looking more likely we will get to Independence ahead of our expected arrival date.
We'll have to figure out a new plan for that, but we also have logistics to set for our return trip to Ashland. That's where we'll start the last part of our hike in Northern California.