VVR had been an incredible experience, and I awoke in the Big Tiny feeling refreshed an infinitely grateful to Timmy and Katie for letting me crash in their cabin. And our incredible streak of luck continued-- Timmy had run into some folks who had rented a private boat across the lake, Paint able to deposit them on the far shore of Lake Edison in a tiny fishing boat, the only vessel small and shallow enough to avoid the stumps. There were 3 seats left in the 5 seater.
After an amazing breakfast burrito, we packed up our gear and got a ride to the acting westside ferry station, a floating jetty in the last remaining finger of water. Driving across the dry lakebed to reach the canal, we marvelled at the water level, and at our luck to cut our long day 6 miles or so shorter. Paint once again came in clutch. Sure, the trail provides, but it's always people that make it so.
Timmy at the helm of our small boat, Katie and I just out of shot nearly at the back.
Paint deftly maneuvered the boat around the stumps just below the surface. The water was so shallow in places that I could (and did) reach out and touch some of the obstacles. It was slow going, but it was certainly faster (and easier) than walking! Our group of three fondly reminisced over our time at VVR as though it was a long time ago, the breakfast burrito I'd eaten ten minutes ago was sorely missed already. I had considered taking one for the road-- I consider this a missed opportunity in retrospect. We reached the far side of the lake, said our goodbyes to Paint, and headed north on the JMT, eager to make it to Lake Virginia by nightfall.
This lil guy's camouflage was so good! Look at him go.
At our elevation, the day was heating up quickly, and while the point was moot (as we'd push on regardless) we were stuck with no agency: continue upward and lose tree cover, becoming subject to the heat in full, though the altitude may help, or wait it out while baking anyway, making no progress. No winning sometimes, and we began our ascent toward Silver Pass. Silver, similar to many north-half JMT passes, hides most of the climb well away from the pass itself, and the pass itself is relatively easy. This, however, does not reduce the net climbing, and if anything, merely reduces the motivation to push up the hills when there's quite literally no end in sight. That said, the scenery was striking, and while the weather threatened slightly (there had been a thunderstorm the previous night, and we were glad to shelter in the Big Tiny), it did not rain, and the clouds offered some reprieve from the sun. This section, though, was one of the very few dry stretches on the JMT. Under ten miles, but still important to prepare for, as this late in the season, everything on Silver Pass south dries up, and the soonest water after leaving the creek flowing into Lake Edison are the tarns just shy of the pass apex.
Progressing up Silver Pass south!
Timmy and Katie had resupplied at VVR, and our pace had slowed some from the previous day. The climb up to Silver hadn't helped, but at the top, we prepared ourselves for the downward rush, the free miles as gravity helps you down. We took a moment to breathe, and started the descent. The clouds swirled, and the lakes north of Silver (in need of renaming) reflected the errant light, scattered groves of pines appearing as we dropped. As per many nights of the previous week, I found myself picking up the pace in a bid to outrun the rain. The clouds began to tuck in behind me, falling into the canyon I was in as I descended. I could see rain falling further back, and to either side of me. Timmy and Katie were more prepared for the rain that I was, with heavy-duty duckbacks and rain jackets. My pack liner was too torn to be trustworthy at this point, and I resolved to get to Lake Virginia as quick as I could-- Timmy and Katie would meet me there, and we'd hopefully reconvene with Hopper as well. I took off at nearly a jog, eager to find drier ground.
Silver Pass north, in the last moments of good weather.
I rushed down the valley toward Tully Hole and the Fish Creek drainage, in true forest for the first time in a while. Often, views of the valley edges were blocked by dense foliage, only emerging as I crossed one meadow or another, or the creek itself. It was strikingly scenic-- babbling water broken up by falls and rapids every now and again, smooth and calm and wide here, a steep, narrow torrent just down the way. It may have been more scenic without the rain that had started, gently, as if to say "listen, I could ruin your day right now, but I'll hold off for now." The trail began to distance itself from the valley floor as the last climb of the day began. I wish now that I'd slowed down to take better pictures, as the view toward Tully Hole was stunning; in that moment, however, all I could think of was escaping the rain and admiring the view-- a third thing may have been too much for me.
Fish Creek cuts through Tully Hole in the shadow of the foothills of Mt. Izaak Walton.
Despite the grandeur of the ridge acting as the dramatic backdrop to Tully Hole, it lacks the prominence to be classified as a mountain in and of itself. The view is wonderful, and an overview of the densely wooded section I'd passed through, or for SOBOers, of what's to come. This section's rush and misery belied its length-- I was only rained on for a couple of miles. Nearly as soon as I crested the switchbacks above Tully Hole, though, it was time for the final push to Lake Virginia. The rain let up as I approached, but I was glad for it-- an opportunity to set up a tent without getting all my gear wet was welcome.
The crossing toward Virginia Lake west is impressive: the trail fords a series of islands and creeks that separate the two halves of the lake, recalling Rae Lakes from days earlier. As I nearly ran toward camp, I heard a voice calling me from across the lake-- Hopper! I was glad we'd linked back up; nothing is ever a guarantee in the backcountry. I found a decent spot at the somewhat crowded lake, a popular destination from Mammoth, and started cooking dinner just as the clouds broke for real. Intense rain fell, I moved my cooking operation into my tent and hoped Timmy and Katie were holding up ok. The wind battered my tent; I ate my dinner, planning on calling it an early night. But then, the light on my tent walls turned a brilliant orange-pink, the rain let up to a sprinkle, and I poked my head out to look.
I'm not sure words can explain the sunset we were all treated to-- frankly, neither can pictures, but I'll provide enough here to hopefully give you an idea (and to feed my nostalgia). These were, without a doubt, the best views I was treated to on trail, and maybe in my whole experience backpacking. The quality of the light-- I'm no photographer, but something about it was truly special to me. Timmy and Katie showed up in the first couple minutes, just at the right time to set up their camp when things were dry, and with plenty of time remaining to sit on the lakeshore with the group, watching the sky turn brilliant shades.
At the end of it all, the light fading behind the ridge, I retreated to my tent, grateful for the opportunity, grateful for the day, grateful for another tomorrow.
Stats for the day:
(not including boat ride!)