After yesterday’s show of every kind of beauty you could ever find out here, everything we saw today seemed to pale in comparison. Yet that’s only by comparison; the places we were today are still part of the most beautiful stretch of the entire PCT. We’re camped tonight on a small hillside above a gorgeous mountain lake, watching the sun slowly set on far-off mountains, seeing hundreds of fish splash about in the stream below. In this part of the world, there’s no such thing as “bad”.
One major transition today: we exited the northern border of Kings Canyon National Park, ending a 110-mile stretch of being entirely in national parks. While, (hopefully) obviously, it’s not as if the spectacular scenery suddenly stops at the border, it is a major landmark — this means we’re off to places like the John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, and so on. The next national park we’ll enter will be Yosemite, and that’s not for a few days yet. I remember using these same borders as landmarks when we hiked the John Muir Trail, and it feels like a sign of progress to pass through them once again.
We spent a good part of the morning descending alongside Evolution Creek, which most people would only call a “creek” by comparison with the Mississippi River. It goes back and forth between being a wide, deep, fast-moving river in calm spots and a raging torrent of water when it hits canyons or falls, and it’s both incredibly beautiful and incredibly dangerous. There are few bridges out in the backcountry like this, and we actually took a mile-long detour this morning so that we could cross Evolution Creek in a place where it’s wide and (relatively) slow-moving, instead of the much-scarier place where the trail officially crosses. One of our guides says that the normal crossing can get as much as chest-deep on normal-sized hikers, which is, obviously, something I’d really rather not experience in my life, ever.
If you look at one of these creeks or rivers, flowing fast and hard, all day long, and then start to think about the fact that all that water came from snowmelt on the mountains above…it really does almost break your mind. The sheer amount of water stored in the snowpack, and the amount of snow this place gets over the winter — even on exceptionally-low-snow years such as this one — is almost impossible to comprehend. You stare at this raging torrent, trying to imagine the amount of water that’s going by you in just one second — more gallons than you can imagine, enough water to drink for months. And then you realize it does that all day, every day, and it’s astounding. It’s beautiful, scary, and wondrous, all at the same time.
As you might imagine, when we finally started crossing rivers on actual bridges, we were so relieved! We met up with the South Fork of the San Joaquin River at the bottom of a canyon, and that, apparently, is finally big enough that they built bridges over it instead of trying to make you ford it. Hiking along its canyon wasn’t terribly fun, per se — it was the first truly hot hiking we’d done since the desert, and it was mostly just dusty and rocky — but the water itself was beautiful.
This entire hike makes me think fondly of our JMT trip with our dear friend K., and all our adventures back then. At the end of the canyon of the San Joaquin was the cutoff trail to Muir Trail Ranch, which we’d all visited together back then. MTR, as they call it, is a very-hard-to-get-to but truly beautiful horse camp/resort, mainly catering to very well-to-do folks who want an escape — and a resupply point for hikers. We didn’t go there this year because it’s not yet open for the season, but, during our JMT trip, I remember blissfully soaking in their Japanese-style hot springs both before and after eating an enormous, delicious home-cooked meal. (The fact that it came after days and days of rain on the JMT just made it all the sweeter.) Having all the memories come flooding back is another fun part of traversing this trail one more time.
This evening, we’re camped just a mile or so south of, and 500 feet below, Selden Pass, our next major milestone. The passes gradually get smaller and easier as you head north on the trail, which, as far as we’re concerned, is definitely a good thing. I’d be lying if I said the major thing on our minds was anything other than getting to Vermillion Valley Resort (“VVR”) tomorrow — because, after this incredibly beautiful but draining stretch in the Sierras, we’re oh-so-ready for showers, an actual bed, and real food!