We woke up this morning just the other side of Selden Pass, our last pass before we got to the outpost of civilization called Vermillion Valley Resort. Selden Pass is the first pass northbound that’s noticeably lower than the others — it’s 11,000 feet instead of 12,000 feet. That might not sound like a big difference, but it makes the climb something closer to 2,000–2,500 feet than 3,000–3,500 feet, and that is a big difference. And, from hiking the John Muir Trail, we know that the passes just get easier and easier after this…which, as you might imagine, sounds really good right about now.
Before the pass, where we woke up this morning, and particularly right after the pass, we had a fairly serious bout with mosquitoes — sadly, probably only one of many attacks of the horrible little creatures that we’ll suffer along this trail. They’re very small (although I’m afraid they’ll likely just get bigger) and slow so far, but still enough of them to be really irritating and keep us hiking fast whenever we’re not in our tent. I’m curious to see how things go, but, truth be told, I’m not very optimistic on this front.
Selden Pass is enough lower than the other passes to be pretty in a noticeably different way. While the passes we’ve been conquering are all bare rock and snow up at elevation, being a thousand feet lower means there are still trees, there’s barely any snow (really, just one patch at the top), and there are lakes very close to the pass on both sides. I enjoy this kind of beauty a lot, particularly since Muir Pass gave us pretty much the most insane beauty I can possibly imagine up at high elevations — nothing’s going to top that, so it’s nice to have something different.
Midday, we began our descent down towards Vermillion Valley Resort. VVR, as everyone calls it, is about six miles off the trail on the far side of Lake Edison. Lake Edison is a big reservoir created in the 1950s, back when damming up Sierra rivers was all the rage. For years it was full to the brim and something of a major destination for locals to fish in, as I understand it, but, starting in 2012 — the year we went there from the John Muir Trail — the lake level has been hugely lower. That year we were told it was largely because PG&E (the major power company out here) decided to drain it to get more power to offset maintenance on power plants elsewhere, but the ensuing four years of major drought in California have seemingly kept the lake at the same level.
Once we cut off the PCT, it was only a couple of miles until we could see Lake Edison, far below us, and it was just as low as we remembered it. In some areas there are thousands of feet of former lakebed exposed; it’s been long enough that plants have started to grow there, with various grasses and bushes starting to take over the exposed sandy soil. In others there’s just an enormous “bathtub ring” effect, where the lake level is clearly dozens of feet below the level it was previously supposed to be at. It’s a bizarre thing to look at, and pretty disturbing. Anybody who doubts the seriousness of the drought out here just needs to come look at things like this, and they’ll be a believer in no time.
Every time we cut off the PCT, it seems like we’re immediately reminded of — despite how steep and rocky it can seem at times — how well-maintained the PCT truly is. The Bear Ridge Trail, which took us from the PCT to VVR, is steep, and it doesn’t seem to care much for switchbacks in places: it just plunges right down the mountain, making your footing difficult and making it absolute hell on your knees. It’s times like this that the promise of civilization ahead, in any form, is some seriously-needed motivation to keep going, because otherwise it’d be nothing but frustration.
Once we finally reached the bottom, a walk across a (blessedly flat) dam and then a seemingly-endless walk along a dirt road — all walks are seemingly-endless when you’re within an hour of real food — finally brought us to VVR. Hurrah! We checked in to our yurt (!), stashed our stuff, took showers (oh man did that feel good), and then went to the restaurant for dinner.
And after dinner? Sleep! In a real bed! Our friends arrive here tomorrow, but, for now, sleep feels so good…