Day 74: Unexpected Beauty

For nearly the entire length of the John Muir Trail, the PCT is coincident with it — in other words, the two trails follow the same path. But for fourteen miles, the two diverge. Today was the day we encountered that path, and, because we’d already done the JMT, we decided to take the PCT fork instead. I was expecting the PCT to be not particularly interesting here, largely because the JMT does an amazingly good job of finding absolutely everything that’s beautiful out here and taking you through it.

Instead, however, we found something astonishing: a walk along a ridge with views to die for, all afternoon long. Even better, we’re camped this evening right on the edge of that ridge, our campsite looking out over something that looks like a postcard almost too good to be true. It really does seem unbelievable: the sun’s setting slowly over mountains to our right, throwing an amazing golden glow up on the peaks to our left, an idyllic mountain lake (Shadow Lake) is directly across from us, and two jagged peaks (Mt. Banner and Mt. Ritter) rise above it, framing it perfectly. Our campsite is even in a small grove of trees on an otherwise-open hillside, letting us see for miles in all directions.

This wasn’t at all what I expected when I woke up this morning. As we get farther north, we’re getting back towards what I think of as the “beginning” of the JMT (“beginning” because most people do it as we did, from north to south)…and, while that side is still very pretty, most of it isn’t really the same level of breathtaking as the mountains to the south. So when much of our hike today was full of pretty mountain scenery, but nothing truly amazing, I was neither surprised nor disappointed: it’s still wonderful being out in these mountains, and I’m very happy to be here. But this surprise, this afternoon and evening, has been wonderful. We stopped a few miles early just to get the chance to camp here, on the edge of this ridge, and I’m so glad we did.

Peter, my good friend from home, and Rich, his friend, left us today in the early afternoon. They were both exceptionally good hiking companions — and stayed apace with us the entire way, which I count as very impressive, especially since they were barely acclimated to the elevation! They’re both in incredibly good shape, which is probably why they were able to jump right in with us. It’s been so good having hiking companions these past couple of days, and I’m going to miss them both. Getting a visit from people from the “outside world” is a very much appreciated, wonderful thing.

Speaking of the “outside world”, we also got to have breakfast at Red’s Meadow this morning, just as we had dinner last night. Red’s Meadow Resort is much like Vermillion Valley Resort, although of a somewhat different temperament — and not nearly so completely dominated by hikers, because it’s much, much easier to reach by car. (Red’s Meadow is a short 15- or 20-minute drive on well-maintained roads from the ski town of Mammoth Lakes, CA, while VVR is about an hour up a dusty, one-way road that’s a whole lot bumpier.) The restaurant isn’t the same caliber as VVR, but it is tasty and wonderful for hikers.

The thing that really made it feel like a treat, however, is that we’re entering by far the longest single stretch we’ve had without trail towns or any place to take a zero. It’s going to be nearly two weeks before we get a chance to stay in a hotel, take a shower, or do laundry again, and we’re savoring every last bit of civilization we get. We do have resupplies coming at two places along the way, but one (Tuolumne Meadows) is nothing more than a post office, and the other is actually via a service that drives your resupply up to the otherwise-unremarkable place where the PCT crosses a highway. It won’t be until we end up crossing a road near South Lake Tahoe, CA, just before Independence Day, that we’ll get a chance to come out to real civilization once again.

Also something I anticipate highly: in just two more days we’ll be at Tuolumne Meadows, where the JMT and PCT diverge for good. (The PCT, of course, continues north, while the JMT heads westward and down to Yosemite Valley.) This means we’ll be back on trail I’ve never seen before in my life, which is very exciting — new things to see! Anticipation of the unknown! It also, to me, feels like we’re starting to slowly make our way out of the High Sierra, which means that even in the bigger picture we’re headed on to things I don’t yet know. I can feel myself get excited for the possibilities, and eager to see what’s out there for us next.

Before then, though, we have a couple more passes to cross…and a notoriously bear-infested canyon to stay in for a night, just before we get to Tuolumne. (On the other hand, if you’re reading this, it means we weren’t eaten by bears — so no reason to worry!)

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2 responses to “Day 74: Unexpected Beauty”

  1. Lynne Geweke Avatar
    Lynne Geweke

    Love the bear campground sign. Thanks for taking pictures of goofy things as well as the beautiful!

    1. Andrew Avatar

      Thanks! I thought it was a really cute sign. 🙂 Somewhere I’ve also got a picture of one of those wooden-post signs proclaiming the direction of the “P.T.C.”, too…

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