Day 10: Bear Creek to South Fork of the San Joaquin
The morning after my worst day on trail started out buggy. Out came the bug nets as we hurriedly ate our oatmeal breakfasts. We hit the trail and made it to the crossing of Bear Creek just as the sun crested the ridge.
Northbound hikers had given us fair warning about this stream crossing. It is the widest and deepest one we would encounter along the trail and has caused some difficulties to hiking groups over the years (The documentary “Mile… Mile & A Half” features it during a high snow year.)
We had no problem with it whatsoever. Yes, we had to take our boots off, and extend our poles for stability, but the water barely came to our knees. The ease of our crossing was largely due to the fact that we did it first thing in the morning, before the heat of the day causes more run-off and increases the stream volume. A good lesson to keep in mind!
After our not-so-challenging crossing, the trail climbed through lodgepole forest and eventually opened up to Rosemarie Meadow, named as such because the streams from the nearby Rose Lake and Marie Lake meet there!
Our climb continued, as we were on our way to Selden Pass at 10,900 feet. The trail narrowed and got a bit rockier as we climbed away from Rosemarie Meadow and then opened up to Marie Lake, with snow-patched ridges rising behind.
We took a short break at the lake and then motored up to the Pass. There were some beautiful wildflowers to greet us, as well as a great view South.
As with all passes on this trail, once through, it was all downhill. We hiked past lovely and clear Heart Lake and took a short break to soak my (already) tired and sore feet. Then we dropped further to Sallie Keyes Lakes, a collection of 3 lakes where we could take a good long lunch break in the shade of many lodgepole pines.
The day was definitely heating up as we got going for our last stretch of the day, a four-mile drop down to the San Joaquin River at 7,800 feet. I was firmly starting to believe that going downhill is much more challenging than going uphill. To top it off, the last couple miles were long, hot switchbacks through an open slope of manzanita and whitethorn bushes.
Unfortunately, I was pretty miserable by the time we made it to the trail
junction South of Muir Trail Ranch. We had originally hoped to make it another couple of miles to the junction with Piute Creek, but that was not going to be an option. It was just late enough in the day and my feet were in significant pain.
We took a short break at the junction and then backtracked a mile or so along an adjacent trail until we reached a campground beside the river. I will admit that I essentially shuffled along that last mile of trail, head down, feeling very, very worn out and weary. The river was unfortunately flowing too swiftly to swim in safely, but we were at least able to enjoy a short soak in an eddy near the shore, which helped to relieve the pain in my feet and ankles.
We were at the lowest point on our entire JMT hike. It would be all uphill (well, some downhill…) until we reached Mt. Whitney. While the past couple days had been tough, the following couple days were going to bring us to a section of trail we had hiked during the summer we had first met. I was really looking forward to experiencing that section of trail again, and so pulled myself together, patched up my feet and got ready to keep marching onwards.