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Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass

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JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 14, 2014 07:40PM
Day 5: July 19, 2014

The previous night had been calm, warm, and cloud free. We awoke and broke camp at our "usual" time (up at 5:00ish, out by 6:30ish). The previous day's decision for some of us to do the High Route segment was reconfirmed, and J, L, A, and I were soon on our way to Tully Hole, where we would leave the JMT. Virginia Lake remained calm as we circled it in the early morning light.

Tully Hole is aptly named; the trail seems to take forever descending down to its meadow via well-engineered switchbacks. Across the meadow we could see large areas where trees had been blown down--a concern since the map I was using didn't have the McGee Pass trail on it, suggesting it had reverted to unmaintained status.

Higher up, we could see the jagged peak of Mt. Izaak Walton, who had apparently written a book about fishing.

Once at Tully Hole, we crossed Fish Creek on a log bridge that didn't seem to have too many more years on it. Not far past this bridge, we saw signs of recent trail maintenance--never trust a map. In fact, other than the worst mosquitoes we had encountered so far, the walk from Tully Hole to Horse Heaven was quite nice. The creek cascaded through a narrow gorge in this stretch. At Horse Heaven, we decided to bypass the Izaak Walton Lake segment of the High Route, both to conserve time and to not be traveling slowly through intricate country with insistent mosquitoes.

The trail ascended from Horse Heaven with the same careful engineering as it had descended into Tully Hole, with occasional views of the creek's gorge and cascades.

Where the trail leveled out, we entered a wonderful open valley.

Towards the head of this valley, the trail turns to climb to McGee Pass, but we chose to follow a rough fisherman's route towards Tully Lake.

From this lake we climbed to the Cotton Lake bench. Across the way we could see Red Slate Peak, which seemed oddly out of place now that we were finally in true High Sierra country.

Cotton Lake was a bit out of our way, but the detour was worth it--it had that "hanging lake" appearance, and in the distance we could see some high peaks of the Ritter Range and southern Yosemite.

We probably would have stopped for a swim except for two things: we were saving that for Laurel Lake, and in the few moments we were there, the clouds made a very fast return. Apparently the previous day had been an aberration; the monsoonal moisture was still present.

We still had two passes--separated by an intricate routefinding section--and many miles of trail to go, so we spent both too little and too much time at Cotton Lake and were soon retracing our steps a bit before turning towards Shout-of-Relief Pass.

There were a few places where minor obstacles require a bit of backtracking, but the north side of Shout-of-Relief fit its northbound-inspired name; there was nothing harder than easy class 2.

As the clouds continued to build up, we made steady progress to the pass.

Once there, we stopped briefly for pictures and to examine our next routefinding challenge.

Shout of Relief

One can see why Shout-of-Relief was given its name--if traveling northbound. But for southbound travelers, a more apt name would be something like "Silence-of-Concern" pass. We could see Bighorn Pass, and an intermediate pass halfway between us and it. And, we could see a lot of rugged, intricate country with many potential unseen cliffs, chasms, and other obstacles. The Roper book suggests that an elevation-preserving traverse route is possible, but we chose to drop a bit to avoid the worst of the talus. Far below, we could see Rosy Finch Lake. And on the radio, we heard that the JKW/M/P party was on top of Silver Pass.

As with many similar cross-country routes, most of the unseen obstacles ended up being easier to navigate once we got to them--sheer cliffs revealed granite stair-steps to descend into them, and talus fields could be crossed via series of sturdy, mostly level boulders.

The dark clouds to the south kept us moving towards Bighorn Pass.

We chose to give up some of our hard-earned elevation to follow a straightforward route to the top of this pass.

From its summit, we heard that the JKW/M/P party was near Pocket Meadow and experiencing rain--something our view in that direction affirmed.

Below us we could see Laurel Lake. Our plans for a long stop and swim there were not looking good due to the threatening rain. Near the shore of the lake, we could make out a few hikers, who we'd later find out were doing the SHR northbound.

The descent down to Laurel Lake followed steep grassy ramps, and just as we reached the lake the rain picked up. We stopped only to put on rain gear.

Looking back, we could see the route we had just descended--a vertical wall from our perspective. Despite the weather, we felt that the worst was behind us--we'd just pick up the trail from the lake and follow it all the way to Mono Creek. Alas, the map was a bit optimistic about the state, if not existence, of this trail--all we could find was a faint track that proved hard to follow--and was rarely where the map claimed it was. On the other hand, the many small meadows along Laurel Creek were delightful to travel through.

Looking back, we could see Red and White Mountain. Everywhere, except perhaps directly over us, were dark clouds.

Perhaps a mile south of the lake, the rain stopped, and we almost were graced with direct sun; we stopped for a well-deserved and probably too-much-delayed lunch.

For awhile, it appeared as if the storm was over.. but only to the north.

The main difficulty for the next mile or so of travel was trying to follow the faint trail; in retrospect, we should have just picked any of the numerous easy routes and went for it.

We had been concerned that we would miss the map's switchbacking descent to Mono Creek, but just above the final drop, we encountered a well-used, potentially historic, packer camp.

Not far from this camp we saw recently cut logs--perhaps more blowdowns from 2010. From here to Mono Creek was a significant trail, but the switchbacks on the map were from someone's imagination--the trail basically dropped straight down to Mono Creek.

The clouds appeared to be lifting as we descended, and we were treated to nice views of the Mono Creek canyon, certainly a rival to other Sierra canyons such as Cascade Valley or the Kern "Trench".

The walk along the Mono Creek trail was long, but pleasant. We passed some truly large trees.

At one--the only--spot along the trail where there was convenient creek access with decent granite, we stopped for a rest and a quick bath.

On the radio, we heard that a bear was walking through the numerous campsites near the bridge. The remaining few miles to the campsite were long, but we arrived with ample daylight left--although the sun was still mostly obscured by clouds.

At camp, after dinner, we were treated to another wonderful sunset and a strange oddity--a rainbow with a reddish hue.

The sky had been mostly clear, and while the shelter was up, we were sleeping more under the stars than it. Not long after we were asleep, a warm, light rain started to fall, getting those of us who were not entirely under the shelter a bit damp. We quickly pitched the second shelter to put our gear under so we would fit better under the TrailStar and were soon back asleep.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 15, 2014 08:45AM
This is killing my productivity here at work.............. but still loving it.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 15, 2014 11:30AM
It's really nice to hear that you are enjoying these reports. I know *I* ramble, but I love remembering the trip and picking the bits and pieces to share.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 15, 2014 11:28AM
Yes.. the routine. I don't think we ever missed a 5 am wake up by more than 15 minutes. It was nice.

So this is the first time we finally broke up between the trail and the SHR groups. I'd lured some into doing the trip with us because of the SHR bits, even though I'd committed to doing the trail with M. The SHR group, chomping at their bits, left about 20 minutes before I was finally ready to leave camp. Having more luxuries and being the primary communicator of the trip meant I had more to pack and balky electronics to deal with every morning. What fun.

Anyway, P, M and I happily left our camp for what promised to be a fun day. We took the trail down into Tully Hole and -- duly warned by the SHR group -- DEETed up and put our head nets on in advance of the onslaught of skeeters, which never seemed to bad thanks to the DEET! smiling smiley I'd forgotten how impressive the bridge and the rock formation were down in Tully Hole and it was fun seeing it again and through the eyes of M, who was a newbie on the JMT. I really must say, I enjoyed being with her the entire time, because her enthusiasm never flagged and she saw beauty in everything.

As we climbed up to Squaw Lake, the day had been looking good, but once there and I could see the Silver Divide quite well, it was obvious clouds were forming. Luckily, M and P are like me and prefer shorter breaks when possible, and given the weather, as much as I wanted to have a swim, we moved on after a quick protein stop. While we were finishing, a couple met up with us. Turned out they were the "Ice Cream Social" couple who had been mentioned to us by the H party after Reds! The H sisters had packed leftover Thai food and all the leftover ice cream from Reds on the previous day. When they ran into this couple and found out the happy news, they shared the ice cream with them - which had totally surprised the couple! (Heck, it surprised me!) Anyway, it was nice to meet them and we were instant trail "friends".

At Silver Pass, we took pictures of them, and they us. And we all could see the rain clouds all to the south! We got moving again as the rain started drizzling on us at the pass. Sadly, again I missed the famed hotdog and beer trail angel who (at least as of 2010) was making it a habit to provide hotdogs and beer for a couple of weeks up there a year.

At some point, they passed us again as we wandered down the other side... I do love that walk, and Silver Pass Creek flowing over granite slabs... so very pretty. Though it was overcast, I marked a few spots that in a future trip I plan on seeking out as soaking spots! We were leapfrogging the couple and they mentioned that they were thinking of making it to Pocket Meadow for the night. I didn't think of it as much of a meadow and told them so and told them we were going to make it to the Mono Creek bridge area, because we were meeting up with the rest of the party there. As we continued down thunder started and we stopped to don our rain gear, and barely in time! Thank goodness M suggested it when she did. I was willing to go a bit longer...but it dumped! And as we made it to the cascade (shown in Mile...Mile and a Half), we saw a guy in a poncho on a rock in the middle, and for some reason I thought he was coming up, so I waited for him. Turned out it was the fiancé we'd met, and he'd helped P across (who had gone ahead of us while we were still getting our rain gear on). But M and I felt better just using our sticks and hands and our shoes were doing well, and we got across on our own. But what a gentleman! We thanked him profusely for waiting for us! Trail family... But that cascade. M loved it. The rain was pouring, the thunder was booming, and the cascade was gushing all around us. She loved looking up at it and feeling like we were in it! We both loved it! That was a truly special memory! No pictures.. much too much water.. but it's in my head and I hope it always remains!

And again, we leap frogged them somewhere on the way down, and continued down next to Mono Creek. It stopped raining not long after it poured, but we kept the jackets on, just in case. When we neared the Mono Creek/Vermillion junction, we encountered a large number of backpackers camped everywhere! We really hadn't seen many people on the trail! (I think people bunch up at the base of Bear Ridge.) I was a bit concerned, but by the time we'd made our way to our "usual" spot (only used 3 times now by us), there was no one and it was sunny! So M, P and I went to the creek, and I found my favorite spot and wedged myself into the rocks and had a whirlpool bath and a shoulder massage all in one! When my torso had been chilled enough, I just sat and soaked my legs. What a freaking lovely spot! M didn't get all the way in, but P did. Bit chilly for them, but I was in piggy heaven.

After a half hour of soaking, we went back to camp, and as we were chatting, I saw a bear walk towards us. I yelled at it a couple of times and it wasn't hesitating, so I jumped up and started yelling and walking towards it. M was closer, but was just standing there, ignored by the bear. But I guess I looked more serious or something because as soon as I started moving towards it, it made a sharp turn away from us and the creek. And apparently hassled another, larger, group. Story I heard later was that they had a devil of a time trying to scare it away. I'm not sure what they did, since I didn't think I'd had to work too hard to shoo him off, but... maybe there was more food there? He was not too big, and obviously habituated. I fully expected him to make a reappearance that night, so I made sure everyone was on alert and tidy about their food.

Also, M found that near us, the newly engaged couple had settled down, and I went to chat with them. They apparently had not found a site to their liking at Pocket Meadow (surprise) and had decided to make for the bridge... It was nice meeting them again, but they were still a bit shaken. They'd been eating dinner when the bear appeared on a rock outcropping just behind and above the guy. The girl was looking over him at the bear and well.. They just weren't used to it. But they recovered.

We waited for the SHR group, and finally, they came in. Their day had been a bit longer than they'd expected (that Laurel Lake "Trail" was the biggest annoyance, apparently), but they'd had a lot of fun! We ate dinner in the dark, all of us watching for the return of the pesky bear!

Final note, M was so uncomplaining... but she was more than a "bit damp"! We gently educated her that in the future she should raise the alarm about getting wet as soon as possible, it's much easier to prevent the wetness than to deal with being wet! I felt miserable about it, I hand't realized... but she survived and kept her cheery demeanor! Dang, but I need to learn how to be cheery at all times!

And though it might sound like a wet night ruined it all.. it didn't really. Before bed, the bats and that lovely rainbow had come out. Really, a bit of rain, especially as warm as it was, wasn't a real problem. And Mono Creek remains a favorite spot in my heart.

Final note: I'm not sure there was a day that better showcased the varied terrain the JMT covers. I guess that's what dropping and gaining thousands of feet in one day will do.. But we visited lush meadows and forests, granite peaks with lovely alpine lakes and lush riparian habitat. We'd had sun and rain. What a treat!
Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 17, 2014 08:01PM
^I appreciate your rambling. :-)

I think you two have mastered the art of trip reporting. All of these posts are great. Keep 'em coming.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 18, 2014 10:12AM
Bowing to his greatness


Whoooz ur buddie?

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 18, 2014 01:58PM
That's little Sierra, an adorable pika, who fell and almost got left behind on the trail in the first mile or so! But I spotted her, sitting forlornly in the trail (I tend to mosey slowly in the mornings) and secured her into her sherpa's (A) kit better. She then made it the entire trip without further incident, afaik!
Re: JMT '14 - Day 5 - Silence-of-Concern Pass
August 18, 2014 11:58AM
I love the double trip report- the High Sierra Route/ JMT. A lot of fun, thank you
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