The rain had stopped before midnight but the tent cover was still wet – from the rain on the outside and from condensation on the inside. We also realized that if it had rained here then it must have snowed higher up (this turned out to be correct). Another thing – it was strangely warm; it turned out it hadn’t dropped to freezing at all this night. This was no bueno – it meant that we wouldn’t have the usual crispy and hard snow that could hold our body weight. But there was no other option – we had to go.
We again set off after 4am and started to make our way up towards the pass – we had 7 kilometers and 750 meters of ascent to go. The snow cover quickly increased and it didn’t take long for us to start postholing and our shoes to get wet. Even though it was still dark we could see the skies were partially cloudy so the weather for the day was questionable.
The ascent was taking longer than usual because we had to step carefully – apply too much weight too suddenly and you fall through, knee or sometimes waist deep. It’s not easy to get out as your hiking poles also sink all the way to the handle and so does your hands. What workes for the most part is just crawling out on your knees for a meter and then standing up in hopes that you won’t posthole again. It works most of the time, but if you have to posthole for 4-5 times in a row it’s so energy demanding that you find yourself just panting deeply like trying to recover after a sprint. But step by step we made it closer to the pass and we could also see the Germans ascending about a kilometer behind us. Luckily the ascent was much more gradual than it had been on any other mountain pass and somehow we reached it very suddenly – I was convinced it is just another false ridge. The Muir Pass is very different from others – besides the gradual ascent and descent it’s very wide and there’s also a John Muir hut built right on top of it (for hikers to take cover during a storm, etc).
As it was a bit windy and we still had about 10 kilometers of postholing to do, we didn’t stay long on top of the pass – we just quickly checked out the hut. The descent looked intimidating – it was so gradual that it would take forever until we got low enough to get out of the snow. But we got going just as the sun started to peek out of the clouds and really heat us up. As if the heat wasn’t enough the snow really started to get softer and wetter as we passed some lakes and rivers in wide open valleys. There was a section of snow, at a steep angle, where the postholing was especially bad – we both got stuck in a snow holes over waist deep.
This sort of hiking was so exhausting and nerve-wrecking that there were times when Kristians would just yell out in frustration! Luckily the German hikers were far enough not to hear. As Kristians wanted to save us some time and cut a bit of trail we ended up on top of a rock outcrop where the only way down was a cliff – while we searched for a way back onto the trail the German hikers caught up with us. We all just sat there exhausted and had a short rest together it was the first rist since we started the decent. We ate a Cliff-bar and chatted for a bit after which we continued the descent with Germans now being ahead. After another hour of serious postholing it was finally low enough elevation for the snow to start disappearing and the forest taking over it took us over 4 hours to walk 10km.
The weather was so bad that we didn’t feel like lunch so we just kept pushing onwards on empty stomachs (we had both only had 2 clif bars before), our goal was to reach the Evolution Creek. This is supposedly one of the hardest crossings in the Sierras and I had heard on Facebook that there was a 5 foot deep river crossing on this section of the trail so I expected the worse. The forest floor was still covered in snow patches and endless creeks but after what felt like ages we finally reached the river. We decided not to go by the alternate river crossing trail but to see if the normal crossing was doable. To our surprise the crossing looked totally doable – even the sun came out for a moment! We estimated the depth to be only about knee-high but the river was wide and freezing. So we put on our Crocs and mentally prepared for the pain of cold. One, two, three – and off we went. After all I had been worried about the crossing went very smooth – the water was much warmer than any of the previous creeks and the flow wasn’t that strong.
After collecting ourselves and putting our wet shoes back on we decided to hike two more kilometers to a campsite further down the valley. The trail zig-zagged down a very steep slope and we had amazing views of both the Evolution Creek waterfalls and the magnificent valley ahead – how small were we in the scale of things!!! Just as we were about to reach the tentsite it started to drizzle – what a crazy weather today! To our surprise we found the Germans already at camp so we had a campfire together (the drizzle had stopped). Kristians started fire right away and built a drying rack using our hiking poles. It was awesome awesome as we could dry our socks over fire and shoes around it.
We managed to dry out our tent before setting it up but of course – the good times of campfire and drying our stuff were not for enjoying too long, it started to rain again! So we quickly packed everything up and went to continue our dinners inside the tent. We decided that the next morning we would all sleep as long as we wanted – there was no way anyway that we’d make it to the next mountain pass early enough to take advantage of the crispy snow. Besides – maybe it won’t even go to freezing again just like last night.
The morning was clear and sunny even though the sunrays didn’t hit our tent due to the trees. We woke up around seven and set off at around 8:20. The trail first crossed a big river via a bridge and then followed that river in a gorgeous green valley.
It was a joy to hike in shorts again, enjoy the sun and take a photo break whenever. Ahead of us was a big climb towards the Selden Pass and we wanted to get to the other side of it by evening. After the first 500m ascent we sat down for a lunchbreak after a small river crossing and soon the Germans joined us too.
The trail then kept ascending more and more, passing lakes and streams and it got more snowy. Even though it was afternoon the snow wasn’t totally horrible (it held somewhat but we still postholed from time to time). After we finally reaching the pass we took some pictures and quickly moved on – as the trail descended gradually we had maybe 7 km of snow left to traverse.
We followed the footsteps of the Germans so it made it pretty easy for us to know where to go but also more likely to posthole because the snow often only holds one or two steps before collapsing. After 3 hours of walking on snow we were getting pretty tired, but we moved on towards the next river crossing that I dreaded: Bear Creek. Often noted as the wildest river crossing in the Sierras I was certain that must be the 5 foot deep one.
Wet and tired, we finally reached the river just as the sun started to peek out a bit. Again, to our surprise, the crossing looked totally fine it was narrower than the Evolution creek but more rapid and depth was over the knee. We changed to our Crocs and shorts and went for it – it was a bit colder than the previous one but the cold pain wasn’t as bad. As we put our shoes on and continued we instantly started to smell a fire – the Germans had set up camp right after the river so we joined them and again had a great evening around the fire, eating, drying our things and chatting. Some time later in the night the rain came in again.
It was still wet and rainy in the morning but somehow we managed to pack up camp even before the Germans, at about 8:40. After only about a kilometer we already had to cross two bigger rivers – shoes off, Crocs on, here we go! Soon enough the Germans passed us as they just walk through the rivers without changing shoes (keeping my shoes dry for as long as possible is important to me due to the foot rot that I developed in the jungle).
The weather was pretty gray as we ascended the first big climb of the day. The trail zig-zagged up a Southern face and then skirted the mountain through a beautiful calm forest – there were snow patches here and there but nothing much. We then descended even more than we had ascended, on endless switchbacks, until we reached a nice bridged river crossing where we decided to have lunch.
Just as we had taken out our tent and set it to dry it started to rain! We quickly decided to set the tent up as a tarp and sit under it while it rained. It ended up being pretty cozy – snacks, some music to lighten the mood and the sound of the drizzle. Sadly the rain didn’t end so we had to force ourselves to move on nevertheless.
We had a 1000m climb up ahead to the Silver Pass and we hoped to get to the other side by the evening – it would’ve meant a 30km day for us. But the climb was hard and slow – we had to cross more rivers, negotiate all the streams flowing right on the trail and many fallen trees. The skies were still giving us rain and sleet and sunrays in a mixed order. At about 2900m we reached a more open valley with some trees and the snow started. There was a lot of postholing and route finding and soon enough we found the Germans camping on two small clear patches of land.
We moved on, however, but as we were getting more and more tired and realized that there was only two hours of daylight left we knew we couldn’t make it to the other side anyway. Luckily we soon reached a stream and Kristians noticed a clear flat patch of land that was perfect for our tent. As it wasn’t raining for the moment we tried to dry our tent a bit and Kristians started a campfire. Soon it started to hail or rain on and off so we set up the tent and then had a nice evening around our little heat source, trying to dry our wet socks while it wasn’t raining.
We got a pretty lazy start as we were tired and it didn’t drop to minus degrees again so it didn’t really matter snow-wise. The Germans passed us again as we were preparing breakfast.
The hike up to the pass was long but luckily we only had about 200m of elevation to ascend. The weather was calm but and a bit cloudy as we reached the pass so we only took a moment there before continuing downwards. The valley ahead looked good – not much snow – but the descent was slow in the wet snow and in the end the trail turned into a side valley where there was more snow.
It was then time to do the final bigger ascent (about 500m) until the Mammoth trail. We started from a meadow and zig-zagged up on a snow-free steep slope. Everything was actually pretty nice – no sun but it was pretty warm nevertheless. After we got up we skirted the hillside, passed Lake Virginia and then descended the slippery snowy slopes where I fell quite badly on my ass a couple of times when trying to “ski” on my shoes.
By afternoon we reached the Purple Lake, which was still half covered by ice. The sun peeked out on and off but just as we had sat down for a Clif Bar it started to rain. Luckily we only had two smaller ascents to do on what looked like a sun-exposed slope (i.e. less snow) and about 12 km to the campsite we planned to reach. But as we started the gentle uphill the rain increased and slowly turned into a mix of sleet & hail. The next couple of hours consisted of postholing through snowpatches and freezing our asses off. After what seemed like an eternity we FINALLY reached the campground by Deer Creek, where the Germans had already set up camp. As the weather was still bad (but not raining for the moment) we quickly set up our tent, got in and cooked dinner.
Later on two or more hikers arrived at the tentsite after a gruelling day, I’m sure. But we were tired and fell asleep fast as we knew that tomorrow we’d be hitting town again. The night for me was a bit restless as it seemed that I had gotten a puncture in my matrass – I had to refill it twice during the night.
I first opened my eyes before 7 as I heard the others getting up and getting ready to leave. We were in no rush, however, and slept until 8 and then, as the skies were finally clear and sunny, dried out our stuff while having breakfast. But the day would only get harder again before it got easy.
The Mammoth trail we initially planned to go to was 9km ahead and barely 500m off the trail. After an hour of postholing in the snowpatches and getting our feet wet we had some cell signal so I called the Red’s Meadow Resort to know if they were open – turns out they would open only June 8th, which meant there would be no bus or cars there. So our new plan was to take the trail that was less than a kilometer ahead but was over 5 kilometers long and led to Mammoth Lakes.
After reaching the trail we were taken uphill over the Mammoth Pass, postholing endlessly as most of the trail was still snow covered. After the pass the trail gently descended and we reached the McCloud lake where we chatted up some day tourists. The final downhill behind us we got to the large parking lot at the Horseshoe Lake which, to our surprise, was closed. The roads were clear of snow but for some reason there was a closed gate about half a mile down the road. After the gate, however, there were a lot of cars parked – people walking around, taking pictures and enjoying the fresh air.
We kept walking down the road and trying to hitch a ride to Mammoth. After about 30 minutes a car finally stopped and we met Jim (or James) – a business/accounting professor who spends half the schoolyear teaching in Southern California and the rest of the year living an outdoorsy life in Mammoth while writing books on accounting. He too had just had a day hike so he knew what trail conditions we had had.
The ride into Mammoth was great – the views of the town and the surroundings in the sunny weather were to behold. Everything was exactly like from an American ski resort movie, except for the relative lack of snow in the town.
Jim dropped us off at the hostel we heard was supposed to be the cheapest – it turned out to be 38 USD. It was a bit pricy but we had no other choice – until, that is, Jim offered us to stay in his spare bedroom. What followed was one of the greatest evenings in a while – besides getting a shower and clean laundry Kristians and I went to the store and then cooked a big dinner for all of us. Next up: one and a half hours of soaking in the jacuzzi with good company & conversation. As if that wasn’t enough we then watched a movie together and had ourselves some ice cream!
Conclusion, once again: even though the trail is hard and often irritating, it also leads you to meet amazingly kind people who you’d otherwise never meet.