August 13, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 10 – Lake Virginia (10,330ft) to Mono Creek junction (8,350ft) via Cascade Valley junction (9,190ft) and Silver Pass (10,740),
Camped near Mono Creek junction.
The wind picks up a bit during the night. At 2AM I watch the clouds race across a moonlit sky. By morning it’s windy but not as bad as the previous evening. Still, the breeze makes the cool temperatures that much colder.
Despite the morning clouds the air is clear and bluer than we’ve seen on this trip. The Himalayan blue skies were to last throughout the day.
This morning we hike a short distance above Virginia Lake and then down a long 1000ft descent, along switchbacks with views of the facing mountain peaks and a pretty meadow below, to Fish Creek.
Fish Creek is a charmer – rushing water over enticing boulder laden cascades and deep pools. The trail follows the creek to the bridge and the low point of the day before beginning the long slog up to Silver Pass. Noticing the nice camp spots just beyond the bridge we speculate that had we known we would have continued past Virginia Lake and on to Fish Creek to avoid the wind and shorten the day’s hike.
Past the bridge the first part of the climb switches back along a well graded trail through pretty forest. The cascades of Cascade Valley can he heard in the distance. Near the tree line we find another appealing campsite next to a small pond. The trees continue to thin as we trudge up the mountainside to Squaw Lake.
While a stunning destination, the rocky banks of Squaw Lake offer little protection from the wind and sun. Above the lake the terrain is stark and beautiful. The deep blue skies and white, white clouds only add to the stunning scene.
On the way to Silver Pass, another 600ft or so in elevation gain, the trail passes a couple of other small lakes similar to Squaw Lake. Finally at the top we survey the panorama – to the north the peaks we’ve left behind, to the south those to come, below, deep blue waters surrounded by brilliant white cliffs. It’s a glorious day to be at this spot.
The descent off the pass crosses the valley visible from the top with a new range of distant peaks to contemplate. The landscape remains barren – small meadow lakes and jagged white cliffs to the right of the valley strewn with granite slabs and boulders.
As we drop below the timber line the trail runs parallel to a stream. White slabs pave the way with rushing water to our right and molded granite cliffs to our left.
At the top of the first steep descent we enter a new valley whose peaks are brilliantly lit by the late afternoon sun. Alongside the descending switchbacks a long cascade tumbles down the cliff side never quite fully visible from trail. The glimpses of water on slab are amazing against a back drop of molded granite cliffs. Down, down, down, until we reach the North Fork of Mono Creek at the bottom near the Mott Lake trail junction.
Just 1.4 miles to our destination for the night. I’m dead tired. Yes, from walking all day but also from trying to take it all in – always looking, seeing, not wanting to miss a thing. The majesty and beauty of this day overwhelms my senses.
We continue downstream through aspen and juniper. Wild flowers reemerge. Sometimes the creek passes close to the trail where it pours down wide granite slabs. At other times it is just a roar in the distance.
The trail then quickly descends again down more rocky switchbacks. We thought we were through with them for the day. Soon we hit the junction to Mono Creek where we find a quiet campsite on a knob across the trail from the creek.
We have the site to ourselves for the night. The wind has died down and it’s warmer. We’re enjoying the last of the fire before heading to bed.