August 14, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 11 – Mono Creek junction (8,350ft) to Vermilion Valley Resort (7,643).
2.8 miles to the Lake Edison Trail junction plus approximately 2.5 miles to the current “ferry” pick-up point.
Spent the night in a motel room at Vermilion Valley Resort.
Woke to a clear cold morning, the sun just beginning to hit our end of the valley as we finish packing up and head out. It’s a short 2.8 miles to the junction to meet the “ferry” to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) where we will pick up our third resupply package and spend the night.
It’s downhill nearly all the way, a few switchbacks but mostly a pleasant forest walk along the North Fork of Mono Creek. Along the upper section the creek cascades down the now familiar wide granite slabs and in between substantial boulders. Quite a few good campsites sit at its banks, most of which however, are located on the other side of the stream reachable by a bridge on the JMT just past the junction with the Lake Edison Trail.
Taking the ferry to VVR turned out to be more of a production than expected. At the time of writing, the water level of the lake is very low, thus the ferry pick up point is about a mile walk across what was once the lake bottom. Take care that you follow the signs to the correct pick up point and don’t take the trail to the ferry dock.
The former lake bottom looks like a desert wasteland, dotted with tree stumps from a pre-dam era when the creek meandered through a wide meadow.
After a few minutes wait at the new dock, an American flag marks the spot, we see a small motor boat approaching with a hiker returning to the trail. The hiker, distinguishable by his long beard, turns out to be Chris, a young man we had breakfast with some days before at Red’s Meadow.
The 10 minute boat crossing is through a narrow channel, one of the few places still deep enough to travel by boat.
We then board a van waiting on the other side to complete the journey, along a bumpy road, across the lake bottom.
VVR may be rough around the edges, a mix of quaint flower boxes and worn out trucks, but is a great place to get cleaned up for a day.
The ensuite motel rooms include a kitchenette. Laundry and shower facilities are available for those staying in the nearby campground.
The small store has a good selection of items backpackers might need and the adjoining restaurant serves filling and tasty meals. The menu includes a selection of mains – roast chicken, steak and salmon as well as a vegetarian option.
We both had the charcoal grilled 15oz steak, cooked med rare it was beautifully done. Management and staff are friendly and efficient.
The trail is a convivial place. We often run into the same people at different points along the way. Sometimes you hear a story about a particular person or couple, such as the honeymooners whose Steripen broke and who had to bum the use of a water filter from other hikers for a couple of days until they could buy their own at Tuolumne Meadows, only to run across said honeymooners a few days later on a bus heading into Red’s Meadow. We then ran into them again about a week later at Muir Trail Ranch and one last time at the top of Mt Whitney.
Some hikers you see for a few days and then never again. You wonder if Chris stays on track and makes it to Mt Whitney or bails out of loneliness for his girlfriend and his dog, or if Connie is able to complete her detour journey to Mt Whitney. After deciding that she didn’t have enough time to complete the entire trail, she planned to skip a large chunk of the trail and head towards Whitney Portal by bus.
At VVR we reconnect with the German women we’ve seen off and on since the beginning of the trip and who have now decided to end their journey here; as well as the Irish lads with the girl from Chicago in tow. They camped at Deer Creek with us a few days earlier. How “Chicago” manages to keep up with these two strapping lads is a wonder, but I’d probably try to do the same if I were about 30 years younger. And we meet Trish and her girls for the first time, who we will be seeing again every day or so for the next two week. There is always a back story and a story in the making.
After dinner the hikers and other VVR guests gather around the roaring fire behind the café – an interesting and diverse group telling stories and laughing. The players include – the German women; a smooth talking bow-hunter from VA and his girlfriend who plan to hike in, take down a deer, dress it in in the field and pack out the meat; a hip guy from LA with a too precious dog that rides on his belly in baby carrier on the more difficult sections of the trail; and a local guy from Fresno who came up to visit his brother and isn’t too keen on the whole hunting thing.
Lights go off at 10PM and on at 7AM.