August 16, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 13 –Bear Creek junction (8,940ft) to past Sallie Keyes Lakes (10,100ft) via Selden Pass (10,900ft),
Camped on a knob with mountain views about 1.5 miles past Sallie Keyes Lakes.
Another day of blue skies from sunrise to sunset, never a wisp of a cloud on the horizon. Temperatures are cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon but overall great hiking weather. Along with the majesty of the scenery it’s why we love hiking in the Sierras.
Today’s hike starts with a gentle uphill walk through alternating sections of forest and open granite-slab-filled meadows with minor peak views. Paralleling Bear Creek we pass more of the tumbling cascades and wide slab formations that we enjoyed the day before, although this section of this creek is tamer than along the Bear Creek Trail.
The last good water show is just before the Lake Italy Trail junction. Past here the trail continues its gentle climb, albeit away from the creek, through the same type of terrain.
The ascent to Selden Pass starts just after we cross the creek for the last time. The first section climbs through a rocky forest. The trees become sparse. The sky is as blue and as ever, stunning as a backdrop to the stark orange bark and green pine needles of the diminishing trees.
Near the top of this section we encounter a crew of volunteers working with the forest service to eliminate illegal camping sites, i.e., those that are too close to water or the trail. Sites are supposed to be 100ft from each, 200ft is better. One young ranger checks our permit, the first time since 1000 Island Lake more than a week ago.
Near the tree line the trail levels off a little through a beautiful meadow with peaks in the distance followed by the steepest ascent of day. The thin air combined with the high steps required to climb the granite stairs exhausts me.
Thankfully, as we approach Marie Lake the trail levels off again. We are now well above the tree line.
Only the shrubbiest of trees survive near the pretty blue lake of boulder islands surrounded by jagged white cliffs.
Past the lake the trail climbs another 300ft on a well graded track that feels much less arduous than the previous ascent despite the higher elevation.
At 10,800ft we reach the top of Selden Pass. Nice view, beautiful weather, but little of the drama we experienced at Silver Pass either in terms of the amazing cloud studded sky or vistas of distant peaks.
From Selden Pass you see Marie Lake and the mountain range behind it to the north and to the south a narrow valley with Heart Lake.
The trail descends quickly along switchbacks to Heart Lake then levels off somewhat as it continues the descent past the Sallie Keyes Lakes and into the forest beyond, passing the occasional meadow.
One more short climb and we reach our destination campsite atop a bluff with views of the facing mountain peaks. It’s early, just after 3PM, and we leisurely set up camp enjoying the warm afternoon. Water is in a meadow a short distance further down the trail.
After dinner we sit on the rocks watching the last rays of the sun slowly fade from the peaks across the valley. The air is still and warm. Small birds flit about the tree tops.