John Muir Trail – Days 4 & 5

After Heart Lake we passed lovely Sallie Keyes Lake, through some marshlands and streams, and then down many, many dry switchbacks. From Selden Pass it was 6.6 miles and over 3,000 ft down in elevation to Muir Trail Ranch. I planned our itinerary around having a resupply point in the middle of the trip so we only had to carry 4 days of food at a time, and had mailed two 5-gallon buckets to the ranch a month earlier. We expected to catch up with friends on the other side of the pass but it turned out all they could think about was food! It took hours for us to find them, already unpacking our supply buckets and munching on cookies.

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The Muir Trail Ranch has a wonderful system set up to supply through-hikers. They are a true backcountry ranch, reachable by a boatride and 3.5 mile hike in. Many people come for a day or two and rent out their rustic cabins, but many more stop in just for food, a quick cell phone charge (although there isn’t any phone service), and a small shop of supplies like fuel and bandaids. Where you pick up your resupply they have rows of other buckets with discarded extra food, mostly oatmeal and bars, as well as a great trash/recycling/compost system. They pack everything in and out on mules, so shipping is pricey ($80 per bucket) but worth it when split among 5 friends. It had been so fun putting together the buckets earlier (I’ll post about what we ate later), and so fun to open them up and see what treats I had packed and forgotten about. Daisy and I even packed clean socks!

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We had hiked about 10.5 miles that day so we set up camp just outside the ranch. Many other hikers did the same but there was plenty of space. While we cooked dinner I opened up to Kristen about some frustrations I had been feeling. Generally morale was still good, but after 4 days and 37 miles some things were starting to wear on us. While I don’t mind hiking slowly, it had meant that decisions like when to set up camp, when to take meal breaks, and wether or not to take shelter, were all made without me. Kristen and I also had an ongoing disagreement about wether or not to put the fly on our tent, a matter of personal preference, that was never resolved. She is such a caring friend and wonderful listener and she helped me talk through how we could all compromise better so no one felt left out.

And then she told me she would be leaving tomorrow. Before we had met them at the Ranch Kristen and Maggie chatted with another hiker who had just come in from Piute Pass, 2.5 miles up the trail. From there it would be another 16 miles to the North Lake trailhead where she planned to hitch a ride down to Bishop, an adorable desert rock climbing town. It was an emotional decision and while I was disappointed that it would be our last night together on this trip, I was happy that she was following her heart.

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It was the right decision for her, and after we told the rest of the group and started discussing how to split up the gear Maggie decided to go with her. Rock climbing is one of her favorite things and after 4 days on the trail, she decided to hike out and spend the rest of her vacation bouldering in the hills. They also ended up finding the best barbecue in the area and even had a shower. 

And so it came to be that the next morning, 2.5 miles up the trail and at the boundary of Sequoia National Park we split into two groups. It was bittersweet walking away but the incredible views helped console us. It was one of the hardest hikes of the whole trip but also one of the most beautiful, climbing 2,000 feet up into Evolution Meadow and then along into McClure and Colby Meadows. There were rain showers off and on all afternoon but we found an iiiiiincredible secluded campsite looking out at the meadow and a striking mountain called “The Hermit.” We even had a swim in the crystal-clear stream before settling in for the night.

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