When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
Sallie Keyes Lakes to Colby Meadow
Miles: 19.2 Elevation Gain: 2984′
Trip Miles: 106.6 Elevation Loss: 3468′
Max elevation: 10315 ft
Min elevation: 7936 ft
Total climbing: 3369 ft
At some point in the middle of the night —I didn’t look at my watch—I awoke after having a strange dream. I lay there in the still and silence of the night thinking about it, when suddenly the silence was broken by an eerie chorus of what sounded like dozens of coyotes. Their cries, not far away, but not too close, continued briefly, then their echoes faded back into the silence of the night. It was an oddly perfect time to have woken.
In the morning, we got up, and carried out our morning routine. As we were walking through the small forest to the trail, we came across another JMTer who had camped not far from us. Marcos was visiting from Brazil to do the JMT. His hiking partner decided he couldn’t cut it and took the water taxi across Lake Edison to Vermilion Valley Resort and headed home. Marcos, on the other hand, was dead set on waving the Brazilian flag he’d brought with him on the summit of Mt Whitney.
From Sallie Keyes, it was a quick 5 downhill miles to Muir Trail Ranch, where our second resupply was patiently waiting for us. We arrived at MTR, retrieved our bucket, but before we started dealing with our resupply, we laid out all our wet things from the previous day’s downpour in the warm, sun drenched grass behind the resupply station.
There were several groups of hikers filling their packs at MTR. With so many hikers using the ranch as a resupply point, they don’t just have a hiker box; they have an entire line of buckets filled with people’s unneeded or unwanted supplies. Each bucket is labeled with its contents: soups, batteries, drink mixes, empty zip bags, clothing, bars, etc. There were so many left-behind supplies that you could almost resupply just by picking through the buckets.
And the timing was perfect. Just the day before, both pairs of Carlos’ socks had disintegrated. Luckily, there were two pair of sturdy socks in the clothing bucket just waiting for a hiker to need them. Carlos was definitely that hiker.
Having started a day early and having gone extra miles each day, we managed to get one day ahead of our schedule. That meant our bear cans weren’t completely empty, which they needed to be in order to accommodate the food waiting for us at MTR. That meant both a small feast for “lunch” (it was 9:00 when we arrived), and a small box mailed home with a few days’ rations. Marcos had arrived and we shared some of our hummus with him while he tried to convince us to spend the night at the hot springs just outside of the Ranch instead of continuing on to Evolution Valley. I scored a different flavor electrolyte mix from one of the buckets to swig down while we ate and talked.
We packed our bear cans and shoved their unwilling lids closed. After making one last sweep of the hiker buckets for a diamond in the rough (which we didn’t find), we left the land of plenty for the trail. We made sure to stop by their hanging scale before leaving, though. With enough food to last the next 7 days, this was the heaviest our packs would be on the trip. Mine, with the larger bear can, weighed in at 35lbs, while Carlos’ tipped the scales at 32lbs. They could only get lighter from there!
Back on the trail, it would be a slight uphill until the climb into Evolution Valley. We hiked along a beautiful valley cut by the San Joaquin River for a few miles before reaching Evolution Creek. Then we turned east and climbed alongside the cascading waterfalls of the creek up into Evolution Valley.
These first views of Evolution Creek as it poured white over huge boulders were stunning. After some time hiking next to the creek, we reached the crossing. Unlike the creek crossings we’d encountered up to this point, there were no boulders conveniently placed to hop across and no foot bridge suspended above it. There was a sign indicating that a safer crossing could be found further upstream during high water times. The water wasn’t high, so we forged across. At its deepest, it barely reached my knees.
The water was cool and refreshing after the long uphill hike. We figured we might as well seize the moment and wash off in the creek. It had been a few days since rain or cold hadn’t gotten in the way of a good bath. We stripped down and dunked ourselves under the water and scrubbed the trail grit off of us.
We couldn’t linger, though. We’d passed a group of young French Canadian women not long ago. No need getting caught with our pants down in the middle of the creek! As we were drying off and having a snack on the banks of the creek, the girls approached the far side. They scouted upstream a bit, looking for a better place to cross before realizing they had to get their shoes wet.
Once they had crossed, we chatted with them a bit before leaving them at their turn of drying off on the creek bank. The trail follows the creek into the valley and the scenery is spectacular: the meandering water, pockets of forest, golden meadows, ubiquitous granite, and mountains lining the edges.
We passed McClure Meadow and decided that Colby Meadow would be our stopping point for the day. And it wasn’t long before we were pulling off the trail in search of a spot. Carlos, the good campsite bloodhound, sniffed out the perfect spot. There was a nice, sandy, flat area between some trees next to an open area that had some logs in a circle. Beyond that was a granite bluff and behind that was the creek.
We washed off again in the creek, made dinner, and strolled around the edge of Colby Meadow. It was a beautiful, warm evening and a perfect, secluded campsite. One of the best of the whole trip.