Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.
Duck Creek to North Fork Mono Creek
Miles: 16.2 Elevation Gain: 3006′
Trip Miles: 68.8 Elevation Loss: 4003′
Silver Pass, 10,900′
Max elevation: 10912 ft
Min elevation: 9003 ft
Total climbing: 3156 ft
When we woke up, it was raining. We figured we didn’t have much to lose by staying in the tent and waiting it out a little. Sure enough, it stopped before too long. Then we got out, got up, and got ready. The overnight rain seemed to have cleared the air of the hanging smoke from yesterday. The air was clearer and visibility was much greater.
The meadow had cleared of most of the tents that had been there when we went to sleep. Folks were already on the trail. We joined them. First it was a climb up and over a hill to get to Purple Lake. Then up and over another hill and down to the majestic Lake Virginia.
We decided we’d take advantage of the water, the rocks, and the views to sit down and have our morning snack there. Duck Creek was shallow and cold, so Carlos took the opportunity to go for a quick, cleansing dip in the probably not much warmer waters of the lake.
From Lake Virginia it’s a few miles downhill along Fish Creek toward the floor of Cascade Valley. Upon reaching the footbridge that crosses the creek, we came across two other JMTers, Masha and Lauren. I had met Masha on the trail just before Duck Creek the previous afternoon, but we all hadn’t had the chance to exchange introductions yet. We crossed the bridge together and took a break with them just past there, when we encountered a little stream crossing the trail. All of us wanted to rest a bit before the impending climb up Silver Pass.
Lauren had attempted the JMT 3 years ago, but had to bail after never-ending rain and knee problems drove her off the trail. She brought her friend to re-attempt it this year. Masha asked if this was our first backpacking trip. After informing her that it wasn’t, she asked if our feet hurt, “because you’re not walking like your feet hurt.” I assured her that my feet did indeed hurt, but that it gets more manageable with experience. They were also curious about our food prep. I told them about some of the meals I dehydrated and our morning oatmeal-protein powder-carnation-strawberry-whole milk powder super smoothie mix. Before we left, we gave them some jolly ranchers, promising they’d make any hard climb a lot better.
We finished up our tortillas and cheese and said farewell to the ladies and started up the incline that eventually lead toward Silver Pass. From the point when we hit Squaw Lake all the way up to the top of the pass, the views were incredible. Expansive vistas filled with granite peaks and pine forests and lakes and streams.
We took the opportunity to rest and take in the view when we reached the top. However, before too long some thunder started to rumble nearby. We took that as our cue to make our exit down the other side of the pass toward Silver Pass Lake.
We passed the lake and continued downward. Eventually we started following Silver Pass Creek as it lolled down the incline. That stream took a turn and leapt over the side of a cliff and became a long, cascading waterfall that we’d eventually meet back up with after taking a more conventional way down the steep cliff. That way was a long series of switchbacks, of course. The sky grew darker and the thunder continued to rumble as we descended.
Finally at the bottom, after passing the Mott Lake trail, we decided to look for the first spot we could find. The map had markings of campsites in the area, but it wasn’t flat and there was a lot of water, as the stream widened here into a grassy, wet meadow. Eventually we picked our way across the water toward the bottom of the cliff we just descended and Carlos spotted a perfect, flat, sandy area away from the water to make camp.
As we were filling water to make dinner, the rain started. At first we thought it might be light enough to endure, but it picked up and the lightning was getting closer. We climbed into the tent and cooked in the vestibule and ate our dinner inside (fully aware of keeping good ventilation and disregarding the fact that the dinner smell may lure bears to our tent – luckily it didn’t).
Eventually the rain stopped and we took care of placing the bear cans, cleaning up, and then we hit the sack.