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Day 56 – May 29, 2022

Mile 835.0 to 853.1 through Muir Pass

18.1 trail miles | 15.7 tracked miles | 2,020 ft elevation gain | 60.8 F / 16 °C

Achievement unlocked! Today, I sat inside the John Muir shelter at Muir Pass.

After a quick breakfast, I left my glorious campsite by the Middle Forks Kings River, filled with excitement for the journey ahead. At 11,970 feet of elevation, Muir Pass may not be the highest or most challenging Sierra Nevada high pass, but it’s perhaps the most iconic in my opinion.

After a series of switchbacks—the best way to warm up on a cool day!—the trail quickly disappeared beneath the snow. I followed the footsteps along a scenic alpine lake.

Then, the ascent towards Muir Pass started in earnest. The climb was magical, exhilarating, and yet soul crushing.

The wide-open landscapes were magnificent, and the absence of a designated trail in this expansive winter wonderland made for an exciting make-your-own-adventure journey. The snow was firm and easy to navigate, and the slopes relatively gentle. I felt safe all along and didn’t need to use my ice axe.

Then again, the ascent felt like a never-ending slog. It was my longest stretch in the snow so far, and the challenges of walking in the snow were compounded by the biting cold and brutal wind chills. Furthermore, there were many bootpaths to choose from, and I was never sure how far off the trail I was.

I passed by the frozen Helen Lake, named after one of John Muir’s daughters, Helen Funk.

The frozen Helen Lake

When I finally spotted the John Muir Memorial Shelter in the distance, it was like seeing the Holy Grail.

The John Muir Memorial Shelter (“Muir Hut”) at Muir Pass (11,970 feet)

Visiting the Muir Shelter was meaningful to me. In my mind, the Muir hut symbolizes adventure, risk-taking, and personal achievement. The shelter, built in 1930 by the Sierra Club, honors the famed conservationist and writer. It is located roughly at the midpoint of the John Muir Trail.

Yours truly outside the John Muir shelter

The interior is an octagonal chamber with a cone-shaped roof, a wraparound bench, and a stone fireplace. It was surprisingly warm inside. I sat down and reflected on my achievements so far and enjoyed a snack to recover from my workout.

A few other hikers were sitting inside enjoying a reprieve from the elements, including my dinner companions who had left camp a bit ahead of me this morning.

There was also another hiker who had diarrhea after surviving for two days on olive oil and sugar alone. His English was limited, but I gathered that he had either underestimated his food requirements or was trying to minimize weight by trimming his calorie intake down to the bare essentials. In any case, he wasn’t doing well, and a generous soul gave him extra food.

While I don’t want to sound judgmental, I have witnessed several cases of reckless behavior on the trail that shouldn’t be celebrated. Some “stupid-ultralight” hikers, who pride themselves on carrying next to nothing, ultimately succeed at the expense of others, or thanks to others’ common sense.

As much as I wanted to linger a little longer in the comfort of the shelter, I had to leave before the snow got too soft.

Heading north from Muir Pass

The sun was baking the snowfields, and the conditions were quickly degrading. The long, virtually-flat descent was tedious and tiring, but I didn’t posthole much and felt safe.

Sapphire Lake

Once I made it below the snow line, I was looking forward to picking up speed. My goal was to get as close to Selden Pass as possible, while knowing that I couldn’t possibly cover the 27-mile distance between Muir Pass and Selden Pass in less than a day.

The scenery was gorgeous, but the trail kept throwing roadblocks at me. The path was alternately rocky, frozen, or flooded, and punctuated by countless time-consuming water crossings.

To fight boredom during a long forested section along Evolution Creek, I listened to podcasts on urbanism and urban planning, hiking as fast as I could.

At 5:30 pm, I decided to set up camp at mile 853.1, a stone’s throw from the South Fork San Joaquin River bridge. Although I managed an honorable 18-mile tally, I fell short of my intended destination and will have to summit Selden Pass later than I had hoped tomorrow. It’s an easy pass, though, so I’m not too concerned.

I am camping at a mere 8,400 feet of elevation, which should mean more moderate temperatures. I am only 28 miles away from my next resupply point, Vermillion Valley Resort, although that’s a long haul in the Sierras.

Backcountry camping at 853.1

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