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Day 57 – May 30, 2022

Mile 853.1 to 874.5 (Bear Ridge/VVR trail junction) through Selden Pass

21.4 trail miles | 25.3 tracked miles | 4,157 ft elevation gain | 62.6 F / 17 °C

Today was by far my biggest day in the Sierras so far, covering 26 miles with an elevation gain of approximately 4,000 ft.

I woke up around 5:30 am, ready for a race against the clock. Time was of the essence if I wanted to reach Selden Pass, located 12 miles further north, while the snow was still firm. While Selden Pass is known as one of the easier passes in the High Sierras and my safety wasn’t at risk, I wanted to avoid the inconvenience of postholing through the snow.

Bridge across the South Fork San Joaquin river

I crossed the South Fork San Joaquin River on a sturdy footbridge and followed the trail along the river as the sun rose over the valley.

I quickly arrived at Piute Creek, which marks the boundary between King’s Canyon National Park and the John Muir Wilderness.

The John Muir Wilderness is a subdivision of the Sierra National Forest and the third protected area I encountered since leaving Kennedy Meadows, following Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park. These administrative divisions have few practical implications for thru-hikers, although National Parks have stricter regulations and prohibit camping close to water.

Within minutes, the landscape underwent a dramatic shift: the rugged mountains gave way to a green valley.

First miles in the John Muir Wilderness

The flat and easy terrain enabled me to maintain a steady pace, and soon I reached the junction to the Muir Trail Ranch, where I took a quick break for second breakfast.

Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is an alternative to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). While MTR is much closer to the Pacific Crest Trail than VVR, it’s overall less popular with PCT hikers. MTR charges a small fortune to hold resupply packages, only accepts sealed 5-gallon plastic buckets instead of regular cardboard boxes, and requires that buckets be sent at least three weeks in advance. That’s a testament to the remote location of the facility.

The trail soon started climbing towards Selden Pass. I passed near the scenic Sallie Keys Lake and Heart Lake.

The approach to Selden Pass, under a tree canopy, was dramatically different from the exposed climbs to Forester, Glen, Pinchot, Mather, and Muir Passes.

The ascent was steep but devoid of snow. With only two days’ worth of food remaining, my pack felt remarkably light. I reached Selden Pass around 11am, earlier than I expected.

View from Selden Pass (10,913 feet)
Yours truly at Selden Pass

While the northern side of the pass was still blanketed in snow, the descent proved to be a highlight. The perfect combination of a gentle grade and wet-but-slippery snow allowed me to virtually “ski” downhill, using my poles for balance. It was an exhilarating feeling, and I didn’t fall or posthole once.

The bottom of the snow field north of Selden Pass
Marie Lake

The day was still young when I reached Marie Lake, which marked the end of the snow field. It occurred to me that I might be able to reach Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) tonight.

It was an ambitious idea since I had no clue about the potential obstacles I might encounter on the next 7 miles to the Bear Ridge Trail Junction, and the following 8+ miles down to the resort on the Bear Ridge Trail. Moreover, I didn’t know how late I could arrive and still have dinner and hopefully book a room. I tried to satellite message the resort, but I didn’t get a response.

I decided to hike as fast as possible to the Bear Ridge Trail Junction and re-evaluate my plan.

I rushed through the remainder of the descent and, in my haste, slipped on a wet rock and fell on all fours. I escaped unscathed, but the incident served as a reminder to remain cautious on the trail.

Bear Creek

I pushed through the final brutal climb of the day and finally reached the Bear Ridge Trail Junction, where a sign pointed to VVR.

Bear Ridge Trail junction

Hiking the Bear Ridge Trail down to Lake Edison was a miserable experience, only made bearable by the vivid mental picture of a hot meal and a shower. Most of the trail was flooded, and the path was unmarked. I started to lose faith but kept pushing forward, watching my seemingly-laborious progress on my watch.

It was 6 pm by the time I reached the end of the trail and Lake Edison. Up until a few years ago, VVR used to operate a small ferry across Lake Edison, but the dramatically low water levels have recently rendered ferry operations impossible.

The forest road leading to the resort requires a significant detour, and I figured my only hope of reaching VVR in time for dinner was to ask for a ride. I satellite messaged the resort again and, this time around, got an immediate response.

While waiting for my ride, I reviewed today’s stats. I believe I achieved one of my best athletic performances ever, considering the terrain and conditions. Food is an incredibly powerful motivator!

The owner of VVR himself soon turned up and kindly drove me on the bumpy forest road. I got a fascinating glimpse into his life. He works full time in biotech in Los Angeles and moonlights at VVR. He works remotely for his day job three days a week and goes to the office two days a week. The commute between VVR and LA takes six hours, given the distance and the sorry state of the forest road. That’s wild.

Operating VVR is a labor of love. The infrastructure is in disrepair, the business bleeds money, and it runs on a skeleton crew. They were unable to respond to my earlier message because the staff member with the satellite pager was driving a wounded hiker to the hospital earlier today.

Vermillion Valley Resort

While the hospitality is second to none, Vermilion Valley Resort is as rustic as it gets, despite the “resort” moniker. The entire complex is off the grid, which is ironic considering the adjacent Edison Lake dam is part of an extensive local hydroelectric power scheme. There is no cell phone service, but (expensive) satellite Wi-Fi is available. There are just five motel-style rooms; most guests camp outside.

I arrived just in time for dinner. VVR had just re-opened for the season, so the menu was limited to just one option: pulled pork. The portions were generous by any standard, but I was still hungry after dinner and purchased an ice cream from the well-stocked store.

During dinner, I had the opportunity to meet a few John Muir Trail (JMT) hikers, who are exceptionally rare during this early season. I admired their courage and determination. The JMT is considered the most challenging trail in the US, and I can’t imagine conquering such rugged terrain and conditions without having six weeks of intense practice like I do.

Dinner at Vermillion Valley Resort

I picked up a resupply package that I had sent to myself. Once again, I could have done without it; the next town, Mammoth Lakes, is just 30 miles away, and I have leftover food. Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving with a pack that is heavier than necessary.

I was fortunate that a room was still available. I would have happily slept in my tent, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shower and enjoy a bit of privacy. However, during dinner, a torrent of water came gushing through a hole in the ceiling. The staff promptly patched the leak, but I cannot imagine the effort it takes to maintain these aging facilities in such a harsh environment.

Room at Vermillion Valley Resort

At 10 pm, my room went dark. The generator was offline for the day. I could have used the propane lamp, but I went to bed—it was way past hiker midnight.

The Big Picture

3D path
3D video

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