Pacific Crest Trail Journals

Independence to Vermillion Valley Resort

June 19 – June 26, 2010

After a relaxing day in Independence it was back to business as usual. I spent my last night in Independence camped out at Peanut Eater’s campsite at Onion Valley Campground and the following morning I headed out at 6:00 am with no intention of returning to a fully developed town until I reached South Lake Tahoe, several hundred miles north. I left Onion Valley in the company of Rocky Raccoon, Turbo, Furious and Cloudkicker and hiked with them for the majority of the rest of the High Sierra section of the trail – the first and only time this trip that I’ve stuck with the same people for more than a night or two.

Our lives over the next week consisted of the ‘pass-a-day plan’ in which we tackled a different ~12,000 foot pass each day. In chronological order from Independence we crossed Glen Pass, Pinchot Pass, Mather Pass, and Muir Pass. While each pass required a several thousand foot ascent up to its ‘summit’ and generally several miles of snow travel leading up to followed by several miles of snow travel descending from it, they all presented these characteristics in very different ways. Mather Pass was the most difficult/exciting to cross as the 1/2 mile leading to its summit was a steep, switchbacking trail up a snow-covered slope followed by a traverse alongside a cornice at its very highest ridgeline that required you to eventually climb almost straight up and over its face. This was one of the few times that I felt like an ice axe was probably a necessary piece of equipment. On the other hand, Muir Pass just about killed my optimistic disposition that I was able to carry through most of the High Sierra. Despite having perpetually wet feet, slogging through snow, and routinely crossing ice cold streams, I had been able to honestly say that I was enjoying the snow – except for the day that I crossed Muir Pass. It has the most moderate approach and descent of any of the passes which meant several long and relatively flat miles of climbing up to its summit followed by the same going down. I’ll take a short steep climb over this any day.

While the passes certainly presented a physical and navigational challenge, I never found them to be particularly unsettling. The creek (if you can call them that – I’d use the word river but my maps disagree) crossing were another matter. I had little trouble on most of them but I had a reality check during my crossing of Bear Creek. We arrived at the “creek” at 5 pm, likely near its highest flow rate of the day, and too quickly decided on a crossing point. I set out first, aided only by my ice axe, and was soon side-steeping through a waist deep torrent of snow melt. Just after halfway across I lost my footing and went down on my knees and became submerged up to my mid-chest. I scrambled the last few feet and made it safely to the other side, although my camera did not survive the ordeal.

Most of the other hikers behind me decided that the route I’d taken didn’t appeal to them and set about doing a proper job of scouting for a place to cross. They soon found a nice, knee deep crossing and met us on the other side. Several of us pushed on for a few more miles that night and I ended the night by making an enormous fire and drying out.

The next morning I headed out early in order to reach my next resupply at Vermilion Valley Resort. I skipped the ferry ride (I put the fee towards buying a burger) and hiked the 6 miles along Lake Thomas Edison to the resort. Upon arriving at the resort they gave me a free beer and a bed to sleep on for the night. I’d call this a generous act but based on my tab I’d worked up by the end of my stay I think it’s just a clever business practice.

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