Tuesday, January 28, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 15 — Chief Lake to Edison Lake

We crested Silver Pass in the morning, travelling through a landscape of alpine meadows and glacial lakes.  Marmots scurried on the rocky slopes and we spotted gray-crowned rosy-finches and mountain bluebirds.

As we dropped out of the high country, we entered a canyon, its furrowed cliff walls giving the land a wild, raw feeling.  The trail was tough, cluttered with large rocks to step over and down, and even though I was glad to be descending it was hard on the legs.  The trail followed Silver Pass Creek, which rollicked beside us, and I was jealous of its never-ending liveliness—it’s ability to dance, drop and dash without ever giving out, on and on and on like some puckish mountain sprite.

By late morning we’d entered a riparian forest, lush with willows, wildflowers and aspen trees.  We spotted several deer and paused to watch them, the air rich with the smells of living things and alive with a chorus of birds, whispering leaves and the chanting stream.


“It would be fun to be a chipmunk,” Noah said, as he watched one of the furry critters scurry beside the trail.  “You could just live out here and be all cozy.”


We were tired by the time we reached the turnoff to Lake Edison, but according to our map we only had another mile and a half until we reached a ferry landing, where we would catch a boat to Vermillion Valley Resort.  Unfortunately, when we reached the ferry landing, there was no lake is sight.  Instead there was a dusty, barren expanse of sand and sun-bleached stumps stretching on and on in front of us.  There was a note explaining that water levels in the lake were low due to on-going drought conditions and we’d have to hike a couple more miles to reach a temporary landing where the staff of Vermillion Valley Resort would pick us up and shuttle us across.

We were hot, tired and thirsty, having drank the last of our water, and the sun baked down on the parched lake bottom.  But we pushed on, the boys dragging their feet across the sand.  When we finally reached the lake shore we found a small American flag staked into the ground and assumed that marked the boat landing.  The water was choked red with sediment, but I dug out our water filter and used it to start filling a bottle.  The pump became harder to work as the bottle filled, the filter clogging with grit, but we needed to drink so I kept on.  Finally I topped the bottle off and handed it to Kai.  He chugged several gulps, gasped for air and then chugged again before handing the water to Noah who did the same.

About an hour later a small, aluminum boat with an outboard motor arrived and we piled ourselves and our gear into it and shoved off.  The lake’s surface was choppy with wind, and water splashed us as we cut through waves.  The spray felt cold and refreshing, and we put our hands out and let water run through our fingers as we went.  When we reached the far shore we piled into a dusty, dented van and drove the last few miles across the empty lakebed to Vermillion Valley Resort.


We rented a room, which felt huge compared to our tent, and I flopped down on each of the three beds just to feel their softness.  We took turns luxuriating under a hot shower, rinsing the lakebed dust and a few additional layers of grime from our bodies.  Then we put on our least dirty clothes and settled into a booth at the small diner.  Kai and I ordered chicken curry, Noah ate a grilled cheese sandwich, and Pam scarfed down a couple fish tacos.  The boys each drank two cold bottles of root beer and Pam and I chugged a couple Stone IPAs each.  We topped it all off with huge servings of berry cobbler and vanilla ice cream and went to bed smiling.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer