SHR Day 7 — July 9
Minaret Lake to Red’s Meadow
The Other Side of the Tunnel Camp to Fresh Strawberries Ain’t So Bad Camp
Passes: Nancy Pass
With just one pass today and a resupply stop awaiting, there wasn’t much that could slow SpiceRack and me down today. In fact some factors even conspired to speed us up. Upon reaching Red’s Meadow, we completed the second section of our SHR journey. It is a good feeling. Unlike our stop in Tuolumne, this one feels suitably distant from our starting point for me to feel ‘in it’. The route here was convoluted, challenging, and mysterious until we pieced it together, first on the map then with our feet. There are likely some place that I will never visit again, and that’s alright. Knowing that they, and countless other places like them, exist, in all their harsh beauty in all seasons, will bring me comfort when my world begins to feel too discovered and known.
The sun was just hitting the high peak above Minaret Lake when my brain rebooted at 5:30am. I struggled to both appreciate the epic beauty and snooze away the last of my grogginess. By 7am, Spice and I were on the trail, for it was trail here, around the lake. I was wearing my wind layers for bug protection, which I immediately decided was a bad idea. I sure do love the sun, but damn, it can be hot sometimes. Even early in the morning, this was one of those times.
Disrobed and feeling fresh, we left the trail at the lake outlet to made our way to what our guidebook described as an “inconspicuous saddle.” That might not seem like a lot to go on, but it was obvious. Around the bottom of the lake, the views of the Minarets were stupendous, and then were gone as we dipped into the trees. Mosquitos lay in ambush and swarmed us in the cool shade. We caught relief on the saddle where we picked out our route across a small valley to and up Nancy Pass, the last of this section. It looked straight forward. Not nearly as confusing as the guidebook made it sound. But I guess that’s the point of the guidebook.
Knowing what we were in for, we plunged steeply into the trees below. The mosquitos here were apocalyptic. I typically eschew bug repellant because I’m super stubborn, but there was no eschewing it in there. I twirled in place with my arms spread wide as Spice pumped our rapidly depleting bug spray. The relief was immediate, though not complete. Now we hiked hard to outrun the heartiest of the insects. Out of the trees and up the granite bulge to the pass. We sweated our asses off, but the bugs still followed. Spice began chanting for a breeze to at least cool us down.
We made it to the pass in record time. Dragonfly allies greeted us there and picked off the remaining bugs that followed us from below. We took a break to catch our breath and eat a bar in the shade of a stunted whitebark pine. A hummingbird buzzed my rainbow pinwheel a few times before vibrating away, confused. I soaked in the last close up view of the Minarets.
The rest of the day seemed simple. Down the other side of Nancy Pass followed by an easy trail cruise to Red’s Meadow. Generally speaking, this was accurate. However, Nancy showed us her true colors with a brutal descent down loose scree, then through dense willows (read: Nancy Pass sucks). Then the trail led us through a forested pondland full of stagnant puddles turned the color of richly brewed tea by decomposing plant matter and despair. Out of water and desperately thirsty, I quickly filled my 2-liter platypus soft bottle at a creek and carried it behind my neck, waiting to stop and filter until reaching a mosquito-free zone. Spice had already put it into high gear and started running.
Eventually, the bugs went away, and we did just cruise downhill on trail. By the time we rendezvoused with the JMT for the last few miles, my thermometer was reading 100F in the sun and 90F in the shade and we were desperately thirsty. I spared a sympathetic thought for the JMTers trudging uphill, the poor sweaty messes that they were, and heartily thanked the trail crew workers who were intelligently taking their lunch siesta. It sure was hot down here in the lowlands.
We finally found relief under the bridge to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. The river was perfect for swimming, and you better believe that we swam. From there it was an easy mile to the Red’s Meadow store, through crowds of tourists braving the heat to snap pictures of some truly strange geology. I felt out of place among the well-washed hordes, but then it occurred to me that perhaps I was more ‘in of place’ than any of them. I was living, at least temporarily, in the place that they were just visiting, after all. Feeling smug and entitled in my sweaty nastiness, I cruised with Spice into the rustic resort at Red’s Meadow.
After dropping our packs at a semi-shaded picnic bench, we entered the store, emerging 20 minutes later with our resupply boxes, chips, a sweating can of booch, and a pint of fresh strawberries. The next few hours blurred by in a frenzy of town chores and chatting with some new friends who were hiking the JMT. Casey and Sarah, two CPAs from the Bay Area, were on the verge of giving up their desk jobs forever to pursue careers as a plumber and sandcastle sculptor, respectively. They didn’t say that with words, or even a suggestive tone, but I could tell. Over a phone call with my parents, we learned that there had been a big earthquake along Hwy 395 that caused a bunch of trouble. Spice and I hadn’t felt it, but after checking the timestamp on our photos, confirmed that it must have been the cause of the rockfall we witnessed yesterday. Crazy stuff.
It was fun to watch hikers come and go, until it was time for us to go and make camp at the hiker site. We crushed some mac n cheese with salsa and looked up some Elvis lyrics that had been looping on the trail. And that was it. To bed, hoping for a cooler day tomorrow for our big climb back to the Sierra high-country.