SHR Day 8 – July 10
Red’s Meadow to Purple Lake
Fresh Strawberries Ain’t So Bad Camp to Fart Camp
Passes: Mammoth Pass (trail), Duck Pass (trail)
A big climb out of Red’s Meadow briefly poked us back into the high country, before a reunion with the PCT dragged us back below treeline. Rainclouds helped us dodge the worst of the heat, though nothing could save us from the mosquitos at Purple Lake. This section surprised me with more trail and more scenery than I was expecting. At times it felt like SpiceRack and I were back on the CDT, riding a rounded ridge for miles of endless views. A procedural day, just moving on to better stuff to the south, was actually awesome. I don’t know why I expected any less.
Spice was awake and ready to go at 5am. I was not. I wanted to snooze, but eventually gave up trying. I’m no good at snoozing anyway. We packed up and headed back to the tables outside of the store to cook up a breakfast of mac n cheese, salsa, and Bombay Potatoes. For the first time of maybe the entire trip, the air felt cool. And though we dilly dallied, waiting for the store to open so that we could buy some more mosquito repellent, the morning was still pleasant when we shouldered our packs and walked away from the cluster of cabins, headed for Mammoth Pass.
The sandy climb cut through an old burn zone, allowed the full force of the morning sun to bear down on us. To battle back, Spice pumped Taylor Swift’s Lover album from her tiny phone speakers, which gave me all the reason I needed to keep up. Back in the trees, we finished the gradual climb to a wide, forested saddle. Glimpsing through the trees I could see our objective. Mammoth Crest loomed above, a steep sandy slope cut between cliff faces. Our business was on top. Our business was with the sandy slope.
After dunking our hats in a gorgeous lake and devouring a snack bar, we began the slog to the crest. It wasn’t easy, but before long we were up the steep sand and slogging up some less steep sand to the crest proper. If this sounds bad, it was, but no worse than any other major elevation gain. Hard work is part of the gig. With packs full for the seven day stretch to Bishop, this hard work had an extra dose of the strenuous.
The views up top were totally worth it, of course. Riding the wide ridge south, we were surrounded by a spectacular panorama that included the familiar Ritter group behind us, the oddly bald cappuccino lump of Mammoth Mountain rising above a grip of lakes, and the mighty Silver Divide spread across the horizon in front of us. Surrounded by air on all sides rather than sloshing in a glacial bowl of granite, Spice and I both had the feeling that we were back on the CDT, where this was the norm for days at a time.
The light use trail was pretty good, and then improved at the intersection of the trail to George Lake. Clouds built steadily as we cruised, occasionally casting their glorious shade over us like a damp towel. As the ridge rose higher and the clouds grew darker, I began to worry about being in a bad place during a thunderstorm. Fortunately, the only thing we needed to worry about was the lack of water. For the first time on this trip water was scarce and we needed to ration what little we had. A smattering of rain fell, but the big storms lingered on our horizons, not above. After some glorious miles, the trail steepened down to Deer Lakes, dissolving both of our concerns.
Rehydrating with a swim and relaxing with a lunch break, Spice and I took advantage of our cruisy day to get some r&r. Before we could become overly indulgent, however, the dark clouds rolled back in. With one more pass to go, we sprang into action so we could get up and over before the fireworks started.
The aforementioned fireworks never did start, fortunately. Nonetheless, we followed a diminishing trail up and out of the Deer Lakes Basin, past the final and most spectacular lake, which filled the basin beneath sheer cliffs a vibrant aquamarine. A short talus slope put us on surprisingly mellow terrain towards Duck Pass. We veered right towards Duck Lake while describing our perfect pizzas. Besides a hankering for mushrooms on mine, Spice and I are pizza compatible.
Before long, we were back on wide and amazingly well maintained trail around the lake. With clearing skies, the huge lake was a deep sapphire, truly a gem of the Sierra. A little later, we switched packs to try on one another’s aches and pains for a while. With Spice’s pack on, I felt as if I was being stretched over a barrel, but it was a welcome relief from my poorly packed and lopsided lump. We both committed to doing a better job packing tomorrow.
After joining the PCT, it was just a matter of how long our feet would hold out with the repetitive pounding of trail walking. We made it a few miles to Purple Lake, where we found a dusty spot waiting for us. Feeling pretty drained, it was an easy choice to stop for the evening. And looking at the elevation data, it was easy to see why we were tired. Today was both a lot easier and more grueling than I expected. Lots of trail made travel fast, while a ton of elevation gain with heavy packs tested our legs.
Upon arrival, all I could do was sit for a few minutes, staring into space. I wondered if we are pushing too hard. There’s no weather window to worry about on this hike, so why not take more time? Dense mosquitos were the final trial of the day and we ate our dinner inside the tent, watching the world darken and listening to the mosquitos buzz.