SHR Day 19 – July 21
Woods Creeks to Bubbs Creek
Baxter Backoff Camp to Better Not Be Bears Camp
Passes: Glen Pass (trail)
It wasn’t hard for today to feel like an improvement over yesterday, and I am sure glad it did. SpiceRack and I spent the duration on the JMT as the miles sped by, leaving Mount Baxter far behind both geographically and mentally. It wasn’t always easy going, but by the end of the day, morale was peaking and we both felt ready to leave the trail behind, eager to see where the High Route would take us next. These trail miles were nice, but the mystery and solitude of less-visited places call to us now in a way I didn’t expect.
The night on our grassy perch was warm and pleasant, although I didn’t sleep great. I woke up feeling a little groggy, but overall in a better place than I had been after the Baxter fiasco. I did find that there was a little more gloom to work through as I followed Spice on our continued descent along Woods Creek, but by the time we crossed the big suspension bridge at the bottom and started sweating on the way up to Rae Lakes, I was feeling like my old self again.
The trail was busy with all sorts of people, from crusty JMT hikers to a big troop of Boy Scouts teetering under towering packs. Leapfrogging all these folks was not my favorite kind of hiking, but it’s good to see people enjoying these places nonetheless.
The morning dissolved under the harsh sun and a long, gradual climb. It was lunch time when Spice and I reached the first of the Rae Lakes, so lunch is what we did. After a swim in the warm water, we baked on the sandy beach before finding some shade under a sappy pine. There, we snoozed long enough for the clouds to build, casting their welcome shadows across the entire basin of big, beautiful lakes. I gathered water from an ice cold spring while Spice picked wild onions for dinner, then we finished the arching traverse around and through the lakes on an isthmus of bulging granite.
From there, the climb to Glen Pass began in earnest. We took our time, sucking on Skittles one by one, as the trail lifted us away from the green lakeshore to the familiar alpine world of rock and more rock. The trail was hard to pick out far above, even knowing exactly where it headed, until a tiny hiker high above brought it all into focus. I didn’t give Glen Pass much thought on the PCT going NOBO, but looking at it now, this thing was a beast. Spice guessed we would finish the final cliffy switchbacks within 30 minutes and kept track of time by narrating the steps of a pizza delivery, from ordering to the final bite. It’s going in the oven. The cheese is looking sweaty…
Hiking up the trail was not a trivial matter with a couple huge steps and a few places where falling would be a bad idea. Despite that, we passed one of the oldest backpackers either of us have ever seen, coming the other way. “I’ve been working on this mountain all day,” she grumbled, not stopping her methodical plodding to chat. She had a long way to go to the lakes, but we didn’t doubt that she’d make it. I had a feeling that she’d proved enough doubters wrong by now and didn’t need any more.
The final switchback sharpened to a narrow ridge at the pass. I’d forgotten the rugged awesomeness of Glen Pass. After a teal hiker moved out, Spice and I had it all to ourselves. The dark clouds overhead didn’t invite us to stay for long, but we lingered, snacking and looking. I could see all the way back to the Palisades, essentially marking the start of the SoSHR, faded in the distance. As I traced our route weaving south, I noticed a few places that we missed that looked worthy of a visit. I began to wonder why the SoSHR chose so much JMT instead of these untrailed bowls and passes. I began to wonder if I could find a better way. There is no perfect route, of course, but my imagination started to wander.
We cruised down the other side, feeling good and hiking fast. The JMT sped us past Charlotte Lake, then down a million switchbacks to Vidette Meadow along the deeply forested Bubbs Creek. This area was notoriously filled with curious black bears, so we kept going up the gradual incline for a few miles before finding a spacious campsite just below the 10,000ft mark. I washed my legs and socks in the rushing creek, then swaddled myself in bed for a dinner date with the maps.
Looking ahead, we would leave the JMT for good early tomorrow before entering the really really big Southern Sierra on our way up to Junction Pass. Everything south, four whole days of it, promised to be challenging and amazing. This final section is my most anticipated portion of this entire journey. I lay down to sleep, nervous and excited to be on the cusp, hoping for the weather to hold. We were close now. This whole trip had given so much, but this would be the payoff.