JMT, Day 16: A Bear of a Trail

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Bear Creek Meadow to Silver Pass Creek, 14 miles

Breakfast is the least satisfying meal for us when we are backpacking. For this trip we are basically rotating between oatmeal (yuck!), rehydrated bean burritos (OK once in a while), and ProBar Meal Bars (tasty, but not hot). Today we decide to switch it up and go for instant mashed potatoes. It’s really cold this mornimng, and they are really hot and taste good to us. I like the change, but we both know we’ll be hungry again soon.

The trail starts today following along Bear Creek, and, after the first mile, we have to ford two streams right in a row. The first looks a little challenging with some strong currents over rocks and a wet log. There is a small troop of Eagle Scouts crossing when we arrive, and they are discussing how slippery the log is. Matt decides to go for a dry crossing while I choose wet. I change my shoes and barrel through the river as quickly as possible. The water is always cold, but, at 7:30 am, it feels even worse than normal. The second ford is 20 or so feet further, and this time the cold is painful. It’s another 15 minutes of hiking in my boots before I can feel my toes properly again.

The trail continues by the river for quite a while before we part ways and begin to climb Bear Ridge (9880′) For whatever reason I was expecting today to be relatively easy, so I am a little taken aback when we start hitting switchbacks. We climb through the manzanita bushes and occasionally pass muddy sections of trail where the flowers seem to thrive.

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Just before reaching the top of Bear Ridge, there is an opening in the trees, and we get our first big view of the day.

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After the junction with the Bear Ridge Trail, we start the long descent to Quail Meadows. We drop nearly 2000′ over 4.6 miles, mainly in switchbacks down a steep mountainside in the last couple of miles. There are so many of them we lose count, but our moods pick up when we run into a pretty, little deer about halfway down the mountainside.

Our feet are tired of pounding down the mountain by the end, so we take a break when we reach the bridge over Mono Creek to filter and soak our feet in the cold water for as long as we can possibly stand it. It would be so nice to camp right here, but we have some more ground to cover before calling it quits.

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We lace up our boots again and begin the climb up toward Silver Pass (10,745′). We know we won’t make it all the way there, but we are hoping to knock off some of the 6.7 miles and about 2800′ of elevation gain today. The scenery is a little more interesting on this side of the pass, so we make pretty good progress considering that it is late in the afternoon and that we already have 10+ miles under our belt.

Ideally, we would like to make it to Silver Pass Lake, but we jump on a campsite next to Mono Creek a few miles short of our target. Camp chores and dinner take up the rest of the evening, but we do pause to see the full moon rise just above the peaks in the distance. Since we aren’t carrying a telephoto lens, we don’t even attempt to capture it on camera, but it would have made an awesome photo—Scout’s honor!

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