Day 17: Silver Pass Creek to Silver Pass to Duck Lake Outlet, 13.1 miles
We are camped about two miles and 1000’ below Silver Pass. We wake up early and hope to tackle the pass feeling refreshed and well rested. It’s another cold morning, so we don’t get out of camp as early as we hoped to, but we are on the trail by 7 am, and up we go!
We are quickly above tree line, and it’s nice to return to the high alpine scenery we saw so much of during our first two weeks on the JMT. We arrive at Silver Pass Lake where we had hoped to camp and discover that it is stark and exposed. Our campsite last night suited our needs better after all.
The trail up to Silver Pass is really nice. The grade is fairly gentle. It’s smooth with few steps and just a few patches of snow, and, before we know it, we have reached the top at 10,745’. The views from the pass are superb. There are several beautiful lakes on the north side, but our favorite is the little unnamed tarn on the south side.
We don’t know how many more opportunities like this we are going to have in the future, so we take our morning break here and savor the satisfaction of feeling like we are sitting on top of the world.
After taking it all in, we begin the descent and drop elevation pretty rapidly, passing a series of beautiful lakes all named after Native American culture: Chief, Papoose, Warrior and Lake of the Lone Indian. Once we pass Squaw Lake, we are back into the trees and hiking in the forest.
After 3.6 miles we cross raging Fish Creek on a steel bridge and then it’s up a canyon for 1.1 miles to Tully Hole. We stop there for lunch and then begin the 800’ uphill via switchbacks towards Lake Virginia. As we zig and zag across the mountainside, Tully Hole reveals itself as a tiny meadow surrounded by a dozen or so high peaks.
Finally the trail flattens out, and we make our way around the shore of beautiful Lake Virginia. We stop there to rest and chill our tired feet in the cold blue water. We try our best to hold our feet under the surface for at least 10 seconds at a time before the pain of the freezing cold water forces us to yank them out and warm them in the sun before psyching ourselves up for more. As we make our way to the lake’s outlet, we pass loads of Pearson’s paintbrush, a beautiful red and yellow version of the ubiquitous alpine flower that thrives in this spot.
It’s another big up and down from Lake Virginia to Purple Lake, where we see many hikers setting up camp for the night. It’s a pretty spot, but we want to get a little farther up the trail, so we continue on for another 2.3 miles to the Duck Lake outlet. As the saying goes, there’s no rest for the weary, and we are faced with one last up and down for the day.
We are both running on fumes when we finally reach the outlet and decide that we will save the ford for the morning. We have to climb uphill to find a flat campsite off the trail. It’s a bit of a struggle to get there, but the commanding view from up top is worth it and makes us feel like we have our own little private perch, a nice bonus. There are also some pretty flowers tucked into the rocks around our site.
Curiously, there is quite a temperature difference between our campsite and the stream below where we filter water. Cold air sinks. Hot air rises. And it is noticeably warmer up in camp, making us all the happier that we made the effort to get high.
With our camp chores behind us, we relax and journal a bit resting our backs on some well-placed boulders on a rock shelf adjacent to camp. We aim to be in bed by 9 tonight. Hooray!