Tuesday, August 7th, 2018
Last night we camped at a small camp next to Tyndall Frog Pond. It was a beautiful area that sat just a little ways away from the majority of campers near Tyndall Creek where we had enjoyed our dinner.
Although, our camp was perfect, with a fine stone chair, I didn’t sleep well at all. Like the stone chair, the ground was hard. It felt uneven. I even got cold.
So, when we awoke before 7 am, I was ready to roll. When my body is stiff and sore, I find it’s best to get it moving. We were on the trail by 7:15 am. No breakfast. We don’t have time for such luxuries. Or, maybe we were just excited to see what was around the next corner of our adventure.
For a full summary and map, check out our guide to The Big SEKI Loop.
Heading to Wallace Creek
Our first destination was Wallace creek. We had to climb a little bit which I welcomed because it warmed me up quickly. We then wandered across a vast, sandy, arid landscape with sporadicly placed Juniper trees. I couldn’t help but look upon them with awe and inspiration.
Twisted and bare of bark, they jutted from the sandy soil.
I admire the Sequiouas because they look invincible, yet tested. Each one tells a story in their wind swept twisted grain. With adversity it retaliates, building itself even stronger. They’re twisted and knotted into perfection, standing in the sand, under the sunshine, lacking bark, yet full of beauty. Strong and refusing to back down.
I make a mental note, “be more like a sequoia.”
I look back to see what Rachel’s doing. A smile is on her face, a stride that can’t be beat, a rhythm in her step. Stride click, stride click, stride click. Her trekking poles send sand into the air behind her.
After about 4 miles we dip down to Wallace creek and enjoy a simple breakfast. Granola, muesli, coconut milk powder. The rich taste of coconut is a favorite on the trail.
Rachel chats up some strangers, exchanging trail tales from the JMT. They disembark and we shuffle off our separate ways. This is where we split off from the JMT for our trip, cutting west along Wallace creek toward Junction Meadow, and onward to Colby Pass.
To Junction Meadow
As we cut off from the JMT, the sun is high and hot. We have about 4 miles down along a sun exposed hillside to reach Junction Meadow. It’s going to be a hot one. Ahead we spot a creek crossing. This must be Wright Creek.
Rachel steps onto a boulder and eyes our crossing suspiciously. Stones protrude from the water, with full stride lengths in-between. At first the risks are minimal, simply threatening a soaked hiking shoe. But closer toward the middle of the stream a slip could result in soaked and dripping back pack.
Rachel’s gaze guides from the creek and then to me.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It looks kind of deep near the middle. There aren’t many stones to cross.”
“Maybe we can go up and cross that log” I respond.
Rachel reaches her pole into the water, midway between the first stone and her. She anchors it then stretches our her leg to plant her foot upon the stone. Feeling secure she rocks forward onto her foot, plants her right pole forward to catch her weight then skips onto the next stone. She carefully plops along the stones and steps along the log, traverses a large boulder and reaches the dry trail on the other side.
I applaud in my head, “Nice work dear.”
I follow her lead then bend to scoop water into my hat and situate it on my head. Ahhh, the cold water is cutting as it drips down my back. But it buys me comfort for several minutes on the trail that lies ahead. Who knows how long it will be until I find such cool relief again.
Scooting down the trail, dripping in sweat, hiding our skin and eyes from the sun, we spot another group. We’re antsy to meet other hikers who have come from Colby Pass. The ranger had previously told us that the trail was fairly primitive and that there recently was a rockslide. Hopefully these hikers will know the conditions. We stop to greet them on the trail, both parties enjoying the break.
There are two of them and they’re doing the southern portion of the SEKI loop. But they did not go through Colby Pass. Instead they had come from Elizabeth pass and were heading toward Mt. Whitney. They don’t know much about Colby Pass but have heard it’s fairly rough, with elements of route finding. We wish them well with Whitney and part ways our anxieties slightly elevated. What will Colby pass be like?
We push away our anxieties and enjoy the views as we descend. Sequioas tower over the trail, twisting with each turn.
Torn trunks accent the trail cheering us along our way. “I love these trees, they’re so encouraging” I think to myself. Maybe I’ll get one tattooed on my arm.
After several gentle trail turns, the ground levels out to an edge, with two boulders announcing their prominence to the world.
We walk to the edge and enjoy the view.
Getting closer to our junction we spot another man moving upward in our direction. We ask where he’s coming from, “have you been over Colby?” then are excited to hear his answer.
“Yeah, I came over Colby”
…but we’re not as excited by the rest.
“It was hard and slow going. Lots of backtracking. Really slow. I slid in a few places.”
He goes on retelling the recount of his journey. All in all it sounds treacherous.
He recommends surpassing Junction Meadow because there’s a lot of blow downs and the trail has been washed out. He said he traversed above the junction and cut over to the trail. He shows us on our map.
“My name’s Erik. You’ll probably see a few of my friends down by the river.”
He says he’s heading for Whitney and then plans to meet back up with them in a few days. Nervous about his trail report, wish him luck and are about to head our separate way, when he says this.
“Oh, yeah. Keep an eye out for a guy wandering around without a backpack. There’s some crazy guy who lost his backpack somewhere near Roaring River. The rangers have been looking for him. Apparently he showed up at Roaring River Ranger station a night ago at 2 am in the morning. The Rangers were going to help him in the morning but he didn’t want to wait so he took off, and they’ve been looking for him. So, just beware.”
With that, we wished our new friend good luck and made on down the trail anxiety festering hot.
On our way down to Junction Meadow we kept eyeing the landscape for possibilities to traverse and circumnavigate like our fellow traveler had explained. But nothing looked straightforward. The landscape was speckled with brush and relentless terrain. The hills just kept funneling us down closer to Junction Meadow.
Finally, settling into the Meadow, we found some shade and sat in the pine needles. It was hot and we were worried. It was unclear what kind of shape this trail was in. It sounded possibly treacherous. We sat and talked it through.
We could still turn around and go back the way we came. We still had time. We didn’t want to. But if the trail conditions were bad, this was still an option. We didn’t have to lock ourselves into anything. But as far as the eye could see right now, the trail still looked okay. There were no signs of washout, or blow downs. We could see a safe and clear path from where we were right now. We could indeed continue and see how things unfold. If at any point the trail got bad, we still had time to turn around.
And so the decision was made. We would continue on. So we set out for Colby Pass.
We strode along the trail from Junction Meadow, eyeing it with suspicion.
“Well, yeah I think there’s a few more pine needles on this trail. It appears a little less worn than the ones we’ve been on. But it’s still very obvious.” I thought to myself.
We walked under some trees and then emerged on a rocky creek bed. My eyes lifted to take in the sight.
Oh, this must be the blow down.
Hmmm… this certainly is rough, but it doesn’t look that bad. We just have to assess the situation. I scanned the area and noticed it across the stream.
“There” I point to Rachel, “there’s a cairn, and that looks like it was once a trail over there”.
We skipped along the rocks feeling newly rejuvenated. This was rough but not that bad. If this was the worst of it, I think we’ll be okay. The route finding was exciting, a welcomed change from our backcountry freeway the JMT.
Hopping along the rocks, we spot three more guys coming down. They’ve got fishing poles, and they’re Erik’s friends. We pass along what Erik had told us and ask them how the trail is, if it’s dangerous further on.
The look on their faces tells me “not at all”.
“No it’s not too bad. It’s not dangerous at all, just slow going. You have to pay attention to the trail. It’s easy to lose in places, but easy to pick back up.”
Oh, we’ve done this before. We can handle this. I was picturing cliff side scrambles, with eroded trails and roots we’d have to climb. But no, that’s not the case. The trail sounded safe, just a little rough around the edges.
“Perfect, that sounds fun to me” I thought.
The worst part was actually the heat. Some thick brush although annoying provided some solace from the sun.
Working our way up, we emerged from the thickest of the brush, and stopped fro a snack. Down the trail came a familiar face we had seen a couple days ago.
“Mind if I join you guys” he asked.
“Of course not” we say, and he joins us in the dirt.
Snacking on hummus and smoked salmon, we learn about our new trail friend. He’s a nice kid out hiking for 15 days before returning to Colorado for college.
When we ask about the pass conditions, he says it’s steep but the trail isn’t bad. “I never felt like I lost it. Nah. It’s beautiful. I think you’ll love it.”
After chatting for several moments more, we bid our friend farewell.
“Enjoy the rest of your trip! If you can get up north check out Simpson Meadow. Devil’s Washbowl is amazing.”
Finding Gallats Lake
Anxieties subdued we teeter back to our feet. The time is about 2:30 in the afternoon. Not too bad.
We charge back on the trail, and lose ourselves in our surroundings. The Colby Pass trail is wild. We descend a short rocky section, where the trail shoots between the granite, then drops back into the bushes.
Finally, the trail dips into the shade, and a gentle pool beckons me for a swim. I dip my hat to cool my head and acknowledge the tranquility for its beauty. This place feels kind of like a jungle. Trees and brush grow over small slabs of stone, vines fall off of trees. I keep an eye for where the trail leads.
Around 5 pm we assume we must be getting close to our destination as we ascend up over slabs of rock. But we don’t see a lake yet. We pull out our maps to examine our course.
Was that a voice? I could have sworn I heard a voice. We look around but nothing.
Ah over there we saw someone in the distance. They must be in the river.
“I’m going to go ask them where the lake is” Rachel says.
“Okay” I say and sit down using my pack to prop me up.
Rachel comes back smiling, “I interrupted their bath time”, she laughs. “They thought the lake was about two more miles up.”
We agree that sounds odd according to our calculations. So, we continue hiking up and eventually pass a beautiful meadow stretch along our left, it curves making the shape of a horseshoe.
We continue on looking for some campsites. It’s odd we haven’t seen any. We examine the map. Oh, it looks like we passed the lake. It looks like it was just out of view. We decide to continue slightly further and to pick the first camp we find next, ideally next to a stream.
The trail begins to rise from the green meadow. We must be climbing toward Colby Pass. We hike along as the trail steeply climbs through the trees and rocks, then spot an area just off the trail. The creek is right there too. This is it, our home for tonight.
We stretch and dig our dirty clothes out from our bags. The sun shines reflects on the creek, that’s perfectly placed between the stones. The sunshine is warm, and there’s still time for a dip. I step into the water. It’s not bad, it feels like bath water. Rachel and I wade into the waters, rinsing our faces and cleaning our clothes. I slip on the rocks and look silly then sit on a stone in the middle of the stream.
After enjoying the calm we wring our clothes dry and drape them on a boulder that sits towering above the creek. I the set up our tarps down near the trail as Rachel prepares Mexican quinoa and beans for dinner. We sit atop the towering stone and fill our bellies full. It’s delicious, a meal fit for royalty. I feel lucky to live this life.
We settled into bed with plans to listen to our book after I’m done journaling. In the morning we’ll try for an early start around 5 am for Colby pass.
Goodnight my wife. Goodnight nature. Goodnight trail. I’ll see you all tomorrow.