Day 5, July 14th: Duck Lake Trail Junction to Pocket Meadow. 13 miles. (Note: these entries are from my trip last summer. I am writing them after-the-fact)
We pack up quickly in the morning to avoid possible mosquitos. The sun is still below the mountains when we start moving, everything bright with reflected light regardless of the sun. Granite grit crunches under our feet. We've decided that Tanka and Bebak are probably behind us, and maybe slept in at Red's. There's a short rise and we pass by sole sister and friends, just starting to poke around camp and cook breakfast. We pass by Purple Lake around 2 miles in. Its shores are crowded with pine trees and camp sites. When we get to Lake Virginia, many hikers are eating breakfast and repacking hastily-gathered belongings after being driven out by mosquitos at Purple Lake. Glad we didn't camp there. Virginia Lake is edged by a sweeping carpet of green, and we hop over its shallow outlet past hikers enjoying the lake.
We keep meeting PCTers complaining about the mosquitos near Tully Hole, which we drop down into right after Lake Virginia. I preemptively sit down by the trail to dig for my mosquito gear, which I keep near the top cradling the top of my bear canister. I pull my black windpants over my bulky Lone Peaks and scrunch my mosquito net over my visor. Ready. It's a lazy few miles, and I leap-frog a silent guy with a green shirt and a green buff over his half of his face. I dub him "The Green Ninja"in my head. Since it's difficult to keep track of all of the people I meet, and I forget everyone's names almost immediately (is this genetic), I give people unofficial trail "names" in my head. They're not exactly always names: Sole sister, short-red-haired-girl-who-walks-in-front, man-with-broken-poles, blue, bear-bell, and flower. There aren't really many trail names given or used among JMTers, at least among the people I've hiked with. Most of us seem to agree that you'd need to do a longer thru-hike to get a proper one.
I'm getting hot going down sets of exposed switchbacks, and when I get down I look for a rock to sit on to take my windpants off. Suddenly, mosquitos start seeping out of the pores of the forest. I wait a few seconds for my mom to catch up, jumping up and down to stop them from getting too comfortable. I suck on the end of my platypus hose and it rattles as I drain the last of my water. Dangit. My mom comes up and says she's out too.
Fish Creek lies by the side of the trail and we rush to filter a liter of water each. I try to eat, alternatingly either succeeding or attempting to shove lifesaver gummies through my headnet. My mom's Sawyer Mini filter is slower than my Squeeze and I jam out as she's still packing back up to avoid to bugs. We meet up again at footbridge crossing over the creek as it rushes down a gorge, silver-steel water leaping down and pounding rock, flecking the air with spray. Then the mosquitos are bad again, my mom tells me not to wait for her, and I put my head down and hike, my windpants sticking to my legs with sweat in the heat. My headnet traps my breath and I'm breathing stale, hot air that smells like the lifesaver gummies. I go slow and stop often to breathe, but anything is better than having my skin bare to these mosquitos. They try to get in under my headnet and buzz around my ears. My skin is crawling.
The trail starts rising up out of the infernal Tully Hole, and when I look around the trail has transitioned from shade and grass and dry pine duff to granite and manzanita. A breeze tugs weakly at my damp face. I've been walking without stopping for a long time to keep my sanity from being stolen from me, and I wait for my mom for several minutes. Finally I leave her a note saying "See U on top of Silver Pass in 2 miles" written on paper torn from my map, and head up the side of a steep granite wall, where I'd watched other hikers disappear over the top as I'd waited.
I crest over the wall, and see a lake banked with soft green mosses. There's an abandoned Garcia bear can sitting in the middle of the trail by the lake outlet, lined with bush willow. I cross the outlet and a couple, who I think we met at Red's, invite me to sit by the shore with them and soak my feet. The tell me this is Squaw Lake, since I haven't had the chance to look at my maps for a while. Another duo joins us. Again, names. Agh. Green Ninja silently claims a spot a hundred feet away.
There are no bugs, and everything is green and soft. I think this is my favorite lake. My mom comes up and we sit at the lake shore with our feet stuck into the water, the others complaining about sore feet and blisters. (This is a PSA: don't wear boots while backpacking. You don't need them, they just cause problems. Your feet and ankles have been evolving for thousands of years to support you and whatever loads you decide to carry, they aren't inherently weak or flawed).
We wonder what the bear can back at the lake outlet is doing there, and if maybe it has food in it. I volunteer to go and fetch it. It feels like there's something in there at least, so I weave between stepping stones as I cross the outlet again, and it feels like something is moving in there. My imagination kicks in. What if somebody trapped a rattlesnake inside and it's dying. What's even more creepy than a rattlesnake is a half-dead rattlesnake, because it's both dead and alive, and I run full-tilt and screeching under my breath back to everyone else with the writhing can at arm length. "It's alive!" I blurt out, and then drop it. The lid pops off and a trail register almost falls into the lake. Other than that, there isn't anything in there of course.
Well then. Thanks, imagination. Everyone laughs and starts passing the register around to sign. I cook some pho for lunch because I have nothing better to do, and then join everyone else as they head off, one-by-one. My mom stays at the lake for a while longer. I hike barefoot for a while, which phases the PCTers passing by, until my mom catches up. I put my sandals on. We skirt a slippery patch of snow and then we're on top of Silver Pass. A haze that we had noticed coming up to the pass becomes a veil of smoke smudging the view of the entire valley ahead of us. No one heading north seems to have much information about the smoke other than it's near Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) and it's controlled, so it's probably not an issue. We get info from a PCTer about ferry times so we can get across Lake Thomas Edison to VVR, since we're more than a day ahead and need to kill time.
It's a quick drop down from Silver Pass, and we pass lakes in the haze as the sun is sinking. We want to get to the ferry in time so we don't have to walk, which means we need to be within 2-3 miles of it. We hit Pocket Meadow and there are a lot of people camped here, so I give my mom the only tent site and set up my sleeping bag to try cowboy camping. I really want to try it. My nose starts bleeding randomly as I'm getting ready to sleep and won't stop, which happens frequently up here because of the altitude and since it's so dry. It's best not to blow your nose, or even look at it the wrong way.
The mosquitos come. I get into my sleeping bag with the hood cinched tight and my headnet on. My nose begins bleeding again in earnest and my wad of TP is getting soaked with blood and the mosquitos are barraging my headnet and buzzing, buzzing, buzzing in my ear. I jump out and start pacing around barefoot. Between my wool sleeping clothes and mosquito bites and the actual mosquitos, I itch everywhere. My mom clears space in her tent and I dive in, 20 mosquitos with me. We sit and talk until it's dark enough for the mosquitos to have gone.
I clamber out and into my beautiful cozy soft silken sleeping bag, a couple of the more persistent mosquitos still bumping into my headnet. Pines skew haphazardly across my field of vision. I wake up in the middle of the night and see the stars.
Copy the content below and paste it in the page in which you would like this embedded. Change the width value below as necessary.