August 28, 2002 Silver Pass Creek to Lake Edison and Vermillion Valley Resort 45º—71º @MHP
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Very strange thing happened last night. Heard some very loud, sharp booms. Explosions. Two around midnight, one a bit later. I first thought it must be lightning/thunder near by, but the sky is completely clear. We were relatively close to several military bases, and the area was well known for nighttime flights of secret aircraft, but I never did find out what caused the nocturnal booms.
We got away from camp a bit late; soon passed Tim and Cheryl watering up at the creek. We descended down the trail to the North Fork Mono Creek branch, then followed that on down past the Mono Creek Trail junction toward Lake Edison. A bit before we reached the lake was a sign, with information on the ferry; we found out the morning ferry would stop running in a week; but we’d already missed that day’s morning ferry and would have to wait for the afternoon one at 4:45 p.m.
So, we hung out on the rocks along the shore of Edison Lake (and here, and here), whose level we could tell was quite a bit lower than usual. (Edison Lake is an artificial reservoir, with a dam at the other end.) I ate some jerky, some gorp and some Power Bars, read the maps, and ciphered on my GPS for a spell. Simply sitting down with boots off and soaking my dogs in the lake was enjoyable enough. Looking at the other side of the lake I could see a campsite with several tents. I suspected it was a fishing camp, and folks got there via boat. A few more folks joined us at the ferry landing just before departure time.
Finally, right on time at 4:45 a small covered flatboat came roaring up to the makeshift landing. About a half-dozen folks with packs got off, including fisherson and fisherdad. Todd and I hopped on the boat (I had read somewhere that one should sit in the back or get soaked), stowed our packs in the center, and sat along the side next to one of the two dogs, apparently the official dogs of Edison Lake. As we rode back in, I talked to the boat driver, who turned out to be Jim, who turned out to be the new owner of Vermillion Valley Resort. I told him we were through-hikers on the JMT, and he picked up his radio and called in, reporting he had six passengers and two through-hikers. I thought that was a good sign.
You see, the Vermillion Valley Resort had long had a history of being very popular with PCT and JMT hikers, and actually seemed to encourage their stopping by, as opposed to other stops along the trail which catered mainly to hunters, fishermen and boaters and basically just “allowed” backpackers to use some of their facilities. VVR had a tradition of giving the through-hikers a free beer, and putting them up for one night in their tent cabin, and holding resupply packages for a very modest fee.
I say “had”. Unfortunately, the legendarily generous owner of VVR, Butch Wiggs, died of his own hand in 2001. Here is a link to some remembrances of Butch from the Pacific Crest Trail Association website. It was unclear for a while what would happen to the resort; It went up for sale. I saw only a bit of news on it later, saying that it had been purchased and the new owners intended to keep the traditions alive, including the hospitality for through-hikers. The quote from their website is: “It has been a tradition at VVR to offer the long distance through hiker the first beverage and one night in the hiker’s tent cabin at no charge, and that tradition continues under the new management.”
So when Jim radioed back to the resort that he had two through-hikers coming in, I thought that was a good sign. Where we unloaded from the boat was a fair piece from the resort, chiefly because of the low level of the reservoir. A good quarter-mile hike took us past a few of the fancier cabins, some outbuildings, a few mobile homes, and finally to the store/cafe/hq. The woman behind the counter, I believe it was Jim’s wife, gave us the rundown. Basically, we could have anything we wanted from the store, just let them know and they’d write it down (provided you had a credit card, of course). The backpacker’s tent wasn’t yet full, so we could go grab a bed there. And she gave us the ferry departure times for the next morning and afternoon.
This was a nice break. I don’t recall what I did first: probably got some chocolate milk and potato chips, then went to the tent cabin to stake out my spot. In the tent cabin I threw my pack on one of the top bunks. Also in the cabin was Bob, a retired firefighter (at 49?) and a couple of teens from his church he was leading on a northbound hike. He had hiked the trail the previous year southbound. Todd had had his mid-trail resupply sent to VVR, and he picked it up and was redistributing his goodies. I then went off to collect on the “free beverage”—in fact, Todd and I split a six pack. I was wary of the dinner at the cafe in light of my experience at Red’s Meadow; I needn’t have been. The steak dinner was superb. As were all my meals at VVR.
After dinner I wandered around, checking out the remarkably well stocked store (nearly every emergency replacement item a backpacker could want, including water filter replacements) where I bought a pair of liner socks. One of the kids with Bob had hiked for a few days with a broken hip belt (on a brand new pack!); he found a suitable replacement fastener at the store. There was a scale out on the front porch; I got on and thought it odd I had gained a couple of pounds. Soon, other fellow hikers tried it out and we quickly realized the scale wasn’t calibrated—or else hiking was making us fatter. There was a trail magic fifty-five gallon drum by the fire ring. In it were items either discarded or left behind by hikers for other hikers to use as they saw fit. The items included a lot of food: I saw several bags of pasta and rice. I wondered if they had proved to be too much, or just that the bearer had thought a diet of pasta and rice sounded good in the planning stage, but after ten or twenty days just decided to toss the whole lot. There was also a pretty decent wind/rain jacket, with a tear. And also a teddy bear, with a note; something to the effect of “Hi, my name is Pookie; I’m hiking the whole Pacific Crest Trail. Please take me with you so I can finish my hike.” I elected not to.
Later on, after sunset, most of the folks there gravitated to the fire pit in front of the store. We all traded trail stories, (except for those folks who were there as fishing guests) and took turns going into the store to buy rounds of beers (“put it on my tab, please”). Most of the stories revolved around the other hikers we had seen, particularly those who had appeared nowhere near up to the task. Bob told of a guy hiking up Whitney summit with just a tiny water bottle and street shoes, and that got someone else talking about some other crazy hiker he’d seen, and several increasingly bizarre stories followed. It was all very enjoyable. I really wish I had taken some pictures there, but I don’t think I could have captured the esprit d’ corps, the zeitgeist, or whatever foreign phrase there is to express the comfortable energy we all shared there.
Finally, we all drifted off to our bunks. We planned to catch the morning ferry after a hearty breakfast and be on our way. But (he said melodramatically)…