On our sixth day we backpacked south from Marie Lake on the John Muir Trail, climbed over Selden Pass, stopped to catch Golden Trout in Heart Lake and the Sallie Keyes Lakes, and ended our hike at Senger Creek. Selden Pass was the midpoint of our ten-day, seventy-mile trek in the High Sierra, and it was planned to be the easiest day yet.
We woke up at first light, like always. I went outside with my camera and took some photos of the lake. There weren’t any clouds in the sky, so I knew that the sunrise would be uneventful. That, coupled with the cold temperature and the easy day ahead of us, sent me directly into the tent again. I was happy that Vicki was keeping the sleeping bag warm!
We didn’t get up until the sun rose above the mountains to the east, warming the tent. We got dressed and Vicki went out to cook breakfast while I packed up the air mattresses and goose down quilt. Our usual division of labor. We ate our meal while checking out the lake, mirror-smooth in the calm air. I noticed the circular rings of wavelets down below us, a sure sign of trout feeding on insects. I was seriously tempted to head down there and catch one after yesterday’s fishing fiasco, but we really didn’t have the time. Instead, I vowed to stop and try my luck at the lakes to the south.
Vicki was excited to climb over a pass that only required about three hundred feet of climbing, unlike the usual 1000-plus footers we typically toiled up. The trail was fairly smooth, with a mellow grade, and the air was still cool, making for an enjoyable ascent. There were great views of Marie Lake the entire way there.
We were the only ones present when we arrived, so we removed our packs and took a break. I also snapped a bunch of photos and videos. We high-fived each other in celebration of making the halfway point of our trek. Two out of three passes were in the bag!
There was a headwall on the south side of the pass, and the trail descended steeply on some switchbacks. After that, we hiked through a high meadow area with a running creek. I walked over and discovered that it was full of tiny Golden Trout! They were less than six inches long, far too small to bother eating, but I was still tempted to try and catch one. Vicki told me to be patient and wait for the lake, which was less than a mile away.
We arrived at the lake and took some posed photos. With a name like Heart Lake, the pictures took on romantic overtones. We continued along the shore until we found a good spot for fishing, near the lake’s outlet. We took off our packs and had yet another break. I consulted one of the documents I stored on my phone, that spoke of trout types in the High Sierra. It said that this lake was stocked with Goldens over a hundred years ago, back in 1914! I was thankful to those folks for their efforts, even though introducing new species to an ecosystem would never be allowed today. I got out my Tenkara Fly Rod and attached the line. It didn’t take long before I caught two small Goldens. Vicki decided that it would be even more romantic if she ate trout from Heart Lake, so we put them in a ziplock baggie with some extra water, to keep them alive a bit longer, until she could clean them properly.
I could have caught more, but Vicki was happy eating a “loving couple” of fish. We put on our packs and headed toward the Sallie Keyes Lakes, a pair of lakes less than a mile away. I de-telescoped the fly rod and carried it with me, as I planned to fish in those lakes, as well.
Once again, we took a break near the lake. I found a decent spot near a huge boulder and fished for a while. The water was deep and I couldn’t see many trout down there in the dark, but I kept casting my line, pulling it in slowly and hesitantly, to tease a trout into striking the fly. And it worked! The Golden that I caught was quite large, and we got it into the baggie right away.
Vicki decided that three was plenty, but I wasn’t done yet. We walked down the trail a short way to the next lake in the chain (they were practically connected to each other) and tried once more. There was more breeze by that time, and I didn’t even get a bite. Oh well. Vicki decided that she wanted to eat them later, in camp, but preferred to clean them now, so we walked a bit further to a really nice campsite and took yet another break. She got out her daddy’s old filet knife and got to work. We tossed the heads, fins, and guts back into the lake for the trout to eat. Yes, they are cannibals. It really is a dog eat dog world out there.
The cumulus clouds were building, and we began to worry that there might be a thunderstorm that afternoon. As we hiked, there were fewer and fewer patches of daylight and blue sky. Luckily, our path led mostly downhill, and we hurried right along. We both wanted to get the tent set up first, so we’d have a safe haven safe from the rain. Less than three miles to go!
We arrived at Senger Creek, our destination. This was the only water source for miles, and my PCT phone app said that there were good camping sites there. We almost camped near the trail and creek, but decided to look a bit further uphill and found a really nice spot that was much more secluded. We put up the tent and Vicki got inside. Partly because she wanted a nap, but mostly because there were zillions of flies! We’d noticed them the past few days, mostly during mid-day while we were hiking, but we had no idea that they could be this bad once you held still for a while! I joined her in the tent, and we read our books for a while. Then we took a short nap.
After that, Vicki left the tent to cook her trout. She wore her bug screen over her face, which made life more bearable. After cooking and cleaning the bones from the filets, she reheated the meat and was transported to Trout Heaven.
When she was done, I washed the pot with soap and a green scrubbie to remove the fish residue. The flies really liked it, so it had to go. After that, we went back into the tent, cursing this plague of flies. But at least we got more reading done. This was our easiest hiking day, after all, so taking it easy was called for.
In late afternoon, the air began to cool, and the flies went back to wherever they came from. That’s when the mosquitos came out! But at least mosquitos are repelled by DEET. Flies aren’t repelled by anything that we knew of. We were finally able to take a walk in peace, after eating our freeze-dried dinner.
We got out the map and looked at tomorrow’s hike. It was six and a half miles, and almost entirely downhill. Vicki liked this idea. The first part of the hike was through an exposed hillside covered in chaparral, which the northbound PCT hikers swore was a death march on a hot afternoon, Vicki decided that we should get up early, to bypass this hazard by remaining in the shade. I agreed, and set my alarm. Why suffer? Let’s get it over with. And, just maybe, I’d have time that afternoon to fish in the San Joaquin River, which was known to have Brown Trout. I liked this idea.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page