Day 4: Quail Meadows to Rosemarie Meadow (≈ 11.8 mi.)
July 31: Everything in the tent feels wet, not rain-soaked wet, but dank and damp from the high humidity. Even the rainfly on my tent is still very wet from last nightís rain. Of course, itís still only 5 a.m., but sounds in the kitchen woke me up and someone passed the beam of a flashlight across my tent. I assume Debbie is just getting an early start on breakfast. Wrong! She also heard the noise, and when she shone her flashlight around camp, she caught sight of a bear scurrying off.
After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and English muffins and lots of conversation about our camp visitor, we set off a little after 8:30 a.m. (The bearís visit did help us get going a little faster this morning.) We return to the JMT and cross Mono Creek (7750)óthis time on a steel footbridge. Good thing, too; the creek is running fast and furious after all the rain weíve had for the last few days.
Bear Ridge. Weíve been warned that this is a long, tough, boring 2000+-ft., 4 Ĺ mile climb, mostly in forest with few opportunities to see anything but trees. In actuality, itís more like hiking at home on the Appalachian Trailómostly in the trees, but there are patches where the sun breaks through the canopy. Here the ground is covered with vegetation, and sometimes the path is overgrown with ferns and wildflowers (that arenít in bloom). There are also a few spots where you can see across the valley to the Vermilion Cliffs. As we near the ridge where it is drier, there is no understory at all. The trail passes through groves of aspen, but, in general, the trees are various types of pines and firs with lodgepole pine at the summit.
Everyone finds their own pace for tackling this beast, so weíre spread out even more than usual. Iím in the middle walking by myself (and thatís where Iíll continue to be for most of the rest of the trip.) Some count the 53 switchbacks up the ridge, but I just count steps in a cadence to keep the rhythm going. It doesnít matter if my mind wanders and I lose my place, I just start again from some random starting point. The trail is mostly smooth and climbs at a fairly consistent angle of inclination, which is very different from most of the trails at home in the Appalachians.
I reach the crest (9950) around 11:30 a.m. (5 miles with 2200 ft. of elevation gain in slightly less than 3 hours; not too badóat least for me). There I pause to eat a Power Bar, pull up my socks, and retie my boots. Iíve barely restarted when the last of our group catches up with me.
As we head down the south side of Bear Ridge, the vegetation reappears, but on this side of the mountain, the wildflowers are blooming. We find a small stream to get water (there was none on the north side) and a couple of rocks to perch on and eat our lunches. We start the downward switchbacks about 12:30. We are a little more than half way to our destination of Rosemarie Meadow and, supposedly, weíve done the harder half. So, we take our time photographing the wildflowers.
Not too much later, precipitation commences. About 1000 feet down, the descent eases as we approach Bear Creek, but the rain increases. Winnett and Morey describe Bear Creek as ďrollicking.Ē Well when itís raining and it has been raining for the last week or so, it is really swollen and moving. It looks mean and powerful. And we have to ford several tributaries and then Bear Creek itself. And, to top it off, itís raining so hard at one point we have a hard time telling where the trail is as it crosses and climbs rocks along the creek and where we are vis-ŗ-vis the map.
When we reach the banks of Bear Creek, we switch from descending to ascending, paralleling the creek as it tumbles down the canyon. As we approach the point at which we finally have to ford Bear Creek, we find Dina, who had gotten separated from the advance group. The four of us switch to Tevas and move across linked together in a pyramid. But our trials (stream crossings) are not over, and we give up switching to Tevas and just plunge ahead, our boots getting wetter and wetter even as the rain lets up. Our last stream crossing for the day is in the middle of Rosemarie Meadow; our campsite is on the other side of the meadow from the trail.
Our small group reaches the campsite sometime between 5 and 5:30 p.m. The rest of our party had made it there much earlier and already had a good fire going. (Bug spray soaked paper worked great as a fire starter in the rain.) We have lots of time to work at drying out some of our boots and socks, since the horses and mules donít arrive until 7:15. (Our other source of entertainment is killing mosquitoes.)
We finish putting up our tents around 8, and dinner is served around 9óbeef stew that the cook had made in advance and frozen. The perfect thing when youíre wet, cold and hungry.
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