The climb out the Mono Creek drainage is legendary. Fifty-seven switchbacks (or fifty-three, depending on what you call a switchback) take you from the river to the top of Bear Ridge, a wide, waterless expanse of forested hillside. Yes, the climb is intense, but the trail is better than decent. Nowhere do you begin to doubt the sanity of the trailbuilders, a practice that becomes more common as you make your way south. If you can help it, our advice is to tackle the thing in the morning. If you're starting from Vermilion Resort, consider taking the ferry the afternoon prior to departure and camp at the Mono Creek Crossing, where sites are plentiful and well used (especially on the south side of the river.) Then wake up with the sun, strike camp and begin trudging. Try counting the switchbacks on the way up. It doesn't make the trek any easier, but it's fun. After Bear Ridge you descend into the Bear Creek drainage, one of the prettiest sections of the John Muir Trail, and begin a long, gentle climb towards Selden Pass. The Pass itself is situated just above Marie Lake. The final ascent from the lake is a bit of a toil, but nothing terrible. To give you an idea, on the 2000 trip, while we were resting at the top of the pass, an elderly woman came up from the northern side leading a dirt-smudged exhausted little poodle on a leash. The sight had the effect of diminishing out achievement somewhat. Finally, the drop into the San Joaquin Basin is long, and begins in earnest shortly after you pass the beautiful (and sometimes overcrowded) Sallie Keyes Lakes. If you're headed for Muir Trail Ranch for a resupply, don't miss the shortcut towards the bottom (signed.) It's devilishly steep, but it'll take you straight there.
Confession: We haven't actually hiked the portion of the John Muir Trail that the shortcut bypasses (click here to see what portion we're talking about.) On both trips so far we've had resupply teams come in at Florence Lake, so we've missed out. Anyway, doing this segment from this direction can be rough. No matter what time of day you tackle that first 2,000 foot ascent up from the valley floor you're going to be doing it in full sun. It's long and it's uphill all the way. But you know what? The oasis awaiting you at the top is one of the most striking spots on the John Muir Trail. The beauty of Senger Creek makes it all worth it. While I'm certain I've seen prettier streams and prettier forests, there was nothing that could have convinced me that I hadn't just stumbled into Eden after I finished that climb. You must stop here and rest. Have a Clif Bar. Take it intravenously, if possible. And water. You'll probably be needing it. Compared to that, the remainder of the ascent to Selden Pass is a breeze. Sallie Keyes Lakes are especially nice. Once over the Pass you drop into the Bear Creek drainage. The views are remarkable, and the trail, which dribbles down the valley floor alongside the creek is mild and dotted with decent campsites. The crossing of Bear Creek is supposedly notorious in early season. We have yet to experience this. If anyone has photos of an early season crossing, send them and we'll post them. You'll be loath to leave the downhill meander of the valley when the trail forks upward to crest Bear Ridge, but the descent to Mono Creek is impressive and really shouldn't be missed. Hightail it over to the ferry by 4:45 PM. If you miss the ferry you'll have to hike an additional six miles to get your burger and free beer at Vermilion Resort.