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TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:45 am
by copeg
1070 days since my last backpacking trip: but who's counting right? Any lengthy absence from doing something you love can give you a lot of time to think about it. For me, that meant thinking about where my next backpacking trip will be. And the longer I thought about it, the more undecided I became. When the thumbs up finally arrived I was confused as ever, and it was info provided by several members of this forum that convinced me there was a lake I just had to visit.

In my typical style, I was out the door by 4am for the 5hr drive to Florence Lake, and a ferry ride later I was left lifting my pack onto my shoulders and putting one foot in front of the other for the next seven hours. The hike towards Muir Trail Ranch was easy, a nice walk through forest mixed with meadows as the trail criss crossed the road to Muir Trail Ranch. A quick lunch at Senger Creek and I started the climb up towards Seldon Pass - the first mile or so a brutally steep section which thankfully flattens out beyond the first trail junction. I could feel I had come from sea level, together with the black flies swirling around me the dry switchbacks seemed painfully endless. Passing a few hikers coming down, I finally reached Senger Creek for a much needed water break.

I was dedicated to at least reach Sally Keys Lakes, but with a good deal of daylight left and some energy in reserves getting over Seldon Pass seemed doable. As I ascended above Sally Keys Lakes, the view south began to open up.

View south over Sally Keys Lakes

I finally reached Seldon Pass by 6pm, and a quick walk down the north side found myself setting up camp above Marie Lake. The cool breeze was welcome, as the bugs were starting to worsen. Starving, I made some dinner before heading down to the shore for sunset.

Sunset at Marie Lake

The first night always seems sleepless for me, and that night was no exception. Awake at midnight, I decided to get up and play with my camera

Milky Way above Seldon Pass

It was an early rise for me, as I was eager to get going towards my destination for the day. Beforehand, I took a short exploratory walk, making a few casts into Marie Lake along the way.

Mount Senger

Soon I was heading north along the JMT, surprised to see no one along the trail. Reaching Rosemarie Meadow, I began my off trail exploration, finding a snow survey hut just out of sight off trail, then north to check out two small ponds indicated on the map.

Reaching the ponds, the bugs came at me with a vengeance. Covered in more DEET than I cared to be exposed to, the bugs started penetrating any possible accessible area. Their first area of choice: my ankles - a location I left bare of chemicals thinking the fabric was thick enough to prevent access. Just as I felt that familiar tickling sting on my right ankle, I swiped the area with my hand, leaving behind a few blood stains in the process. These were - quite possibly - the worst mosquito swarms I've ever encountered, having me route-finding as fast and safe as I possibly could to get to better ground. I finally heard the creek, which I crossed and followed upwards.

The swarms cycled from worse to extreme depending upon how distant I was from nearby water bogs, driving me to move that much faster upwards. The climb lessened at a small meadow, followed by another short climb up to the lower lake - more a meadow now than a lake. A few minutes later and I was standing along the (thankfully) breezy shores of Orchid Lake. It was 10:30am, which left the rest of the day to explore. However the sky looked threatening, keeping me near camp but allowing me to nap, fish, snack, and take photos - amazing that just a short distance from the JMT and not a single footprint to be found aside from my own.

As the weather cleared late in the afternoon…

Afteroon at Orchid Lake

…I packed a daypack and headed out for a quick visit north to Apollo Lake - fun route-finding but the day hike was shortened given it was getting late. Back to camp for dinner - a dinner with some additional nutrients thanks to the mosquitos flying into my food. The sky was building again, and by sunset was nearly completely overcast. The clouds got brighter, marking sunset was just around the corner. Then just as quickly as the sky got brighter, it ominously darkened. About ready to give up, the sun suddenly burst through the clouds like a laser beam, coloring the mountains an intense red, and a short time later the clouds as well. THIS was what I was hoping for - one of those magical moments you can't adequately describe, and can only try your best to capture as a photo.

Sunset, Orchid Lake

Alpenglow, Orchid Lake

Just as quickly as it came, the sunset faded leaving me standing there in awe as it began to rain. Nothing much else to say: I ducked into my tent to get away from the bugs and rain.

It rained on and off that night, and I awoke to gray skies and a remarkable calm morning - a perfect reflection across the lake touched only by the occasional rising fish.

Morning coffee at Orchid Lake:

It was hard leaving, and I kept making excuses to stay...did I forget something? One last cast? One last photo?

In the on and off rain, the hike down to the JMT was much easier than coming up. But passing one bog after another I continued to get bombarded by clouds of mosquitos. Finally reaching the JMT, I turned south, making a nice trip up to Rose Lake for a snack and rest. Rose Lake was just as calm as the lake I left a few hours earlier - a perfect reflection.

You don't get hear without getting your feet a little dirty:

Back on the trail, by the time I got to Marie Lake it had gotten somewhat cold and windy - it was welcome as both seemed to keep the bloddsuckers at bay. Several hikers passed - the first people I had seen in a few days. Undecided where I was going to camp, I stayed at Marie Lake for an extra long lunch, watching blue patches move across the sky, and their spousal patches of sunlight move across the mountains in response.

Afternoon at Marie Lake

Convinced I should camp south of Seldon Pass for an easier hike out the following day, I packed up my gear and made the quick hike up and over the pass. In no hurry whatsoever, I stopped frequently to fish, photo, and enjoy. Down at Sally Keys Lakes I found a nice and private camp above the lake. Few mosquitos here, which was a nice surprise compared to the previous few days. The sky had threatened all day, and finally let loose for a good sized down-poor, letting up and clearing for an anticlimactic sunset.

Perhaps it was my sleeping mat or my racing mind, but I just couldn't sleep. I prepared for a quick departure in order to catch an earlier ferry at Florence Lake. However I couldn't help but frequently stop in the forest below Sally Keys Lakes as the sun penetrated the forest.

Morning in the forest

As is typical for me on a last day's hike back to the trailhead, I turned on autopilot for the last several miles down the trail, not seeing another person after the Muir Trail Ranch, and getting to Florence Lake by noon - leaving some time to soak my soar feet and legs before the 1pm ferry.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 7:03 am
by Pato
Amazing shots at orchid lake, I'm jealous of those conditions. When I was there it was bluebird skies. Well done, thanks for sharing and glad you got out after such a long time away.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:28 am
by Troutdog 59
Nice return Copeg and all the way to Marie in day 1. Kudos!!! I love that area and the sunset pics you shared are simply outstanding. Thanks for the TR.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:36 am
by ucangler
Nice pictures. Good eye.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 11:09 am
by schmalz
That orchid sunset is what it's all about. Well done.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 12:08 pm
by SweetSierra
Beautiful photos, especially the sunset at Orchid Lake. Thank you for posting.

Your private camp site at Sally Keys Lake sounded very nice. It makes me want to make another trip there. A few years ago, just off the JMT at Lake of the Lone Indian near Silver Pass, I saw no one for a day and a half. I was surprised. And the few people I did see, were passing the lake heading north.

It was also near Marie Lake that my group encountered the worst clouds of mosquitos that I've ever experienced. I'm hoping that the southern Yosemite backcountry won't be like that next week, but I'm thinking it will. [-o<

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 1:24 pm
by maverick
Like we discussed yesterday, Orchid Lake (small one), has the most quintessential
views that the Sierra has to offer, and then add in some primo light by mother
nature, and it's as perfect as it gets, period.
The views have a sense of tranquility to them, they have a soothing effect to
ones soul, especially if you have not been out for 1070 days! :eek: Your Dusy trip
was that long ago, time sure does fly.
Those views of Seven Gables and the ridge line to Feather Peak can just glow with
a fiery red color that one can only witness at elevation in the Sierra, when the
conditions are just right.

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:09 pm
by copeg
Thanks for the comments everyone!

@Pato, I was lucky for those conditions...this was my one window to go and was expecting bluebird skies - lucked out with some nice stormy weather.

@Troutdog 59, I'm surprised I made it to Marie Lake myself - it was a long day.

@SweetSierra, I was surprised how crowded Sally Keys was...virtually every 'established' camp within 100ft of the trail was taken. Lots of JMT hikers. But a little exploration goes a long way to find some nice flat areas on the shelves above the lake

@Maverick, well said. I'm a bit surprised this lake was off my radar for so long...lucky to have this forum with the wealth of info to bring it to my attention. Hopefully this TR is not letting a secret out of the box

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:38 pm
by maverick
Copeg wrote:
Hopefully this TR is not letting a secret out of the box.
Nope, mine didn't either. It's off-trail, which keeps 99% of the people from
visiting it. :nod:

Re: TR - Seldon Pass -> Orchid Lake

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:43 pm
by sekihiker
Your photos - exceptional as usual. Thanks for sharing.