Sierra High Route Day 12: Brown Bear Lake to Lower Mills Lake, A Day of Mindfulness

Day 12
Total Miles: 6.0
Cumulative Miles: 141.2
Elevation Gain: 1585 ft
Elevation Loss: 1752 ft
Camp: Lower Mills Lake
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Map of Sierra High Route Day 12 from Brown Bear Lake, over Gabbot Pass and on to Lower Mills Creek Lake
Daily Neet Beat
Today was a short day for us as we are ahead of our schedule and have a cabin reserved at Vermillion Valley Ranch (VVR) in two days where we will pick up our next resupply. Also, we will join up again with the John Muir Trail before VVR where we will once again be on the hiker’s highway. We prefer to camp in the more remote sections where we see few, if any, people. So we stop after only six miles knowing we can make the 16 miles to VVR tomorrow which will be mostly on trail.
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Ray analyzing our route that will take us above Lake Italy toward Gabbot Pass

Though short in miles, the hiking today it is all off trail which requires being in each present moment both physically and mentally for long periods of time.  I wonder if this is the equivalent of focused-attention mindfulness where people meditate and focus on one object like the breath. Maybe out here mindfulness happens but in an organic and not a forced way.  Your survival depends on being present in the moment, especially when you are hiking over large talus for hours on end.

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Hiking off trail may increase your mindfulness and being present in the moment as it requires mental and physical attention to every step

This may be the equivalent of focused-attention mindfulness. I speculate about being on a trail and open mind meditation where one observes the present moment without judgement. I believe this may be happening as well as without the noise of society around you and in long periods of walking. It feels so healthy to be out here for long periods of time and I can definitely see the changes in Ray as he is much calmer and happier while walking. Many people experience a strong sense of well-being while on a thru-hike and a sense of loss when they come back into the “real world”. Someone should study the effects of thru-hiking, both on and off trail, and see if the brain changes in gamma wave production, activity in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula as has been seen in long time meditators and Buddha Practioners. Ok, I am a scientist through and through but this would be a fascinating study.

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Looking back towards Lake Italy as we begin the hike up to Gabbot Pass
We hike from Brown Bear Lake along the north shore of Lake Italy as recommended by Roper and then have to decide which way to go up towards Gabbot Pass. Onthetrail.org has a route climbing up a drainage on the north side of Lake Italy which then crosses a nose towards the pass. Roper in his notes, and Skurka with his way points,  have the route go directly up drainage past Toe Lake and then climb up to the pass in the drainage below Mt Abbot. We decide to take the onthetrail.org route which turns out to be a mistake. Most of the time, onthetrail.org,which only gives general info, has been right on, but this time it is not the best. The drainage up to the nose is fine but this route requires crossing talus and dropping back down several hundred feet to avoid a cliff before heading up to the pass. In looking down towards Toe Lake, it appears that the route from Toe Lake would be easier.
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Ray and I on top of Gabbot Pass on the Mono Divide
We celebrate at the top of Gabbot Pass and then head down towards Upper Mills Creek Lake with its stunning examples of glacial features. Rock glaciers hang on the sides of the valley as we are funneled down towards the beautiful Mills Creek Lakes.
Chatter marks left by glaciers on the rock remind of of the power and strength of ice that can carry rocks and break others.
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Chatter marks are wedge-shaped marks left by chipping of the bedrock surface by rock fragments carried in the base of a glacier
Glacier flour is transported to the lakes giving them a bluish hue that looks unworldly.
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Glacial flour, ground into fine dust by glaciers is carried down to Upper Mills Creek

We drink from a source of water from a snowfield and Glacier that ay be 20,000 years old. It is a great day to be alive.

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Upper Mills Creek Lake is a turquoise color from the suspended glacial flour in the water which only reflects back the green and blue colors of the light spectrum
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Lower Mills Creek Lake was one of my favorite camping spots on the whole trip

Video of the Day: Gabbot Pass on Mono Divide

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