JMT Day 15: Moonscape, Mather, & mild rain
August 18, 2013 Saturday
We got up at a good time this morning — I was out taking down the bear bag (which has been a Trader Joe’s grocery bag to no ill effect) at 6:20. We ate breakfast in camp, as the climb up started immediately. We had been warned about the difficulty of the Golden Staircase, and expected it to look like a staircase carved out of rock. We were so fixed on that idea that we didn’t realize we were already on it until past halfway up. It was a rather nicely graded set of switchbacks — I didn’t mind it.
We had AM snack by the shore of Lower Palisade Lake. Andrew, Sasha, & Nell caught up with us there, and we leap-frogged all day. Lower Palisade Lake was a nice lake, though at this point they’re all starting to look similar. We then had a rather nasty climb up a work-in-progress section of trail to a ridge that skirted around Upper Palisade Lake. From there the trail went up to the pass, over fairly reasonable switchbacks. Some of the rocks underfoot were a rosy pink. As similar moonscape effect happened above the tree line, as with the previous passes.
After a long solid haul, we got to the top, and I got to say “Take that, Mather fucker”. Ha ha. At the top was a guy named Johannes — we took some pictures of him jumping off a rock onto the trail, and I discovered some new effects on my camera.
The new view on the other side of the pass was startling — a barren looking basin for several miles before entering a broad pine valley. The trail down was over nice switchbacks, though with a sheer edge, and then over nice level ground. Vegetation crept back into the scenery, and we eventually entered the sparse pines. All the time of the descent, there was cloud cover and a breeze, making the temperature pleasantly cool. There were big thunderclouds in the south, we could hear booming, but didn’t see any lightning. Eventually we started to feel a few drops (very few), but we were able to make it to our goal campsite at the low point between Mather & Pinchot before it got a bit stronger (spitting rain, ish). We put up the tent, unpacked inside, and now it feels like there’s sun outside.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been walking for 15 days now. 3/4 over. Bear sighting accomplished, the puking didn’t stop us, doing good mileage — yeah. Go us.
Feet: good. R pinkie felt normal & good. rolled left foot a bit, but it was fine to walk on. Shoes holding up good.
Body: good. felt great on the top of the pass. wore long pants to give leg sunburns a break.
- JMT miles: 13.4 today, 158.8 total
- Total miles: 13.4 today, 187.8 total
Deer Meadow 9000′ → South Fork Kings River 10000′
This was such a lovely day. The schedule we followed that day continued for the remainder of the hike: up and over the pass in the morning, rest on the summit or shortly after, climb down the other side, and make our way to a good camping site before the next pass.
Going up the Golden Staircase was nowhere near as bad as I had been lead to expect. In fact, we would have camped much closer to Mather Pass the night before if we had known was it was actually like. A fellow at VVR had told me that it was the hardest part of the whole trail, and I had been nervous about it ever since.
Phooey on me for listening! At that point in the trip, I was more admiring the evenness of the grade than being bothered by the climb.
Easily the best part of the morning for me was seeing pikas. We had been hearing them at high altitudes over the last few days, but getting to actually see the ridiculously cute little furry beasts with the saucer ears just made my day.
The horse head cloud we saw from Mather Pass was fantastic. Johannes the Jumping German has such infectious energy that we stayed atop the summit for longer than we’d planned, enjoying every minute. He wanted to get a good jumping shot, and with the multiple-shot function and much practice, we captured a few good ones.
Walking through the barren landscape of the upper basin, I really started to fall in love with the desolate terrain. It’s so alien to me, so different from the lush ferns and mosses of the northwest forests I grew up with, but there’s a beauty to it. You can see for miles and miles, and the wrinkles and folds of the mountains are on full display. The land looks dead, until you look closer and see the yellow grasses and grey-green succulents.
Luckily for me, there was plenty more moonscape to come over the next five days.