Day 37, May 30th
Start: Wood Creek Bridge, mile 799
End: Lower Palisade Lake, mile 820
Miles hiked: 21
I wake up to Guthrie, Sherpa, and coughee taking down their tents. It’s a good way to wake up. I’m always cowboy camping, and waking up to them taking down their tents gives me the perfect amount of time to get up and get my stuff together. It’s quick, takes maybe 15 to twenty minutes before I’m walking.
My legs ache from all the snow the day prior, and today we have a 4,000 foot gain to get to Pinchot pass. Fifteen minutes in we come to a creek crossing. It’s just a seasonal stream per our maps. But like all other seasonal streams, it’s raging. It’s May in the sierras, still spring, still more than two weeks earlier than most experienced hikers recommend. I like all of the obstacles. It keeps the hike interesting, keeps us on our toes, and tests how badly we truly want the hike.
We walk the 20 yards through the rushing creek. It’s still an hour or so before light hits us, and our feet are near freezing sponges. We keep slogging up the valley. There’s really no stopping, for your feet will get painfully cold.
Before we know it we get close to tree line and the trail disappears under a several feet of snow. Sherpa and I bust out our maps and lead the group towards the pass. There’s some confusion, as woody’s app tells us to go a different direction than what Sherpa and I interpret in reading the maps and landscape. We end up going the direction that Sherpa and I feel is right, making our way over snow that is softening from the sun. It’s slow, but we all make it to the pass. High fives are had, and we all break to soak in the views and eat an unhealthy amount of food before heading down.
Soon the group gets ahead of me. I’m having fun taking photos, and enjoying the lakes and alpine scenery. It’s not a big deal, I know where I’m going and I’m having fun being on my own out here. I walk through the pines once below tree line, and the snow gets deeper. Soon I catch the group again at another large stream crossing. It’s a bit warmer down here, and feels great on my legs and feet after the 30 seconds of shock.
As we head towards Mather pass, it looks snow free. Awesome. I can see the palisades (a group of tightly packed mountains, several over 14k feet) behind the pass and I just get stoked. The jaggedness of the peaks really excites me, and I can’t wait to get to the pass. In my two times hiking the jmt, my favorite pass has always been Mather, mostly for the views north.
We get to the base of the steep incline to the pass around 4. It’s almost all snow. There is no path. I find a Rocky patch that I can take up to the pass, requiring scrambling on loose rocks. I take it. Screw climbing in that steep snow ascent. I feel much more comfortable on steep rock, as I have more experience and am better equipped for climbing rocks. Guthrie and coughee follow, but soon decide to take the snow route instead, as they were spooked by the looseness of the rocks. Sherpa is kicking in footholds for the group in the snow, switch backing his way up. I can tell he’s trying to keep up with me, but climbing the rocks is easy for me, and requires much less energy than what he is exerting. I make it to the top quickly and easily and look back at the group far below. Sherpa is helping guide them over the snow like the champion he is, coaching them the entire way. I can tell by the conversation that everyone save Sherpa is spooked.
“Babe, I’m really psyching myself out. I don’t like this” the boss yells up to Sherpa.
“Don’t! Don’t let it happen! Just take your pole and slam it into the snow as hard as you can! Kick those heels into my prints. You can this, you’re fine!” he calls back.
Just minutes later, Sherpa is full nude, hiking is bare cheeks up the snow. Everyone’s laughing, and I sit and watch from way above, cracking up hard at his bare body flying up the mountain. He does is little dancing and hollering before putting his clothes back on and guiding the eat to the top.
“Dude, you’re crazy. Clothes off?!”I say, as he reaches me at the pass.
“You know it! Gotta lighten the mood, everyone was so tense. Not sure why, that shit was great!” He yells next to me, clearly still exhilarated from the climb.
Soon the rest of the group is up and over the snow and on the pass. The views are unreal. I have to climb the palisades, I think to myself. Those mountains are just gnarly. I kind of wish someone would ask to climb them with me, as I could easily be swayed to go give them a shot, but no one in my group would want that. We eat, drink, and laugh at Sherpa and his antics to keep the group calm. We can see the palisade lakes down below, both frozen still. There’s a lot of snow to get down, so we take off after it.
After some glissading, skiing, and post holing we make it down past the snow some 1,500 feet below the pass. We reach some good camping spots next to the lower palisade lake outlet. We’re greeted by a marmot that had clearly been fed by too many hikers (don’t feed wildlife, it’s stupid and NOT cute). He chirps and come right up to is trying to take our food.
“What in the world? Get out of here!” Coughee yells.
It doesn’t flinch. So he throws a rock at it.
Still doesn’t care. He then it’s it with a rock and it runs away. But not for long. Soon it’s right back. I shoo it away with my pole, giving it a few pokes to it’s side to frighten it (not even close to hard enough to hurt it). The little jerk comes right back. This time we hit it in the body with a rock and it runs away and looks at us from afar. This guy is used to people being way too nice to it, and it’s sad. Hopefully us harassing it back a bit will help correct it’s attitude towards humans.
Carrot never made it back tonight. I miss her, and wonder what happened to her. We hiked only 21 miles today hoping she would catch up, but she must not have been close. Sheriff, wiki wiki (a girl we hiked with today, who’s been hiking the whole trail in sandals), and I cowboy. I’m toasty warm right now in my little recharging cocoon. It’s heavy and bulky, but I love sleeping warm, and not in a tent. Any time I wake up in the night I’m greeted by a banner of stars. It’s so inspiring, and often I stay up an extra few minutes marveling at just how great the Milky Way is. It is so defined out here, I love it. Tomorrow we’ll get to muir pass, possibly down it. Heard there is 3 miles of snow leading up to it, as 5 miles down. That’s 8 miles of snow traversing. Hell yeah, I can’t wait!
View looking south as we make our way up Pinchot pass. So much snow to walk on, with no trail. I love looking at the maps and route finding in this terrain! Plus, the snow really makes the mountains more dramatic and photogenic. It’s worth the struggle, in my opinion.