Day 38, June 1st
Start: lower Palisade lake, mile 820
End: Muir pass, mile 838
Miles hiked: 18
I wake up in the middle of the night to a loud noise. Fricken marmot. I jolt up ready to defend my gear when I get a flashlight to my face.
“I hiked down Mather pass just now”
It was carrot. I check my watch, 11:00 pm. I had been sleeping for 3 hours already.
“Are you kidding me? Am I dreaming? Pinch me!” I said
She was cold and wet, but seemed happy to be at camp. It was cold, so I gave her my sleeping bag since it was already warm and took her little quilt. I talked to her for a bit as she calmed down. It’s hard to sleep after being so up on your feet walking fast. Eventually we both fell back asleep for a few hours of sleep before the sun came back up.
It’s cold this morning. Tough to accept that you have to get out of your warm sleeping bag to hike in the shadows of the mountains for the first few hours of the morning. Our shoes are all frozen solid. We didn’t have time last night to dry them before dark. I slipped on a pair of fresh sock and jammed my foot in the shoe. The laces wouldn’t tie, frozen and stuck in place.
Our group heads out pretty much one at a time. Carrot and I are the last to leave camp, and mosey our way down. Lazily, we make our way down “the golden staircase”, which is a series of steep switchbacks down a very steep wall next to waterfalls from Palisade creek. We rock hop over many rushing creeks, finding the best rocks to make our way. On a few crossings we have to resort to wet logs. Feet get wet.
We meet up with Guthrie, Sherrif and wiki wiki at the base of the descent. We have come down 4,000 feet from Mather pass, and for the rest of the day we’ll hike up Le Conte canyon toward muir pass. We pass little Pete meadow and we bath in the creek, letting the warm sun dry our bodies. For a full hour we lay in the grass with the sun on us. A small creek meanders it’s way through the grassy meadow. Giant granite mountains surround us. There’s a group of three mule deer grazing in the meadow. It’s pure bliss.
We return to the trail and gain past big Pete meadow and up close to tree line. Quickly, the trail disappears and we are left trying to find our way through the snow covered valley. We guess where we need to go. Some take one route, others another. We know the general direction we need to go, so it really isn’t that difficult. Though slow, it’s fun traversing the snow. Every step is a mystery. Will you post hole? Maybe the snow will stick and be strong.
It’s crazy how not being able I see the trail phases so many hikers, even those experienced in our group. Not being on a trail or sure of where you are really throws them for a tizzy. The pct is an easy trail, easy to stay on. Maps aren’t needed in many areas. As such, many hikers still have little idea of how to read maps and landscapes to find where you should be. I talk with carrot, woody, and wiki wiki about it and how I was able to rely on my map reading skills and landscape reading to navigate trail less earth. I really love it, and I think it started with road trips with my family when I was young. My parents would let my brother and I take turns sitting in the front and reading the map to direct my dad of where to go. I was probably 8-12 on those trips. I’ve been obsessed with maps and navigation ever since. Last summer in Colorado I did a lot of off trail hiking on mountains and increased my skills in that area. I told carrot of my friends Danny and Alison who I met while they were doing the Sierra high route, a traverse through the sierras on no trails. Instead, it’s a point to point trail, where you find your own way. I’ve obsessed about it for years. Hopefully I’ll do it in the next 3 years.
I find my way to muir hut, greeted by Sherpa, the boss, and coughee. Coughee has been here for two hours. Since there’s no water in the pass, he constructed a well by bashing rocks into the snow where he could hear running water until they broke through. Coughee is the man. Soon carrot sheriff and wiki wiki arrive. It’s early, not yet five, and we pay our stuff out to dry. The guys go climb rocks, throw things, and laugh at each other. The girls eat food and gossip. Finally it’s close to even numbers girl to guy. No longer is it carrot, the boss, and 15 dudes. I think the girls love having some girl time.
We decided to stay at the hut, as the post holing is just too bad. Best to wait until the morning when the top layer of snow will freeze solid enough to hold our weight without punching through. Muir pass notoriously holds the most snow of any pass. I’ve heard up to five miles after the pass is when the snow starts to taper.
The sunset is beautiful over Wanda lake and the back mountains. We all stand outside in the snow and watch it set behind the mountains, leaving streaks of orange and yellow in the sky. Many pictures are taken before we all stare in awe. It’s absolutely stunning.
“I’m cold, I can’t feel my feet, and I’m about to go sleep on the the hard frozen ground,” says Wiki Wiki “but we have to be the luckiest people at this moment being here.”