The fifth time I wake up, it’s to finally begin my day. I startled myself a few too many times last night thinking I’d end up in a flash flood. Yesterday when I made camp, I took one of the few spots available for camp where I could see Kayla and Andy come down the trail as well as stake my tarp down. The entire area was flooded from the day’s rain and the creek ahead would have been extremely dangerous to make an attempt of crossing.
As I crawl out of my shelter, I look left and right. The surrounding water looks lower. The puddle nearby has shrunk into a half inch circle. Things are beginning to look up. I yell over to Kayla and Andy to inquire about their sleep last night. They fared well.
I begin to pack up and realize today is the climb up The Golden Staircase and Mather Pass. Today is going to be a big one. I grab a few snacks out for the day and place them into my mesh Sea to Summit bag for safekeeping and screw the top of my bear canister shut. A small group makes their way to my tent, stepping on the stones peeking out of the stream with ease. They don’t pause. There is no second guessing or deliberation between them. It’s a wonder what eight hours can do to a trail. Yesterday I had to find an alternative route to bypass that very crossing as the water level was that high.
I realize I recognize these folks, but they verbalize they recognize me at that instant. Before my trip, I had posted on various forums and online groups about this hike to prepare. Brian and Julie were actually Gossamer Gear Ambassadors like me. I knew they would be starting the day after me and we may cross paths. Having to stay only 4.6 miles in at Little Yosemite Valley and planning on being on the trail an extra two days more than them did assist with this run in.
The staircase isn’t the “StairMaster of the trail” that I heard it was. It was steep, but it was a lot of fun. Between the water flowing down the trail and the fog surrounding us, it was pretty surreal. I feel like the sections of trail I was worried about because of what I had heard always end up being the most fun or the most worthwhile. The physicality of hiking is there, but being able to mentally push yourself forward because you know your hard work will shortly pay off in a picturesque vista is something else.
At the start of the climb I was quite warm and delayered. However, as I continue to ascend, it becomes rather cold. Brian checks his thermometer and it reads forty degrees Fahrenheit! I hope Kayla and Andy won’t be too far behind and Brian shares the same concerns for his group members. We discuss whether to wait here or continue up toward Palisade Lakes. When we stop it will be much colder.
We take some smaller breaks and attempt to locate where we were yesterday. It’s motivating to not be able to see the pass or meadow you traversed the day before.
We continue toward Palisade Lakes and much to our surprise, it gets warmer. Once atop, we take a seat and grab our snacks. Brian begins to make coffee. I give their Sawyer Squeeze a try to filter some water. It’s light and versatile, but I am glad to have the updated Sawyer Mini.
|Upper Palisade Lake|
As we rest, I look for signs of John. If he’s not in sight, maybe his pack or LEKI poles are. No such luck. Before long Andy and Kayla catch up and mention how nice The Golden Staircase turned out to be.
|Mather Pass, here we come!|
Mather Pass (12,096 ft) is the next challenge and we still have another 2000 feet of elevation gain to get there. We follow the switchbacks up a scree covered trail to the top of this beast. I notice myself breathing harder as I make my way up. The air is thinner than my East Coast lungs are used to. I feel someone behind me and step aside to let a group of California Conservation Corps members by. They are sporting brown long sleeve button ups and brown pants, yet they seem to be floating up the trail. I stop to rest and watch the group go by. I take out a Gu and a snack. Kayla and Andy catch up and we rest for five.
I point up ahead. “See those tiny people?” They look almost as small as ants at this point. “That’s the group that passed us not too long ago.”
We continue up and swing left and then right following the steep switchbacks. Out of the corner of my eye I see a ball of fluff. dart by us. It scampers by again, but this time right over Kayla’s foot. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Pika! Pikas are very small mammals, closely related to rabbits that live on high altitude mountain sides, making burrows in crevices.
The final five minutes before reaching the top are actually easier than the rest of the ascent. It never levels out, but being able to see others make it to where you need to go not too far before you is motivating.
At over 12,000 feet, I don’t feel any signs of altitude sickness and I continue to feel good on my way down.
The John Muir Trail is known for allowing pack animals on much of the trail. I was surprised to see two alpacas at the summit of Mather Pass!
In four hours I hiked up 4,000 feet of elevation gain between the Golden Staircase and Mather Pass. Not too shabby! The descent, as one might expect, is steep. After all that progress up, I made my way down toward camp. Everyday there was a sense of going two steps forward and one step back. The elevation profile below shows outlines the dramatic ups and downs of the trek. Every single day I climbed up only to hike down. I loved it.
As I hike down I hear a boom. This time it’s not thunder, but a sonic boom. I look up but don’t see a plane in the sky. We continue to hear these booms are we hike in the afternoon. Once we make some significant progress toward camp, we decide to stop for lunch. We are actually very excited for today’s lunch. Kayla bought some milkshakes we’ve been wanting to try and today is finally the day to have them! The trail is completely flat at this point and it’s easy to trek far and fast.We settle down and notice the sky has opened up just over us and we enjoy the sun as it warms us.
We filter water and stir in the milkshake powders. I examine the packet and notice the word “Spirulina” in small print. I shake the concoction in my cup and attempt to break up the clumps. I take a sip and it’s horrid. Kayla fishes out a packet of honey, but it doesn’t help. Kayla and Andy choke down the rest of theirs, but I don’t make much progress. It’s far too disgusting even after all this hiking. I opt for a bar. This disappointment is followed by another. I find a miniature rock monster which is cute, but I realize that pushing through the rain yesterday caused me to walk right past the larger rock monster (or whale?) along the way.
Last modified: December 6, 2014