Day: Monday, July 4th 2016
Miles: 811.75 – 832.1
Remote Camp 811.75 – Remote Camp 832.1
Waking up to the uncanny feeling of dampness is never pleasant. Even less so when you feel your tent, your shoes, socks, backpack: and realize that everything is damp. Last night was pretty cold, and seemingly the sheltered spot I chose, perfectly held the moisture rising from the Kings River in a little bubble at the base of the valley. Lessons learned, will know for next time. The bigger problem was that yesterday’s foot-dunking at the end of the day would ensure a morning of squelching shoes and very unhappy toes. Not a great start but I was adamant that I was not going to start the day with another Pinchot-style attitude problem.
The morning sun slowly crept into the valley as I resisted any attempt to leave my warm and not-entirely damp-but-not-entirely-dry quilt. The slow morning crawl is even worse this past few days as the confined canyons mean the sun doesn’t hit your tent until far far later than you need to be on the road. The result is simple: a cold start to the day and you just have to bundle up and deal with it.
The condensation and moisture didn’t seem to put off my winged nemesis – the hoards of mosquitos were banging on my door before 7:30. I’m good at this now however. This now leads to a military style decamp effort where all interior items are lined up in order of packing, before a rapid jamming motion into my pack. Only the tent dismount allows the little monsters a chance to catch me as I simply can’t get 8 pegs out of the ground and the small footprint wrapped up in time. Every morning gives and opportunity for improvement however.
Todays main target was Mather Pass, at 12,100ft, another solid climb and likely to involve some snow. The initial approaches comprised of a short series of crossings of beautiful (mosquito-laden) meadows and water crossings, before a sudden break in all vegetation. The area leading to the pass was a virtual wasteland moonscape with a large circular route giving a great view of the pass before starting the final difficult switchbacks. It was cold but the mosquitos were persistent right to the final rise so I had to bundle up with my buff as head protection.
Once I topped out at the final gap, there was a few JMT hikers from Philadelphia, as well as a few PCT hikers already hanging out in the cool but sunny and wind free (but bug free) pass. Mather afforded incredible views in all directions and certainly was one of the most notable to date, a large amount of snow was still visible on the northern side in addition although the terrain was mostly polished granite for our trail path at the bottom of the valley. The gang from Philly made a video of the whole group singing the Star Spangled banner (given the day), although in my case I’m not sure that I lent it much in the way of choral harmony. After resting and eating lunch, I got to know Neil-Bob, Detour and CheetoBurrito, all three of whom I would hike, camp and hang out with over the coming days.
Eventually I had to leave that beautiful perch and start the descent. This time there was a few of us hiking down which added some conversation and new personalities to the afternoons activities. The valley below was an interesting series of steppes, basically each section contained a lake or lakes, before a large marked fall in elevation, where the trail suddenly also dropped in strange or unusual switchback configurations, followed by another flat lake and Meadow, before another waterfall and elevation drop. You get the idea. It was really quite incredible to see some of the engineering involved in the trail, not to mention the waterfalls between the steps.
Looking down into another step in the gradual fall of the valley. Like most of the passes we’ve navigated, they run north south, then follow a valley before a solid east west dividing valley cuts their progress. You can see the next east-west valley blocking the view in the picture below.
The valley was narrow and contained incredible trail routings, in the picture below you simply cannot make out where the trail goes, but through an intricate set of carvings, steps, cut-throughs and River crossings, it makes its way through the rugged terrain.
After what seemed like an eternity of downhill steps and tight switchbacks, where sorrowful looking JMT hikers on the southbound track traded exhausted murmurs with my happy face, I eventually hit the east-west valley at the bottom. I had separated from Neil-Bob earlier at lunchtime so my solo-progress was pretty good and I felt like pushing up the valley a bit. This was the valley that would eventually carry us to Muir Pass tomorrow, so I was excited to get some dent in that effort that was ahead tomorrow! I was lured by the name of Little Pete Meadow to a spot on the river a few miles north. Sadly, the Meadow was a massive mosquito feeding frenzy, so I ran on ahead to see if Big Pete Meadow a mile further might offer any relief – it was quite a distance higher so hopefully cooler. By happenstance I found a perfect spot about half way between the two when taking the following picture:
The great thing about the PCT is that if you can fit your tent in a space and it doesn’t break any rules (such as proximity to water), then that’s your tent spot. I quickly setup camp enjoying a light breeze that was enough to blow all the mosquitos away. A huge waterfall rumbled a little away, spray firing into the air like water canons. A little after setting up, Neil-Bob rounded the corner, so I shouted up to him that I had a “secret” spot here. He was pretty psyched to find the spot as the mosquitos had eaten him alive down the valley. He promptly setup camp and we discussed potential recipe ideas for the Sierra wild onions we found on the trail earlier! Spring onions, Vermont smoke and cute sausage and Idahoan Potatoes for me!
A little later, and CheetoBurrito and Detour joined us also, they heard our voices and also stumbled into our secret tent spot. With just enough space for them to cowboy camp, we now had a population of 4 in my little frontier community. As twilight fell, we all talked and stayed up late. Hot chocolate. Late night snacks and a visit from a curious deer. This was a great little tent spot, as the crashing water sent me to sleep, I could help but be excited for Muir Pass tomorrow. One of the pinnacle moments of the trip so far I’m sure. An iconic pass of some technical difficulty and incredible beauty. Named for the man who worked tirelessly to save it all.