Day: Tuesday, July 5th 2016
Miles: 833.1 – 851
Mid-Petes-Meadow 833.1 – Remote Camp 851
The feeling you get, when you find that perfect remote tent-spot really is quite special. You’ve walked for miles. You’re tired and maybe had a mileage-target in your mind for the entire day. You walk and walk and walk and then find the spot you were aiming for on the map, taken. Or maybe it’s not a good spot when you see it, due to wind, an incline or some other arbitrary environmental factor. So you trundle on further, with each mile a little wearier, looking for somewhere, anywhere, that has a convenient water source, is flat and maybe even has a view. It’s a quiet secret satisfaction and joy when you find them: ‘I found this spot, and while I’m sure many have spent the night here before, it’s my spot for tonight’. I felt this way about the secret spot between Little and Big Pete Meadows. Neil-Bob, CheetoBurrito and Detour were phenomenal camp-mates. Good conversation, hot chocolate, a spectacular moonrise and the visit of a curious deer all toasted us before bedtime and I genuinely slept one of my most comfortable nights yet. That quiet satisfaction of it being “my” spot smugly in my mind!
As it was, we all woke up early the next morning. The excitement of the day ahead was certainly in our head, and the good rest and a good dinner last night had prepped us well. CheetoBurrito, Detour were out very early as I awoke, eager to beat the sun up to the pass. I ate warm oatmeal and aimed to get out the door around 8, before the heat of the sun hit. The mosquitos again were avoiding this blind spot so I had the luxury of enjoying the view. The deer from last night also paid another visit, curiously hanging around looking at our movements.
Once I settled into the morning on the trail, I couldn’t help but watch the steep sided canyon in awe. This was the steepest polished canyon yet, like a mini-Yosemite that never received its final polishing and cleanup. As I pressed up the valley, the features became more broken, fragmented and rocky. It was once again difficult to figure out which actual pass we would aim for on our route to the famed Muir Pass at 11,955ft.
Eventually a series of beautiful crystal clear lakes crossed the trail, which included some switchbacks that led us through a labyrinth of narrower valleys with views of snow fields, icebridges and many fantastical features in the abundant melting period that was going on.
Water cascaded down the sides of all the mountains in a myriad of streams, rivers and bridalveil-style falls. The snowy backdrop was just jaw dropping, just as the sight of where the trail wound through snow troughs and over distant saddles. This was obviously about to become the most technical part of the Pacific Crest Trail yet, if also the most dramatic and visually spectacular.
The iceberg clad lakes highlighted that a slip or a fall up here could still be a nasty proposition, it was high and cold, even in the early morning sun. The snow traverses were long and in some places steep, but the views, oh the views. I can honestly say that the biggest hazard was simply losing your attention when gazing open-mouthed at the surroundings. We wound up through a tight River valley to the last snowy plateau before the final ascent to Muir Pass, to be greeting with vistas in every direction of a remarkable and inhospitable snowscape. It was winter in July!
For the final ascent to the Muir Pass cut, we had a steep angled snowfield to ascend. This would have been easier if the foot emplacements from prior hikers had stayed untouched, however southbound hikers had used the same track to glissade down – sort of controlled sliding motion sometimes using hiking polesc favored in some terrain. This however removed the northbound foot placements forcing us to check ahead (for any rapid incoming glissaders), then make a run at the steeps to try and get a deep track imprint which would establish us on the ascent. That really makes it sound more difficult than it was, but after much snow stomping and some arduous upward ascent in the snow, I was nearly there.
At the top of Muir Pass, is a summit hut (of sorts). An interesting little building built in memorial of the great John Muir and ostensibly intended as a storm shelter. In actual fact it’s become more of an iconic milestone on the PCT and JMT. A well known and much loved oddity of the trail where one can seek shelter or just congregate in the company of others, no doubt sharing a moment of consideration for those who protected the space and are sharing the moment.
At the top, I rested for a while and ate lunch, very satisfied with the morning. I talked with Flint, from NYC as well as Neil-Bob who arrived just after me, before being reunited with my old friend Levi from way back in Warner Springs! After some exploring and finding a ladybug all the way up here in the inhospitable alpine elevations, it was time to continue on down the north side, and tick off this wonderful experience from my bucket list of Americas iconic trail passes.
The hike down was similarly memorable if much more wide and less dramatic in its design. Many snowfields and displaced trail sections greeted us as we navigated between lakes and entered a new alpine grassy area split with wider River crossings and new vistas to the north of further alpine peaks.
As the trail rapidly lost elevation, the mosquito levels once again increased – the higher number of meadows adding to the potential breeding grounds with pools of water in abundance. Myself and Flint hiked together for the whole evening, trading stories and cooking early dinner by a beautiful lake (after I once again dunked a shoe on a river-crossing move that didn’t quite work out).
We passed many switchbacks and River crossings as well as many other southbound hikers as the trail wound to a lonely ranger station close to the widest and deepest river crossing yet, over Evolution Creek, certainly a spot that checked your evolutionary credentials whilst you tried to make it across the high-water line. Let’s just say that my short-shorts got wet before we found a shallower wider crossing off-trail.
Sometimes there’s a log:
Sometimes there isn’t:
After the crossing myself and Flint decided to lay up close to the creek in a tent site with 5 tents from a JMT group heading south. They shared some food and war-stories and we had an enjoyable evening before the mosquitos sent us to bed early!
Muir Pass was an incredible experience, and the variety of terrain today once again ensured the miles rolled out with no hint of monotony – a day to remember.