18 May 2021
Woods Creek to Palisade Creek
PCT Mile 801.5 to 823.5
Today was the most difficult, fun, stunning, and exhilarating day of hiking I have ever done. And I only grow to like my hiking buddies more and more with each mile. Pure joy.
We started at 6am.
We didn’t reach camp until 8pm!
It was a full day.
I hiked with Ground Score and Berk for the first part of the morning.
We all felt we had heavy legs this morning and we stopped to take a break at a tarn with a beautiful reflection.
I started to get cold so I told them I would hike ahead to a sunnier spot.
And then I just kept hiking!
At about 11,300 feet I hit a snowfield that was icy and a little steep. It took some time since I only had one trekking pole now, but I did not need my microspikes. And the rest of the way up was dry trail with easy or avoidable snow.
At the top of Pinchot Pass I shared the stupendous views with a new friend.
I followed Bloodbeard down to Lake Marjorie on mostly dry trail. He talked about how he loves being outdoors and about his first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He’s definitely in the right place!
When we got to Lake Marjorie, maybe someone wanted to see what happens when a rock hits the frozen surface. Maybe it bounced? Maybe that rock wanted to be there, where in a speck of a moment of its existence it will fall through the melted surface deep into the shadows of an icy bath that will last for eons?
Anyhoo, we soon arrived at South Fork Kings River, a crossing where a PCT hiker died in the high snow year of 2017.
Of course, this is a low snow year, and we were able to cross with dry feet.
After the crossing we had lunch and dried out all our stuff from last night’s rain.
After lunch we realized that we had only crossed a tributary of South Fork Kings River. The actual crossing was a bit more involved. Bloodbeard and I did the shin-deep crossing in bare feet, but Berk and Ground Score found a rock-island-log crossing combo.
We then started the climb up to Mather Pass along the river.
At a certain point I caught up with the others where there was another tricky water crossing. But the terrain was so easy, I decided to follow the stream off trail up towards the Pass. Half a mile up the stream split into two, and it was an easy cross. Divide and conquer!
I rejoined the trail and found the others just a few hundred yards behind me. Bloodbeard gradually caught up to me at another crossing. This time it was a snow bridge! It’s the only one I have seen the whole trip.
I poked my trekking pole at it and it slid right through. Not a great sign, but the snow seemed thick enough and the water shallow enough that it was low risk. So I went for it. And then it collapsed with a “whumpf!”
Bloodbeard yelled “I bet your butthole opened real wide on that one!”
After that he found his own crossing and we played leapfrog up to the switchbacks leading to Mather Pass.
The switchbacks up to Mather Pass were mostly dry, but there were a few steep snow fields that required us to kick steps and go slow. Bloodbeard went first, which made it easy for the rest of us to reach the pass!
The descent was similar to Glen Pass, with established foot paths through steep snow fields and then a steep descent through snow and scree without exposure. It was not nearly as scary as I had always imagined.
Berk asked if I was going to perform any more acrobatics like my cartwheel on Glen Pass. I laughed and promptly put my microspikes on (and kept them on this time!).
The afternoon made the snow soft, so we had to kick new steps sometimes. Bloodbeard and I took turns leading.
I even got a chance to do another glissade (whee!). Ground Score asked if he should do it too. I yelled “hike your own hike!”
And, of course, he followed! With style!
When we got down to flatter ground the trail was running like a river, and the soft snow fields caused us to posthole, so we tried to rock scramble around all that as much as possible. It was slow going.
By the time we reached the Palisade Lakes I had fallen far behind. I was exhausted not just physically, but emotionally.
Getting over Mather had this unexpected effect of making me think about getting off trail. It was really the last unknown challenge for me. I’ve already done the rest of the Sierra passes on other trips. So weirdly, now that I have no more fear of the unknown, I feel less inclined to keep going.
But is this really it? I spent all these years preparing for this experience, I am now smack dab in the middle of the most beautiful part, and it feels done now?
My thoughts turned to home. I really like this new hiking group, but I also really miss Half Cookie and I don’t know if these new friends will be able to help me fill the hole in my heart.
She would really love the Palisade Lakes. I should bring her here when they are an end in themselves, not just a means to get to Canada to claim some abstract title.
I caught up with Ground Score and Berk, who was herself also having a tough day. She got her second COVID vaccine shot a couple of days ago and she seems to be having symptoms of nausea and can’t eat. I feel so bad for her! But we have limited food, so we need to keep going at least to our next camp where we can make a plan with the others.
It was already 7pm when I had to descend “The Golden Staircase,” some impressive switchbacks carved a thousand feet down the side of a cliff. They were indeed golden in the evening light and beautiful. But in my tired state and with just one trekking pole to soften the blows, they wreaked havoc on my left knee and my right Achilles’ tendon.
I got to the bottom of the stairs and wanted badly to take the first flat spot I could find. But I willed myself to go the extra half mile where I found Mac and Bloodbeard already camped. As I set up my tent, Reese showed up! I hadn’t seen him all day. And shortly afterward Ground Score and Berk made it. Together again, just as night fell!
Ground Score suggested we do a “recovery day” tomorrow for Berk, but we all eagerly agreed that it would be good for everyone. There is a camp site 10 miles from here with only 1400 feet of climbing through beautiful LeConte Canyon. That will set us up nicely to hit Muir Pass and Evolution Basin early the next day, when their endless snow fields are still cold and crunchy — perfect for fast hiking with microspikes!
Given how much I am thinking of quitting, a recovery day will be good. I know I think more of quitting when I am tired. But today was not a bad day. In fact, it was almost picture perfect. If I have another good day with this great group, but I still feel the way I do now, it may be time for me to go home.
In Sierra’s heart,
Why do I feel like leaving
Just when fear is gone?