Day 55 – May 28, 2022
Mile 815.6 to 835.0 through Mather Pass
19.4 trail miles | 17.1 tracked miles | 2,822 ft elevation gain | 69.8 F / 21 °C
I woke up at 6am—after one of my longest nights on trail—to a dusting of snow on my tent and heavy fog.
I was still alone at my improvised campsite, and the weather looked menacing. I had to make a decision: should I stay sheltered or should I attempt to tackle the fear-inducing Mather Pass with limited visibility?
I checked the weather forecast on my inReach satellite messenger and weighed my options. While conditions can change unexpectedly at high elevations, the forecast appeared reassuring. Besides, the idea of staying put wasn’t particularly appealing, and I had limited food. I decided to proceed.
Normally, climbing the high passes on the Pacific Crest Trail is relatively straightforward, as the southern exposure causes snow to melt early in the season. The challenge lies in traversing or descending the less-exposed northern side. However, Mather Pass is an exception with its intimidating and steep headwall on the south side.
The trail was buried under snow, but I managed to follow a clearly marked bootpath and felt secure with my spikes and ice axe despite the 45-degree slope. Midway to the top, I had to rock scramble, and I appreciated the experience I had gained back home over the past few summers. The last third of the climb was virtually snow-free, allowing me to follow the switchbacks all the way to the top.
The descent felt more tedious and annoying than truly challenging. The trail was still mostly covered in snow, but established bootpaths guided my way. I felt safe throughout the descent.
Conquering Mather Pass despite my concerns and the weather provided a bit of an ego boost. Unfortunately, I have few pictures as I kept my phone safely tucked away, focusing on the technical challenge.
From Mather Pass, the trail descended 4,000 feet over the course of five miles. The descent toward Palisade Creek felt dizzying. The trail was rough, rocky, wet, and slippery, demanding my full attention.
Along the way, I passed by Palisade Lakes, crossed several streams, hopped over countless granite slabs, and enjoyed the dramatic pristine scenery.
Finally, the trail relented, and I savored a gentle walk through a forested area and picked up speed. The sun made a late morning appearance, revealing stunning rugged scenery, grandiose waterfalls, and jagged peaks.
My goal for the afternoon was to get as close to Muir Pass as possible, in order to once again cross the pass under the most favorable conditions the next morning.
The trail began a gentle ascent along the Middle Fork Kings River. I took a snack break by the river, where the views reminded me of Yosemite National Park. I felt relaxed and serene, filled with joy and pride after conquering the most difficult pass, and elated by the return of sunny skies. My mundane blueberry Clif bar tasted incredible.
My break was perfectly timed as the real ascent began shortly after—a grueling but satisfying climb on uneven steps. On the way up, I caught up with my two friends whom I had last seen yesterday afternoon. They are incredibly strong hikers, and following them up the brutal ascent provided excellent motivation.
We had dinner together and camped at a picturesque site by the Middle Fork Kings River. I chose my most nutritious meal: a much-needed 1,100 calorie wonder.