John Muir Trail – A pass to be reckoned with

Day 12 (7/10/2017)

After yesterday,  I didn’t want to cross anymore rivers.  Totally gun shy, I reviewed my map to see if any major crossings were on the agenda for the day.  Nope, just Mather pass today and as close to Muir Pass as a I could get in a day. Mather and Muir were about 12,000 feet and should be nothing after Forester!

My socks didn’t dry and my shoes were still wet.  So my day started by putting on cold wet socks into colder shoes.  Temperatures dropped below freezing during night the so the tiny puddles around my tent were iced and my shoes crackled as I put my feet in them. My camp was at the confluences of the tree and snow line. Within minutes of wolfing down some red beans and rice and starting day, the trees were disappeared and the snow fields started.  I walked to the edge of a rock outcropping to survey my direction.  It seemed pretty straightforward.  Mather was in the distance perhaps a mile or two, and a series of snowfields.  Two JMT hikers passed me on the snow field.  The first was someone from England who claimed he had a flight to catch and had to make it to Yosemite by 7/15.  He was on a schedule.  Some PCT hikers passed me in the snow field as well.

I hit the Mather wall early in the morning.

I watched the other hikers go up the wall with their ice axes to the first rock out cropping, then rock climb up and right. There looked to be a few ice traverses and more up beyond that.  Even though it was only a mile through snow since camp.  I was tired.  I stalled here a long time.  The sun felt nice and some marmots and chipmunks entertained me.

Up I went.  It wasn’t far, about 100 meters.  But 100 meters of up in the the snow was quite a climb.  I got to the rock outcropping.  No clear path, off with crampons. Moving slowly over the boulders and scree I eventually made it to another ice traverse.  My first check when getting to an ice traverse was what happens if I slip.  In this case a 200 meter slide into a frozen lake over rocks.  Note to self: Don’t slip.  Second choice.  There was a high road and then a low road.  The high road was just below a rock out crop and meant not going down, then back up.  Don’t go backwards…take the highroad (What stupid reasoning).

Traverse 1: Steep and the steps were far apart.  Clearly made by someone with a longer stride.  I gripped my ice axe firmly in my left, jabbing it in, then stepping.  I moved as fluidly as I could for waiting increased the opportunity for the side to give way. Jab step, jab step, jab step.  Then in the middle, a slide.  Clearly someone had lost it and slid down.  I heard the snow crunching and starting to crackle.  Don’t wait.  Step jump jab, then step again jab. slow and steady.  Finally a rock out cropping.

Traverse 2: High road time.  Only 100 meters.  I could do this.  Jab, step.  POSTHOLE.  My leg sunk in to my hip wrenching my knee.  It threw me off balance and I started to slide.  Rebalance.  I had to use my bad knee to leverage my self out.  The sun heats the rock and the rock melts the snow faster.  The runoff from the melt also melts the snow faster causing snow next to rock out cropping to posthole more frequently.  Great…now I know.  More to go, finally away from the rock, but the path is not well traveled up here.  It looks like people took the low road.  Only the idiots and me took the high road.  Jab, step, jab step.  Focus.  Oh look….I panned across the mountain, down across the frozen lake,  to see the JMT trail zig zagging up on the other side of the valley.  What the heck was I on?  Damn mountaineering tracks.   Too late now.  After making it to some scree, I scrambled up to the pass.

Drenched in sweat I looked back at what I climbed. The treeline in the distance was my camp.  That was a whole lot of snow and up.

I looked north….More hiking to do.

Down over ice bridges and steep traverses and one  glissade.   At the treeline, Nosebleed caught up to me and passed me.   Not far behind was Ramses.   The trail disappeared totally.  Walk by lake side or up higher?  I chose to walk higher up.   (Again wrong call – I was zero for three today).  There was no path up here.  Just meandering through snow drifts, across sun cups and ice bridges.  I found an alcove of pine with no snow.  The floor was soft and thick with pine needles.  I took my pack off and laid down for a bit.  I nodded off and awoke to crunching nearby.  I buck walked through the snow right next to me. Thank you.

I pushed on going to the very end of the shelf near the end of the valley, and used my ax to shimmy down an ice chute to the trail that was lakeside below.   I few more ice bridge crosses and I found myself at the top of the Golden Staircase.  This was a very steep zig zag down into Leconte Valley.  It heartened me that I was northbound.  As I descended the snow decreased and springtime again revealed itself.  In just a few hundred feet I went from winter wonderland to spring.  A good portion of the trail was underwater as the runoff created falls and rivers through the trail ruts.

At the bottom, I realized mid day was long gone, and it was time to look for a site for the night.  I wanted to reach the Leconte ranger station, but the avalanche damage in the valley slowed me down.   I kept going.  My legs were getting fatigued and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the station. The river roared by on my left, my first choice was taken by some travelers.  Could I make it to the Middle Fork junction?  I stopped frequently pouring over my map to determine how much farther I had to go.  Screw it…..This place was good enough.  Rich with mosquitoes, I quickly heated some tomato soup.  I deserved a treat and tomato soup with vegetables was it.  I tucked my self in for the night and tallied my progress:

12 miles on the day: 1100 feet of gain, 3600 feet of decline.

Tomorrow: Muir Pass.   I reviewed my map to see the location of the fabled rock monster.  I didn’t want to miss it.

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