JMT, Day 11: Another Day, Another Pass

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Lake Marjorie to Mather Pass to Upper Palisade Lake, 11.9 miles

Today we will cross 12,100’ Mather Pass, which is about 8 miles from our camp above Lake Marjorie, so it’s another morning of get up and go. We have oatmeal (our favorite … not!) for breakfast, and the only thing that makes it tolerable is the fact that we are sitting on the rock shelf above our tent enjoying the great view of Lake Marjorie while eating it. I think I could probably tolerate anything with a view like this.

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We always enjoy walking early in the morning. It’s so peaceful to be on the trail when most other hikers are just waking up. The birds are more active, and the light is generally better for photos. On the JMT, we are surrounded by mountains on all sides, so we typically don’t get the the colorful alpenglow prior to sunrise and just after sunset. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have a softer light for a few hours. This morning, the lake looks beautiful with the steep rock wall of Mt. Ickes forming its one side.

Before long, we are at the creek crossing at Bench Lake junction, and I decide to ford the river while Matt keeps his boots on and does some rock leaping to get to the other side. We meet Damen, an EMT from St. Louis who has been coming to this area for the past 17 years. He’s a climber, and Matt asks him a geology question about the domes and how they are formed. It turns out that Damen knows almost everything about the natural history of this area, and we are treated to a free geology lesson, which is way more interesting when you are actually staring at the mountains you are discussing. Thanks, Damen!

Just then, Team Alabama comes by, and the boys are kind enough to loan us a solar charger for our InReach tracking device that we accidentally left on all night long after recharging it in Onion Valley. I plug it in, attach the charger to my backpack, and away we go.

We hike down to the South Fork of the King’s River. Our guidebook warned this could be a difficult crossing, and it definitely appears to be the toughest one for me yet. The water is flowing fast over a rock slab, which makes fording an unattractive option. A large tree looks like the best option, but it is about 5 feet above the water, so balance is going to be the key in this situation.

Matt crosses the river with ease, but, of course, my legs start shaking the second I take two steps on the log away from the riverbank. I am frozen and can’t move forward or backward. Matt drops his bag on the opposite bank and comes back across the log to help me out. It’s not pretty, but I manage to make it across with Matt’s help. I am definitely glad to have that one behind me.

From there, “up” is the name of the day, and we have a long, slow 5+ mile ascent through the Upper Basin toward Mather Pass. For the 11th straight day, the weather is perfect with nary a cloud in the sky, but we notice that the temps are definitely on the rise. We are hot, and by lunchtime we are dying for some relief.

We cross a pretty stream and find a nice patch of shade in which to rest. When we finally muster the energy, we filter some cold, fresh water to drink and then soak our hot, swollen feet in the cold water. It feels amazing to cool the dogs, and we love the shrinking effect the chilly water has on them. All of a sudden, our tight-fitting boots have some spare room in them again, and it’s a wonderful feeling, even if it is only short-lived.

Back on the trail, it’s a few more hours until we reach the pass. The Upper Basin scenery is incredible with big views all around us in every direction. Once we think we are pretty close to the base of the pass, we stop and eat our Pro Bar Bolt energy chews, which we have found give us a nice boost, especially toward the end of a long day or just before a big physical challenge like Mather Pass.

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We are just about to take off when we see a park ranger hiking down the trail towards us. We love talking to rangers, so we decide to chill out for a few minutes to wait for him. Ranger Bob is friendly but definitely one of the more interesting rangers we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He seems like an SNL character who delivers advice like a wise guru, with random, strange, long pauses that we don’t really know how to respond to. The longer he talks, the more I can feel the energy from the Bolts being sucked out of me.

We finally manage to end the conservation and get going again, but it is too late. We are dragging again in no time, and the pass proves to be a real challenge. We were actually a lot farther from the climb than we thought when we stopped. Once we start heading up, the terrain is rocky and loose, and the switchbacks seem to last forever. Throw in a little snow, and this pass has got it all. Bring it on, JMT!

We finally make it to the top, and the views north to the Palisades make it all worthwhile. We chat with a few different people at the top and have fun trading trail tales.

Next up is the long, rocky, snowy descent to the Palisades Lakes. We are hoping to make it to the lower lake where we think Team Alabama is, so we can return their solar charger, but, by the time we reach the upper lake, we are so tired, we can’t go any further. We find a nice, flat rock shelf site just before the river crossing and set up camp there. We have great views of the lake below.

In the nearby river, we attempt to do some laundry, but hand washing clothes is definitely not our forte. We are not sure how clean we got anything, but at least we got everything wet. Perhaps we even removed a layer of sweat and grime from them. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but, in the woods, that’s definitely a relative concept! We spread our wet clothes out on the rocks, but the sun disappears behind the adjacent mountain very quickly, so drying them is going to be a slow process now.

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When it is bedtime, everything is still soaking, so we take our wet clothes into our tent with us and try to do our best to hang the wettest offenders above us with some parachute cord. We’re so tired we don’t even care that we have less space than normal, and it’s not long before we are both passed out.

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