Upper Palisade Lake to above Big Pete Meadow, 16.2 miles
We get an early start photographing this morning. Matt saw a few waterfalls up the trail on the way in last night, and he wants to shoot them before we take off this morning. The first is no problem but there are a couple of tents set up right next to the second, prettier one. It’s just after 7 in the morning, but the people are still asleep when we first come up. We are not anywhere close to them, but they start to stir while we are there, and we feel a little awkward for invading their space. Oh well…
After our photo shoot, Matt takes off down the trail to find Team Alabama and give back their solar charger, while I hike down to Lower Palisade at my normal speed, stopping often to take photos of the pretty flowers and the gorgeous lake views. The lakeside trail is really beautiful, and I am happy we didn’t try to push it last night when we were both so tired. We wouldn’t have appreciated it properly.
I finally find Matt and the boys at the end of the lake where they camped last night. We bid each other adieu, and then Matt and I take off for the dreaded Golden Staircase, which shouldn’t be too bad for us considering we are headed down it instead of up.
We are dropping 4000′ in elevation today, and the Golden Staircase will be the kickstart to it all. It isn’t as bad as we imagined. There are great views into Palisade Basin, and the Palisade Creek roars beside the trail. We are shaded sometimes by the mountain behind us, but, when we aren’t, it is hot. There are lots of plants growing along the trail, and it’s quite overgrown with ferns, jasmine and all other kinds of plants. I imagine that in a few weeks, it will be difficult to see the trail through all the foliage.
We finally reach the bottom at Deer Meadow, and it is nice to hike through the forest in the shade of the pine trees on a soft, dirt path. The farther we go, the crazier this section of trail gets. There are tons of trees down on the path (avalanche? blowdown?), and we keep having to climb over the trunks or go around the entire tree. It’s kind of a fun obstacle course, but, on this hot day, we don’t appreciate the added challenge.
We are carrying small camp towels from REI, and, every time we pass water, we dunk them into the creek and tie them around our necks to try to keep cool. We continue down the trail until the junction with the Road’s End Trail at 8070′. We stop for lunch here and cool our feet in the roaring King’s River, which feels heavenly.
From there we start to gain back the 4000′ of elevation that we lost by climbing up through Le Conte Canyon. Here the trail scenery improves, and we enjoy the views of the mountains around us. We reach the ranger station at Le Conte Canyon by 5 and are determined to make it another few miles down the trail before finding camp.
As we continue up, the views of Langille Peak open up to our left, and it helps us take our minds off how tired we are for just a little bit. My feet hurt most of all, and, by this time in the day, my boots feel like they are made of concrete. Every step kills.
We finally arrive at Big Pete Meadows, and there is a large group spread out among all the tent sites. We decide to move on, hoping for a bit more solitude than this site would offer. Unfortunately, the next site is taken, too. We can’t decide if it is better to go back or move forward. Matt takes one for the team and runs ahead on the trail (pack free) to scout out a camp. I wait with the bags while he goes, and he comes running back some 10 minutes later to say he has found something. Hallelujah!
We head up the trail to the pleasant riverside camp Matt found and set up camp, grateful at least not to have to back track. We are also happy to have a quiet space all to ourselves. Our In Reach tells us we hiked 16.2 miles today–our longest yet.