Mather Pass: Day 51

Milage: 809.2- 831.7

22.5 miles

2019 has been the year of fear mongering through the Sierras section and Mather Pass has been the headliner. In all seriousness it was sketchy but not nearly as bad as people are making it seem. We were stoked for the opportunity to climb up and over the beast everyone’s been talking about.

Mather somewhere in the distance

The alarm rattled off at the normal time of 5am sounding the wake up call. The air was cold and neither of us were ready to venture out into the crisp morning air but we knew we had to. Surrounded by snow our morning started off with a very deep and cold river crossing, the kind that hurts your skin and bones. After crossing we dried ourselves off to the best of our ability, removed our shoes from our packs and laced them up ready to crush the day ahead.

We continuously crossed frigid and rapidly moving water all morning, leaving our feet cold and soaked. Upon arrival to the Kings River we noticed a sign urging PCT’ers to follow the river up stream in order to avoid crossing the treacherous waters. This detour was a slow moving 2.5 mile stretch along the rivers edge.

After meeting back up with the PCT we were greeted with views of Mather Pass which made the mornings struggles worthwhile. As we made our way toward the pass we began to formulate our plan of ascent. The normal switchbacks one would take in a non-snow year were non existent. There was only one good option that we felt comfortable with and that meant the high left route. With our ice axes in hand we climbed straight up the far left side until we reached rocky terrain. We then strapped our ice axes and trekking poles to our packs as we would need both hands for the next part of our ascent. We rock scrambled higher continuing to move up and from left to right. The last part of our climb would also be the most dangerous.

The last 20 yards before the summit is a snow covered traverse that’s continuously cooked by the sun from about 7am on. The foot holds become sloppy and the risk of sliding out of control is constant. We removed our ice axes from our packs once again and prepared for our final test before the summit. Cody went first anchoring his axe, calling out risky spots and slamming his feet in hopes of securing each foothold. After reaching the summit we exchanged a smile and thumbs up signaling that it was Kelsey’s turn. Kelsey slammed her axe home and set her feet in stride reaching the summit shortly after. We took in the views, snapped some pictures and looked below watching other hikers pick their routes to the summit.


We made our way down the snow covered pass taking every opportunity to glissade that we could. We were continuously post holing through sun cups leaving our feet completely soaked. We found a nice island in the snow equipped with a small stream and flat rocks to sit on. This is where we’d take our lunch break. We both removed our shoes and socks placing them in the sun. This also gave our feet the opportunity to warm up and dry out. Lunch was delicious and our sun baked island felt like paradise but we knew we had to continue on. We packed our things, donned our gear and continued to hike through the snow fields towards dry earth.

Glissade time!

Sweet lunch spot!

After passing Palisade Lakes we were back on dry dirt ready to climb down the Golden Staircase. We took a moment to enjoy the views ahead and reflect on our climb up and over Mather Pass.

The risk factor combined with the requirement to think and act on your own accord made this pass one of our favorites. The views weren’t so bad either.

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