Another Day, Another Mountain
Sierra mountains. Everyone always talks about how it is their favorite section. So beautiful. So grandiose. What they don’t tell you is how difficult it is. Don’t let anyone fool you, this section is tough. This has been one of the most physically, mentally, and emotionally-draining weeks of my life. Every day we climb up and over a pass through this mountain range. Every night I fall asleep exhausted knowing that I have to climb another pass tomorrow. Every morning I pack up camp in the freezing cold. Yet, I keep going. Why? Ugh, it’s those dang mountains. So beautiful. So grandiose.
Each pass brought different levels of difficulty and each provided its own unique landscapes. The elevation change and mileages are all rough estimates, but I will do my best to describe each pass.
Kearsarge: 11971ft over 9 miles. This is not on the PCT, but most hikers chose this route to get to and from town to resupply. The trail is a slow incline up from the parking lot, winds around Bullfrog Lake, and then suddenly steepens to reach the top of the pass. Although beautiful with stunning views of lakes, this trail is mentally draining simply because it is not actually part of the PCT. But hey, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do to get some food and a shower.
Next up was Glen Pass: 11,950ft. Ascent: 2,706ft. Descent: 3,685.ft 12.5 miles. Let me just tell you, although possible (especially in a low snow year), doing two passes in one day is tough (especially after coming from the valley at a lower elevation.) This pass brought steep switchbacks the whole way up and I had to stop at almost every one to catch my breath. The top overlooked alpine lakes far below. The descent down brought patches of snow and ice. Like I’ve said in an earlier post, this girl is not good at hiking in the snow. Luckily, we were able to rock scramble around most of the snowy stretches covering the trail. As we descended, the rocks and snow turned to grassy meadows and lakes. We meandered around Rae Lakes and stopped for a snack overlooking Middle Rae Lake. We set up camp quickly as the mosquitoes were vicious that night. We were forced to eat dinner and perform all necessary chores within the confinement of our tents. Mosquitoes vs. humans. Humans lost.
Pinchot Pass: 12,122ft. Ascent: 3,663ft. Descent: 2,074ft. 11.5 miles. Oh man, this one was beautiful. We had a nice overcast day, shielding us from the heat. The first half of the climb brought never-ending stone staircases. I hummed “Stairway to Heaven” as I continued to put one foot in front of the other. I should have put in more hours on the stair master at the gym, I thought. The second half of the climb was more gradual, winding up the mountain, crossing over a creek with multiple waterfalls scattered throughout. Don’t worry mom, I only slipped and fell in one time! The peak provided views of mountains of all different shades of colors: red, brown, dark grey, light grey. The white snow against the red mountains, such contrast. I felt as though I were in a painting.
Mather Pass: 12,094ft. Ascent: 2,343ft. Descent: 4,594ft. 16.7 miles. The next morning I woke up and put on my still wet shoes from the previous day’s creek crossing incident. This climb was much easier. Again, we followed along a river all the way to the peak, which offered views of rugged, sharp mountain tops. The descent was steep and rocky. The whole time I’m completely focused on not twisting my ankle on the rocky path. Eventually, the trail began to flatten out as it flowed around Palisade Lake. The water so clear and so blue it could be mistaken for glass. Once in the valley the trail entered and exited patches of pine forests and groves of Aspen trees. Although I see many types of trees out here, pine trees have a special place in my heart as they remind me of sweet home Alabama.
Muir Pass: 11,969ft. Ascent: 4,559ft. Descent: 4,802ft. 30 miles. We woke up that morning with a deer right outside the tent. I see deer all the time back home, but there is something majestic about seeing one out here. This was my favorite pass. The climb was technical with added challenges: rock scrambles, snowy patches, frozen creeks, heavy winds, views of snowy mountains. It was epic. Against the wind’s best effort, we pushed our way to the top of the pass and were able to find some protection in the John Muir Memorial Shelter to eat lunch. Wind vs. humans. Humans lost, again. The descent followed along half-frozen lakes that were beginning to thaw out.
Seldon Pass: 10,913ft. Ascent: 3,232ft. Descent: 2,144ft. 14.5 miles. The temperature that night hit below freezing. We woke up and packed up camp slowly, hampered by our frozen fingers. Immediately we were greeted with a creek crossing with no rocks or logs to create a bridge. We had no choice but to doff our shoes and socks and trudge through the freezing cold water. Good morning, says the world. Slowly, the day began to warm up as we passed through forests of tall trees whose aroma reminded me of my grandpa’s woodshop. This pass was one of the easier ones but still included steep switchbacks overlooking blue lakes surrounded by green trees.
The next day we woke up excited to not have to climb a pass and excited because we were going to Vermillion Valley Resort. We needed to resupply, but also needed/wanted to eat a real meal, drink a beer, take a shower, sleep in a real bed, etc. We took a side trail off the PCT and hiked around Lake Edison to get to VVR. The lake was so low from the water shortage that we were able to hike through the dry shoreline. We celebrated the week’s challenges with a hot cooked dinner, beer, and ice cream. We played cards around the fire until we grew tired, around 8 p.m. (otherwise know as hiker midnight).
The next morning we took the Goodale pass trail to get back on the PCT and passed through the burnt forest from last year’s forest fire. There was something eerie yet resurrecting as we meandered through the blackened trees. After two more days of hiking through forests, around alpine lakes, across creeks, and through meadows we made it to the next town. I am tired but I am ready, ready for the challenges and the beauty to continue.
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