June 13th, Friday
813ish to 832.6
The next morning, we got up early, our breath steaming in the cold air. I gathered our sock laundry, which were now stiff with frost, and strung them onto my backpack. We had realized that 10:30 or 11 was the perfect time to reach the passes, so we were trying to get to Mather Pass (elevation 12,096) on schedule.
The ascent to the pass wasn’t too bad, since we had camped at nearly 11,000 feet (incidentally, the elevation continued to have no adverse effects on us), and we got to the top of the pass by 11:00 almost on the nose. Several other hikers were sitting up there: Sad Fish and Banjo waved hello, along with another hiker we’d met earlier, named Lady Pants (after his stars-and-stripes short-shorts). They were all talking about how awesome the Sierra was, and how awesome these passes were, and how awesome Forester Pass was. We said that we had been traumatized by going over the passes, and everyone laughed like we were the weirdest people on the planet. It made me feel a little embarrassed— but a little happier, too. At least someone was appreciating the Sierra as much as I wanted to! These guys were having the time of their lives.
|Inspirational photo for Facebook|
|How we actually felt about the passes|
The descent from Mather Pass was, once again, buried in snow, and while it was much steeper than Pinchot, it was much more gradual than Glen or Forester. Zach calmly led the way across the snow, and I followed, my heart still racing, but my mind calmer. I’d have little freak-out moments when I felt the snow give a little. I did posthole once or twice, but it wasn’t as violent as I’d had before— more of a sinking than a dropping, and I was able to catch myself and pull myself out before I got caught.
The main challenge of Mather Pass was finding a sensible way down, and keeping track of the trail. No one could tell where the trail was going, and it was difficult to see the most efficient route down the side of the mountain. Still, we had our GPS, and after a long scramble down the slope, we relocated the PCT and headed out of the snow into warmer country.
Almost the entire rest of the day was one long downhill (in preparation for the 3,000-foot ascent to Muir Pass the next day), so we sped through it. I was feeling considerably better, having made it through three of the four passes. We’d heard that Muir Pass (named, of course, after the man himself, John Muir) was the snowiest, but also the least steep. After four snowy passes, I had a much better sense of what snow was supposed to feel like underfoot. I could tell when it was about to give, or when it was solid. I had learned to shift my weight and sort of fall forward, rather than pushing off when my foot was planted on fragile snow. If I had gone back right now and hiked Forester Pass, it would’ve been ten times better. I wished that we would had gotten any chance to do this kind of snow hiking before the trail. But there just aren’t many of those opportunities east of the Rockies.
As we were hiking through the tall forests, laced with springs and meadows and groves of water-loving plants, we began hiking with a guy who introduced himself as Ché. He had a sweet, bright face, an endearing smile, tousled blondish-brown hair, and a wavy beard down to his collarbone. He hiked at a breakneck pace, but we were so glad for company that we practically sprinted after him. At dinnertime, we sat on sawn-off logs at a vacant ranger station and munched on pasta while we talked to Ché. He was a computer programmer from California, and he was loving the PCT. After supper he went ahead of us, but we would see him again, many more times, for the rest of our trip.
We camped that night in a open patch of forest near a huge meadow called Big Pete Meadow, along with a bunch of other hikers. It would be only five miles to Muir Pass in the morning, and we hoped to get an early start. We cooked dinner, watching the mule deer wandering around the edges of the campground. (“Deer in Missouri are never that tame,” I said. “There should be more hunters around here.”) It had been a long day, but we’d crossed a pass and still managed to get in twenty miles. We only had one big pass left, and I felt better equipped to tackle it than any of the ones before. Maybe we’d be all right after all.