Today was easily the most epic day of my 6 weeks back on trail, and of the 160+ miles of the high Sierra. It started terrible. After camping on the snow below Mather Pass I woke up completely wet. Everything I have was soaked. The snow never fully froze and condensation up at his altitude was unusually heavy. Last night I woke up about a dozen times trying to get warm. When my alarm went off I was ready to get the hell out of there. My shoes were frozen rock solid and I had to mentally prepare for an ice field walk.
Righteous and I were the last in the group to get out of camp. But we later realized that Earwig, Shakedown, Happy Hour, and WingIt were still asleep and wouldn't attempt the pass until after 7am.
After a few miles of walking through ice fields we got to the base of the pass and it didn't look good. Spacejam, GoPro, Steele (and his dog Cora) and I unknowingly ascended the suicide route up and over several rock cliffs - we could have taken the lower route to switchbacks but didn't realize it existed. We climbed up cliffs, scrambled over boulders, and transitioned back and forth to steep snowy traverses. The higher up we got the more I realized we went the wrong route, and the deeper we were. Too late to turn back. I've kept myself calm in most of these situations by just focusing on my breathing and my next footstep. But this time I looked over my shoulder and saw what felt like certain death waiting to cradle me...steep slopes hundreds of feet down. For a moment I thought I was fucked. In over my head. Then I remember to breath and keep pushing on. Get over the pass. This is by far the dumbest and scariest most beautiful thing I have tried and succeeded at doing. When I finally summitted I had a rush of emotions. I started to cry but had to hide it with my sun glasses. I didn't want the others to see. I wasn't sad or scared. I was full of joy. I brought my body and mind up this pass and I should celebrate it by being happy.
On top we hung out, snacked, took some photos and anxiously waiting for the rest of the Lazy Fucks to summit. They never showed and folks wanted to head down the next valley to make good time. I left them a note on a boulder telling them where to meet us.
Going down the backside of Mather Pass was extraordinary. I can't decide if the views this canyon has to offer are superior to Kings Canyon on the backside of Forester Pass. It's so good. The Palisade Lakes litter the ice canyon floor. They're frozen mostly with turquoise blocks of ice crumbling at the edges. All the snow melt feeds then and they are all connected by a main vein. The water flows more violently the further elevation drops. Towering peaks staring you in the eyes. Birds singing and marmots taunting from the rocks just feet away. This place is wild. It's hard for me to comprehend most of it in the moment. I feel like I'm wandering a maze to nowhere.
After dropping more elevation the actual trail appears and snow covered moon-like landscapes transform into mangled green forests and swollen rivers with equally aggressive tributaries feeding them. The John Muir Trail has reared its beautiful head. Walking down into the valley was the most amazing moment of my entire hike. I wish others could be there to see it too. We stop and camp along the mighty Palisade creek. The same creek that is being fed from those high altitude lakes just on the north side of Mather Pass. This whole place is a system, interconnected, working. This creek is actually the size of a large river. We jumped in for an ice cold dip and I washed my clothes. Setting up camp right on the river bank is a wonderful feeling. And then you realize you replaced snow for shit loads of bugs. But I'll take it. I'm grateful for today.