Wednesday, August 9, 2000

At this moment, we're taking a brief rest on our way down from Mather Pass. Moments like this are often best spent in silent contemplation of the grandeur and magnificence of the Sierra, its muttering falls, its fine washed granite slopes, the ponderous Palisades.and usually with a good-sized piece of beef jerky. Preferably spicy. Mom's taping her feet, wishing they would make socks without toe-ribs. Or whatever they're called.

We stumbled into gear around 7:30. The corn pasta we had the night before had me churning up the trail. I was the second person to reach the top of the pass. The first person was a talkative guy on his way up from the other side. Soon, two more people showed up-a woman and her fourteen year old daughter. Then more and more people (all from the north) until it was like the stateroom scene from MONKEY BUSINESS. That's actually an exaggeration. But it was a party. And some extremely nice people as well. We traded stories. I chewed spicy beef jerky. Mom arrived, and before we all parted ways, she even compared backpack patches with another woman.

We began hiking at 7:30 am. It was extremely cold until the sun reached our camp at 7:15. The approach to Mather Pass wasn't too steep. The trail went far to the right, then went back over to the left, part way up the wall, then switchbacked up the far left side. I crested the pass about 10:00, Will about 25 minutes ahead of me. A lot of people showed up- all from the Palisade Lake side. Most people are going north to south. After about an hour, we started down.

Mather Pass

The final approach to Mather Pass

Snow Crossing

Approaching the Wall. The little highlighted dot is Will.

Cool floppy hat

Will atop Mather Pass

Settin' off

Chris atop the pass. Looking North.

We met a hiker coming up who didn't like switchbacks, so he was just climbing straight up some very nasty talus. The trail down wasn't as steep as I had feared- much less so than Glen Pass, but I had to change socks and tape my big and little toes at the bottom. The Palisade Lakes were gorgeous. I got there about 1:00. I was tired so I lay down and retaped toes. Several people who had come up the Golden Staircase were prostrate on the ground and some were swimming! I wish we had had an extra day, because I would love to have hung out and camped there. It's so deep in the heart of the Sierra and difficult to reach without a lot of arduous hiking that I was reluctant to leave so readily.

There's a great campsite just past this point

Pausing for a breath

Lower Palisade Lake

One last look at Mather

Lower Palisade Lake

Sublime Sierra

Completely centered

Zen and the art of...whatever

Three and a half miles down the trail found us at the outlet of Lower Palisade Lake. The whole basin was simply gorgeous. We drank it in while munching on tortillas slathered with Super Peanut Butter. Across the stream from us some people were splashing naked in the water. One of their party sat in the shade of a Whitebark Pine and read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." And on our own side of the creek, four men looked as if they were survivors of a bomb blast. Sprawled on the grass, dead to all. Apparent victims of the "Golden Staircase" The sight of them did nothing to allay our apprehension about what was to come.

Before the plunge

Deer Meadow, Le Conte Canyon and beyond

One last adjustment

The Palisades loom behind Chris

Upper Staircase

The trail is hard to see. Too much contrast.

A hiker and lots o' rock

One of many switchbacks

Palisade Creek

A rest next to the falls

After lunch we packed up and headed down the relatively easy lead-in to the Staircase. I had the distinct impression (and I said so) that it was like skiing down the easy catwalk that provides the definitive access to the gut-wrenching double-black diamond cornice chute. We were committed. We were going down.

The "staircase" jig-jags down the steep, reddish-yellow cliffs alongside Palisade Creek-apparently the final, mind-boggling feat of engineering to occur in the construction of the JMT. Severe, to be sure, but in the end, not the hellish descent we'd anticipated.

The Staircase: Before and After

Before

The red dot is where we'll be soon.

After

Looking back up at the overlook.

We started down the Golden Staircase with trepidation about 1:30 but again it wasn't as bad as I had feared. It was like the Grand Canyon. Steep but with many switchbacks. BUT by the time I got to Deer Meadow, my toes were again like hamburger, so I switched to my Tevas. Will found a proper campsite at 5:00. Lovely. 2 fire rings, water, flat. We washed off a bit in the river. I'm relaxing in the tent now. We must've hiked 10-11 miles today. I'm maxed out. Stove top stuffin' and orzo for dinner with cocoa/cider by the fire. More mozzies tonight than in the past because of the lower altitude, I guess. No fly tonight. There's a moon above. Maybe we'll see meteors.
We made it down with no real problem and are now camped about a mile below Deer Meadow, the creek just beyond our tent and the mozzies in happy swarms about our heads. Bad here. But now it's bedtime. Dinner tonight: Orzo with couscous flavor packet (man, that's salty!) and Stove Top stuffing, courtesy of Keir and Joy. A mega carbo-load for tomorrow's toil up Le Conte Canyon. Music in my head today was dominated by the final cut from the soundtrack to the film GROOVE. I like that.

Late afternoon

Below Deer Meadow

Chef

Getting ready to cook orzo with salt