A little more altitude and a little less attitude.
S. Fork Kings River to Middle Fork Kings River
Right now I am sitting by a warm campfire with a group of PCTers: Speedbump, Bubbs, Pepe Lopez, and Boots. All are sharing the thrills, challenges, and the sheer excitement of the day.
You see today we climbed Mather Pass, which was, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous climbs I have undertaken. Dangerous? Why? It was very steep, long, the snow was soft with no prior footsteps, and one slip in a lot of places would thrust a hiker down, down to a pile of rocks. Not good. Exposure is what I have always avoided and this pass is an icon for it! Team Tehachapi took charge with Silly Chili in the lead kicking in labor intensive steps, while Dan and I followed reaping the benefits! The snow was soft and footholds could collapse easily when enough weight was placed on them. The route we choose traveled diagonally from one rock outcropping to another. Shimmying across the rocks was no easy task and a bit scary. My ice ax became a vital link to some possible control with each step. I planted deep in the snow my ax before taking the next step. In earlier weeks we had been told about a nasty cornice at the top of Mather. Today, the cornice was a mere lip to flop your body over. The view from the top is one I will never tire of. You see it is a view of the majority of mountains over 14,000 feet in California. In this group, I have climbed Middle Palisade, Mount Sill, Split Mountain, and 3/4 of North Palisade. The remaining peaks from this view are Polemonium Peak, Starlight Peak, and Thunderbolt Peak. Again I keep thinking that most hikers upon reaching this pass have no idea what a once in a lifetime view and treat this is!
So I wanted to talk about the sun’s intensity reflected off the snow. It is so bright that if and when you take your sunglasses off it hurts. If you hang your tongue out for just a little while panting up the hill, it will burn (Dan’s tongue is burned). Lips??? Oh, the lips. I made a major mistake and packed Blistex and Neutrogena lip balm. Bad, very bad!!! All our lips are burned, blistered, and hurt. They especially hurt at night. AND I made another mistake I packed Neutrogena 70 sunscreen, no…not even close to what we needed. I have always been a Coppertone and Dermatone fan. Why I didn’t pack those I have no idea. What was I thinking?
A few miles after Mather is an engineering masterpiece called “The Golden Staircase”. Today, it could be called according to PCTer Malto, “The Golden Cascades”. Water flowed, ebbed, and flooded the trail. It was beautiful. The architects of this section of trail masterfully designed water to channel into organized little streams. At the bottom of the countless switchbacks, we spotted a grouse. So cool.
Tomorrow we will be climbing Muir Pass, which will be a long, snowy, easy ascent.