Day 52: Mather Pass

June 5, 2017: Hiked Miles 815.6 to 831.0 (15.4 total)

Luckily we had a very warm night last night not sleeping in the snow.  It actually got a little too warm for me. My calves got so sunburnt yesterday. I now officially have the silliest tan lines ever because of my knee braces. I woke up in the middle of the night and my calves were on fire! I took both pairs of my socks off and pulled my pants up to my knees. I guess it was better than being cold. 

I woke up a lot in the early morning and my awesome (not awesone) internal alarm clock woke me up a few minutes before the actual alarm went off. I layed there for a bit thinking about this climb we were about to do and convinced myself that everything was going to be fine so we might as well just get it over with so I could stop thinking about it.

We were excited that our tent and sleeping bags had stayed dry for once. One less thing to dry out at lunchtime. We ate and packed up and finally had nothing else to do but climb the thing.

We camped right at the base so we were able to start our climb before the sun hit the slope which makes climbing a million times easier so you don’t slip. That’s the last thing you want to do on a straight up and down 600 foot slope. We chose the route that looked safest and shortest and lucked out having decent footsteps in most of it. I had a routine of taking two steps, plunging my ice ax into the snow above and in front of me, two more steps, ice ax, on and on. This seemed like a pretty safe way to climb to me but it started to take forever and really wear on my already burning legs. Plus, I would plunge my ice ax in so far to feel secure that it was hard to pull out when I got ahead of it and started to make we worry that pulling it out would set me off balance and make me slip. Finally I decided that my footsteps were good enough and I was confident in myself to stay calm and make it up this hill, so I started climbing a little faster and just used my ice ax as a guide instead of relying on it for every step. This helped me stand up straighter and feel more balanced. And move a lot quicker. I slowly started catching up to Colton and was so surprised to look up and see him standing right above me on the top.

Right before I reached the top the sun hit me and everything seemed perfect. Climbing onto the peak was the best feeling in the world. Colton opened his arms and we squeezed each other as hard as we could, stoked on what we had just accomplished. 

We looked back down and could not believe how far down our camp was.

It had taken us about 35 minutes to climb up which surprisingly went way faster than I thought. We sat on top for awhile enjoying our view and started our way down the other side. 

The sun hadn’t hit this side yet so it was too dangerous to glisade down, but luckily we found some footsteps and slowly made our way down. It was a little steep and scary but we made it just fine. We walked along the frozen snow for awhile, happy that we had got the hardest part of our day over with… such a silly thing to think. We started making our way down a deep canyon with a raging river below. The canyon got pretty steep in a few spots and we had to rock hop and make detours on and off the trail to avoid the disintegrating snow slopes into the river and the steep snow covered trail up above. 

We eventually started to see patches of dirt up ahead and got so excited. We even found the trail for a bit and got to walk on some solid ground. 

But that would be too easy of course for PCT standards. The trail started to become covered in slushy snow, creeks, downed trees, and rocks from avalanches over the winter. It felt like an obstacle course and we were not the winners.

We hiked until we found a nice lunch spot with room to dry our wet clothes. I was so hungry and tired by this point after everything we had been through today that sitting down and eating surrounded by a thrashed forest in the middle of nowhere felt like I was in paradise. It’s funny how much your expectations change out here of what you need to be happy. We took a long lunch and I laughed about how Colton had been trying so hard in the desert to get out of the hiker bubble and now we were going on day 3 of not seeing another person. Laying in the sun, in the middle of nowhere, with your best friend, and nothing else around was such a relaxing feeling.

We finally pulled ourselves off the warm ground and finished our day. Which was another obstacle course with more snow to break through and more water to walk though. I don’t even know why we tried to dry our socks and shoes. They were soaked in minutes. After what felt like forever we made it to our campsite for the night and lucked out finding a dry area up on some rocks above the trail. We could hear a rushing river below us and a gushing waterfall on one side of us.

We were surrounded by snowy mountains and had the sun beaming on us. What could be better.  

We gave each other back massages and watched a little family of whitetail deer run around us. 

Colton invented a game trying to skip rocks into trees.

We’re getting pretty good at entertaining ourselves. 

We ate dinner and planned out our last big pass we have to climb tomorrow before we head into Bishop for a resupply and to join ranks with humanity again. After not seeing anyone for a few days and not having cell service for a week, we joked about how anything in the world could have been happening the past week and we would never know. It’s half a joke, half kinda scary. I think tomorrow will be even weirder than normal to be back in civilization after being so isolated. 

Our pass tomorrow is an 11.7-mile side trail off the PCT to get to South Lake where we will hopefully hitch into Bishop. The trail is steep and we can already see a lot of switchbacks from our camping site. We don’t know what to expect, but nothing would surprise me anymore. Every day our here is a surprise. It never gets easy, you just get better at it and do more things you never thought you could do and appreciate everything so much more. And somehow that makes everything just perfect. 


11 thoughts on “Day 52: Mather Pass

  1. My heart races, just reading your blog! What an amazing adventure you are getting to experience. You have a way with words that puts your followers right in the moment with you. Maybe you will consider publishing a book when you are done with the trail??!!
    Stay safe!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, you guys rock. Along with various early season hikes and peaks, I’ve done Lamarck (a 13k x-country pass north of Muir) to Kearsarge in alpine conditions, and Kearsarge to Whitney, again in early season snow. But Cottonwood to Bishop? You guys must be in super shape.

    So, now that you’ve done the 3 scary passes, how do you rate/rank them? My order is Glen, Mather & Forester. Forester seems to get hyped because it’s the first major pass for NOBO hikers, but it only has that 10-20 yard exposed section over the chute. Both Glen & Mather are completely exposed along 150-200 yards, with Mather providing that nice little cornice section, but Glen having the steepest, longest & highest run-out (around 1k).

    Also, great description of using your ice axe as a self-belay. (Other hikers should read/study that paragraph.) Yep, sink the shaft to the head, take one-two careful steps, pull out axe and set again. Do it over & over again, focus on the task at hand, carefully and with patience, and eventually you reach the end. Of course, don’t look down!

    Have you heard anything about the Evo & Bear fords? I’m planning on section hiking Piute to Duck the week after next. I’m prepared to turn around @ Bear if I can’t get across.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We hit Forester two days after a storm which I’m assuming washed out all footprints so we were basically making our own route up which was super sketch. But the actual exposed section was cake. So Forester was hardest for me. I thought Glenn and Mather were both fine because of the good footholes. They’re just mentally hard because you’re on a slope for so long. I thought going down Glenn was probably the hardest.

      Here’s what I just read on a FB page about evo and bear:


      via ‎Cris Chater‎ to fb group Sierra Nevada Current Conditions – Trails, Passes and Peaks

      This is Strider from the Mt. Williamson Motel & Baser Camp reporting for John Colver on Tuesday June 6, 2017.
      John’s thoughts on impassible river detours, snow and whether to hike or not (this is a longer post).

      “In my experience, Evolution Creek was not difficult, but fordable with care and teamwork. The water is deep, but slow moving, due to the topography which creates large bends in a flat meadow.

      It seems that North Fork of Mono Creek and Bear Creek will remain impassable until water levels recede.
      An alternate route to avoid Bear Creek from Bishop Pass north, or an entrance from the west (Florence Lake or Edison Lake) would be:
      1) From Muir Trail Ranch take Florence Lake Trail to Florence Lake Resort – 9 miles (or 4.5 miles once Ferry is operating).
      2) Road walk north (or hitch) 13 miles to Thomas Edison Lake.
      3) Take Goodale Pass Trail to rejoin JMT/PCT at 10545 elevation 1 mile north of Silver Pass.

      Regarding snow: I’ve observed is many afternoon ‘wet slides’ as well as some post holing, but also, as the melt/freeze cycles continue – a very firm snowpack, which is easy to walk on early in the day. I have not carried snowshoes and have been completing 10 – 15 miles per day. Our team has also benefited from direct routes, glissading and walking across frozen lakes. From a snow travel perspective – travel has been very efficient and straightforward.

      For anyone thinking about whether to go or not go — I feel that to experience the Sierra Nevada in 2017, will be so beautiful and spectacular that anyone who has the opportunity, should consider it.

      I am looking for more info too.


      1. That alternate doesn’t look like much fun – it routes away from the crest and puts you in trees. Also, with Tuolumne still closed, that means you need to be able to hike from Mammoth to Sonora, so you need to preserve your energy. A friend did that N Yosemite section in late spring (a normal snow year), and he said he thought it was the hardest physically between the slushy snow & constant deep fords.

        IMO, seconding what you posted above, I think everyone who is capable should experience the section you just traversed. But, after dealing with the true High Sierra in alpine conditions, it might be prudent to finally skip/flip/return as the fords become more difficult/dangerous.

        Of course, you’re going to want to get back out there and do Muir first in the snow. Are you familiar with the famous S lake to N lake loop? You could go back in via Bishop, then after Muir & Evo basin, either return over Lamarck, or do the Evo ford and return via Piute.

        How was Bishop pass? Were there any tracks? I was up there the first week of May, but we turned around due to weather (wind chill around 10F). You can see the windblown, untracked cornice on Bishop:

        Anyway, keep on keeping on; you guys are doing great.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not familiar with it. But I’ll have to look into it. I want to do as much of the trail as possible, but also not willing to risk my life in bad river crossings. We’re very interested in detours as long as they’re not skipping huge sections or are really long road walks.

        Bishop Pass was pretty good. We got up early and did it. Going up from the pct was kinda hard due to all the water flowing down the mountain. But once on top there were lots of footprints and the way down wasn’t bad. Glissaded a lot and slushy snow. Lakes are starting to melt.


      3. This is why you’re going to want to complete at least Muir pass. Not many people have the physical ability or opportunity to luck into conditions like these. Go get it before it’s gone:

        Liked by 1 person

  3. After using an ice axe, you can see why the Whippet might be a better option for hikers. That bent over position is uncomfortable and not as efficient. While the ice axe is a much better self arrest tool I much prefer the security of always having the whippet in my hand and ready. Plus it has a secure place to hold second hand unlike the axe where the handle is slippery.

    Liked by 1 person

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