“Camp out among the grass and gentians of glacier meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of Nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” — John Muir
The most difficult thing about camping in a deep valley is that the sun sets early and rises late. With towering mountains on either side of our campsite, it was a surreal feeling to be held in such a lingering and sustained stretch of dawn before daybreak. Julia and I decided to wake up early and hit the trail shortly after sunrise, as we knew we had a long climb ahead of us, and the weather was going to be warm. The magic of the morning wasn’t only relegated to our planet and it’s relation to the sun though. In our first mile of walking, I stumbled upon another deer. As I moved forward to take a closer look, I saw that it had three of the cutest baby fawns with it. It was almost like a cartoon, the way their skinny baby legs danced around the forest, somehow keeping them upright.
It wasn’t long before we reached the Middle Fork Kings Junction to begin the uphill climbing for the day, an 11 mile, 4100ft climb to the summit of Mather Pass. The trail continued on through stretches of lodgepole forest and patches of sand and rock.
After three miles, we began what is known as the Golden Staircase, an exposed hike up switchbacks that climbs 1500ft. This stretch is truly a mind boggling accomplishment of trail construction. The amount of work it must have taken to build the Staircase is incomprehensible.
The climbing finally leveled out and allowed for a beautiful look back towards the canyon and meadow. We hopped a few creeks and streams before arriving at the shimmering Lower Palisade Lake. This was the perfect spot to stop, filter water, and rest our legs for the climbing still ahead.
Climbing up the steep granite wall away from Palisade Lake, we continued on towards Mather Pass. I was really starting to feel the lack of oxygen, and the large hunks of talus that made up the trail began to sap my feet of energy. The landscape was nothing but barren, lifeless, gagged granite…and it was oh so beautiful.
The final steps always seem to come easy on days like this. As I saw the pass approaching, I picked up my pace and power walked to the views at the summit. The panorama on offer was nothing short of celestial.
We began to make our way down the switchbacks from the pass, and stood in awe at the tarns below. The Upper Basin was truly spectacular, and the hike down from Mather Pass was turning out to be much more pleasant than the hike up. Not only was it nice to be heading downhill, but the trail was much less steep, and was a much smoother and softer composition.
The end of the downhill section was marked by the South Fork Kings Crossing. It was here that Julia and I decided to stop and filter some water. While we were resting, we met two incredibly entertaining older ladies who were leading alpacas as pack animals. I could tell they had been friends for years, as they talked all over each other and continued to finish each other’s sentences. They brought us up to speed on all the rules and regulation of hiking with alpacas, which made me want to join their organization and raise a few myself.
After our break, we had a short 2 mile hike with 1000 ft of elevation gain to finish our day at Lake Marjorie. We normally would have flown up this section, but having already hiked 20 miles with 4100 ft of elevation gain, we opted for a slower pace. It was quite nice, as the views on offer were made for slow enjoyment.
It was pretty late and getting cold by the time we reached Lake Marjorie, but there was still enough daylight to pitch the tent and rest a little before cooking up dinner. The land surrounding the lake was very rocky, with huge slabs of granite in most places. Even though I found a nice sandy spot, the earth was too hard underneath to push stakes in. I was tired, but had to lug 8 huge rocks from the surrounding area to anchor us down. I did that just in time, as the wind started to really howl just as I placed the last one. The sun went down, and I walked down to the lake in the dark to filter water for the day ahead. We had our sights on hitting both Pinchot and Glen Pass the following day, and I knew I’d need my strength.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller