What is adventure? If a lone wolf lifts his plaintive call into the moonlight near your campsite, you might call that adventure. While you’re sweating like a horse on a climb over a 12,000 foot pass, that could be adventure. When howling head winds press your lips against your teeth, you face a mighty struggle. When your pack grows heavy on your shoulders as your climb a 14,000 foot peak, you feel the adventure. When you suffer freezing temperatures and 20 inches of fresh powder on a hut to hut trip in the Rockies, that could be called adventure. But that’s not what makes an adventure. It’s your willingness to conquer it, and to present yourself at the doorstep of nature. That creates the experience. No more greater joy can come from life than to live inside a moment of adventure. It is the uncommon wilderness experience that gives your life expectation.” — Frosty Wooldridge
The wind that started blowing over Marjorie Lake before going to sleep had only gained in intensity as we woke up on day 9. It wasn’t a vicious or howling wind, but it seemed to be an ominous harbinger of something soon to come. We had enjoyed six consecutive days of near perfect weather, but in the back of my mind I knew it had to end. Nonetheless, we broke camp and began hiking the 2 miles and 1100 ft of elevation gain to the summit of Pinchot Pass at 12,130 ft.
We reached the summit in under an hour and took off our packs to enjoy the morning views. There was only one other hiker at the top, a guy named Tequila Jack. Tequila Jack is a PCT trail angel when he’s not hiking, and had a ton of great knowledge about the JMT. It wasn’t long before our conversation turned to weather. He had heard rumors that the tail end of a Mexican hurricane was blowing our way, and the conditions would be fierce. This wasn’t the kind of news we were hoping to hear. We were so close to finishing the JMT, and the thought of enduring a crazy storm during our final days was pretty demoralizing. Still, we tried to be positive, and allowed ourselves some patience to see how the weather conditions developed.
We came across a few northbound hikers as we made our way downhill from Pinchot Pass. They all came bearing the same bad news. One even went so far as to tell us to stop and camp at the lowest possible elevation to wait things out. His final advice was “make sure to stay off the passes”. This was a big hit to our plan, as we had hoped to get up and over the 11,970 ft Glen Pass by days end. As beautiful as the trail was in this section, my mind was partially elsewhere.
One of my favorite parts of this day, was reaching the suspension bridge at Woods Creek. It didn’t look like much to start, but when I got on and felt the crazy swaying motion, I was happy to be standing on solid ground again. This would have been the lowest elevation of our hike if we wanted to avoid a storm, but the conditions still looked very stable and favorable, so we decided to continue. Our plan at this point was to continue on until we hit Rae Lakes, and then decide on a plan from there.
We began hiking uphill and through a meadow before reaching Dollar Lake. The green waters of Dollar Lake were quite beautiful under a cloudy sky. I kept my eyes focused ahead, and could see darker formations beginning to take shape in the area of Glen Pass. Part of me wanted to wait here and let the storm come to us, but my more ambitious side got the best of me, and we pressed on.
We were now entering the Rae Lakes Basin, a very popular site for hikers and campers alike. We climbed uphill a bit more before the trail began to level out and took us to the shores of Rae Lakes.
We took a short break near the trailhead with a ranger station, and struck up a conversation with a couple who had just descended from Glen Pass. They said the conditions were nice, and that they’ve hiked over it many times in the rain without issue. That was promising for us, as we were really hoping to get up and over. Our plan now was to get over the pass and exit the trail via Kearsarge Pass to wait out the storm. We knew that if we stopped before the worst of the storm hit, we’d have to wait it out with short hiking days and lots of time in the tent. With that, we picked ourselves up, and began hiking towards the pass. The stretch here between Upper and Middle Rae Lakes was possible on of the most beautiful on the entire JMT. To me, only Thousand Island Lake, and Garnet Lake are in the same category of grandeur.
The climb towards Glen Pass is a series of switchbacks taking you away from the blue and green beauty of Rae Lakes and into a lake dotted granite wonderland that is pretty breathtaking in it’s own right. Although we began to experience precipitation, a little thunder, and scary spate of dark clouds, it was hard not to be optimistic. We had made it this far, and only had a small climb left.
As the weather gained in intensity, so did my resolve. After nearly 20 miles of hiking, we made it to Glen Pass. We weren’t able to stay very long, as the wind was getting colder and wetter with every gust. I knew we needed to descend as quickly and safely as possible, so we made our way downhill after about 10 minutes enjoying the views.
We hiked downhill for two miles until we reached the Kearsarge Pass junction. In the morning we would head up and over Kearsarge Pass and head down to Onion Valley for a resupply of food, and to miss the worst of the oncoming storm.
How many hearts with warm, red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining? A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.” — John Muir