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John Muir Trail Day 7: Mather Pass

August 05, 2018

That night at camp along the Middle Fork Kings River was the coldest night so far. Luckily we had some extra food thanks to our friend Scott who had left the previous day, so we warmed up with a hot breakfast.

Morning of Day 7
Morning of Day 7

Today’s plan was to cross over Mather Pass and camp near the Palisade Lakes or continue on down the Golden Staircase if we felt up for it. I was excited to see the west side of the Palisade Crest after having seen it from the east so many times in Big Pine Canyon.

Creek on the way to Mather Pass
Creek on the way to Mather Pass

The hike to the pass was exposed with streams and ponds every quarter mile. The incline was pretty manageable, especially compared to what we tackled the previous days in Mt. Whitney and Forester Pass.

Two lakes at the base of Mather pass
Two lakes at the base of Mather pass
Mather Pass from the trail
Mather Pass
Lake at the base of Mather Pass

We stopped at the base of the pass for a short break before our final climb. As I turned around to look at where we started that morning, I saw two lakes off below the trail that we hadn’t been able to see on our way up. The scenery south of Mather Pass is beautiful.

South of Mather Pass
South of Mather Pass

After so many consecutive days of hiking up mountain passes we were finally starting to find our rhythm. A slow and steady pace up from the base of the pass was the best way to go about it, and when we found our pace we could make it up in really good time.

Palisade Lakes and the Palisade Crest
Palisade Lakes and the Palisade Crest

The views looking north of Mather Pass were incredible. The Palisade Crest stood above the two lakes with multiple peaks skying over 14,000 feet. North Palisade and Mt. Sill were especially impressive as they stood out above the rest. My sister had a good time mocking me as I pointed out the names of all the peaks.

Trail down from Mather Pass
Trail down from Mather Pass

The trail going down the north face was essentially all scree. This kind of terrain really wore on us as the miles and days went on. Luckily we had both gotten new insoles before the trip started. I can’t imagine how much more my feet would have hurt if we hadn’t.

Palisade Lakes
Palisade Lakes

Palisade Lakes were stunning. The first lake was a deep blue with an outlet heading north down to the second lake with sightly brighter blue as the afternoon sunlight hit it from the west.

Palisade Lakes
Palisade Lakes
Palisade Lakes
Palisade Lakes with Mather Pass in the background
Palisade Lakes with Mather Pass in the background

We stopped for about an hour to do laundry while we had some good sunlight. I jumped in the lower lake and swam across as we waited for our clothes to dry. That was probably the fastest I’ve ever swam with as cold as that water was.

Palisade Creek above the Golden Staircase
Palisade Creek above the Golden Staircase

It was early in the afternoon and we were feeling good after our quick break, so we decided to head down the Golden Staircase. I figured if it was going to hurt our feet, we might as well get that out of the way tonight and recover with a good night sleep.

Waterfall just off the trail
Waterfall just off the trail

Near the top we came across two Park Rangers and a medic who were assisting a man with severe altitude sickness. There was a helicopter en route to take him to a hospital. We made it down to the valley in about an hour with incredibly sore feet. Another two miles or so on flat ground and we set up camp in Deer Meadow, ready to get close to Muir Pass the next day.