Take a Trek

Day 14: A Rad Place to Expire

Upper Palisade Lake to Sawmill Pass Trail
Day: 16.8 Miles
Trip: 179.2 Miles

One of the unique things about Mather Pass is that you can see it from so far away. The magnificent wall of rock looms above you for miles, as you make your approach. If you camp near Upper Palisade Lake, as many backpackers do, you’ll spend a couple of days marveling at the 12,100-foot giant.

Approaching Mather Pass

Approaching Mather Pass

It lures you in and fills you with anticipation for views that you’ve been working towards since you began your accent of the Golden Staircase. And when you finally stand on its ruble-strewn ridgeline, you’ll be captivated by a vista that explains why it takes so long to get there.

Mather Pass Ridgeline

Mather Pass Ridgeline

Mather Pass Vista

Mather Pass Vista

Descending the southern side of Mather Pass leads you into a ring of peaks and mountain walls that remind you not to sprain an ankle, because helicopter rides are expensive. Aside from a few marginal water sources, including a small lake, the ten miles between Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass are mostly barren.

Somewhere between Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass

Somewhere between Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass

I stop at Marjorie Lake for lunch and contemplate something else that this place is almost completely void of-my sanity. I came to this conclusion, after having a 30-minute verbal debate with myself about all of the socially unacceptable things that I would be willing to do for a cup of fresh coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee and miss it dearly right now, but sociopath isn’t normally one of my personality traits. Aside from my brief encounters with Mark and Allen, I haven’t really had a stimulating conversation with anyone since I left the MTR a few days ago. I’m most likely in need of some social interaction. Maybe there are some more marmots at the top of Pinchot Pass.

Climbing Pinchot Pass

Climbing Pinchot Pass

There are no social encounters on Pinchot Pass, just more views of the Sierra Nevada that leave me feeling as small as a grain of sand lying next to the ocean.

Pinchot Pass Vista

Pinchot Pass Vista

As I lift my pack and shift my attention towards finding a place to camp and prepare dinner, a tremendous rumbling sound rolls through the sky above me. It’s the loudest noise that I’ve heard since I arrived in California, over two weeks ago, and I’m startled into a crouching position. You don’t need to be much of an outdoor enthusiast to know that the top of a 12,130-foot mountain pass is a bad place to watch a thunderstorm. I do a 360-degree evaluation of the horizon around me, but there isn’t a cloud in sight. I turn in circles, twice more, looking for signs of a rockslide, distant avalanche, or comet that has fallen from the sky, but I can’t seem to identify an explanation for the enormous sound that I just heard. I wonder if it was a small earthquake. I doubt it, but the question prompts me to consider what a major earthquake would be like in these mountains. I eat, sleep, and live next to ridgelines and towers of granite that stretch precariously into the sky. If the “big one” hits California, I imagine pebbles and rocks will be flying around this place like confetti at a New Year’s Eve party. The landscape will be dramatically altered, rendering maps useless and making navigation nearly impossible. With all of the backpackers either stuck beneath rocks or wandering around aimlessly, this disastrous scenario still has a silver lining: The Sierra Nevada will be a rad place to expire. Well, better than a traffic jam anyway.

Descending Pinchot Pass

Descending Pinchot Pass