I woke at 5:30AM and was happy to see that the bears had decided to leave my bear hang alone. There would be candy for another day!
Since I was up anyway and there was no condensation on any of my gear, I decided to get a head start and leave as soon as possible. Having to filter 2 liters of water slowed me down quite a bit, but by 6:40AM I was back on the trail, ready to tackle the pass of the day: Muir Pass.
The way up first took me past Evolution Creek, a nice wide creek with quite a few cascading waterfalls. After getting thoroughly wet feet wading through to the other side, I eventually reached Evolution Lakes, both of which had a beautiful backdrop of sharp mountain peaks.
With Muir Pass almost in view, I passed Wanda Lake which was full of huge tadpoles. Any lake which has these, has had all fish in it killed off. Rangers did this to help preserve the frogs and eradicate some invasive species of fish. No one will be fishing here successfully anytime soon.
By now, Muir Pass was getting ever closer and I was going super fast, feeling as if I was flying uphill and overtaking anyone who stood in between me and the top :). It certainly helped that the way up wasn’t very steep. At one point, I almost twisted my ankle really badly, but luckily my trekking poles saved me from falling.
At the top of the pass is a little hut, built to shelter hikers that get caught up there in bad weather. I had a bunch of energy bars, trail mix, and one packet of precious candy and then started the hike down the other side.
Unlike the easy way up, the hike down was terrible. At one point, a bit down from Helen Lake which lies just below the pass, I accidentally went of trail, but some boulder hopping and quick creek crossing soon had me back on track. The trail often consisted of lots of loose rocks which you had to carefully step in between. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to keep up the usual pace. That all isn’t to say it wasn’t beautiful however, there were some really nice stretches such as Big Pete’s Meadow.
I wanted to get all the way to the low point of the trail, so that I could start hiking back up first thing next morning. It was getting pretty late however and the hike down Muir Pass had worn me out, so I set up my tarp and bivy a couple miles from the intended destination, a little past the LeConte ranger station. Still, I was pretty happy, because I had just hiked 38 kilometers, so no reason to complain too much. Marie and Jen, who were also hiking the JMT and had their tent set up nearby, were my chatty company for the evening.
Getting started the next morning proved to be difficult as I was still feeling the effort of the day before. I couldn’t afford to tardy too much though, because today was going to be a big one: both Mather and Pinchot Pass had to get crossed.
Mather Pass was supposedly one of the harder ones on the JMT, starting off with the Golden Staircase, a 3 km long steep switchback. To try take my mind of the long way up, I put on some music. Great idea! With the super enthusiastic and energetic melodies of Ska-P urging me on, I made it up in no time. Their songs would be the soundtrack for all the next high passes.
The whole way up there were two guys in front of me that managed to stay ahead by a couple hundred meters. Eventually, at the top of the Staircase they did stop and congratulated me on being the first person they hadn’t been able to shake off for the last 20-something days. I congratulated them in turn for being the first I hadn’t been able to overtake :).
There was still quite a ways to go though, so I kept going. The last couple of kilometers up to the pass a wind picked up and the trail got rather steep and rocky. I don’t think I was slowing down too much though, because another hiker told me he wanted “whatever I was having” :). By the time I got to the top, it had started raining, but luckily not too hard. Still, I didn’t want to risk getting caught in a thunderstorm up there, so swiftly made my way down.
The trail down from Mather Pass was really beautiful. There were little creeks and lakes everywhere, tons of flowers and lots of green in general. The path was in really great condition as well, so it was easy to go fast. It did rain the whole time however, but that gave me the opportunity to test out my rain gear, which performed flawlessly.
When I got to the low point of the valley, some people told me that a ranger had passed by and told them there would be a thunderstorm later in the evening. That didn’t really fit well with my plans, since I still wanted to get over Pinchot Pass as well. The last couple of hours however, there had been gradually less and less rain, so I decided to go for it and camp below the pass in case the weather turned bad once more.
Going up, I found the trail to be in the same great condition as the kilometers before. Up it went through a grassy landscape dotted by trees and little lakes. In the meantime, it had stopped raining, so I was rather optimistic. The treeline was about 2 kilometers before the top of the pass, and after surveying the sky for dark storm clouds and seeing none nearby, I determined to push onwards.
It was almost 7PM by the time I reached the top of Pinchot Pass, so I hurriedly continued down the other side to find a camping spot before nightfall. Luckily the trail remained in good condition, no stumbling down like on Muir Pass.
It was on the way down that I realized my legs didn’t feel tired at all, even though I had just crossed not one, but two high passes and had already hiked almost 36 km that day. The so-called trail legs had arrived, my legs had been transformed into untireable hiking machines! Yes, Joyce, still skinny, but now untireable machines ;). With a smile on my face, I continued onward.
A few kilometers further, a couple from Tahoe I had met on the way down and I finally found a good camping spot right next to a lake. It was pretty popular as well, with at least 6 others there already. Since the sky wasn’t completely clear, I decided to set up the tarp. That proved to be a good decision, since it rained pretty hard for the better part of the night.