I love the early morning light for hiking. Hiking is the reason I am a morning person now.

I got up on time and was out hiking by 6 am and hiked until 8:30.  I wanted to be able to tackle both Pinchot and Mather passes today to avoid making it a short day.  The passes are so high, there’s usually two or three miles on each side that are not suitable for camping.

It was either stop short, or go long.  The day went well enough that long was in the cards.

First up was Pinchot pass.  From where I had camped at Rae lakes just beyond the previous Glen pass, it was all downhill for about five miles.  At the bottom was a suspension bridge that was quite shaky and rickety and also very high above the water.  I could not look down or out at the river.  To make things worse, some of the boards were loose.  I was glad to be across.

The suspension bridge for hikers – horses have to go downstream and ford across.

Backwoods comedy.

Then the grueling climb for five miles began.  I had to climb back up 3000 ft but what made it difficult was the trail itself.  The trail had lots of oversized water bars and oversized steps that really take the juice out of you.  I had to stop about half way up to make lunch at 11 am.  I was just totally out of energy.

A typical stream crossing in the Sierra can be easier if there’s a log across it.

Lunch did pick me up a bit.  The trail was still difficult, but I had more energy to tackle it.  Like all passes, the last mile is switchbacks straight up a cliff.  I got to the top just before 2 PM, which is the latest time I could get there and still have a chance at getting to Mather pass.  There were four JMT (John Muir trail) hikers at the top and we got to talking about what each of us could expect ahead.  Since we were going in opposite directions, that was easy.  When everyone is headed north, you can’t get that kind of intel.  They told me the South side of Mather was plain switchbacks, but the North side was a landslide and full of snow.  That could make getting to camp interesting.

The JMT and PCT follow each other for about 180 miles.

The nearest camp was 2.5 miles on the other side of the pass, and 2 miles before the pass.  Those were my two options.  If I could make the peak by 7:30 I should be able to make the far camp just about fifteen minutes before dark.  Which meant I had to make the first camp by 6:30 to be able to make the peak by 7:30 and so on.

Water is everywhere in the Sierra and never hard to find.

The descent from Pinchot pass was not too difficult, and only about 2200 ft instead of 3000 ft.  There were lots of stream crossings there, and pretty much all day.  Possibly over twenty of them.  Most of them have rocks that you can hop across, some you have to hunt up or down river for a better crossing (like a tree across the stream) but two of them I had to take shoes and socks off and wade across.  It gets old after a while.

A large log makes a stream crossing easy peasy.

About half way back up the ascent to Mather pass, I took another break to eat a snack and make some coffee.  Coffee really does work.  I was energized all the way up to the pass.  I got to the first campsite about fifteen minutes after my cutoff, but felt so good I pushed on anyway.  I ended up hitting the top of the pass fifteen minutes early, so I had a light snack and some water before heading down.

A hiker soaks in the view before heading up Mather pass.

The north slope had lots of switchbacks like the South side, but not as steep.  What it also had was snow.  Lots of snow.  Tracks went everywhere.  Some people glissaded down and then went cross country to get back on trail.  I didn’t want to get wet or go cross country so I stayed on trail as best I could.  There were so many sections of trail covered in snow that it was hard to figure out which way to go.

It’s hard to get tired of the SIerras, but they sure do make you tired.

The climb down took longer than I expected because of the navigational challenges and also because the trail was full of loose rocks.  I could see the lake where the campsite was as soon as I hit the pass, but it just didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  But eventually it did arrive.  There were other campers at the site and they were already in bed, so I quickly got water, set up the tent, then cooked dinner.  I had enough light for everything but making dinner, so I did that by headlamp.  It’s been a long day, so dinner was good and let’s hope sleep comes easily.

The many passes in the Sierra give outstanding views in every direction.