The walk down from Mather through miles of snow was relatively easy, although slow, which was a welcome surprise after the challenge of making it over the top of the pass. We made sure to navigate on the correct sides of the lakes we would be passing in order to stay “on trail”. After descending a thousand feet or so, we traversed high on a ridge above a lake which was still frozen but that had thinner places near the shores where the turquoise water was showing through. It glowed in contrast to the neverending white in our fields of vision.
It continues to astound me how different everything looks in the snow! I must say, this beauty is remarkable, and I was feeling so happy to be experiencing this new element. The snow was somewhat wet on the next few miles as we approached the Palisade Lakes basin where we planned to camp that night. It was slow going, post-holing all the way, but I did not mind much beacuse I was busy just absorbing my surroundings. The space is so vast, and within that, one feels so small, and there is a timelessness exuded by the giant granitic mountains on all sides.
Up on the ridge we actually found some dirt trail, which was such a welcome to our fatigued legs. Walking in slushy snow is lilke walking on deep sand in the beach. Each step you take sinks deep and with the foot you are pushing your weight off from, slips each time, so progress takes twice the effort, and twice the time. You can get frustrated with it, or you can just accept it. We accepted it, and set our mileage goals low each day, about 10 miles. We really enjoyed this pace and allowed ourselves the flexibility of taking lots of breaks for eating or just sitting and staring. It’s hard to absorb it all when you are in motion and concentrating on your footing, balance, and safety. I have found that just sitting and staring off into the distance, in silence, in stillness, is the best way for me to really take it all in. I took the back of the train and let Prince and Overload know that I was going to go super slow and take my time the last couple of miles into camp. We had entered the Palisade Lakes basin, and the magic and beauty of this place was overwhelming. For one, there were waterfalls of all sizes and shapes spilling over every kind of rock, from every crack, from a small trickle to a full splashing crash. Enter the land of “Narnia”. The afternoon light poured through the clouds, glimering on the now melting water, the shiny wet rocks and illuminated the fresh green grasses and plants to the status of glowing. I was awestruck, as the last two times I hiked through this valley it was barren, dry, rocky, hot. There were no waterfalls, no green grass, no god beams parting thruogh clouds. This was cool with a capital “C”.
A place like this is so sacred to me, and to be there at any time is a special gift. We had the entire valley to ourselves, and by the time we reached camp, the sun was getting lower in the sky, leaving only glows of pastel colors in the sky, and the sounds of crashing water in the distance lulled me to sleep.
The next morning we were to climb down the “Golden Staircase”, a famous section of the John Muir Trail, the final section to be completed, which was an engineering feat in and of itself consisting of 1,500 feet of vertical change over about a mile of trail. It’s truly a beautiful work of art and precision. I have climbed it twice before, but was nervous about going down potentially on a wall of ice. I had been nursing this anxiety for a few days, and gave my hiking mates fair warning. To our surprise and delight, there was only snow at the very top of the trail that led down to the staircase, and the staircase itself was totally snow free! Yipee!
It was amazing to be on a dirt trail again, as our speed seemed to have tripled. We flew like birds down the staircase and down the canyon along the creek leading to the next trail intersection where there is a giant old Ponderosa Pine that I say hello to and give a hug to everytime I have passed by. I love this tree, and I love that next time I pass through this area, it will still be there standing strong, rooted in and towering tall.
We had a lovely walk up canyon along another fork of the King’s River leading up to the trail intersection for Dusy Basin to Bishop Pass. As we had dropped down a couple thousand feet, the temperature rose. Suddenly, we were feeling the arrival of Summer. As the trail followed along the Kings we enjoyed the views of the cascading water for the next couple hours. Passing by a flat rocky section it was like a vortex of “come put your feet in” took over me, and I gravitated off trail. We ended up taking a long break there, sinking our feet into the icy rushing water over the smooth rocks, getting our heads or shirts wet, and enjoying the dramatic change of season from the scenes of winter to summer.
Having finally cooled our selves down, we headed up to the trail junction that lead to Bishop Pass. I had never taken this trail before, but knew it was going to be a climb. Like a 2,000 foot climb over about 4 miles or so, so we had to gear up mentally, or at least I did. I was excited though, because my Dad had always told me that back in the day when he was in his 20’s, he and his buddies used to go up into the Sierra’s to go fishing in a place called Dusy Basin. Well, this was exactly where we were headed and I would finally be able to see the place. I wondered how much it would have changed over the last 50 years?
The 2,000 foot climb was steep but it actually felt good to climb again. I got into a nice steady, strong rhythm, my body did not hurt because my pack was considerably lighter with only about 2 days of food remaining. About half way up the climb, we crossed over a bridge next to a giagantic waterfall, where we stopped and reveled.
Up to Dusy Basin it reminded me alot of Palisade Lakes, but maybe slightly less “Narnia-like”. It was gorgeous though, with giant slabs of granite to camp on, lots of snow and lakes, surrounded by high peaks and creeks meandering trough. We arrived there by about 5pm and set up camp, planning to rise early to get up and over Bishop Pass. We planned to go to town for a quick resupply and get right back on trail the next day.
I woke in the morning with an itchy eye. The bottom eyelid felt irritated and when I asked the guys to take a look at it, they confirmed it’s redness. I tried not to scratch it, and knew that my hands were definitely not sanitary, so I would have to wait until we got to town to assess the situation. We went up and over Bishop Pass with relative ease, it was the usual early morning compact snow we could get great traction on with crampons, and by the time we were 3/4th’s of the way up the pass, we started to notice bear paw prints in the snow. It’s not like we saw a couple of them, they were all over the place. This bear, or family of bears, had apparently scrambled all over these rocks, leaving a trail in several directions. Well, it confirmed my question of whether the bears were out of their hibernation yet. I think in a way, we had all wished to see a bear “from a safe distance”, but up to this point it had not happened. At the top of the pass we stopped on some barren, snow free rocks for a snack break and met a very nice man who was out for a weekend hike and on his way back to the trail head. He wound up giving us a ride to town, and we invited him to join us for lunch at the pizza restaurant. We had some amazing food and amazing conversation, and eased our selves into the throes of “civilization”.
Bishop was HOT. Like 100 degrees hot, crazy hot. Hotter than we had ever experienced at all thus far on the trail. It was June 1st, after all, and the heat hit us like a wall. All any of us wanted to do was take a shower and lie flat on a hotel room bed, with clean sheets and air conditioning. Like this: