John Muir Trail Thru Hike: Day Seven

Golden Staircase to Lake Marjorie: 15 Miles

Sept. 18th, 2011.

I woke watching the colors of the sunrise slowly change from purple to bright red to orange. As I packed up the sun made its way down from the top of the surrounding peaks and lit up the Devils Crags across the canyon. The valley filled with light as I hiked up the Golden Staircase. What an unbelievable way to wake up!

Sunrise from camp overlooking Palisade Creek and Devils Crags.

Golden Staircase.
By the time I made it to Palisade Lake the sun was out and it was another beautiful morning. The lake is an amazing sub alpine body of crystal clear water. I could see to the bottom and there was still a large mass of ice deep inside the lake at the entry.

Palisade Lake 

Palisade Lake
Palisade Lake

I was looking forward to Mather Pass and the hike up the granite canyon was a beautiful. The trail is almost invisible from below, but there is a well terraced set of switchbacks up to the pass. The view along the way is amazing. The size and scale of the place are HUGE. I could see coming back here and spending a week just exploring the lakes and peaks across the canyon.

I made it to the pass in good time, although by then I wasn't really paying too much attention to the actual time. Time was like something from the 'real world' that I didn't want to be reminded of. What an amazing escape from everything concrete. I felt alive.

View of Palisade Lake on the way to Mather Pass. 
Palisade Peaks from the top of Mather Pass (12,100 feet). 
I met a couple of guys on Mather Pass who were hiking a portion of the JMT and had met up earlier that week. One of them hiked in from Taboose Pass and the other from South Lake. There were kicking back and hiking at a leisurely pace back to exit via Taboose Pass. When I made some celebratory coffee using my Caldera Cone they came over and asked about ultralight gear etc. I think they were just into using a beer can as part of a stove. . . and it looked like beer was a large portion of their pack weight.

They commented on how strange it seemed to them that people get up at 6:00 am and hike all day. They preferred to fish and enjoy the wilderness in a different way. When I told them I was one of those guys who hikes most of the day so I could see as much as possible this time, they were cool. I think we all realized that everybody chooses to enjoy the wilderness in a different way, and that it's all equalized by the feeling and surroundings. How could anyone be disagreeable out here at the top of Mather Pass. I liked these guys.

I headed down the well graded but steep switchbacks down into Upper Basin. I love the feeling of being in the low flat alpine areas after doing so much ascent earlier in the morning. I slowly made my way back down into the forest and soon I was at the Taboose Pass/JMT junction.

View facing south from Mather Pass. 
View facing south from Mather Pass. Upper Basin and Split Mountain.

View facing south from Mather Pass. Steep switchbacks on the way down. 

Video from Mather Pass.

Moonscape along Upper Basin. 

The afternoon clouds started to look ominous as I headed up the switchbacks toward the Bench Lake junction. By the time I met up with my buddies from Mather Pass it was starting to rain lightly. They decided to pick up the pace and get to Bench Lake for the night. I just kept on my steady pace toward Pinchot Pass. The plan was to camp just below Pinchot Pass, near Marjorie Lake, to get ready for the next morning. The rain was intermittent so I didn't bother getting out my jacket.

By the time I got within a half mile from Marjorie Lake the winds picked up and the storm really got going. Rain, hail and heavy winds suddenly hit hard. When I heard thunder I knew it was time to take some cover, but the terrain was limited to medium sized boulders and clumps of small trees/large shrubs.

I was in shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes and totally unprepared. There was no time to put on my rain jacket or pants when the lightning show began, and I was almost above timberline so I crouched under some shrubs and took cover. There was almost no time between the lightening and thunder. The sound of the thunder echoing against the huge granite walls was deafening and the hail was ridiculous.

I was pretty sure that I should do something to get to a better place, but I wasn't sure what that might be. Go out into the storm and run down an exposed ridge line to lower elevation? Stay put and risk getting hit by lightning? I put on my rain jacket and hunkered down. 

After 30 minutes the storm passed and the flowers all exploded. The new snow and hail that had collected on the mountains was beautiful. The post rain fragrance was amazing. I made some dinner by this lake and slept like a baby under clear skies.  

Camp near Marjorie Lake.

Video of Thunderstorm near Lake Marjorie.

Click for full size map.

Click for full size.