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John Muir Trail

Day 15 of 22

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Thursday, July 30th
Lower Palisade Lake to South Fork Kings River
9.6 miles
1550 vertical feet (ascent)
2130 vertical feet (descent)
6:33


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Most of the other campers left Lower Palisade Lake early. We took our time, taking advantage of our work yesterday afternoon, finally getting started at 9:25am.

Mountains southwest of Lower Palisade Lake

There were clouds from the start, but we knew we had plenty of time to reach the top of the pass. The climbing started immediately, then briefly leveled off as the trail climbs next to Lower Palisade Lake on the way to Upper Palisade Lake. It never quite reaches the higher lake, instead staying high above its shores. There are some camp sites high above the lake and, no doubt, some sites away from the trail closer to the lake.

Hiking along Lower Palisade Lake

Lower Palisade Lake

Lower Palisade Lake

Hiking toward Upper Palisade Lake

Hiking toward Upper Palisade Lake

We stopped around 10am for second breakfast near the upper lake. After passing the lake, the trail turns up into the talus and the steep rocky switchbacks begin. It's about 1400 feet of climbing from the lower lake up to the pass, about 1200 of it after the second lake. We made slow but steady progress, never stopping again on the way up.

Continuing the climb

Looking back down at Upper and Lower Palisade Lakes

Mountains near Mather Pass

Lakes and mountains southwest of Mather Pass

We made it to the top of the pass at 12:30pm. If we had started at Deer Meadow, we probably would have taken about 6 hours to reach it. It was windy and cold at the top of the small, narrow pass. The rain clouds started to close in, so we didn't stay long, only about 15-20 minutes.

Looking down at Upper Palisade Lake

We now started the quick descent on steep, barren switchbacks on the other side of the pass. It wasn't long until we felt a few drops of rain. It would sprinkle a bit, but it never really rained on our way down. The trail is quite amazing here, especially if you stop to look back up at the pass - you'll wonder why anyone thought they could build a trail here, it's so steep.

View to the south from Mather Pass descent

View to the east from Mather Pass decent

Descending the Mather Pass switchbacks

Descending the Mather Pass switchbacks

View to the south

Mountain view

Looking back up at Mather Pass (where's the trail?!)

After switchbacking down the steep mountain, the trail veers off to the left, then gradually curves back to the right. The descent becomes very gradual, almost too gradual - flat in several places, in fact. It's easy walking. I was still a bit worried because the storm clouds still threatened and we were still far above tree line. But as I said, it didn't rain on us on the descent though the skies were completely covered with clouds.

Upper Basin

Passing through Upper Basin

Stream feeding South Fork Kings River

Stream feeding South Fork Kings River

We took a break near tree line, where we confirmed our intention to stick with the original plan, which was to camp at the South Fork Kings River crossing near the bottom of the descent. Nathan wanted to continue past that, getting a head start on Pinchot Pass for tomorrow, but my wife and I explained to him that after 9 straight hard days, we needed a mental break more than anything else. A day where we could get into camp early and relax for once. Plus, we shouldn't have any problem reaching the top of Pinchot Pass before any afternoon thunderstorms tomorrow.

So after our break we continued along the river, crossing streams a few times. The descent was still gradual. We passed a couple campers and then reached the river crossing we'd be camping near. We rock-hopped across the river fairly easily, then came to a trail sign. A sign here denotes the 10,000 foot mark, while another points the way toward Mather and Pinchot Passes. We found a nice campsite just north of the sign, near the creek. It was only 4pm.

Descending toward South Fork Kings River crossing

South Fork Kings River

Crossing the South Fork Kings River

While we were there, another hiker came into our camp asking if we had a needle and thread. Apparently his pack had broken and he was trying to fix it. We didn't have needle and thread, but I did offer him my repair tape, which he used. Hopefully it helped. Meanwhile, the rain started around 4:30pm; I'm glad we set up the tent before that.

Everything was still fine until it started hailing around 5pm. The hail bounced and slid off the top of the tent, forming a little collection of the white stuff near the base of the tent. Jean was inside the tent while the rest of us were still outside, waiting for the rain and hail to stop. It wouldn't stop for a long time. After the hail came more steady rain. Puddles started to form on the ground just outside the tent. We could see other campers stopping to set up camp, one of them right across from us on the other side of the river.

It also started to get cold. One by one we entered the tent, cold, wet, miserable. Or at least uncomfortable. I kept waiting for the rain to stop but it didn't. I said that eventually one brave soul would have to go out in the rain and cold and cook dinner. Well, at 8pm that brave soul turned out to be me (though I didn't feel very brave). It was still cold, though it was mostly just sprinkling by now. I cooked our dinner outside, handing it to everyone else so they could eat inside the tent. (I know that's discouraged in bear territory, but given the conditions they weren't coming out.)

We stripped off our wet clothes, tried to ignore the puddle underneath the tent, and went to sleep. Despite all the rain and the water under the tent, our sleeping bags were dry, the tops of our sleeping pads were dry, and we could consider ourselves lucky for having set up before the rain started. But, remember we were supposed to get into camp early and relax? Not a chance.


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