Today's miles: 17
Total miles: 831
I didn't sleep well last night at all. I had too much caffeine for dinner and it kept me wired all night, making for a very restless sleep. Even worse was knowing I had another mountain pass to scale today, and I needed all the sleep I could get.
Today was the summer solstice, or "naked hiking day" in thru-hike culture. However, it was a brisk 40 degrees this morning and we woke up with frost on our tents, so no one opted to wear their birthday suit today. We had a five mile hike up Mather Pass this morning; it wasn't too bad except that I was still quite delirious from lack of sleep, so my steps were slow and lethargic. After a long series of switchbacks, we reached the top and took a second breakfast break beside Boulder, Scooter, Buffalo, Sunshine, and Starfox. As hard as climbing mountain passes can be, there is nothing that beats the view from the top. It's my favorite part of the day to relax, have a snack, and look down at a valley full of alpine lakes, just waiting for us to hike among them.
We swapped snacks and joked about Buffalo's food bag. It had often been described by other members of the Chain Gang as "what a kid would pack for lunch if his mom said, 'we're going on a hike, so pack what you want from the pantry.'" Buffalo often carried a strange assortment of foods such as: a gallon sized bag of cous-cous, a ziplock of salt, a large jar of pickles, a jar of Nutella, a random assortment of unlabeled spices, a whole jar of jelly, bags of chocolate covered asai berries, and other random half-eaten foods. It was hilarious to see him digging through it for dinner.
After our break, we started down the north side of Mather Pass. Rotisserie and I nominated this pass the "most fear inducing" so far because it still had great stretches of snow over which we had to traverse. Since it was still early morning, the snow hadn't softened yet and it was much harder to walk on since it was icy and slippery. We took our time going down, but my heart was hammering the whole time as I tried to pick my way through the snow without falling. Once we were free of the icy patches, the hike was beautiful. We had ten miles of downhill hiking through canyons, lakes and waterfalls. We reached Palisade Lake by lunch and stopped beside it to relax and enjoy. I waded through the icy water and marveled at how clear and blue the lake was.
The trail kept going down, down, down, steeply all the way back to 8,000 feet. We hadn't been at such low elevations in quite some time - recently we were used to hiking in the cooler temperatures at 10,000 and 11,000 feet. It was much warmer down below and we hiked through more forested areas and less high alpine views. Now the granite mountains soared high above us rather than all around.
We caught up with Papa Bear and the Chain Gang for dinner: we discovered a beautiful meadow with a river flowing through the middle of it. We expected the water to be marshy and boggy, brown and cloudy, but it was crystal clear and beautiful to see. We pushed on three more miles after dinner and stopped at a flat little campground with Papa Bear. The Chain Gang continued on in order to get closer to tomorrow's Muir Pass climb, but we were tired and the lovely campsite was too nice to pass up.