Day 53 6/5
Mile mark 815.8-833.3
South of Mather Pass to South of Muir Pass

I wake to roll over and decide to check my watch. It’s 5:00am, so I pop my head out of my sleeping bag to see if anyone is moving yet. Outside, I’m again in awe of the view from our 11,000ft campsite that is in a wide valley ringed with jagged peaks. No one is up, but we’ll need to get up soon so we can hit the pass while the snow is hard. I retreat to my bag for a few more minutes of rest.

At 6am, we’re all packed up and moving. The trail at first is easy to follow, but it soon disappears under its winter blanket of snow. We then have to resort to scrambling over boulders and snow fields and guessing where the trail goes. Half way up the pass, the trail shows itself again as prominent zig zags straight up the side of the mountain.

We make it to the top breathing heavily in the thin air and see that the north side is covered in snow like all the previous passes. The descent starts gradually with a few sketchy spots where a slip could lead to injury, but the foot holes are well dug, making it easy.

A section appears where the trail keeps going straight, but the tracks in the snow make a beeline down the mountain. The mountain side here is at a steep pitch and forty feet down are some rocks poking up up from the snow. I think to myself that it would be nice to have my ice axe here to anchor uphill as we traverse, but I chose not to bring it. My hiking buddies go one by one and make it across without issue.

I start my traverse and get to a spot where I can see slide marks where someone has misstepped and slid down into the rocks. As I get even closer, I see why. There is a very steep part with slushy snow. I try to avoid this by going higher and slowly kicking new “steps” into the hill. Just as I’m nearly across and kicking my last step in, my previous step gives way and my back foot slides. I fall on my ass, but luckily my trekking poles are well anchored and my front foot holds so I don’t go anywhere. As I slowly figure out how to get up, I think this, not the steep climbs, is the fastest my heart has ever been beating while hiking.

A bit further down we get to a slightly less steep slope and decide to glissade(technical term for sledding on your butt). Solitude and Stumbles go first and create a nice smooth track for me to follow. Unfortunately, they’ve also further exposed a rock in the track. They say you don’t feel it and goad me on to slide down the hill. I sit and push off with my poles. My pants or the smoothed track or the combination of both cause me to pick up more speed than them. My butt hits the rock and I go slightly air born. When I get to the bottom I slide well past where they stopped and they’re both laughing. Laughing and hurting a bit, I exclaim “I think that rock should have paid me for what it just did, or maybe I should pay it, I’m not sure.”

The rest of the descent goes without a hitch and the snow recedes as we drop in elevation. We drop and drop some more. The switchbacks in some spots seem to nearly be stacked on each other. Lunch comes and goes and we begin to gain altitude again.

We’re nearing the end of the day marching up a hill when I get glimpse of a meadow through the trees. The sight is enough to make me stop and walk through the trees for a better look. I emerge from the trees and feel as if I’m in a painting. There’s a winding river strolling through lush green grass. In the backdrop are snow covered peaks topped with big swirling clouds. I take off my sun glasses and my hat. My fingers comb though my matted hair that has five days of grease and sweat while I stare. The wind rolls in over the crystal clear river, instantly clouding it and creating a shimmering light show on the riverbed.

Eventually, I step out of the painting and we march on to get ready for the next pass and to repeat this all over again.

Look closely for the switchbacks.

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