Well, another day, another record “best day hiking ever”! And no, it doesn’t get boring.
After getting off early (7:25am), I felt mentally prepared for the rigors of the Golden Staircase that we have heard since near the beginning of the hike. I really focused on taking it slow and steady with continued progress. Fortunately, most of the “staircase” was ramp-like, steep at points, but not the climbing/stepping over rocks that seemed to give me the most problems. It is a rather impressive engineering feat.
Surprisingly, everything went really well up the Staircase, and when finished in a couple hours, I was really surprised. Of course, this was just the first leg up Mather Pass, but it certainly didn’t live up to the challenge from the hype. Additionally, you are rewarded with an excellent view back down the valley you just climbed.
At Lower Palisade Lake, Cassie and Wyatt caught up to me, with Wyatt concerned because he tweaked his knee yesterday and it was bothering him. I had brought a “just in case” knee brace in the event my sometimes-balky knee flared up, and I dug it out and gave it to him. It sounded like it gave him the comfort and confidence needed for the rest of the trip.
The Palisade Lakes were beautiful, and surrounded by mountains. I could have stayed there for awhile, however some clouds were coming in and I still had 1,000′ to go over Mather Pass.
Unfortunately, the hike up to Mather Pass from here was much more difficult to me than the Golden Staircase. I imagine a few factors were involved:
- Higher elevation
- The trail was more “climbing” than walking up steep ramps/switchbacks
- I underestimated it
A common theme started that when I didn’t think a hike up a pass was going to be difficult, it ended up being much more difficult. After experiencing the challenge of this part of the trail, I decided to give it the moniker of the “Devil’s Staircase”!
The saving grace, of course, was the incredible views. You would expect it given this is the highest pass so far and the largest elevation difference from the low point in the valley below (4,000′), and it didn’t disappoint. The scenery assisted me in taking a lot of breaks on the way up to make it easier.
Once on top I was blown away with the view to the south over the Upper Basin. Holy cow! The distance and variety of mountain ranges that you could take in from up there. I ended up hanging out for an hour for lunch resting and just taking it all in.
It only got better once you hiked down from the pass and were walking in Upper Basin. I was in heaven. What a feeling to be surrounded on all sides by these mountains. I told Cassie and Wyatt later that it would be an ideal place for my ashes to be spread one day!
Unfortunately, the walk through the basin had to end and you started the hike down to the low point before the next pass. The hike was pleasant, and Wyatt found some excellent campsites next to the South Fork Kings River. There was ample amount of time to soak and enjoy the river and rest from the big day.