The Most Dreaded Pass(es)

Early on we had been warned about Pinchot Pass by some man with a huge pack (I shouldn’t judge) that seemed to know everything about the Sierra Nevadas. “Beware of Pinchot Pass”, he warned, “that one is going to be icy.” We had a long hike down from Raye Lakes, through a valley with a raging creek flowing down the center. We descended off of the ledge the lakes were on and down steep stone switchbacks. It is hard to not stop while walking to admire all the amazing trail work that has been done out here, all the immaculate retaining walls and stone steps. The hiking isn’t easy but it sure is interesting.


Once at the bottom of the descent we started our extremely long climb up to Pinchot Pass. The first part of it turned out to be the steepest part, and after we stopped for a break and to dry out our sleeping bags the climb mellowed out a little bit. The pass itself was a piece of cake, despite our big backpack muse’s cryptic warnings. Probably the easiest pass yet. Hardly any snow on either side.


The day had already been a big one but we had lofty goals, we wanted to get part way up Mather Pass as well, so that in the morning we only had a couple of short miles to the top. So after Pinchot back down we went, only to start right back uphill. Luckily the uphill to Mather Pass was more mellow than the first uphill of our day. It was mellow and it was gorgeous. I keep using that word, gorgeous. What does it even mean? In this case it meant walking next to a cold clear creek, flowing fast and reflecting the gold and purple of the setting sun. The slopes next to us were covered in scraggly pine trees and we wove in and out of them, passing out into the open of a grassy green meadow dotted with white granite rocks and boulders. Our destination for the night was a water crossing, an unreliable stream (but all streams that are listed as unreliable are raging these days) and a couple of campsites that were supposed to be near by.


When we finally got there, feet wet and sloshing in our crocs, I felt joy welling up inside of me. We pitched our tents next to a scraggly juniper tree, grabbed some water out of the snow cold stream that was near camp, and ate dinner a little ways a way wearing all of our rain gear to thwart the mosquito swarms. To be camped above tree line, watching the sun set over the granite and grass, it is something special and we have been getting pretty spoiled lately.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

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