Fear of Heights 

The description of Mather Pass on the Guthook app claims “a fear inducing head wall”. We take most of what is written on Guthook, and what we are told by others, with a grain of salt. Everyone has a different level of comfort, a different normal, and a different point of view. Much of what is written in Guthook, especially about the passes, is assuming that there is a lot of snow, but since we have hit them at a seemingly good time, we are dealing with very little snow. Usually we assume that things are going to be more mellow than they are described by others, and in the case of Mather Pass our assumptions were true. The head wall was hardly fear inducing. It was significantly more mellow than Glen Pass had been a couple of days before.


The other side of Mather Pass did turn out to be a little fear inducing. We had gotten up early to get up to the top of the pass so when we crested and started on our way down the snow on the North side hadn’t seen a lot of sunlight yet. It was icy and slick and we were slipping everywhere. Ultimately we decided to scramble down on the rocks that were exposed instead of taking the snow, heading towards were we could see the trail down below. When we finally got back to it we took a break in the sun, all of our joints aching from our steep downwards descent.


Have you noticed yet that every day out here for us is about passes? Getting over one, getting down, getting in position to do the next one, these are the things we have to take into account every day. Even though there is little snow left on the passes the snow that there is slows us down. In the morning it can be hard and slippery, but if you wait it gets soft and you begin to post hole, which is exhausting and dangerous. Even though we don’t have microspikes, the morning snow is still preferable. So our pass tactic has been to camp near the tops of passes at night, allowing us to get up and over early before the sun softens things up. So after we made it over Mather we headed towards the lower reaches of Muir Pass.

Every pass had its warnings, Pinchot was supposed to be icy, Mather had a crazy head wall, but everyone agreed: Muir was the hardest pass. It wasn’t because it was steep, it is hard because the approach is long and perfectly positioned to hold miles worth of snow late into the season. On the 20th of June someone had written on Guthook that there was a five mile snowfield on the North side of Muir. JMTers we met heading up said that we would find three miles of snow on the far side and two on the near side. We had to camp up high so we could get to the pass early and down the other side before post holing began.

But oh my god was it a hard day. We had to go down down down from Mather Pass and then back up up up to Muir. At first it seemed like a pretty typical day in the Sierras. Super beautiful, tough steep trail, amazing views. We were hiking next to a raging river when suddenly we came over a hill and found that the grade had leveled out and we were in a peaceful wide grass meadow with steep granite cliffs flanking it on either side. The raging river was a quiet meandering stream up here, winding back and forth across the meadow. We continued in and out of these meadows as we worked our way upwards.


We actually didn’t reach our intended camp spot, but ended up next to a small alpine lake, camped on rock. There had been dark threatening clouds all day and we were getting nervous. Not to mention we had to cross an unbelieveable number of swiftly coursing creeks, which meant shoes on and off and on and off. I was having a really hard time convincing my legs too continue climbing, they felt like they were filled with lead. So after our umpteenth crossing when we found a perfect lake with a nice flat spot we decided to stay.


The clouds dissipated and the sky cleared and we snuggled down for the night, relaxing our bodies to prepare them for the long snow climb ahead.

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

8 thoughts on “Fear of Heights 

  1. Your photos (and writing!) continue to be amazing. We just don’t have scenery like that here in NY. I’ll buy the book when it comes out!!!!!! 🙂

  2. Just thinking of all those wagon trains which had to get through those mountains and how easy to get stranded there when things can trip you up and slow you down. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting for me so I can enjoy the beauty!!

  3. Having a great time hiking the PCT through your blog. Your beautiful photos from Sierras bring back many great memories. BTW how is the sunshade hoody working out for you. I’m considering getting one for the desert part of PCT next year and notice you wear one so I fugured I’d ask your opinion.

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