Date: 8/28/17 | Miles Hiked: 9.1
Zero days and nearo days — days when hikers take off or take it easy — are common on thru hikes. Today was a nearo day for me.
I had planned to hike to Palisade Lakes to position myself just a few miles from Mather’s summit. Climbing to the top of passes was most ideal when done at the beginning of the day, which is why Palisade was the perfect spot for me to camp. The day looked to be an easy one with the exception of the Golden Staircase, a brutal climb based on things I’d overheard from other hikers.
When I finally began my way up the highly anticipated Golden Staircase, I actually had to stop and ask about it. The man I approached looked to be in his 60s and was resting along the trail with his hiking partner.
“I certainly hope so,” was the response he gave after I asked if I was actually climbing the infamous Golden Staircase. His partner confirmed.
What a relief. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this portion of the trail was no worse than any other day of summit hiking. I climbed the granite rock steps from 9,000′ to my campsite at 10,800′, taking a quick break for lunch at the halfway point.
I arrived at camp around 1:30 and was a little disappointed that I was situated well above the lake. So much for a quick dip. The sky was at war with itself; gray clouds and blue skies battled for the throne. The sun finally won around 3.
As I set up camp, I felt strange for not continuing up Mather Pass as so many hikers passing my site were doing. I saw two couples I had passed earlier cruise past my tent, one which had given me an energy bar earlier on the trail for fear I wouldn’t finish in time. This made me feel even worse about taking the afternoon off.
But if I did hike to Mather Pass camp would be close to 12,000′. It would be a frigid night followed by a morning of hiking downhill instead of up. I couldn’t see the benefit of continuing.
After noting that my National Geographic JMT map recommended camping at Palisade Lakes and hiking over one pass each day for the next five days, I felt much better about taking some time for myself. I had worked hard the first half of the trail and was ready to coast to the end — if there is such a thing as coasting on this trail.
While my campsite wasn’t lakeside it was near a stream, which allowed me to do some laundry using a Ziploc bag, Dr. Bronner’s soap and fresh water.
Northbound hikers kept stopping at the stream on the way down from Mather Pass, interrupting my wash cycle. One man wearing long pants, a long sleeve shirt and bug net collapsed in front of the stream as if he hadn’t seen water in miles, blocking my easiest point of access.
I wondered if somewhere far away, a group of kids had started playing Jumanji, freeing this man from years of imprisonment in the game. He sat by the stream for a good 30 minutes before even collecting any water. It must have been Jumanji. I patiently waited for this poor man to leave before finishing my laundry and draping my fresh clothes over a large rock near my campsite.
After taking a few photos and positioning my solar charger, I spent about an hour reading on a rock in the sun. I later found a smaller, but much closer stream to cook dinner and finish up my camp chores.
Dinner was one of the meals Mr. Zen had given me at Evolution Lakes. Beef, rice and broccoli mixed with some of his own seasonings thrown in for good measure. The meal was delicious, but very spicy. I remembered watching him struggle to eat the curry meal he had made for himself that night at Evolution Lakes, saying he’d made it a little too spicy. The other meal he gave me was chili, which seemed a nerve-wracking thing to try since it was apparently prepared by a spice-fanatic.
When the larger stream near my campsite was no longer such a hot commodity to passing hikers, I cleaned my hands, legs and arms in the chilly water, scrubbing away soil to finally reveal the difference between dirt an an actual tan.
A group of loud birds flew in and out of the tree above me as I got ready for bed. Their calls were at the same obnoxious level as a crow, and I wondered if they were getting territorial. All I could do was hope I wouldn’t be dive-bombed or fecal-bombed as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, clean, refreshed and ready to start crushing passes.