Day 52: Muir Pass

Memories from June 11

Today was hands-down the most crazy, adventurous day on the trail.

I had been extremely lacking in energy last night (ex: I got winded collecting fire wood) but wound up getting up around 4am anyways which is good because it was still 6 miles out and 2000ft up to Muir Pass. We’d been warned that there were 2 miles of snow on this side if the pass and 5 on the other. Early mornings mean hard snow which is easier to move on.

The day’s hike opened with a number of small stream crossings. Having passed what I though was the trickiest section on this one (I was rock hopping to keep my shoes dry), I my foot slipped on a slimy rock and I fell hard. For better or worse, I was in a section surrounded by other rocks and so didn’t get wet, just winded.

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Shortly after that was a multi-part crossing at which the tracks in the snow stopped cold. I was not feeling up for it but wound up getting across with just a little water getting into the mesh of my right outside forefoot.

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The trail was mostly under snow but peeked out from time to time as a reassurance. It followed the stream which cut in and out of the snow.

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Muir has the most complex approach of any Pass I’ve crossed so far. In hindsight it’s never so bad but I misidentified Helen Lake which was what I was using as an anchor to identify the correct pass. Fortunately, it was a simple case of false pass where the thing you think is a pass is actually just more trail to the correct pass. It turns out Easy and Rip Snorter had also misidentified Muir Pass but they’d tried to take a shortcut and felt distinctly outclassed by the terrain.

Crossing the outlet of Helen Lake.

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I had been noticing that the sky wasn’t being it’s normal, blue, late spring self.

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Muir Pass is just to the right of the little point in the middle of the saddle. Just after taking this picture two snowflakes decided to ominously fly by.

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Fortunately, there’s a weather shelter at Muir Pass.

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Because then this rolled in.

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The rest of my group had left at 5:30am or 6:00am and so had about an hour of hiking in the snowstorm. I left the shelter and stood at the top of the last slope up to the pass. I was able to see everyone for about the last 3/4 of a mile of their approach when they weren’t behind outcroppings of rocks. Camille later said that seeing someone up there was a confidence lending confirmation that they were on the right route which made me glad.

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We waited in the shelter eating and playing word games in until the snow stopped. We weren’t fooled the first time it stopped. There was an interesting conversation to decide the latest time we were willing to leave the shelter given that we didn’t want get stuck in the dark, post holing through fresh, tackless snow. Drops of water started forming of the stones if the shelter’s roof and falling on us and our gear. It was still preferable to the storm.

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When we finally decided to leave it was around 1pm. The clouds seemed to be forming an upside down bowl with us in the middle but it seemed we had a good chance of getting down to lower, probably warmer, more navigable terrain before another big weather event.

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As we got below the snow line the sun began to peek out… behind up. We were heading away from its warming, drying effects.

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We camped in a light rain after a sloshing tramp into the valley. Admittedly, it was much prettier than if the day had been hot and bright. The diffuse light and general damp seem to make colors less uniform.

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Due to the weather, there wasn’t much group socialization which required us to be outside. I could hear the sounds of some of the others talking through closed tent flaps. At some point it started to hail (see the ground visible around my poncho-tent). My poncho-tent held up just fine.

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As I was dozing off after listening to and audio book, distant lighting and thunder started and I instinctively would count the seconds between the flash and the clap. There seemed to be two clusters if lightning, one at 17-20 miles away and the other at 8-10. The latter is about the distance we’d come from Muir Pass and the former is a little farther than we’d camped the night before. Who knows where the strikes actually were but I’d glad to be passed the pass.

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