Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Day 21: Mather Pass

I woke up at 6:30 to a beautiful, clear sky! And I was ready to get an early start because despite the nice weather now, I knew the forecast called for rain in the afternoon. The earlier we got started, the better.

Karolina woke up relatively early too which boded well, but for some reason I still can't explain, took until 9:30 before she was ready to start hiking--a delay I found utterly frustrating and put me in somewhat of a bad mood. I could tell Karolina realized that I seemed... well, more impatient than usual. But come on! Why waste this great weather not moving and likely have to spend an extra hour or two hiking in miserable rain? It was the first time on the hike that I was really annoyed with Karolina wanting to sleep in so late, and it wouldn't have bothered me so much if the afternoon weather forecast was good, but it wasn't. So it put me on edge, and probably made me a miserable person to be with. (Sorry, Karolina!)

The morning started clear and hot!

Within five minutes of starting, I was already sweating hard. Well above tree line, there was little shade and it was late enough in the morning to already be quite warm, and the thought crossed my mind that had we started hiking two hours earlier, it would have been a lot cooler. I kept my mouth shut, though. There was nothing to do about it now.

The trail climbed towards Mather Pass--a new high point on the trail reaching 12,100 feet above sea level. It was officially Karolina's first time ever to break the 12,000-foot mark, having come 28 feet short of it at Bishop Pass. But she was dragging, needing several rest breaks during the 3.9-mile journey to the pass--more than usual. As far as I knew, she had slept well during the night, so at this point I started to suspect that maybe her tired and lethargic movements might have been part of a slight case of altitude sickness. Every time she needed to stop for another break, internally I was screaming another one?!--but I kept those thoughts to myself. Or at least I tried to. I was pretty sure she sensed that I wasn't in a particularly good mood, but my complaining aloud wouldn't have done any good. If she's tired, she's tired. There's nothing she can do about that, and normally I'd have been more tolerant with the stops if we hadn't gotten such a late start out of camp. Leaving camp early means more time for breaks!

Somewhat to my surprise, though, we actually did make it to the top of Mather Pass just before noon, and the weather was still decent, and I relaxed considerably after that. My biggest fear was to be caught in some horrible storm and exposed to severe weather at the top of the pass. From here it was all downhill and if the storm hit, at least we wouldn't be exposed at the top of the pass. Not that I wanted to hike in a storm at all, but the worst terrain for bad weather would now be behind us. That did a lot to easy my anxiety.

There were a lot of people stopped at the top of pass admiring the views, and we sat down a bit away from the rest to do the same. I had my legs propped up on a rock and a small rodent suddenly appeared out of nowhere and literally ran directly under my legs. I about jumped out of my skin. What was that?!

It was a pika, who dashed into a crevice of a rock then poked its head out on the other side and started eating grass. The rodent was shockingly brazen, first having run directly under my legs then eating grass just a few feet away. I took out my camera and started taking photos and videos, and the little fellow seemed to not mind me at all.

Eventually, he did dash off, leaving for greener pastures, I'm sure, and Karolina and I eventually picked up our packs and continued over the pass. As we passed the multiple people at the very edge of the pass, we gave the usual greetings and such and one of the guys asked if Karolina and I were the "father and daughter" who were hiking the trail together that he had heard about.

I was stunned. Absolutely and completely stunned. Did I look old enough to be Karolina's father?! But at the same time, I couldn't help but laugh. That was hilarious! The guy seemed suitably horrified when he realized that we weren't a father and daughter pair. It's like asking a women when she's due but it turns out she's not even pregnant. Oops!

I like to think that it's not so much that I look old, but that Karolina must look much younger than she really is. She is fairly short, and perhaps the guy thought she was in her late teens or early 20s. And, theoretically--I could have a child that old if I had had one at a very young age. Yes, I don't look old. Karolina just looks ridiculously young, and ought to be carded whenever she orders a beer. (In fact, she was carded when she ordered beer at the grocery store in Bishop.)

After that incident, we had a new inside joke for each other where I'd pretend that Karolina is my daughter and she'd pretend that I was her dad. "Hey, dad! Do you want to stop for a break here?"

After leaving the pass, now heading downhill, Karolina seemed stronger and didn't need any additional breaks, which was good because ugly clouds started rolling in. Perhaps a half hour later, we could see what was clearly rain to the east before it hit us on an open plain. And we got it all in short succession: rain, sleet, hail and thunder. BOOM! It lasted for about a half hour before slowing down then stopping completely. The little bit of hail on the ground melted almost as fast as it fell, but the mountaintops around us that had been clear of snow now had a light dusting of snow.

We continued on, eventually reaching the South Fork of the Kings River by 4:30 in the afternoon. By then, we had almost completely dried out from the squall earlier in the afternoon. It's always nice to get into camp mostly dry.

But we were astounded at the large numbers of people who had already set up camp nearby. Where the heck did they all come from? We found an open campsite a bit away from the crowds. I laid out my groundsheet, but left the tarp down. I had hoped the rain had finished for the afternoon and it wouldn't be necessary. Although recognizing the fact that the sky still looked like it was capable of raining, I laid out my groundsheet near a tree which I could later use to anchor my tarp if it became necessary.

An hour later, I felt a few drops of rain, and quickly set up my tarp over my gear, but except for those few drops, nothing more came of it. I set up my tarp for nothing. Oh, well....

Another hiker who camped even further out than we did came back to introduce herself. Her name was Kirsten, she was from the Bay area,and she seemed very friendly--but only stuck around for a few minutes before going back to her campsite. I wouldn't have thought twice about the incident except that we'd catch up with her again later tomorrow.

And that was that for the day.

I pause at a switchback to ponder the meaning of life... or something.... I don't really know what I was thinking in this photo. It might have even been, "What, we're taking another break?" =)

Nearing Mather Pass, clouds started rolling in--although they didn't look particularly threatening. Yet....
Quite a few people had stopped to admire the views at the top of Mather Pass, but we hung back at this location to stay away from the crowds for a more natural experience.
This brazen little creature ran under my outstretched legs then started nibbling the grass.

The pika was absolutely fearless! So much so, I was able to take this video from just a couple of feet away.

Heading down Mather Pass.
The slope on this side of Mather Pass looks like a near-vertical wall from a distance, but the wide switchbacks made the hike down relatively quick and painless. Karolina would often look back and say, "That's where we came from?!"
The clouds grew increasingly more threatening as we descended.

The weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse! Rain, sleet, hail and thunder--we got it all!

I set up camp for the night. I hadn't set up my tarp hoping it wouldn't be needed, but did strategically place myself next to that tree in the background so I could use it to anchor one side of my tarp if it became necessary--which is exactly what I did when I felt a few drops of rain later in the afternoon.

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