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John Muir Trail

Day 14 of 22

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Wednesday, July 29th
Big Pete Meadow to Lower Palisade Lake
12.4 miles
2720 vertical feet (ascent)
1390 vertical feet (descent)

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One of the nice things about camping next to the meadow was seeing several deer, both in our camp and in the meadow. The boys spent several minutes just quietly watching them eat in the meadow in silence.

Deer at our campsite

Big Pete Meadow

The CCC crew left before we did, marching out past our camp. One of them came by around 9:30am, asking us when we were leaving. Apparently they were going to do some blasting and they said they'd wait for us to pass. As we had come in late last night and I hadn't had time to filter water for everyone, it took us a little while to get started. We finally left camp just before 9:45am.

The first part of today would be old hat, as we had done the trail to the Dusy Basin turnoff before. The first part would also be all downhill. We descended past the CCC crew, scattered about between Big Pete Meadow and the much larger Little Pete Meadow.

Mountains to the west

Descending to Little Pete Meadow

Little Pete Meadow

About 30 minutes after we started, as we were descending toward the Dusy Basin turnoff, we heard a loud BOOM behind us. The blasting had started. We were quite far away by then, and it had sounded very loud. I am glad they waited for us to pass.

Le Conte Canyon

Mountains on the west side of Le Conte Canyon

The trail is fairly gradual downhill, never very steep. We passed the Dusy Basin trail, then stopped in a small clearing above the Middle Fork of the Kings River at about 11:30am. It was another sunny day, in fact it was starting to get uncomfortably hot.

After lunch we continued past Grouse Meadow, then past some nice waterfalls and cascades and soon reached an intersection at the bottom of the descent, having descended about 1200 feet. There were three backpackers here. One of them was giving away some food, as he had to cut his trip short because of equipment failure (hip belt). My wife took a dehydrated granola packet off his hands (days later we would find out that it was quite good - granola with milk and blueberries!).

Grouse Meadow

We now turned left and at 12:45pm started the climb toward Mather Pass. We were not planning to reach the pass today; rather, we were planning to camp at Lower Palisade Lake. A few minutes on this trail, however, and we started having our doubts. The heat had intensified, my watch reading 92 degrees at one point. Plus, there was no shade on this steep stretch of trail. At 1:30pm we needed extra water and a break, so we stopped in a nice shaded spot by Palisade Creek to rest and filter water.

While we were resting a solo woman hiker came by and filtered, as well. She said she was from Long Beach and had started at Duck Pass. She said she was happiest when she was doing 10 miles per day, and only planned to camp at Deer Meadow today, far below the pass. She'd stayed at Starrs Camp last night, and McClure Meadow the night before that. She was planning to hike out at Kearsarge for a resupply, getting picked up courtesy of the Mt. Williamson Motel.

Meanwhile, the two young men and their father who we had first seen on Day 10 (4 days ago) passed by. We would soon find them camping before Deer Meadow.

After our break, we continued on the trail. We noticed several others camping before Deer Meadow, but we kept going. We reached a large vacant horse camp at Deer Meadow around 3:45pm. I knew we at least had to filter water, so we made the small detour to the edge of the camp next to the creek. I also began to think that maybe we wouldn't make it all the way to Lower Palisade Lake today. Jared said he was too tired to climb anymore (it had been a gradual uphill to this point), and we still had the Golden Staircase to climb and a total of about 1700 feet still left to climb. Plus, though it was cooling down a little now, the earlier heat had drained us.

To his credit, Nathan wanted to continue hiking. Then we considered what camping at Deer Meadow would do to our plans for tomorrow. Camping at Deer Meadow would mean 3300 feet of climbing tomorrow, and a 14 mile day. To top it off, we knew that there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms tomorrow. I had the very real worry that there was no way we'd be able to climb 3300 feet before the thunderstorms hit without getting up obscenely early. Faced with those realities, we convinced Jared that he could keep going, and we sucked it up and decided to climb up the Golden Staircase to the lake today.

After filtering water, we left the horse camp at 4:15pm. We crossed some streams and passed a few more campsites. We noticed some clouds starting to form to the west, so I started to take note of a few empty campsites in case we had to retreat if the weather turned sour. In the end, though, we didn't have to worry. Thankfully the cloud cover blocked most of the sun, allowing us a much cooler ascent of the Golden Staircase than if we had done it earlier in the day.

The switchbacks began. It was not immediately clear when the Golden Staircase began, but eventually we found ourselves on some crazy switchbacks that looked like they were going up the vertical face of a cliff. The trail itself was not too steep, but it was crazy impressive to look back down the trail.

Heading up toward the Golden Staircase

Heading up toward the Golden Staircase

Looking back toward Deer Meadow

Climbing to the Golden Staircase

Palisade Creek

View to the east

Looking back down from the Golden Staircase

Looking back down from the Golden Staircase

We pretty much did the climb from Deer Meadow to the lake without a break. We paused occasionally, but no food breaks. All I had readily available was a couple of Shot Bloks. I admit to being the slowest one up this climb. We made good steady progress. Near the very top we felt a few drops of rain, but that was it. We reached the lake at 7pm, seeing about a dozen tents spread out around the north and west ends of the lake. Still, we found a great site up on the hill. It was a little far to get water, but not nearly as far as at Lake Virginia. Plus, it had tremendous views of the lake and surrounding area. We probably had the best campsite view except for one couple perched on a ledge just above us to the west.

Looking back toward Deer Meadow

Crepuscular rays from near Lower Palisade Lake

Palisade Creek below Lower Palisade Lake

Lower Palisade Lake

Looking back from our camp above Lower Palisade Lake

Moon above Mt. Bolton Brown (left) and others

Moon above Mt. Bolton Brown (left) and others

After setting up camp we enjoyed seeing a beautiful sunset thanks to those aforementioned clouds. The moon was almost full that night, illuminating the lake nicely. All in all it was a great site and I am glad we made the extra effort to get there. I'd feel even better about it the next day and the day after that, for reasons I will explain...

Sunset at Lower Palisade Lake

Sunset at Lower Palisade Lake

Sunset at Lower Palisade Lake

Moon above Lower Palisade Lake

Moon above Lower Palisade Lake

Moon above Lower Palisade Lake

Stars over Lower Palisade Lake

Moonlit mountain above Lower Palisade Lake

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