Marion Lake to Palisades Lake
We wake a half hour earlier than yesterday, but the other father and son team beat us out. Which, based on their 12-day schedule, they needed to do.
After a quick Pop-Tart, we work our way into Lake Basin. We are targeting an “L” shaped Lake, but the way seems ridiculously steep. We hold left and hump it up a non-Roper route, which ends up on a passable ridge. Our unauthorized maneuver, however, probably changes our angle for Roper’s next instruction. We make towards the lower right of the pyramid peak, which should put us in line with a talus lake, but we do not see it. We can go way right to a chute we think is below the unnamed lakes, or we can hold our line up what appears an easier approach from below Frozen Lake. We take the easy route. Once around the ridge we realize it is not so easy, and we are cliffed out. Rather than admit our mistake we push right and up a steep ridge, requiring hand holds, and cursing. What could be a disaster ends up great, as we slip back into our easier route just above the cliffs.
We are higher than the unnamed lakes, but crest nicely right near Frozen Lake, which is clearly a lake, but far from frozen. Frozen Lake Pass looks absolutely ridiculous. From our vantage point it is clear no human should attempt it. We hear, and eventually spot about half way up, the 12-day father and son team. Realizing we now have no excuse, we finish our snack and push on. We zig zag over loose talus blocks, sending several on adventures of their own.
I had read a previous article about someone who reached the top of Frozen Lake Pass, and was so frozen with fear, he refused to pass over and down the more difficult side. As we watch the father and son team enter the final chute, we wonder if they too will return shaken.
When we do finally reach the chute ourselves, I see the top of a hat moving at the pass crest. Oh my goodness, they are either taking a longer rest at the pass than we expected, or the pass really is un-passable. At the top we are greeted by a completely different south bound hiker. The father and son had passed on, and since we do not see them piled in the nasty talus below, we assume they did so rather successfully. The way down from this pass is awkward, unstable, and avalanche prone; but none the less doable. Doable is becoming a key phrase for us. Enjoyable, not so much.
At the bottom of the pass, I err and keep us too far left, pushing us to a wall of cliffs, rather than the flat Greater Basin we should be crossing to the John Muir Trail (JMT). We backtrack and find a ramp down, but it is too late. Kevin has more learning fodder for me, and uses it subtlety, yet effectively.
The JMT up and over Mather Pass is like walking on gentle carpet. We shoot to the top without stopping. It makes me embarrassed to have ever thought these were difficult on my PCT hike. Until doing High Sierra trail-less passes like Frozen Lake, I did not really know the meaning of difficult.
At Palisades Lakes we find a reasonable campsite by a stream. We clean our clothes and selves by swimming in a swirling pool, make an early Pad Thai dinner and retire.