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Mather Pass through Deer and Grouse Meadow
Happy to be on the trail ... headed north
0530-0700 Mather Pass (59°F?; gusty)
I wake early. From the warmth of my bag, I monitor the atmosphere prior to sunrise so I will be ready to shoot pictures. My records show a temperature of 59° but I cannot believe that is accurate. Ever since the first night when I left the GPS exposed to night temperatures and the batteries ran way low, I have been sleeping with it. The GPS enjoys 95°-98° temperatures inside my sleeping bag at night and since my thermometer is attached to the GPS when I bring it out into the open in the morning to record the air temperature outside, I must allow time for it to cool down from my body temperature. This morning I don't think that happened and so the erroneous reading. The outside temperature is not uncomfortable, just a bit nippy.
With the morning photo shoot complete, we head down the multitude of knee banging, ankle twisting, toe jamming switchbacks on the north face of Mather Pass. Our first water opportunity is an hour away. Six more JMTers pass us headed south up to the Pass; I hope they have plenty of water.
0800-0930 below Mt. Bolton Brown 37°02.675 / 118°27.994 - 11.1K' (56°F)
Irene breaks out the stove and makes us hot coffee which we missed the night before atop the pass (conserving water). We hangout and enjoy our breakfast of granola and coffee until the sun just pours over the eastern ridge and starts to warm us enough to shed our fleece.
1000-1015 Palisade Lakes 37°03.607 / 118°29.523 - 10.5K' (86°F)
By ten o'clock it is now starting to get hot. We stop briefly to coat with sunscreen. A couple more JMT trekkers pass us. One guy from New Hampshire has a plane to catch in a few days so he is racing right along. I give him a card so when he is back East he can visit my web site and reminisce with the paintings.
The views are fabulous along the eastern side of the Palisade Lakes, both back toward the pass and forward toward the drop off at the end of the lakes. There is a sliver of mountains on the horizon way off in the distance. It is a beautiful, oh so typical, Sierra summer day. Warm with a slight breeze and perfect blue skies. We round the bend and catch a first glimpse of the broad green valley below us. Devil's Crag, Wheel Mtn. and Mt. McDuffie are identifiable in the distance. We now head west down toward Deer Meadows. Palisade Creek rushes and cascades by us just south of the path but pretty much inaccessible for about two miles. So much water but none to drink. The path is another knee banging, ankle twisting, toe jamming series of steep switchbacks. We pity the folks we pass headed south. Two of these folks are pretty old, with fairly heavy packs, moving slow and sometimes staggering; hope they have enough water in those heavy packs. For the rest of our trip we alert lots of folks about the scarcity of water on this patch of trail. Today it is really dry and exhausting; and, we are going down hill.
1200-1245 Deer Meadow 37°03.266 / 118°31.123 - 9.1K' (73°F in woods)
Barely into the woods, we are ready to cool off and rest for lunch. We now have shade and easy access to Palisade Creek. Once refreshed, we continue on through the woods. I am surprised how dry it is in the Meadow which is actually a forest. Much of the trail is dusty and some of the plants are a bit wilted. I'm parched just writing about it.
1430-1445 Middle Fork Kings River 37°03.168 / 118°34.768 - 7.6K' (74°F in woods)
We reach Middle Fork Trail Junction early. The tallest pine in the forest marks the spot. I cannot get a GPS reading directly under this gigantic tree (it blocks the sun and satellite acquisition) so my error is 0.02'/0.155'. There are campers here at the crossroads and no privacy for a bath. We discuss our options and decide to continue on toward Grouse Meadow.
The twenty or so young AmeriCorp and California Conservancy Corp workers we passed earlier in Deer Meadow whir by us in a cloud of dust. They are done for the day and in a hurry; dinner is at 1700. They work from 0700-1500, best I can tell. They remove boulders and fallen trees from the path, fix fences, lay rock steps, install runoff breaks and generally keep the trails clear. It is arguable whether this is really necessary for backpackers; it is beneficial to packers.
A little further north we decide to go off trail through the trees and tall grass to check out the river for bathing. It is about one hundred yards to the west. We find a secluded spot with a fabulous view of the south end of Grouse Meadow (see above paining Grouse Meadow). The river is a slow moving meander here. The bank is deep enough to provide some cover and there are pools sufficient for a full body dunk accessible by a rocky beach. We are all set to strip and jump in when a couple guys we have been leapfrogging with all day come up right behind us. Evidently, their plan was like ours. They obviously noticed our path off-trail through the grass and decided to follow not realizing how very fresh our trail was. Somewhat perturbed, our privacy violated, we decide to leave and find accommodations elsewhere. I did get a beautiful photo of the spot so not all is lost.
As we continue up the trail through Grouse Meadow all designated campsites are full. It is a popular spot and why not, it is probably the most beautiful meadow we pass on the entire trail. We usually don't get excited about meadows but this one is special.
1615-2100 below The Citadel 37°04.372 / 118°35.792 - 8.4K'
Beyond Grouse Meadow I spot a shaft of light off in the woods over by the river and suggest we make our way over in that direction to see if there is a place for a bath. We cross a swampy area via a downed tree and come upon a perfect site with sun, seating, cover for privacy and a calm, warm pool in the otherwise rushing Kings River. This place is better than the first stop.
We take a long bath and wash some clothes. Irene finds a perfect flat rock not too far away on which to make dinner and I explore a little to the south. I discover a large camp site tucked in a grove of trees. We decide to camp here. After all, there is no need to go on since we have come about twelve miles today, good for our average. It is a wonderful "clean" and relaxed evening. There is plenty of wood for a fire. It is a warm, calm, dry night so we don't need the fire for anything other than entertainment.
As the sun goes down and the light wanes we get a show of bats out for a hearty bug dinner. At least, I think they are bats. They are flying very erratic as if guided by radar, oblivious to the laws of aerodynamics. But swallows can fly pretty erratic sometimes too, so it may have been two species competing for the best bugs. As we let the fire burn out we are visited by three deer. A doe and a couple of bucks, a four pointer and a six pointer. I try two photos but it is too dark and my flash does not have the range. They graze for a while in the tall swamp plants and then wander off.
Sometime in the night I am awakened by cow bells. Somebody's horses and mules are in our camp grazing. I realize, of course, we are in a horse camp. That is why it is so spacious. Horsemen customarily put cow bells on their stock at night and let them graze freely up and down the trail. In the morning they round them up. The stock that wandered into our camp were probably very familiar with the spot from previous trips. They hung around a long time dinga-linga-linging. It was not the most restful music of the night because I'm a little irrationally concerned about some mule stepping on my head, since we are not in a tent and rather exposed lying out on the ground (I have now come to appreciate a mule is no more likely to step on your sleeping head as he is to step on a rattlesnake. They are really quite intelligent and personable creatures).
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