Tag Archives: Sierra

JMT Day 5 – Pinchot and Mather Pass (Mile 53.5 – 73)


It was a cool chilly morning, as we packed our things together. Izzie went to soak her foot in the river as I finished packing up the tent. Still not sure how she manages that first thing in the morning, it must be excruciating. The cold wind was low, water white noise high from the nearby creek when we finally strapped our packs on ready to take our first steps.

Waterfall in the valley as we climb towards the pass!

As we hiked up the valley we watched the creek roll down its belly in beautiful white cascading falls, sometimes fanning out, sometimes flowing over slick granite, others crashing onto large rocks. We left our hoods on as we climbed up the valley. Our hands shot with pain as the blood finally flowed back into our hands again. Izzie went to cross a creek and unwittingly placed a foot on an icy rock, slllip, wet feet on an already cold morning. The only saving grace is that we had a large climb to keep us warm.

Izzie, stoked to get moving and shake the frost
Camped beneath this little gem for the night.

The sun still hadn’t found our faces as we quietly passed the  uppermost trail camp a few miles below the pass. It was the last big forested refuge before the stark landscape above. There were still quite a few tents nestled below the trees, still quiet with sleeping hikers stowed away. As we climbed higher we heard a sooty grouse make his un-deniable mating call, a low woomph woomph woomphhh. I love hearing such interesting birds, especially far out in the backcountry!

Tall, twisted, and scraggly, guarding the trail
Up we go, towards Pinchot Pass!
Beautiful flowers, show their colors in the meadow.

The frosty soil crunched beneath our feet as we ascended to Pinchot Pass. The interesting ice columns that grew below the soil’s surface looked like miniature skyscrapers, glassy crystalline pinnacles crushing beneath our feet!

Just a tad chilly!
The sun keeps us company!
Ice patterns trailside

When the sun finally reached us, we had a view of a huge red ridge, frozen creeks trickling across the alpine, speckled with lush tundra. The water that flowed below the frozen creek’s surface pulsed like a lava lamp, trapped air bubbling together and flowing slowly beneath the ice. It was such a colorful pass, red iron rocks, green lush tundra with purple flowers, so much more color than the other fully grey granite passes we had encountered.

View back south of the pass
Views on the other side, beautiful colors in the rocks appear!

We finally reached the pass and sat for a snack to look over the vast landscape we had just traversed. Soon Goldie and Workout surprisingly came into view. We exclaimed welcomes and were glad to meet back up since our brief chat the afternoon before. Once snacks were done, we bid farewell and headed down the north side of Pinchot Pass.

Fun little sketch from the Pinchot Pass!

The valley was slightly different here than the last, small willows grew creekside, ice waterfalls led to beautiful emerald lakes across rolling planes, all under the watchful eye of the great sheets of grey granite that constructed the canyon walls above. Above grey, green and lush below.

Glacier lakes and granite as far as the eye can see
Purple flowers pop up sporadically throughout the valley

We bombed down the valley chatting on and enjoying the beautiful views. After a long drop we reached the creek bottom and stopped for lunch near Kings River. It was nice to kick up our feet after a long climb and descent. We finally packed up and headed north past fields of purple shooting stars, so far it seems to be the flower of the JMT.


After leaving the river bottom the scene seemed to open up. The green grass field speckled with boulders and lodgepole pines seemed to singularly dominate the landscape. As we climbed the trees thinned, and only sparsely speckled the landscape covered in tundra and a few lakes. The grey granite started to take over again. The padded trail soon changed to chunky rocks and eventually small boulders which we had to dodge. This really started to go to work on our feet as we climbed. Switchback after switchback as we inched up closer to Mather Pass.

The flowers doing their thing!
Izzie on another crossing.
The climb continues!

When we finally reached the top it seemed like a sigh of relief was in order, but a sigh too early. The downhill switchbacks were scattered with large rocks and we traveled carefully down trying not to roll an ankle, or stub a toe. The Palisade Lakes came into view but they seemed so far away. Yet, we pushed on, after rolling trail took us on a rollercoaster ride and really gave our feet a true beating we finally found ourselves on the edge of Palisade Lake. We put up our tent, cooked dinner, stretched, and crawled our tired yet satisfied bodies into our small snug tent. Another good day on the JMT!

Descending the Pass, headed to camp!
Almost to the lake and finally food and rest for the day =)
Camp at Paradise Lakes
  • Hike Stats
      • Miles: 19.5 Total:
        • JMT Miles  (Mile 53.5 – 73)   
      • GPX Track



JMT Day 4 – Woods Creek: Kearsarge Pass + (Mile 40.5 – 53.5)

oh that morning light!

An imposing granite face over Flower Lake was the first to catch the morning’s light. The sun started peaking through the trees and gave all the leaves a golden glow. Another magical morning in the Sierras! We finished packing up after breakfast and quickly got on the trail knowing we had some climbing to do today!

Trekking up towards Kearsarge Pass
Big Pothole Lake

Hoodies off, we set out, Izzie in the lead pushing strong after resting her foot/ankle in the afternoon before periodically forcing it into the shivering lake. We both kept our stride, even when the wind started whipping as we approached Kearsarge Pass. Down in the lake below the switchbacks we could see the wind and sun’s work on the water’s surface. It whipped and swirled while the sun gleamed on its surface making rapid moving shapes like a murmuration of starlings.

Finally we reached the pass and instantly put hoodies back on, the wind was unforgiving on the west side of the pass and nipped at our heels as we quickly descended, seeking refuge in the trees below. Small patches of ice were surprisingly still present on trail, we carefully navigated around them. Down, down, down, we went until finally reaching the trees, yet the wind still persisted. We could see Kearsarge Lake in the distance, and after a small hillock, the green Bullfrog Lake came into view.

Coming over the pass, nice and windy!
Kearsarge Lakes

We trekked on and soon found ourselves back to the junction where the JMT meets the trail to Kearsarge Pass. From there the hoodies were peeled and a good climb soon ensued north on the JMT. Not many people talk about the effort it takes to gain the view from a pass. You can’t get it daydreaming at camp, or really experience the feeling watching a video with some epic sound track in the background, it takes work to get there, and work we did. The work was good, and so were the views!

First thru-hiker we saw all day! Ghost

The climb persisted after a short respite on a leisurely plateau, we climbed up above Charlotte Lake, which was set in a beautiful valley that was clearly shaped by a traveling glacier. On the far end of the valley a U shape was left in the granite face, and it was so cool to see its mark still remained!

U shaped goodness

Climbing still, we entered the final approach plateau to Glenn Pass where all the trees were hooked and bent towards the top of the pass as if to praise it or simply point the way. The way was up! We kept climbing, and after a few false summits we found the jagged lip of the pass and paused for a snack and to soak in the view.

Climbing up towards Glenn Pass
Glacier lake right before the Pass

We started to run into people, Ghost a NoBo PCT hiker stopped for some small talk, 2 JMTers from Sacramento looking like they were having the time of their life, and finally at the bottom of the snow patched pass we met a couple who had just got engaged at Rae Lakes! The gal beamed with delight and we chatted on for a bit about their 60 Lakes loop.

Almost there!
Poking up and over the pass! Fun snow field ahead!

After leaving the couple we bombed down towards Rae Lakes. The upper lake was crystal light blue in the middle, green turquoise towards the edge and finally orange at the rim from the vegetation and shallow bank. It looked almost like a human Iris, glinting in the light, and absolutely breathtaking. We soon found a nice spot for lunch and took a cold plunge in the clear waters. Although the wind still lightly blew, the sun warmed our cold skin and we laid out like lizards hoping for warmth.

Beautiful Rae Lakes below
Happy chilly faces!
Snow traverse!

We packed up and headed around the lake. Grey Jays flashed by in streaks of grey, black, and white. Brook trout swam just feet from the water’s edge and in the distance a quaint cabin stood overlooking all this beauty. I could only imagine what it must be like to live there, even for a brief season.

Water bridge between the lakes!
Dragon Peak
Fresh and revived after a good swim =)

We started descending moss filled valleys crisscrossed with creeks, sprinkled with flowers and lush meandering meadows took over the plateaus. We descended a long staircase of plateaus from which each had its own lake and accompanying meadows, each lake would deepen in green as its size grew until towards the lower steps of the stair case the lakes were forest green.

Fin Dome
Sketchy sketch
Green meadows, headed down valley

On one such stairstep we met a Ranger named Mike and his wife Leanna who were staying in the Ranger Cabin for the summer. It sounded like a dream job, well perhaps not policing the public and making sure they are properly burying their feces, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for living in paradise. We chatted on about fish, fire, browning trees, mountains, all the important things, before finally saying goodbye and heading farther down the valley.

Coming past Arrow and Dollar Lake
Headed down South Fork of Woods Creek
Castle Domes in the distance

We headed down and at the far end of the valley a large granite south facing wall named Castle Domes could be seen that was clearly formed by a glacier. It looked like a big blob of ice had slowly slid down its face making new wrinkles and curves that still held up to the test of time. We soon found the flora starting to change. Around 9050 feet we found our first aspen trees of the trip! Soon after our first purple lupin, followed by Indian paintbrush, sage, and beautiful little green ferns. Cedars started to appear and soon after silver firs.

The flora becomes more lush and green as we head below tree line
Creeks are neat!
Pines are showing off their stuff
Snack ready?!

We took it all in until finally we reached the suspension bridge giving passage to hikers over Wood Creek. We passed over one at a time (as recommended by the signage). The bridge swayed as we walked, not only up and down, but also side to side, finding a wave pattern in harmony with the rhythm of our stride, it was a pretty cool experience to have in the middle of nowhere!


After crossing the bridge we started pushing up the final stretch of trail before camp. It immediately amped up the elevation gain. This southern facing hill was dominated by Jeffrey Pines, as it was in full sun most of the day, and only broke by small streams running down towards the canyon bottom where more lush loving foliage clung. A large creek rushed down slickrock in the belly of the canyon trailside as we hiked north. The sun began threatening to hide behind the mountains just before we finally reached camp! It was a mashed potato kind of night and we were both thankful to find refuge in the tent on a flat pad beneath the shelter of a birch tree. Man what another great big day!

Back up we go!
Woods Creek proper!
Neon moss, yes please!
Clouds get moody right before bed!
  • Hike Stats
      • Miles: 13.7 Total:
        • JMT Miles 4 (36.5 – 40.5) + Kearsarge Pass Miles (9.7)  
      • GPX Track



Mount Langley – CA (6.25.15) – For HB


Looking back at lake 4 and 5 from the summit plateau

In usual tradition for any Sierra trip, a buddy Mark and I headed out after work on a Friday to drive the 9 hour trek to the trail head where we would try to sleep for a few hours before the alarm sounding signaling the encroaching daybreak was imminent and the start to our Journey up a 14er would begin. The trip to attempt to summit Mount Langley was no different. Tired and exhausted from the drive with a quick pit stop in San Bernardino to pick up Mark’s brother, we pulled up to the trail head to find every parking spot filled, no empty camp in sight.

Starting out on the trail – beautiful pines

We searched the area, looking for a suitable camp spot, only to find it took a drive down the cattle road and a short jaunt into the woods among the pines to find something worth calling camp. Exhausted we set up shop, packed our gear away, and were quickly sound asleep in a four man tent under the night sky. Morning came early, too early I thought as my alarm sounded. I hopped up, poked my head out of the tent, and knew it was time to go to work. We packed up the site, got our packs together and drove to the trail head strapped up ready to roll. This would be our 3rd California fourteen for all 3 of us; we smiled like exhausted idiots, knowing this was the price to pay to see the top, and took our first steps onto the trail.

Twisted looking pines on trailside

I love being among the pines, the padded trail was lined with them, some dead from a recent forest fire, some dead from lighting strikes, other thriving in the sunlight at 10,000 feet. We trekked on weaving in and out along the trail, open green fields in the distance beyond the pine thicket. There were a lot of backpackers on the trail descending the mountain. We stopped to chat with a couple of them. We planned to take Old Army Pass up to the summit plateau which was the only crux that stood between us and peaking the 14,026 ft Mount Langley. The two fellas we stopped to chat with told us there was a way to circumvent the snow covered pass which would most certainly require crampons and an ice axe. They spoke of a short 60 foot scramble just to the left before the snow drift, we decided to go for it and forego the longer more populated New Army Pass route.

John, you did a good job my friend

Taking the fork towards Old Army Pass we hit some big switchbacks that really got the heart pumping. We climb up and up exiting in a beautiful open meadow that housed the glacier lakes where we hoped to camp for the night!  It was gorgeous and wide open, the pines were more space here given the altitude but the grey rocks were still a beautiful sight to see. We pushed to Lake 5, finding a nice flat area to ditch our gear and take a well needed rest. Marmots and small birds were the only animals we found here, that and the few other trekkers seeking adventure. We looked up at the pass curious if we would be able to reach the summit plateau or if our efforts would be thwarted by an impasse.

hitting the glacier lake meadow after the switchbacks

Where we came from and where we’re going (click to enlarge 360)

After dropping our gear we started ascending the pass, hearts were back to pumping the low oxygenated air through our muscles as we pressed to the crux. I was the first to reach the snow and started to assess the situation. The snow bank left in the shade had a nice 400 foot drop below it, the penalty for a mistake here was certain death, and there had been many who attempted it and didn’t come back. Mark and I found the rock chute and took the scramble, while Mark’s brother Michael (who had the ice axe and crampon) decided to go for it. After the sandy rocky loose chute we reached the summit plateau and began to look for Michael who was nowhere in sight. Fearing the worst we hiked towards the exit of the pass. Just as we did, Michael came into sight and was just sitting, waiting. We regrouped and pushed for the peak.

Rock chute to bypass the death snow luge

The push for any 14er is always tough. The oxygen is thin, your body is tired, and every part of you says stop, except your will. We pressed on, up the huge cairn stacks and beyond to the rock scramble that lead us to the snow patch, and eventually the summit. The granite rock plastered the higher altitude landscape, not many creatures or plants could survive here, but it was still gorgeous. From the summit we could see for miles and miles in all directions. The drop off from the peak’s really got everyone’s nerves on edge.

The Sierras, what a killer place, Mount Whitney in the distance

I had only been at 14k a handful of times before this, but for some reason (I guess I was having a good day) the altitude didn’t suffocate me, and I took a nice nap after cheering a celebration brew with my friends post peak. When I woke I looked around to the surrounding area in awe, took pictures like a tourist, and signed the registry with everyone. I put a note in the box for HB; it was her hike to summit after all, even though she couldn’t be there. Said my peace and headed down.

talk about a cairn to guide you way, don’t think we will be missing this one!

On the way back we decided to take the traditional route down the summit plateau down the west ridge. As I walked down the sandy slopes, loose rocks and dirt would try their best to catch a ride in the bottom of my shoes. I had to stop a few times to clean them out, but nothing would deter me from enjoying the view of the incredible landscape surrounding us. We trekked on and finally rounded the corner to the Old Army Pass. There, standing out in the field between us and our route home were 13 Rams. It was incredible!!! The Alpha male was standing out big bold and strong ready to take on any challenger that dared come too close. We (as passive as possible) made a large circle around them attempting to get to our route down without disturbing the herd. I have never seen so many rams in one place, even in pictures; it was truly a perfect moment on the mountain.

Group of Rams, Alpha is off to the right standing guard ready to take down any challenger

After finding the chute we climbed down back to camp, exhilarated by the days trek. We got back, set everything up and chowed down on some much deserved dinner. What a day! We woke in the morning, had breakfast, snapped pictures and appreciating the landscape, and took our time heading back down to the trail head where we camped again for one more night before the long drive home to Phoenix.

  • Meadows

  • Headed up the trail


  • Weather: Hi 60s, Low in the lower 40s, Overcast/Sunny
  • Water: 7 liters (2 days)
  • Food: 3 protien bars, 3 Clif Bars, 2 via starbucks instant coffee, 2 Quaker Real Medleys, 2 Mountain House, Quinoa, instant mashed potatoes
  • Time: 2 Days (approx 36 hours)
  • Distance: 20 Miles round trip


  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Big Anges Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Flash REI sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • Sawyer squeeze water filter


  • Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
  • Arc’teryx hoody
  • Smart wool beanie cap
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough wool medium weight sox
  • Giro Mountain Biking Gloves