Day 22: Dusy Basin to Palisades Basin: our hardest day of the summer. 13 miles, 7500 ft of elevation change
“OK, we’re missing Bekah’s sock, your hiking shorts, my hiking underwear, and Cade’s hat,” Cory announced as he took stock of our gear, re-packing for our final trip. We’d end up locating each and every item but not before chuckling over the reality that these treks require a close eye for details.
I, for one, am not too fond of detail management. They kind of slow me down and keep me from what I do love – connecting with people. But socks, hats, rain gear, gaiters, shoes, shorts, and on and on is the gear world that thankfully, Cory, loves to swirl in. We are hoping to take the guess work and potentially overwhelming show stopping, trip halting nature of the outdoor gear industry out of the equation and simplify the question of, “What do I need to take?” in this chapter. (Those reading this in the blog, unfortunately will not get the Cory made list – that’s coming in the book!)
As tempting as the marketing is for everything from clothing to latte machines, the real secret is that less is more. With less in your pack, you hike easier, faster, and further so you don’t even miss that martini bar you almost bought or the latte cart kit you thought you needed.
Highly unusual weather patterns have set in, creating stunning sunset and daily clouds with thunderstorms for over eight days in a row now. Typically, t-storms slam quick and are followed by 10 blue-sky days. As we hike with pack covers and ponchos, I am grateful that Cory has super minded our lightweight yet effective rain protection: pack covers and this lightweight/breathable/water and wind proof jacket from O2 rain wear. The kids simply wear ponchos that fit over their packs. I love that simplicity is the key out here and I love it when simplicity works!
Yes, details are important. It’s not “good enough” if just three of us have ponchos! So on we hike, under a surprisingly Seattle gray sky, but completely dry.
Thirteen miles with a 2700 ft climb over the last 6 miles made for the most difficult day of the summer. The last 1500 feet of climbing are so notorious they’ve been nicknamed “The Golden Staircase”. Bekah counted 500 Sierra granite rock steps. With each switchback, we gained more elevation and as we headed for the sky, the valley view was breathtaking.
We hiked from 8:15 am to 6:30 pm – a long day even if it was spent sitting at the office! Thirty minutes was all we spent in a light drizzle, despite the dark sky. We seemed to be darting between storm clouds and sun breaks. As the sun set, we tackled the staircase, with dark clouds, blue skies and sun all swirling in the evening sky creating an incredible ambiance over the sweeping green valley below.
Around 5:30, as any working person can attest, we were all ready to be done for the day. But today, we’d have an extra late night meeting that included hundreds of Sierra steps to the glorious Palisades Lake basin that patiently waited for us at the end.
Once at the basin, the trail snaked through the meadow leading to the lower lake. At this point, Bekah’s legs slowed down and she fell way behind and eventually, a few tears fell. This day needed to end! Everywhere we turned, we saw people camping. We had hit the section of the JMT that started to bunch hikers together, as evening destinations were more defined versus spread out. The lay of the land creates a logical day-to-day pacing where JMTers climb to a basin that is close to a pass, positioned strategically to climb the pass the next morning. The pattern is repeated the next day as the gathered crowd makes their way up to the next basin that sits right below the next pass.
Higher up on the hillside we found an amazing perch – one of the best of the summer – on a granite slab that overlooked the entire basin, Lower Palisade lake, and the Palisade Ridge beyond, as well as six other groups. Tomorrow we’d climb over Mather Pass and begin meeting all these strangers we see in the distance, scattered around the basin, but tonight, we’d sleep hard. The trail had worn us out.