You might have noticed that the featured image is not that of a marmot. All day the furry creatures seemed to pop up beside the trail, pose majestically against stunning alpine backdrop, then disappear right as I aimed the camera. One particularly plump specimen waddled down the trail just ahead of me for quite some stretch, turning its head back to make sure I was still there before moving on again.
Even without marmot models, the scenery was spectacular today. All 21 miles of it. I am feeling better today, passing much of the time chatting with Shenangians. We walked up and over two high passes and down deep valleys. Clear water of the high lakes reflecting lingering stripes of snow on red and silver slopes.
Lunch on Mather Pass, up over 12,000 feet and even up here the wind is warm. At Palisade lakes, I convince Shenanigans to pause for a break at the outlet, instead of rushing down to the mosquito-filled valley. There’s a tiny sand bar I remember from last year, and I sit in the barely melted waters for the quickest rinse.
The outlet is perched atop the infamous switchbacks of the Golden staircase. The last piece of JMT trail built, it zigzags up an impossible cliff beside a waterfall. I can’t imagine who looked up at the rock face and said, sure, this is a great place for a horse trail. At least this time I am going down, a much preferable direction. Though rocky path and big steps of the relentless descent wreak havoc on already weary feet and knees.
Down below, the mosquitos are out in force. We rush to pitch tent sanctuaries against the onslaught, eating again in headnets. PCT hikers gather with the dusk, pitching tents close together. The bear cans are stacked just by my tent. I have decided not to be scared. I just overheard another hiker say he is sleeping with his beef jerky, salami and cheese, still unable to fit all his food in the canister.