PCT SOBO DAY 88 – Mather and Pinchot Passes

Glacier Creek – tentsite 
20.8 miles. 5498ft up. 4618ft down. 

I fall asleep quickly. I find the sound of the creek quite soothing. It was a surprisingly warm night, but it still doesn’t make getting up any easier. This is my 8th day out of town and I smell. My socks stink. My shoes stink. My feet stink. All my clothes smell. When I’ve got my puffy on and I move, a puff of air wafts up and makes me feel a bit sick. 

I have been dreading today. The descent of Mather Pass last year was pretty gruelling so I can imagine the ascent to be worse. 

I take a while to pack up and Catwater goes ahead of me. I need a poo but I put it off. I’ll go later. Well, that decision was a mistake. Almost immediately we begin to ascend what is often referred to as the Golden Staircase. The trail ascends about 1500ft over 2 miles, it’s a near vertical set of rocky switchbacks. There is nowhere in these switchbacks that is appropriate to have a poo. This is a problem because now the need is getting quite urgent and I am becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. Eventually I see an area to the side of the trail with trees so I dump my pack, grab my toilet kit from the front of my bag and rush a fast and as far as I can make it. Everything comes out without much bother, then I reach for my toilet paper only to find in my haste I have grabbed my bag of snacks. Well, I had to pull my pants up and waddle carefully over to my bag, get my toilet kit and waddle carefully back. 

With all that sorted out I continued the climb, I saw a little creature, I think it was a Pika. It’s right in the middle of the photo but it does just look like a rock. 

When I reached the meadow area I knew the big climb was finished and it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be, the sun still hadn’t reached the trail yet so it was a really nice temperature, good for climbing! I walked through the meadow and past Palisades lake and eventually caught up to Catwater. 

We had 4 more miles to the top of the pass and again, the climb I was dreading wasn’t that bad at all. Of course it helps that the trail is completely free of snow! We can see the pass from quite a way away. It’s a little dip in the rock and it looks very far away! But we keep walking towards it and we eventually make it to the top. The last mile is pretty steep and rocky and all the way up I’m thinking how incredible it is that people have managed to put a trail through these rocks. I have absolutely no idea how you would even begin to conceive an idea like that let alone make the trail. It boggles my mind. 


We are the highest we have been so far at 12,093ft. We stay for a little bit at the top and eat some snacks bit then it’s time to get moving again, we have a 5.5 mile descent, going down to 10,000ft before climbing back up to over 12,000 again. 

After some rocky switchbacks the trail opens out and then descends into the trees following the Kings river until we cross it before the trail starts climbing again. I fly down the trail, spurred on by feeling really dehydrated and needing a wee at the same time, both of those things I promised myself I would rectify when I got to the bottom. As I waited for Catwater I checked my GPS and I was jumping about all over the place, I had a mild panic I wasn’t on the trail but it all turned out OK in the end. 

There wasn’t much time for hanging about today. We wanted to get over Pinchot Pass as well as get a decent way down the other side. It was 2pm and we had over 2000ft to do over 4 miles. We weren’t getting 2mph on these climbs, more like 1.5mph so I thought we would be doing well to make it by 4:30 and worst case we would make it to the top by 5pm. 

It was getting cooler, the clouds had moved in and were changing fast, the sun was going in and out and the wind was really cold. We decided that the clouds looked thin and high so we should be ok. Again, the climb was much better than I had expected it to be and we were at the top (12,106ft) by 4:20. The trail wound it’s way around gently until the last mile when it became steep and rocky. The wind was cold at the top so we stayed for about 2 minutes and then made our way down. 

Now the sun was losing its strength too, it wasn’t suddenly going to get any warmer so I layered up with my coat hat and gloves to try and keep warm in the wind. On the way down the trail is rocky and when you’ve already walked a long way and you’re tired it’s difficult to negotiate the rocks.. 


Around 5:30 Catwater made noises about being tired and looking for camp spots. We had made it a couple of miles down, but we were still quite high and there was a cold wind. I really wanted to get down to the campsite we had planned to get to. I’m unsure of the stability of my poor tent in the wind and I hoped it would be warmer at a lower elevation. I was tired, very hungry and cold. Not a great combination. So when she stopped for a wee I just carried on. I knew she wanted to stop but it was 5:30 and we still had an hour of daylight, I thought she might stop and camp without making it to our intended spot, but I was so single minded in my focus on getting to that spot so I could eat, warm up and lie down I didn’t really think too much about it. 

I practically ran down the trail, my legs were throbbing and I had to jump down the giant steps in the trail (which defeated me on the way up last year). But I made it to the spot and threw up my tent as quick as I could and launched all my stuff inside. In the trees it was sheltered from the wind and at 9,700ft it was noticeably warmer. 

Just after I launched myself inside the tent Catwater arrived. I’m pleased she carried on, I thought she might have been annoyed with me for speeding off ahead, but she said it was warmer here so I think she’s happy. At 6:30 she still made it before it got dark. 

I ate my beans and rice, cheese and Fritos meal. I could have eaten 5 times as much (not of that meal, just 5 times as much food. 5 times as much of that meal all in one go makes me want to be sick!). I was out of after dinner cookies so I made myself a hot chocolate instead. I haven’t made one yet this section, although I’ve been carrying 6 packets, because I don’t want to make my pot dirty and have to clean it. So I had the bright idea of making it in my chocolate breakfast drink bottle. That worked out nicely and made me all warm inside. 

Today has been a good day. I feel like we made good progress and I feel thoroughly exhausted. Those zingy legs are back tonight. 

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I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Donate here.

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One thought on “PCT SOBO DAY 88 – Mather and Pinchot Passes

  1. At the top of the golden stair case last year, near lower Palisade Lake is where I experienced them most awesome and frightening lightening and thunderstorm over night that almost blew me off the mountain. The rain came in torrents and turned the entire mountain sides into white water cascades. Won’t forget that place soon! Looks lovely in your pictures.

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