Day 14: Little Pete Meadow to Lower Palisade Lake
The morning of our fourteenth day we woke up excited to have made it to the 2/3 mark of our trip. Still one more week ahead, but some of the best scenery yet to come. Plus, we would have company on the trail for the next few days.
We packed up camp and hit the trail to hike about 2 miles to the next trail junction for Bishop Pass. Our friends, Joe & Kristie would be meeting us there sometime in the morning, having likely spent the night somewhere beyond Dusy Basin. We settled in at the junction to make a pancake breakfast and wait.
Just as we were relaxing with our coffees, up walk our friends, but from the direction of the campsite, not the trail! Turned
out they had made it down to the junction the previous evening and had been enjoying sleeping in.
We gathered up our gear and joined them at their campsite, getting ourselves all ready to hit the trail.
The first few miles beyond the junction dropped us down LeConte Canyon, following along the Middle Fork of the Kings Canyon. The views from that section of trail were awesome, featuring the steep, imposing peaks of The Citadel. We were also treated to views of the Observation range of peaks south of us.
We took a short break at the junction of Palisade Creek before turning east to follow the creek up through the valley. It was the start of a full day’s worth of uphill as we worked our way towards Mather Pass.
Over the next few miles we gained the 800 feet or so that we had previously dropped from the campsite earlier that morning. So many ups and downs along this crazy trail!
It was a hot day and the trail was quite exposed thanks to a lightning-caused wildfire from 2002. My north-west coast temperate-zone brain has a hard time processing just how long it takes the forest to come back in these dry Sierra mountains.
We took a long lunch break at a nice shady spot beside Palisade Creek and then pushed on a bit further to the last campsite before “The Golden Staircase.” This infamous section of trail had me quite nervous. A lot of the PCT hikers we had chatted with had commented that the trail was brutal going down and that they often felt sorry for JMT hikers heading up!
We didn’t want to kill ourselves with the nearly 2000-foot climb in the heat of the day so we took a long two-hour break to relax and let the shadows lengthen.
Around 4 pm we picked ourselves up and started our climb. It turned out the “Staircase” was much more a combination of steps and switchbacks. It was definitely a rugged and rocky section of the trail. I suppose it is called “Golden” because of the yellowish tinge to the granite. I imagine it takes on even more colour at sunrise or sunset.
The rocky landscape was relieved somewhat by some amazing wildflowers, including columbine, paintbrush, and rosy-petaled cliff bush. We were also treated to great views back down Palisade Creek and south to Observation Peak.
The trail levelled out a bit as we came back alongside Palisade Creek. We passed beside a couple small hanging meadows and then (finally!) had a view of Lower Palisade Lake. We had managed over 11 miles that day and had gained 2600 feet of elevation since leaving the Kings River.
We made camp not far from the outlet of the lake. Joe & Kristie had packed in some fresh cheese curds and we treated ourselves to a delicious meal of backcountry poutine.
The sun set early behind the Palisade Range and there was a stiff wind, but we managed to stay up until moonrise. The full moon rose through the rosy glow of the last heat on the mountains. It was a truly beautiful sight and all the better for being able to share it with friends.