Last night dropped below freezing, and was the coldest night of the trip. In fact yesterday and today the daytime temperatures feel like they’ve dropped meaningfully too. I woke up off and on throughout the night, aware that my sleeping bag was getting progressively wetter with condensation, and trying to find positions that allowed me to stay warm. When I packed up the tent this morning around 6:30, long before the sun crested the valley wall to the east, my tent was caked in frosty ice, inside and out.
I had two passes on my route today: Goat Crest Saddle and Grouse Lake Pass, within a mile of one another and both straightforward and relatively quick. I wanted to spend one more night in the wilderness before emerging in the semi-civilization of Cedar Grove tomorrow, a major hub of campgrounds and concessions in Kings Canyon National Park, and six miles down the road from my terminus at Road’s End. Don’t get me wrong: I’m excited to take a shower, launder my clothes, and eat (I did end up being a bit light on food in this section and have been increasingly hungry) but I’m already likely spending tomorrow night there before hitching to Fresno on Sunday, and two nights seems unnecessary. I wanted one more sweet night in the backcountry before the end. I was easily a half day’s hike away from the end when I woke up this morning, and needed to go slow again.
Lake below Goat Crest Pass, the deep dip in the middle of the ridge
There was a lot of the waiting, sitting, pausing of yesterday. But I also decided to climb Goat Mountain, a modest-looking peak just over 12000 feet near Grouse Lake Pass. I easily spent a few hours on it, most of that time sitting on the top marveling at the view: I could see much of the land I’ve been through, if not in the entire last 38 days, at least the last 25 or so. I could see peaks I’ve come to know by contouring in and around their ridges and basins. Passes I remember crossing (including King Col). I could see the long, rust-colored drainage of Goddard Canyon and the mountains bordering Ionian Basin. The Palisades were there too, just barely shielding Mt Sill from view. I could just make out the ridge of Baxter Peak. Deep canyons in whose bottoms I forded their rollicking rivers. It was a fitting last big endeavor of the hike, to sit up there for an hour and a half and look over so much of my life in the last month, detailed in the crumpled and folded mountain landscape.
Panorama looking east from Goat Mountain. I walked through most of this.
Standing on Goat Mountain
I descended to Grouse Lake and lounged on some warm rocks by the shore for another hour. If it were warmer, I would have swam, but the air nipped at the skin all day. Even in the sun I donned my hat and down jacket, listening to the birds and watching expressive clouds reach wispy tendrils towards one another, like fingers intertwining. Finally I moved on from there too, picking up a use trail and then Copper Creek Trail, a well-used and well-graded footpath that would descend over five thousand feet out of the mountains to Road’s End. I only traveled a couple miles down before stopping at an odd little collection of tent sites next to a small brook, each site a little depression scratched out of a steep hillside. It was early, 4:30. I read, made some warm dinner, and will turn in early. Tomorrow morning I’m out!
Descending towards Grouse Lake
Looking back up towards Goat Mountain from Grouse Lake. It’s the one on the right.
A new way to put my pack on. Sort of.