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PCT Day 157 – Mather Pass and the Golden Staircase

Last updated Feb 17, 2020 | Published on Sep 28, 2017

I awoke shortly after 5:00 am and my tent was covered in frost again. I packed up my tent by the light of my headlamp and bid goodbye to Mark and Andy before heading out. I hit the trail fast in the morning. I guess 5 months of through-hiking will do that to a girl.

South Fork of the Kings River

Frost lined the path as I walked downhill in the pre-dawn light. I only walked a couple of miles before I came to the South Fork of the Kings River. I stopped for breakfast while I considered the river. It’s one of the bigger water crossings that I’ve had to face so far and I was extra cautious as I knew that a PCT hiker drowned in this river earlier in the season. But the water level has receded considerably since then. I waded across the river with my shoes on around 8:00 am and it was an easy crossing – the water only reached my calves. But the water was COLD! Definitely my coldest water crossing so far. I could barely feel my toes afterwards.

Near the top of Mather Pass

The trail headed uphill towards the next major pass in the Sierras – Mather Pass. I only had a 2000-foot elevation climb to reach the top and I arrived around noon. The last mile of the trail prior to the pass involved a series of switchbacks that barely clung to the side of the mountain. Probably not the best trail for anyone who is afraid of heights. But, after climbing Mt. Whitney, it didn’t seem that bad in comparison.

Mather Pass

Looking Down at the Switchbacks Heading up Mather Pass

View from the top of Mather Pass

View from the top of Mather Pass

Panorama of Mather Pass

After spending a few minutes at the top of the pass, I began the long descent down the other side. After a mile or so of switchbacks, the trail descended by the scenic Palisade Lakes. As I was walking by the lakes, deep in thought, I looked up and was happily surprised to see Cheerful walking towards me! I met Cheerful in the desert and hadn’t seen him in a couple of months. It was really great to see him. We chatted for a few minutes before heading on.

Palisade Lake

Palisade Lake

A Hiker Relaxes by Palisade Lake

Selfie with Cheerful

The trail looped around Palisade Lakes and then began the infamously steep descent down what is known as the “Golden Staircase”. I zigzagged down the hill on switchback after switchback for what seemed like forever but really probably only took me a few hours. Whew! I’m glad I didn’t have to walk up the Golden Staircase!

Palisade Creek Waterfall

Golden Staircase

More Golden Staircase

The outlet from Palisade Lake, now called Palisade Creek, cascaded downhill next to the Golden Staircase in a spectacular waterfall. At the end of the staircase, the trail entered the treeline again and continued downhill following Palisade Creek towards the South Fork of the Kings River.

I was tired but I pressed on and stopped about a mile short of the river to camp. I wanted to get as close as possible to the next pass, Muir Pass, to ensure that I got over it tomorrow.

Because you know what they say – a pass a day keeps the doctor away!

PCT 2017 Stats

PCT Day 157 – Sunday, September 17
Mile 809.3 to Mile 826.3

PCT Miles Hiked Today: 17
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 1696.6
Feet Ascended Today: 2246
Feet Descended Today: 4856
Current Elevation: 8428
Steps: 54751

For more on my experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, visit my Pacific Crest Trail Blog page.

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


  1. yoganej

    Your picture of the south fork of Kings River makes my heart smile. So beautiful!

  2. Rod

    Especially good photos today. Whatever it takes to keep the doctor away! 🤓. Only time I’ll say it, You Go, Girl! 🤠


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