The False Summit

September 15, 2019
Purple Lake to Silver Pass Lake—Day 8 on the JMT, Part II (Read Part I here.)
Total distance walked: 9.2 miles

Michael walked close behind me. “Keep left at the junction,” he said when we reached the not-so-clearly marked fork in the road. Going left took us higher in elevation than we had been all trip.  High enough to reach a snowbank.


It was lunchtime.  Though we liked to stop at places with pretty views, we were too hungry to search for one, so we pulled off trail in the breezy forest.  The music of a trilling brook sang merrily in the distance.  After a quick break, we resumed our journey and crossed the elusive babbling brook just minutes from our lunch spot.


The mountains loomed large before us.

We were going over that mountain.

Like a mother who has forgotten her labor pains, I too have forgotten the exhaustion and labor of the strenuous climb.  However, I do remember the elation I felt at having reached what I thought was the summit of the pass.

Getting closer to the mountain.

The rocky trail leveled out. While standing upon weighty slabs of granite looking out at the view it hit me, “Oh!” I exclaimed. “This is the top!” We were at nearly 11,000 feet.  The wind was swift adding an air of excitement to our accomplishment.  Reaching the top brought tears to my eyes.  The feeling was similar to reaching the top of Donahue Pass last year.

View looking north.

It was 2:20PM. We made excellent time getting up the mountain, quicker than the first half of the hike.  How could that be?  We were walking only one mile per hour.

At the top. Later we’d make our way to the peaks in the distance.

Surrounded by steep cliffs, we looked at the map. We couldn’t grasp how we walked so far in such a short time.

Happy to be at the top. Notice the heart of rocks.

I suddenly realized my mistake. Slip Knot (who hiked the JMT last year) warned me about the false summit on Silver Pass. We were at the false summit.  Nearby was Squaw Lake.

Traversing the outlet on large boulders.  Look how clear the water is.

After a brief break at Squaw Lake, we trekked forward climbing rocky switchbacks that overlooked Squaw Lake and tiny Warrior Lake.

Squaw Lake

The trail wound between five lakes whose beauty was hidden from us until we climbed up to them.

Squaw Lake

We sauntered past the cobalt blue water of Chief Lake.

Chief Lake and the peaks we saw from the false summit.

At this point we had climbed high enough to reach a small snowbank.  A side trail led around it so we didn’t have to walk through it.  From there we looked down on Chief Lake and Lake of the Lone Indian in the distance.


With an indifference brought on by exhaustion, we crested Silver Pass—besides, we had our moment at the false summit.

The top of Silver Pass on the Silver Divide.

Our view to the south changed considerably once we reached the top of the pass. We could see the mountains we would climb if we were to continue beyond our four-day itinerary.

Looking down from the pass.

Walking was all downhill from the top of the pass. We descended on sandy switchbacks passing tiny glacial lakes.


We walked through an alpine meadow on an undefined trail curving away from Silver Pass Lake and didn’t bother collecting water. Daylight began to fade.

Silver Pass Lake

After ten hours on the trail, Michael found a dry campsite (no water nearby). We set up our tents in the soft dirt nestled in the pines where the trees would protect us from the wind.

Searching for a campsite. We walked another half mile to find one.

We rationed whatever water was left for the morning’s cup of coffee. Dinner was beef jerky, Pringles and applesauce. Bushed, we turned in for the night as the sun set on our rollercoaster ride of a day.

Ready to turn in for the night.

To be continued…

10 thoughts on “The False Summit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s