DAY 9 - Darwin Bench to Puppet Lake

Distance: 17.6km (10.9mi)
Hiking time: 12:32hr
Elevation gain: 1,718m (5,636ft)
Total people met: 0
'A fine view opens up to the north. Below is boomerang-shaped Puppet Lake,
occupying a wide shelf dotted with clumps of conifers' - Steve Roper

Elevation versus Distance graph for the section from Darwin Bench to Puppet Lake for the Sierra High Route

The night was warm with windy periods. We had an equally windy breakfast with a beautiful sunrise. The walk up towards the second lake was strenuous but route finding was no problem. Once we were at the bottom of Alpine Col we decided on the path we should take. The pass looked very steep from below and we made sure to fill up our water bags for the steep ascend. Alpine Col is an alternative route we took to cross the Great Divide in order to bypass Snow Tongue Pass. Most of the ascend featured small and big talus as well as loose and unstable scree fields. Mentally it was very challenging as every step was a careful decision. Zeno guided me very well thought the steep sections.

The relief at the top of the pass did not last very long. We looked down and found a path leading down the first part of the pass. Most of the first part basically involved a lot of sliding down with each step. Then, there were some large steep granite slabs to the left that Roper suggested to avoid so we were heading in the other direction. However, all routes looked fine ended up in a drop-off or an equally steep granite slab that we did not feel comfortable with. After scouting in multiple different directions, we had no idea where to go. We both were super frustrated and exhausted. I had my first meltdown on the SHR and cried. Sometimes this just has to get out.

After calming down, we both weighted our options and decided to descend on the far right down a talus and scree field that did not involve any steep cliffs. The talus was still super steep and each step had to be carefully chosen. It was so exhausting to head down this path and the talus didn’t end. I seriously thought about quitting the route after our next supply station. We decided to head over Alpine Col to avoid a supposedly even steeper path and we ended up being frustrated and stuck at times. After descending down the first part of the endless talus we reached a lake and filled up our water bags. I cried again, all that anger had to get out of my system. It made everything better.

Once we were at the big meadow and passed all the steep talus we moved quickly as time was running low for us. Our goal for the day was to head over Puppet Pass to camp at Puppet Lake, but this was still some distance away and we had no idea how difficult the descent from Puppet pass would be. We decided to do the Pass if we reached Mesa lake, which is a lake below the pass by 5pm. We were moving at a very fast pace, my legs couldn’t have carried me faster. My pulse was high and I was full of adrenaline, I wanted to achieve our daily goal beside the big depression of Alpine Col. We made it there by 5:15pm and decided to go for it. Another 100m ascend was in front of us and with low water level in our bags we sprinted up. We reached the pass without any route finding problems and I was never as exhausted in my life than as in the last 2.5hrs. I felt like I could achieve anything, I was pushing all my boundaries to achieve this goal and together we made it.

The descend down to Puppet Lake was much easier than expected. Nevertheless the descend was down steep talus but nothing compared to the descend of Alpine Col. We caught the last rays of sun on our way down and set up our camp just before it was dark. Zeno was extremely impressed by how I changed my mood from a complete meltdown to such an incredible finish. This day was by far the most exhausting, emotional and challenging day so far and would stay this for the rest of the SHR.

Cold, cold breakfast.
Breakfast Selfie.

Found our first patch of snow :)

The descend from Alpine Col

Made it to the top of Alpine Col :)

After the descend from Alpine Col

Looking back towards Alpine Col on the left

Humprey's Basin, some flat parts here.

View towards Puppet Pass, our final pass for today.

View towards Puppet Pass.

We made it to the top of Puppet Pass, what a day. Looking down towards Puppet lake
Looking back at descend before Puppet lake

Our camp spot near Puppet lake

Trying to get a nice shield of the wind by camping next to a big Boulder.

View out of our tent.