I hiked some easy ground to just west of Marion’s south ridge, but was having no fun on sore feet. I just assumed it was plantar fascitis, perhaps because a debilitating chronic injury would be a fitting end to a season that has gone from sad, to pathetic, to mediocre, to lame, to tragic. I spread out my tarp, ate some spam on tortillas, and lay down to consider the least-bad way to exit or return to Onion Valley. Perhaps I could tag a few peaks on the way south along the JMT.
After a few hours I experimentally lanced, rinsed, and taped the blisters on the soles of my feet (not recommended by physicians!), and found that the pain was just ordinary blisters in a strange place. My feet are normally indestructible, but as I was learning, hiking with an overnight pack is much harder on them than with a daypack. Walking, especially downhill, was still uncomfortable, but completely manageable. The show would go on.
I crossed Marion’s south ridge on some game trails through the talus, then clambered up to the summit, where I was met with views of Marion Lake, some impressive crags to the east, and the next part of my route to the north. I slid down a surprisingly worn path to the first saddle east, then bombed down the sand chute north, crossed a bit of talus, and followed mostly easier ground to the eastern shore of Marion Lake. This was suboptimal — there was a bit of a trail on the other side — but it worked.
I crossed the High Route in some woods, then made the long, moderate climb to Dumbbell Col on pleasant slabs and heather. Reaching the col, I was greeted with a view of (what I later learned was) Observation, and a sea of large, loose, hellish talus. I found a good route for a change, trending left and finding some slabs leading to the grass around the western Dumbbell Lake. There are some amazing crags to its east which, given the difficulty of reaching them and the lack of a named summit, are probably rarely if ever climbed.
After a detour to “I’m too dumb to read a map peak,” Observation’s sharper, slightly lower neighbor to the west, I hiked over to Cataract Pass (I think — it’s the saddle leading to Amphitheater Lake), dropped my pack, and followed bootprints in the sand through the krummholtz maze to Observation’s summit. Though the peak is an unremarkable rubble pile, it boasts impressive views in most directions: unnamed crags across Dumbbell Lakes to the south; the colorful rock around Split to the east; and a complete view of the palisades to the north which is a mirror image of that from Sky Haven (the header image on this blog).
Returning to my pack, I dropped easily to near Amphitheater Lake, then made my way across the wretched talus around its western edge. After two days of seeing only the occasional boot-print, I was surprised to find two people camping at this remote lake, but did not disturb them. I took some pictures of the sunset, washed up at the lake, and found an adequate campsite just before dusk.