As we march, southbound, through the named passes, we now reach the first real giant: Stephen Tyng Mather (1867 – 1930).
Mather began his working life, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, as a reporter for the New York Sun. Later, he worked for the same company in which his father held a senior position: the Pacific Coast Borax Company.
Just before the turn of the century he left the PCBC and, with a partner, began his own borax company. They did well.
By 1914, at age 47, he was a millionaire, had retired from the borax business, and was indulging his passions for the outdoors. That same year he toured Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks and came away unimpressed with the upkeep and administration of the properties. It just so happened that the current Secretary of the Interior was an old classmate, so he fired off a letter of complaint. The Interior Secretary’s response would change history.
“Dear Steve: If you don’t like the way the national parks are run, why don’t you come on down to Washington and run them yourself.”
Within two years Congress had approved the establishment of the National Park Service, and Mather had become its first director.
Your trip to the top of Mather Pass, if you hike southbound, will likely begin with a triumph over one of the more infamous sets of switchbacks on the entire John Muir Trail: the Golden Staircase. This portion of the trail was the last to be built, by specially trained crews from the Inyo, Sierra, and Sequoia National Forests. The results are impressive, intimidating, but infinitely doable if you just keep at it (especially of you hit this stretch early in the morning).
Mather Pass itself is unique among the major passes you encounter southbound because you can actually see the pass well in advance—miles in advance, actually. Personally, I didn’t find that to be an advantage, but you might.
From the top you realize just what a monumental wall of rock you’ve been climbing. Although there is no significant exposure on the trail, the view from the pass of the rubble-strewn ridgeline through which you are passing is quite a spectacle.
Good hiking, Ray