When we got to Mather Pass, the trail was covered in snow and we followed a thru-hiker named Colllywobbles up what appeared from the map to be “Mather Pass.” We couldn’t believe there were no footprints and it was awfully steep and terrifying to go over.
“Don’t look down,” I kept telling myself as I saw a the steep snowfield I was traversing go down hundreds of feet below me. “That’s going to be a bad slide if I miss my foot.” In a couple spots, the snow became so soft that we post-holed (fell through the snow) up to our waists and had to dig ourselves out.
When we got to the top, we didn’t see Collywobbles anywhere, but I did see a recent rockfall/avalanche.
“Oh no! Collywobbles is dead!”
It became clear that we were on the wrong pass. The map made it look like the valley we looked down on might connect with the PCT, but it followed a river and some steep slopes—we worried we might face a waterfall and not be able to continue.
As much as I *hated* the idea of going back down the terrifying slope we’d just come up, we decided it best to go down and find the real pass.
By the time we got down and up and over the real pass, the snow was soft and I felt my foot slip twice at the top of the real pass. We left a note for other hikers showing where the real pass goes. (Note: 4 years later, I learned that a friend of mine from the PCT, Super Dave, had found that note several days later and was incredibly thankful that he read it and didn’t end up the wrong “pass.” So glad that it ended up helping someone.)
Epilogue of this adventure: A ranger we met told us a few days later that we went over the old PCT-route. Collywobbles found his way back to the PCT in what ended up being a shortcut.