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Monday, June 11, 2018

PCT - Day 51: 6/8/2018 - Fording Creeks and hellish descent

Trail miles: 17.2 from 803.3 - 820.5
Miles walked: 19.4



I woke up in a better mood, and definitely had more energy. I felt guilty for being in such a dark place the previous day, so I just wished Ziploc and Kate the happiest of hikes and set off at 5:30am. Guilt over being an asshole tempted me to go back and edit the blog post I wrote yesterday, but I decided not to out of integrity of my writing. I also think in brings up some awareness of how bipolar disorder cripples those unfortunate enough to have it. It can really destroy one’s life and relationships.

Today would be a double dose of tough climbs. My first goal of the day was Pinchot Pass at 12,107 feet. Later, in the afternoon, I would tackle Mather Pass at 12,094 feet.



We had camped at about 10,300 feet.  After leaving camp, I put on some music and climbed in great snow conditions. I found myself at the top of the Pinchot Pass at 7:30am by myself. I descended quickly to avoid having to walk on warm snow. For now, the snow was still mostly solid. I passed several lakes on my way down including the beautiful Majorie Lake, which is about where the snow gave way to the trail again. I say that word “trail” lightly, since this time of year the trail is often a stream. Walking all day with wet feet is quite normal in June in the Sierra.



On my way down, I had a trifecta of minor snafus. First, I sprained my right ankle (again) when I had a loose rock move under my other foot. Second, while I was filtering water, my sunglasses slipped off the top of my head and broke. They are now held together with duct tape. Third, I got bit twice by a fire ant after I forded the South Fork Kings River at 10,000 feet. This spot is the low point in between the two passes.



The ford of this river is the first I would say was tricky. The current was fast, with white water at thigh level. I was worried how Ziploc and Kate would do there, so I waited for them. About 30 minutes later, they showed up and I went back into the water to assist, even though I’m confident they could have done it without me. I also thought it was a good way for me to let them know I still cared and was sorry for being difficult to get along with the previous day. Everyone made it across safely.





I pushed on to Mather Pass while Kate and Ziploc took a lunch break. The climb to this pass involved fording several creeks. All the creeks fed into the South Fork Kings River, which I would end up fording again too.



Near 10,800 feet, the snow became more prevalent. I had a decent sized creek to cross and it looked pretty deep. I saw a snow bridge to my right about 50 feet. The bridge was noticeably thin. I poked the thinnest part with a trekking pole and the snow fell into the creek below leaving just a hole from the snow basket on the end on my pole. I poked a thicker spot further out and it held after a couple of hard jabs. I would have to leap about 5 feet to avoid the weak part of the snow bridge. I gave it a running start since doing this with a 35 lb pack on your back is harder than it sounds. I landed and it held. I continued my climb with snow conditions worsening. I post-holed often. My lower legs were taking a beating. Often you post-hole into the snow and your shin, knee, or ankle hits a hidden rock. 

The snow also causes many small lacerations all over your lower legs too. It was slow going, but eventually I found a rock rib and followed it to where the trail intersected. On an actual trail, elevation was once again gained with relative ease. I arrived at the top at 2:30 pm and ate a late lunch. I could see the route down and it looked like it would rival the Forester Pass descent that we also did in the afternoon. I decided to wait for Kate and Ziploc. I knew they were behind me, because I had seen them as little tiny people climbing up when I was on the final couple of switchbacks near the top.






When they made it to the top, we celebrated briefly, but we all knew the hellish descent that awaited us. Coming down from Mather Pass was really slow. It took the three of us almost three hours to descend just over 1000 feet in some of the worst snow conditions I’d ever seen. Trapdoor snow was everywhere. I was up to my waist several times. Sometimes it took 60 seconds to free oneself from the ugly post-hole. I had one leg in a hole and one leg still above at one point and thought I wouldn’t be able to extract myself, but eventually I did.



We tried to stick to the rocks as much as we could, but it was impossible to avoid crossing snowfields. Kate and Ziploc were having a rough go of it too. It was such an arduous descent. At about 11,300 after enduring this hell for about two hours. Ziploc post-holed really bad for about the hundredth time in the last 30 minutes. She pulled herself out after laying in the snow dejected for a few seconds. 



When she crawled onto the boulder that Kate and I were standing on, she started hyperventilating and couldn’t breathe. I undid her pack straps and Kate and I helped her sit up. Exhausted and frustrated with the endless snow, Ziploc just had a brief breakdown and told us she was going to camp on this rock. Kate and I explained that we were not leaving her there. Kate gave her a few gummy bears and I gave her my water w/ electrolytes. After only a couple minutes Ziploc pulled it together and we continued our descent. I followed a stream just to stay out of the terrible snow. It’s pretty bad when you opt to walk through ankle deep water to avoid post-holing in the snow.



At 6:15 pm, our hell had finished and we were back again walking on a trail that resembled a stream. Everyone was hungry, exhausted, and mentally spent. We walked along the edge of a ledge overlooking the Palisade Lakes while walking over and under waterfalls. The sun was dropping towards the horizon so we stopped to eat dinner on a beautiful spot with views of mountains in multiple directions, a waterfall above us, and a crystal blue lake beneath us.



After dinner we hiked another 1/2 mile to a spectacular campsite along the lake’s edge.




We all quickly setup our tents and climbed in to take off our soaking wet shoes and put on dry socks. The sunset was beautiful, and one I’ll remember for a long time. Before everyone went to sleep, I offered sincere apologies to both Ziploc and Kate for my bad mood yesterday. They each agreed to forgive me and I hugged each of them.




Tomorrow is an easier day. We’ll drop elevation and then climb back up to a tent site just before Muir Pass. We are making sure we never again go over one of these high passes in the afternoon. My legs feel like they’ve been through a cheese grater. Hopefully sleep will help.






Circus Act's tent


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