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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

PCT - Day 53: 6/10/2018 - Exhaustion and a missing Sleeping Beauty

Trail miles: 20.8 from 835.1 - 855.9
Miles walked: 23.3

We started our day at 5:00 am sharp with the goal of making it up and down Muir a Pass before the snow warmed up too much. Ten minutes into our day we had to ford a creek, and it was ice cold. My toes were numb for the next hour or two.

Sleeping Beauty and Ziploc were having a rough day. Ziploc was nursing an injury to her quad muscle. Sleeping Beauty was fatigued and slowed by some Achilles tendinitis. It was also cold and breezy making our early morning snow climb up Muir Pass with numb toes a bit more challenging. To add to the hell, the snow fields we were crossing were sun-cupped. This made every step a potential ankle breaker. We also had more mental toughness tests; like crossing sketchy snow bridges over raging creeks or seeing the steep terrain in front of you, and knowing your suffering will continue until you reach the top.

Crossing Creek on a Snow Bridge

Frustration was obvious in both the ladies. I offered encouragement and tried to get them to focus on the positive things like the stunning views, or the fact that we were not post-holing.

Snow Field
At about 7:30 am we reached the stone shelter building at the top of Muir Pass. As I walked up, Shank and Pocket Knife walked out of the shelter. We chatted with them for a bit and then they began their descent. We followed about ten minutes later. After we’d descended about 400 feet or so, I saw Pocket Knife walking back up from the frozen lake without her pack. I yelled to her and asked her what she left up at the top. She hollered back that she’d left her iPhone in the shelter. Since I was only 400 feet in elevation away, and she was maybe 600, I told her I’d go get it. I dropped my pack and hauled ass back up. Fifteen minutes later I was jogging back down the snow with her phone in my pocket. She and Shank thanked me for my efforts and offered to buy me a beer in town. I’ll definitely take that beer but would have done that for any friend.

i-Phone Storage Unit
Now we had 25 minutes less to get the hell off the snow which continued for another 3.5 miles. We were side-hilling on sun-cupped snow when I missed a step and sprained my right ankle. I screamed because the pain was intense. I tried to weight it and yelped again in pain. Slowly, after trial and error, I discovered that the pain was only really bad when pushing off with the ball of my foot. So I walked very slowly with weighting only my right foot with the mid foot or heel.

Side Hilling
Around 10:00 am, we were approaching the last of the snow fields. Ziploc was in a lot of pain already from what is potentially a torn quad muscle. Then when we were descending the steepest snow slope we’d been on all day, she slipped and slid a short way in the soft wet snow. She got herself up, but was having some trouble getting down. She took out her ice ax for safety and I climbed back up without my pack to kick steps into the snow for her. After a few minutes on this treacherous slope, she made it down, but not without a healthy dose of German curse words.

We carefully rock hopped about 100 rocks in the Evolution Lake Inlet. The rocks were mostly submerged from excessive runoff, but still visible. My ankle injury made this exercise slight more difficult, but I managed. Our shoes were already 0% dry so another dose of freezing alpine lake water didn’t hurt.

Evolution Lake
We had finally dropped enough elevation that we were out of the snow to everyone’s relief. Now we found ourselves on the shore of beautiful Evolution Lake. We stopped for a lunch break just after walking past two deer grazing alongside the trail.

Deer Grazing

At lunch, the main topic was how we were all going to run out of food before making it to VVR where our next resupply was awaiting. Sleeping Beauty also voiced concern that the conditions with such challenging snow up high was making it difficult for her to finish the JMT before she had to return home. She was exhausted and needs a rest day, but her schedule doesn’t allow it. Ziploc said that she was done with the snow, and that she was going to skip a section up to Tahoe. We all knew (hoped) she wasn’t serious.

Lunch Stop

As lunch ended, we left Evolution Lake and the trout swimming around in clear view from the shore. I was moving slow due to my ankle. Advil and Vicodin didn’t even help. I hiked about two miles and saw Sleeping Beauty and Ziploc waiting for me at a switchback. It was really sweet that they waited for me. It was right about the mile where Ziploc and I crossed the “halfway across California” milestone. I thanked them for waiting but told them that we could all reconvene at the Evolution Creek ford which was reportedly waist deep.

As I descended even more, the rocky trail gave way to soft pine needles which made my ankle happier. The trail followed Evolution Creek much of the afternoon. The creek would roar violently at narrow spots where waterfalls were present, and it other areas where the water widened into a meadow, it was serene and calm. McClure Meadow was like this and was one of the prettiest places I’d ever seen.

Evolution Creek

Ziploc caught up with me on trail after she’d taken a bathroom break. She told me Sleeping Beauty was still in front of us. However, an hour later when we reached the junction where we’d meet before fording Evolution Creek, Sleeping Beauty was nowhere to be seen. We waited for a bit and then decided to take the alternate crossing which was safer in high water. This was also the crossing that we were discussing earlier with Sleeping Beauty. She was not there either.

Ziploc and I decided that she must’ve forded the creek by herself and pressed on to camp since she was tired and probably wanted extra recovery time. Just in case, we stopped and waited for an hour. Mark and Tammy walked by and we asked if they’d seen Kate (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty) and they said they hadn’t. This made us assume that Sleeping Beauty was ahead of us and probably kicking it at camp already. 

Ziploc and I hiked another 5.5 miles from 5:30 pm till 8:00 pm and Sleeping Beauty was not at the tent site that we thought she was going to stop at. Unfortunately, we didn’t know if Sleeping Beauty was just catching some Zzz a couple miles ahead of us, or if something worse happened. Ziploc and I were already running on fumes. We were both nursing injuries and hadn’t even eaten dinner and it was 8:00 pm. The sun was setting and we made a difficult decision to stop and camp. 

Now I lay here in my tent wondering if Sleeping Beauty is snoozing comfortably somewhere or whether she got swept down Evolution Creek. My mind has played so many scenarios. She’s a strong independent woman with a ton of experience. I have to assume she’s OK. But I also know from years of climbing mountains with Kate that this is highly unusual.

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