Chapter 13: PCT Week 11: “Not Just Passing Through”
Chapter 13: Week 11: “Not Just Passing Through”
Days 71-77: 5/15-5/21/22
Total Trail Miles: 54.80
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 81.17
Cumulative Trail Miles: 882.20
From: Bishop to Selden Pass
Day 71 // May 15, 2022 // Trail Miles: 3.60 / GPS Recorded Miles: 15.73 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 831.00
~Destination // Bishop Pass~
And so, we had our last cup of tea with Cuppa that morning. We’d see him later up trail, but there was no more tea in our future. It was bittersweet leaving camp that morning and was always difficult. Like the age-old saying states, “Hike your own hike.” That’s what you have to do, but it’s never easy when your plans and hike take you away from the people you care about. We’d really started to get close to Cuppa since the late SoCal desert and the last epic passes we’d all scaled together, but we simply didn’t pack out enough food, and we were moving too slow.
Bishop Pass isn’t part of the PCT, but it is an exit point to get back to the town of Bishop. We opted to climb up and over it (like Kearsarge Pass) to get back to town for a food resupply, and to swap out some gear while dumping other pieces- in particular our 4lb, -40F sleeping bags, a compass we didn’t need, lighter pillows, etc. Deuces had also mentioned he was going over and out through Bishop as well, but he was ahead of us.
Taking the split to Bishop from the PCT, we had well over 3000 feet to climb to the top, over 6 miles. Why hadn’t we just carried two more days of food and avoided this unnecessary hardship? It was a slog at first, but not technical. Then the huge water crossings started. And then, we hit snow. It was soft and deep. The whole area was thawing out. Some parts of trail were submerged in water, other parts completely covered in slush. We could hear water flowing beneath the snow, right under our feet. It was disconcerting. We had no idea if we’d fall through, and if we did, how wide or deep the water was. We both had waterproof boots on, but that only protected us up to our ankles.
Thank God we had significant experience working in snow, both consolidated and worthlessly soft.
- Walk on white, avoid blue.
- Test the snow consistency and depth with your trekking poles.
- Avoid walking near trees, shrubs, or rocks (they all put off heat, retain heat, and can create air pockets you can’t see).
- Go out into the snow with a partner.
- Be warry of existing boot tracks in case the person that made them wasn’t experienced in snow.
The one rule we failed to follow was to avoid hiking in snow during the heat of the day and late afternoon. The reason being that the sun and ambient temperature (if it was over 32F) have had all day to work on the snow and melt it down. Water crossings are the largest and snow conditions are the worst. This is akin to the post-holing witching hour.
When we finally reached the top of Bishop Pass, it was a horrifying mess. Boot tracks lead everywhere. Some followed the actual trail, somewhat, according to our map. Others whipped around on the complete opposite side of the canyon and descended a small gully to what looked like a drop off. There were huge, deep blue wells along each route, hip-deep post holes. How deep was the snow?
There was a large rocky protrusion jutting up from the white expanse. It also happened to be the trail and the best route to take. The rest of the field was solid white, speckled with blue, and I knew it wouldn’t hold us up. 400 feet took us 30 minutes to travel. I sank into my thighs. Basecamp sank up to her chest. If I hadn’t been there, she may have gotten stuck. The issue with post-holing is two-fold:
1.) You don’t know what’s under the snow, so if you sink through it could injure you (rocks, limbs, water, ice, etc.).
2.) If you sink in deep enough and take too long to get out, it can begin to melt/freeze around you due to your body heat, cementing you in. That poses a huge safety issue and is the reason you travel in snow with a partner, at least.
After reaching the rocks, we could see the descent down Bishop. It was sheer, and Basecamp was physically shaking. We were both concerned, but she was on the verge of a panic attack. The snow might as well have been air, because it didn’t do anything to hold us up. The descent was several hundred feet of steep switch-backing, completely snow-covered. Why hadn’t there been any reports on FarOut about Bishop conditions? We reached the edge and looked down at the switchbacks below. Basecamp wouldn’t move from fear.
Day 72-75 // May 16-19, 2022 // Trail Miles: 13.40 / GPS Recorded Miles: 25.26 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 844.40
~Destination // Bishop and Muir Pass~
I lump these four days together because they didn’t feel like four, distinguishable days, but rather a solid blur of both rest and perseverance.
Getting over Bishop Pass had been quite the ordeal. It had mentally and physically taxed us to our limit.
Basecamp had endured what became all but a full-blown panic attack when we started to descend the pass. We’d taken the switchbacks down only because I knew there was ‘trail’ underneath the 2-3 feet of slushy snow. I was confident I could make us a boot pack down, and I did, but not before we’d gone back and forth about carving out a campsite in the snow and waiting until morning. I’d felt confident enough that the conditions, though post-holing, were in our favor then. Had we waited until morning, the descent could have been iced over, and even more dangerous despite having crampons.
The bottom of the descent felt like a safe haven in the midst of evil; Rivendell in the midst of Mordor. While the grade calmed, the trail did not. We still had several miles left to the Bishop Pass Trailhead, and hopefully a hitch out despite the sun quickly fading. When the trail wasn’t riddled with snow and 2-foot post holes, it was flooded out. Mentally, we were both over it and began to search for plausible campsites along the route, but something in the back of our minds told us to suck it up and just keep moving. So, we did.
At around a mile from where our map showed the trailhead, we saw blinding lights on the trail, facing us. The sun had already completely set behind the mountains, so we had our headlamps on to stave off the darkness. However, these new lights were completely blowing the night away like a burst of wind to Taylor San really good job a cloud.
“Jeez,” I said to Basecamp, “Are those dirt bike headlights?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. “I think those are ultra runners. I’ve seen runners wear those same lights.”
And sure enough, it was. Two ultra runners were heading up the trail towards us for a night run. One was male, and the other was a female wearing all shades of pink, purple, blue, and colors in between.
“Are you Dirt Diva!!!???” inquired Basecamp to the colorful runner.
“Well, hey! Yes, I am.” replied the female, “But you can call me Catra. Are you two hiking the PCT?”
Basecamp was taken aback. Catra Corbett, aka “Dirt Diva”, was one of her heroes and a world-renowned ultra runner. We were utterly shocked at the odds we’d run into someone like that in the middle of the night…but then again, ultra runners are some of the craziest people we’d ever met, so it made sense they’d be out on a training run at night in the snow.
They offered to give us a ride into the town of Bishop, but they wouldn’t be done with their run until midnight or later. We agreed to wait out their run in the pit privies while they finished, unless there were others at the parking lot who could give us a lift. It didn’t sound appealing, lounging in a pit privy to avoid the cold for 4 hours, but it was better than just sitting in the cold. We hoped they were clean.
As luck would have it, we made it to the trailhead and there were other cars there, but no sign of people. Given those circumstances, we huddled by a bear locker and rummaged for a snack and our Garmin to gameplan. In the midst of sending out messages, two guys emerged from the woods heading towards a car. Basecamp hopped up and walked towards them asking and praying for a hitch. The two guys were climbers and happily agreed to give us a ride. They’d been out routing new climbs and clearing the paths.
On the way to Bishop, we sat in the backseat in awe of how crazy the last few hours had been. To top it off, we were witnessing a blood moon to the right of the car. The driver pulled over and we all got out to stare at its beauty for a few moments. My stomach growled.
“Wanna go to Denny’s?” the driver asked.
The Denny’s had been closed, but all we really needed was a bed, so Basecamp found and booked us a room at the Cielo Hotel for a night. We’d planned to take at least one zero day to swap out gear, resupply, and lighten our burden.
That one zero turned into two after Basecamp spoke with her sister who urged the importance of rest for mental health. Two zero days in Bishop, and a date night were what the doctor ordered. Catra agreed to pick us up and take us to trail the next day once we had sorted all of our town business.
Catra pulled up under the hotel awning. How lucky could we have possibly been? Optimist had stopped by the hotel to visit us. He was still off trail recovering from the injuries he’d suffered on his descent from Forester Pass. It was going on two weeks. ROY G BIV had also stopped by to say hello. Ever since her detour trip to L.A. she’d been weeks behind us. Deuces was also there, but he was heading back out with us.
We had a game plan. The goal was to get back up and over Bishop Pass, and back to the PCT that day. Then, we’d take a short rest before waking up at 12AM to start our ascent up Muir Pass. Since the overnight temperatures were so warm, we had to wake up at insane hours just to have a bit of consolidated snow or ice to walk on (depending on what elevations we were at or climbing to).
In Dirt Diva’s car were several of the most adorable dachshunds we’d ever seen. They were amazing company on the ride back to the Bishop Pass trailhead. Basecamp, Deuces, and I received more dog kisses than we’d had in months.
At the trailhead we snagged a few pictures with her, thanked her, and were sad to see her pull away. However, if we wanted to achieve our goal, we needed to start. It was already late morning and there was a long stretch ahead of us.
It was much easier climbing the pass than it had been going down it. Granted, we’d created a boot pack for ourselves 3 days before, and now it had melted and frozen enough to make a tiny staircase up the pass. We post-holed, oh yes, but not like we had at 4PM the day we descended. A lot of the area had started to thaw heavily. From the top of the pass, we could see it. The frozen tundra that we’d crossed days before had opened. Small patches of grass could be seen here and there, but most surprising of all was that the bridged water courses were now exposed. The snow bridges had already begun to collapse into the creeks and streams feeding them that much more.
Deuces had hiked on ahead, but we followed his tracks, even after reading his messages in the snow about the route being a terrible one. In reality, it was a terrible route to follow. It led us to a drop off, not sheer, but a drop into a boulder field. Large boulders. He was at the bottom of the field having lunch. While it looked sketchy, the fact that he’d made it down meant it wasn’t impossible, so I started. 45 minutes later, we’d descended only a few hundred feet or so to the bottom, but we’d made it. Had we turned around and gone the same route we’d taken days before, it would have been over an hour. We were proud of ourselves.
After a brief snack and ritualistic shoe removal to let our feet dry, we started the steep, myriad of switchbacks leading to the PCT. Deuces hiked with us and filled the time with both random musings, and tales from his life. There was a lot we hadn’t known about him but were starting to discover. One thing he mentioned was that there may be a hiker at the bottom of Bishop waiting for us, but the whole subject was a bit vague.
As if spoken into reality, there was indeed another hiker down at the PCT junction, hanging out with a herd of deer. Yes, deer. His name was “Real” and he’d hiked the PCT (at least in part) before. None of us had seen him before, but apparently he knew about us and wanted to hike Muir Pass with us. Random.
Just across the way was a ranger hut that we decided to rest and have dinner by. The sun was already low in the sky and our watches showed that it was approaching 8:30PM. We needed to be up at 11:00PM in order to be out by midnight. Dinner dragged on while the four of us cooked in our pots and fended off the deer onslaught from our things. They were friendly, too friendly. Relentless, even.
Come 9:30PM, we set up our mats and bags to try and get at least an hour of rest before starting Muir. It was the first and only night we cowboy camped on the PCT. We were so exhausted the mosquitos didn’t even keep us up.
And then, after only an hour of rest, our alarms went off in the dead of night. 11:00AM. Without seeing them, I could tell my eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. We brewed a pot of coffee, packed, and headed out into the night with Deuces and Real.
For the first few miles we climbed up dry trail bisected by gushing water crossings. We’d already gotten used to them, so the only thing we had to be mindful of was frozen rocks. With the night being as hot as it had been, there were few to note. Before we realized it, Deuces’ and Real’s headlamps were far ahead of us like tiny porch lights off in the distance, but the only home out there was Muir Hut several miles up.
By 2:00AM, we hit snow. It was light at first, and then covered everything. What had once been clearly defined trail we could follow, now became gray holes in a pale white landscape, and those holes lead here and there across partially deconstructed snow bridges. Some covered streams while some skirted small ponds and lakes. It would have been dangerous if we’d fallen in, despite the ambient temps being what they were.
The higher we climbed, the more frozen the landscape became. We could barely spot two headlamps switch backing up a ridge in the distance. They had to have been a mile ahead of us by then. And it was at that point we started to hit smooth slicks of trail instead of crunchy, slushy boot pack. Sitting down on an exposed rock by what seemed to be a snow-covered lake, we put on our hiking crampons. The morning wouldn’t have been complimented well by one of us falling into that lake because we were too lazy to stop and put on traction.
We remembered where we’d seen the two headlamps, but the trail up to that mark wasn’t obvious. Footprints led left, right, and some straight up. Pulling out our map, we could see roughly where the two-foot-wide path should have been underneath us, but with the conditions and variation in the GPS location, we simply couldn’t be that precise. A tent was pitched between trees along the way. A tiny red light rustled in the darkness. I wondered if they’d intentionally planned to pitch before the top of the pass, or if they’d simply gotten tired of post holing the day before and decided to pitch.
With only a mile and a half to go, we could see the faintest of glows on the horizon. The sun was waking up, but it wouldn’t be out for another hour at least. We needed to hit the top before it rose. Lately, even at higher elevations, the sun softened the snow seemingly as soon as it touched it. We didn’t want that for our Muir summit.
In the middle of a snowfield surrounded by mountains was a rock outcropping no larger than a shed. We walked over to it and searched for footprints, but only saw one pair leading over a ledge that looked sketchier than we were willing to risk. Pulling out her phone and map, Basecamp stepped just off the outcropping and pointed in different directions trying to find the trail. She was standing there, and seemed just about to start off in the direction she thought the trail was, but then she was gone.
The ice and snow under her feet had given way. Open air filled where she’d been standing just seconds before. All that was left was a head and two arms stuck above a solid white blanket of ice and snow. She’d stepped on a thin layer covering an air pocket between rocks. We hadn’t even known we were on rocks, but we should have been more careful since we were beside an outcropping. Her arms and backpack were the only things holding her up. She started to panic, and then cry. She must have been half in shock from the fall.
“Oh my gosh! Can you feel the ground underneath you? Are you in water?” I asked her.
“I can’t feel anything under me! Please get me out!” she desperately yelled.
I carefully walked towards her mindful not to fall in myself, stomped out a solid footing, and pulled. It took a minute or two to wedge her up and out. When she was safely beside me on solid rock, I shone my headlamp down the hole she’d just come from. It was easily between 6-8 feet deep, riddled with jagged rocks. She was only 5’4″. If her arms hadn’t caught on the lip and held her up, she’d have been completely swallowed. In that moment, we were both frightened and grateful for the fact that we had one another, not only to physically pick the other up when down, but to just be together.
It took several minutes to gather ourselves and continue up what we guessed to be the route.
Turned out that the trail had been to our right, just below a few rocks that had blocked it from our view. It hugged a larger rockface rather than descending into the gulley just below us. Though she was still a bit shaky from her fall, Basecamp also felt the urgency of summiting Muir Pass before the sun came up.
The route wound up and followed the gulley, inching closer to it as both began to climb. When we reached what appeared to be a saddle, we realized the “gulley” had actually been a snow-covered spillover from the lake above us. Thank God we hadn’t taken that route. The trail curved left, directly over the water, but luckily the snowpack was thick enough at the top to form a sustainable bridge.
And then, standing just beside the lake, we could see Muir Pass. Not the hut just yet, but the pass. To our dismay, the mountainside just to its right, was already glowing golden from the sun. We needed to book it, but we couldn’t. The path ahead of us lead along snowdrifts feeding into the covered lake. The ice along the edge of the lake had started to split causing fissures to run up the snowpack on the side of the mountain. My stomach twisted in knots. Any wrong step could have created a cascade effect. A misplaced step could have cracked off ice or a hunk of snow that cracked more and more, causing it to shift toward the lake. I couldn’t even think of the end result just yet. While seemingly frozen, the spillover was flowing, so the layer on top of the lake couldn’t have been that thick.
By this point, the boot pack was less pack and more post holes. Our legs sank into each step up to our shins. The deep blue holes seemed to curve around the lake crossing a thick field of snow already kissed by the sun. It was softening too quickly.
“Damn!” I yelled out, “I don’t think we are going to make it before the sun hits the pass.”
And we didn’t. The side of Muir Pass was already sparkling with glints of sun on ice and snow. The snowfield slowed our progress with each slushy step we took. But to our surprise, the climb up the pass was still solid. A minefield of postholes from other hikers had been packed down, melted, and frozen enough to make a solid path to the top. Bless everyone who’d come before us.
By this point, I’d burned through everything I’d eaten. My legs were heavy, and my body needed food, but I wasn’t about to stop halfway to eat a snack. Basecamp took off ahead of me and disappeared just over the crest of the pass. And then I was seemingly alone on a frozen tundra. I felt like the first or last man alive in that moment. Completely isolated with only the occasional “pop” or “crack” sound coming from the lake behind me. I stood there for a minute and turned around to look at what we’d hiked. I couldn’t believe the majesty of the landscape that had loomed over us in the morning darkness. Despite being calorie deficient and sleep deprived, in that moment I felt wholly alive.
Several minutes later, I could see her. Basecamp. She was standing there in front of Muir Hut waiting on me. Each step I took revealed another inch or two of her, they’re just over the crest. And then she was in full view. The Hut was also there. We’d made it to Muir Hut just at sunrise. Each hole, dimple, or crease of the stones creating it were juxtaposed shadows against the visible hues of gray and brown. It was magnificent.
When I reached her, spent, we embraced one another, kissed, and took in the sight around us. Inside the hut were Deuces and Real, also celebrating with a well-earned rest and second breakfast. It was warm with the door shut, at least 10 degrees warmer with the sun heating the stone, and our body heating building in the space. It could have slept about 10 hikers, snuggly, but was more an emergency refuge than campsite. It’s beehive shape tapered towards the ceiling, all layers of stacked stone.
The descent was largely shaded by the mountain when we started down 30 minutes later. Some stretches were crisp and consolidated while others were a bit looser. The footprints of some small creature danced around on top of the snow. What animal was walking around in a frozen tundra at just under 12,000 feet?
Real hiked on. We followed behind Deuces. The lower we hiked, the sloppier the snowfields became. We needed sleep and could see that Deuces did as well. After all, we’d just climbed two passes with 1 hour of rest under our belts.
Just as quickly and interestingly as he’d appeared, Real disappeared off into the mountains, never to be seen again, like some sort of Tom Bombadil hiker from Lord of the Rings. What we needed was a dry patch of land to pitch our tent on so we could sleep. It wasn’t easy to find.
Several miles downhill from Muir Pass, the conditions worsened. Deuces, Basecamp, and I were all fighting exhaustion and frustration from the terrible snowpack. We were sinking up to our knees by then. At the first sliver of dry land he spotted, Deuces verbally claimed it and walked over to pitch his tent. We were looking for something dryer and more appealing since we’d planned to nap and sleep the rest of the day away, awaiting the next.
Around a mile ahead, we found what we were looking for. A beautiful patch of grass and sand stood near a lake, just off trail. It was a paradise campsite, one of only a handful we’d had. We pitched our tent and started to set things up when two other hikers, both rather skinny, hiked by us. We all said hello, and they responded in an accent that sounded French.
Before sliding into the tent to eat and sleep, I went off to the side. Nature was calling. It was difficult, however, to find a secluded, adequate space because we were surrounded by water on all sides. The rule is/was that you “do your business” at least 200 feet away from any water source. But there, in a place where I couldn’t tell what was a water course versus what was just snowmelt versus mud, I had to just pick a spot somewhere in the middle of it all. There was little else I could have done, but by that point, I was simply wiped and wanted sleep.
We ate lunch and slept for several hours just to wake up and do the same thing again. That day/evening we woke twice, ate three times, and slept three times. Somewhere in the midst of that all, Deuces had wandered over with his pack to set up camp with us. He had a friend.
Apparently on his way over towards us, he’d run across a massive coyote, that could have easily been mistaken for a wolf. They’d both avoided one another, but it had followed him to our site. Pitching his tent over near a cluster of trees for some protection from the sun and wind, he’d left his things unattended to walk 200 feet over to us. After he’d regaled us with his coyote tale, it appeared, as if spoken into existence. One lone coyote began to howl 400 feet away on the other side of a pond. It skirted the pond, continuing to howl, and quietly inched closer to us. It feigned innocence, walking, staring into the water as if hunting a fish, walking again, and repeating this behavior while edging ever closer. And then it was off in the distance before disappearing. Minutes later, it appeared by Deuces camp where he’d left his food.
Deuces ran over towards his things to scare it off, and succeeded, but it came right back, circling us. What was this thing’s problem? I picked up a baseball-sized rock, chucked it in the coyote’s direction careful not to actually hit the poor animal, and then it bolted away at the crack of the rock on stone. And with all that excitement out of the way, the three of us went to sleep for the night while the sun was still up.
Day 76 // May 20, 2022 // Trail Miles: 19.30 / GPS Recorded Miles: 20.68 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 863.70
~Destination // Selden Pass Setup at MM 863.70~
As if it had never set, we woke up to the sun. It could have been the same one from the day before for and we’d have never known. We woke up in an exhausted, hungover state, so everything was a bit hazy. I unzipped my side of the vestibule and looked outside to see if Deuces’ tent was still. It was, but I could tell he was stirring around. What time was it? 8AM. It was still early in terms of the “cotton world”, but for hiking purposes, we should have already been packed up and moving.
It was already a beautiful day by the time we’d had our coffee and a cold breakfast. By this point, we were eating gas station pastries, muffins, and bear claws. The cold breakfast saved us time and helped us start our days earlier. We headed out and hiked alongside Deuces for the better part of the day. Only another mile or so was riddled with flooded trail and splotchy snow. We could see the snow-free section ahead of us and couldn’t wait to walk on dirt once again.
A downhill path led us by a waterfall and then to dark forest wedged between the mountains. On either side of us, the hard stone looked blazing hot from the midday sun, so we were grateful for the shade we were in. The same forest led to Evolution Creek, an exceptionally wide creek close to 100 feet at least, and known to be deep in some spots given recent snowmelt. We were in the middle of the thaw. The trail reached a fork in the road where a sign offered an alternate route for Evolution Creek, supposedly to an area where it was lower and safer to cross. Wanting to stay on the actual trail and taking the risk, we stayed on the PCT.
And a good thing we did as well. The creek wasn’t raging, and it wasn’t dangerously deep. In fact, it only reached my waist, and Basecamp’s stomach. In an effort to keep the clothes I had dry, I stripped them off, down to my boxers, and waded across carrying my pack above my head in just my boxers. Then, I walked back across the frigid waters to Basecamp and carried her pack across. It wasn’t as heavy as my pack was, but it was heavy for her, and I’d have rather suffered cold water a few extra minutes than to have risked losing her or her pack downstream. She was fairly anxious at the site of such a large river crossing to begin with, so I felt like this needed to be an easier introduction to big water crossings (anticipating more to come).
Both safely across, we sat there for a snack and stretched our wet clothes out in the sun to dry. Deuces appeared on the other side of the shore. He took off his hikers and waded across. Judging by the look on his face, he thought the water was cold too. The joys of being a male. When he’d made it to our bank, he slung off his pack and crawled to dry ground and warmth. The three of us sat there a while soaked, cold, and laughing.
It was the first day in a while we wouldn’t be climbing over a pass, but we intended to set ourselves up for one. Selden. We’d hiked ahead of Deuces after Evolution Creek, but all discussed camping at a certain mile marker before Selden, just by an alpine lake. Basecamp and I continued to hike up and down. It had become so hot that a part of me wished we were still soaking wet from the creek crossing earlier.
At a mile from camp, we crossed prime campsites under a tree canopy atop dry sand. We also saw what looked to be lion prints in the sand as well and decided it best we continued on with the original plan.
There was a slippery lake outlet cutting through the trail that led to Selden, and our camp. It was cold there, and the last thing we wanted was to make camp with soaked shoes. Some carefully placed footing on logs and rocks over small fish in the waters below had us dry and at camp. It was quiet. No wind and no sound of water, but we had an entire lake beside us to quench our thirst. Behind us were eerie woods, overgrown and damp. In front of us was a massive lake mirroring the mountain at its shores.
Deuces didn’t show up that night. We assumed he’d camped at the sites we’d found so tempting a mile back, but also hoped he wouldn’t have any unexpected visitors overnight. Despite not knowing where exactly he was, and the eerie forest behind us, we passed out in a state of exhausted jetlag from Muir and the past few days.
Day 77 // May 21, 2022 // Trail Miles: 18.50 / GPS Recorded Miles: 19.50 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 882.20
~Destination // Selden Pass~
The morning came quickly, but we were also excited to start our day and get over Selden Pass while the snow was consolidated. It had been below freezing at our elevation overnight, so we were optimistic. While she continued to pack up our things, I stepped off into the woods to take care of the ‘morning business’ when I heard footsteps approaching. Of course, it was Deuces, and he’d camped where we thought he had, but there he was! While we continued packing, he hiked on. I assumed we likely wouldn’t see him again that day.
The snow was hard as a rock. It was amazing. With our Kahtoola crampons on, we easily made quick work of the pass on snow-covered trail, and some snow drifts outlining the mountainside. It was a great start to a day that would turn into a steaming pile of hot, wet garbage.
As the sun rose, the snow conditions turned abysmal. We post-holed and slid about. Our shoes and socks were sopping. Up until this point we’d post-holed, yes, but it had felt more like we were just “passing through” the terrain and passes. Now, we were practically swimming through it. Flooded out meadows lined the way, and submerged rock-hops teased us with the hopes of a drier trail. Basecamp was reaching her limit in both patience, and stress. She hated water crossings, and there we were stuck in the middle of ‘the sop’.
A few miles from the top of Silver Pass, the trail rolled up rock and stone. It gave us hope that the rest of the trail would be dry until we made camp, but we then remembered that stone doesn’t absorb water well. When we reached the N. Fork of Mono Creek, water roared through and off rock downhill. The drop was significant. If a hiker was knocked off their footing and sent down, it could have meant an early end to their hike, or worse. We scanned several hundred feet up and downstream, but there was nothing close enough for us to walk or jump on. We had to go through.
It was raging fast enough that Basecamp turned around and said, “I need to hold your hand for this one. I don’t want it to sweep me away.”
We held hands across, and I stood between her and the downhill surge of water. It took a few steps for our pace to sync up, but we made it across without incident. No sooner had we stooped to rest from the crossing than we hit another one, completely unexpected. Silver Pass Creek. It was listed as a ‘stream’ in the FarOut app, and there were no ominous comments about it, but when we got there, it was a waterfall just above a sheer drop. Basecamp attempted to rock hop along the falls, and drop, but fell in. She was soaked to her stomach. I kept my Crocs on and attempted to walk across the flat section where the trail was, but also fell in and soaked the dry shoes I carried. I was pissed. I cursed into the open air a few times.
Out of the ‘stream’ we climbed a steep staircase that switch-backed uphill. The switchback was completely covered in slippery snow, and a fall would have sent us a hundred feet downhill into Mono Creek. We had to climb up. At a good 60-degree angle, we were hauling ourselves up the cliffside with trees and dug-in fingers. I was livid.
“This is complete bullshit!” I yelled out in her direction, “We aren’t supposed to be here during the thaw, that’s why we listened to Ned and started the Sierras May 1st. What the hell! Where is our ‘secret season’ and ‘Sierra Cement’?”
In that moment I felt she could read my mind.
“Let’s camp here,” she said, “We’re both exhausted and those water crossings have mentally wiped me out.”
And so, we camped in a clearing, partially dry, with the roar of water surrounding us. Hanging our clothes in various positions on nearby trees, we simply hoped they wouldn’t freeze overnight, but that’s the gamble you take when you choose not to sleep with your clothes or shoes. The Sierras were taking their toll on us, but a quote from another hiker echoed in the back of my mind.
“It still beats another day in the office.” ~ Permafrost
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