White Fork Creek Crossing: A Dangerous Situation
My name is Lauren, aka Woodchuck, and I use the term thru-hiking blogger loosely, since I am currently over 800 miles into my northbound journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, and this is the first piece I’m publishing. HYOH! While I have no excuse for why I haven’t written, I have a damn good reason for writing now – I worry
Right now I’m camping on the south side of White Fork Creek (pictured above) at mile 801 after watching my fiancé and hiking partner, Henri (Rooster) just barely make it across safely. He suggested I wait until morning to cross, as the current will be a bit lower by then. I am trying to distract myself but the sound of the river, along with the danger that is separating me from the person that makes me comfortable, is too overbearing and stressful. This is not a campground or tent site. I am tucked under a tree near piles of rocks on the only flat space I could find, right by the water. I put on headphones and look trough my photos for a distraction.
In addition to the river crossing, or maybe because of the river crossing, I am thinking about the people in my life who keep telling me to be safe and stay safe and have safe travels and I hear that but there’s a part of me that’s realizing that my safety out here isn’t always in my control. How safe can I truly be if I’m nowhere near town, with no cellphone reception, and voluntarily walking across a dangerous creek, or getting severe vertigo on the edge of an ice and snow covered pass? I promise that I am doing what I can, and I am. I’m hiking in a group. I’m unbuckling my hip belt, facing my feet upstream and focusing more than I ever have on every step each and every time. I’m using my micro spikes and ice axe and mapping out each foot placement on this 6 inch wide traverse. Because for the first time in my life, I’m in a situation where my life depends on it. But being as safe as possible – is that actually going to save me? Maybe. And maybe is a questionable answer but it’s an honest one. Do I feel safe? Sometimes. Again, I’m just being honest.
What I can confidently state is that I’m impressed with myself. Each time I successfully ford a river or climb over icy peaks, I feel strong, grateful, lucky – have your pick at the adjective (I prefer all 3). Even more than feeling impressed, though, is the complete exhaustion. If I’m not getting through these obstacles I write about, it’s the alternative of not getting through them. She was just feeling weak. She was unlucky. It could happen to any of us. And no, I don’t feel like I am overreacting because injuries, near-death experiences and death have all happened to many experienced hikers on this trail.
“Yes,” some of you fellow thru-hikers will say, “but it’s more dangerous to drive a car or cross the street”. And you do have the statistics in your favor. In fact, I’ve justified my lifestyle choices with those same lines. But in my current state, I don’t feel there is much truth there. Crossing a street or driving a car, even after knowing people who died in both situations, is not nearly as paralyzing of an experience as being alone in the wilderness. The anticipation of danger can be felt in every cell of my body.
Next will come the phrase, “Well, if I’m going to die, this is how i want to go.” And again, I’d like to truly be connected to that overused statement, but I’m not. Simply reciting those words amongst other hikers at the bar in town is not an accurate environment to truly assess your life. Funny how that’s always said in a comfortable setting, but never used as a reminder when someone is falling and needs to use an ice axe to self-arrest.
As you can tell, I’m worried. It’s midnight and I should mention that I’ve only started writing (on the notes app on my phone) after being woken up by a panic attack. If you know what that feels like, it’s like having a heart attack – this time, in the middle of the mountains. While I am familiar with what’s happening, I feel crushed. The space that usually brings me the most comfort and the greatest activity to combat my anxiety is currently its cause.
Alright, so. Deep breath. It’s time to admit, to the disappointment of the internet trolls (and admittedly my own ego), I am for the first time opening myself up to the idea of skipping ahead at our next road crossing.
Currently in the Sierras, I look back on my idea of what this section would be like. I was nervous and excited and I felt brave and prepared. I didn’t decide to skip this section when random people in towns as far back as Idyllwild told me I was crazy for attempting to hike this year. I didn’t skip when the PCTA put out warnings about the severity of the snow and creeks. I didn’t skip ahead when the word “impassible” was the most commonly used word on the Facebook pages. If I do wish to skip ahead, it is because of my own experience and on my own time. It took this situation to recognize that there’s more to life than my pride and a title of thru-hiker. Gasp! Eye roll! I said it.
Having said all of this, if you are comfortable with mountaineering and strong currents, it’s not impassable, and I don’t wish at all to discourage anyone from rising to the challenge that they are comfortable with. I can feel that I am getting close to my own personal limit. I am seeing the beauty and fragility of my own life in a few specific moments over the past few days. And if I’m not learning my limitations and how to listen to myself out here, then what am I even accomplishing?
In a very short amount of time, my alarm will go off. I will wake up, pack up my belongings, and hopefully ford the creek safely with some other hikers. I cannot wait for the next couple of hours to just be over. Whatever happens, I want this to be posted. Too often, I write when I’m in town; where my reflection of the trail is skewed by either the beer that I’m drinking or the bland and familiar decor of a motel room. This, on the other hand, is a real time recap of my fears and vulnerability on trail, and it deserves a voice.
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