The mountains are rotting
That’s what they say in Alaska when the heavy melt comes and it happens right now in the Sierra Nevada. At least Cpt. Phantastic told us that.
Into the unknown
The last eight days might have been the hardest and most exciting in my life so far. We managed to do the so said impossible and push through from Mammoth Lakes to Sonora Pass.
The extreme amounts of snow are melting extremely fast right now and we managed to make it across the rivers just in time. Let me say one thing first: no, we did not swim across a single creek because we were lucky and also did our homework. But let me start at the beginning of our trip, the 13th of June.
We were a group of three hikers: Nasty Cheese, Karate Kid, and me, Refill. We hitched to the Mammoth Trail Head the night before after waiting out another storm for 1.5 days in town. As always, we started at 4:00 a.m. We passed Red’s Meadow, which is still covered under a thick layer of snow. A strange thing, to see bus stations, all the toilets and camping furniture and nobody else there, except us to use it.Follow our journey on Instagram!
We knew that another group of three that we wanted to hike with started that day, but they would start at Agnew Meadows and be ten miles ahead of us every day. We accidentally even met them on the first day but then camped in different places. But because we were able to do four miles more than we planned, the thought came up to catch them. The first day ended with rain for us, luckily only the second rain, since we started in Kennedy Meadows South.
But because of the rain, the snow was still soft in the morning and stole us some time off our approach to first Island and afterward Donohue Pass. The peak of Donohue was incredible: Pikas, Marmots, and Chipmunks greeted us, as we looked down – on a dry Lyell Canyon?! Well, not everything was dry, but the bottom of the valley would be! We were already lucky with the last crossings because we still found snow bridges and now we saw, that Lyell Fork was also crossable on snow. That night, we camped on a dry spot, laying in the sun and being happy to not freeze, while having dinner.
The next morning, because we expected even more dry trail all through Tuolumne Meadows, we decided to catch up with the group of three ahead of us, because we were now just four miles behind them and the upcoming stretch through Yosemite to Sonora Pass would have many more creek crossings.
Yosemite NP just for us
Tuolumne was a ghost town. Even though it was almost snow free, but the pass road was still closed. Except for Marmots and Deer that didn’t care about us, we didn’t see a single person. We had the whole park for ourselves. While walking, we saw that there were many unfinished houses without roofs. But soon, my inner civil engineer realized, that there were new stairways in front of the cabins and that the roofs must have collapsed under the weight of the snow, and also that some of the walls even fell over because of that.
Soon we had the first wet crossing over Delaney Creek, which was very easy, as we just forded it shin-deep in a meadow. First fears awoke, after not finding a snow bridge and seeing this area in full spring mode.
Tuolumne River looked more like a lake, not like a river. Its banks flood nearby forests, the river being about 30-50 yards wide (but don’t nail me down on that number).
The next shock came at the bridges of the Tuolumne River: the first two bridges were over water, but the last stretch which is just a dam, was overflown by the river. The second bridge was even worse. The bank was so overflown, that we had to ford through hip-deep water on the trail.
My rules for crossing creeks
Let me throw my fording rules in really quick: fast flow: no Ford above the knees. slow flow: no Ford above the hips.
There was no flow because Tuolumne was so full, that the water could not run off. So we were fine there.
In the evening, we finally met the other group, and very quickly it was clear, that we would go through as a group of six now. So Mamacita, Magpie, and Coffeemachine joined us, or better: we joined them.
Six people crossing rivers
So we were going as a team of six from now on and were lucky to do that because the first big crossings were coming on day four of our trip. We had to cross five creeks that day.
Every one of the first three crossings cost us an additional hour. We had to scout upstream of McCabe Creek until we found a proper snow bridge. That bridge might be gone by now and I would have no idea how to cross that thing any other way. It is too wild right now.
Return Creek was even wilder. One of our members almost got swept away from the current, so I decided not to cross, as soon, as fast water is going over my knees. With a bit of patience, we found a meadow, about one mile upstream, where the stream was wide enough to cross stress-free in knee-deep water.
Spiller was a bit easier. With the help of snow bridges and logs, we could cross it dry.
We did every crossing like that: first look for logs, or a wide meadow. If there are none, we go upstream to look for snow bridges. If we have to cross wet, I have two rules: fast running water not higher than my knees, alow or no moving water not above my hips.
No sketchy stuff allowed. Don’t risk anything
With these rules, we had zero gnarly crossings. Also, patience is key: Falls Creek for example is no creek right now, it is a running river. The whole valley is underwater right now. Every tree hole was filled with running water. We just followed that river to its origin, the Dorothy Lake area, and said that we would even walk around the lakes to avoid swimming. But luckily, we found snow bridges from MM 995 on. We even crossed two creeks by building our own bridges with branches, which was a fun activity.
But let me come back to the surroundings: Yosemite NP is about to wake up. The whole Park is in heavy Melt. The South faced Trails were snow free, we had dry trail almost every day plus some dry camps. The creeks are running wild. Small seasonal streams on FarOut are now wild rushing creeks with three sidearms. The bears are awake, we saw many fresh tracks. Whenever there is a free patch, nature declares it to Spring- or Summer zone.
The final push
On Sunday, after we crossed the last big water, Falls Creek, we crossed the last big pass on our way out of the High Sierra, Dorothy Lake Pass. black, snow-free mountains were welcoming us in the distance. Only one hour later, we celebrated our third big milestone that day: 1000 Miles Northbound on the PCT.
What a feeling. We never expected to make it that far. Nobody had the guts to dream about this distance in this record-breaking year. To finalize this perfect day, we found a beautiful sunny spot on a dry spot. The wind was hard and cold, but we didn’t care. After several nights on snow, every dry spot seems like a paradise and your own personal island of peace.
Can this be real?
The last day of our stretch to Sonora Pass started like the day before ended: we were lucky. The crossings were covered underneath snow, the strong climb uphill was fairly easy and what we expected, came true: we had so much dry trail on our way north. Still icy patches, still snow. And very cold wind, that let our water freeze in the bottles, but that could not stop us from being stoked and amazed by our achievement. On Tuesday, the 20th of June, at 11:00 a.m., we reached Sonora Pass Road. We could already see cars driving in the distance. The road looked like a black snake, cut into the snowy landscape beneath us. Burgers, people, and contact with our families after eight days of isolation were calling us.
As always, it took us minutes to find hitches and reach Kennedy Meadows North. We are under the top 30, who were able to sign the hiker log. Again, I would love to thank the people before us, who left these helping comments in Farout and also those, who left food steps, where the trail became unclear or sketchy. I am happy, that we researched so much and that our strategy for crossing early worked out so well.
If you plan to cross the Sierra in the same conditions in the upcoming years, let me give you some tips: we planned a max. of 14 miles per day. Plan time for the river crossings. Scouting always cost us an hour, crossing costs time. Be patient and don’t do the next best crossing, just because it is there. Build bridges, if you can. Better leave a wooden trace, than your dead body as a trace. If you plan to go in from Kennedy Meadows South now, DON’T! You are risking your life now. Take extra food for two days, you never know, if you have to do an extra break. Take a satellite device! We sent all our crossings to the group behind us and saved them a lot of time and reduced their risk. You could need that favor too, plus I got a 12-pack of beer for the favor! =D
NEVER risk anything. You are a guest in the Sierra and she decides who is allowed to go in and back out afterward.
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