The one where we remember the Sierras

The weeks spent in the Sierra Nevada were the hardest and most beautiful experiences of my life. With the highest snowpack in recorded history, I feel so lucky to have seen her beauty in a way that few will ever experience.

I asked my fellow hikers who I shared this grand adventure with to write down some of their experiences in these mountains. Because just like the ice axe in my hand, the crampons on my feet, and the stubbornness in my heart – they were the reason I made it through.

Bear from Germany. 22 years old.

Bear from Germany

“I can do it, I can do it, I can do it.“ That’s what I kept repeating to myself as we climbed straight up a steep 200m ice slope. It was around 3am and we were attempting to ascend Mount Whitney. We started hiking at 11pm the evening before and were aiming to reach the summit by sunrise. As soon as we reached the base of the mountain, the most challenging part of the ascent began. Almost everything was covered in icy snow which made it difficult to traverse along the switchbacks. So, we decided it would probably be best to climb straight up, and that’s what we did.

I remember feeling very exhausted at some point during the climb, but I knew I can’t rest as I found myself hanging in the middle of that steep icy slope. I looked up and saw Golden, Snowmobile and Spliffy. Looking down, I could see Snooze and Guardian and I wondered how they were feeling. Suddenly fear began to arise in me, but I managed to pull myself together and stay calm. I continued climbing up and successfully reached the end of the Ice Wall. Throughout the climb, I felt fearful and powerful at the same time. This experience has taught me a lot! I find it fascinating how the mindset can have such an impact in challenging moments. I’ve learned that when I believe I can’t go further anymore, I definitely haven’t reached my limit yet and there’s always room for pushing beyond.

Guardian from Czech Republic. 30 years old.

Guardian from Czech Republic

“Crrr, crrr” my alarm’s waking me up. I’d like to turn it off or at least move it. But I won’t because I know the rest of our group will be waiting for me. It’s dark and cold. I feel like I’ve only slept a few hours. It’s 1:50am. After dark, I find my headlamp and turn on the red light. I quickly open my sleeping bag and put on my waterproof jacket, wind pants and my waterproof socks that are still wet and cold from the day before. I keep the hat I slept in. I take out the water filter from my sleeping bag and put it to my fanny pack, which I put in there to keep it from freezing, and my electronics so the batteries don’t run out so quickly. And I start packing my stuff into my backpack. I’m cold, thirsty and hungry. I take a drink of water that’s very cold. I put on my shoes, which are stiff with frost, and pack up my tent. While packing, I watch the others to see if everyone is keeping up. We have a game. Whoever is last after a pre-arranged time – carries a rock that weighs over a pound for a good part of the day.

Eventually we all meet in the middle of the campsite and someone plays a song that pumps energy into our veins and we head out into the darkness of the forest to find the trail that is somewhere under the snow. No one knows exactly what we’re going to see today. All we know is that somewhere ahead of us are snow-bridges over rivers, steep slopes covered in snow, sun cups, hills to glissade, clear and cold lakes to swim in, and many unexpected events that will move us forward in our lives. Luckily, it’s not every man for himself, but we’re here with a group of amazing people we can count on. And that’s why we make it worth it every day – despite all the hardships.

Golden from Australia. 29 years old.

Golden from Australia

The day in the Sierras I chose to write about was heading over Forrester Pass. To me, this day was huge, other than the optional Whitney side quest, this was the first major obstacle we faced through the Sierras. I remember the anticipation leading up to this day – I had seen carefully cropped videos of hikers traversing the dreaded ice chute and was quite frankly pretty freaked out. I was worried I would get to the chute, freeze and not be able to continue. This really played on my mind leading up to the pass and I’m sure some of the others in our crew felt the same.

On the morning in question we had an alpine start (2am or so) and started walking the few miles to the base of the pass. We ended up getting there much earlier than expected at about 5am, mainly due to the well consolidated snow and the freezing conditions – meaning we had to keep good pace to stay warm. We donned our crampons and pulled out our ice axes and started up the switchbacks leading to the ice chute. Nothing overly challenging leading up to it but we all had our minds on the final boss, being of course the Forrester ice chute. With a bee in my bonnet I got there first and when I saw the chute I stopped in my tracks – “is this it?”. Not to say it wasn’t difficult or that we didn’t need to be careful, but I think I had built it up to be so sketchy that when I saw it I was flooded with relief. The snow was firm, the boot pack and ice axe holes well established and the traverse was much shorter than I imagined. When the rest of the group arrived they all felt the same and we all breathed a communal sigh of relief before getting serious again to do the traverse.

Well – we all made it across in one piece, celebrated and congratulated each other and then walked the last 100m or so up to the pass. We opened little bottles of fireball and cheered to our accomplishments. The group also sang me Happy Birthday (I unofficially delayed my birthday celebrations a week to celebrate on Forrester) and I told them I could not imagine a better place with better people to celebrate my birthday with. Before we started the descent I turned to Sara, gave her a hug, and as we looked at the spectacular view I said to her -“can you believe we made it here on our own two feet all the way from Mexico?” It was an emotional moment staring out at the mountains and we both agreed at that time that we didn’t want to just do SOME of the Sierras. We wanted to do the whole goddamn thing! 

Snooze from the US. 25 years old.

Snooze from the US

It’s hard to describe in words how this stretch made me feel, how my body ached but yet felt more alive than ever. Being on the brink of tears and then an hour later glissading down with the biggest smile on my face. How most mornings I woke up in the worst mood, granted it was 2am, but how in the afternoon I would be ecstatic about plunging into cold rivers and semi-frozen lakes. It was a time filled with the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. Some of my fondest memories of this stretch was summiting Mt. Whitney. This was the most grueling day I’ve ever had on trail (yes to this day it still is) my new boots were hurting my ankles so much I wanted to cry from the pain, but step by step we made it. We ascended in the dark, losing the boot track where the switchbacks were and decided to climb straight up. Using our ice axes we climbed kicking our crampons into the firm icy snow. In the moment I was terrified, my heels were sliding out of my boots as I hadn’t properly tied the laces up (not done out of laziness but done because of the amount of pain I was in). I sucked it up, took three deep breathes, and tied them properly and kept ice climbing.

There were many “ah-ha-I-feel-like-a-mountaineer-moments” while hiking in the Sierra Nevada, but summiting Mt. Whitney was one of the top moments I felt like a true mountaineer. Seeing the bright headlamps above me and the focus everyone had to make it to the top and get in a better position to continue on and find the trail. It’s truly amazing. I felt super human. After Mt. Whitney I learned that my boots were not going to cut it, and thankfully my crocs were worn and put to good use. The only problem was that I was a dummy and sent my micro spikes home thinking that my crampons would be enough. If only I knew. With all the self-doubt and thought cycle of whether I am capable enough, my supportive trail family was always there, and in this dire need they let me use their micro spikes. Two people in the group would take turns each morning only wearing one micro spike.

This was just one reoccurring instance that I felt supported in, and there were many more from the constant check-ins, sharing of highs and lows each day, and sharing a tent with me when the nights got too cold. I was able to continue hiking the stretch from Cottonwood Pass to Bishop Pass in my crocs and with my team’s micro spikes for over 80 miles. It’s all thanks to them that I made it. That I kept my sanity throughout the entire sierras. Despite some of the hardest physically and mentally demanding challenges, I know I always had my trail family to lean on. I wouldn’t have wanted to do the Sierras with anyone else.” 

Spliffy from Czech Republic. 35 years old.

Spliffy from Czech Republic

Spliffy needs a spliffy!



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Comments 1

  • Nephi : Oct 31st

    Thanks for the late-season posts. I get post-trail depression in a small way as the PCTers finish their hikes and blogs. Enjoying the pics from your journey.


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