Saturday, June 19, 2010

200 miles with snow....

"The mountains are calling and I must go."
 - John Muir

Snow covered and intoxicating the hills, valleys, mountains, and rivers are alive in the Sierra's.  The views from a top ridges, saddles and passes are breathtaking. The lakes below are ice covered with an addicting blue rim amidst the vast white backdrop of sun cups and snow fields. I've never seen snow look so beautiful or rocky cliffs look grand. The smell of trees coming down from a mountain pass is so strong I find myself stopping to breath in.  10 feet away the bark, leaves, and sometimes(if I'm lucky) the dirt becomes new.  The water in the rivers, streams, and creaks runs so clear that purifying water is pointless.  Remoteness is extreme, just walking in the vast white landscape transforms me into a hermit.

I'm sitting in the Mammoth Lakes Library.  There are 6 other hikers with me each blogging and trying to catch up on emails.  The past 200 miles have been the hardest and longest days of this hike.   I've never worked so hard or been so exhausted for a such a long time in my life. I'm not exaggerating and I don't even know where to begin.  Snow is not only physically exhausting but mentally.... it's a killer.  Leaving Kennedy Meadows I have been hiking with Mike, a city guy from PA who is easily frustrated and angered.  Hiking the PCT is not a dream for him... it's something to keep him busy after he was laid off.  I have little patience for dealing with the emotions of others and I enjoy spending much of my day hiking alone but camping with others.  Hiking with Mike is trying.  I am NOT a climber.  I take my time on the uphills and relish in the flat and down hill stretches.  The Sierra's are dangerous, there is no path, no trail, only snow and rocks. Navigating is critical. Paying attention to your surrounding is imperative. No one hikes alone.  ...Which makes it important to hike with others who walk at your pace.  Mike and I ... do not have similar paces. For the past 200 miles I would say 150 of those have been snow/ice covered. Having never walked on more than 10 feet of snow in my life, I take my time.  This frustrates Mike and often times I get up to the top of a mountain, pass, saddle, or hill to find him waiting with a look of complete impatience.  This is not my idea of a good climb... a good hike, or good company.

I attempted Mt. Whitney but was unsuccessful in completing the ascent.  I woke up around 4am, packed up, hid my extra gear near the ranger's station, and left Crabtree Meadows ready to conquer the world.  I made it around Timberline Lake, over snow fields, past Guitar Lake, up over rough boulders, and to the edge of the first switch back that abruptly stopped at a sheet of ice covered rocks. I was alone, every other hiker(12 -14 of them) had gone ahead.  I've never felt so singular in my life.  I sat on the last boulder of the switchback and looked straight wasn't going to happen. I hated stopping.  My motto to this point had been, "I'm a real woman.  I can do anything."  ... and I found a limit.  I discovered a difference between failure and disappointment within myself.  Not being able to keep climbing doesn't compare to failing a test or disappointing a supervisor because you didn't capitalize a word.... or abbreviate correctly.  This is all you...this is your dream... this is your day to conquer a mountain... and it didn't happen because you couldn't do it.  To Perserver no matter the conditions... Fail.  The 5ish miles back down to Crabtree Meadows was slow.  Zorro, a fellow hiker, found me on a small dry section of the meadow packing up.  He knew I hadn't made it and offered to climb Mt. Whitney with me tomorrow.  He had been where I was on other ascents...climbing alone straight up boulders (with no trail) for the first time had stopped him before.  I didn't take him up on his offer, but I did ask if I he would climb Forester Pass(the following day's hike) with me(13200 ft in elevation / the highest point on the PCT).  He said yes.

The next day was hard, he taught me how to walk in snow to avoid post-holing.  The Israel Gears hike with Zorro and they waited for me too.  They walked behind me up Forester Pass. ... I don't know how to describe climbing a pass.... so here goes.  Imagine a wall of snow and ice... with patches of rock sticking out. Walk to the base...boulder straight up a rocky patch to find footprints at the top.  The footprints lead straight up... it's like climbing a slippery ladder to the next rocky patch.  Repeat this for at least an hour with an ice axe in one hand or two trekking poles and a 30-35 lb pack.  It's hard, it hurts, and it's never over. The Israel Gears and Zorro were amazingly patient with me.  Bouldering was difficult and I couldn't always see a foot hold because a rock would be blocking my vision.  One of the Israel guys would move my foot to a safe place. ...Bouldering is harder than climbing the ice ladders.  Rocks fall and tumble...I've slid down more rocky patches than ice.  There are scratches all over my legs...  Getting to the top section of Forester Pass I was once again sliding rocks down the cliff to tumble down at least 1,000 feet below me.  A tipy rock was in the way of a good hand hold so I picked it up, threw it down the cliff saying a few cuss words.  The Israel Gears below laughed.  When we got to the top... I looked over the edge... wow it was steep.  The whole walk there I hadn't looked around, just concentrated on walking in snow efficiently...seeing everything from that height was breathtaking.  I couldn't have made it through that day without the Israel Gears and Zorro.  The hike down to the tree line I post holed between rocks hip deep, face planted, tripped, slid down snow covered cliffs, and each time someone was beside me to help dig me out of a snow hole, or pick my pack up after face planting so standing was easier. Ishmal would step up 3 feet with no problem... he would wait the 5 seconds for me to reach the step up,  hold out his hand out and pull me up the giant step.  ... I've never been or felt so appreciative toward other people.  At the end of the day, 18 miles later, I gave them all hugs... and my eyes were watered up a little. They are kind people and I love them.  They gave help that I needed and didn't make me feel bad about accepting.

 After Forester Pass Mike and I headed into Lone Pine. The stop was needed.  The failed Mt. Whitney attempt had mentally knocked me down. Leaving Lone Pine we picked up to other hikers... very different than Mike and I.  Slim and Sunseeker.  The 8 days between Lone Pine and here... have been hard.  I saw Mike, Slim, and Sunseeker for 6 days straight without seeing anyone else.  The Sierra's whopped our asses...  We did a pass a day starting with Kearsarge, then Glen, Pinchot, Mather, Muir, Selden, and Silver.  Passes are hard work and I've never been the slowest in a group before until now.  I think what made the last 8 days the hardest was the company. I've never been around a group so unexcited about the surroundings.  I love the hiking, scenery, physical and mental difficulty that accompanies each day and thru-hiking as a whole.  The attitudes of these other hikers was negative, angry, and pissed off.  It's so hard to enjoy a new beauty, especially my new love of the cold outdoors with this type of company. BTW... Mike is thinking about leaving the trail.

Even though it's hard, I love the snow.  I'm fairly sunburnt all over with cuts and scraps from post-holing every where on my legs. I should have mentioned what post-holing is... it's when you step in snow, and it gives and your leg drops down.  Sometimes it stops ankle or knee deep but other times there may be rocks below the snow... and there might be a gap between them and lucky you... stepped right in between.  These usually get me to my hip ... once up to my waist.  Until post-holing hip deep I'd never used any upper body muscles on this trip... needless to say I've become good at lifting myself out of a snow hole, or digging my feet out below me.  I've learned to slide down snow slopes/steep cliffs with my ice axe!! It's amazing amounts of fun but I've had a few close calls when I didn't have the ice axe handy and I slid down to a rocky straight drop.  Usually some has been nearby and they've been able to help me out.

Hmmmm, I have more to write but not enough time to get my town chores done.  I need new shoes, more sunscreen, snacks for the next hike...and I need to catch up on my journalling.  I haven't decided where to go after this.  Most people follow the PCT through Tuolumne Meadows then on to Bridgeport... but I'm thinking of side tripping into Yosemite Valley and doing other trails up to Bridgeport.  I loved the remoteness of the John Muir Wilderness as well as Kings Canyon National Park.  I've been to Yosemite 2 or 3 times before always having done short day hikes.  I think it would be enjoyable to see more of Yosemite's beauty on foot rather than out of a car window. It would also give me a chance to hike on my schedule.

I miss everyone...

I sent another camera memory card home so my mum should be putting some more pictures up!!


  1. way to go! keep up the great work. you are getting it done! dg

  2. Emily,
    Wow you are doing a great job, pictures look amazing, I would like to be there.
    Big Hugs,
    Armando Diego