Monday, June 28, 2010
Meeting Baden Powell
Charmin commented, "There's no bad weather, just bad equipment." Which I thought pretty funny, but she was just repeating a phrase she heard from somewhere else.
"Well, then," I told her, "I might have bad equipment." Which was actually more than she had. At least I had microspikes. Charmin didn't have any traction devices for her shoes.
We were packed and up and ready to go by 8:00 in the morning, and she managed to hitch us a ride before we even got off the front door step of the hotel. The owners of the hotel were getting into their vehicle, and Charmin smiled at them, and they waved us over saying they'd give us a ride to the trailhead. We had expected that we'd need to hitch a ride and were prepared to stand out on the side of the road for who knows how long with our thumbs stuck out to get the five or six miles back to the trailhead. And she nabbed us a ride before we even got three feet out the door! Sweet!
It was time to "meet" Baden Powell, as Charmin would explain. We wouldn't climb the mountain, or conquer the mountain. No, we were going to meet the mountain. For someone who doesn't know English as a first language, Charmin often surprises me with a lot of her word choices. I liked this particular wording. It sounded so elegant and formal, like a handshake with someone you've just been introduced to.
"Yes, let's go meet Baden Powell," I agreed.
From a distance, the mountain looked steep, snow-covered, and nothing short of intimidating. The first few miles of trail just got us to the base of the mountain, then we started following a long series of switchbacks directly up the side of the mountain. It didn't take long before we started seeing the first small patches of snow. About halfway up, the snow started becoming thicker and more problematic, requiring small traverses. We met three day hikers coming down, older men, who told us that they turned back. The snow was just too bad. They did meet another hiker ahead, however, Hurricane, who they thought might have the gusto to make it.
At many of the switchbacks, where the trail turns sharply, thick piles of snow blocked the route, and we found it easier to cut the switchbacks completely and go straight up the slope on dry ground. We'd find where the trail crossed above us, then follow it until snow blocked the way away, then go off trail again to repeat the process.
Which worked pretty well for a mile or so, until finally we reached a point where there was snow as far as the eye could see, just going upwards. There was no more dry ground. There was no more trail to be seen. It was all buried in snow. Everything was buried in snow.
We could see quite a few footprints heading directly up the slope, and we started following them. "As long as we're going upward," I said to Charmin, "we're going in the right direction." The trail, we knew, switchbacked up the mountain along a steep slope. Since the trail was completely invisible, we just started going directly up. No sense bothering with switchbacks that couldn't be seen.
And, after much huffing and puffing, we finally reached the summit, 9399 feet above sea level. We did high fives and took celebratory photos of ourselves, then sat down to rest and eat some snacks. The north-facing slopes were covered in a thick layer of snow down the ridgeline the trail more-or-less followed, while the south-facing slopes were completely and totally devoid of snow. According to our maps, the trail hovered somewhere near the top of the ridge, but along the north-facing, snow-covered slopes, and we decided to do some more cross-country travel along the ridge top on the south-facing slopes without snow instead. Safer and faster that way.
Just as we were picking up our stuff to continue when Argentina reached the summit. He had done this section of trail a couple of times before, he told us, and could help us get through the section. I thought we had been doing pretty fine already, and I was a little annoyed at his showing off. As if we'd be lost and dead if he wasn't for him coming to the rescue. I wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt--maybe he just wants to feel helpful--but it ended up annoying me more than anything, and I hoped he'd blow past us.
We followed the ridgeline, occasionally spotting traces of the trail on the snow-covered side, but sticking to the dry land as much as possible. Argentina hiked fast, blowing past, but then he'd stop to wait for us to catch up.
We introduced ourselves as Green Tortuga and Charmin, and he said, "Wow! I get to meet two celebrities!" My little green turtle stamp is pretty well known by anyone hiking behind me, but Charmin draws a little roll of toilet paper whenever she signs a registry and I guess that's making her a celebrity among the folks behind us on the trail as well. She seemed pleased to think that someone would consider her a 'celebrity' for drawing rolls of toilet paper.
At one point, a side trail led off to a spring. We didn't need water (we were already surrounded by it!), but Charmin and I stopped to snack here while Argentina tore down the trail following the footprints in the snow. We didn't much care for the snow, however, and so Charmin and I clambered back up to the ridgetop, following the ridge a short ways, where it came back and intersected with the trail. I saw Argentina further down the mountain, stopped, and seemingly waiting for us. Except from my point of view, it didn't actually look like he was on the trail.
"No," he replied. "I think it's over there somewhere," he continued, waving his hands to my left. "I'm going to go over there to look for it, but I didn't want to leave you in the lurch."
I laughed. "No need to do that. I'm on the trail now. It's up here!"
Oh, gosh, if he's our rescuer, we're doomed..... =) He seemed a little embarrassed that we found the trail first. Though admittedly, it was largely by accident, just because we headed to the top of the ridge to avoid the snow. We knew the trail was close, but he didn't realize it was that close!
From the small patches of snow we passed, it looked like we were the first people to travel on this section of trail the entire day. At least a dozen people were ahead of us, but it appeared as if every single one of them ended out where Argentina had walked. There were absolutely no fresh footprints on that half-mile or so next section of trail we covered.
The trail eventually started descending from the ridgeline, and once again we found ourselves hiking through more and more snow. Progress slowed down, but we plodded along. Late in the day, we reached Little Jimmy Spring, where we found Hurricane resting.
Hurricane made a campfire for us. Near sunset, Running Wolf came into camp, seemingly glad to have seen people. He actually hiked out from Wrightwood, tackling nearly ten miles more of walking than any of the rest of us, and he seemed wore out. He set up his tent, then asked where the water source was.
"You should have walked right past it," we told him. "There are big old signs and everything pointing to the spring."
He had seen the signs, but didn't realize that that was the water source. At least if he didn't want to melt snow. Then he looked around.... "Which direction did I come in from?"
Charmin and I found this particularly amusing. We wondered about his sense of direction after watching him pass by our window a dozen or more times the day before. But we wrote it off to his being exhausted. Were exhausted from the snow travel, and we did a full ten miles less than Running Wolf did. I'm not sure I'd have been capable of covering the distance he did.
So we met Baden Powell. He was a bit grumpy and rough around the corners, but nowhere near as bad as the rumors swirling around Wrightwood would have led us to believe.
Posted by Ryan at 5:00 PM