Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Pinchot Pass: It can bring a grown man to his knees....
Hurricane and Shang-hi woke early and left camp before me. As I was finishing up and about ready to leave, two young girls walked past camp. They reminded me vaguely of the two girls I saw walking up Kearsarge Pass when I was hiking down naked, but that couldn't possibly be right. That was two days ago. It seemed impossible that I caught up to them so quickly.
"So who are you?" I asked.
And indeed, it was Fidget and Anne, the first two people who had caught me hiking naked. It seemed clear that they didn't recognize me with my clothes on, and I nervously introduced myself again. "I'm Green Tortuga."
Anne exclaimed, "Oh! We saw your wee-wee!"
Wee-wee? Really? That's not a word that inspires confidence.
I learned that Anne was just visiting Fidget for a short section of the trail, and that they decided to take a zero day directly on the trail which is how I was able to catch up to them so quickly out of town. We talked about Hike Naked Day, and Fidget and Anne said that they really wanted to try it as well, and after meeting me, they spent all day talking each other out of it. Fidget called my naked hiking "honorable"--admittedly not the first word that comes to mind when I see a naked hiker, but I wasn't going to complain. Yes, what I did was honorable!
But I was wrong. We were all wrong. It was the worst pass to date. It wasn't a dangerous pass--the trail didn't go along the steep, scary-looking slopes. The problem with this pass was postholing. The snow was thick and soft, and with each step, I'd sink in up to my waist and have to dig myself out. Each exhausting step increased my frustration. I wanted to yell. I wanted to cry. I fell to my knees and started crawling at one point. The increased surface area of my body while crawling helped reduce the postholing problems (the keyword being reduced the problems--not eliminate them).
I tried to follow the official PCT trail to the top of Pinchot Pass while Hurricane and Shang-hi veered off and went up the right side of the valley where they felt the snow wasn't as deep. They were probably right in hindsight, but the official PCT looked like it might hit a lot of the rocky outcrops on the left side of the valley so I stuck with that.
At one snow-free rock outcropping I reached, I finally stood up and saw the trail. I could actually see the trail, after losing it over an hour before, and I shouted down to Shangi-hi and Hurricane, "I found the trail!" The two were small specks at the bottom of the valley, and I heard them call back, but I couldn't make out their words. Then I heard another voice--a girl's voice--also call out from the bottom.
There was a third hiker down there, but I couldn't identify who it was. The only two girls I knew about on the trail was Fidget and Anne, but they were ahead of me, and there was only one girl below. I wondered who it was, and shouted out, "Who is that?" But I couldn't hear an answer.
I postholed again, using my trekking pole to help push myself out, when SNAP! My trekking pole broke in two. I cursed it and proceeded to dig myself out with the half pole now in my hands.
"Yeah! I saw that!" He wasn't sure if I had just postholed and was trying to dig myself out or if I was actually crawling across the snow.
"Oh, I was crawling. Definitely crawling."
To Fidget, I asked, "What happened to Anne?"
After climbing over Glen Pass, Anne decided that this trail was too scary, too intense, and too insane to continue. She quit. Probably thinking something like, "You thru-hikers are f#*@ing INSANE!" I didn't realize that there was even an option to quit somewhere along this part of the trail, but I guess there was. So Fidget was now hiking alone, or at least following us up Pinchot Pass.
So I attached my ship to Fidget. It wasn't really a formal agreement or anything, but rather the two of us just took off from the top of Pinchot Pass at around the same time, and both of us continued to posthole for miles more on the other side of the pass slowing us down to similar paces. We'd call out to each other anytime either of us spotted the trail peeking out from the snow.
The trail passed by Marjorie Lake, so naturally I took lots of photos of Marjorie's Lake. =)
We eventually got out of the bulk of the snow. The snow never really left completely--patches of it still lingered on the trail--but the postholing finally came to an end and more of the trail was exposed than covered and we went down the mountain.
We crossed a couple of knee-deep, fast-moving streams, and Fidget offered me one of her trekking poles to help me keep my balance while crossing, which was very helpful.
We hiked upstream, looking for the log that could get us across safely. We finally found it, but the river had risen so high, it was now streaming over the log. And even then, the log only crossed the second half of the river. It was sketchy, no matter how we looked at it. Fidget seemed fearless, though, and all but jumped into the water to get across while I was still 'waterproofing' my gear.
Knowing that there was a very good chance my gear would get wet, I put my camera in a Ziplock bag, inside a second waterproof bag, deep in my pack. I protected my maps, wallet, and electronic devices similarly. Fidget had nearly made it to the other side before I was even ready to start the crossing.
I stepped tentatively into the water--ice cold water, freshly melted snow--and the water became waist deep within seconds. A log in water, just out of reach, tantalized me, and I tried to reach for it. I reached, I grabbed, and the small log shifted, throwing me off balance. I was about to be swept away. I was sure I was a split second from being swept away, but somehow I grabbed onto the root of a nearby tree and steadied myself, pulling myself out of the water and standing on dry ground in the middle of the river, heart thumping so loudly it drowned out the sound of the rushing water.
I looked up at Fidget, watching me from the far side of the river, and gave her a thumbs up. I was okay. For now, at least. There was still the other half of the river to contend with. She urged me to cross on the submerged log. I worried about crossing on a submerged log. It was wet, with fast moving water flowing over it, and I worried my feet would slip if I tried to cross on it. But Fidget crossed okay, and she shouted to me that it wasn't as bad as it looked, so I went for it--another hair-raising, adrenaline-packed crossing.
We continued hiking, and I told her, "The trail is bad and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in!"
She thought a moment, and asked, "Is that from The Cremation of Sam McGee?"
Well, yes, it was. I was impressed that she could pick out such an obscure line from a poem that most people aren't familiar with. Seems that her dad used to read her that poem all the time as a child, though, and she still recognized it.
Fidget and I continued hiking, pushing as close to the snow level as possible. After the postholing misery of today, we both wanted to get up and over Mather Pass as early in the morning as possible when the snow was still frozen and postholing not likely. So we were both incredibly exhausted, but we pushed on a few more miles, getting as close to Mather Pass as possible.
We finally set up camp, on dry ground, surrounded by snow. Fidget commented that I have an usual way of carrying a trekking pole, describing it was "Willie-Wonka-ish." I hadn't ever considered how I held a trekking pole before, but I instantly knew what she meant. I'd hold it with an 'overhand' grip, let it swing freely, and it's not the kind of grip I've ever seen other hikers use. They hold trekking poles in the 'standard' mode, gripping the handles as they were designed to be gripped.
In camp, I always changed into dry camp clothes, and I joked that I guess it didn't matter if I changed clothes in front of Fidget since she'd already seen me naked before. Save me the effort of having to find some place to be modest in my changing, at least, which is kind of a hassle anyhow. There weren't a lot of trees in the area where we camped.
I recited the Robert Service poems for Fidget, then we went to sleep and let our bodies heal from their ordeal. And prepare for the next 12,000+ foot pass we'd be hitting the next morning.....
During the month of August, I'll be participating with Amanda in the Washington Trail Association's Hike-a-Thon. If you haven't already, please consider sponsoring us. (Especially me!) The folks do great work helping to fix up and maintain trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail and help make thru-hikes such as mine possible. If you enjoy reading this blog, consider giving something back to the trails that make it possible. Thanks!
Posted by Ryan at 5:00 PM