Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Shoelace Thermometer and Fuller Ridge

May 11: As if to test our mettle, the weather tried to break us. Twice during the night, strong wind gusts blew a stake anchoring down my tarp out and it flapped in the wind, laughing at me. I could hear the gusts before it would strike my tarp--waking up the trees in a blustery fit of rage--then crash down on my fragile tarp. It was a cold wind too, although the severely of the cold didn't strike home for me until after I woke up and found all of my water bottles frozen. Even the ones under the tarp next to me had partially frozen. But it was when I tried to put on my shoes and I found that the shoelaces had frozen solid that I knew it was a very cold night. I don't know how cold it got--I don't carry a thermometer, but even after I tied my shoelaces, they stuck up in strange angles, still frozen solid. As they thawed and drooped throughout the morning, I started referring to them as my "shoelace thermometer."

We packed up camp then headed out to the dreaded Fuller Ridge. Fuller Ridge is a steep, north-facing slope that was covered in severe amounts of snow. Or so we had heard. Fuller Ridge is what was striking fear into thru-hikers everywhere. Many thru-hikers, scared by the stories of dread and doom, chose to do an alternate road walk out of Idyllwild to avoid it. Today, however, was our day to conquer Fuller Ridge. We were still a couple of miles short of the ridge itself, but there was still plenty of snow to keep our route-finding skills in tip-top shape. As we left camp, we spotted a few hikers who apparently got a very early start to the day, including Mad Hatter and Tomer which really surprised me given how late in the day they started the day before. I didn't expect to see them so soon, but I was glad to know they had made it thus far okay.

At the beginning of Fuller Ridge, there was a snow-free area of land we used to rest, eat snacks, and prepare for The Ridge. Then a few hikers, including Cash, Timelord, and another hiker whose name I didn't get passed by. We had gone so slowly through the snow, we thought Mad Hatter was ahead of us somewhere, and I had made a comment that at least he couldn't get lost since he has a GPS, and Timelord, without even stopping to say hi, pushed through saying, "Mad Hatter is lost as fuck." Which made us all laugh, but confirmed that he was actually somewhere behind us rather than in front of us like we thought. We stuck almost directly on the PCT the entire time--it wasn't easy, but we'd find evidence of the trail through the snow--and tried to follow it as best we could. Everyone else had followed footprints and such down slope a bit, and they needed a bit of a scramble to get up to the start of Fuller Ridge. I guess we passed most everyone by sticking to the official PCT as best we could.

Cash and friends--I'm not sure why, but I somehow felt that Cash was largely the leader of this other group of hikers--decided to join in with our group since we seemed to be having better luck at staying on the trail than they were.

And the snow on Fuller Ridge was everything that was promised. It was deep. It was difficult to pass through. Ice axes came out, though I didn't have one myself. I depended on microspikes and my wits. Or at least my microspikes. =) Our now seven-member strong group lost the trail, completely and totally lost it at one point, despite two of the members having GPS devices. We knew we were somewhere well below it, but how to get back up to it was a challenge.

And somewhere, while lost in the woods, Hurricane and Dan stumbled into our group. Hurricane was cussing about all these footsteps leading him in the wrong direction--why he thought following footsteps was a good idea I'll never understand--but he was probably following our steps the entire way. Hurricane seemed concerned about the time, "We have to get moving! There's nowhere to camp here!"

More than once, we had to decided whether to follow a previous hiker's footsteps or to veer off on our own. My observation was that following footprints would either lead us out, or lead us to a pile of frozen corpses in the snow. The first would be preferable, but even the second option would certainly prove adventurous in its own way. (I should note, that a thru-hiker died near here after getting lost in the snow back in 2005. You can read a bit about that misadventure on Backpackers website at Lost and Found. Don't anyone tell my mom about that story, though!)

I grew increasingly annoyed as well, that our group had now grown into nine members. There is safety in numbers, but after a certain point, more people just means slower decisions, slower progress, and just makes it hard to keep track of everyone and that everyone is okay and accounted for. I wanted to split our much-too-large group into two (preferably sticking with my original core group including Hiker 816, Swazey, and Dinosaur), and let the other five work out their own route through Fuller Ridge.

That didn't happen, though. Trying to keep track that everyone was accounted for grew increasingly difficult for me, however, since we all tended to fan out. Some would go below a boulder while others would choose to climb up and over it, so it's not like we were even strung out in a long, easily counted line. So I finally stopped keeping track of anyone outside of our original core group. I generally stayed near the front with Hiker 816, and we'd stop occasionally to make sure that Swazey and Dinosaur caught up okay, then continue on without worrying about the others. They needed to keep track of each other. We just couldn't do it anymore ourselves.

Near the end of the Fuller Ridge, I finally caught sight of the trail. "I found the trail!" I exclaimed, then as I stepped onto the PCT once again, I yelled out, "I'm ON the trail!" It was an exhilarating moment! Until that moment, as one hiker might say, I was "lost as fuck." I wasn't concerned about my safety--I knew the general direction I needed to go, but it's somewhat comforting to see that trail under one's feet.

We all stopped at the Fuller Ridge campground at the far end of the ridge, and several other hikers eventually emerged as well including Mad Hatter, Tomer, and several others who I didn't recognize who were walking up from the road. They had attempted Fuller Ridge and went so far down the mountain in the wrong direction, they hit the dirt road which they then followed up to the campsite. In all, about twenty of us ended up camped there for the night.

And, I'm happy to report, that Mad Hatter set up his shark tent so I finally got a picture of it! Woo-who! Unfortunately, he ditched the giant wobbly eyes that went with the end so now there's only small patches of black velcro where the eyes should be, but it was still a wonderful photo op. =)

Fuller Ridge vet, signing out.


Anonymous said...

The elusive "Land Shark" finally caught on film! Bravo.

Unknown said...

My brother, who was known as Bachelor Bob on the trail (among other trailnames), found a dead hiker on the PCT. He's a slow hiker, so he's bringing up the rear for 2,000 miles. That means he sees less snow (in the southern portion, anyway) and gets to see the trail clearer than those who went before him. I can't recall if it was 2005 when he hiked the PCT, though, or whether it was the same hiker in that story that he found.

Anonymous said...

Well done!
Safe travels,
Ona Journey

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Very cool Land Shark! Now that you're a 'Vet' maybe you could have helped the poor thing with the damage to it's eyes? *bah dah dum!*

I had to giggle on your comment "why he thought following footsteps was a good idea I'll never understand" Seems like you did that a few times yourself, especially early on....when you got lost. At least you didn't find any corpses while you were following footprints. hehe!

The ice photo is stunning!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Oh my goodness!!!
I just checked out that Backpacker link and my jaw dropped when I realized I "knew" of that story already after watching it on "I shouldn't be alive " a long time ago. Amazing to think that he died less than 4 miles (as the crow flies) from Palm Springs. I knew the name Donovan sounded familiar! Wow! Spooky!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

word verif: Relival

I'm relival the story of John Donovan now.