Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Most Dangerous River Crossings of All....

June 26: Evolution Creek is misnamed. It is not a creek. It is a raging river of death. It looks like a raging river of death. Fidget and I woke with the sun, and marched off to check out this so-called 'creek.' A sign posted near the ranger station suggested walking 25 yards upstream where the creek would only be about two feet deep, which didn't sound bad at all. Another sign at Evolution Meadow, near where we camped, said if the river was high, we could cross in the meadow itself. The water level there was high, but it was moving slow and easy to cross.

So we had options. The hand-made sign by the park service that suggested walking 25 yards upstream seemed recent and relevant, however, and we decided to go with that. When we reached the creek, we found a very wet Anne, seemingly in some distress. We didn't expect to see her at all--she had wanted to reach Muir Ranch the night before. "What happened to you?" we asked.

She said she tried to cross the night before, but failed. She couldn't do it, and finally set up camp along the shore to try again in the morning when the water level was lower. The water level, she told us, was a lot lower this morning, so she tried to cross again, and failed again. She couldn't get across. Now she was cold and soaking wet, and looking absolutely miserable.

We walked 25 yards upstream to check out where the rangers suggested that hikers cross, and the river looked fast, deep, and dangerous. Fidget and I knew Charmin and Hasty had to have passed the evening before, when the water was even higher, so it had to be crossable. Did they cross there? Charmin's a little girl. If she could cross it, surely we could. None of us imagined that her and Hasty were laying dead downriver somewhere. (Don't worry, they weren't!)

Fidget asked if I'd mind if she crossed with both of her trekking poles. "By all means," I told her. I'd just have to find a good, stout stick to help keep my balance while crossing. No big deal. That was the only indication she had any trepidation about the river crossing, though. She marched into the water while Anne and I watched from the banks to see how it went. Most of the way, the water rarely came up past Fidget's knees, and it didn't look bad at all. Near the other shore, she dipped into waist-deep water, which she was clearly struggling to find her footing, but eventually reached a log, pulled herself up, and was securely on the other side.

Fidget turned around and shouted something, but I wasn't sure if I had heard her right. I turned to Anne, "Did she just say that it was too dangerous and for us not to cross?"

"That's what I heard," Anne confirmed.

Hmm.... It didn't look that bad to me, so I decided to cross anyhow. I rooted around for a long, stout stick to take the place of my broken trekking pole and followed in Fidget's steps across the river. Like Fidget, I didn't have any trouble at all--not until I got to near the far edge where the water came up close to my waist,a and I started thinking, "Maybe this is too dangerous....?"

But it was too late, I was already committed. I made a jump, grabbed onto a log, and pulled myself up, safe and sound on the other side.

"Your turn," I shouted to Anne.

Anne shook her head. "I can't do it!" Anne wouldn't cross there, yelling across the river to me that she'd hike back to Evolution Meadow and cross at the meadow. I shouted a good luck to her, then turned around to find Fidget.

But Fidget was nowhere to be seen. I walked 25 yards back downstream to the trail, and still no Fidget. I didn't even see her pack. Was she scouting for a better place for Anne and myself to cross? That didn't make any sense, though. If I were scouting for a better place to cross, I wouldn't have been carrying my pack the whole time. I started thinking, maybe Fidget left? She ditched me!

Or maybe she was hiking upstream to Evolution Meadow, thinking that Anne and I were headed up there to cross? I didn't know. What to do? What to do? I can't imagine why Fidget would have bothered to hike up to Evolution Meadow hoping to find us crossing, so I leaned towards the theory that she just left and continued down the trail. She ditched me!

I yelled back to Anne asking if she saw Fidget on my side of the river at all, but she didn't. I yelled again, telling her if she saw Fidget, to tell her that I didn't know what happened to her so I was going to go ahead and continue down the trail. Maybe I would catch up to her there. Maybe not?

Anne left to go back up trail to Evolution Meadow to cross the river. I continued down the trail, alone. The trail followed along the river for a short ways, down a steep incline, and the relatively smooth river where I crossed became a crashing waterfall, a natural blender for anything in the water, throwing up so much water in the air, it created a multitude of rainbows.

"Holy $#!^!" I thought, looking at the crazy whitewater. Had I slipped and been taken downstream, it would have been death. I'm so glad I didn't realize how bad the water got just downstream from where we were. Actually, if I did know how crazy the water got, I probably woulddn't have risked the crossing where I did. I'd have gone upstream with Anne to Evolution Meadow.

About six miles further along the trail, I caught up with Fidget. At least now I could know with certainty where she had gone to.

"You ditched me!" I yelled to her. Not angry, but with mock hurt.

She seemed surprised to see me, and even more surprised when I told her that I crossed at the same place she did. Since she knew my trekking pole was broken, she thought the crossing there would have been too dangerous for me and assumed I'd go up to the meadow to cross along with Anne. She didn't realize that I planned to find a stout stick to help steady by balance while crossing. Basically, just a bit misunderstanding.

We stopped for lunch eventually, where I emptied my pack looking for a bag of snacks I had. It was a gray bag, and I had M&Ms and Skittles in it. Probably some granola bars as well, but it was the M&Ms and Skittles I was after, and the bag was gone. At first I thought it must have just slipped into the bottom of my pack, but it was gone. I must have left it behind on the trail somewhere where I had stopped for a lunch break.

This was a problem for me. I had enough food to get me to my next resupply point at Mammoth Lakes, but not much more than that. Losing a whole food bag--that was a problem. I'd have to inventory what food I had left, but I had to definitely be careful about how much I ate in the future and ration the food I had left. Grrr....

A group of five or six young boys passed us at lunch. We had stopped for lunch right at a sharp turn in the trail, and the trail ducked under a small pile of snow right at the turn. Fidget and I were experienced enough in the snow to recognize the turn immediately, but the group of boys passed by, going straight, and neither Fidget nor I stopped them to say, "Hey, you're going the wrong way." We just watched them pass by.

"So how long do you think it'll take them to realize they went the wrong direction?" I asked Fidget. It didn't take long before we heard cussing coming from them on the other side of the meadow. At one point, we heard one of them shout out to the others, "Stop talking and find the fucking trail, would you?!"

Fidget and I laughed. We thought it hilarious listening to them bushwack and start scrambling up a slope on the other side of the meadow. I was surprised that none of them thought to turn back, walk perhaps one minute back where were were still lounged on the trail, and figure out where they went wrong. We spent a good ten minutes listening to them trying to find the trail again.

And this wasn't even a tricky section. We're we cold-hearted, not helping when we could? Perhaps. They didn't actually stop to ask for our help either, however. And anyhow, there would be a lot more snow ahead. They really needed to learn how to route find, because it was assured that they'd lose the trail many, many more times in the future. And lose it in sections much trickier than this one. It was a good experience for them, so we thought, even if they weren't thinking that themselves. =)

The group finally did find the trail, and Fidget and I continued hiking, catching up and passing them quickly. The trail was heading towards the next 'big' pass--Seldon Pass, topping out at 10,900 feet above sea level. It was late in the afternoon and we figured that there would likely be snow and postholing involved, but at a mere 10,900 feet, we weren't too worried. "It's more than a thousand feet lower than those other passes we got through!"

Going up turned out to be relatively easy, but down the other side was problematic. We lost the trail, thoroughly and completely. "This is karma for us letting those kids get lost," Fidget told me. She even went so far as to suggest that my losing my food bag was karma for my having done something bad earlier. I couldn't imagine what I did to deserve that, however.

Miles after losing the trail, we finally picked it up again, thrilled to have finally found it after so long. Near dusk, we approached Bear Creek--the second of the two seriously dangerous river crossings we'd been hearing about for hundreds of miles.

The river looked scary dangerous. Even more so than Evolution Creek, if that can be believed. Fidget, who carried Yogi's guidebook, suggested that a safe crossing could be found upstream, so I wandered upstream for nearly a half hour looking for a safe place to cross but found nothing. Absolutely nothing. The best place we could find was perhaps a one minute walk upstream from the trail. I went downstream for a few minutes, around a bend in the river, to see if anything downstream looked promising, but I only saw the raging, churning river. It didn't look good.

A sense of dread started enveloping me. The best crossing we could find looked too dangerous to me. I didn't really want to cross there. The idea terrified me. The water looked deep and fast--a deadly combination. Fidget, once again, seemed remarkably fearless and tromped into the water bravely. She got a little ways out, then turned around and came back to shore. "That wasn't working," she told me. But she's nothing if not persistent. She went back out again, making a second attempt at the crossing while I sat and watched.

She got a good 15 feet out or so, the water coming up to her waist, and I could tell she was struggling with her footing and even just getting her trekking poles in place. Then I saw her lose her balance, twisting around, and I felt nauseated. I thought I was going to watch her die, swept away to God-knows-where. She looked up at me, and clearly saw the look of horror on my face, and somehow managed to catch her balance once again. She scrambled back toward the shore, and I felt so relieved to see her on shore and still alive. That woman has nerves of steel, though. She didn't seem at all phased at a near-death experience, or she hid it a lot better than I did.

"We're camping on this side of the river," she said authoritatively. She got no argument out of me. That seemed like a prudent thing to do. Maybe the water level would be a lot lower in the morning.

It's the last day of August, and the last day to sponsor Amanda and myself for 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! I'll be continuing this blog so it covers through the end of my thru-hike, hopefully (if all goes well and I don't get myself killed before then!), to the Canadian border. So stay tuned. Just because the Hike-a-Thon is coming to an end doesn't mean that this blog will end....


Okie Dog said...

What kind of animal is that?
That next to last picture is outstanding!!!!!! Wow, what country you have traveled, just beautiful. Want to thank you so much for posting your journal and pictures, its been really interesting to see and read.

Lisa said...

It's a marmot.