Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Benson Pass: They Just Keep on Coming....

An old PCT marker has the tree growing around it.
July 3: I caught up with Fidget, Green Mile, and Red Head who camped at the Virginia Canyon Trail turnoff and the "dangerous" water crossing listed in our guidebooks, which thrilled me since it meant I didn't have to take the dangerous river crossing by myself after all. I fully expected to have to deal with it on my own.

I waited around nearly an hour for Green Mile and Red Head to get their stuff together. Fidget seemed ready to go but was also held back waiting for the other two to get ready. The stream itself didn't look too bad from our side, but we suspected that it was just a smaller branch of a much larger stream we couldn't see well in the next channel of water. The first was only knee deep and no trouble at all, and when we stood on the banks of the second branch, we were surprised to also see that it appeared no worse than knee deep. This "dangerous" steam crossing turned out to be a bust. As far as dangers go, I wouldn't have even included it in my top ten, and I was a little disappointed that I even waited for Green Mile and Red Head to get ready. I'd have been fine doing this crossing on my own.

The rest of the day, I mostly hiked alone, occasionally passing Fidget, Green Mile, and Red Head--or being passed by them. I passed a weekend hiker near a stream as he was taking off his shoes. I made a comment about trying to keep his feet dry (or at least his shoes), shaking my head and telling him it was a waste of time. He complained that when he got home that he was going to replace his shoes with ones that were actually waterproof.

"There is no such thing," I told him. And I meant it. Even if a shoe could completely keep out the water, then it meant that the sweat from one's feet would never evaporate either. No matter what, your feet are still going to get wet. "Just go with it. You'll still be miserable, but you'll travel faster." =)

Then I stepped directly into the creek and never looked back. If nothing else, at least I can be an example.

My daring and "dangerous" stream crossing....
We crossed over another 10,000-ft pass--Benson Pass, perhaps the easiest pass of all. It didn't even have much snow except for the last half mile before the top. At the pass, I stopped and read my magazines for an hour or so to kill time. After the horrible mosquitoes of the night before, I decided to camp above 9,000 feet hoping it would still be too cold and exposed for them to cause me trouble. If I didn't slow down, I'd end the day camped much too low.

A little more snow covered the other side of Benson Pass, wound past Smedberg Lake--very scenic and almost tempted me to find a place to camp right there--but I decided to push on a little bit further. And half a mile later, I lost the trail completely near the turnoff for the Rodgers Lake Trail.

I like the masonry in the trail here.
It was frustrating. I clearly had the trail in my sights until it went under a patch of snow perhaps 30 feet long, then it completely disappeared on me. Footprints led down, and I followed those a short ways, but it led to dead ends, fallen trees, and the footprints mysteriously disappeared into nowhere. I circled around the patch of snow, knowing that the trail had to leave it from some direction. Much of the other side of the snow was solid rock, so I figured the trail must be there. On solid slabs of granite, the trail doesn't really stand out unless it's lined with small rocks or other identifying features. Maybe the smaller rocks weren't there anymore?

I searched for the trail for over an hour, growing increasingly frustrated. Occasionally I would find a cairn, thrilled to have found a sign of the trail, and when I got up to it, discovered absolutely no trace of a trail nearby. Why the heck do people create cairns where the trail doesn't even go? Argh! Then I'd backtrack and try again.

Heading up Benson Pass.
I could kind of guess where the trail should go, but it looked steep and more than a little dangerous, and with sunset approaching, I needed to make some decisions. I pulled out my maps and studied the terrain and the path of the trail. I saw an outflow of water from Smedberg Lake would eventually cross the trail near the bottom of the canyon I looked down. If I followed that outflow, it would definitely get me to the trail. The outflow cascaded down the other side of the canyon from where I was at, but it looked a bit less steep and treacherous than the side I (and the trail) was on. I didn't care anymore, though. No, I was going to hike back up to Smedberg Lake, follow the outflow of water downhill until it crossed the trail.

It was much too late in the afternoon to do this before dark, however, so I decided to hike back up to Smedberg Lake and find a place to camp. I didn't want to try route-finding in the dark. Near the ridge above Smedberg Lake, I bumped into GQ, Not-a-Change, Croatia, and another hiker whose name I now forget, and set up camp with them. I told them of my problems and my plans for the next morning, but they still planned to charge ahead following the official PCT as best they could. Which didn't really surprise me--I would have done the same thing.

Smedberg Lake
The trail is down there... somewhere....
Not-a-Chance and Croatia built a campfire, and we told stories for much of the evening before I finally heade off to sleep. I'd find the trail again tomorrow even if it killed me, but at least four other hikers would now know where to look for my body off of the PCT. =)


Okie Dog said...

Oh, I see the trail, I see it, I see, Ryan! Its right there in the middle of your picture and there are even people standing on the path, go forth, young grasshopper!! Big smilin' OD

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds kind of like letterboxing. I can usually find a letterbox when I'm by myself, but sometimes I get stumped and it takes me twice as long to figure out the clues than if I have someone with me with a different perspective to bounce ideas off of. We end finding the letterbox much faster than if I were alone.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers