Friday, September 10, 2010

Donahue Pass: It's Not Over Yet!

Agnew Meadow
July 1: I woke up with a horrible sense of impending doom. Dread. I didn't sleep well. The idea of going back to the trail made me nauseous. Going back to the snow, postholing in the snow, crossing crazy rivers, getting beat up and chewed up. I was tempted to take another zero day. Maybe I'll feel better about it then, I thought. But I knew I wouldn't. The only thing that would make me happy is knowing that there wouldn't be a single fleck of snow on the trail ahead, and that wasn't going to happen. Quitting never entered my mind, not really, but I envied those who would. A zero week, however.... A zero week was very tempting. The snow wouldn't be gone, but maybe a week would have allowed a great deal of it to melt.

But I knew I'd grow restless if I stayed too long. It would just be another week of worrying about the snow ahead. Just get it done and over with.

So I prepared to get back on the trail. I walked over to the outfitters to get on the Internet real quick--I had to pay the bill to keep the lights on at Atlas Quest for another six months--and on my way back, I bumped into the two Israeli girls, Shani and Noga, along with trail angel Tom at the motel. Tom offered me a ride back to the ski area, saving me the hassle of taking a trolley to the bike bus to the ski area.

Back into the snow.... Ugh!
We arrived at the ski area, and the bus to Agnew Meadow was already loaded and looked ready to go. I jumped out, grabbing my pack while thanking Tom, and all but running to the bus before it left. I was the last person to board, and I walked to the back of the bus, but there were no seats left. So I set my pack on the ground near the back door and stood. I've been on crowded buses with standing room only before, but it seemed strange to be the only person actually standing. It didn't help that I clearly looked "different" from every single other person on the bus either. Everyone else had small day packs, kids played with each other, and then there was me, carrying an agonizingly heavy pack, trying to be careful not to swipe anyone with my ice axe.

The bus started moving, and shortly thereafter, the bus driver got on an intercom asking if anyone was planning to get off at Agnew Meadow. Several voices called out now, even more nodded their heads no. I was the only person--and I mean the only person--on a bus loaded with dozens of tourists to wave my hand and nod my head. Yes, I needed to get off at Agnew Meadow. One voice in the front of the bus told the bus driver, "No, nobody needs to get off," and the bus driver replied, "The guy standing in the back does."

I don't think I ever felt so out of place. Walking into a prom dance wearing camo wouldn't have felt so awkward.

The bus stopped at Angews Meadow, where I was the only person to get off, and started hiking. A huge sense of dread enveloped me. Not that I worried about anything going wrong, but rather at the thought of trudging through snow. Before I started my hike, I didn't have strong opinions about snow one way or another, but I'd grown to loathe snow. Actually, loathe isn't a strong enough word. I don't think there is a word to accurately describe my feelings toward snow.

Shang-hi (aka "Yellow Pants")
approaches Donahue Pass.
At 1000 Island Lake (more like 20 Island Lake by my count!), I caught up with Shang-hi and Hurricane. Hurricane I've been growing increasingly impressed with. He doesn't like to hike, and will happily tell you all of the reasons he doesn't like to hike, but through pure stubbornness, he keeps pushing on leaving younger hikers behind like they were standing still, but I wondered how much longer his stamina would continue. Even now, he wanted to stop for the day, and it was barely past noon.

So Shang-hi and I continued on, wanting to get over Donahue Pass (11,050 feet) by the end of the day. We both knew that late in the day, postholing would likely be a huge issue for us, but we wanted to position ourselves to get into Tuolomne Meadows as early the next day as possible, so we would face the postholing problem or die trying.

Near the top of the pass, we crossed paths with several southbounders hiking the John Muir Trail who just started their hikes in the last day or two, and invariably, they warned us that we'd "never" make it before sunset. After they passed out of hearing distance, we'd snicker to each other about their dire predictions. These people don't have any idea what they're talking about. Donahue Pass was one of the lowest and least snow-covered passes so far of our trip. We didn't have the heart to tell them that--for them--their horror was just beginning. They hadn't seen anything yet!

The view from Donahue Pass and our campsite!
One southbounder, late in the day, seemed a little disappointed to see us, explaining that he thought he was the last person to go over the pass that day. It seemed like he wanted to take being the last person over Donahue Pass as a point of honor, and we spoiled it for him by going up so late in the day.

Shangi-hi and I made it to the top of the pass by 7:00 that evening, a respectable time, and we decided to camp right there on the pass. A small area was snow free, and even a small creek trickled nearby from the snowmelt. Given the exposed position and high elevation, it was cold, but not shockingly so. Definitely no bugs! Little wind. And it was an absolutely beautiful night.


Okie Dog said...

Yeah, I'm getting a little tired of the snow pictures, too. heh heh... Did you feel like a wallflower,Ryan? All eyes upon you. Poor'll all be over soon and you will think back fondly of that hike, I hope....

dingusdufus said...

Now you know why the boxers in the northern areas really wanted that Snow friendly box icon!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Well considering that sunset in Mammoth Lakes in June is approx 8pm, I'd say you guys just barely made it. And if the JMT hiker were referring to getting up the pass and back down before sunset, they would have won that bet ;)

Snow gets old here, too. We get it all winter from mid-October to late May. The worst are the below zero temps, because then all the pipes threaten to freeze and then we have to haul water to the barn several times a day. That gets old fast. blah!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers