Saturday, September 18, 2010

Miles... Must Do Miles.....

The meadows were.... wet.
Snow free, at least! But wet....
July 5: I woke, broke camp, and started hiking, catching up with The Kern, Half-Ounce, and Neon about an hour later. I blew past them up the trail, then they returned the favor when I stopped for a snack break at Dorothy Lake. =) Dorothy Lake I wanted to linger a bit--according to the PCT Atlas, the 1000-mile mark for the PCT could be found on the shores of Dorothy lake. It was a beautiful little alpine lake, surrounded by snow and partly frozen.

The trail was bad--covered in parts with snow, and the parts that weren't covered in snow you could expect to find thick, shoe-sucking mud. I found a slightly raised area to stop and rest out of the snow and mud for a snack break, and after The Kern, Half Ounce and Neon passed by, I decided to linger a bit longer and create a 1000-mile marker. I hadn't seen any on the trail, but I wasn't completely sure one did not exist. With the trail partially covered in snow, it could have been easy to miss during one of those times I lost the trail.

Another complication was that different hikers used different maps that used slightly different mileage, and at this point, I knew the mileage could have been as much as three or four miles off from other people's sources. There could very well be a 1000-mile marker ahead but I just hadn't reached it. I didn't care, though. I used Eric the Black's PCT Atlas, and as far as I was concerned, that was the official mileage I would use. It was the only mileage I could use.

Signage could not always be relied upon,
but this sign is poking out of snow enough to be read!
So I found a bunch of small rocks in a nearby creek, piled them up on the trail, then started forming the number 1000 out of them. Four digits. It didn't fit comfortably writing the number across the trail like I had done in the past, so this time I wrote it out along the length of the trail, took a couple of photos with my feet above the number, and finally hoisted up my pack and continued hiking.

Just past Dorothy Lake, the trail climbed up to Dorothy Pass where--once again--I lost the trail in the snow. Grrr.... The snow wasn't deep enough to do any significant postholing, but it was mushy enough that it felt like walking on beach sand, insuring I'd continue to loathe the snow with every bone in my body.

Dorothy Lake
From a good vantage point, I pulled out my topo map looking around getting my bearings and checking that I was still hiking in the correct direction when I saw The Kern in the distance waving to me. He was waiting for me? I was surprised. I hadn't really 'bonded' with his group. The three of them are so close, you kind of feel like an outsider around them. They have their group dynamic going, but I wasn't a part of it. It's not that they made me feel unwelcome--just that I wasn't part of that group dynamic. So I'd pass them on the trail, and they'd pass me on the trail, but I didn't really make a point of trying to keep up with them and they didn't make a point of trying to keep up with me.

At least not until now, I thought, surprised to see The Kern waiting for me.

At long last, I've hiked one thousand miles of the PCT!
The joke was on me, however. He wasn't waiting for me--he was waiting for Half Ounce and Neon. He was hiking ahead of them and stopped for them to catch up and asked me how far back they were.

"Actually," I told him, "I thought they were ahead of me." They passed me by at Dorothy Lake and I hadn't seem them since. "But admittedly, I had lost the trail. It's possible I could have passed them and never knew it."

We chatted a bit, and he told me that he'd wait another five minutes for the other two and continue on again. I continued hiking.

I forget which lake this one is....
Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later, I reached Harriet Lake and found Half-Ounce and Neon sitting on rocks. I waved, and they asked if I had seen The Kern. "Oh, yes. I passed him about 15 minutes ago. He's sitting on the side of the trail waiting for you two to catch up to him."

A look of horror crossed their faces. He's waiting for them? He thinks he's ahead when he's really behind? Once again, in the snows in the High Sierras, the Charmin and Hasty syndrome struck once again. Except unlike those two who were rushing as quickly as possible to catch up with each other, these three were sitting around waiting for each other.

"Don't worry, though," I told them. "He said if you two didn't show up in another five minutes, he'd start hiking again. If he kept to his word, he should only be about five minutes behind me. No need to go backtrack to get him." =)

They seemed relieved at that, and I continued hiking.

The PCT goes up the snow-covered slope on the left.
I decided to climb up the (mostly) snow-free slope
on the right.
Beyond Harriet Lake, the snow stopped and the trail dried up. It was wonderful to walk on. None of the creeks required getting our feet wet. Even the pervasive granite of the High Sierras gave way to some sort of red, volcanic rock. It was, in a word, awesome!

Later in the afternoon, the trail started climbing uphill again, and near a 10,000-foot pass, the snow returned. I hoped it was just a problem on that one particular slope. The slope was steep, and rather than follow the PCT tread into the snow, I decided to cut straight up the mountain in the loose volcanic rock. The next mile was exhausting, like climbing a sand dune, but it avoided a large section of snow.

Miles and miles without snow! If you blow up image
(click on it), you can see the trail along the entire length
of this ridge.
I made it to the top of the ridge and looked ahead at miles of beautiful snow-free trail. It didn't last nearly long enough, however. After another hour or so of hiking, patches of snow started coming back. Thicker snow and longer patches with each passing mile. The trail meandered between the mountaintops, passing through "The Notch"--a rather ballsy place to route a trail if you ask me.

I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. Along these mountain ridges, there were absolutely no creeks or springs. Snow everywhere--I could melt snow for water if I had to, but that was bothersome and the exposed ridges were quite gusty at times anyhow, so I pushed on trying to get to a water source near the highway at Sonora Pass.

Near the end of the day I had to go down a steep snow chute down towards Sonora Pass. Funny to look at the snow chute from up there, I thought. It looked scary as hell. At the beginning of the High Sierras, a chute like that would have terrified me. Now, it seemed nothing more than a bit "hairy." I'll need to be careful, but nothing too bad. Mostly, I was just plain tired and wanted to stop and set up camp before dark. This side of the mountain was already in the shade and there was a good chance I might not see the sun again for the rest of the day. "Official" sunset was still nearly an hour away, but in these deep canyons, actual sunset could be a lot earlier. 

I camped near the bottom of this
snow chute. The top of this chute
(out of the photo) is steep and
After 27.6 miles--the second longest day of my journey so far, and that included battling mountains of snow to boot!--I finally set up camp within hearing distance of the highway over Sonora Pass. My feet felt surprisingly good, almost as if I'd only hiked 10 to 15 miles that day rather than close to 30. My knees were a bit sore, but not to an unusual or unexpected degree. They'd been a bit sore through the entire High Sierras with all of those steep slopes up and down.

I set up camp on a small clearing free of snow, catching about 20 minutes of sunlight before the sun disappeared behind the mountain for good. The faint sound of vehicles on the highway over Sonora Pass could still be heard, but I loved the campsite. It was protected from wind, and if my estimate was correct, it was one of the last places the evening sun would set, and one of the first places that the morning sun would strike.

1 comment:

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Too bad you couldn't just slide down that snow chute.

Congrats (belated) on reaching 1,000 miles on the PCT.

(Yeah, I know I'm reading this 7 months after the fact. So? *shrug* Humor me.)

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers