Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 45 (7/1) Forester Pass

Today a massive obstacle stood in the way of our northward progress. Forester Pass towered above us at 13,200 ft. From our campsite we could see that the trail had been engulfed by Tyndall Creek, so we made our own route up the rise. My shoes had only partially dried overnight, and they were soon soaked again due to the marshy terrain. At least I started off better than Positive ID, whose GoreTex boots have a hole in the toes that leaks water and never dries. It was three miles to the pass, and we only stepped foot on the trail twice before setting out across a massive snow field. This was much nicer walking than previous times on snow because it was still solid from the overnight chill. Early starts are critical to crossing passes because you want to get up and over the pass before the snow softens in the sun and slows you progress to a crawl.

Looking up, the pass was a wide V in the mountain, with a treacherous looking chute right below it. We spotted our switchbacks about halfway up the sidewall, and had to climb a 30° snow incline to get there. Fortunately many have come before us, and there were good foot holds to follow most of the time. After gaining the switchbacks it was a short walk before we had to cross the chute. This hadn't yet been in the sun, so it was hard ice. Once again, the old footsteps were critical. I used my ice axe for an upper handhold while steeping carefully from one spot to the next. Suddenly it was over and I was at the other side. Not terrible, but nothing to laugh at either. I wouldn’t want to do it like Steamy who had no poles or axe for support. From there we had only a dozen feet to the top, where we were treated to awesome vistas to both the north and south.

We hung out on top for awhile before deciding it was time to descend. The wait was too long though as the sun had already softened the snow on the descent. Within a few steps I had my left leg plunge down all the way to my hip. I laughed and I struggled to get myself out and moving again. We quickly decided to give up on the snow covered trail and make our own way down. We got to a ridge and looking below we saw a snow filled valley. Perfect for glissading, that is, sliding down the mountain on your butt. The next 300 ft of descent were awesome, then we had to walk to the next ridge before we could repeat the joy-ride. This made the miles seem to go faster, but when we stopped at noon we realized we were still moving very slowly. Positive ID was determined to pick up time by getting off the snow and onto dry land, but not five minutes after getting going again, he hit a slick spot, fell and dislocated a finger. Before Steamy or I realized what happened he had popped it back in. We fixed him up with some tape to immobilize it, and some ibuprofen to dull the pain. And just like that we were going again. When you get minor injuries out here, you really learn to deal with them, shake it off and keep going. Honestly, you don't have much choice. If it is really serious you can be med-evac'd out, but that is super pricey and is only be used for the worst emergencies. For anything else, you can find the nearest out and make hings work until then.

That's how it had been with my ankle for the last three days. It hurts to walk in my boots, so those are hanging from my pack and I've been wearing my old shoes that I planned to use for stream crossings. Its not the best solution, but I'm making it work and going out Kearsarge Pass to Independence where I can see a doctor. I'm actually very nervous about this, as I've slowly come to realize the severity of this injury. It doesn't hurt to walk, but certain things make it explode in unbearable pain. I'm concerned I may have a stress fracture in one of the bones just above the ankle on the outside of my foot. Only an x-ray will tell for sure, so that's the plan for tomorrow; 8 miles of hiking to town, then doctor, or hospital if nothing is open on a Saturday.

In any case, that will be resolved when I get to town. In the mean time, we had a gorgeous day of hiking along Bubbs Creek, which we fortunately did not have to cross. It was really interesting to see how the creek changed, as in some areas it was 20-30 feet wide and flowing slowly, and in others it was 10 feet across and roaring with whitewater and spray everywhere. Towards the end of the day we ran into a number of southbound section hikers who were interested in reports about the section we just came through. We emphasized the alternate method of crossing Tyndall, and they appreciated the info. We ended up camping about a mile into the side trail out over Kearsarge Pass, and everyone is right about how beautiful this area is. I'm glad I get to see it, even if it isn't for the best of circumstances.

Miles Today: 14
Trip Mileage: 790

Photos: Hiking the snow field before Forester Pass

 Photo: Positive ID and Steamy crossing the snow chute on Forester

Photo: All of us (me, Positive ID, Steamy) at the highest point on the PCT

Photo: Vista looking north from Forester. We walked to the left, then glissaded down 1000 ft to the basin

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