Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 62 (7/18) Mather &@!#er

There is no love lost between me and Mather Pass. What a day... We were camped 8 miles from the pass,  and with a late start we realized we would ve lucky to get over it by 3pm. A little better than yesterday, but definitely not good. Then, just a mile out of camp we came across a group of southbound JMTers who gave dire  warnings about the crossing for the Kings River. They suggested we stick to the east side and bushwhack for three or four miles until the trail crossed the water again. After leaving them I finally hit my stride and burned through the miles to the crossing. I had breakfast while waiting for the rest of the crew to catch up.

The South Fork of the Kings River definitely put all previous waterways to shame. Now I know what counts as a river, so I take back those statements from yesterday about Woods Creek. We scouted up and downstream, but no easy dry crossings jumped out. My preference was to wade it at the trail crossing where the whitewater momentarily calmed and the river widened out. Everyone else was in favor of skipping around using the east side, but I was set on getting the full trail experience. With Pinky downstream in case I fell, I slowly made my way out into the current. It came up just over my knees, and was flowing strong. I faced straight upstream, planted my trekking poles and gently sidestepped. On two occasions I became nervous: once when my pole slipped off a rock, momentarily throwing me off balance and causing me to lean precariously forward, and once when I couldn't find a spot to place my foot while attempting to avoid a deep hole in the riverbed. Upon reaching the other side I let out a whoop of joy, knowing I just successfully completed my hardest water crossing yet. Watching me helped convince the others that they had the right plan to stay on that side, so we all took off north, planning to meet up again at the pass.

I was still feeling great and my old energy was back, so I flew through the next few miles of relatively flat terrain along the river. I was in such a good groove that I didn't even stop for lunch until I reached the base of Mather at 1:30. By 2:30 I began to get concerned for the others. It was only 4 miles, so I couldn't be all that much faster than them... Plus, I could see back for a mile on the trail, and they weren't there yet. Three possibilities went through my head.

1. They got turned around/lost the trail and were headed up the wrong pass (there were 2 others nearby)
2. Someone got hurt and they had to slow down or stop
3. They were being slow due to bushwhacking or taking long breaks

I honestly hoped it was just #3, but I couldn't go up the pass with the idea in the back of my mind that it could be #1 or #2. I left my pack and started walking backwards on the trail. 20 minutes later they came into view, much to my relief. Turns out it was mostly #3, but they were also unsure of which pass they were  supposed to take, adding to the delay. They decided to take the direct route up by bouldering on the western slope, while I more closely followed the trail across a snowfield on the eastern slope. Halfway across I was able to turn uphill and kick steps straight up the snow wall, bypassing a half dozen switchbacks.  The snow was the prefect softness so I could kick steps but not slide too much. I waited for the group right before the final 20 ft ascent over snow, and boy am I glad about that decision. When everyone was there and had recovered from the climb we started in the final piece. Pinky went first, and made it just fine, despite postholing to her waist a few feet from the top. We wanted to avoid a similar experience, so we cut below her footsteps. Hannah Montana was leading, and as he went to kick a step, the snow below him gave way and he dropped down with both feet til his pack hit the snow. It didn't seem too terrible, despite the unusual two-footed posthole, that is until he reported that his feet were dangling over a 15 foot hole. That got our attention, and we backed up as quickly as possible, choosing to take a scramble over rocks instead. We left a note on the trail advising other hikers to do the same.

At the top Hannah was really freaked out because he realized just how close to disaster he had just come. We were all pretty rattled, and we discussed what we would've done had he dropped all the way down. Pullin' 'Em carries rope we  could've used to pull him out, except there were no points above us to tie off to. The consensus was that we would've had to dig him out like in an avalanche rescue. In retrospect I don't think all this talk helped Hannah's nerves at all... In fact, it took quite awhile for him to calm down enough to get out onto the snowfield for the descent. This was very slushy and I postholed a number of times. Finally I gave up on walking, sat down and slid 100 feet down. Then it was on and off of rocks and snow until I hit the valley floor. Here the suncups were horrendous, and within 15 minutes I had turned an ankle in one of the soft  depressions. I wasn't about to do that for another mile, so I went to the only open ground available, a creekbed. Most of the time I could stick to the bank, but I also did done rock-hopping and some wading. This was much more pleasant than walking on the snow. Unfortunately as the stream widened it became more difficult to stay out of the water, so I cut cross-country for the treeline. At this point the sun dropped below the adjacent mountain and my feet started to freeze. I raced the sun, occasionally catching it as the trail climbed out from around that ridge; I was always super thankful for the warmth. Then I came to something that totally blew me away. Around the lower Palisade Lake there was a flooded section of trail. Coming around a bend I realized the culprit - a large waterfall directly on the trail! I laughed to myself at this, in such sharp contrast to what I experienced in the first 700 miles in the desert, here was such an abundance of water that it was falling straight into my path. That was a good way to end such a challenging day, and I look forward to taking it a little easier tomorrow.

Miles Today: 12
Trip Mileage: 821

Photo: Kings River after successfully crossing

No comments:

Post a Comment