May 26, 2014
Ice Axe? Check. Food? Check.
The last few days reminded me why I’m doing this. Adventure.
After a night in Lone Pine and another in Bishop, Butters and I were ready to push on. We hitched up to Kearsarge with an interesting couple and a vague idea of what laid ahead. Hitting the trail around 1pm we made it over Kearsarge pass and worked our way up to Glenn. The sun was moments away from falling behind mountains so we paused there to setup camp with hopes that tomorrow morning would be more ideal conditions to push over the pass.
The views from our campsite were out of this world. It was some of the most amazing sunset I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
That night we decided it’d be best to sleep in a little so we weren’t working our way over ice. By 7:30am we started up the final stretch to the saddle. We both felt the elevation and the push to the top seemed to take forever.
The snow was getting soft and we began the frustrating act of postholing that only got worse as time passed on. When we reached the the lakes below we were postholing every other step and there was still plenty of snow to push through. At least the views were great:
We hoped we could make it over Pinchot pass by the end of the day, this was before all the postholing. By the time we were under Pinchot our shins were bleeding and we were beat with exhaustion. We gave up a mile from the pass and setup on an island covered in deer poop surrounded my streams. That night was a windy one that eventually claimed Butters ground cloth while he slept.
At 5:30am we awoke and around 6am, tired and frustrated at the night we headed for Pinchot pass. Thankfully it was an easy one and we were fast on our way to Mather pass which I knew was one of the more challenging passes. My phone started to act up and refused to charge so from this point on I couldn’t take any pictures.
Sometime in the afternoon we watched as two figures the size of specs of dirt saddle Mather pass. We guessed who it might be as we approached the massive pass. Later I would find level 1 snow & ice climbing with level 3 bouldering to get over Mather pass. As someone with no training and very little experience the pass tested me. Sometimes we were climbing 70 degree angles of snow. By 12 we were working our way down the other side.
The snow today was nice to us and mostly posthole free all the way down into the valley. Before the day was over we caught up to the two dots we had watched saddle Mather earlier. It was Carlos and Easy Strider. We called it quits at that point and camped with them for the night cooking up food, drinking and trading stories.
I pack up quickly in the morning and wake pretty early. Once I’m up I can’t really fall back to sleep, this is usually around 4:45am which means I’m ready to walk by 5am. I held back as long as I could but was packed and ready to go before everyone else. Muir Pass laid ahead, an easy pass with some hidden dangers. The snow along this pass hides a strong river that likes to claim the lives of people who use a snow bridge to cross it. This early in the snow year even with the lack of water would force us across a snow bridge, I didn’t want to attempt this late in the day. So after waiting around for a minute I set off down the trail alone.
6 miles later I was a mile from the pass and Carlos caught up. Together we pushed over and looking back about a mile behind us was Easy Strider but no Butters. Butters is a really slow riser in the morning and he carries a massive backpack that takes him a good 30 minutes to pack, he makes up for it by hiking fast. We checked out the hut and pushed on worried about beating the snow melt and postholing but in the back of my mind I was concerned about Butters crossing the snow bridges later in the day alone.
We eventually ended the day with a big campfire across the shallow crossing of Evolution river, no Butters to be found. Went to sleep very concerned that night with dark clouds looming.
Next morning I woke with snow on my tent. Hearing Carlos rustle I decided to get moving. My phone was dead and the clouds hid the sun so I had no idea what time I got started. As I packed Carlos hails me from his tent:
Carlos: “how much snow out there?”
Me: “about one inch here”
Carlos: “you heading out?”
Carlos: “I think we’ll sleep in for like 2 hours”
Me: “alright dude, I’ll wait for you guys by bear creek crossing if it’s too much to cross by myself”
Carlos: “alright dude be safe”
Me: “you too man”
I looked up the trail, or at least the direction I thought the trail was in and it was covered in snow. Looking for rocks in weird formations or the indent in the earth left by all the foot traffic and I started off. The trail proved easy to follow, it’s interesting how you can eventually walk it without needing to look for it. It was beautiful that day, clouds would give way to mountain tops, sometimes the tips would be cloaked in a small cloud or another would float beneath the peak. I felt like I was in the alps of Europe, it didn’t feel like Sierra’s. Towards the west I could see blue skies but above me it rained small flakes that would change with the elevation.
At 8.5k ft or was small flakes, down to 7.6k it be and small balls of ice. I worked my way up to 10k and the flakes became large and abundant. They also threatened to hide the footprints. About 4 hours into the day I was following the tracks left behind by Butters, he too I could tell was following others tracks. I yelled his name a few times thinking he was not far ahead but didn’t receive an answer. I followed his tracks and the faint ones of others up and over Seldom pass. Less than a mile from the saddle the snow really turned up. As I walked over the pass visibility was around 50 yards and the footprints were nothing but slight discolorations on the ground.
I glissaded about 50 ft down the pass and started to sprint in intervals tripping, falling, sliding and postholing. With my phone dead I had no maps, No GPS, and I was almost out of food. I was a bit worried about being hungry and slightly worried about being lost. Powered by these thoughts I managed to catch up to Main’iac and Wet Burrito who were an hour or more ahead of me most of the day. They reported a Butters ahead of them which I loved hearing. I was exhausted at this point, feet hurt in new ways, but relieved to be in company.
We made our way to the VVR junction and dropped low enough in elevation that the snow turned to slushy rain. We setup camp and had a very wet night. I had some if the worst sleep of my life.
The entire evening all I thought of was a warm dry bed. I was miserable. I was shivering from cold, smelled like wet old socks and hungry. Still wet in the morning I packed taking time to stop and de-freeze my fingers periodically and together Main’iac, Wet Burrito, Butters and I set off to conquer Silver pass in the snow.
The day was slow, it took about 4 hours to tackle 6 miles. We spent a good portion of it without signs of a trail or even a landmark we could be confident in. We postholed for a while and sometime around noon we were on our way over silver pass.
From this point on the day was easy and we wound up camping a few miles from Mammoth pass. I wanted to push through but had no maps and no idea what was ahead so I conceited and camped with there others.
The next morning we pushed quickly and hard to horseshoe lakes, a few miles from Mammoth. I was renewed.
Now in Mammoth I’m taking a break. Shins shall be healed, stomach fattened, calves relaxed, then back to it on may 29th but with a friend in tow!
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