Day 59-June 11th
Destination: Middle Vidette Meadows
Last night we went to bed filled with anxiety over the coming day (today). From where we camped, we could virtually hear the roar of Tyndall Creek, which we saw from above crossing Big Horn Plateau. After an early morning crossing through vicious rapids, we would be required to climb 2000 feet to go over Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet). So, naturally we were very anxious.
When we woke this morning, our boots were frozen solid. We were shocked to find out that Ishmael, Rally, and Furniture rolled out at 5:30am. It was 7am, and everyone was moving slow, because no one wanted to ford Tyndall Creek. We built a campfire and warmed our boots by the small flames in a weak attempt to thaw them from their solid state. Moving like molasses in ice capped sierras, we packed our gear away. At the last minute we slid our trail worn feet into our semi-solid boots and hit the trail.
We walked the mile to Tyndall Creek which was swollen from snow melt to a virtually unfordable state. After studying the map, we realized we could follow the stream uphill for a couple miles before crossing it. As we trudged uphill toward Forester Pass, the flow decreased and fanned out into several smaller feeder streams which were more manageable. We hopped over one, and crossed over another via a snow bridge. It was comforting to know that we had faced the first challenge of the day with little problems. Next up: Forester Pass.
We continued our climb across a vast snow field riddled with sun-cupped snow. As the sun beats on the snow every day, it melts in a pattern which creates an unlimited supply of dips and rises of a few inches to nearly a foot. Our feet would slide into pits, causing us to stumble as if we were drunk. Fortunately, it was early in the day, so we were able to avoid post-holing across the field.
As we climbed the trail became steeper... Or rather the snow field covering the trail became steeper. We reached the last part of the climb where the ascent became a climb up a 50 degree face, and steps were straight up the snow. Fortunately, people ahead of us had carved an effective staircase up the mountain. We put traction devices on our feet, pulled out our ice axes and braved the ascent.
After crossing three patches of rock scrambling, we hit the final switchbacks of the ascent before the dreaded ice chute. At this point the trail crossed a fifty foot wide swath of snow on a 70 degree slope in a near sunless crevice of the pass, generating iced over snow. We walked carefully placing each step, not looking down the chute for fear of getting vertigo and losing our footing. Once across, we hit two final small switchbacks and a small rock scramble before summiting.
At the top, we all gave high fives and hugs celebrating our accomplishment. Psycho handed his camera to Melissa ( inspireout.com ) and told her to start snapping pictures. At this moment, he walked over to Apricots, dropped down on one knee, and proposed to her. She knew it was likely to happen some time on the trail, he knew she knew, but it was still a surprise as we had spent the whole day concentrating on just surviving.
Apricots laughed and said, "I guess I should put my snot-rag down"
"I don't think that is the answer he was looking for," chimed in Uncle Tom.
Apricots said, "yes, yes of course," to Psycho, as a crew of fellow hikers began to realize what was happening. We stood up with hugs and kisses as those around us celebrated the occasion and congratulated us.
Then, bundled up, we still needed to make our descent down from Forester Pass. The north side of the pass was far less steep, and less treacherous, but still required our attention. We dropped down a ridge line too far, over shooting the hidden trail. As a result, we had to turn around and climb several hundred feet back up the mountain side.
We dropped off the snow covered ridge by scrambling over and down some rocky terrain. Each step more precarious than the last, we moved slowly. Soon we returned to the familiar terrain of snow, which we eventually glissaded down. As we slid on our butts down the hill, using our ice axe as a break, we had to stop and redirect our path to avoid hitting rocks. Also it gave us a chance to let our cold butts thaw out a little, as the snow did a good job at numbing them.
The afternoon weather was very cool, which had the benefit of not melting the snow as much. This was good because it meant we post-holed far less frequently, and we were able to move faster. We even felt like playing in the snow a bit, a pseudo-dance off and a race were held. (videos coming soon)
Justin and Melissa (Swift and Buckeye) continued to guide us down the mountain with their keen sense of direction and navigation that was so good, we believed they could smell the trail. Towards the end of the day, the trail started peaking out under long patches of snow, and we were able to move a little faster.
We picked a camp that sets us up nicely for a morning climb over Kearsarge Pass tomorrow, and out to Independence. This evening we had a campfire and marveled at what we had all just accomplished. Apricots and Psycho drank some mini's to celebrate the occasion as all our boots made a collective of steaming "rocks" around the fire pit.
A soft intermittent snow falls as we head to bed.
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