Finding Out For Ourselves
Beginning Elevation = 10,300
Ending Elevation = 9,150
Weather: Sunny, high of 70°F
I had set the alarm on my super watch for 4:20am, but my internal clock got me up just a tad before. I haven’t even shown a photo of my super watch yet. I never wear one and picked this nice looker up at the Cascade Meijer store a couple days before leaving on this PCT adventure. It’s been working like a champ.
My timing was on point so that I finished oatmeal/coffee and packing prior to our 5:30am planned departure. I even had time to play photographer…
Last night, Shuffles had let us know that she wasnt feeling good at all and was thinking of finding the closest/easiest/quickest route out of the mountains. She didn’t feel any better in the morning and so told us that she planned to return to the ranger station about 2.5 miles back or so with the tentative plan of returning over Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass. After a photo, some hugs, and exchanging of Garmin GPS contact info., we continued north while she returned to her tent. It was probably 5:45am when we got going.
Soon later, we had a steep icy climb to go down a narrow chute. Kool-Aid had shown us a trick with the ice axe the day before that involves shoving the whole handle deep into the snow to use as a support and then kicking your feet in below. I thought it worked very nicely for this particular section.
Afterwards, we continued past another beautiful frozen lake.
And continued down the valley, which had opened up with less trees for a picturesque view of the sunshine covered mountains ahead.
As we descended, the snow slowly gave way to dirt and we even got to walk on the actual PCT! For most of the time though, it was covered in melt water!
After about a mile and a half of hiking, we reached Baxter Creek. Actually, we think this was mislabeled on our Guthook’s app and that Baxter Creek is the tributary on the other side of the main river. Whatever it’s called, it was flowing strongly, the quickest moving stream yet. The rangers yesterday had warned us about it and mentioned that some hikers had turned back here because of the crossing.
I think we arrived at the creek around 7:45am. Once the packs were set down, we began our scouting. It didn’t take long to see that upstream there was a large waterfall. So, a no go there unless we were to hike way up and around. We may have done just that, but Kool-Aid had some options he wanted to check out. He crossed a split off section of the main stream to an island and began scanning. Soon later, I joined. After he unsuccessfully tried crossing in a spot, backing out because it was too deep, we began eyeing another part that looked fast but narrow.
Here’s where I made a stupid mistake…
There were some bushes/shrubbery-like trees hanging over the narrow stream and so while hanging on I thought I’d see how deep it was. I’d already stuck my trekking pole in to gauge and it didn’t seem too bad. When I stepped out though it was much deeper and I ended up in and scrambling over to the other side. I was totally fine and felt in control for the most part, but a very foolish and impulsive move. Once on the other side though, I was able to assist Kool-Aid by putting his rope around a tree as an anchor support for us to use while crossing. I’m no knot expert and he is due to his climbing experience, so I just looped it around the tree and sent the other end back to him. He made some nice knots and loops for us to hold onto. We didn’t tie it to ourselves, a detail Kool-Aid says is important…you’ve got to be able to let go or it might hold you under!
Kool-Aid made the first crossing with his pack on and did so successfully. It was indeed deep (waist level) and fast, but the rope worked great. Because I was stupid, my pack was still on the other side. So, I went back across, talked to the others and told them our plan, then we all came back to cross.
I went first to show the process and it went smoothly. Next was Cheer. She made it too. It helped having us on the other side to reach out and pull her up once in arms reach. Calzone went next. The first step into the stream is straight down to your upper thigh. I don’t think we’d explained that well enough and so she went in deep right away. Within seconds she was in the middle, upright, but shocked at the stumble. She had a good hold on the rope and I soon had a good grip when she reached out her hand. She made it across safe, but with a big scare. Snickers having watched knew what to expect and handled it. Once on the other side, we all did our best to get dry and warm up. Luckily there was sun. I think we all needed some time to process the heart pumping scare we’d just experienced.
“You know how to cut to the core of me, Baxter”
– Ron Burgundy
Feeling happy to have crossed safely though, we continued down pretty happily after things had calmed down a bit. The lower elevation started becoming green, which was a nice change from the snow!
We could’ve used this bridge earlier instead of when crossing this tiny little baby creek!
Next up was a forest of giants!
This was the widest based tree I’d seen yet…I’d guess 8-10 feet diameter.
And then, this beauty of a suspension bridge. So cool! And so thankful we were for safe passage over troubled water.
We had lunch on some flat sloping rocks after making our way, one at a time, across the wobbly bridge. A group of three hikers joined soon later and ate with us. They would be the only folks we’d end up seeing today. One of them I knew, it was Jan (Yahn), from the Czech Republic, who just recently was given the trail name Skyrider. Good name right? And appropriately given seeming as he was airlifted to a hospital after dislocating his shoulder during his attempt at summiting Mount Whitney. Yikes! Apparently he’s doing well now though, so that’s good news.
Our lunch point was the low for the day at an elevation of 8,550. We hoped to hike as far as we could up towards the next pass, Pinchot Pass, and camp. Up the trail went. I was in front and at one point when I lifted my head up rather than stare at my feet placement, I saw this guy (or gal?) in the middle of the trail!
I halted, told Calzone behind me, and stood still like a statue. We all watched as baby birds started coming from the bushes all around us. We had gotten ourselves right in between the mama and all her chicks. Eventually, they all found their way together and moved off while we stealthily moved up the trail. Upon first site, I thought it was a small turkey, then we called it a Sierra Chicken, but Kool-Aid believed it to be a grouse in actuality. Either way, a super neat experience.
Soon later, we came across the worlds most intense water slide!
So much power! We named the eddy at the bottom, the wood chipper, after Snickers threw in a stick and we saw it stuck in the current, churning in circles. Incredible!
As we progressed higher and further along the trail, more and more water was washing across, flowing into the super river to our right. This morning and up until this point, we had stopped and removed socks whenever crossing streams, but here, just gave up and walked through.
It was a good decision, because the trail was wet for much of it going forward.
Hiking along the river was pretty amazing.
And then, just like that, the water became not the beauty that we’d come to know and love, but a powerful, dangerous force that we couldn’t cross. Or at least, we were stopped looking for a place to cross again. This one, the White Fork, was even more quick and wider than “Baxter.”
Our three lunch hiker friends were there as well scoping things out. After a long while sitting, eating Mike and Ike’s, drinking water, looking at maps and crossings options, we still didn’t have a plan.
In the end, our group decided we’d walk upstream with our packs in hopes of finding a place to cross. And so, we bushwhacked up the steep terrain…
After hiking up a half hour or so, we stopped and de-packed. Kool-Aid was going to go ahead on a scouting mission and so I joined him. We had found a “trail” created by other wandering hikers, but it was still steep and full of occasional spots with loose rock and gravel-like material. A little ways further ahead, we came across this giant snow bridge that looked to have potential.
We contemplated going further ahead to scout, the terrain appeared to level out a ways up, but instead I just took some video and pics and we returned to the group. This was when we had a bit of a team meeting, along with our other three hikers (Skyrider, Stats, and guy who’s name I never did get). It was the most subdued/low morale meeting we’d had. We couldn’t figure out what to do about the crossing and were discussing the bigger picture as well, mainly the question of future dangerous crossings and our slow pace moving through all of this shenanigans. We looked at different trails “out” as well as the idea of returning back the way we came.
Ultimately, nothing was decided then, despite being up there talking for a long while. We agreed to camp wherever we could find a spot and take a pause on decision making. The three guys went down to the bottom and we found a little ridge to camp on. Cheer wanted to keep looking lower for a flatter spot and ended up going back down all the way near the stream. The four of us made do up on the bumpy slanting ridge. Kool-Aid cowboy camped though.
After setting up and getting dinner, talk inevitably returned to thoughts of what to do. The tentative plan was made to go over the ice bridge tomorrow, when the snow is icy and hard, and then continue on and over Pinchot Pass. There is a trail that leads out of the mountains called the Taboose Pass Trail that has a high potential for us taking, although nothing was set for sure.
We had a truly amazing spot camping and stared out in awe of the beauty of the Sierra. It was a good night talking with the crew and reflecting on what really was a great day despite the short miles covered and discouraging circumstance we’d found ourselves in.