Tuesday morning 10/17/12. Got up and packed up in a light rain. NBD, my gear was already soaked. Left camp with Hee Haw and Typo, leaving Scallywag and ED behind to finish breakfast. Right off we came to a huge river. We spent some time looking for a way to cross. Hee Haw found a line rock-hopping and made it across, yelling which rocks were slippery and which ones moved over the roar of the river. Typo was next but he slipped and planted one leg in the drink and dropped his trekking poles. I grabbed his arm to steady him and he used me as an anchor while he reached down into the freezing water to fetch his sticks. When he regained his balance he looked me in the eye and said "Cheers." Always the Kiwi, that Typo. I knew that he had better balance than me so I just forded the river. No sense risking falling and getting injured only 74 miles from the finish.
The rain that had been falling turned to sleet, then snow. Big flakes like the kind that makes school kids run to the window with awe and delight. I'd been camping in the snow since I was a kid and my cold weather game was tight so I wasn't concerned, but 12 miles and 6 inches of snow later, I found myself in the pitch black with blowing snow and freezing temps at 7K feet. Hadn't seen the others all day. I lost the trail under the snow and couldn't see any topo by the new moon so I decided to camp. I can set up my tent in seconds these days but on this night it was a pain with the wind blowing and my headlamp dying. Solid rock under the snow made staking in impossible so I had to guy my tent to rocks which is tough when your hands don't work. I finally got into my sleeping bag and spent the next 15 minutes shivering in the dark. When I turned on my headlamp next, snow had blown under the rain fly and into the tent! Everything in the vestibule was buried in snow!
Worst night ever. My fuel canister lost pressure and died. Had to eat cold. Wore every bit of clothing I had with me to bed. I lay shivering and wet in my bag, listening to the snow blow and howl. The sides of my tent bowed in like someone was physically pushing with all their might on the soaked nylon. At first light I poked my head out to find a break in the fog and clouds but deep snow drifts all around me. I was so fucking cold that I could barely get my gear together. I actually pulled my frozen boots out of a snow drift and put them right on my feet. Frozen laces don't tie well.
I could see a faint horizontal line across a mountain some miles away and Halfmile's maps pointed me that way but without enough detail to show me how to get there. The trail had to be around here somewhere! I started postholing through knee-deep snow with drifts as high as my waist that I had to 'swim' through. I was soon exhausted.
At this point, the smart thing to do would be to turn back, find my way back down to Rainey Pass and get the hell outta there. Had I done that, I probably would have found the other four hikers and been fine but I was gripped by the hiker's equivalent of 'summit fever'. I just could not turn back. I could see that climbing through snow drifts that hang out over an 800 foot drop was ridiculously stupid but I plunged forward, desperately wanting to get down from 7000 feet. What if the next 40 miles were like this? How could I finish? Why did I take so long in California? And where the hell were Hee Haw and Typo? I couldn't believe they made it up and over this thing in the dark and heavy snow last night!
I finally got below tree level. I tried to re-pack my gear because everything was caked in snow and ice but my hands still didn't work so it was fruitless. Finally, I was low enough that snow turned to rain and it melted most of the snow out of my pack. I caught a break in the rain and set up camp at Brush Creek. I had only gone 13 miles that day but I was exhausted. Plus, maybe Scallywag and ED would catch up from behind and I'd know they were okay but there was no sign of them, either.
Over the next few days, I pushed hard to get to the famous Monument 78 on the Canada border including a night spent in the shitter at Hart's Pass. I was covered in mouse poop by the time morning came around and the ambient stench in this outhouse was thick but it was blowing sleet outside and I had struck a bargain with the mice: just don't chew any additional holes in my pack and you can eat all you want.
Eventually I made it to the campground just beyond the border to find my little brother Astro, his step-dad Michael, PCT Thru-hiker Gourmet and his friend Dave there. First other hikers I had seen since waving goodbye to Hee Haw and Typo last Tuesday morning. This was Saturday!
Tough times. Good times. I wish I could do it all again.
|There's all kinds of goodies inside the monument!|