Saturday, June 18, 2016

Day 49 : Pinchot And Mather Passes

20 miles today
1830 miles to go

I am the first in camp to be up. In fact I leave camp before anyone else shows their face. It's cold, my hands are cold. I am so tired of being cold in the morning. But so it is. I climb today, I climb Pinchot Pass. Up I go, following the path the rushing water is taking down the hill, except I am going up. Switchbacks, always switchbacks. Climbing up and up, I pass from the shadows into the morning light. The warmth is minimal, the higher I climb to colder the ambient air temperature. The ever present icy breeze adds to my pain. I can't even imagine what it feels like to be too hot. I know that I was only a few short weeks ago, but now that is theoretical, cold, frozen hands are a reality. The crashing water is white and frothy, it runs down chutes in the rock to crash into pools below. The blue sky above promises sunny weather, even if cold and breezy. The snow fields lay across the trail in many places. Footprints indicate where to go even if they indicate incorrectly. I follow them. Tromping the snow as I go. It's cold enough this early in the morning that sliding and sloshing are minimal. Walking on snow tires me out. There are a lot of extra muscles in my legs that I have to use to keep myself upright. My planned goal for today is the tiny lake below Lake Marjorie. I reach the pass and find Moonsong, Six Tacos, Rusty, and Mamasita hunkered down behind a rock and enjoying the day. I visit for a few minutes and then set out down the other side.

More snow, more sliding, more losing the trail. Down, down I go, all the way to my planned camp. It's so early this will not do. I will go further. Based on the time of day and my average pace I set a goal to reach Palisade Lakes. This will give me twenty miles today. However that twenty miles requires me to cross two passes. I've already crossed Pinchot, now I have to cross Mather. Randy mentioned that a lot of hikers are finding the south side of Mather the sketchiest section of trail so far because of its steepness, loose rock, and unstable snow. Let's go see.

My pack is so heavy. I have more than five days of food, the most I hope I ever have to carry for the rest of the trip. I also have a bear canister and my microspikes. The combined weight is heavier than I am used to. The muscle around my right shoulder blade tenses up. I've found that if I swing my arms in a round and then hold them over my head it causes that muscle to relax. I tried to perform this action while walking down the trail. My foot slipped on some gravel and I landed on my butt. It was a slow fall due to my flailing arms attempting to use my trekking poles to catch myself. Note to self: Stop walking when you want to do the arm swing thing.

The climb to Mather is similar to Forester in that they both have long semi level stretches of trail covered with snow. I follow fresh tracks across the snow. They go on and on. The day is progressing, the snow is softening. Instead of stepping on the high spots, my foot slides down from where I placed it into the low spots. The low spots often break through causing me to ‘posthole.’ Postholing is exhausting and a very slow way across the snow. It's better to go earlier before the snow softens. That's hard to do on the second pass of the day.

Eventually I make it to the steep section before the pass. It's every bit as sketchy as I heard. I climb carefully up the slope and reach the pass late in the afternoon. Looking down the other side was disheartening. Snow, snow, snow, steep snow! Late afternoon and I have to down climb soft steep snow. Too wet to slide, with rocky landing below. I follow the trail of footsteps leading down. Whenever the footsteps were near rocks I am doubly alert looking for weak snow and potential postholes. Down, down, it seems like forever but really it's only a few hours. I find that I become anxious as the day draws to a close. To find a campsite, to cook dinner, to clean up, all before it gets dark is a high priority for me. It's five thirty, the sun sets around eight thirty. But five thirty is late for me. Four is my ideal stopping time. It leaves me enough daylight to do my camp chores and still be in bed early enough without fighting the dark. Down I go, across snowfield. Across flooded trail. My feet have been wet most of the day. I'm tired of cold wet feet. 

I find a campsite overlooking Palisade Lakes. It seems exposed, it's windy. I setup my tent using some boulders. I am really liking the supplemental guy lines that I have attached to my tent. I can setup using stakes, boulders and rocks, or a combination of the two. It has given me more flexibility without too much more weight. I determined that I need two and a quarter liters of water each evening. That gives me enough for dinner and lunch the next day and leaves about a liter to start hiking. There is so much water in the Sierras that hiking with more than a liter seems like too much weight. I get to bed before the sun sets. I quickly fall asleep, dreaming of the days when the day to day chores were so much easier.

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