Five Passes Five Days #2

“You are IN the Universe, you ARE the Universe, an intrinsic part of it, ultimately. You are not a person, but a focal point where the Universe is becoming conscious of itseslf. What an amazing Miracle.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Day #66 began at 6:00am with a crossing of the Woods Creek Suspension Bridge. It’s an amazing bridge and one can’t help but wonder how people got all the materials up there to build such a work of art and function. It’s really the result of an astounding effort, all so that people can cross a giant gorge of rushing water. Praise to the bridge, as I was soon about to find out for myself how challenging some creeks would be to cross, and how dangerous. This morning, however, we were able to follow parallel to the creek, which cascaded well below the trail. It’s a wide valley gorge where you can look down the river path and see well into the range. We stopped a few times to enjoy the cascades and view.

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We had about 7 miles to cover up to the top of Pinchot Pass, which is far more mileage than ideal, but it was what it was. Fortunately, we had real live dirt to walk on! One gains such an appreciation for walking on an actual trail, on the actual dirt rather than the snow, after miles and days of walking on snow and having to navigate and negotiate every step. As we climbed, I reveled in the striking beauty of the morning light the way it filtered into the forest and cast a glow on the creeklets that trickled between tree roots and rocks and across the trail. After about 2 hours we stopped on a rocky hillside to have a snack and dry out all of our wet gear. The sun was warm and lifted our energy, dried our gear and motivated us to keep on, along with Prince gracing us with some of his amazing music via Ingrid. How amazing that we have a real live soundtrack to our journey!

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Once all dried out, warned up, fed snd smiling, we continued to climb. It was 3,500 feet uphill to the Pass, so we had our work cut out for us, and it was getting late. Shortly, we were once again on the hard packed snow, with vast expanses all around us, we climbed up above treeline and tried to make out the pass ahead of us. The day had become quite warm, and I layered off all the way down to shorts and t-shirt, just before a big dark cloud encircled us and made us wonder what was in store. I realized at a certain point traversing across the thick layer of snowfield that I was going to need water before the final climb to the pass. At a place such as this, you have to either listen for water running under the snow, or head down to an opening, which I chose the latter. This is where you have to be careful crosing over running water on snow bridges, and also kneeling down to gather water from the pools. I love this kind of thing though, it makes you realize how prescious it all is, how special it is to be all the way out in this vast wilderness, just doing a simple task such as collecting some freezing cold, fresh mountain water that will become the water of your body. I AM the water.

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An hour later, ascending closer and closer to the Pass, the dark clouds had cleared and the sun was doing what we now call “flash frying” us. It was so intense both from overhead and on the reflection up from the snow. We got super exposed, and super sun burned. The under and inside of my nose got burned and my lips ended up with sun blisters, ugh! But, at the time I didn’t know what the consequences would be and didn’t really care because I was so focused on hiking, I didn’t bother to put on any sunblock, which I would pay for dearly later in the week! This is the lead up to the pass, you can see the low saddle in the distance, as the clouds parted and blue sky emerged once again:

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As we neared the final approach to Pinchot Pass, the snow was becoming quite sloshy. By this time it was 1:00 in the afternoon, so late! There was a big set of boulders in the path we were following, thst was just about 300 ft below the lip of the pass. I witnessed Overload majorly postholing up to his hip around those rocks and that looked quite precarious. He worked hard for quite some time to dig himself out, during which time I decided I was going to take a different route, which basically went straight up the slope in deep sloshy, melty snow. Not my favorite thing to do, but better than what happened to him. He got himself out of that situation and we all three ended up going the way I went, but it was tough. We were on such a steep slope, I was hitting and digging my knees into the snow above me with each new step up. I had my trekking poles sunk into the snow up to 3 feet in order to hit something solid, and my ice axe was useless because the snow was too mushy to hold the blade. I just used all of my focus to make sure I was stable before transferring my weight with each step up, that was all I could do. There was a lot of kick stepping, stomping, digging in and gripping with my feet and poles. Occasionally I would look up to see how much further it was to the pass, but I quickly realized that even that, was too much of a distraction, there was no room for anything else in my brain. It was also not a good idea to look down, dizzying at best. It was intense, and at a certain point, I realized with clarity, that this must be what rock climbers go through, this level of focus. That actually helped me accept the circumstances better, and I was able to maintain my concentration and loose every other thought for the time being. Just a little after 2:00pm we made it to the top of the pass, and immediately started stuffing our faces we were so ravished! Here we are at the top of Pinchot Pass, elated that we made it. Hovering around 12,100ft, Pinchot is the third of eight major on trail passes we would have to cross as we headed North, overlapping with the John Muir Trail.

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The descent was nice and gentle save for the postholing, but we made it down the first thousand feet easily and brushed up along side Lake Marjorie in the direction of Bench Lake. I am just repeatedly surprised over and over again how different everything looks under the snow. We approached the outlet to Bench Lake affter a couple hours and I saw Overload cross it with boots in. I really did not want to get my boots wet, at least no wetter than they already were, so I convinced Prince that I knew of a better place to cross. Well, it may as well have been the Bermuda Triangle, because we never seemed to be where I thought we were. We ended up spending way too much time trying to cross that outlet which resulted in super wet boots anyway. Sometimes you just have to let go!

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By then it was after 4:00pm and we still had a couple thousand feet to drop down to get to the South Fork of the Kings River where we planned to camp. I knew this hill side was steep, but never had to deal with it in the snow, and especially not in wet slippery snowy conditions, at the end of the day, with wet feet, and sun hiding behind the clouds. It was an interesting descent though, we “skiid” a lot, and postholed a lot, heel plunged, and even did a few short glissades. There was no trail, so we just headed in the general direction of where we heard water rushing, and tried our best to avoid hitting rocks and trees. Since Overload had crossed the outlet for Bench Lake at a different place than Prince and I had, we were no longer with him, it was not good. We hoped we would all find each other at the trail below. Lesson learned, don’t split up! Of course, we did find him at the Kings River, and there before us lay a new challenge, our campsite was on the other side of the river, the other side of a very raging river. It was now after 5:00pm and it goes without saying that the last thing we wanted to do was take off our shoes and pants and immerse ourselves in freezing cold rushing water that was highly likely to knock us down. Yes, but that is indeed what we needed to do. This was to be the most difficult creek crossing thus far and it took us a bit by surprise. Everytime I have crossed this creek in the past, I never remember it being an issue, and never even had to get my feet wet. That is the difference in water volume between Spring and Fall, and a dry year and wet year. We scouted around for an easier, safer place to cross to no avail. So, it was off with the shoes and pants and into the river we woud go.

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The water went all the way up to my thighs and my poles were vibrating in the current as I shuffled my way across the river. There were a couple of moments when I almost lost my balance and my heart surged with adrenaline, pushing it all throughout my body. I AM this creek. But, this was NOT the creek to “become a part of”. No way. Not an option. So once again, I focused. Later, I would learn of three other hikers who fell in at this crossing, all were basically okay, bumped, bruised, gear lost or damaged, and more than anything severely chilled and shaken up quite a bit. Fortunately, we all made it safely across and limped tenderly in our sandles the next 200 feet to our little campsite that I knew about from camping there before. As a matter of fact, I set up my tent in the exact same spot I had two years ago. Ah, memories! It amazes me how resilient the body is, and it is especially evident with these creek crossings. At once we are freezing and numb and shivering, then within 30 minutes we are dry, and even almost warm again, thanks to our gear. What did the early mountaineers do? John Muir used to travel with a denim jacket, a loaf of bread and some tea leaves and would make a bed and shelter out of pine needles and tree bark. He, too, traveled in the snow. I suppose it takes the will of ones heart to keep on going, for the love of these wild places, its all worth it.

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