PCT Mile: 773
Today we climb higher and higher into the wilderness towards the infamous Forrester Pass at 13,200 feet! There are 4 stream crossings ahead of us; Rock, Guyot, Wallace, and Wright Creek.
Rock Creek is raging at the ford so we start bushwhacking upstream through the snow looking for a safe place to cross. Luckily, we find a huge tree that has fallen across the creek. First one down and we all breathe a big sigh of relief.
A mile later, we come to Guyot Creek. This one isn’t flowing as strongly so the Trail Kids decided to ford. I looked downstream and saw a tree that had fallen across and decided to take that approach. I walked across just as Pete and Andrew were exiting the stream. They had that look of surprise and I just said, “I’m not so eager to get wet if there’s an alternative.”
At mile 770, we hit Wallace Creek at 10,400 feet. This one was a must ford. When you ford a creek, face upstream and use your poles to stabilize your balance against the rushing water. Move sideways and do this as quickly and safely as you can. Don’t think about the freezing water filling your shoes. Focus on the objective! Done! Everyone is safe but our feet are cold! Keep hiking.
Now the climb has taken us to 10,700 feet and the temperature is dropping! It’s no more the 32°. As we reach Wright Creek, it is obviously not passable at the recommended ford. There’s 4 feet of snow straight down to a mighty current. Quite unnerving. We hike a mile upstream over steep terrain until finally we discover a relatively safe place to enter. It’s now about 5 PM and still need to find somewhere to setup camp.
Agreeing on the entry point, I took off. Big mistake! I was wearing both of my down layers. If I lost my footing, I only had a rain shell to put on. I recklessly entered the heart of the stream. I was facing upstream but stumbled because I was moving too fast. The force of the water knocked me down as the Trail Kids watched in helpless horror. Somehow, instinct took over. Falling backwards was not an option!!!! The current would have swept me away. Adrenaline rushed through me as I leaned into the current. By some miracle, I found my footing and was able to scramble to safety, but now I was soaking wet in freezing temperatures. I told myself, “Kev, you gotta keep moving and do it fast!”
Now I have a pretty cool pack. It’s made of Cuban fiber and water resistant. My stuff sacks are also resistant so everything in my pack was dry. Quickly, I tore off my wet jackets and pulled out my rain shell, beanie, and merino wool scarf. That wasn’t going to be enough. I can’t truly describe the look on my Trail Kid’s faces as they raced over to me. All I heard was, “This shit just got real!”
Andrew is a very quick thinker. He handed me his down jacket as I secured my mine on the outside of my pack hoping they might dry out…riiiiight! The only thought in my mind was “Get moving!”
We were now 110% focused. There was about 3 hours of daylight left. It was getting colder and the wind was kicking up. I had to somehow dry out and we needed to find shelter. I put in every ounce of energy that I had as we climbed over two steep ridges. Cresting the last ridge, the sun was starting to set. We were losing daylight and still no shelter. We saw in the distance a small cluster of trees. There’s got to be shelter or I’m screwed. Luckily, there was enough exposed ground close to the trees to setup camp. The temperature has now dropped into the 20s as Simon gathers wood to start a fire.
I give Andrew’s jacket back and try to put mine on. The sleeves are frozen solid. Since I’m wearing my rain shell, I force it on and walk to the fire. I figured that I had a moisture barrier and I would warm up in my sleeping bag. Now, my sleeping bag sucks…period. The torso section has completely broken down so I’ve been wearing all of my layers to bed including my gloves. Tonight was going to be a challenge and tomorrow we summit Forrester Pass. Wow!
There is no option to panic or let fear take over. It’s just not an option. I stay buried in my bag all through the night as everything exposed freezes solid. That includes my boots. At one point during the night, I lit my jet boil in order to warm up my gloves. That helped a little. My sleep was fitful as I worried about what tomorrow would bring.
As I think back on this day, it was perfect until I didn’t fully respect the power of nature. It’s beautiful but it’s deceptive.