PCT mile: 786
It was about 5 AM when I heard the voices of my Trail Kids. It was time to get up. The temperature was in the low 20s and I was not looking forward to breaking camp. Pete came over and said that he had started a fire. What a great guy! Three deep breaths and I started to move. Emerging from my tent, I tried to slip my feet into frozen boots. Not gonna happen. I pulled out the frozen insoles. That worked. I hobbled over to the fire and held them to the heat.
There was a light dusting of snow from last night but thankfully the skies were clear. I can’t wait to see the sun! I made some hot oat meal and stood close to the small fire. As I ate, I thought about what was ahead of us….a 2,200 foot climb up to Forrester Pass and a very steep decent down the other side. Gotta move.
I break camp as aggressively as I could hoping to warm my body. That helped but my toes were screaming from the cold. “Start hiking and they’ll warm up too.”, I told myself. We’re just about to leave when Mother Nature taps me on the shoulder. Really? Do you know how cold it is? Why do I have to squat in the trees right now? “Better now than on a sheer exposed icy slope.”, she replied. Jeez!
Okay. Now I’m ready. Let’s get outta here and warm up! The snow is firm making our first mile easy enough. As we approach Forrester, the Pass begins looming larger and larger. Holy crap. We’re climbing that? I wasn’t cold anymore. My brain instantly switched gears.
We reach the bottom of the Pass and look up. No trail, just a steep wall of snow for about 500 feet. I can see the switchbacks above my head. I put on my crampons and start climbing.
I finally reach the rock ledge where the trail resumed. I was so thankful to be on solid, flat, ground! Don’t get too comfy Kev. You still have to cross the chute. The chute is an ice ledge that drops 100’s of feet below. There are deep footprints in the ice wall that you carefully follow. I plunge my ice axe into the wall next to my head and take the first step. There is absolutely nothing on my mind except planting my axe and making sure that my crampons are firmly set. My hands are sweaty just typing this! So I get to the end and look up. The trail is above my waste! The only way to reach it is bury my axe in the snow and pull myself up. Unbelievable!
At the top of the Pass, I was not at all elated. I survived and this was serious. I looked down at our decent. No trail, just steep snowy slopes. Going down is becoming easier with practice. I ski with my feet and glissade on my butt down open terrain. While sliding, I practice self arrest with my axe. It’s exhausting work and it’s amazing how time just doesn’t exist until you’ve reached safety.
We finally descend low enough to see a small section of trail and it’s flat. In unison, we just take off our packs and setup camp. We all have one meal left and we still have to climb Kearsarge tomorrow in order to resupply and recharge. But that’s a story for tomorrow…