Mile 799.5-814.5 (15.0)
Barking Spider here again. I’m taking over the blog this week.
It was warm at our tent site below 9,000 feet and so it was relatively easy to get up in the morning. We passed 6 tents first thing, crossed a beautiful suspension bridge, then saw three more tents as we started our seven mile climb to Pinchot Pass.
We’ve found that the area about two to three miles north or south of a pass tends to be the hardest to navigate because of snow hiding the trail. We got thrown off track a few times, getting to places that had no tracks or obvious places for trail. We’d stand befuddled scanning around and looking at our GPS before choosing a course and moving on.
At one point we found the tracks of a hiker who was ahead of us this morning and literally walked in her footsteps for miles all the way to the top of Pinchot Pass. Matching the tracks step for step was also a good way to deal with the soft snow on this hot day. If you took a wrong step your leg would sink into the snow all the way to your crotch without hitting bottom. Established steps had compressed the snow without breaking through and were mostly safe to step on.
On the other side of the pass we had no fresh tracks to follow and squished through some very soft snow, postholeing of occasion. We took a break on some dry rocks and saw a scary cluster of dark clouds head our way from where we had just been. We packed up in a hurry and headed on, but the clouds never were able to get over the pass. We had great weather all day.
Eventually we got into snow covered forest that descended steeply. In the summer this section would be a pleasure to hike because the trail is well graded and uses switch backs to keep it that way. Here we are at the end of May with six foot piles of snow on the forest floor completely burying all the switch backs. The snow melting in the heat of the day we found it almost impossible to switch back down the steep slopes kicking footholds for our steps. Instead we slid, slipped and fell our way down about a mile of trail. There was a point at the bottom where I was on my back sliding slowly downhill and Homestretch was calling for my help, her legs stuck deep under the snow. It was an exhausting section.
After that we started climbing again to start chipping of miles from our pass summit the next day. We climbed up an endless snow field for miles and miles. We realized as we neared the “tentsite,” as listed in our guide, was probably buried in snow. We began to get worried we wouldn’t find a bare spot of land to pitch our tent.
When we found a flat island of rock and gravel we thanked our lucky stars and set up camp. We were horribly exposed in the middle of the snow field on top of hard rocks, and remarkably we slept very well.