Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mile 820.9: Mather Pass- we're lemmings!

We woke up early, determined to get to the river ford before 11 (we had wanted to get farther last night, but it didn't happen). There was so much snow, and it didn't let up until about a quarter of a mile before the first fork (10,840').

With all the snow comes a lot of snowmelt. These rivers are SWOLLEN. For the biggest crossing, we ended up dividing to scout up and downstream. I took upstream, and I took my phone to show evidence of any possible crossings. I had the best luck.

The wadeable spot

Farther up than I was supposed to scout, I spied with my little eye something stretching all the way across. Since Microburst would have been up to her hip in the one wadeable area, we ended up on the log. Sweet 16 CRAWLED across it, which had both onlookers cringing in fear. Microburst scooted across it, straddling. I followed suit, but once on the log with my poles put away, I regretted not just walking.

Our log: no branches, difficult to get onto.

Then about an hour and two smaller creek fords later, we were back in the snow. It took a long time, but we finally reached the toe of Mather Pass (12,100'), just in time to watch a couple go over while we ate lunch.

As we looked at the pass, we could see switchbacks to looker's right that seemed like a complete waste of time. To lookers left, there was a chute of snow, with snow-switchbacks that met up with the melted out chunks of real trail directly below the pass. The couple and the strongest tracks went mostly up the chute, then traversed up under the pass, switched back under the cornice and finally went over. To looker's left, even with the height of the pass, we saw a horizontal line of snow amongst the rocks. Was that the final trail switchback?

Nome of our maps showed the pass in any more detail than a couple of squiggles to represent the switchbacks and a listed elevation. So we were lemmings and followed the couple, even when it seemed like tha man was motioning something to us. The switchbacks in the chute were just fine, but everything got sketchy near bare rock. The traverse under the pass wasn't too bad other than the rocks, but the switchback up and over the cornice was very steep, unreassuringly slushy, and positively terrifying. I went slow and took my time, just one step at a time (literally), and kept it together until I was successfully over, at which point I screamed, cursed, and started shaking. Looking back down, we saw that our maybe-switchback was a definite switchback, clear and dry except at the edge, and required no cornice climbing. Dammit! And with our tracks reinforcing, even more hikers will make the same choice we did.

On the backside, finally descending at a reasonable hour ofthe afternoon, the sun was scorching hot, coming from above and reflected off the snow below. I ended up wearing both my sets of sunglasses to try to prevent snowblindness and the like.

With the trail buried and tracks branching off every so often, we were soon off the trail, bushwhacking through snow, trees, and boulders. Finally, Sweet 16 and I determined that there was no way the trail could be any igher up on the hillside, so we went down and ran into the trail shortly after. For the next few hours, the trail was either under snow or under water, or both. Now we're in camp, utterly exhausted, and really looking forward to no pass tomorrow.

Lessons Learned Lately:
-your hat and gloves can easily fall out of your side pockets and get lost (me)
-your water bottle can easily fall out of your side pockets and get lost (me)
-your bear spray can easily fall put of your side pockets and get lost (Microburst)
-your socks can easily fall from the straps you shoved them under and get lost (Sweet 16)
-your water bottle cap can easily fall from your hand while refilling and get lost (Sweet 16)
- Typoed on my iPhone

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