Date: Sunday, 11 June 2017
Start: Camped by the trail at Wallace Creek at Mile 770.3, 10397 ft
Finish: Camped by the trail at Mile 780.8, 12200 ft
Daily Miles: 10.5 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 780.8
Weather: Cool and sunny and windy
Aches: Exhausted physically and mentally, plus cuts, swelling and bruising above and below right eye as the result of a fall.
Highlight: Surviving the day (see below)
Lowlight: As I was nearing Forester Pass approach in high winds I was passing over a flattish rocky outcrop when a gust of wind caught my pack causing me to stumble and I fell forward with my pack driving my head onto the rocky ground. I saw stars briefly and was sure I must have smashed my sunglasses (but they survived……they are expensive) and maybe damaged my eye socket. I lay there for a few seconds, on that freezing rock in that windblasted and freezing inhospitable environment, with no prospect of medical aid, and thought what am I doing here. In reality, there was nothing to do but get up and get on with it. My beanie may have prevented a worse abrasion above the eye, but there was blood dripping down into my eye and also down my cheek from a cut below the eye. My temple hurt, but I didn’t feel like I had been concussed. Anyway, since it wasn’t pouring blood, and there was nobody nearby, I just got up and got on with it. Two of the guys I was hiking with had seen the fall from a far distance, but they weren’t in a position to do anything about it either in the conditions.
Pictures: Click here
Map: Click here for Google Map
The day started with a freezing ford of the flooding Wallace Creek. Like most hikers, I wore my camp footwear, in my case sneakers, to aid in footing on the creekbed. Even with trekking poles the strength of the current was always threatening to throw you off balance and into the water. On the other side, Brandon, a hiker from Florida who had asked earlier the previous day if I minded if he tagged along with me (not sure why, since he’s much faster and more agile than me and seems to be able to follow the trail better), had a fire going for two other couples who crossed before me, and we tried to thaw out our feet before donning our boots.
This was only temporary relief because a mile later we had to cross Wright Creek, which was an even more nerve-wracking affair, but we all survived. Although not hiking together, the six of us all agreed that we planned to camp at Forester Pass approach for the night and tackle the Pass tomorrow.
Travel was very slow on old snow, with constant ups and downs, and always the danger of slipping making it exhausting and stressful. And I’m just not as good at it as the others. Brandon doesn’t even use trekking poles. We reached Tyndall Creek, another we had to cross, in the early afternoon, and ended trekking uphill through the mounds of snow for half a mile (30 minutes!) before we found a snow bridge and hastened across in case it broke under our weight. All very pleased we didn’t have to get our feet wet again in the raging creek.
As the afternoon approached, we climbed above the treeline into the broad valley under Forester Pass (13200 ft). The going remained slow as we had to keep checking navigation and crossed vast plains of snowcups (dimpled snow). Brandon and the young Swede (travelling with Creamer, a young girl from Sacramento) announced that given how cold and hard the snow was, they thought we should tackle the Pass tonight. The other American couple had fallen behind and weren’t part of the discussion. I pointed out that it would be nearly 7pm by the time we crossed the Pass and we still had to get down the other side, before camping. Their argument was that camping here didn’t look very inviting, and they were right. It was freezing, exposed and windblasted. Also, I had just had the fall referred to above, and was keen to get the Pass over and done with, despite my misgivings.
We began the precipitous ascent on steeply sloping snow and I made good use of my crampons and ice axe. It was super scary and I was way out of my comfort zone. One slip, and I was going to slide a very long way down at high speed, maybe into rocks. Brandon was way ahead and the Swede was with Creamer, who had been falling behind during the afternoon. Hiking even slower than me! After many scary moments we reached the Pass, the highest point on the PCT. As had been the case all day, the views were just magnificent.
But it was extremely cold and 7pm already, with just 90 minutes of daylight remaining. Brandon took off and I followed across another steep icy slope. I was exhausted, but kept reminding myself to concentrate or the consequences would be very serious. The Swede and Creamer followed, getting further behind and Brandon was disappearing into the distance. After the long traverse there was a particularly steep descent as the light waned and I just wanted it to be over. I was trying to step in the icy footprints of someone else, but they had a longer stride length (I hadn’t been able to see which way Brandon had gone down, but he had a much greater risk tolerance than me).
It took forever, and when I eventually got to the bottom of the slope, it was gloomy and which way to go was not obvious. It was 8pm and still a lot of descending and wayfinding to do before getting to the valley and more protection. There were one or two bare rocky outcrops offering no wind protection, but out of the snow, and I decided the most prudent thing to do was set up camp and get out of the elements. It was freezing, my hands were frozen and it took a long time to set up the tent, using the heaviest rocks I could lift as makeshift tent pegs since there was no chance of getting a peg into the ground. As soon as it was up, I was inside putting on any clothes I wasn’t already wearing, grabbed a couple of handfuls of gorp for dinner and snuggled way down into my sleeping bag, entombing myself. It had begun snowing, very fine flakes that had no trouble blowing through the insect mesh of my tent and soon there was a fine covering over everything. It was going to be a tough night to follow an exhausting day during which I had eaten very little.