17 May 2021
Onion Valley to Woods Creek
PCT Mile 788.5 to 801.5
This morning I got another ride to the trail from Paul at East Side Sierra Shuttle, this time with my new trail family! He told us a story about a hiker who flipped, landed on his head, and died on Mather Pass a few years ago. Paul gave a ride to another hiker who saw it and had to get off trail good. I can’t even imagine. I’m sure I’d have to quit, too, if I saw something like that.
Nothing like a little darkness to start off the day!
By 8am we arrived at Onion Valley, where we needed to climb back over Kearsarge Pass to get back to the PCT.
At about 11,000 feet we reached the snow line from the most recent storm. It was beautiful!
The snow was just deep enough to make everything pretty, but not so deep that it slowed us down. Perfect!
We stopped for lunch when we got back to the PCT. Another group from Israel that left the hostel the night before was there, already on their way up to Glen Pass.
After lunch, we hiked on.
We hit some high angle snow at about 11,000 feet. I checked the topo and decided to avoid it by hiking straight up a ridge to tarn 11200+. Mac and Reese followed me and the others tackled the snow.
The ridge route was easy until the last bit where we had to drop back down to trail through house-sized boulders.
The others caught up with us about 5 minutes later, and then we continued up to Glen Pass.
We passed the first big tarn on trail where Half Cookie and I once camped (we called it “Coyote Bowl” because we shared it with a coyote that night). It is already dry! What a crazy year this is.
Above that there were some easy-to-avoid snow patches, but otherwise the switchbacks were dry.
We gathered at the pass, but did not linger long because it was windy and chilly, and we were eager to tackle the north side. We put on our microspikes and headed out onto a steep angled snow field.
It looked intimidating from afar, but once we got there it looked much more doable and, well, fun!
After the high angle traverse, the footsteps essentially went straight downhill through a mix of loose scree and slippery snow. There was no exposure — any fall would result in at most a slide of 10 feet or so — but since it was slippery it was slow going.
I got a little cocky and took my spikes off. Then I stopped following the established foot path. It was fun, but not 10 minutes later I tripped and did a cartwheel, landing on my back on top of a rock.
Mid-flight, I recalled Paul’s story about the dead hiker. Aaaaargh!
Pain radiated through my right glute where my bear can had absorbed the blow and my left leg hung straight up in the air, cramping badly from its effort to stop my slide.
Berk called out to ask if I was okay. I said yes, I just needed a minute.
Apparently, Ground Score fell at exactly the same time. He was also okay.
The main casualty from the whole mess was my right trekking pole, which snapped in half. Not only will this make steep sections harder, it will also mean I’ll need to search for a stick each night to support one side of my tent! Oh well. Hike on!
We went a little slower after that, and I kept to the established footpath., like a good boy.
Soon we were back on the trail and we caught up with the group ahead of us. We stopped for another meal break at Rae Lakes and then flew down the valley.
Racing past all this beauty, I remembered a trip I did with Half Cookie here, when we took breaks at each lake. I even swam in Dollar Lake (it was about 30 degrees warmer that day!).
I really miss her. I’m having such a great time hiking with this group, so kind and so fun, but I wonder if they will be able to fill this huge hole in my heart.
And I am loving this pace — it’s really perfect for me physically and I feel so strong —but I wonder what value there is in going so fast…. It seems a pity to see Rae Lakes as a blur.
On a side note: I feel so coordinated! Narrow log crossings are not nearly so intimidating now.
As we neared the Woods Creek bridge, it started to sprinkle. I didn’t put on my rain jacket because I thought it wouldn’t get much heavier.
Well, I was wrong! Not only did we have to climb 700 feet at the end of a 22 mile two-pass day, but we had to do it in rain. And it started to thunder.
And even worse: there were tricky water crossings. One of my shoes got dunked right before camp. So demoralizing!
Bloodbeard and I got to camp. We expected to find Mac there, but he must have gone ahead. We quickly set up our tents to get out of the rain and soon Berk and Ground Score arrived. Reese did not — maybe he turned back when he heard the thunder?
Day one with my new tramily, and we are already dispersed!
Now I am cozy and warm and dry in my tent, ensconced in a copse of trees that is winnowing away most of the rain. The last hour was really hard, but what a great day! One of my favorite hiking days ever.
For so many years
I worried about falling
But then I survived