The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back, Or, the Log that Killed the Hiker's Mojo
June 21, 2017
Mile 778 (just before Forester Pass) to Mile 788 (Bullfrog Lake Junction)
Bullfrog Lake Junction to the foot of Kearsarge Pass
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 47
Happy summer solstice, you very wet notebook.
We are camping at the foot of Kearsarge Pass, and there is a beautiful sunset. We so badly wanted to get to Bishop tonight and be there for my birthday tomorrow, but we absolutely killed ourselves today and I did something reckless just to make the miles. I crossed a river on a sketchy wet log that I was completely terrified with, and that killed it for me today. My momentum crashed. We pushed on, but there was no recovering from the mental trauma of choosing a pass/fail situation over a longer, tougher, but ultimately safer option (searching for a place to ford).
The day started with Forester Pass, and I got at least a half hour start on everyone else. Of course, we were at elevation and over snow so with my ultra-heavy pack, that still put me last going over the pass. I watched 6-and-a-half-foot Bam Bam scale the near-vertical snow slope approach to Forester and thought it might be easy for me too. It wasn't, and I had elevation nausea, weakness, and brain-pounding the whole time, but I at least felt bolstered by the fact that everyone else (except Bam Bam) was using Forester to learn how to use their ice axes. The first time learning how to walk with an ice axe in the wilderness. Terrifying. Thank you, Greg Glass.
For my approach, it only became scary when I was halfway up the slope and out of gas, with wobbly legs and arms from over-exertion and under-oxygenation. I took my time, and we got up there as the rest of the crew was finishing their rest break. Story of my life. Sonya took a video of us and it perfectly captures the frustration. When I watch it, I wish I didn't wear my heart on my sleeve all the time, but I do, and the video of me cresting Forester Pass shows exactly how I felt at that moment. Our trail family was nothing but gracious, excited, and welcoming. And I was having none of it.
I was so ready to keep moving and stay with the pack that I jumped on being the first to glissade down the north side of Forester (after Bam Bam, who went fifteen minutes ago). I felt comfortable after ice axe training and the snow was slushy enough, but the steepness of the mountain prevented me from seeing the glissade path in its entirety. I could see the ant-shape of Bam Bam traversing around the lake far at the bottom. He turned around, gave the thumbs up, and then shouted something across the void. He said it a few times but I couldn't understand it, so I decided I would just go slowly and be safe. As I sat down at the top of the butt-sledding hill to begin the glissade, the foggy words snapped together in my brain. Go slow, there are boulders below.
I went slow and as I hit the steepest part of the glissade, I saw the boulders. A field of massive rocks right in the middle of the glissade path. I was going slowly enough that I could slow down and scoot over across the slope to avoid them, but with at least six people behind me I decided to wait for someone to pop over the horizon to pass on the news. After a minute or so another head popped over, ready to start their own glissade. I passed on the news, and everyone started their glissade slightly further north to avoid the rocks.
I was so proud that we did Forester, and we had fun glissading and walking and talking on the descent, even though my notebook got wet on the glissade. And then it became exhausting not being able to find any of the trail or keep up with anyone. Everyone trying to rush to get to Bishop, and we couldn't keep the pace. Rather, I couldn't keep the pace and Alex would never leave me behind. So there we were. It was horrible, and the black mental spiral of doom began. We pushed on.
The last two obstacles before the Onion Valley Trailhead were a final creek crossing and Kearsarge Pass. We hit Bubb's Creek after hustling hard to keep up with everyone. The approach was slippery snow that led into roaring whitewater. It was a monster. I slipped in my hustle to keep up, and a little branch saved me from sliding into the river. Alex helped me up as my frustration burbled to the surface, foreshadowing what the next few minutes would explode into. We got to the crossing, and it was a log. A small, slippery log over frothing whitewater. Nearly everyone was across, and all I could think of was how the fuck I should definitely not do this. It goes against my common sense rules of what is slow and safe versus what is quick and deadly. But everyone was already across, shouting encouragements. Everything was moving so fast, and my nerves were not in the right place to cross safely. I tried scooting across with my pack on, and got stuck a few feet from the beginning. There was a stick poking out from the log that I hadn't seen before. My pack was too heavy for me to lift myself over it. I couldn't do it. I also couldn't back up, but I tried to as much as I could. Alex got my pack off and I was able to go forward again and get over the stick without the extra weight. I scooted across the rest of the log to the other side. Alex crossed with his pack, went back to the other side of the creek and crossed again with my pack. I kept it together as much as possible while the trail family was still around. They were congratulating everyone on a successful crossing (ha. ha.) and we told them to go on ahead, we needed to stop for a moment to gather ourselves. I melted into shame with myself that I had gone with the group across the log instead of doing what I felt was right and safe and smart. My momentum collapsed, but I knew we had to keep moving, so we did. I couldn't stop shaming my decisions, and I said 'never again'. No more logs. No more choosing the group over myself. No more.
The slog continued, and as we left the PCT toward Kearsarge Pass, the trail became invisible. We were too far behind the rest of the group to see their footsteps in the snow and follow the path, so we navigated as best as our weary minds could. On and on, until we were at the foot of Kearsarge Pass. We still had time to cross, but given how I was feeling about my choices for the day thus far, we decided to camp.
We are camping at the foot of Kearsarge Pass, exhausted and shaken. But it's not all bad. If I wake up tomorrow, on my birthday, in the heart of the beautiful High Sierra, next to the person who makes me feel more loved than I ever knew possible, that'll be an okay birthday. Even if we don't make it to Bishop. I made the right decision to stay on this side of the pass, to have a warm meal, to go to sleep, and if the universe decides it so, to see my trail family tomorrow. If not, then the worst that happens is I wake up to this view and have a day of slogging. We got this far, and I'm okay. I am okay.