The Beginning of the End

Start: White Pass
Camp: N. of Pear Lake
Distance: 17.5 miles
If I didn’t have hot chocolate right now, or if I didn’t have fuel to melt the snow to make it, I think I would cry. I might still cry. I walked 17.5 miles today. It took me twelve hours. That’s less than 1.5 miles per hour. If you asked me how many times I slipped, the answer would be hundreds. I’m not even fearful anymore, even though I’m exposed to the risk of sliding over a cliff or across jagged rocks every day – now I’m just fed up. Fed up with stomping every step. Fed up with being so focused on where the trail might have gone that I don’t see anything else. I’ve been at this for three weeks and today was the first day that I was not excited to be here. The first day that I thought about giving up. The first day that I questioned why I am doing this.
It started with a simple question: what pace do I need to keep to make it through the Sierra Nevadas before it snows? I opened my calendar and calculator. The answer was 26. I need to hike at 26 miles per day from now until November. That’s not going to happen on this terrain.
I started to run. I started to cut switchbacks. I walked further between breaks and I changed my socks less often. I waited until 6:30 – the time I usually make camp – to make dinner. I ate it and hiked three more hours. Finding no flat spots and no water I camped here, on some nameless ridge. I’m scraping hardened, icy snow with a tent stake and melting it for water. This is a waste of fuel but I’ve made better time on this segment than I had planned and I’ve been miserly with my fuel, presoaking even my oatmeal, so I should have enough to cook for the two days it will take me to reach my next resupply. What I will do then I do not know.
What was it about today? It was that I spent the whole day hiking on snow. We’re not talking patchy snow, we’re talking relentless, unbroken snow for miles, several feet thick. I climbed off and back onto snowbanks taller than me. How naive of me to think it would melt out in the four extra days I spent at Stehekin; it will be here for weeks to come. How naive of me to think it will get better as I go south; here I am close to 200 miles in and it is just as snowy as it was. There’s just more mosquitoes now. Steep too. Stomping every single step, constantly contouring on slopes approaching 60°. I measured, I’m carrying an inclinometer. My knees and ankles ache from all the stomping, my shoulders and neck from being contorted when I slip and my pack jerks me around. Is there something I’m missing? Is there some way to enjoy this? I plunged through thin snow into a cavern for the first time today. It was only the second time that’s ever happened to me, the first was on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. Just like the first time, my arms shot out and my bare fingers clawed at the crusty snow while my legs dangled into the cold, hollow void below. i was hanging mostly by my pack. Carefully but very, very quickly I dragged myself flatly onto the snow surface, now at my chest height, lest the thin crust continue to crumble. I peered into the whole to see a stream running through a tube big enough to crawl to who knows where through. I hiked on. Twenty minutes later I realized my polarized Smith sunglasses were gone. I knew right where they were. I left my pack and backtracked. It was funny to see and notice my own footprints. My boots are men’s size eleven and extra wide, but I’m stomping the corner of the sole into the slope and leaving a footprint that is barely two inches wide. Back at the fisher in the snow I saw my glasses in the muck below. Sacrificing my feet and ready for another fall, I climbed into the hole and retrieved my glasses. I might be exhausted,  disheartened and dry camped on snow, but at least I didn’t lose anything.

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