PCT miles: 774.5 to 787.2
We wake early and are hiking around 4:30. I’m feeling apprehensive but the pass has to be climbed, so onward we go.
Last night I told the group I would really like to not be left alone, and they do a good job of waiting for me when I lag behind. Rainfly joins us as does another hiker, Nick, and Diggs. Diggs is normally a pretty fast, confident hiker but today she’s lagging. Someone asks if she’s okay and she says she feels weird, a little dizzy. I tell to the others that we need to wait, but she insists she’s fine. She tries to keep pushing but has to keep stopping, and eventually Rainfly takes off his pack and insists she eat. This seems to help and she’s able to continue.
The approach is honestly kind of fun. The snow and sun ups are firm and I mostly just stare at my feet as I walk and then look up to gorgeous sunrise views.
But then we get to the approach of Forester. I can see that the switchbacks are largely covered by snow and there are a series of footprints winding up or going straight up the ice. I follow them, and eventually they run out. Sole is ahead of me going straight up, but I start to get nervous. Co catches up to me and starts telling me to take one step at a time, leading me toward a loose rock scramble. At the scramble, I start to really get afraid – the dirt falls beneath my feet and I’m having to have Co test out safe spaces to step. She’s patient. “One step. Good job.” When I finally get back to ice she has me take out my ice axe, which we haven’t had any time to practice with and feels strange in my hands. I still can’t seem to move and I don’t trust my microspikes on the incline. So Co starts creating steps with her ice axe for me, and LiterBit follows behind. I can see how much effort they are putting in for me and I am insanely grateful, while also having a sense that this will count against me.
When I finally get to dry trail, I sob. I know I’m safe but I need to let go of the fear I was tamping down in order to get through it. I take my spikes off and put my pack on and walk up the switchbacks. The ice shoot that everyone talks about is nothing compared to what we just did and I walk across it without issue.
We get to the top at 9am. Hikers are taking pictures. 3 women get naked and pose with their crampons and ice axes. Nature Monster climbs up the ice shoot. But we don’t stick around for long – we head down to get the descent started. The descent is scary too, slushy snow and steep drop offs. We hope for glissades but they are few and far between and don’t relieve us of much walking. Sole’s head starts to pound again and I stick near her to make sure she’s okay. The descent seems to trigger and altitude headache for her.
Meanwhile, Co is doing an excellent job of navigating us safely down the mountain. My muscles are getting used to sliding on the snow and moving in new ways. The river crossing continue to be completely manageable. The trail goes from completely snow covered, to mush, to thick patches, to small patches as we descend. It is nice to end the day stretching out my legs on relatively dry trail at the end of the day.
It feels like a week of trail life packed into one day. We camp a few miles short of the junction to Kearsarge and make a campfire and try to dry our shoes and eat dinner.
Even though it was hard and very scary for me on the traverse, I feel like I learned a lot for next time. I hope this group would still be comfortable hiking with me because they’re a solid team in sketchy situations. But I don’t know that they will. I don’t feel like I’m growing closer to them, and I’m feeling a strange sense of… pity? Patronization? I’m not sure. I don’t feel like an equal, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is a problem and how much of it is just a function of being new.
But I’m not dreading tomorrow. It’s hard to think of anything stopping me, because tomorrow is town day. There’s only one pass between me and hot food and a shower.
*at this point these are estimates – there is enough snow coverage that we’re often traversing across snow without trail and so may be going less (or more)… just in case you’re a stickler for these things