Trip ReportA Winter Traverse of the California section of the PCT Part 5
I leave the Kennedy Meadows store by noon. My pack is heavy. The heaviest so far this trip. I have 60 oz of fuel, 14 days worth of food plus ski gear. I throw my Boreal hikers away. One has a hole in it and they are soaked. Walking down the road in ski boots sucks especially brand new ones that I didnít heat mold. I make it back to the trail and decide to ski what little snow there is. I make a rule that if a dirt patch is longer than my skis I will take them off. It is a pleasant day temp wise but I still wear a fleece. I manage to ski about ĺ of the way to the campground. I am thirsty but the water is off. There are many footprints on the trail and it is rougher so skiing is not possible. I bump into two hikers coming down (these are the second group I have seen since starting Jan 4th). We exchange pleasantries and I am alone again. I make it to the bridge and drink a liter of water. It is about 3pm and I am tired. I find a nice place to camp on the west of the trail on a little rib. There is only a few inches of snow so I am glad I kept my tent stakes. It is so nice to have my down slippers, down pants and a thicker down jacket. I have filled my trusted Gatorade pee bottle with gasoline for now. If only I could make my stove run on urine.
Jan 18th I wake to partly cloudy skies a decide to wait a while before I start moving. I go to the river for more water and have two cups of coffee. I decide it is not to bad weather-wise so I am moving by 9:30. About half an hour later it starts to rain yes rain. It continues to rain for the next two hours with intermittent spots of sun. I have been carrying my skis in my hands. My pack is too heavy to put them on. I put on skis at mile 708 where the trail gets shaded. In my hast I drop to quickly and have to thrash around to make it back to the trail. Skis come off on the traverse into crag creek. There are also a great many down trees from the past two windstorms and the burn.
I stop just before Clover Meadow for a break in one of the sun windows. I am soaked. Grabbing some food off the rear mesh panel of my pack I see a half inch gash in my Thermarest. Dammit! What can I do? I ripped a hole in it thrashing around in the woods. It makes no sense to return to Kennedy Meadows with a store not open until Saturday so I continue on. I manage to ski a little more around Clover Meadow then I run into a section where it looks like a bomb went off. It is a mass of dead trees and limbs. What a mess! It takes forever taking skis on and off and climbing over logs. I make a careless step and slip on a wet snow log. Be careful!
Around mile 712 I can ski for good. The sun is out now as well making for a nice day. I reach the top of the gentle pass and drop into Beck Meadows. The rain crust is starting to freeze back up. It is good conditions for travel on skis. Where the trail climbs back up looks like a pain to ski so I decide to stay in the meadow and meet the trail later. I hear a coyote yipping in a weird way and see him off in the distance. He is in my path of travel so I head toward him. He stays in one spot as I approach I am worried the he is caught in a trap or injured. He takes off at the last second and climbs a ridge to the east.
Jan 19th It has warmed in the early morning hours and is now 28 degrees at 6 am. It was a rough night with my leaking thermarest. Thank God for the down pants and slippers! I am thinking of a bailout at Olancha Pass. I pack up slowly watching the light cloud cover to the north. I am moving by 9 am.
With light snow falling I enter Monache meadows (largest meadow in the sierra). There is no water available in the South Fork of the Kern river. I beeline directly for Cow Creek. There is just enough snow now to ski in the drainage. I hit a soft spot and fall through unconsolidated snow which will plague me the next few days.
I reach the thicker timber Cow Creek and it is snowing really hard. I grab a quick bite to eat under a large pine. The snow in CA is super sticky especially after a cold night. The new warm wet snow gets pushed into the cold dry snow and sticks to your skis. The only solution is wax. Further up the snow gets deep. I see some cut logs and find I am back on the trail. I am getting soaked in the heavy wet snow. At mile 720 I put on climbing skins and climb a steep hill. I am exhausted and find a place to camp next to a giant red fir. I pull my pack off and have over three inches of snow on top of it. I stomp out a platform for the tent in a foot of fresh snow. It is now starting to clear at 5pm. I and everything I own are soaked. I put a few more pieces of duct tape on my leaky thermarest and hope for the best again.
What a cold miserable night! Being so wet from the previous day has made it hard to stay warm. I have multiple cups of coffee waiting for the sun. The red fir blocks it from my tent. I put everything out to dry and am moving by 9:30 am. It is deep! I traverse across a ridge with manzanita. The under layer of snow is unsupportable so I go to the ground. There is only about three feet total on the ground. After hours of barely moving I reach upper Cow Creek. It is hot! The snow is so sticky. I peel skins and climb up the flats at mile 722. I have decided to push on for a possible bail out at Cottonwood Pass. Higher up the snow is better. I see a PCT marker nailed to a tree and know that I am on course.
I traverse below the rocks then climb back to the pass at 10,420. Miraculously enough I find a perfect patch of bare dirt to camp on at 3pm. It is perfect. I will be much warmer on the dirt instead of the snow. It is good I kept the tent stakes.
The views from my camp are fabulous. The Kaweahís are right there. The rest of the high country is glowing. I heat water and use a little to see where my duct tape patch job is leaking. I add two more pieces that I heat up with a lighter and have a nice evening.
Camp on the ridges not the meadows. Cold air sinks to the meadows. I had a warm nightís sleep. I am on the go by 8:30 am. I have a mixed crust and bottomless powder on the next traverse over to the next knob. I should have put on skins for the last bit. This high elevation forest is exquisite! Foxtail Pines? And giant Lodgepoles. From the top I am greeted with a nice descent. This is why I love skiing! Unfortunately I canít drop to much because it is a traverse that I should stay above 9,500 feet. After a bit I get suckered into a drainage. After more good skiing I must climb out and get into the right drainage. Again phone GPS comes in handy.
Around the exit of Long Stringer creek it gets really sticky and I mean sticky. I wax and continue down and over to Big Dry Meadow. It takes me half an hour to ski across the meadow. I come to the other side to a dry log under a pine at 2:30 pm and say f*#k it! A good campsite! I choose this site for maximum sun exposure in the evening as well as the am.
Another cold night but I slept good. Bad day emotionally was depressed about sh#t. After a late start, 9:30 am it is hot. I have my straw hat on immediately. I climb 500 feet and take a break in the actual PCT trail bed that I can distinguish out of the snow. Today I am committed to making some distance. I climb another 500 feet in Manzanita again. This time in supportable spring conditions. I end up doing a nasty traverse above Death Canyon. I come out on the Sierra crest and have a spectacular traverse the next few miles.
I am taking a rest day. It is snowing hard. I love this little tent with the toe pointed into the wind.
Yesterday was nuts with the military aircraft. At least half a dozen times they were doing maneuvers around the mountains. It was deafening.
I eat another 75 mg thc lollipop and spend the day relaxing in the tent eating and drinking.
It is a cold morning. I start off wearing all of my layers. I wear my down pants over my shell pants. That way I can peel them off easily with their full side zips. It warms as the sun shines and I peel my down. The nice thing about skiing is I can pick my route now and am not limited to following a trail. I drop off the crest into upper Mulkey Creek with some nice skiing. The foot of fresh should now seal the ski deal for me. I climb up a drainage to Mulkey Pass then traverse around the north side of a knob to have more snow. I meet the trail again at Trail Pass and even see signs sticking out of the snow. I donít climb high enough going around Trail Peak and get in some steep terrain that I donít like. I climb back up and traverse to the pass above Poisen Meadow for another ridge camp.
It is another cold morning. My thermarest patch job is working ok so I decide not to bail at Cottonwood Pass. The next section has thin snowpack and big rocks. There is even some wire fencing I have to ski over. It is a rough traverse and I hold into rocks while skiing. I finally crest the saddle and ski to Cottonwood pass to see if there is cell service. No service. I take a lunch break and get water at Chicken Spring lake outlet. I take about 3 or 4 lunch breaks every day one a 10, 12,and 3pm. I am parched at in the afternoon because I am usually out of water and running water is hard to find in early winter. Small streams are frozen over or covered in snow.
The traverse under Cirque peak is nice. I end up dropping to a flat spot to avoid more big rocks and climb the hill that is the boundary to Sequoia National park in deep snow.
The drop off the ridge is windblown at the top but I get a few nice turns down to Siberian Outpost. Just the name alone makes you want to see it. In January it didnít disappoint. I camp on the north side if the meadows next to small pines at almost 11,000 feet. The sun sets and the temperature plummets. The peaks catch the last light and I am alone in a frigid wasteland.
The sun shines again and warms my tent. I pack up slowly enjoying the warmth. I have been using my pee bottle to thaw my ski boots. The Gatorade bottle wonít fit in the toe box however. I need a banana shaped pee bottle. Certainly not a million dollar idea.
I am tempted to follow the drainage down but am worried about lack of snow so I follow the trail down. It warms quickly and I make good time down to Rock Creek with occasional bits of good skiing. Looking for a snow bridge I stumble into the Rock Creek snow survey cabin. I am amused at how high they have a shovel stashed in a tree.
I find license plates nailed to trees and follow them down to Crabtree Meadow as the sun is setting, blazing the peaks in color.
The next day is colder. I have skied this section before so the route-finding should be easier. It is another climb up and a good descent to Wallace creek. I manage to find a sketchy snow bridge and fill my bottle. The climb up Bighorn Plateau is long. I drop in to Tyndall Creek and stomp out a platform with skis on again. I make a ski track down to a water hole to limit my fuel use. The weather seems to be changing. And I am worried about a big dump.
I awake to partly cloudy skies and it is cold. I have a good ski up the basin to a point directly below Forester pass and can see switchbacks sticking out of the snow in spots. The gulley seems too soft to kick steps in so I try to follow the trail. It is a mess either way. Some of it I can ski then I have to walk in other places with deep unconsolidated snow on rocks. I enter the gulley at the top and kick steps the rest of the way to the top.
I haul ass and ski down Kearsarge pass in under an hour. I accost the skiers right above the trail head. It turns out they are snow surveyors doing their survey. One of them is skiing on old wooden skis without edges. I canít imagine coming of the icy pass with that setup. I talk them into giving me a ride but it is still a few more miles of skiing to get to their Subaru parked down at snowline.
After getting in the Subaru I admit that I havenít showered in over three weeks. The longest span for me ever. They still give me a ride all the way to Bishop and drop me off at a friendís house. Thanks so much!
The next storm is a good one and it even snows in Bishop. I borrow a pair of shoes from Herm for walking around town in and drink Sierra Nevada the next four days while gearing up for the next section.
A new thermarest is purchased at Wilsons!
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