Trip ReportA Winter Traverse of the California section of the PCT Part 7
I leave Mammoth in a hurry but still didnít get out of town until noon. Everyone in Mammoth was super helpful from the Motel 6 employees, the bus drivers, the liquor store tenders and the Mammoth Mountaineering folks.
It is a nice day but hot again. I pound a tall boy after I get off the bus at the ski hill. I make quick work of the climb back to Minaret Summit. I lose the cross country tourers when I start the traverse under Two Teats. The snow is a nice consistency and I camp on a flat spot next to some timber. I have cell and internet service and get a strong wind and snow warning from my Meteorologist.
I make about 8 miles in with a heavy pack. I could have used a rest day in Mammoth.
The morning is windy but still decent enough for travel. I ski towards Badger Lakes and encounter tracks that look like they have come from Shadow Lake. It now starts to snow in earnest. It is now hard to see and I use my GPS phone several times for navigation. I hate to rely solely on the phone as I feel I canít always count on it 100% of the time. I stay out of the drainage going up to Thousand Island lake and follow the PCT around the knob. I make it to the lake and it is snowing really hard. It is early in the day but I realize I will not make it over Donahue Pass today. I camp in the thickest grove of trees I can find.
I wake at 4 in the morning to a buried tent. I make sure the upper vents are clear and go back to sleep. I wake later when it is light and shovel the tent out. There is over two feet of fresh. I spend the morning drinking whiskey and smoking bowls waiting to see if the storm will subside. After noon I go outside and take a quick ski around. It is deep and still snowing. I decide I will take my rest day here at Thousand Island. I take apart my Whisperlite stove for a thorough cleaning then I finish off the Whisky (only a pint) and relax the rest of the day.
Now remember that Gatorade bottle I have been carrying since the border? I have used it as a water bottle then a fuel/pee bottle. Well I decided I didnít need it anymore in Mammoth but I wanted to enter the Gatorade Ultimate Athletic Experience Sweepstakes which was on the label. I start entering my info for kicks and then it quickly becomes to tedious to continue with on Gatorades website.
Besides I realize I have already won the Ultimate Athletic Experience.
It is clearing so I head out. I reach Island Pass and for some reason I drop down the wrong side of the knob and end up at Waugh Lake (or as the cut stumps above the snow and below the high water line will testify a reservoir). I ski up the valley as the skies become brilliant blue through deep snow staying away from the steep slopes to the left side of the pass. Donahue is an easy ski from the south. The snow at the top is wind scoured. The view gets big again with views to the white mountains. I crest the pass and start down the north side. There are lots of wind loaded slopes and I try to pick a route that avoids them but end up on some cliffy terrain that I donít like. I point my skis for a big traverse into safety. The next few miles are a slog through deep snow. I camp in Lyell Canyon near the big pond.
I takes all day to go the 8 miles to the meadows. The snow gets sticky in the afternoon. I finally arrive at the Tuolumne Meadows ski hut. I have it all to myself of course. I build a fire in the stove and enjoy the warmth. I score a can of condensed milk (1000 calories) and a can of peaches from the food bin.
Left the meadows after 10 am. How nice to have a warm dry habitat (the ski hut). When I say warm it was 30 degrees in the hut. Had coffee with more of the condensed milk plus cereal and canned peaches. It was all I could do to finish the milk off with hot water. But a thousand calories are what I need right now. At 8 am I went over to meet the rangers. It was cold and I wore down pants and jacket for the Ĺ mile track ski over. It was nice to ski without a pack. I had tea (hot water in my case) with the rangers and had a good conversation covering topics from climate change to Trump. I departed rather late and had a quick ski back to the hut. By now it was warm. I finished packing and deposited the last of my garbage in the dumpster by the T-store skeleton.
It is hot now as I climb into Cold Canyon on made to order slabs. I find a nice fountain (water running of a boulder) and have a snack and drink my fill. I refill the bottle as I am conserving fuel now. The Glen Aulin area is nice. Too bad it is marred with a camp. There ae nice views of Conness and the domes.
The south faces are corning up after 4 days.
The forecast is good so I must make some miles. It is good touring up to a boulder in a meadow by mile 952. I camp at 5:30 almost making ten miles today. I find a fire ring under the boulder and am tempted to just bivy under the boulder. I like my tent however and it is a pain to collect wood right now with the deep snow. I have the tent up and am having sweet and sour pork in no time. I do some food assessment. I have 8 or 9 days left. I have to make over 12 miles a day to make highway 4 (Ebbetts pass) now. The storm delayed me but will be good in the long run. The moon comes up and I am restless. I am awake until after 11pm. Thoughts of the eventual ending of this trip and a realization that I have to come back to the real world and make money somehow, spin through my head.
Cold is the name of the game this morning in Cold Canyon. 5 degrees at 6:15 and still dropping. I fire up the stove for coffee and it warms ten degrees. I have coffee and cereal and wait for the sun. It hits me at 7:15. An hour later as I write this it is 43 degrees in the tent supposedly.
It is a nice tour up the meadows of Cold Canyon that give way to a thick forest. I drop the 500 feet to Virginia Canyon and cross on a snow bridge. The next mile goes good until I climb the pass up to Miller Lake. The hill has marvelous old growth firs that shade the snow. It is a deep trough that I make climbing this hill. The top is better and I eventually make it to Miller Lake. I am nervous about the drop into Matterhorn Canyon. It goes better than expected and I avoid the potential cliffs and sluffs. I camp by Matterhorn Creek after a rough ten miles. I had a hard day and donít know what the future will bring. All I can do is get up in the morning and see what happens. I thought northern Yosemite would be easy but it is turning out harder than I thought. The valleys are deep even though the passes arenít that high it still adds up to a ton of work.
Slept like a rock. Warmer this morning than it has been. It is wild how 20 degrees feels so much warmer than 5 degrees. I cruse the mile downstream than the climb up to Benson Pass. It is amazing how fast conditions can change. The decent to Smedberg Lake is fast. I follow the drainage down staying on the right side. This sunny side, the snow has set up enough to be fun skiing. I get over a cliff at one point but manage to work my way around it. I go further to Benson Lake and struggle to find a snow bridge over Piute Creek and make the climb up to Seavey Pass in spring conditions by staying on the south bowl.
From Seavey Pass I get a few good powder turns into Kerrick Canyon. I camp feeling positive about the 14 miles I covered today. I get a god awful cramp in my thigh that takes a while to work out. My freeze dried diet the last few months and the continued exertion have taken a toll on me. When I get to Markleeville I find out that I weigh only 135lbs. I havenít weighed this since high school thirty years ago.
I have a fast ski down Kerrick Canyon. The north side of the canyon is fast and icy while the south side is not as fast. I bounce back and forth between the aspects avoiding the big holes in the river. It is amazing how much running water there is in northern Yosemite in late February. All of the streams are pretty full of water.
I make short work of the next climb up in spring conditions. The decent into Stubblefield Canyon is another story. I get to far to the west looking for some good powder and I get off in a steep gully but find crappy snow. Lots of pinwheels and slabby funk. Interestingly enough further down on the slope I see some type of animal den. I just got through reading in the ski hut about some skiers in 1929 that were sticking their hands down a bear den on Snow Creek and feeling their claws. Needless to say I did not stick my hand down into the hole.
( More on this later when I cross the Sacramento River and Interstate 5)
I pick a much better route down this pass staying on west facing slopes and have a nice decent to Wilma Lake. The lake sits at almost 8,000 feet and is not frozen over all the way. I ski around the edge and follow Falls creek upstream. Again this stream is raging. There are plenty of snow bridges but the sheer volume of water running is amazing with the drought. It was just a little while ago I was carrying a gallon of water around and looking for water constantly. I camp on a knob near the Tilden Lake trail junction.
Woke up early to a little warmer temperature, only in the teens.
Skied up Jack Main Canyon in good conditions. Lots of snow. Seems to be 6 or 7 feet of snow along the creek. I use a string on my water bottle and throw it downstream and pull it back up full of water. It is a good technic when the streams are so far below the snow.
I keep running into these snow survey sites. For some reason I have a knack for finding them. Maybe I should have been a snow surveyor. I guess it is never too late. This section I see a lot of old license plates cut in half and nailed to trees. I found one from Michigan but most are from California. The oldest are from the early 1940ís. So these snow surveyors where out nailing license plates to trees over 60 years ago. They are still at it, all so California knows how much water there will be for the season.
I make Dorothy Lake Pass at 1pm.
I drop a little bit and check my phone, I have a few emails bounce in. One from my meteorologist telling me I have another week of good weather. I call my friend Chris in Markleeville to talk about meeting at Ebbets Pass. I also download some maps on my phone for my GPS app. I donít know how we lived without this technology that is so helpful but part of me feels like it is dumbing down the wilderness. How much technology do we need in wilderness? Bicycles arenít allowed in wilderness while my smart phone has more technology and that is OK? Before I started this trip I considered buying a Spot Transmitter for a possible emergency situation. After much discussion with friends I decided not to take one.
The decent down to Lake Harriet is fast . It is warm again. I cruise down Cascade creek noticing that the forest has changed. I am on the east side of the crest now and it is different.
I traverse over to the West fork of the Walker River and cross the thousand mile mark. Wow I have traveled a thousand miles, with the last three hundred on skis. In the last two months I have been in civilization three times: Kennedy Meadows, Bishop and Mammoth. If you can call Kennedy Meadows civilization? What a trip.
It is another quick shot down the Walker River then it flattens out for a nice tour through Walker Meadows. I follow the river down and find a nice knob to camp on at the entrance to Kennedy canyon. I feel good about the 16 miles I covered today.
I sit around a little bit at the knob camp waiting for the sun. The sun hits me for about 5 minutes then it clouds up. So much for being hot again today.
I make quick work skinning up to the sierra crest in firm conditions. I have to take skis of on the top. The snow has all blown off the ridge and I follow the real trail for a little bit. This is the longest section of snow free trail I have seen since the southern sierra.
I lose an edge in the firm snow with my skins on and fall down. It kind of shatters my confidence and I am cautious. I stay just below the crest to the west in the Emigrant wilderness. There is some really neat terrain of to the west. Not a track in it.
To the east of the crest outside of the wilderness there are snowmobile tracks everywhere. Such a contrast from the wilderness and national parks I have been in.
I leave the crest and traverse east of Leavitt Peak and fortunately I only see two snowmobilers sitting up on a ridge who watch me traverse to the next saddle above Latopie Lake.
It is a cold day and the snow is firm with more of an alpine feel today. It will also be the last time I will be this high (11,000 feet) as I am leaving the high sierra.
I walk another short section then end up in a gulley above Sonora Pass. It is firm and a little grabby. I ski it with the recent slip on my mind knowing It would be best not to slide down the gulley. Looking back I am proud of myself as it is a nice steep line!
I Camp a little ways north of the pass to avoid any Saturday snowmobilers and dry my gear out in a brisk wind.
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