Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day 43: July 6, 2012

July 6, 2012.

Day: 43   Daily Miles: 16.75   Total Miles: 1864   Hours Hiking: 11   7:15am-6:00pm

Listen to the audio journal above or Download July 6th Audio File Here

Day 43
The flats before heading up to Mt. Thielsen - no snow!

July 6, Day 43. Today actually turns out to be my last day on trail. The snow was basically so bad today that it took me 8 hours to go 10 miles next to Mt. Thielsen, and judging by where it {the snow} is now currently at about 6000 ft in the trees and what the conditions are like...projecting that forward to the rest of Oregon and Washington as well, making the record is going to be nearly impossible. If I was planning on...yesterday I was thinking about if I could make 40's then I can still beat the record by like 2 days or so. But at this pace, yesterday I only made 35, umm yeah, it would be impossible basically. So, I just decided to quit. I mean I was going to give it a few more days to see how far I could get and see what my timing was - hopefully get to Big Lake Youth Camp. But, I got to a point a little ways away from the high point for Oregon/Washington, and there was a trail back down to Diamond Lake and knowing what I know, and what time of day it was and that I might not find a good spot to camp, I said screw it {after a couple phone conversations at the trail junction} and hiked down to Diamond Lake, where I knew I could get a ride out. I spent the night down at Diamond Lake, right up off of the road next to the resort in no mans land. That point being 0570282 E 47804187 N. I stopped/got off trail at mile 1864, at the Howlick Trail, making the grand total of that day to be ohh, 16.75 roughly. So not even 17 miles for a majority of the day. I actually left down to the trail at about 6pm. Anyways, lets see here. I started off in the morning. It wasn't so bad. I had gotten out of the snow from the previous day, down from Crater Lake and was out in the flats - the big volcanic flats area, just lots of pumice and ash, which makes the soil sparsely treed with lodgepoles - not every big ones and pretty thin. You come to clusters that are more dense than others. The mosquitoes were bad regardless of where you were. I slept pretty much right on trail - nice flat
Yup, that's the trail. The icy steep horror.
ground, almost 5 miles away from highway 138, or where you cross it. The morning hiking was just fine. There quite a few blow downs across the trail actually - not very hard to get around, small trees, small lodgepoles. So I made pretty good time getting to the highway. There was some water cached at the highway because it is supposed to be a 25 mile dry stretch. Or at least now flowing water, which it turned out to be the 25 miles and then some. I crossed the highway and started going up and within about 2 miles or so, the snow patches began and maybe 0.5-1 mile after the snow patches began, the trail kind of turns to cross a north face and the snow patches became more continuous and steeper. They turn into an almost continuous snowfield on the trail because it's a flat surface, making a great platform for these huge snow drifts to build and pile up. So I'm crossing these pointed, mini ridged hills, that are steep, hard snow in the shade, for pretty much the rest of the day. Once the snow started, it was 95% snow for the next 10 miles. There was very very little dirt or trail to be had. It was treacherous going for a majority of the day. These big snow piles are steep, they melt out in weird ways, meaning that you usually have to walk this thin ridge, a little knife edge, across them, otherwise you have to kick steps and walk across the face, where if you fall, you're going to slide down 5-10 ft into a tree because it's so steep. I plodded along for a while, having to break out the GPS to figure out exactly where the trail was. The difference between fighting snow in the trees versus, say above tree line up in the Sierras is that in the trees you don't know where you're going. Whereas in the Sierras, you have a general since of the trail is heading towards that saddle, or down this valley, so you can more or less stick to the valley and make your own trail, and you pop out and can find the trail real easy. Where, in the trees, you could be trying to contour along at one elevation and the trail goes way up, then all of a sudden you realize when you hit a ridge that the trail is somewhere, where you are not. So you have to kind of keep close to it. It took probably a couple hours to get over to the Mt. Thielsen summit trail along a nice ridge, which if you were to try and avoid the snow, it
Reprieve from the snow, Diamond Lake in the background.
would be real easy to take this trail as a bypass for about the first 5 miles or so of nasty snow. It seems to follow up a southward facing ridge, so the snow should more or less be melted out and you won't have to deal with the treacherous trail up until that point. The backside of the ridge where you get a nice view of Mt. Thielsen, is a complete snowfield. That area was actually pretty nice because it is fairly open, the trees were gone. I worked my way down into a couple of big open snow fields, soft snow, so I didn't have to worry about footing as much, so that made it real easy... and then you get back into the trees where it looks like an avalanche has come off Thielsen and bowed a bunch of trees over. There is a big pile of dead ones at the bottom. There was some activity within the last couple years, maybe even this year. A lot of the trees were pretty messed up (laying at low angles} which made it a little hard going to go through the border of the forest. Then, back into the forest, conditions didn't really change much. They did change from tall snow drifts at the beginning, eventually to these big giant snowfields on fairly steep slopes, where there was no abundance of snow on the trail, there was just a slope of snow you had to walk across and try and figure out where the trail was. The bad part about that is, it's hard snow, so you have to kick each step, and you have to worry about consecutive steps. And if you were to slip and fall, you might have 20 ft before there was a tree in your way, however around each tree is this void-space, the snow has been melting out around the trees faster. Usually there is 2-3 ft radius around the trees that has melted out to a 3-4 ft depth. So, if you were to fall, you would slide, then enter this 3ft pit and then hit the tree, so it's just bad news all around if you were to slip and fall. I managed to get up and over the next ridge, had to climb down a 4 ft cornice and then shoe
Mt. Thielsen at the summit trail junction.
ski/glisade or otherwise slide down about 150-200 yards to get down to where the trail was. I took a little short cut just because the trail takes you on a couple switchbacks and stuff, where I just cut them. I finally get to Thielsen Creek and umm, it's supposed to be my first flowing water from the last 25 miles and it is actually completely covered in snow. There is no flowing water to be seen, I can't hear any flowing water. The snow is probably 3-4 ft thick over the top of it. You can see where the creek should be, but there is no water. I had a little bit of water because I had been stuffing my water bottles with snow, but I needed a bit more water to facilitate the melting. I went for another half hour and finally found a stretch of trail where the trail itself being a little trough, the snow bank above it was melting and filling the trough flowing down the trail. So at the lower end snow bank, I dug out a spot for my water bottle and proceeded to fill up my water bottle as much as possible with the water that was slowly trickling down the trail from the melting snow bank. I managed to get both of them pretty full, but with quite a bit of debris...that was interesting and delicious, but at least I now had a source of water that I could drink quickly and use to melt other snow with. I literally got water directly off the trail...drank water directly off the trail. I kept going, the snow stayed the same....the continuous steep, hard, sloped - the trail winding it's way through the trees. From then until more or less where I stopped, it was really a constant battle of having to second guess everyone of your steps, because of the consequences of not having a good foothold were pretty dramatic. Not that it would kill you, but the end result if you didn't stop in time before you hit a tree could lead to some serious complications, just in the way that your legs might fall into the hold and or get spread around the just was not good. I finally got about a 100 yard section of clean trail at one little ridge that was facing to the south, but then come around the corner there's this near vertical 10ft slanted...I mean it's a really steep slope with no footholds. The hardest part actually is that there are no other footsteps to follow, so I had to
Snow crossing from the ridge with the Mt. Thielsen summit trail. 
literally blaze the trail more or less. There are a few faint ones here or there from Swami or Insane Dwayne. But they were very few and far in-between and not reliable. That part it took me another 10 minutes to get up and around it, I had to cut steps...I found that my trekking pole if you stab it a bunch of times in one area, you can break out a little foothold and make it better by kicking it. So I finally made it across that. It's super steep...I took photos, to try and explain it, but it's a lot steeper when you're standing on the side of this mountain and looking down to where the snow would take you when you fall, and knowing that your foot is only maybe 1/3 planted in this snow because it's so hard and you can't get a full foot kicked into the wall, so you're just making these tiny half steps - quarter steps into the snow and walking on those. Thank god I had trekking poles, otherwise I would have been...yeah...even slower. At the same token, if I had had crampons, I would have felt much safer and probably could have gone at a somewhat reasonable pace, just because you don't have to worry about every step you're taking...your foot is in, you're set and you can make the next step and not have to worry about it. So that's a consideration for future attempts, or other people. Crampons - have a supply ready and don't be afraid to carry them because if you get to a point like this, they are going to save you a bunch of time. Anyways, the slope finally kind of leveled out a little. I hiked up to a big scree slope/boulder slope and walked across the boulders instead of having to punch through the snow. Then I cut down and over to the trail. Where I finally hit the trail, I check the map, did the math and figured out that I only did 10 miles in 8 hours and I was at a trail that lead me back to somewhere where I could escape relatively easily and get picked up
Below Mt. Thielsen at Thielsen creek.
easily.... versus if I kept going I'd have another 10-15 miles above 6,000 ft, which would probably mean more snow, which would mean going slow, and then I would drop down and finally be out. To negate the extra amount of extra work I would have to do, I said screw it all, this has taken me the last 2 days to basically go 52 miles. So that should have been 1.25 days. So it was slowly wearing me down and taking my time, and I feel like I...the snow was the final nail in the coffin, whereas if the trail was clear or there were just little snow banks, it would have been totally fine, I would have kept going, kept pushing. But, knowing that it was going to be that way for a while longer, and slowly whittling down my lead that I have gotten, that was too much really. The lead I've gotten is not something I wanted to whittle down just to break the record, but something I wanted to continue and pull through the entire time. If I'm already 4 days ahead with only 800 miles to go, I want to finish by being 4 days ahead, not being like 'well I was 4 days ahead, and then it was reduced to 1...I still broke the record by 1 day but if conditions were better I would have really been able to really kill it'. It's kind of one of those quit while your ahead. I knew that the snow was going to be a big damper, it just takes that much more out of you. It's a full body workout versus just your legs, because you have to balance, use your arms, you have to mentally think about each step and worry and....for all it's worth, it wasn't worth it, therefore I called it. I hiked down the Howlick trail, which was pretty snow free actually. It was amazing to drop down just a little elevation and to see how it changes. The trail looks to be a snow magnet, because when you get a little lower, it turned into not so bad. Once the slopes you are on lessen in their grade, travel becomes much easier, but that's not where the PCT is. It likes to stick to
Choose you're own icy adventure trail..
the crest, the high points and that's where it becomes hard. So, I hiked on down, the mosquitoes were thick...I finally crossed Thielsen Creek as it was was flowing pretty damn well. I filled up my water again - it was some great water, kept going and finally exited the trail about a half mile away from the Diamond Lake Resort at the horse campground area. I walked down to the resort, went into their laundry area, charged my phone. By this time it was about 8:30pm. I did a few things on my email and online and such and then just walked out of the resort. I found a little place about 50 yards from the highway, nestled behind this big giant pine tree with nice duff and spent the night there. I even tired to sleep in a little bit.
Mt Thielsen at Thielsen. This was supposed to be the first water source in 30 miles..,it's all under snow!