Another Update From Our Dedicated Hikers, James and Eva

by Alex Fuller-Young on August 13, 2010

From Mammoth Lakes, California. We are in this tourist town (skiing, mountain biking, etc.) resting and cleaning up after the most memorable, exciting and perilous hiking experience of our lives coming along the shared tread of the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. Thankfully, we had hiked about 93 miles coming north on the PCT from Walker Pass, elevation 6K feet more or less, up to Trail Pass, elev. 10.5K feet, where we went into Lone Pine, Ca., to resupply. From Trail Pass north, we did not cross a road of any kind or bathe our bodies for two weeks and 165 miles, during which time we summitted Mt. Whitney, 14,497 feet, and crossed Forester Pass, 13,200 feet, and Glen, Pinchot, Mather, & Muir Passes, all over 12K feet, and others lower, the majority of which still presenting plenty of snow, and difficulty in crossing to us two old Floridiots. As the passes and elevations have lessened, the challenges of river fording have increased, as the extreme hot weather in the Central Valley has caused an increase in thunderstorm activity, which presented three successive days of lightning, thunder, peas sized hail and lots of rain, with the creeks and rivers rising precipitously.

Finding the trail is hard in the snow, as many sections are still buried even in the lower elevations; lots of rock crossing, slopping in and out of snow, searching for switchbacks going up and down. This year we brought ice axes and gaiters and we bought some excellent Microspike “crampons” in Lone Pine, all of which got plenty of use, especially my Black Diamond Raven ice axe which saved my ass during a scary moment on the last steep snow ascending Stephen Mather Pass. Cutting steps across the last traverse approaching the summit, the snow gave way and I fell like a shot down the slope, I guess about 100 feet, before I was able to stop my fall using the ice axe for self-arrest, with Woodrose screaming from above, “Use it USE IT !!!”. Hard to practice this maneuver in Florida. I later discovered a few minor wounds and bruises, all confined to my pelvic area and thankfully not my head. Woodrose was left stranded up on the snow where she had been following me across, hyperventilating. Lucky for us, there were hikers above, who had been watching us trying to come up for an hour, who had the skills to cut vertical steps in the snow down to Woodrose and encourage her to climb up and off the snow.

The rain and hail that drove the rivers up presented almost equal difficulty to the steep snow covered passes, although as Woodrose says, the passes take all day, crossing snow and route finding at 1/2 mile per hour, whereas the fords are typically only five minutes of fear and danger. Waist deep in cold rushing water arm in arm, one of us takes a step and then communicates with the other whether or not we have our balance and feet firmly planted, and then the other of us takes a step forward, cold and hesitant. At least here in the Sierra we can see the bottom, unlike the glacial streams of northern Washington which run milky white, but it is very hard for us. Our shoes and socks always wet.

When and if we can hike successfully hike from Walker Pass to Donner Pass, and include the extra miles of the John Muir Tail, Eva and I will have hiked well over 5,000 miles together, but we have truly never experienced anything over all of those miles that even comes close to the thrill and spectacular beauty and majesty of the Sierra Nevada in California. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park; we haven’t even gotten to Yosemite yet. This is truly world class in every aspect, this highest hiking in our continental US. We overestimated our ability to complete these miles, stretching our food resources to the max before we were able to resupply at Muir Trail Ranch; my partner down to the skinniest size of our 25 plus years together; I may even see 200 lbs by the time we get to Donner Pass.

As far as our hopes to use this hike to help our little school in Nicaragua, our ability to even mention Suenos de Luisa has been very limited, given the effort and concentration it has taken us just to cover these difficult miles without injuries. Tremendous Latino influence in the California culture, many of the local businesses staffed by courteous and competent bilingual people, needless to say, I have great enjoyment continuing my study of Spanish, providing equal enjoyment for the many Latinos who enjoy and are surprised by the variety of songs that I know and love to sing. A gringo singing “Casa de Carton” amazes lots of folks.

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