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11 Life Changing Days

As summer starts into full swing, the snow is really beginning to leave the high country to feed the flourishing valleys. As I’ve sprained my left knee, I have to change my hiking plans to short drives to places I’ve yet to explore. I can’t go for long, so I end up reminiscing about the past.

A view from Kearsarge Pass into a frozen valley with snow threatening clouds

There was an 11 day stint of 60 miles during the last stretch of a three week storm, May of 2019. While now I realized I should have never attempted to do that with no mountaineering experience and just Steve-o and I, sharing a very much not ultralight tent. Not only that, and the warnings from people helping us to the trailhead, it was also just the two of us for 95% of the time. Not the best decision, but I have grown so much stronger thanks to those 11 days. I wouldn't exchange them for the world.

A backpacker walks through a snow covered forest in the Sierra Nevadas

So, I am not a fan of snow. At all. I lose my mind when I slide unexpectedly and posthole through the top layer of snow. Luckily, there was so much snow and not a lot of sun, so not too much of that. I used my trekking poles and crampons for traction (some shoes have trouble in crampons, my Altras slipped out a few times, very inconvenient). We couldn’t reach fresh, flowing water a lot of the time, so we were grateful to have so much fuel to help us melt snow for our water.

Sign barely not covered by snow, hiker moving snow to read lower sign by using a trekking pole

I learned a lot during those 11 days. I learned that my motivation was usually something not available to me. I was terrified when we were .8 miles from Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail, getting forced to camp at around noon due to high winds and heavy snow. 12.500ft in elevation. In the tent for 18+ hours, Steve-o had left the decision of turning back or going over the pass to me, so I weighed the pros and cons of turning back or going up, just the two of us. All I cared about was getting out of the snow and calling my then husband. I wanted to be back home, warm with my amazing kitties and Nick. So when the time came, it had only been us, we had named our little team, Mammoth Hunters. With about 2 feet of fresh powder, I decided I was more comfortable turning back. (The snow on the tent is a REMANENT of what of what was on it. I was in the middle of freeing it when I thought to take picture. It was a crazy time)

Two person tent half covered in snow, getting unburied. Can see a more clouds rolling in, .5 miles from Forester Pass
12,500ft camp after a complete white-out

So after over an hour of getting ourselves unburied (my duty the night before was to make sure the door had an air hole from the snow so we didn’t accidentally suffocate, snow was covering the top air vents due to high wind), we were ready to do the 50+ miles we had just hiked. About .5 from our camp, we start to see two hikers. Suddenly one came over the hill, I swore it was a bear standing up, but then I saw the trekking poles. Definitely not a hiking bear, nor matter how amazing (and slightly terrifying) that would be.

We ended up going up the pass with about a group of 15-20 hikers. I started to cry because I knew I was going to face my fear and get over this pass. I decided to be close to the front of the pack, and I was third up Forester!! I only had my trekking poles and micro spikes while Steve-o had my ice axe, who was the next in line in the hiker conga-line over the pass. I guess I carried both micro spikes and crampons... I was afraid that I would need crampons, I never really did and the one time I used them, I slipped out of them.

Taogoi, knee deep in fresh snow, going across the ice shoot of Forester Pass
Third up Forester Pass

We got our pictures taken by the sign by the leaders of the pack, Chip and Dip (younghikers on IG), and then we were the only ones to camp right after the pass near Bubbs Creek. I was completely exhausted since I was the one who actually led the pack down the pass. Chip and Dip were discussing on where to go (we were in a white out, hard to see where anything is when you can barely see the 100ft ahead of you. I happened to know where to go because Steve-o had discussed with me how the other side of the pass was the night before.

The highest point of the PCT, Forester Pass at 13,200ft Elevation. Clouds about to let out snow block the view
Would you look at that view

So, while I was standing in waist high snow, I decided to just start making my way down the steep slope. People normally end up glissading (sliding on hard snow or ice) down this part, so I knew as long as I headed down, I’d find something. The day before, we had found a pair of hiking shoes ahead of us. We had no idea where they came from, but it was encouraging until we got stormed out. I did end up seeing impressions of their tracks under the new snow on the way down, so that’s where I went.

When we got anywhere flat, I said we were stopping. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I was creating more nerve damage in my feet with every day I spent out there. My feet were always hurting, like a stabbing pain if it wasn’t numb. My brain was dead from the emotional rollercoaster of the day, all I wanted was to rest.

The next day, the skies cleared. At first I was excited, how beautiful to leave the Sierras with good weather? Being able to see how awe inspiring everything truly is… until the avalanches started. I think I heard about 14, and witnessed 7. Getting to Kearsarge Pass was a trip, hiking fast because you are hearing these incredible peaks rumble with massive amounts of life giving glitter leaving their majesties.

Clear morning sky with the moon as the only thing in the vast blue. Snow covered peaks and pine trees seen through a tent door

When we did get to the top of the way out, we met a kid who was just up for the morning to go on the peaks of the pass. We dubbed him Captain Kearsarge as he said he would take us into town. I had never been so grateful for solid ground in my life. Once I had reception, I called Nick and told him about how cold I was and how happy I was to be out. Eleven days was a long time for us not to at least send a text.

But while spending time in town, my toes felt as if they were exploding with every step now that they were no longer being frozen every day. Every step was excruciating and I could help but do those little laughing whimpers, you know, the one you do when you can’t believe how much something hurts? Yeah, that one. I was a broken record of that.

One thing I’m working on this year is to not settle for finding motivation in someone else. A lot could have gone wrong during that stint in the Sierras. I made it out a stronger person than when I went in and that is one thing I will never not be grateful for. I compare everything difficult I go through with that time. “At least I’m not freezing my feet off in a blizzard right now” type attitude. At least when I’m not hangery. I’m not calm when I’m starving 😅


A storm is in the valley over, seen between high peaks in the Sierra Nevada near Bullfrog Lake

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