Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 12 - Tieton Pass campsite

Today was the hardest 10 miles I've ever hiked in my life. It started out slowly as I got on the trail at 6:45 am, hoping the later start would help me on the glacier. The approach was beautiful with wonderful trail work and stone walls. 

Really beautiful dry stacking up here. The views got even more breathtaking as I got higher and the sun crested the big mountain, I think Big Snowy. 
In only a couple of miles I came to the first of many snow fields. Is this the glacier?
Nope. More to come. So I kept going and things got steeper and rockier, in between the snow fields. Finally I climbed to a junction that said Old Snowy Mountain one way and PCT the other. Had I not been so anxious I might have read the sign more clearly but I was giving myself a pep talk and wasn't leaving any room for waffling. I mean really, what else could I do? I couldn't go back because my food would run out in one day so forward was my only choice. Or so I thought. 

I scrambled down some rocks and watched as two hikers came across the glacier, seemingly with ease. When they got to my side I asked them how it was and they said, "That? Oh that's easy with well established foot prints." "Ok", says I and off I went. 

The first thing I noticed was that the description of the trail didn't match what I was experiencing. It was supposed to be flat across the expanse but I was angling downward.  Oh, and it was a bit icy since it was still in shadow. Now downward sloping crossings aren't too terribly scary, unless you have many hundreds of feet to slide should you take a misstep. So I was super scared and tried not to look down as I feared that would be my undoing.

I got to some big rocks that were unstable at best and I kept walking.
It was only when I came to another section that I pulled out my Halfmile's app on my phone and low and behold I was not on the hikers traverse but on the stock route. Fooey (which is not what I said). Nothing for it but to keep going as I wasn't going to cross that thing again. The next section was slightly up, which I felt better about but still, the runout was certain death. Concentrate, breathe, one small step at a time, plant your poles and step.

I got across, I'm still not sure how but I susceeded. And I didn't wet my pants, or something worse. The images I took looking back don't do it justice but it'll give you the idea. 

I was shaky from adrenaline when I sat down and I tried to force myself to eat something. No go. 

Phew, I thought. That's done. Now I only have the knife edge to do. For those of you who don't know there is an iconic place that is often photographed and is the quintessential image of the PCT in Washington. I had this wistful idea of the place, until I got there and had to walk it. 
No longer. The knife edge is a mile and a half of knee crunching, death defying, slippery marble sized rocks, guaranteed to send one off of the sometimes 24" wide trail. I mean there is 24" from cliffs on either side, with steep run outs to certain death. Just typing here is making my hands sweat again. How 'bout some images?
Can you see the little line snaking along?

When I finally got to the Coyote Trail junction I was off of the worst exposed portion but I still had a long way to walk on large and small marbles before I got back to terra firma dirta. I did slip twice on the way down but fortunately I landed on my pack and didn't try to fly off a cliff. 

When I finally got back to my friends, the trees, I could begin to breathe easier and I was able to walk along with more ease. I will say that the event took quite a bit out of me but I now have a firm understanding of my tolerance level for risk and exposure - it is very low. In fact I hate it. I never, ever want to do something that scary again. Just sayin...

I guess I'd better find out if the trail in Washington includes more of the same. If so I might have to rethink my hiking plan because really, it's a no-go for me if there are more glaciers ahead. At least that's how I feel today. I mean I'm pleased I was successful but I can think of other things I'd like to practice getting good at. 

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