Thwarted by Snow!

hello all!  spence here:  i have one word for the oregon high country right now… SNOW!

when we last left off, billy and i were heading up the trail from eagle creek to wahtum lake.  finally, i have enjoyed the beauty, mysteriousness and loneliness that is wahtum lake. we climbed higher and camped it out at indian springs, as clouds rolled in and sprinkles came down.  along the way we crossed a few melty patches of snow, but nothing that caused us to be alarmed or even think twice.  it was colder at wahtum lake and indian springs than where we had been, but not too cold bundled up in our tarp-tented nest for the night. in the morning we climbed up to waucoma rigde and hiked a breath-taking trail all day.  a waterfall below looked small but echoed through the ridges while we hiked. we saw fresh cougar scat, lots of muddy prints on the trail and bear-scratched trees everywhere. our destination was lost lake, however,  after rounding the corner near buck’s peak, we were squarely confronted on the east side of the ridge by a huge snow drift, slumped over 5 feet in our trail.  it extended about 100 feet we guessed. other clumps of snow were clinging to the ridge opposite us, but besides that, there wasn’t any snow anywhere.  how could this be? we could see lost lake below us, sparkley, the day was warm and we knew we were only about 3-4 miles away from it.  we decided to go up and over the drift to see how bad it was on the other side. the trail was cut into a steep ridge with trees and thick underbrush and mud all around.  going higher  to bush-wack around the snow was impossible.  i used my trekking poles and kicked steps into the bank to climb up it and then billy used my poles to also get up the steepest part.  we walked along the top of the snow bank, careful not to slip down or fall through, which i did a few scary times.  we cut up through the thick forest to avoid some blown down trees and that was even crazier. we finally got over the drift after about a half-hour and saw another one almost as steep and as long. we decided to keep going, as we had good spirits and ambition to make it the lake.  after climbing up and over a few more of these drifts, however, we came upon another one that was the most severe. i again kicked steps into it to get us up and over but coming down off of it was really sketchy.  it was so steep and melty, but crusty and unpredictable.  i kicked some more stepps down, but they weren’t great, and when billy tried to get down he slipped.  down the snow and down the trail and right off the trail.  i tried to stop his fall and grabbed his sweatshirt by the chest, but luckily his feet landed against a well-placed tree to stop his fall. we both looked down beyond the tree and i saw a mess of fallen branches, brambles, rocks and then nothing where it must have eventually dropped off. we took a minute after that to re-assess our progress, or lack of progress, and the severity of the situation. we had gone about 200 yards in an hour and a half. we looked at the map and saw that most of our trail was going to be on the east side of the ridge, and also some of it higher in elevation and turning to be on the northeast side.  the drifts had only seen about an hour of sun a day, with all the treecover and even then, being on the east side it had only been in the morning. no wonder it hadn’t melted. the trail ahead before lost lake wound intself between two pther peaks. it would be dangerous and most importantly, not fun, to continue.  after billy slipped, i lost heart and worried for the first time about our safety.  with reluctance we made a plan to go back and change our course.

i was able to get cell service to my friend emily, who happily picked us up in cascade locks. oh boy, and char burger. we decided to come back with her to portland to re-group and do more research about the rest of the trail conditions, before continuing elsewhere. we found more dis-heartening news, that most of oregon was still snowy above 4500 feet.  several trailjournals of southbound pct hikers confirmed this, as well as the crater lake website and postholer satelllite maps. it had not melted as everyone had hoped. most southbound hikers had given up and went to hike the sierras in california. i guess in retrospect i knew this was a possibility, but something about going out there to try was worth it. i wanted to see it myself! i asked the mountain spirits and the bear spirits permission to hike in their sweet world, as we were once welcomed as equals, so far away in time. i asked for our ineptitude to be forgiven.  i asked for humble lessons…i received all of that and more.

with that said, i still have been really disappointed lately and we have been kicking around other plans, including an early trip down to new mexico. our hike through the lake tahoe area and the john muir trail still stands for august and i am looking ahead to planning those sections.  california has received about 50 percent of normal snow this year, which may negatively affect food crops and water availability down there, but does make for easy hiking.  all of the pct hikers heading north have passed through those sections without much to report. were regrouping and taking what we have learned to heart, keeping the nuggets of info for the next leg.  thanks for everyone’s support. thanks lyndi and emily and julian for being flexible and holding our packages and just being totally awesome.

Billy here. The first few days on a trail, especially this one on Eagle Creek, have my mind buzzing with loops, cycling through old regrets, stuck on terrible pop songs, bitten by little parasites of shame. The chaos and static of humanness are still dusting off. The songs of the hermit and varied thrush are the only gossip. But after making it further down the PCT than I’ve ever been, even only a couple of days away from the city, the human noise in my mind began to slough off. The word “scenic” doesn’t describe accurately the journey over the Waucoma Ridge as the wilderness opened up thousands of feet below us to the west. “Scenic” implies some sort of distance as a viewer, like one watching a television or looking out a car window. This was more that actually stepping into the lives of mountains. They took us in and mesmerized us and ultimately humbled us. Through the cute squeaks of pikas we trekked only to just past Buck Peak before the depths of the snow drifts turned us back. We crossed at least five deep and long drifts of snow over the course of well over an hour. It took sliding off a drift and right off the trail to deter us from trying to continue. The only thing that stopped me from sliding down the ridge entirely was a tree that I was able to firmly plant my foot against and leverage myself back onto the trail. A good thing: unknown to me, Julian had asked the trees to protect me and our journey when he dropped us off at the trail head.

But it was there on the Waucoma Ridge that the urgency of the creative story came back to me. Thomas Berry’s word rang in my head: “What we need is another story.” Stories have the capacity to bind, create and destroy. They are the glue of society. We tell ourselves large and small stories everyday: that this or that person thinks this or that of you, that this or that religion is bad or good, that trees and rocks aren’t people, that we cannot live without money, that if we did such and such thing someone would hate you, et cetera. It seems that the Western paradigm is built out of an oxymoronic combination of christian, scientific and industrial (that is capitalistic) thinking. One led to the next – original sin, shame and at the same time a disregard for earthly life in hopes for a heavenly afterlife led to a disassociation from mind, body and spirit as well as a distrust of the heart that set the field for science (pure mind at the expense of all else) and industry (immediate gratification and comfort at the expense of all else and others). The human mind has been a problematic boon for all of history. We who live in the comfortable cradles of civilization, less challenged by life as the wild creatures we were, must keep our minds busy with diversion: games and entertainment but also art and science. Comfort affords time to do things other than merely survive. So as I walked up the Benson Plateau and the forest turned dark and misty like an old German fairy tale, my mind began to slough its distractions at last. The trees all had faces, gnarled and gnomish, strangers, sure, but very much people. Suddenly all my mind loops, the inner chatter – “The human mind, reflecting back on itself, the human mind, mind, mind…” – lay splayed on the trail behind me, like tape pulled out of a tape cassette into a tangle by an impish cat, except this was the work of the trees, smiling little gremlins that pulled my mind out of itself for an instant – out of the mirror against mirror of the human thinking trap.

I carried a Zuni snake fetish in my pocket that Julian had given me. It had been in turn given to him in New Mexico. At one point I thought I lost it, but I had actually accidentally put it in my trash bag in the bear vault. I felt great remorse for this act of carelessness and asked the snake what I could do to remedy my actions. Instantly I saw striped, masked snake beings in my head dancing and they laughed at me, asking if I was serious, then answered me with only a cryptic, “Follow the rainbow!!” and then slithered off, still laughing. It seemed too cliché to be taken seriously, but then again, what if I did?

3 thoughts on “Thwarted by Snow!

  1. Love your stories. Humble….as if you two need humbling. There’s no time line for adventures like these and I know you know it’s all about the journey. Glad you’re asking and listening to the spirits.


  2. By the way, this is some good storytelling. I was out there with you with a bunch of tape trailing behind me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s