Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Day 1: Spring Creek Pass to Saddle at 992.5

A thin layer of frost covered the swampy meadow near our camp. We lingered in our tent, loathe to leave our cozy, warm sleeping bags. We finally emerged from our down cocoons after the sun's rays reached through the trees and warmed our camp.

Packing up our gear, we discovered that a critical box containing our dinner food had been left behind. Resigning ourselves to a late start, we piled into the truck and headed back down the mountain to Lake City. After picking up dinner supplies we enjoyed sweet treats at the Lake City Bakery and sipped coffee and hot chocolate in the sunny back porch of Mean Jean's Coffee. 

By the time we reached the trailhead at Spring Creek Pass (10,908 ft) and finished packing up, it was almost noon. We reached our first snow patch just below the aptly named Snow Mesa (12,263). The Mesa alternated between large patches of soft snow and muddy, swampy meadow saturated with snowmelt. 

As we crunched across our first snowfield, I felt a whoosh as the snow beneath me gave way and I postholed up to my knee. I carefully lifted my other leg to pull myself out. Whoosh!  Another posthole. And another, and another, and another. From the whooshes and giggles behind me, I knew Sierra was postholing too. 

Crossing the swampy meadow was no less precarious, as we danced from one tuft of grass to another, hoping to avoid sinking into the mud. We crossed Willow Creek on a soft, cracking snow bridge, then continued past a small frozen lake to begin climbing the ridge. 

We happily crunched across steep, icy snow, only to sink to our knees a few steps later. Step after step we postholed to our knees, only to pull ourselves out and do it again. At times I literally crawled to spread out my weight across the snow. 

Several steep, snowy traverses waited on the other side of the ridge. I carefully kicked steps across double black diamond slopes. Nearing the end of a long traverse of a near vertical slope, Sierra slipped and slid down to the edge of the snowbank, continuing for several feet down the muddy hillside before stopping. 

The snow softened to mush as evening approached. I began sinking to my waist with almost every step. I felt as though I was wading against the tide through a sea of snow. Sierra fared no better, postholing deeply. Twice she became stuck as the cement like snow hardened around her foot, trapping it beneath several feet of snow. When I pulled her foot released, leaving both shoe and gaiter behind for us to dig out. 

Despite the incredible physical challenges of the day, we maintained our sense of humor, laughing at the strange and awkward positions we found ourselves in when we sunk into the snow. Nevertheless, progress was very slow. Just as the sun set, we found a snow free oasis and quickly set up camp. 

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