Wed, Jul 1, 2015
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later climbed Mon, Aug 29, 2016|
As I drove through Fresno around 11a and into the Sierra, the sky was heavily overcast. Rain fell on and off as I drove the remaining two hours to Roads End at the terminus of SR180. I was surprised when the ranger told me there was one spot left for East Lake as he checked off the last box on his whiteboard, some 15-20 boxes all told. I paid my $15 for the Wilderness permit and was off on my way by 1p. For the most part, it was an enjoyable hike, the first two miles relatively flat along the Kings River, then the relentless climb up Bubbs Creek to Junction Meadow, taking some four hours. It rained some along the way, but the umbrella worked nicely and by the time I had reached the meadow the skies were completely clear - things were looking good. The Bubbs Creek crossing wasn't too bad. I rolled up my pant legs and took off my boots. Turns out the water was over the knees and my pants got wet anyway, but little matter - they would dry soon enough. More climbing up the trail to East Lake followed, where I arrived around 6:30p. I found the campsites at both ends of the lake completely deserted. I don't know where all those folks were that the ranger had checked off in the little boxes, but they weren't at East Lake. (Later I found that the permit was for Bubbs Creek, one of three trailheads out of Roads End that they have quotas for. By far the most popular route is the clockwise direction for the Rae Lakes Loop, so the Paradise Valley permits fill first. Second choice is the counter-clockwise direction, thus the popularity of the Bubbs Creek TH.) I set up camp at the south end of the lake next to the bear box and got out some food in the way of dinner. The mosquitoes came out in droves, forcing me to walk around while I ate, and despite DEET, a headnet and a fleece, I still managed to get bit. I really, really, really hate mosquitoes. They eventually drove me to bed earlier than I'd have liked. I had hoped for a rinse in the lake but that wasn't going to happen without losing more blood so I simply rinsed my face and called it a day. It was all I could do to get myself into the bivy sack, undressed and changed to fresh clothes without my body cramping or the mosquitoes finding a way through my defenses. "Just in case", I had left my daypack in the waterproof bearbox with my food and left my boots under my backpack with the raincover on.
So far, so good. I'd forgotten to leave my headlamp with me in the bivy sack and hoped I didn't need to pee in the middle of the night. There was a full moon on tap, so that would make things easier. I eventually drifted off to sleep. After a few hours the first pitter patter of raindrops could be heard on the outside of the bivy. I was smug in my preparations, happy that my boots would be dry the next morning. I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of having to pee - I'd get wet and it would be pitch dark and I'd probably make a mess of things. Then the thunder and lightning started. Big bright flashes of light (no need for a headlamp with this show going on) followed by pounding thunder. The rain only came down harder. Though the bivy sack is waterproof, if I had zipped it closed I would have gotten much too warm and possibly suffocated in the stale air in such a small space. So I had to leave the front unzipped at the bottom to let air in, but unfortunately the rain was coming so hard that it splashed droplets in through the narrow opening. Sometime in the night I noticed that my pillow was getting damp. My pillow consisted of my spare clothes inside a stuff sack, covered with the shirt I had worn that day to make it softer. My socks from the day were layed out near the opening to let them air dry. Or in this case, get soaking wet. On and off the rain pounded me all night, but I was still warm and fairly dry inside my sleeping bag. All was not yet lost. Thank God I didn't have to get up to pee.
I finally got out of bed around 7a after the rain had stopped for about an hour. The mosquitoes were there to greet me as I dressed in my damp pants extracted from my pillow. At least the pair of socks I wore were dry. I strung up a clothesline and then proceeded to hang up my stuff. I left the sleeping bag and padding inside the bivy and hung it all over the line. The stuff wouldn't dry as well as if I'd separated them, but I had no guarantee the rain was done. I hung up my wet pair of socks and the ground cover, ate some PopTarts and headed off. Hiking would help warm me up.
I reached Lake Reflection in about an hour, hiking the weak trail that leads from East Lake. The vegetation was all wet, of course, and over the course of the hour much of that dampness was transferred to my pantlegs, boots, and eventually to my socks. With the skies completely overcast, the mosquitoes had no quitting time this morning and stalked me the entire way. I met a large group of hispanics camped at Lake Reflection, not looking much happier. "The mosquitoes!" they lamented. I continued around the west side of Lake Reflection, thrilled to eventually be out of the vegetated areas and onto the rockier stuff. At least my boots and feet wouldn't continue to get wetter. I scrambled up steep slopes to reach the unnamed lakes just west of Mt. Jordan. I'd been up here twice before and knew that once at the lake there would be much tedious boulder-hopping. By now I was three hours into the outing and was getting tired. I had to admit the 5,000ft of gain the previous day with a backpack had been draining. I was also starting to feel nauseous. Crap. I could see Longley Pass and the obvious (and somewhat easier) route to Sky Pilot Peak. I had planned to do that one second after Peak 13,228ft but was now wondering if I'd made a mistake. I kept going until I reached the outlet of the largest of the unnamed lakes. Here was my first view of the peak, with Thunder Mtn to the right across Thunder Col (just out of view). More crap. Secor had described the Southwest and East Faces as class 2, but those were both on the other side of the Kings-Kern divide, requiring a more roundabout effort. I was hoping to find a reasonable route up from the north side of the crest but it looked much harder than class 3. I really didn't want to go over Thunder Col, a mile and a half over rough terrain. I took off my pack, sat on a flat rock and ate some food in hopes of settling my stomach and giving me a boost. It didn't seem to do either. I was hoping that the sky would clear in the afternoon much as it did the day prior, but all was gray without any sun or blue sky to be seen. If it started raining, the boulder-hopping would become more dangerous. I thought of my wet things back at camp. I looked at my wet boots. None of this was good.
I decided, ultimately, that I wasn't having fun. And that was really one of the main points. Sweating and working hard, those could still be construed as fun with twisted logic, but I really hadn't enjoyed anything since I arrived at East Lake the previous evening. It didn't take me long to consider that if I returned now I might still have the energy to hike back out to Roads End. I had dry clothes there and a more comfortable sleeping bag and padding. Screw it, the 13ers could wait for better weather.
It was 12:30p by the time I returned to East Lake, having spent more than five hours on the losing effort. This would weaken me for the return to Roads End, but at least it was mostly downhill. I packed up everything, adding a few pounds to my load due to wetness, and headed off. At the Bubbs Creek crossing I once again took my boots and socks off, carried them in one hand, a stick for balance in the other. I didn't bother rolling up the pant legs. Turns out the overnight rains had raised the water level by 3-4 inches and it was now up to my crotch. This was somewhat dangerous as the force of the water pushing on me was near my ability to fight it and maintain balance. Halfway across, at the deepest part, I decided my boots were a distraction and tossed them to the opposite bank. They landed ashore ok, but one of the socks bounced out and landed at the edge of the water. A damp sock was now a wet sock. Both socks would be equally wet before I was through, thanks to the wet foliage overgrowing so many parts of the trail. I still had more than ten miles to go when my feet started to complain. The combination of heat, wetness and friction were working their magic. Had I REALLY been prepared, a pair of dry socks right now would have worked wonders. Moleskin could have helped, too. Even some duct tape over the toes could have saved them from getting worse. I had none of these things. I did have some lip balm and thought that might help reduce the friction. So I stopped at the junction with the Sphinx Creek Trail and applied some of that. Didn't seem to help much. No matter - I could trash my toes as long as I made it back to Roads End. That was the end-all of everything at the moment. Having to stop and camp along the way because my toes were sore was simply not an option.
It was after 6p by the time I returned. Taking off boots never felts so good, and rarely did they stink so bad. The toes looked pretty raw. I went down to the Kings River by Muir Rock and took a dip in the cool water, very refreshing after the long day. I made an effort to drive home that evening but got only as far as Cherry Gap at 6,400ft. It was 62F there and the coolest I'd likely to find between Kings Canyon and San Jose. I pulled over to take a nap for a few hours but ended up spending the night, tired as I was. The only thing that woke me periodically were my toes that were uncomfortable in many positions with so much raw skin. I would get up early and be home in San Jose before noon the next day where I could lick my wounds. I'm going to pay better attention to weather reports from now on...
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