The last thing I figured I’d be doing Saturday was sliding down a snow covered mountain on my rear end trying not to hit rocks.
When I was finally able to come to a stop, my rear end was soaking wet, my hands were numb from the cold, and I had covered a bit more than 400 feet. I never intended to get myself in such a position but I did.
I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail north from Sonora Pass hoping to go as far as I could before turning around. When the trail is clear of snow I can easily make it to the point overlooking Kennedy Lake some 2,800 feet below.
Within a hundred yards of hiking from Highway 108 I came across the first patch of snow. Twenty minutes later the hike turned into a slog through snow prompting me to slip on crampons — steel spikes that hug you hiking boots allowing you to walk on snow, do some serious mountaineering up steep slopes or walk on ice.
As I gained elevation snow across the trail became more frequent and deeper. Several hikers who weren’t equipped for snow and who said they weren’t familiar with the trail that was ahead, turned back.
When I got to the point where the trail makes a large “S” to reach the notch at 10,400 feet that gives you your first look at what Pacific Crest Trail enthusiasts call “The 100 Mile View” to the west, it had become clear to me that I wasn’t going to be overlooking Kennedy Lake on this hike.
The entire mountainside — trail and all — was covered with snow. I had a good idea where the trail went but it was covered completely with snow. The drop off from the trail is fairly steep in this area.
Unlike other sections of the trail to that point, there were no footprints from hikers to follow. Within a couple of minutes, the hiking pole I was clutching in my right hand continually disappeared into the snow all the way up to the grip. Given I had it set at 42 inches, this caused me to slow down and be more cautious. After 15 minutes I checked the time and decided all I was going to do before I had to turn back was make it to the notch that I’ve passed over four times before.
I looked to my left and spotted a rocky outcropping that had always intrigued me on previous hikes. So I decided to change direction toward a crest overlooking the Great Basin. It was a fairly steep hike up to where the snow stopped. I was still a ways from the rocky outcropping when I decided to stop, enjoy the view and eat.
I noticed another hiker below where I had left the trail. I didn’t give him much thought until 15 minutes later when a dog was jumping on my lap. I turned and saw the hiker just as he came around some rocks and shrubs.
He said it was the first time on the trail and couldn’t figure out where it went. I pointed out the general direction to him. He asked about going up to the trail just below the notch. I said it might be doable in the snow but added it is the steepest drop off on the trail until you near Latopie Lake.
After a minute or so of chatting he went off across the snow behind me. After thinking about it for a minute, I decided to head that way too.
Once across the snow it was simply a matter of making my way around a bunch of rock formations that dropped off relatively steep that were covered with a bit of scree. I visually followed the guy as well as checking for his footprints in the soft sand. I lost view of him behind that rock formation that had intrigued me. When I saw him again, he had reached the steep part with the snow and decided it wasn’t safe to do. He passed me on his way down. I went up a little more for a better view before turning back.
As I retraced my steps I noticed that he had headed down the snow-covered slope about mid-way back to where I first met him. I figured if he could do it without crampons it was doable for me.
Long story short I got to where his footprints became long streaks and then a wide “U” impression in the snow popped up. Within a step or two I could no longer stand up due to the incline and involuntarily plopped down on my rear end and started sliding down the mountain.
Last summer I lost footing and slid down heavy snow just a short ways before reaching Paiute Pass at 11,420 feet out of Bishop. I had an ice ax I was able to use to finally stop plus I went down on my stomach.
Saturday wasn’t nearly as dangerous but I soon discovered I had less control over the situation sliding on my rear plus my speed made using the hiking poles useless.
When I finally stopped and was able to stand up, the back of my legs were covered with snow. My 5.11 Tactical shorts — a shameless plug for a Manteca employer — came through with flying colors. My hands were freezing and my underwear soaking wet (from the snow).
I’ll keep the feeling in mind this Saturday when the mercury hits 110 degrees in Manteca.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.