7/7/2017: Day 9
I woke up above Flower Lake to a sooty grouse calling. About the size of a guinea hen or a chicken they open yellow air sacks and emanate a whooping sound that can be heard over great distances. This particular grouse was just outside my tent.
A big day. Hopeful and rejuvenated, with some good omens and good conversation, I would need to summit Kearsarge pass and Glenn pass – a double summit day. Up to Kearsarge in the early morning. At the top, a deer crossed the summit with me. On the way down I first ran into Mike, who said his daughter quit. I ran into Drippy and his girlfriend. Their words: “You got this!”
I took the high path back to the JMT, and then towards Glenn Pass. As I increased in elevation on the lateral side of the mountain above Charlotte Lake, the snow drifts started and I lost the trail. I followed various boot tracks…the wrong ones. I ended up 200 feet above the trail and had to climb down using my ax and crampons. Thunder started as did the rain and lightning. I sheltered in the open, with my pack 20 yards away, and just sat in the rain. It passed quickly, and the storm clouds looked to be moving to the East. I started out again. I crossed an ice chute that dropped into a glacial pool. The blue hue from the snow and ice matched that of the glaciers I saw in Alaska. A pure blue unlike anything we have at lower altitudes.
Around the corner all dirt and rock just about disappeared. I ran into two Chinese hikers southbound. In broken English they asked me to get word to their group on the other side by the lake: “The climb is very strenuous, there are two 70 year-old people, ask them to call helicopter.” This was not the pep talk I was looking for. I climbed up through snow for about an hour. I reached the ascent. Instead of a zig-zag switchback to the summit, there was a mountaineering route straight up an ice chute. The intensity of focus I needed to avoid slipping and falling wore me out.
I made it up, to the summit. I could see 20 miles in every direction at least. I heard more thunder, saw clouds, and decided: “Enough with the viewing, down I go.”
An ice traverse with 300-400 foot drop into a glacier required my upmost attention. Then it turned down. It was a steep decent. I saw some trail, then more snow and ice. I lost the trail at an out cropping and followed what I thought was the direction. It took me to a soggy campsite across an ice bridge. I rested and admired the view of Rae Lakes. The ice on top was starting to shatter and melt. Waterfalls from all sides poured into the Rae Lake basin. I got a little lost in the wild again. I followed some mountaineering tracks that put me towards the Mount Gardiner junction. I doubled back and headed down and eventually made it to the island that joined the Rae lakes. The crossing here wasn’t on my radar and I wasn’t keen on getting wet this late in the day. It was afternoon and with the day’s melt, the flow was heavy and deep. I stayed on the biggest rocks there; even so it was still waist deep. If I slipped off the rocks, I would have gone up to my neck for sure. I took my time and went slow. I felt obligated to get word to the group of the Chinese travelers. On the other side of the waterway, I saw tracks everywhere but no path. I wandered to the high point to get my bearings. I saw the path submerged by water on the East end of the peninsula, and went to the other side. I saw the family and gave them the message and hoped they understood. I recalled meeting the ranger who was stationed at the ranger outpost on Rae Lakes on the Kersarge pass. I double timed it to the station to pass notification to him about the family as well. There was a sign on the door saying: “Cross at Arrowhead lake inlet, not outlet”. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I settled in at middle Rae Lake, by a pond of choral frogs. How beautiful they sounded….at first. At 1am, 2am, 3am, and 4am the rib-biting frogs lost their charm.
As I settled into my tent, I reflected again on my choice for the day. Could I possibly make it? I barely made it today. The trail was much tougher than the earlier seven days, and the mountaineering scared me quite a bit. Unaccustomed to being lost, getting lost in the wilds made me uneasy. Yet, my legs were better, and this was some darn beautiful country.