Day 24 - Vincent Gap to Cooper Canyon Camp
April 20 | Miles 374 - 395.2
Today was beautiful and extremely challenging. Probably the most difficult and taxing day on trail so far, but also the one I summited my first real peak on trail–Mt. Baden-Powell (9,407’).
We’d gone to bed last night on the side of the closed Highway 2, cowboy camping as we fell asleep to an unbelievable sunset that eventually gave way to a giant glowing moon.
On this chilly morning we were up and out by 6:30 to begin the near 3000-foot ascent from camp to the summit.
Layers came off quickly and we started crunching into snow around 7000 feet. Shortly thereafter, the trail was completely covered.
I made the mistake at one point of going ahead of the guys and promptly getting lost trying to follow the snow-covered PCT on my navigation app instead of just following the steps that had been kicked in almost completely vertically upward on the ascent.
Well, after I found them that’s what we eventually ended up doing. The incline was insane, almost 60 degrees, and completely socked in with at least 5 feet of snow. Our microspikes ate into the white stuff with every thigh-wrenching step.
By 8:30 the summit was in sight. It was so cool and extremely rewarding to have made it there through almost 4 miles of straight uphill snow mountaineering.
We posed for some jump shots and celebratory photos at the top.
By the time we began descending, the topmost layer of snow on the slope had already grown slushy, making it slippery and our traction devices less likely to grip it. We wrestled through the following miles, climbing the spine of the ridge to take the path of least resistance (which involved grueling ups and downs through unpredictable, exhausting snow littered with downed trees and rocks). Snowball fights broke up the monotony. I ended up really eating it at least 10 times, landing in various positions such as: the lunge, the proposal, the flat-on-your-ass, and the take-a-knee (which scraped up my kneecap pretty good and sent a trail of blood running down my leg, which then rubbed off into the snow on the second knee-fall after that). After one gnarly butt slide, one of the dudes was like, “wow, that was the least graceful thing I have seen you do.” I left a piece of myself out there on the mean mountain today.
After 10 miles of exhausting route-finding, stair-mastering, slipping, and near-postholing, we finally got to our lunch spot and feasted while drying our shoes. I was pretty shook. We did meet a chill weekend hiker who wanted to do the JMT and PCT, and who we got to name Trader Joe (he shared his wine cheese with us).
After that it was back to business, and I was starting to get delirious. My knees were aching and my legs jello, and I’d been feeling generally weak all morning.
It was then that we came upon Islip Saddle, a place I realized I had been before...
...On my cross-country bike trip! It was so wild to be there again, when the last time I’d traveled through had been on the night before I rode my bike into LA on the final day of my 3000+ mile journey. It brought back all the memories of that ride, the people I shared it with, and how accomplished I’d felt looking out over the city.
Today it was covered in clouds, but it was surreal to realize I’d walked there from Mexico.
We could only stay so long, though, as another climb awaited. This one really broke me. I was toast.
I fell way behind the group as my body pretty much rejected my every attempt to get up the hill. I started crying but in a way it kind of felt good. With crazy sweat-drenched hair and red eyes, I caught up with the guys again and we made the last big push upward.
The final miles of the day consisted of ups and downs through an overgrown thorny forest with many fallen rocks and tree obstacles that would test our patience to the bitter end. At last we made it to camp, and I nearly collapsed. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor: a prime campsite with fire rings, picnic tables, a beautiful creek, and for me, cold pine nut couscous with carrots and peanut butter on the side and fake-cherry gummy candies covered in sugar for dessert.
My legs feel like lead weights and I’m sure they will enjoy getting to sleep in a bit tomorrow.