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[pct-l] Eleven Days Through the Snowy High Sierra With David Horton
Hi Brian Just want to say thanks for this Great report. Makes Me feel like
I'm there. Congratulations to You, wedding trip? and to David. I know you
remember "Be Prepared" Ground Pounder Bill "Semper Fi"
----- Original Message -----
From: "Brian Robinson" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "PCT List" <email@example.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 12, 2005 9:16 AM
Subject: [pct-l] Eleven Days Through the Snowy High Sierra With David Horton
> Eleven Days Through the Snowy High Sierra With David Horton
> I joined David Horton at Kennedy Meadows, the 700-mile mark of his attempt
to set a speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. He has set an aggressive
goal of 63 days, achievable only as an ultra runner, fully supported, as he
did on the AT in 1991. He looked good as he ran in after a 51-mile day. He
was obviously tired, but in great spirits and very happy to see the group of
at least a dozen well-wishers gathered to see him. It was his 16th day on
the trail since he left the Mexican border and he was averaging 43-miles per
day. I asked him about the desert sections he had just crossed. Neither the
90+ temperatures nor having to carry water had affected him badly.
> Gary and Millie Buffington, his crew, had been meeting him with a support
vehicle at every available road crossing, quenching his hunger and thirst,
and setting up camp for him every night. The routine was working well for
him, but we would not be able to continue in that style. Kennedy Meadows
marks the last road crossing the Sierra for over 200 miles. It is also the
end of the deserts of southern California, a major milestone, so I
congratulated David for finishing the desert. He shrugged it off. He said he
felt he was just getting started. In a joking manner, he asked if the
congratulations meant the hard part was over. We both knew it was just
> I came to guide him through the High Sierra to Sonora Pass, 314 miles
away. In this section, it is very difficult to get crew support. Only Tioga
Pass Road in Yosemite crosses the trail, and it was not yet open for the
season. David's original crew support plan, which I put together for him
last fall called for several crews meeting him at all the easily accessible
points along the way. Unfortunately, the last winter was one of the wettest
on record. 200% of normal snowfall still covered the ground through much of
the southern Sierra. Even if the support crews could all get in over the
snowy passes, we could not make the miles from campsite to campsite each
day. The snow would slow us down too much. Instead, we implemented a hybrid
strategy. We would get crew support in the few places where the crew could
reach us, and carry our own camping gear and food the majority of time.
> The evening I arrived at Kennedy Meadows, I packed David's backpack,
making sure that between us, we had only what we really needed. Not
including food, our gear weighed a scant 8 pounds each and would keep us
comfortable down to below freezing. 6,000 calories of food added almost 3
pounds per person per day to our pack weight.
> Monday June 20th took us almost 40 miles to Trail Pass. Ben Jones, Amy and
Dee Dee Grafius and JB Benna teamed up to carry our backpacks from the
Horseshoe Meadows trailhead and traded them for the daypacks we carried that
day to Trail Pass. That was the last significant stretch of snow-free miles
we would see for many days.
> Tuesday was very hard for David. The 30 miles to Tyndall Creek were the
least of it. Even on the AT, he had never carried a backpack before and the
weight really bothered him. Even though we carried the best lightweight
equipment available, generously supplied by GoLite, our pace seemed really
slow to him. He is used to running and here we were hiking at half his
normal pace on the tough and snowy trail. We often lost the trail in the
snow, causing delay as we checked the map and scouted for trail between snow
banks. Walking through melting snow is very wet and slippery and we had wet
feet for days. But the hardest challenge of the day was right at the end.
Crossing Tyndall Creek without a bridge meant fording fast-moving ice water
almost crotch-deep. David, who has forded his share of streams on the AT and
at Hardrock, was alarmed at how difficult it was. I knew there was worse to
> Wednesday we hit the toughest terrain yet at Forester Pass. The first
major pass in the Sierra is also the highest. At 13,180 feet, it is a real
mountaineering challenge in early season snow. It was morning, and the snow
was still quite icy. Nevertheless, we hiked right up the steep approach and
across the avalanche shoot wearing Kahtoola crampons and using ice axes for
self-belay. We came prepared.
> At the junction to Kearsarge Pass, we met Amy and Dee Dee Grafius packing
in our first food cache. They almost missed us due to the difficult
conditions they had to overcome to hike over the pass. After loading up we
set off over 11,978-foot Glen Pass, our second of the day. The exhausting
25-mile day ended below tree line at Woods Creek.
> Thursday was another two-pass day, 12,130-foot Pinchot and 12,100-foot
Mather with another tough ford in between. What we gained from recent
experience was more than offset by the utter exhaustion brought on by four
major passes in two days. As we descended into the soft snow near Upper
Palisade Lake late in the day, our bodies couldn't handle the strain of
post-holing any more. Each step would sink deeply into the snow, sometimes
waist-deep. We tried in vain to find a route that took us either over solid
snow or open ground. Our shins bled from scraping on the snow and our legs
muscles refused to supply the extra energy required to walk safely and catch
our weight each time we broke through the rotten snow. The risk of injury
was so high that I suggested an early end to the day after just 19 miles.
David agreed and noted with alarm that our shortest day had taken over 12
> Friday we hiked over somewhat flatter ground with just one major pass.
11,955-foot Muir Pass has very gradual approaches on both sides requiring no
use of crampons or ice axe, but we slogged through deep snow for many miles.
The day ended with the toughest ford on the PCT, Evolution Creek. In the
chill of early evening, we waded out into chest deep, fast-moving water.
More than halfway across, with my trekking poles completely under water and
my feet numb from the cold, the current pushed me off balance. I had visions
of being swept away, but I recovered with just a few unplanned steps. David
also nearly turned into a swimmer, but managed to regain his footing too. We
were eager to camp as soon as possible, but we ran another mile trying to
get some feeling back into our cold-numbed bodies. It was a 31-mile day.
> Saturday June 25th we met JB Benna at the Florence Lake junction. He
brought us a day's worth of food and walked with us most of the way up
10,900-foot Seldon Pass. There was an abundance of snow, but compared to the
passes we had already seen, it was nothing. David was so tired of carrying
full gear that he changed our support plan on the fly. Using his satellite
phone David arranged to stay at Vermillion Valley Resort, 26 miles away plus
a few miles off the trail at Edison Lake, and added a resupply stop at Red's
Meadow. JB carried out much of our camping gear, allowing us to travel from
there with just day gear.
> Sunday we again set out with day gear, this time headed for Red's Meadow
another 30 miles away. 10,900-foot Silver Pass was on the way, but the
snow-slogs were much less severe than those we had already done. Of more
concern was the navigation challenge of snow-choked trail below tree line.
We frequently lost the trail even at lower altitude. This required difficult
map and compass work to travel cross-country through steeply wooded terrain.
Without camping gear, we had to either complete the daily mileage or freeze
overnight. We came very close to running out of daylight before we ran out
of snow. But we arrived in Red's Meadow just before dark, and were greeted
by a large group of supporters who had all hiked or biked in to meet us on
the still-close road. Someone found us a cabin and we enjoyed a wonderful
hot meal cooked by Brannon Forester as Josh Yeoman, Larry Haak, and Bill
Andrews catered to our every need.
> Monday, June 27, was yet another very long day to Tuolumne Meadows. The
35-miles took us over our last major pass, 11,056-foot Donohue Pass. With
the road now open, we would have full crew support at Tioga Pass Road, so
again we took off with day gear. After barely finding our way out of the
snow before nightfall the previous night, I carried a sleeping bag, just in
case 35 miles was more than we could do. But we arrived well before dark to
another large crowd of well-wishers, including a surprise birthday visit
from my wife Sophia and my father Roy! Wow, what a thrill that was.
> Tuesday we entered northern Yosemite, another rugged and remote section
with little chance of resupply, so we carried full backpacking gear once
again. The next 77 miles would take us most of three days. That's a big load
of food, and our crew was game, so we arranged to meet Josh Yeoman half-way
through even though that would require him to hike a 36-mile round-trip to
resupply us. We were not the only ones doing big miles!
> Northern Yosemite dished out some of the hardest trekking yet. There were
several deep and swift fords. Falls Creek was another chest-deep ford, but
the current was slower moving than Evolution Creek. At Piute Creek we
crossed on a log to avoid having to swim, but it cost us nonetheless. David
slipped on the log and lost a trekking pole.
> The combination of steep terrain and ubiquitous snow cover was the worst
we had seen yet. Early in the day, the snow was icy, and we longed for the
crampons we had jettisoned to save weight. I led, kicking steps as best I
could. It felt like we were hanging on by our toenails as we inched our way
down steep hillsides and across several miles of side-hill snow along
Rancheria Creek in Kerrick Canyon. The far bank was mostly snow-free, but
the whitewater was so ferocious we could not find a safe place to ford. A
slip would have sent us tumbling into that water.
> But the hardest travail of all turned out to be our food supply. At
8,000-feet, where we had agreed to meet Josh, we barely found the trail
junction in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was too much for Josh and we
were on our own. Very tired and slow, we hiked the next 26 hours without
food, 27 miles toward Sonora Pass. Josh hiked in the last four steep
snow-covered miles to meet us Thursday afternoon. I have never tasted a
better turkey and cheese sandwich in my whole life!
> Overall, this was as tough as any 11-day hike in my life. The trail had
more snow than in May of 2001 during my Calendar Triple Crown hike.
Successfully completing such an arduous hike is a real joy, but it paled in
comparison to the privilege of guiding a bona fide trail running legend over
one of my favorite trails in conditions that few people can handle. I am
very proud to say that I played a part in David Horton's latest adventure.
> Flyin' off to Cyprus now for our wedding trip,
> Flyin' Brian Robinson
> For more information about David Horton's PCT record attempt:
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