Tuolumne Meadows – rush creek
15.6 miles. 2707ft up. 1239ft down.
I woke very nervous. Nervous about my new pack. Nervous about the weight of it. Nervous about the weather, the cold, nervous about a 9 day stretch.
I had a nice hot shower, washed my hair and went down to breakfast. I couldn’t really face eating anything although I knew I should. I managed half a bagel with cream cheese, half a hot chocolate and a small orange juice.
The Tioga Pass road was closed last night because they expected a snow storm but when we called this morning we found the road was open. That’s a good sign. No snow storm last night. There was 50% chance of snow last night and 20% chance today. Hopefully we’ll be ok.
Back in the room I finished off my chocolate milk and Catwaters sister cut about 5 inches off her hair! As we packed up all our stuff (and left so much stuff behind, I hate wasting stuff) we were having those anxious feelings about going back to the trail. It’s a weird thing, we want to go back to the trail. We don’t want to go back to the trail.
Annie drove us back to Tuolumne Meadows and I had that anxious nervous feeling for the whole hour drive. As we drove away from Mammoth and closer to the mountains the weather changed from clear blue and crisp to cloudy with snow flakes. I didn’t want to get out the car! But after drinking a Sprite in the car I was bursting for a wee so ran to the pit toilets. And then it was time to start hiking. Into the snow. I had my waterproofs on because it wasn’t nice bouncy ball snow like we had at Aloha lake, it was big fat wet flakes. But it was only lightly snowing, and the clouds looked quite high so we remained optimistic. We got going around 10:30am.
The first 8 or so miles out of Tuolumne are pretty much flat, so had I not been so cold, had my bag not been so heavy, had it not been snowing, it would have been a nice easy walk. I almost felt like I had forgotten how to walk after three days off! But those days allowed my lips to heal, my finger cracks to 80% heal, and my feet to rest so it was all for the greater good.
The snow was a bit annoying but not too bad. It wasn’t too cold and I even managed to walk without my gloves on for a bit. Water was never a problem today because we followed a creek for most of the day. In the first 5 miles I had to stop for a wee 4 times. That’s 5 substantial wees in 2 hours, most odd considering I normally only wee about 3 times in the whole day!
We had to make our minds up whether we wanted to go over Donohue pass today and whether we thought the weather was going to be ok and we would be safe enough. It’s around 11,000ft so we wanted to be able to get up, over and a couple of miles down the other side. We decided to get to the base of the climb and decide.
On my way there I met a man coming towards me, we stopped and chatted. I saw him look at my badge. ‘Ah you’re a ranger’ he said. ‘No no, that’s my junior forest ranger badge, it has smokey the bear on’ I tried to explain. He really didn’t get it, I think he was German. He also told me I had the wrong shoes and that my feet would be soaking and I would slip on all the rocks. Well, ok.
The snow came down continuously, sometime huge chunks and other times bordering on rain, but the air was completely still. No wind meant it wasn’t that cold. We got the the base of the climb at around 2:30pm and obviously it was too early to camp to we decided to go up and over. It might be a little snowier and a little windier at the top but it shouldn’t be too bad. We had 7 miles to do so estimated we would be there by 6.
As we started climbing I started to burn up quickly. I was roasting. I took my buff off my head and unzipped my coat and vest which helped a little, but I soon got really hot again and I took my puffy vest off. All good as long as I kept moving. The rest must have done Catwater good because she was powering on ahead of me. I felt super slow.
I was having a little trouble with my pack, finding the right adjustment to make it comfortable. I spent a lot of the day loosening and tightening the shoulder and chest straps. The waist belt felt good. It did start to drag on my shoulders at some points, but I thinks that’s because it’s at the heaviest it will ever be. I’m never carrying 9 days of food again, and I’m not even convinced I have enough!
The snow was accumulating more on the ground the higher we climbed, and I was able to follow Catwaters footsteps. I caught up to Catwater at a bridge and we discovered we had done 1.1 miles in 50 minutes. We are moving slow. Not good. This was the last place we could camp instead of going over the pass. I really wanted to get up and over but I was also feeling a bit rubbish. I nearly said let’s just camp here, but I didn’t. And if Catwater had said she wanted to camp there I wouldn’t have put up much of a fight. We carried on and she made me go ahead this time.
I was struggling, and as the trail climbed I started to burn up again. I got so hot that sweat was sprouting from the back of my neck, and dripping down my arm. That’s not normal sweatiness. I felt like I had a fever or something. I had to stop for a bit and as I stopped I felt really faint. My ears were buzzing and my vision went. Catwater passed me as I was trying to drink some water to make it go away. I should have said something about how I was feeling but I was concentrating on not passing out as she passed me. Just after she went by I thought I was going to vomit. I didn’t feel good at all. I leant over my pack and put my head down to try and get rid of the dizziness. After being so hot and sweaty I was now freezing cold so I carried on when the faint feeling had gone. I fished some chocolate out my bag and nibbled on it on the way up. I held the ziplock with my snacks in in my hand because the hip pockets on this pack are rubbish. They hold quite a lot but it’s impossible to get anything out of them when the pack is on.
About 20 minutes later I felt faint again. I hung my head low and caught it before it developed any more symptoms. I was glad Catwater was now in front of me because I could follow her footsteps in the snow. I couldn’t concentrate on the trail and didn’t want to take my hands out of my gloves to look at the GPS. The snow was getting heavier and thicker on the trail. I was worried I wasn’t going to make it, I was worried I would have to bail out and find somewhere to set up my tent. Then I saw that the streams had frozen over and I thought there was no way I wanted to camp there tonight. So I carried on. If I just keep walking eventually I will reach the top. I felt faint one more time and ate some chocolate to combat it. It’s really cold and it’s getting colder the higher we climb. I’m warm enough though in my long sleeve top, leggings and waterproofs. I still feel like I’m overheating when I’m going uphill. The trail is covered in snow and I’m finding it hard to follow, I go wrong a few times, but I don’t go far before realising the footprints have stopped.
As I go up higher it’s colder, snowier, and the wind picks up. Thankfully it’s not blowing in my face and seems to stay behind. About half a mile from the top I see a pair of people coming down. They tell me Catwater is only a couple of minutes ahead. I carry on, in the areas where it’s really windy the footprints in the snow have almost been covered up already. I make it over the pass about 5pm. Visibility is poor and the snow is about 3 inches deep in some places. This is definitely type 2 fun. It’s not fun right now but we will look back and say: remember that time we went over Donohue Pass when it was snowing, that’s was fun wasn’t it? We did have a plan to go back on ourselves if the weather became too bad.
I am so pleased to have made it to the top. I feel a huge sense of relief and satisfaction. Hopefully I can catch Catwater on the downhill. It’s not as warm going downhill and I stay right on the edge of comfort. It starts to brighten and I see a small break in the clouds. It is still absolutely freezing, the rivers are frozen and there are still some little flurries of snow in the air but as we descend the clouds break up and there is a huge patch of blue sky. The sun doesn’t reach us but I’m so happy to see blue sky. The snow on the ground largely disappears and there are just a few small accumulations.
We are careful going down because the rock are slippery and the last thing I want to do is fall over. At about 6:30 we find a campsite near a creek which is semi frozen. We are still up at around 10,000ft so it’s going to be a cold night. I set up my tent as quick as I can with frozen hands and after collecting some very cold water go about unpacking and getting warm. I can’t be bothered with food but I force myself to make something so I have an avocado, string cheese, hot rice and beans and Fritos wrap. Although as you can see my breath inside the tent so it doesn’t stay hot for long. I feel much better than I did earlier. I think the excess weeing and the overheating just made me feel a bit rubbish for a while. A bit of water and some chocolate helped. Chocolate helps everything.
I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Donate here.