Monday, September 9, 2013

Part 193 - Tragedy Averted

On October 19, 2012, a young hiker with the trail name of I’m Fine was camped in the vicinity of Indian Pass, maybe even the same campsite that Hermes, Lotus, and I are occupying.  It was very late in the hiking season for being in the North Cascade Mountains; snow had already started to fall, and more, much more will come.

It was mid-October and I’m Fine should have been off the trail, but he was young, still possessed nine lives, and figured he was capable of pushing forward, even after everyone else had finished the trail for the season, or had left the trail because of potential weather problems; after all, he reasoned, he had come this far without incident, and there was less than 160 miles left until Canada.  He started up the trail in the rain towards Red Pass, and came upon two hikers who were still in their tents waiting out the weather.  They were wise enough to know that the rain will soon turn to snow, and they didn’t want to be hiking in the mountains in these conditions.

They invited I’m Fine to join them in moving back down the trail to lower elevation and eventually back to Stevens Pass, but I’m Fine declined their request and pushed on.

I’m Fine was totally unprepared to be in the mountains; he had no maps, no GPS, no cell phone, no winter clothing, no winter boots or snowshoes.  His food supplies were minimal, with only enough to see him through to Stehekin – three days away, under normal conditions.  He should have turned back and retreated with the other two hikers.  He didn’t know it was suicidal to continue on, and the mountains were licking their lips at the prospect of teaching a mere mortal a lesson he would never forget.

Here is I’m Fine’s story, in his own words: (Used with I'm Fine's permission)

October 19th, I was hiking in the rain, when I passed Bouncer and Storytime mid day who were waiting out the weather in their tents.  After a few hours of hiking, rain turned to sleet, and eventually to snow.  There was already some snow on the ground to begin with.

I crossed Red Pass (6500 ft), and was soaked to the bone and freezing, so after descending to a small patch of trees at roughly 5500 ft, it started to get dark and I decided to setup camp.  When I awoke in the morning, the snow was already knee to mid thigh deep, with some waist high drifts, and it was still coming down.

I packed up and decided to make a move for lower elevation, soon losing the trail.  I cut downhill to my left, the side of the ridge covered with nearly waist deep snow, aiming for a creek with the intention of following running water to lower elevation and hopefully eventually exiting the wilderness.

After following the creek for maybe an hour or so, I came to another patch of trees and noticed a stump that had been saw-cut.  I continued alongside the creek until I came to 3 small logs lying across the creek with saw-cut ends, and a noticeable indent (trail) in the snow on the other side.
I crossed the logs, and followed the indent the best I could, eventually leading to a forested area, with the trail being much easier to follow.  This led to a very nice man made bridge, and the trail through the forested area had less than knee deep snow for the most part.  I came to a side trail reading "trail abandoned, use new side trail .25 mile north of Sitkum Creek on PCT". I continued to follow the trail until I reached that side trail, with a sign reading "White Chuck Road and trail washed out.”

I continued north on the PCT until I reached a sign reading "White Chuck Road, and Kennedy Hot Springs". Scratched into the sign were some notes from other hikers including "Both Destroyed!!!" and "Not an exit!!!”

I continued on the PCT hoping to cross Fire Creek Pass, and camp by Milk Creek, hoping that the Milk Creek Trail would offer an exit.  By nightfall I lost the trail just north of where it crosses Glacier Creek (not realizing that it crossed the creek, continuing straight instead), and dug in next to a boulder, setup camp, and hoped to find the trail in the morning.

When I woke, up to 3-4 inches of fresh snow had fallen.  I continued to walk straight until I got on top of the ridge line.  When I crested the ridge I saw no sign of trail. The ridge dropped steeply down in front of me, to my left was a steep treacherous pass, complete with sheer cliffs and glaciers, and to my right the ridge gradually descended until there were trees on it.  I couldn't cross the pass, and I didn't want to slide down into the canyon to my front (which eventually ended up happening anyway); I didn't want to back track soI trucked down the ridge to my right hoping to find sign of the trail once I got into the trees, cut off branches, bark, anything.

Eventually the ridge grew steeper and steeper until I started sliding out in 20ish foot sections, stopping myself on trees, until I reached a small 5 or 6 foot cliff.  I lowered down that holding onto small trees and branches.  Eventually the path I chose became nearly vertical, offering me no other options than to continue forward.  I reached a 15-20 foot cliff, the path behind too steep to back track, so I maneuvered horizontally holding onto trees until I found a smaller section of cliff about 9 feet high.  I dropped my back pack and trekking poles down first, then pissed on my hands to warm them up enough to gain enough grip strength to lower myself down holding onto exposed roots or rock

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