Throwing the Hail Mary (Part 5 of 6) (Posted 19 November 2012, 02:51am)


Waldo's alarm went off at 5:30 am. We got up and packed, said goodbye to a half-awake Scallywag and strode out into the dawn. We had arranged to pick up two pairs of snowshoes at an address in Mazama. They were there waiting for us. The snow chains on the car had been noisy and cumbersome on the sealed road but we were thankful for them as it turned to gravel covered by snow and ice. There was a lot more snow at Hart's Pass than the day before.

I was nervous but ready. Five months and 22 days on trail had prepared me for this moment. We strapped the snowshoes to our backpacks and set off. Waldo had already walked the first 5 miles before turning back so he knew the way. He took off like a rocket and it was all I could do to keep him in sight. Everything was covered by a blanket of snow but it was possible to follow where the trail went because of depressions in the snow and cuttings in the trees. Whenever we were unsure we checked using GPS, which put us right on several occasions. It started to snow lightly and it was utterly beautiful.

As we climbed higher the snow was thicker, and we started sinking up to our knees. It was time to put the snowshoes on. They took some getting used to but I was hyper-focused and quickly made the necessary adjustments to my steps. We sunk less as we continued our slow but steady progress. It felt like wading through water and was exhausting, so we took turn about in the lead cutting the trail. It was hard enough walking at the back and I hardly felt refreshed before it was my turn to lead again. I slipped and fell often but it was into a soft bed of snow.

Every now and then we paused to stand and eat. I had filled my jacket pockets with food - half a pound of sliced salami in one pocket and a bag of mini Snickers bars in the other. We were burning through our energy rapidly, keeping warm and keeping moving. It was too cold to stop for any length of time so we had no option but to carry on. My water bottle was half frozen and my beard was streaked with ice. I felt so alive! Every detail around me was crisp and clear to an extent I had never experienced before.

For a few miles the trail descended to a lower elevation. There was less snow on the ground so we took off our snowshoes and picked up pace. We had slogged for nearly 15 miles and were both tiring. Our energy had dipped throughout the day, but thankfully never at the same time for both of us. We had been able to pull each other along. The weather had cleared and there were a few small patches of blue sky. We felt extremely lucky and kept moving to make miles while the weather allowed it.

We climbed up again to what we thought must be Woody Pass. It was a couple of miles beyond this point to the last pass over 7000 feet, and we decided to try and push on beyond there. We wanted to get it behind us. The trail went straight on the map so we did the same, but we soon came to a sign reading "Trail Abandoned". We could see no trace of the actual trail, and it had started to snow again, and darkness was approaching. We considered hunkering down. I checked my GPS and it showed we were actually a couple of miles before Woody Pass and had missed some switchbacks down the side of the mountain. We managed to find them and started to descend steeply.

The darkness came and we got our head lamps out. It was much harder to find the trail and we again discussed stopping. The trail started climbing once more and we didn't want to get caught out at a higher elevation. Waldo spotted a tiny patch of green on the map that overlapped the trail and we decided to make for it. We walked together through the darkness to the patch of trees. It was rocky and steep, so I suggested we just camp on the trail. It was the flattest place and the trees on either side provided a bit of shelter from the swirling snow. My last night on the trail would literally be camping on the trail.

I hadn't camped in snow before but Waldo knew what to do. We packed the snow down with our feet to make a flat space for our tents. I put on Heehaw's lucky gloves and a pair of dry socks from ED. I set up my cooker in the vestibule and heated some water for a warm drink and dinner. Heehaw had given me a dehydrated meal to which I added the hot water, then I stuffed it down my front to act as a hot water bottle while it cooked. I loosened the laces on my boots and opened them fully - a tip from Heehaw - since they would freeze overnight. Waldo had dinner nearby and set his alarm for another early start.

We were 12 miles from Canada. With visions of heavy snow overnight blocking the last pass, I wondered if we should have pushed on into the darkness. We were totally exhausted, however, and walking was much more dangerous with limited visibility. Overall, it felt right to have stopped and we had made the decision together. I put on every piece of clothing I had, got into my sleeping bag and cinched it up so just my nose was poking out. The temperature was well below freezing and we were in for a very, very cold night.



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30 True to the thru (Part 4 of 4)
30 The waiting game (Part 3 of 4)
30 Something was wrong (Part 2 of 4)
30 A story that needs to be told (Part 1 of 4)
21 "I knew Typo would make it" (Part 6 of 6)
19 Throwing the Hail Mary (Part 5 of 6)
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