Palisade Lake(32.6)-Lower Barrett Lakes(37.8)
Campsite Elevation: 11,468ft
I was frustrated to wake up still feeling like I had been on a carnival ride. We had about a mile left to hike on the JMT before we forked off to go cross country to Cirque Pass. Soon after coming off the trail, we were back to the boulders of the Sierra High Route. With how I’ve been feeling and just coming off the JMT, I started to question if I was enjoying this route.
I’m not a climber and I don’t feel comfortable on exposure. Many of you who know the SHR would scoff at me and tell me that there’s no way I’d enjoy this route. Well, I’ve thought that about many of the trails or routes I’ve done and I’ve come to appreciate what I’ve been able to learn from each one. I do have to say that after the Hayduke Trail and Great Divide Trail last summer, doing high routes seemed to be the next progression in challenge for me. Well, I may have met my match and after today, I’m seriously questioning if this is something I want to do when there are so many other trails that are completely in my comfort zone.
This morning went pretty well. Cirque Pass went great. Due to large amounts of snow, we’ve had to just figure out our own routes at times.
Sometimes what’s in the guidebook doesn’t exist because it is buried in snow or is now a terribly steeply angled snowfield. Know that most do not hike the SHR in early summer and that it is intended to be hiked without snow. The last few years, during the California drought, doing the SHR at the end of June was not a problem. This year, the Sierra got a decent amount of snow. That can be a pro and a con on the SHR. There are many times when the large amounts of snow can benefit us in avoiding hours of boulder hopping or even a glissade down something in a minute that normally would be tedious talus, scree, or boulders. That was pretty much what we got this morning and we were having fun.
A drawback to the snow is that it is forcing is at times to take routes that we normally wouldn’t. A confirmation that we aren’t too far off base is that we are still coming across “Kevin’s” footprints. The hiker ahead of us we’ve yet to meet.
Cirque was our highest point yet at 12,100ft and I was relieved to find that I was doing ok. The elevation was not affecting me nearly as much and I was finally wanting to eat. We had fun going down Cirque Pass and even glissaded a bit. Why Not found a fancy portable chair randomly as we were going down and she decided to pack it out to our next resupply spot. Impressive as its over a pound of weight added to her pack. Why Not even found a brand new really nice ExOfficio bandana yesterday and it was just what I needed to wear under my hat to give me more sun protection.
I was feeling great and ate a lot for lunch. As we ate, we looked up at our route toward Potluck Pass, which should not have been technical or difficult. Nothing recommended in the guidebook was doable with so much snow covering it. We attempted some of the snow and it was sketchy. Before lunch, Rockin’ postholed into a sharp rock edge and got a long cut on the length of her shin. Ouch!
So with the unstable snow going up Potluck, we read in the guidebook that there should be nice rock ledges, but they weren’t there because of the snow. The only way we could find up was quite sketchy, almost vertical rock and climbing up unstable sliding talus and large rocks, which is well out of my comfort zone. Imagine doing that kind of climbing and then add the weight of a pack to the back of you.
We got to a point where I was really not comfortable and we weren’t sure if it was going to go through. I told WN & R that I was not comfortable and that I’d wait to hear if it was doable and that I was considering another route across snow if they could tell me once they got a better view up there. We’ve worked really well together and WN & R are really conscientious and aware of my fear of exposure. The problem is that there really wasn’t an option because of the snow on this one. I sat on a tiny ledge as they climbed up, but after 5mins or so, I could no longer hear their voices. I waited what felt like an eternity for them to return. I think it was about 20mins. I even messaged Why Not on her inReach with no response. She had it off and I had hoped she’d turned it on. I had no idea what them not returning meant. Did they fall? Were they scouting a safer route from above? Were they assuming I took another route and waiting for me on top? I yelled and nothing.
Finally I messaged them that I’d try to climb the way they did. I can’t even explain how insanely sketchy it was. Loose rocks in soft sand on a very vertical slope. It wasn’t just me. That was something the two of them never want to relive. Once I climbed up the first section. I saw WN & R way in the distance.It scared the shit out of me and I really was in a position that there was no way to go but towards them. That photo doesn’t show the terrain of sloped exposed unstable angled sand I needed to cross. Somehow they did, but with every step someone took on that stuff everything shifted with sand pouring off the ledge and taking rocks down with it. Almost every rock moved that I tried for a foot or handhold.
Rockin came back as far as she could and directed me through it, but we both were frightened beyond belief and knew that it could have ended very badly. We all knew that we were fortunate to make it through that one and that it wasn’t just me and my fear of exposure. That really was a terrible situation. The problem is that looking back on it and looking down from the top, we still didn’t see another option. We want to make it clear that this situation is only happening because of the snow still in the Sierra. THIS IS NOT NORMAL!
We took a break to really reset after that experience. I let R & WN know that this may not be in the cards for me. Tomorrow is our last day of this leg and we are headed to a resort for resupply and a day off. I need to decide if I want to try another leg or if I’d rather spend my time on less dangerous trails where I feel more at home.
The rest of the day went really well though. We needed to get to upper Barrett Lake and there was a ton of snow that was pretty soft and had the deepest sun-cups any of us have seen, so it took quite awhile to get through it. It’s at that time of day and season where it is melting and postholing into the unknown could happen at any point.
We had scheduled to go much further, but with all that happened, we decided to call it at the next lake, lower Bartlett, below our next pass. We got to camp at 5:40pm and knew the pass could take quite awhile, so we decided not to push it and just start fresh in the morning.
Our campsite is pretty awesome with 360 degree views. We are on a cliff over the lake with a great expansive view in the opposite direction. All day today, it’s been hazy and now it’s obvious there is a fire south of us.
The other view is of the Palisades. People summit those things! Rockin’ has done some of them. Just crazy!
Ok, I’m going to bed and I hope tomorrow helps me to feel like I want to continue into the next leg of the SHR. I’m finally feeling better as I’ve been dizzy and nauseous most of this leg. I do wonder how I’d feel about this route if my stomach aliments pass. Taking it one day (or hour) at a time at this point.