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.
Hugs to you, Wired! Whatever you do…proceed or reroute to less treacherous trails (because yeah, that last experience sounds totally unnerving)…it will be the right choice. I love reading your adventure updates and look forward to whatever you decide on!
It’s good to challenge yourself but don’t risk your whole season of hiking for it. If you don’t feel safe then trust your gut. No matter what – trust your gut.
You obviously know your body better than I do but… Your description of feeling like having been on a carnival ride, sleeplessness and nausea sound very much like acute mountain sickness. I have a doctor friend, a very fit, experienced hiker, who was stricken in the high Sierra. She descended to her car, knowing the symptoms. By the time she got there, she had to enlist a stranger to drive her to the hospital. Be very careful!
Yes, I will. I’m pretty paranoid about it, so I keep an eye on it. It’s for sure altitude and I’ve felt it before. Just takes time to adjust.
You do know that past history of AMS makes you more susceptible to future bouts, right? Keep us posted…
Will do. Being careful.
Oh Wired, I was so scared for you reading this! I tend to panick when being on exposed ledges and totally admire your mental strength which made you climb over that sketchy section.
Stay safe….no need to push your limits too much. You are one tough woman!
There is a fine line between brave and stupid and I keep reminding myself of that!
Glad to see your safe.Hang in there, you can and will do this;i have great confidence in you.Love the pictures.I had a similar experience in Red River Gorge, got hung up coming down an unmarked trail.ended up in a spot where i was staring at a hundred foot+ drop off and no way to get back up.I wound up having to cross an almost vertical face covered in loose dirt and rock.I was scared shitless and could have been seriously injured or worse but faced it and got through,you can too and the SHR seems like it wont give up its secrets easy for you.Just remember you have done many more miles in i’m sure much more difficult places and you will make it on the SHR also.
There is a great study done on that by a physician specializing in AMS. The study was done on Denali and peer reviewed and published. Team subjects were each given a micro thermistor swallowed in a capsule. With blood tests and and continuous core temperature monitoring under all the stresses encountered during the climb, everyone responded differently. There were big differences. It’s about a forty five minute video.
Interesting…yeah it seems very personal.
WHEW!!!!!! what a post.Glad you made safeley.I know you can and will do the route.Remember what it must have been like on your first thru hike.I had a similiar experience in Red River Gorge.Hiking alone on an unmarked trail i scrabbled down a cliff face and got myself into a situation where i was staring at a 100+ drop and couldnt climb back up.Had to cross an almost vertical face; thank god for tree roots.Hang in there Erin it’s just another challege and the SHR isn’t going to give up it’s secrets easy.You have done harder hikes.Stay strong and hike on
Hydrate well at altitude. Water, more water, then more. Also, take salt tablets when needed.
I love this route you are doing. My greatest and most memorable adventures are the ones that were beyond my skill-set. Then my skill-set was extended, and I learned what I was capable of.
I bring the audio-book Touching The Void by Joe Simpson. When I am getting really whacked I ‘read’ the book (about 6 hours). When I listen to his ordeal of severely breaking his leg (tibia jammed through is knee joint), then going over a cliff, his partner cutting the rope, falling hundreds of feet into a crevasse, extracting himself from the crevasse, and crawling through a maze of glaciers for days, all without food and water, it makes whatever I am doing easier. No matter how bad I feel, I think of Joe Simpson, and then I think, okay, no matter how miserable I feel, it can be a lot, lot, lot worse.
You did the Hayduke! You CAN do this!
Good points. Those stories freak me out even more.
Whew, Wired! I was on the edge of my chair reading your narrative. Hard decision, whether to continue or not. Trust your gut!
Going on and have plenty of options if I get to something I’m not ok with. Giving it a go!
I love your enthusiasm and your honesty. It’s ok to admit fear and it’s ok to realize that safety matters — we want you around to keep living and inspiring. You’ll know what’s right for you and I have no doubt you will do the right thing no matter what.
Survival is a very strong instinct. Follow it!
Some sweet photos in this post. If I was to ever do this route, I’d definitely do it early in the snow, like you ladies are. More mountain feel and less people. Sweet!
Reading this post brought back the times I’ve been super scared on trail, none of which have been this sketchy! Listen to your own body and you’ll make the correct decision for yourself. There is no official right or wrong, just what works for you.
Erin, Just started following this, and having done parts of the SHR, I have a feel for what you are going thru. Yes, it is early season, and there is more snow. You may be having some problems with the elevation. The main thing is to take it slow (this stuff is not like hiking the hairier parts of the Hayduke, as these big granite boulders can roll easily. You are a tough cookie, for sure. Just don’t go beyond your limit.
Yes, we are learning that I need a bit slower probably, so adding more food to this coming leg.
There is no shame in realizing your limits. The first time I reached my limit on a peak in Arizona and decided to follow discretion rather than seeking valor. I turned back 1/4 mile from the peak it and lived to tell another day. Knowing my limits became quite enlightening.
Wired, since I know you, I’m reading Rockin’s blog also; I haven’t looked to see if Why Not has one. Tell her I have a nice, Summer Solstice pic of her and another lady from years ago; I put it in the front of each of my various trail journal ring binders.
I don’t know any other way to put it, but I admire your cajones for undertaking this HSR hike. To me, it seems tougher than the east half of the Hayduke, which Fireweed and I will finish it next spring.
Wired is aware of my situation at home, and it’s been driving me crazy-so much so that I’m going to make an expensive trip to finish the PCT in Aug. I got burned off, 90 mi short of Canada, last summer. It would have been 7-9 days of waiting as it turned out,and maybe $1,000 until WA-20 (Rainy Pass) reopened, so I went home. I get to spend the $1,000 anyhow for the upcoming short trip. Next spring/summer more GET, W half Hayduke, and last 425 CDT for my 3crown.
Be thankful had no precip so far–a lot of blue sky in the beautiful pics on both blogs. All’a y’all hike on, and Wired don’t quit; you can do it!
and well worth reading..all three blogs..
Hahaha! That picture. I’ve heard about that one…
Back in the 70’s I walked the JMT or at least a subset of it every summer. Never did in June and usually waited until the middle of July. There was always snow even then. Things were tough, but I was always following well worn tracks through the snow. Snow in June is normal. Maybe during the drought things were different. Take care!
Yes, I went through the massive snow of 2011, so I’m a fan of snow out here…at least I think that…haha. Yes, the drought the last few years made this hike doable now, but we are currently a couple weeks early it seems. Apparently it wasn’t sketchy enough already.
I on the team of those having great confidence in your skills, admiration for your honestly and just want you to be safe.
I am sure that the altitude effects are making it so much more difficult, but it is also inherently difficult as well.
Sending virtual hugs and hydration.
Trust yourself. And your two companions. This all will get you through. Take your time and then you’ll really know what you need to do. -I know I would not have been comfortable on many of your earlier trips where it got steep, shifty, and dangerous, so like others, I have admiration for you. You’ve been working toward this level of challenge and it is the next step. You will know if you can do it and if you need to bail, well then, do it. Just give yourself enough time to figure it out before you do. All God’s best to you three as you journey on.
Exactly what I’m telling myself. It’s a progression and I am going to feel uncomfortable as I hopefully grow to enjoy it. Just need to push that comfort zone to grow, but also beware of where my limits are.
If you guys ever get separated again, PLEASE turn on those electronics! Trust your gut and a little extra salt might not be a bad idea. Good Luck!
Yes, we have that figured out now for sure!
Erin the trick I used to overcome the fear of exposure rock climbing was to wear glacier glasses that block peripheral vision. You only see whats in front of you not to the side are below. Out of site out of mind 🙂
It looks like bringing a climbing rope and staying on the snow belaying each other using your ice axes as belay anchors might be an option.
Carrying a wet rope is not something I ever enjoyed however 🙂
Yeah, I’m trying to mentally do that tunnel vision! If we are near anything requiring major rope stuff, that is not the right route. This route should not be that. Hoping that snow doesn’t thwart the way too much again.
r & r in Bishop can work wonders, at least that’s been my experience.
Wonderful post! I felt like I was right there with you and was on the edge of my seat. It’s so beautiful in those pics. I guess it has to be earned.