Tyndall in a Day — Page 10

Shepherd Creek Drainage

Hiking Out

It feels heavenly to pull off my ski boots. I peel off wet socks and let my feet dry while I prepare a fresh set of socks and hiking boots for duty. My feet, surprisingly, are in good shape.

I'm not sure I can say the same for the rest of me. I'm soaked in sweat, simultaneously shivering and hot, with a pounding headache and a raspy cough that's kicked up recently. I'm probably dehydrated and definitely under-nourished—probably burning muscle.

Andy Lewicky: 4K To Go Looking up at Anvil Camp The Trail to Symmes Saddle Williamson Creek Drainage Williamson's North Face Symmes Creek Drainage

Well, at least we've only got 4000 vertical feet or so to go.

I try to muster up a smile, can barely manage a weak snarl.

One of the great challenges of a hike of this duration and intensity, I'm discovering, is staying hydrated and nourished.

It is a losing battle; the stomach shuts down, making all food and drink unpalatable.

And even if your appetite and thirst were strong, you're still burning calories, salts, and fluids at a rate that is all but impossible to replace. No doubt extreme distance athletes have learned how to cope with this dilemma. As for me, I've got no solutions.

I do my best to drink some Gatorade mix, eat some salty but bland crackers. That's about all I can stand.

That's probably enough of a break. The hiking boots go on my feet. Skis and heavy ski boots go on my back. Wuff!

There's a bit of a teeter in my stride as I point downhill and resume my long journey back to Owens Valley. I try to give it a little extra kick—no sense prolonging this any more than necessary.

A word here needs to be said about the Shepherd Pass trail.

It is scenic—yes.

The trail's views of Mount Williamson's incomparable north face are rousing enough to hatch wild schemes in the heart of any ski mountaineer—schemes best forgotten.

But with its merciless up-and-down and up-again, its prolonged low-altitude traverse across a south aspect, and its immense distance and vertical, one can hardly imagine a worse point of access for backcountry skiing.

Rumor is, however, that the trailless neighboring drainage—Williamson Creek—is in fact worse—a possibility that boggles the mind. So, presumably, the trail is what we have to work with, and that's why I'm here. I diligently follow the trail down, down from Mahogany flat to 8500', where the trail then climbs back up to Symmes Saddle, elevation 9100'.

I feel like a snail cooking in an oven as I crawl up the sun-baked switchbacks to the saddle. There are two false saddles to be crested before you actually top Symmes Saddle. Here, the view is gorgeous but hardly encouraging: just short of 3000 vertical feet of hiking down.

It's enough to make you want to fall to your knees and cry. Keep going! Keep going! We can push the pace here, pound those feet into the trail on these endless switchbacks, yank on those shoulder straps to try to seat the load. Watch the shadows grow. Take heart, take heart—the day's work is almost done.

next: Significance

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.