Eleven Days Through the Snowy High Sierra With David Horton
I joined David Horton at Kennedy Meadows, the 700-mile mark of his attempt to set a speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. He has set an aggressive goal of 63 days, achievable only as an ultra runner, fully supported, as he did on the AT in 1991. He looked good as he ran in after a 51-mile day. He was obviously tired, but in great spirits and very happy to see the group of at least a dozen well-wishers gathered to see him. It was his 16th day on the trail since he left the Mexican border and he was averaging 43-miles per day. I asked him about the desert sections he had just crossed. Neither the 90+ temperatures nor having to carry water had affected him badly.
Gary and Millie Buffington, his crew, had been meeting him with a support vehicle at every available road crossing, quenching his hunger and thirst, and setting up camp for him every night. The routine was working well for him, but we would not be able to continue in that style. Kennedy Meadows marks the last road crossing the Sierra for over 200 miles. It is also the end of the deserts of southern
I came to guide him through the High Sierra to
The evening I arrived at Kennedy Meadows, I packed David’s backpack, making sure that between us, we had only what we really needed. Not including food, our gear weighed a scant 8 pounds each and would keep us comfortable down to below freezing. 6,000 calories of food added almost 3 pounds per person per day to our pack weight.
Monday June 20th took us almost 40 miles to
Tuesday was very hard for David. The 30 miles to Tyndall Creek were the least of it. Even on the AT, he had never carried a backpack before and the weight really bothered him. Even though we carried the best lightweight equipment available, generously supplied by GoLite, our pace seemed really slow to him. He is used to running and here we were hiking at half his normal pace on the tough and snowy trail. We often lost the trail in the snow, causing delay as we checked the map and scouted for trail between snow banks. Walking through melting snow is very wet and slippery and we had wet feet for days. But the hardest challenge of the day was right at the end. Crossing Tyndall Creek without a bridge meant fording fast-moving ice water almost crotch-deep. David, who has forded his share of streams on the AT and at Hardrock, was alarmed at how difficult it was. I knew there was worse to come.
Wednesday we hit the toughest terrain yet at
At the junction to
Thursday was another two-pass day, 12,130-foot Pinchot and 12,100-foot Mather with another tough ford in between. What we gained from recent experience was more than offset by the utter exhaustion brought on by four major passes in two days. As we descended into the soft snow near
Friday we hiked over somewhat flatter ground with just one major pass. 11,955-foot
Saturday June 25th we met JB Benna at the
Sunday we again set out with day gear, this time headed for Red’s Meadow another 30 miles away. 10,900-foot
Monday, June 27, was yet another very long day to Tuolumne Meadows. The 35-miles took us over our last major pass, 11,056-foot
Tuesday we entered northern
The combination of steep terrain and ubiquitous snow cover was the worst we had seen yet. Early in the day, the snow was icy, and we longed for the crampons we had jettisoned to save weight. I led, kicking steps as best I could. It felt like we were hanging on by our toenails as we inched our way down steep hillsides and across several miles of side-hill snow along Rancheria Creek in
But the hardest travail of all turned out to be our food supply. At 8,000-feet, where we had agreed to meet Josh, we barely found the trail junction in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was too much for Josh and we were on our own. Very tired and slow, we hiked the next 26 hours without food, 27 miles toward
Overall, this was as tough as any 11-day hike in my life. The trail had more snow than in May of 2001 during my Calendar Triple Crown hike. Successfully completing such an arduous hike is a real joy, but it paled in comparison to the privilege of guiding a bona fide trail running legend over one of my favorite trails in conditions that few people can handle. I am very proud to say that I played a part in David Horton’s latest adventure.
Flyin’ off to
Flyin’ Brian Robinson