Day 70: Bighorn Plateau

May 30, 2018

766.3-775.6

The next morning my socks were still a little damp and it was absolutely freezing outside. I knew I’d be using my hand warmers intermittently while tearing down my tent, so I shook them up and slipped one warmer into each of my socks, then tucked them next to my legs in my sleeping bag liner. They were nice and toasty dry by the time I slipped them onto my chilly feet.

Sparky eating breakfast. That lighter patch of ground is where his tent was pitched. Everything else is wet and frosty.

Another little trick worth noting here is how I prepared my feet for hiking in my new Oboz. Because the strong adhesive of the Leukotape seemed to be doing more harm than good of late, I decided to pack a small roll of sport tape with me through the Sierra. Every morning I cut a piece long enough to wrap a single layer of the mildly adhesive bandage around the widest part of my foot to prevent blisters. It’s sticky enough to adhere to itself and stay in place but comes off very easily at night. I believe this prevented any break-in blisters I may have encountered otherwise and am glad to report that I didn’t lose any skin off my feet the whole time I was in the Sierra. Not from adhesive mishaps, anyway. 

On my way to the privy that morning I could see the top half of another hiker sitting on the “throne”, so I averted my gaze and waited. I was taken with how lovely the meadow is in the misty light of dawn and didn’t mind lingering on the path a while until I heard the other hiker approaching and kindly letting me know the privy was free. So it goes.

Frosty morning meadow.

That morning I learned that Lucky Duck had taken a nasty fall on the mountain the previous day and had tumbled down some snow and rock, hurting her ankle pretty badly. I stopped to chat with her on my way back from the privy and learned that she was going to take a zero here at camp and see how her ankle felt tomorrow morning. Her trail family was going to stay with her and one had already said that if she needed to turn back and hike out, he’d go with her. That was good. Poor Lucky Duck!

Crossing the creek that morning was so cold! Everything was cold, but at least it wasn’t hot like the desert. Actually, one of my favorite things to tell myself during this section was that it was NOT the desert. Going up steep climbs or post-holing on my way down a mountain, I’d grit my teeth and grip my ax or my trekking poles and say, “It’s better than the desert. It’s better than the desert. Thank you, God, that I’m not in the desert.” Sometimes I’d say it out loud to my trail family with a big grin on my face, “At least it’s not the desert!”

Everything was beautiful. The trail kept ducking in and out of trees and everytime it opened up we were rewarded with beautiful views of distant mountains. I could hardly believe the hikers who were just flying along the trail and never seemed to stop to take in what so few get to see in their lifetime, what we hikers had all been working so hard for and certainly deserved to stop and appreciate. Oh well. Hike your own hike, or so they say. 

That day was one long, moderate ascent toward the base of Forrester Pass, so while it wasn’t as exhausting as climbing Mt. Whitney it was certainly still challenging. We took a lot of breaks. My feet were still pretty tender and sore from the day before so I was glad each time we stopped. Last night after the storm the air was pretty moist, so even though I left my vestibule open for ventilation my quilt was still damp that morning. I had to take it out on our first break to let the down dry out. 

Several times that day we heard a strange, double-popping noise high over our heads, and Sparky said it was planes from the nearby military base breaking the sound barrier. I thought that was pretty cool.

A little while after that we came to our first sketchy river crossing: Tyndall Creek. We were near mile 774 and it was late in the day, so the river was roaring fiercely and we were all pretty apprehensive about the crossing. But we had to cross. We weren’t nearly close enough to Forrester Pass to camp for the night and wait until morning. If we didn’t hit the pass early enough, the sun would melt the snow and make it not only difficult to summit but dangerous.

I was too nervous about the crossing to get any photos of Tyndall Creek. This one was taken by Ghosthiker.

After bushwhacking quite a ways in either direction, we found a spot where the water was a little deeper and the current not quite as strong, so we were able to cross without incident. Because of the two fatalities that occurred last year during river crossings, none of us were taking this challenge lightly. We all changed into our respective water shoes and took the time to adjust our packs accordingly. I always made sure I had my Garmin strapped to my person rather than my pack, just in case. That way if I were swept away they’d be able to find me (dead or alive). 

On the other side of Tyndall Creek, there were a few nice, flat tent sites where we found MGD already camped and in his tent. We knew he liked to make big miles and it seemed really early to already be camped, so we asked if everything was alright and he informed us he was feeling very sick and might have giardia! Poor MGD. He said he had an emergency device if he needed it, so we wished him well and hiked on.

At one point in the day, I came to a wide expanse of open land with neither a tree nor shrub as far as I could see called Bighorn Plateau. There was a small glacial run-off lake and a breathtaking 360 view of snowy mountain peaks, including Mt. Whitney behind us. Sparky and Ghosthiker were a ways ahead of me, so I stopped to take it in. What an incredible moment that was on the trail for me. I was so taken with the sheer beauty and magnificence of this little expanse of land, so open and utterly silent, it was as if I’d just entered a holy place. Not even the wind dared disturb the peace there. I may have cried a little.

The trail leading up to Bighorn Plateau, before I knew what I was hiking towards.
Bighorn Plateau
Plotting our course.

We’d planned to camp right at the base of Forrester Pass that night, but as we got closer (and higher) we realized that the last few miles to the base were all above treeline and totally exposed, so we camped at the last possible site before the trees ended. As it was, we were camped at a little over 11,300’ elevation – a good way to get and/or stay acclimated to the elevation we’d be gaining tomorrow: 13,200’. Not as high as Mt. Whitney, so it should be easier. Right? 

Wrong. So, so terribly wrong, as I would soon find out.

Sparky and Ghosthiker left me to watch our packs while they went to collect water because there were a lot of marmots about. Thankfully, I didn’t have to scare any off, but some of the little critters decided to visit me in the night. They didn’t wake me up or get into my stuff, but they did leave no less than three separate “gifts” around the outside of my tent. It was as if they were offended that we wouldn’t share our food. Little buggers.

Published by rogerssj23

I'm a long-distance hiker, an audiobook producer, and an amateur writer. I live in the woods in a renovated 1972 Airstream with my Golden Retriever Zoe. Read more about my hiking adventures at sarahhikes.com.

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