Day 40: There Ain’t No Hill or Mountain We Can’t Climb

Mile reached: 814.5 (+11.9 + 2.0 bonus)

High: After approaching the base of the SW Chute on Mount Pinchot, I could see that it was possible to summit without taking an unacceptable amount of risk.

Low: Looking at the SW Chute and seeing it choked with snow at key points. I thought I was going to have to abandon my plans to summit.

Surprise, surprise. I was the second to last person out of camp. The previous night was unexpectedly warm to the point that I was sweating in my quilt. So, I had to delayer a bit, which exposed me to the mosquitoes. However, it seemed that they must have gone away after sundown, so I wasn’t devoured. I still woke up repeatedly throughout the night fighting off phantom mosquitoes. Hence, I wasn’t in any rush in the morning.

The trail climbed 2,000 feet up to Pinchot Pass. However, due to the warm night the snow didn’t have much time to freeze. We were postholing even in the morning. Ugh. On the way up, I was admiring Mount Wynne and how it appeared to be completely melted out. But, once I reached the pass, I immediately observed that the same was not true of Mount Pinchot. This mattered greatly to me, because I had been planning on summiting that peak, another P2K and the tallest thing around for 20 miles in all directions.

Mount Wynne and the terrain leading up to the pass
The west summit of Mount Pinchot with the SW Chute in full view

I sat for a few minutes fixated on the mountain. My concern was that the snow looked steep and icy. With only trail runners, a small ice axe, and aluminum crampons this might be a bit much. But, since I had all day I figured I might as well make the trek over to the base. After dropping and gaining a couple hundred feet through talus and snow, I was there. What had looked steep and formidable from afar was clearly doable up close. So, I burned the rest of the morning scurrying up and down the peak.

The summit of Mount Pinchot!

The price I paid for my bonus peak was that I was still up near the pass as the afternoon came. After spending the morning in the sun, the snow was getting quite soft, and I had some awful stretches of postholing trying to get down the backside of the pass.

For real? The trail cut through the snow bank.

This was another day where the river crossings simply would not relent. At the bottom, I was confronted with the most serious river crossing yet, the South Fork of the Kings River. This river has killed people, so crossing it is no joke. Fortunately, I arrived as two other groups of hikers were working up the nerve to cross. We all made it across without issue, though I had some pretty wet shoes afterward.

The great irony is that the trail crosses this river twice. (I have no clue why they decided to route the trail this way, especially after people die in these crossings.) About a half mile away from the second crossing, I ran into “Phoenix”, who I had bumped into a few times over the past two days. She had crossed the river solo with some difficulty. So, I offered to cross the next ford with her.

Even though we had gained elevation to reach the second crossing, it seemed to me to be a more serious crossing. The water was deeper, and a fall would be fatal with no chance of recovery downstream since it was basically above a waterfall. I crossed ok, but my heart skipped a beat as “Phoenix” crossed. A little way in, she yelped as she was pushed off balance, yet she was too far away for me to reach. Fortunately, she recovered her balance and promptly finished the crossing.

The second crossing of the South Fork of the Kings River

Mather Pass stood only a few miles away, but I had no intention of crossing in the afternoon. Back in the alpine, the snow was slush, and everything was wet and cold. After crossing the last major steam before the pass, I found a mediocre patch of decomposed granite and called it a day. The hope was that it would drop below freezing overnight making the approach more enjoyable in the early morning.

Camp and an oncoming hailstorm
After the brief hailstorm, it cleared up for a beautiful sunset.

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