JMT 2019 Day 13: The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Windstorm

September 16, 2019
Upper Palisade Lake to small tarn at 11,000 ft south of Pinchot Pass
Day Miles: 14.6 mi
Cumulative Miles: 143.9 mi

I treated myself to hot breakfast — a breakfast burrito filled with Mountain House scrambled eggs — and was on the trail by 7 AM. My firefighter friends caught up with me halfway up Mather Pass. It was so windy. The clouds were racing by overhead. I kept all my warm layers on for the whole climb. Someone was taking a timelapse on the top of Mather Pass, capturing the terrible beauty of the ominous clouds and dramatic rays of light streaming through breaks in the clouds and illuminating the walls of slick shiny granite.


View toward Mather Pass in the morning


View south of Mather Pass

I could have stayed to watch forever… if it wasn’t so cold and windy. So, after a few sips of hot coffee from my thermos, I headed quickly down the other side. I had just finished the steep and rocky decent and pulled out my iPhone to take a photo of nice flat trail following the rolling glacial moraine when I rolled my ankle, hard, and collapsed flat onto the nice flat and straight trail. I always twist my ankle when the ground is flat!

Flat, straight trail that I proceed to fall on.

I tried to pull over to eat some food in a grove of whitebark pines under the pass, but they didn’t provide much wind protection. I couldn’t find a place to pee all day where my pee didn’t spray right back at me. It was a bit better at the bottom of the valley, where the South Fork of the Kings River crosses the trail and the trail begins to climb up toward Pinchot Pass. The trail climbs up to another beautiful bench of alpine lakes. Above treeline below Pinchot Pass, the wind picked up again. Despite the sun emerging, I had to wear my Buff in balaclava mode.


Still windy in here


In the southern half of the JMT there is the least amount of mileage and elevation gain/loss between Mather and Pinchot passes. But, what brutal weather conditions.


Taboose Pass closed due to the fire I’d seen smoke from on Highway 395 before I started my hike


View from the climb up Pinchot Pass

Atop Pinchot Pass, lenticular clouds were stacked like pancakes, evincing how strong the winds were. On the descent, I had to stop and brace against my trekking poles every time a wind gust picked up to keep from falling over. And then I had to poop. This would often happen after climbing a pass, and usually I try to make it down past treeline, for cover and soil adequate for cathole digging. Whitebark pines are my friends! But this time I wasn’t going to make it. I’d already gone 14 miles over two passes, my feet were spent (especially with my ginger right ankle), and with wind whipping my face all day, I was just about over it. Where the trail rounded to the left, I took a right cross-country to a pile of boulders, behind which I dug a cathole best I could. I did my business and as I unzipped the small ziplock bag that is my shit kit, the wind swooped down and snatched my last three sheets of toilet paper and whipped them into the air and who knows where. You gotta be f-ing kidding me! Honestly, this was not a super big deal because I still had wet wipes, but at the time I was so defeated.


Lenticular clouds about Pinchot Pass

I made it down to the first groups of whitebark pines and started looking for a tentsite. I just wanted to set up my tent and get out of the wind. I finally found a site sheltered by a half-circle of trees, but I still had to stretch out prone on top of first my ground sheet and then my tent to manage to stake it down. I tied one of the guy-lines to a tree with the thought that at least my tent wouldn’t fly away with me in it and ducked inside.

I crouched upright in my tent wondering what to do next. The inside of my tent was rapidly coated with a layer of fine black dust, sieved through the no-see-um mesh around the edges of my tent. It’s all over my hands and face. No point in trying to cook dinner. I ate two Clif Bars for dinner and lay down, pulling my sleeping bag over my head. It was still bright and PCT hikers were still walking by. For the first and only time on this trip, I went somewhere else, listening to Desert Solitaire on audio book off my phone. I listened to Abbey describing desert sandstorms blowing little piles of red dust through the cracks of his trailer, and it seemed fitting.

When I woke up at 11:30 PM, it was quiet. I cautiously left my tent to re-tension it, saggy from all the violent jerking by the wind. The moon and stars were bright and close in the calm and clear night sky. I peed and went back to bed.

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