Our snowshoe on Saturday was the perfect example of knowing when to turn around on an outing, something I mention I have learned about snowshoes in the last year.
I had picked a route that said it was 13.5 miles in the book but my math on the map said 14.6. Either way, it was an optimistic goal to think we would make the whole thing now that we are just days away from the shortest day of the year. Wanting to know how far we could drive up the road, I had tried to check the recent trip reports but there weren’t any and the forest service website gave me an error message when I attempted to pull up the conditions for the roads to the trailhead. My thoughts were typical, we would just see how far we would get and either way it would be a great day in the wilderness.
The temps would probably not go over 30 degrees today. When we left the house at 7am it was in the teens. I normally prefer to leave the house between 5-6 am but knowing it was going to be such a cold day, I thought a little later departure time would mean a bit warmer starting off.
Between a stop for warm drinks at Starbucks, snowy roads to the trailhead, putting chains on, helping another hiker out, trying to turn the Sequoia around to park it off the road at the pullout and time to put our layers on and make sure we didn’t forget anything, we didn’t begin our adventure until a few minutes past 10am.
Calculating in my head, I gave us 3 hours to reach our destination. That would give us time to take a lunch and then get back down without doing it in the dark. Not that there is anything wrong with that, we were prepared with headlamps and extra clothing. Plus, in addition to my own 10+ essentials, my bf always carries basically the same heavy weight of what he brings on SAR missions. We were totally covered.
Our hike started out fairly typical and our snowshoes were on our packs. I have joked several times about having found a bf that keeps up, like in my post HERE, but the truth is he kicks my butt on most of our outings. I love that he challenges me that way.
So as usual, he is out front a bit. I could say it is because I like to stop to take so many pictures or enjoy the scenery but it’s also because it means I can catch my breathe, especially on the uphill.
It was a gorgeous day despite the fact the “trail” is an old road most of the way so you don’t have a lot of panorama views. We loved the frozen waterfalls,
gothic looking icicle arrangements,
and snowy tree sculptures.
We had both put our snowshoes on by the time we had turned onto FR 2710 (the closed road that makes up the trail to Meadow and Crystal Lakes). And that is when our trip course began to change. I began to stay out in front of my bf while he started to lag a bit behind. Definitely not normal.
We had only made it to the junction with the actual Crystal Lake trailhead by my mental 3 hour mark. My bf had been making multiple stops and I would often turn around and see him hunched over leaning on his poles. He was complaining about feeling fatigued and not having his normal energy. We had been making guesses on the way up about what it could be. Had he slept enough (he had been dealing with insomnia), had he eaten enough (he often heads out the door with little more than a snack in his tank), or was the cold he had picked up this week sapping his strength? A combination of all three?
Or was it the fact that he started taking a beta blocker for high blood pressure the day before? There is no denying get older and a stressful life take a toll. He was so frustrated with himself.
When we stopped at the sign for the lake, we talked about whether or not we needed to turn around. Neither one of us wanted to, but at the speed we were going and still having 3.3 miles to go (1.8 of that possibly requiring navigation) it was incredibly unlikely we would be making it all the way to the lake. And if we did, our entire return home would be in the dark.
We decided to continue for at least another hour, two hours tops. I told my bf I didn’t need to make it all the way to the lake, we could stop any time. I asked him to call it when he knew he was too tired. I knew we had enough with us to “survive” a night out, but I had no desire to do it. He is just as stubborn as me and I knew he didn’t want to give in so soon. I had images of him collapsing and me having to use my SPOT. (I often joke he doesn’t want to be the SAR guy whose gf had to make a call out for him). I also remember from my Mountaineers conference, accidents don’t usually happen because of one thing. It’s often a series of events that lead up to an emergency.
He assured me he would let me know when he had gone as far as he could. He said he was fine, just slow today.
So, we carried on. The trail was beautiful and there were several places it opens up to the valley and surrounding hills with a few peaks in the distance. We were hoping to at least make it to the section of the trail where it switchbacks and becomes more of a trail than an old road. That would at least feel like we had accomplished something.
But by 2:30 that had not happened. My toes had begun to grow colder and colder and the sun was going down. My bf was stopping more frequently to rest. We had grown closer to the creek and should be coming upon that elusive switchback but at this point even if we did, our pace meant getting to the lake at dark.
I had no desire to navigate back down in the dark and I feared I would just keep getting colder without the elevation gain to keep me warm. But most of all, we had no idea what was going on with my bf.
So, I called it.
I sat down to eat the warm meal in my thermos (and hot coconut eggnog in my other) as my toes and fingers continued to freeze. He needed to eat something other than protein bars so he started water for a bagged meal he had brought.
I could only sit long enough to eat about half my meal before I had to get up and stomp around to keep my feet warm. The snow was so loose and powdery that my boots were not wet at all, I could only guess that dropping temperatures were a factor. He got the hot water in his meal pouch and then tucked it in his coat pocket so we could get going, promising to eat along the way down.
We both put an extra layer on and donned our headlamps. It was here that my bf also realized he had lost his watch somewhere between here and 1:45pm (the last time he remembered checking the time). Geez, could anything else go wrong?
Our trek down consisted of looking for a watch that most likely had sunk in only to be found by someone else next year, taking pictures of the golden sun glistening on the snow and shoveling in warm food. To my amazement, we accomplished all three (his watch had miraculously landed on compacted snow). We also had to go back once for the meal, it had slipped out during a picture taking section…
We were in the dark by the time we reached FR 27 and still had 2.5 miles to go. My bf has still lagging a bit behind but didn’t seem near as lethargic as the trip up. He had also added the fact that this was his first snowshoe this season and he had opted to wear his heavy-as-heck mountaineering boots to the list of possible reasons for his abnormal hiking condition today.
Either way, I was happy with our decision to turn around and make it back to the car by 6pm, leaving us time to eat dinner out because I knew I would have no desire to cook when we got home. The last hour of our descent was spent enjoying the sparkles the snow made under our headlamp glow…
and trying to capture red reflections with video to minor success.
We did spend time on the way home in the car evaluating our decisions and trying not to regret not making the lake today. I assured my bf it wasn’t all on him, I wasn’t sure I could have kept a much faster pace than we had gone. And who knew the conditions we would have found as we got closer to the lake? The one thing we did agree on, our next outdoor experience together would be much more reasonable.
The lake will still be there for next time.
And so will we.
For more details and the picture gallery on this hike, you can read my trip report HERE.