15 Oct Yosemite Log Day 7- Koip Peak Pass
Yosemite Log Day 7- Koip Peak Pass
Today’s climb was to take me over the highest elevation of the trip, over 12,000 ft.. Yesterday I had seen a pair of hikers at the bottom of the trail to Gem Pass. They didn’t seem too friendly, but since they were the only people I had seen all day, I stopped to talk and get information. Where are you headed? …Downhill… I explained that I was returning to Yosemite via Koip Peak pass. They had day hiked from Mammoth via Koip Pass. How is trail? ….on north side of pass you will have to hike through snow that we were postholing through about a foot… I said that at least I had their tracks to follow. As I left, the guy said “have a good walk”. The other guy never said a word. He was pumping water from the creek. During the whole short conversation the first guy was kidding his partner about whether he would ever get his water filter to work.
I didn’t have a good impression of these guys. They didn’t seem like they would give you the time of day. Decked out in the latest from REI, I assumed they were mostly show. They did appear to be in good shape.
Later through my experience on the Pass i discovered the reason for their attitude. They were obviously at a level way beyond mine. Perhaps they were using this hike to train and condition for an attempt on Denali.
The climb up Koip wasn’t too bad. The trail switched back up steep talus with snow in places. More tricky than other climbs I had completed, but doable. From the bottom it was hard to see how a trail could reach the top.
From the top there were great views of the flatlands of the east over 2 miles below. A very large lake lay on the distant floor.
The top of the pass itself was expansive and flat and covered with snow. No visible trail, but I had the guy’s tracks to follow. Crossing the pass I saw that on the north side the tracks led a traverse about 0.3 miles across a snow slope of 60 deg or more. Below the tracks the slope steepened, eventually to a sheer drop or what might as well have been sheer if one went over it. I was only about 3 mi from Yosemite traveling in this direction. Yosemite was about 16 mi the way I came.
Beyond the traverse I could see a zig zag pattern of tracks climbing a steep shelf about 20 yards wide. On both the high and low side of this rising shelf the slope steepened. All was blanketed with snow.
I set out with my Yacktracks cleats secured to my boots. Carefully stepping in each footprint, I began the traverse. First 50 yards, steeper, another 50 yards, crossing a short section where the slope dipped, seeming to fall away, I proceeded another 150 yards. From the top of the pass the traverse hadn’t appeared to be this long. I questioned myself and moved on. The zig zag descent didn’t appear much closer. It did appear dangerous. It seemed i was slowly moving beyond a point of commitment. On I went. I looked back. I had come a long way. I thought of ice axes and training for self arrest. I thought of climbers on steep glaciers that were roped together.
Wait, I told myself. You don’t have the equipment or the training for this, besides you are solo. You have come a long way, but not quite half the traverse not to mention the long treacherous zig zag descent on a narrow shelf.
Stop. Think. I had told myself that this was exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t do with my cleats. They aren’t crampons and I only had them to make hiking in the snow easier. Sure I could cross. I could do it a hundred times. It was morning and the snow was frozen stiff, not slushy and slippery. I had proven tracks to follow.
On the other hand, one misstep and it would truly be over.
I turned. Before I had been concentrated. Now, following prints back, I was focused intensely. My mind was searing. Each step was the entire universe. I did not look around. I didn’t even look forward to check my progress however much I cared about my goal to remove myself from this slope.
My goal was each single step. I stopped to shorten my uphill hiking pole so I would have a more firm anchor on the slope should I slip. I was calm because I needed to be. More than anything I was focused.
I reached the pass and safe slopes. I kept going, still on autopilot, still concentrated, and needing to get myself completely off this mountain. Down the other side. Down trail switching through steep talus. Not significantly dangerous, but somehow after what I had come through I felt an intense need to avoid accident on the calmer slopes.
Finally, at the bottom and resting along the dark waters of Alger lakes, I could look at the surrounding peaks in the mirror waters and be thankful.
My apologies to all of those that I love and who love me for taking this unnecessary risk. I could have crossed this slope a hundred times, but what mattered was that there was no possibility of recovery from mistake or misfortune. I am sorry.