I decided to wake up early once more to catch the snow when it was nice and icy. This makes the snow much easier to walk on. My thermometer read 20 degrees and I believed it. My rain fly had a solid coating of ice and my shoes were bricks. Everything was frozen, but I was warm in my sleeping bag that I didn't want to get out of. With the nearby hills killing any prospect of receiving some early morning sunlight, I pushed through numb fingers and toes to get out of camp around 7:15 am.
The downhill Mr. Clean and I had to tackle right out of camp was insanely steep! But with the help of our micro spikes and the cold temperatures, the snow blanketed hillside wasn't too difficult to descend.
Benson pass was the next challenge. The trail disappeared during the accent, so I relied mainly on my GPS to navigate up the hillside. The ascent was filled with slushy snow, prone to post-holing and covered with sun-cups (see picture above). At the top of Benson Pass, the ground was bear dirt. A lovely sight after the difficult snow conditions.
The decent was quite difficult as well. With lots of snow cover and a lack of trail markings, it took 5 of us working together to stay not only on the trail, but to stay on the correct trail.
Between Benson and Seavey Pass, there were some difficult water fords, beautiful scenery and an awesome lunch spot. At the top of Seavey Pass there were quite a few ponds and Mr. Clean suggested we stop there for the day and take on the descent early in the morning again when the snow would be frozen. I was tired of waking up early and convinced everyone to camp and the bottom of the descent, next to the river. Also, going further on this day would mean we reach a very difficult river ford early tomorrow when the river is at it's lowest point. I'm still not sure what the best decision would have been.
The descent was very steep, slippery and almost all of us slid down the hill on our butts. At the bottom, we reached the river were we were immediately confronted with a snow bridge (last picture). On one side of the bridge was a steep 15 foot drop between the snow and a rock wall. On the other, the raging river which if fallen into would mean lost of all gear, night of being wet and possible helicopter rescue... that is if you could get out of the river. Less than 1/4 mile down stream, the river turns into a cascade of water falls and carved out canyons. This was the riskiest part of the trail we had come across thus far.
Some went ahead of me. I waited for Back Track and Mr. Clean before starting across. The slushy snow was roughly the width of your shoe and the the angle and short drop of the slope meant there would be little or no time to self arrest if fallen on.
I had crossed. The tunnel vision I had experienced started to diminish and some relief came to mind. That's when I heard it. Back Track had lost balance and slipped. Hanging on the edge of the snow, with her backpack trying to bring her into the river, I had to go back. Spending the next half hour or so trying to get my micro spikes on her, while Mr. Clean worked to position himself to help lift her up from the very awkward position she lay in. We all started to get cold by the end of the ordeal. But we got through it and made it the the last 1/4 mile to camp for the night. I was definitely shaken. "What would I have done had she fallen in the river?" came to my mind a lot. The temperature this night was much warmer than the last.