It’s official: the trail has gone totally rogue and jumped continents. We’ve walked so far west that we are in the Russian Wilderness! And by with love, I mean with pain. It’s been a grueling day, from an accidental late start, to treacherous snow patches and steep, hot, end of the day ascents through burn areas.
Russia, strangely looks a lot like the High Sierra. Over the past few days I’ve walked an incredible geology lesson, if only I knew more about what I’m seeing on this jaunt outside the relatively new volcanic ground of the Cascades. The Russian Wilderness, with its steep granite walls, carefully spaced trees, and green meadows down below could be a forgotten corner of Yosemite. Mostly it it is a kinder gentler Sierra, with many cool streams but no scary fords; with small snow patches to cross, but never the dangerous kind. Or so I thought.
At the top of yet another sizable climb, my moment of victory is tainted by realization that the trail disappears completely out of sight under an intimidatingly steep snow patch. I take one look at the remnants of footprints, the shallowest of dimples across the snow and think that there is absolutely no freaking way I am walking across that in trail runners. Trail runners with worn tread, late in the afternoon on such a hot day, when the snow is a slick melting ice sheet leaning toward danger. One wrong move and all the way down you would go. I would walk back the way I came before I would go over, I think.
Luckily I did not arrive here alone to face the icy obstacle. So, we try to go up over a steep slope of loose rocks, only to see the trail far below a steep drop off. Back we go, this time down, looking for a shorter, less steep passage that leads us skirting all the way far below and around, pushing through thickets of pines that scratch my bare legs, and then picking our way through a field of loose boulders back to the trail.
Our reward is an eight mile slog to camp, up through burn areas, baking in the late day sun. Feet aching, we arrive in camp at aptly named Paynes Lake. Speed had just about lost hope we would make it.
June 28, 2016