Friday, July 10, 2015

Snow in the Sierras: Beating a Retreat

Packing up was a challenge - so much was wet and getting wetter as the snow continued to fall.  We made a decision pretty immediately to pack out.  Going up certainly didn't seem smart and hunkering down had various disadvantages too.  Since the rain/snow has continued, we know that we made the right call.  Even as we got ready the kids started feeling the cold - they had just cotton gloves and socks and sneakers - hardly appropriate gear for accumulating snow.

Goodbye magical campsite

Still smiling!

Not the Donner party, not the Donner party, not the...

My last photo for a while - it didn't seem right to snap them when the kids were all so very miserable.  And then the snow started falling harder....

The kids were amazing good sports, but the conditions were rough and soon all four began sobbing.  Loudly.  It was awful, truly awful, to know how cold they were and how much their feet hurt from the cold and to myself feel scared, cold, tired, and without many options.  I gave them my scarf and gloves, then took off their cotton socks, warmed their feet on my bare legs, and replaced their socks with my own wool socks and sock liners.  (Thank goodness for girls with big feet!)  That didn't keep them dry, but it helped to keep them warmer.  At my wits end about what else to do and aching with the pain of not being able to make them less miserable, I finally took their sleeping backs out of their packs, wrapped them around their shoulders like massive blankets, and secured them with their scarves.  I then strapped their packs to my pack and carried all three backpacks.  It didn't relieve their misery, but it mitigated it enough to get down the mountain and back to the car.  Despite the sobbing (our friend EB described G's crying at one point as being, "like a wounded wolf"), they never stopped moving, never let their misery affect their toughness.  I was in awe of them, delighted to know and love such amazing, tough kids.

Prayer helped.  As during a difficult climb last year, G and I prayed together as we walked and that connection to God, in prayer joined with another mother who knows the experience of worrying about a child, kept both of us moving and in strong spirits.

We stopped at the ranger station on the way out and, out of curiosity, asked if they ever sent backcountry rangers to check on people in such surprise weather conditions.  I don't think that the rangers fully realized how extreme the conditions had become at our elevation - their station is over 2,000 feet lower.  They said that no, it is their job to ensure that people are prepared, not to worry about them once they are out.  They also admitted that they hadn't told anyone to prepare for snow - that apparently was a surprise to everyone (the highway out was even closed for part of the day because of the snow - bizarre for July).  I was a bit surprised by this, but in some ways it made the trip even more impressive - we had been totally on our own in this pretty extreme situation and managed to get through it.  Some mistakes made and planning is in place already for better preparation for every extreme next time. G kept telling me to "be sure to write this in your journal so that you don't forget" and I assured her that this is one adventure that I will certainly never forget.

Funny, when this began, as I sat alone in the dark waiting for our permit, I was flooded with happy memories of trips I've taken in the Sierras in the past and friends I have had adventures with.  There is a bittersweet element to such memories, for I miss the friends I haven't seen for a long time  and, as usual, especially missed my Mom, with whom I have had most of my best adventures (she's north in the Sierras now, on a road trip with my Dad).  This adventure shoved me firmly from nostalgia to the present, which is itself a gift, getting to be fully present for new adventures with friends and sharing them with daughters I could then barely envision, but always ached for.  The beauty of the mountains AND of the company reinforced how very blessed I am and how grateful for the gifts in my life.

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