Tree Wells and Avalanche "Woofs" Make for a Scary, Long Day
"That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life," proclaimed Maria at the end of a very long day on the 747 Trail. So the day started pretty well, with us driving to Kings Hill at 8 a.m. A quick stop at the Neihart Inconvenience Store, and then we were at the parking area by 9:30 a.m. It was warm, 34 degrees, but with a breeze; so far so good.
We knew that the climb of Porphyry Peak would be our toughest thing of the day, so we prepared ourselves. Katie had recruited her husband Tom and his friend Wayne to break trail on the backside of the mountain and show us the way (Tom had gone on Wednesday and had lost the trail, so Katie was worried. Tom said he went an extra mile; we didn't want to follow his tracks and go 7 instead of 6 miles, so he was cutting a new trail the correct way, based on an earlier GPS reading). However, they were on skis, so they started an hour later than we. We agreed to meet at the warming hut "Top Rock Cafe" on Showdown around 11:30.
As we started the climb, we did have to break trail, Camille leading the whole way, so she got a good workout. Maria, Viki and Rose were unfamiliar with the climb of Porphyry so they didn't know what to expect. Maria was a bit worried with all of the up, up, up until she saw the lookout tower perched above us, at which point, she knew she could make it. About this time, Tom caught us on his way up, but Wayne was a bit back. They thought that we were farther ahead than we were, so Tom skied back down and then up again as he waited for Wayne, which allowed us to get a bit farther up the hill.
Tom and Wayne caught us about a quarter mile from the hut, where we ate a snack (some had lunch, but we had to forget about hot cocoa as no worker had showed up) before heading down the 747 Trail, Tom and Wayne leading the way. side note: At the hut, the ski patrol workers were very worried that we were headed to the Mizpah Bowls. They warned of extreme avalanche danger. We assured them that we weren't heading to the bowls but to the 747 trail, with which they weren't familiar. Anyway, after Tom got on what he thought was the correct trail, he and Wayne left us and skied fast down the hillside. We followed slowly in their ski tracks, Katie using some painter's tape to mark the trail.
About a half mile down the 1.5 mile section, we started falling into tree wells and sinking in around deadfall. Several fell, Susan four times. Once, Susan fell through to her waist and couldn't move her feet. Katie used her poles to loosen the snow around her and then dug her out. What happened was her foot was caught under a downed tree and under a small tree that was burried in the snow. Viki helped clear to the front of Susan and held back the little tree, while Katie freed the back of Susan's snowshoe. It was an all-out effort for Susan to regain her feet and get herself out of the hole.
Viki and Rose also ended up in tree wells; luckily, they were very limber and were able to right themselves on their own. But the snow was very unstable. We started hearing very loud woofing sounds, and slabs of snow would crack and sink a few inches, throwing us off balance. Maria suggested we spread out so not so much weight was on a section of snow at a time, and Katie and Viki were packing the snow down and on purpose going down so that Susan who followed wouldn't fall again. It was very tenuous going, everyone trying not to fall again and the eerie woofing of avalanches coming down around us.
It took us 2.5 hours to go a one-mile stretch with all of the postholing and time it took for those who fell to get back up. We were never so thankful to hit the cat track, but we still had 2.5 miles to go, some uphill. We also noted that we didn't come out at the trail marker, so we were slightly off trail. After a long 2.5 more miles, we did make it out by 4:15. Maria's hips were hurting, Susan's legs were really feeling it, and we all relished getting off our feet as we sat down in the car. By this time, we all thought climbing Porphyry had been a piece of cake compared to the last half of the hike. Welcome to backcountry snowshoeing!
As it was getting late, we opted not to stop for a drink and bathroom break at Bob's and instead headed home with a quick stop at Armington junction to use the restrooms.
It was just before 6 p.m. when we arrived back to 4B's. But Susan reminded us all that we should go on the Sacagawea hike in the morning. Four of us took her up on it.
Who went: Susan W, Viki, Maria, Rose, Camille, Katie