|Atop Buffalo Peak|
I've resisted joining Mark and Homeslice on adventures in the Lost Creek Wilderness because of the long, windy drive, the unappealing summits (so I thought), and, mostly, the running they always planned to do. Then they came up a plan to mostly be off trail and bag ten summits. I have a goal of doing 52 different summits this year and this one day would go a long ways toward satisfying this. Hence, I agreed to join them and invited my LPP partner, Chuck Charlie Nuttelman.
We met at 4 a.m. and drove down together to the Wigwam Trailhead. We took the trail for about two minutes and then headed directly for the summit of the Wigwam. The going here was steep, but the ground was dry and snow-free. We did some fun scrambling as we approached the summit. Because of the scrambling we planned to do, Mark wore his scrambling shoes. Because of the snow we expected to encounter, I wore my Crossover, Gortex, built-in gaitor, hobnailed running shoes. Despite the earlier indications, I'd made by far the better choice.
We hit our first bit of snow just below the summit of the Wigwam, but paid it no mind, as we descended to the saddle and away from any snow for while. We were hiking up the southern slopes of Buffalo peak and didn't hit snow again until probably 10,000 feet. At first the snow wasn't too bad and we postholed through ankle-deep to mid-shin deep, soft snow. I broke trail for a bit and then Chuck Charlie took over and the snow got quite a bit deeper. When Homie finally went into the lead, it was downright ridiculous.
We were hiking over breakable crust that would sometimes support our weight (at least at first), but mostly we plunged into at least knee-deep snow and would occasionally drop in up to our crotches. The depth of the snow wasn't our biggest problem, though. We all wore shorts and each plunging step into the crust would scrape excruciatingly up our shins. Each step was so painful that Mark took to scooting on this butt to avoid plunging in. It was the worst, most painful snow conditions I've ever hiked through, in a lifetime of snowy adventures.
By the time we made the summit of Buffalo Peak and surveyed the similar terrain and likely identical snow conditions to our north, no one, and these are three very tough guys, considered continued with our ridiculous ten-peak plan. I wanted to return the way we had come, for at least we had a track that way. Apparently I didn't make this very clear because Homeslice didn't understand what I wanted. I didn't want to force everyone to call it a day so quickly, so I didn't push it, but I feared any new trail breaking. Mark's feet were numb and we took some time on top for him to revive his feet.
Homie devised a plan to head northwest and then down steeply to the west until we encountered the trail. We were currently at 11,589 feet. The trail lay nearly 3000 feet below us. Chuck Charlie boldly took the lead. He plunged a track through the crust, seemingly immune to the pain, but, not, just too tough to cry out in pain. I followed, howling with each step. Mark continued to scoot on his butt on the worst sections.
After descending five or six hundred feet the crust finally stopped, but the snow just got deeper and wetter. Homie took over the lead and we wound our way through draws, over creeks, and over deadfall. Mark took a couple of nasty drops into the snow up to his crotch, bashing his shin against a log one time and nearly bashing his face into a boulder another time. We eventually found a big rock slab in a clearing and took refuge from the snow there to rest, dry out a bit, and regroup. Mark's feet were again numb and all of us had cold, wet feet.
We sunned ourselves like lizards for thirty minutes before donning still soaked shoes and socks to continue our quest for dry land and a trail. Charlie took the lead after the break and soon we were free from the snow. We passed a big cliff and surfed down steep loose slopes, losing elevation rapidly. Finally, we arrived at the bottom, crossed the creek on a bridge of logs and hit the trail, the glorious trail. We'd covered about four miles in an almost entirely miserable 4.5 hours.
Mark envisioned this day, even with the majority of it off-trail, as a training day for the Hard Rock Hundred, which he'll run come July, and he wasn't satisfied with calling it a day. The rest of us had no desire to run around on trails after that experience. Eventually we settled on a plan. Mark would hike/run up to Buckleberry Pass, hopeful ahead of the Nazgul and try to descend from there before Sauron's eye spotted him and brought him more miserable snow. He was still well-stocked with lembas bread and he took off. The three of us would hike out and the drive around to make a stealthy assault on the Black Tower. We'd meet up in nearby Rivendell. At least that was the plan.
Mark didn't elude the snow and had an even more miserable time descending from the pass. Sauron had obliterated any sign of the trail, burying it in unconsolidated, freezing snow. Mark's feet froze solid for the third time that day and his spirits dipped low. Just when he was about to give up all hope, an angel called to him and revived him. Miraculously, he still had cell service, answered, and pushed on.
Meanwhile, with Sauron's attention diverted, Chuck Charlie, Homeslice, and I ventured around to the Black Tower. The bridge at Khazad Dun was out, but our FJ forded it and we continued to the base. After paying the Troll's Toll, we started up, steeply, with a short section of rope and one pair of magic shoes. An airy traverse on wet rock brought us to Durin's Door and I headed up, trailing the rope. Homeslice wrapped the rope around his waist and Chuck Charlie danced up in his magic shoes.
Chuck Charlie took the lead and found the passage through the maze to the base of the final prow. A steep crack was dispatched and the summit gained, but retreat wasn't possible and we pushed over the top, down a wide crack and descended a tree back to the base. We retraced our path through the maze and back to the ground. We descended back to the FJ, way behind schedule, and headed for Rivendell.
Gandalf must have been looking after each of us, for, while both parties arrived over 70 minutes late, we were within two minutes of each other. Beaten and bruised, Mark had barely escaped, running just ahead of warg-mounted orcs before reaching the safety of Elfin land. We hadn't recovered all the treasure that we sought, but we lived to return again.