Trip date: August 14-20, 2018
This day: August 14, 2018
Got a later start at Milner Pass than I wanted to but the weather still looked pretty good.
I felt like the Pfiffner Traverse actually started once I got past Mt Ida. This is where the crowds went away and I felt at home.
Once past Cracktop the weather started to look questionable. I headed for Haynach Pass but once I got close I actually began to think it was ok so I headed back up. I probably only stayed up on the divide for another 25 minutes before the weather turned and forced me down. Rain clouds were starting to form over me and I could see clear rain to the west (see Haynach Lake valley photo above).
I was now too far from Haynach Pass to take that route so I headed down a gully that looked straightforward.
I took the line of least resistance (ie: minimal slope--see slope angle shading in image below) for a while but then the the path steepened into a gully. I picked up some active (fresh scat) game trails that led me down the rest of the way. In my experience, game trails are a pretty good bet that your route isn't going to dead end at a precipitous cliff.
After a break in valley below Haynach Lakes (~4pm) I headed south. I would stay low on empty trails through the valley and eventually head back up onto the divide to access the most direct route to my planned campsite. On the ascent it was pretty obvious that I would get hammered by rain above tree line.
I took some game trails down into a protected valley. I needed some water for dinner anyway and the tree cover would be a good spot to wait out the rain.
I was still a couple miles from my planned campsite but the valley was a great surprise. I saw 4 more ENORMOUS Bull Elk as I ate my dinner. The weather was frustrating. It only really rained on me for a few minutes in the valley. I think it was really blowing rain from somewhere else. Every time I started to pack my stuff and head back up onto the divide, the wind would start howling and blowing rain/sleet all over me. Before I knew it, it was 7:30 pm and a heavy fog had rolled through dropping visibility to about 60 feet. It looked like I would be stuck at this impromptu campsite by the cabin for the night.
High-route lesson: I hadn't gotten nearly as early a start as I wanted and this had proved costly. When the weather turned bad, I was only a couple miles from where I would drop off the divide below treeline to my planned camp. Travel was easy on this part of the divide (rolling tundra) and just 2 hours would have effectively guaranteed good weather and missed the afternoon storms. I couldn't help but think of what Andrew Skurka had written in an email about this very issue: "you're going to have to get your ass out of bed...". Oops. Even if the weather had improved by dinner and given me enough time to reach my planned camp, having to drop down into the first valley effectively added 2.5 miles and ~1200 ft of vertical gain to my day (provided that I had gone to the same planned endpoint). I would have missed those fantastic valleys with all the elk though.