Never Forget Existing tracks don’t indicate a safe crossing. Hikers before you may have come through in more stable weather or snow conditions. They may have had different training, skill, equipment, and—therefore—risk tolerance. Snow stability changes all the time; inspect each crossing for yourself.
The Victim Marcia Rasmussen, 53, plummeted into the ice-choked waters of Franklin Creek while running in Sequoia National Park on June 14, 2011.
The raging, snowmelt-fueled current swept me downstream, and I grasped at the featureless white walls slipping past, desperate for hand- or footholds—anything that would keep the waist-deep creek from pushing me over the 10-foot waterfall downstream. By the time my chilled fingers caught a protruding branch, the current had swept me 60 feet down a tunnel of ice. I gripped my pathetic lifeline, a pencil-size twig, with all my strength and crawled out of the rushing water into a cave barely large enough to keep my curled, 5’4” frame out of the raging stream. I felt like a captive, but lucky to be alive.
At 11:15 a.m., two hours earlier, I’d set out on a high-altitude training run in California’s Sequoia National Park in sunny, 70°F temps. I was prepping for an ultramarathon and had come to the park for a scenic workout, and to see how close I could get to the 10,500-foot passes atop the Great Western Divide. The Franklin Pass/Farewell Gap trailhead at 7,800 feet was snowfree, and I climbed five miles and 1,000 vertical feet before the trail’s surface became snow-covered and treacherous enough that I had to turn around.
On my outbound run, I’d noted the potential instability of the five-foot-deep snow bridge over Franklin Creek, but I’d prodded the surface with a hefty stick, and I’d knelt to examine it. There were no visible signs of weakness, and the surface was rock hard—I guessed it could support a truck. Though I didn’t have skis or snowshoes to distribute my weight, I crossed without incident.
Conditions past the creek stayed cool for the duration of my run, but I expected the lower-elevation snow to soften as the day warmed. So when I approached the snow bridge again on my return trip, I examined it thoroughly.