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The back of the truck was packed with everything they needed for a climb up to base camp at 10,000 feet — summit jackets, summit boots, tents, food.
Not thinking of survival, they stuffed their packs full of odds and ends to make up weight.
"We overpacked entirely for a three-hour snowshoe but we were dismally low on what we needed for a blizzard," said Johnson. "It was barely enough to survive with."
Of course, they weren't thinking of survival as they left the truck for their snowshoe up past Paradise Inn, towards the Golden Gate trail, which leads to Skyline Ridge and joins the Skyline tail on the Mazama Ridge.
It was here the problems began as the icy wind whipped up and snow began to swirl creating maddening whiteout conditions.
Up ahead they saw a group of 16 snowshoers from Korea and wanted to warn them that they should turn back. But language difficulties made communication difficult and that group continued on.
By that point Johnson and Dickman were at a crossroads. Not able to see in front of them, unable to read their malfunctioning GPS, afraid that each step could send them tumbling, Dickman suggested they build a snow cave. Fortunately a shovel was one of the random items that had made it into the packs.
It was 2 p.m. on Saturday.
When she got inside Johnson pulled off her balaclava and stuffed it in her pack. It had become "an ice necklace." They ate a little though Johnson wasn't hungry. They tried not to think of the thirst — the water bottles were frozen icicles, and wanting to conserve their body heat, they tried not to eat snow. They had no stove.
They didn't talk much. And it was cold. So cold Johnson's chattering teeth bit through her tongue.
But they came up with a game plan for the next day: head down off the Mazama Ridge toward the river and follow it out to the Paradise Valley Road.
At 7:30 a.m., with not much sleep, freezing cold, and the blizzard still raging, they set off. Unfortunately, in the whiteout conditions, the couple descended into the valley on the east side of the ridge and did not realize their error until they were committed to reaching the valley floor below and following the Stevens Creek out to Stevens Canyon Road.
It was a slow slog. About 30 minutes from the bottom, Johnson lost a snowshoe. But even that wasn't the low point. It was only then they realized that they wouldn't be able to follow the creek out — that the valley floor was a treacherous obstacle course of huge pot holes and cavities with no way to walk along the banks — that despair hovered close.
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