Wednesday was the last day of classes, followed by a mostly pointless meeting on Thursday morning, which started a half-hour late, of course. Immediately afterward, my friend Daron drove me to the airport. I spent a day and a half in Oakland with my friend Athan, then took a train to Redding, where my dad's Navy buddy gave me a ride to the trail. All told, it took about 48 hours to get from Wimberley to the PCT.
It looked like a nice morning for a hike: cool, cloudy, calm. Mid-morning, there was a brief light sprinkle. No big deal.
At about noon, the trail climbed a few thousand feet, and the rain began in earnest. And never stopped. Ever.
The trail stayed ridgeline for most of the day, which resulted in devastating wind coming over the side. I was getting just as wet from the foggy air slamming into me as I was from the rain itself. The funny thing is you make great time when it's raining, because you don't want to stop. Taking a break isn't enjoyable in that kind of weather, and when you're cold and wet, you keep moving just to stay warm.
I finally made it to a decent camping spot, luckily in a lull when the rain was barely a sprinkle. Set up the tent and got inside. Aside from my upper body, which was protected by my jacket, most of me was wet. So was almost all of my clothes. Because this was the first day, I hadn't yet come up with a system for packing my backpack, and therefore, a lot of its contents were wet. Luckily, the sleeping bag had stayed dry.
I spent an uncomfortable-but-not-deadly night, and woke up to frost on the inside of the tent. If the air temperature inside the tent was below freezing, the temperature outside must have been even lower. Thankfully, the sun was out, slowly thawing the Earth. I didn't bother putting gloves on, because they were wet. By the time I finished packing up my frost-covered tent, my hands report in mortal pain and I could barely move my fingers. At least it's good to know my sleeping bag still holds up to those temperatures.
After an hour or so, I finally met a hiker, having seen none the day before. Space Metal was from Virginia, and like me, was finishing up the PCT, starting from Burney falls State Park. She still hadn't taken down her tent yet. I wouldn't see her again.
And then the snow began.
I had camped at about 5,000 feet the night before, and once or twice, saw snow on the side of the trail. About the same thing was happening this morning, until the trail went up in elevation.
I found myself in a snowfield that was probably only a few miles long, but took about four hours to traverse. The trail was on the North face of a steeply-sloped ridge, meaning the snowpack was at a 45° angle and you had to try to walk straight. One false move and you'll slide down the mountain. At times, you had to guess where the trail might be. I was wearing ordinary hiking shoes.
Just as I was wrapping up the worst part of the snow field, with about a mile to go, I met another hiker named Zen Commando. He runs a fitness camp in Costa Rica. According to him, The trail between dunsmuir and Ashland was entirely impassable. He was wearing microspikes and called himself a mountain guy, and he'd hitchhiked past, considering it too dangerous.
"You'll need to wait two or three weeks for the snow to melt before you even try it. I've done some stupid things in the past, but not so much anymore, and this was too much."
"You've got a pretty good snow field coming up," I warned. "How is it that way?"
"It's nothing. About a mile of touch and go, that's it."
"I don't have micro spikes or anything…"
That mile of "touch and go" was dangerous in my book, so if he said that was "nothing", I needed to take his warning seriously.
Once the trail became a trail again, I cranked out another dozen miles, until descending to 4,000 feet. At least a lower elevation would make for a warmer night.
While hiking, my thoughts were overwhelmingly consumed by potential plans for the week ahead. There was no way I could simply continue forward. I'd have to wait for some snow to melt. But where? And for how long?
My best options were probably to stay either with Athan in Oakland or my aunt in San Francisco, for at least a week, maybe two. Would either of them be up for that? That's a long time to have an unexpected guest.
Furthermore, that would put me way behind schedule for the summer. I only had so much time before I had to be back in school. If I waited only one week, it could still be possible to finish the entire trail within the time I had. But if I had to wait two, probably not. Either way, I had to deal with the possibility that I wouldn't finish the PCT this summer.
Knowing I had to kill some time, I decided to dramatically slow down the pace for the next few days. Normally, I wake up at 6:00 and try to start hiking by 7:00. The day after meeting Zen Commando, I added three hours to both of those numbers. At about 1:00, I found a nice spot to camp and decided to call it. Only seven miles. I would normally consider that pathetic.
I spent the afternoon rinsing and wringing all of my clothes, and by nightfall, everything was semi-clean and dry. So at least I had that going for me.
I still wasn't able to get a phone signal, so I didn't have any idea where I might be staying next week, but by slowing down the pace and getting to Dunsmuir later than expected, I could chip a day or two off of the amount of time someone would have to host me. And that also meant I could have a few easy days, which wasn't such a bad thing.
Two more days of hiking put me within three miles of Interstate 5. I was starting to get a few routines down, and hiking was beginning to get fun again. The near-perfect weather helped. The kind of hiking you have in mind when you decide to go hiking. Both days, I got done by 4:00 PM. One night, I was lucky enough to have two old-timers show up, and killed time by hanging out with them. The second night, I was on my own and bored out of my mind.
After crossing Interstate 5, it was only another few miles of hiking before you got into Castle Crags State Park. Hiker-biker sites were only $5/night, and since it was a state park, there were trails within the park to go explore, and there would be plenty of other people to meet. And ideal place to take a few days off while waiting for the snow to melt.
Halfway through the afternoon, I was joined at the hiker-biker site by another hiker, around my age, named Pop-Tart. She was flip-flopping all over the trail, covering miles she'd missed during an attempted thru-hike. Like me, she was worried about the snow ahead, but had southward miles she could hike while she waited. She intended to go do those for the next week or two. I was simply stuck.
I stayed at Castle Crags for two nights, doing a small amount of hiking on the morning in between. Some nice views at the top. That afternoon, I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch. The retired couple in the campsite next to mine was from Garland, only 20-30 minutes from where I grew up. We wound up talking all afternoon, and before you knew it, it was dinnertime. They fed me dinner as well.
Pop-Tart had told me about a church in Dunsmuir, less than 15 km away, which takes in hikers for up to two nights. Since it was supposed to rain almost nonstop for the next two days and nights, I decided that was a good idea. Also, they had WiFi. Wingman, who was supporting his wife RunnerBird as she also hiked the PCT, happily gave me a ride to Dunsmuir, and added that if we were anywhere near each other for the rest of the trail, I could call him again anytime.
I always think that the thing I'll enjoy the most about any trip is the land, and it always winds up being the people. I've been reminded of that already.
from PCT North